As Jesus descended to the Jordan, he was surprised to see no sign of crowds on the bank. By the position of the sun he reckoned that it was nearly midday and at that time John was usually engaged in baptising. A vague feeling of uneasiness assailed him, as he noticed that the banks of the river were deserted.
He made his way straight to John’s cave and found it empty. Everything was left tidily in its place but there was no sign that the cave had been occupied for the last few days. There was no food anywhere; the ashes of the fire were quite cold. It looked as if John had been away for some little time, but with the intention of returning later.
Jesus remembered that Nathaniel’s house was near at hand; perhaps he would know something of John’s movements.
Twenty minutes walking brought him to the garden gate. He opened it and walked towards the house; as he approached, Philip came out of the door and saw him. They greeted one another warmly.
“Nathaniel’s in the garden,” said Philip. “Come out there.”
They walked together to the old fig-tree which Jesus had seen before with the eyes of the mind. He was interested to notice that the whole scene corresponded in every detail with his own picture of it.
“I was just going in to dinner,” said Nathaniel after they had exchanged greetings. “You must have some with us.”
In the course of the meal it came out that Philip had been staying with his friend since that walk to the outskirts of the wilderness. He was soon returning home, and it had been arranged that Nathaniel should accompany Philip for a visit to his home. He intended also to put in some weeks with old friends in Cana.
“Then you must come with me,” said Jesus, “to a wedding I’ve promised to attend. Do you remember my telling you about a freelance soldier who came to John’s baptism? He comes from Cana too, a son of the wheelwright there; it’s his sister who is going to be married.”
And so it was agreed; Jesus would return to Nazareth and stay with his mother for a few days before continuing to Capernaum; he would bring her over to Cana for the marriage. Nathaniel could get Philip put up by his friends and they would all attend the wedding to which Simon had given Jesus an open invitation.
It was then that Jesus broached the subject which was on his mind.
“I was surprised to find John’s cave deserted when I looked in there this morning,” he said.
It was Philip who answered: “We’re both rather worried about him. We saw him last about ten days ago. For the previous fortnight he had proclaimed that the Messiah had already come to take his place; his work was therefore done. He told his hearers to come no more; the news spread quickly; the crowds gradually grew smaller and smaller. Then John came round here one evening and told us he was going to do no more preaching or baptising. He spoke of some work which he must do in the north; but try as we would to make him say what this work was, we could get nothing out of him.”
“We both felt,” put in Nathaniel, “that John knew he was undertaking a dangerous task. When he said goodbye to us, he turned at the garden gate and said: ‘if we don’t meet again, tell Jesus I know he will succeed.’ Then he was gone.”
“Did he give you no hint of what he meant to do?” asked Jesus.
“None at all,” replied Philip.
“I’m not quite so sure of that, Philip,” said Nathaniel thoughtfully. “There was one remark he made which might have been a sort of clue; don’t you remember, when he was talking of the Messiah’s work, he said, ‘he means to start with the poorest and most degraded classes. But there is as much sin in high places as in the slums. The poor would have more chance of reform if they did not see vice flaunted before their eyes by their leaders.’ Do you think that throws any light on his intentions?”
“Quite possibly,” answered Jesus. “John would not shrink from telling Emperors or Kings what he thought of them,” he added with a smile.
“Talking of Kings,” remarked Philip, “I suppose in the wilderness you’ve not heard the latest scandal about Herod?”
“No,” said Jesus; “what is it?”
“He’s married his brother Philip’s widow,” replied Philip. “It’s all over the country, of course. That sort of thing does a lot of harm.”
“Yes,” said Jesus with meaning, “John wouldn’t have approved of that.”
“You mean—” exclaimed Nathaniel.
“No doubt we shall hear news of John in time,” answered Jesus. And he would say no more.
On the next morning the three set out for Galilee.
The wedding feast was in full swing; the wheelwright’s workshop, a great barn behind the house, had been cleared out for the occasion. Tables loaded with food ran the whole length of the floor space; Simon’s mother was one of those hospitable women who like to see their guests enjoy themselves. Most of them were prosperous tradespeople like their host and hostess; but the local gentry were represented too. The wheelwright was well-known in the neighbourhood for the quality and honesty of his work and the gentlefolk who dealt with him wished to show their friendship for the family.
The workmen had volunteered to serve the food and drink, and were cheerfully performing their duties in the expectation of sitting down themselves to a good meal afterwards. They regarded this feast not only as in honour of the young mistress’ wedding, but also of the young master’s return home after two years of soldiering.
The food was homely, but substantial; and plenty of wine had been consumed; it was a hot day and the atmosphere in the barn was having its effect and conversation was becoming louder and more hilarious. Jesus slipped out into the courtyard between the workshop and the house for a breath of fresh air.
He and his mother had been most hospitably received by their host and hostess; Simon had greeted Jesus with delight and had introduced him to his sister, a small, dainty girl who was a complete contrast to her burly brother.
The bridegroom, a decent-looking steady young man, had shyly acknowledged the congratulations of the guests, many of whom were strangers to him. It was customary for the bridegroom to give the feast on such occasions; and some pretence of this was being made, though in reality Simon’s father and mother had insisted on bearing the expense; their son-in-law was making his way on a fair sized farm which he had recently bought on the outskirts of the town. “The purchase of land and stock, to say nothing of marrying an extravagant young bride, has been quite enough expense for you, my boy,” the wheelwright had said and he would allow no further argument.
Jesus had found Philip in the courtyard and had been talking to him for some minutes when he felt a touch on his arm. He looked round and saw his mother with a worried expression on her face.
“Hullo, mother; what’s wrong?” he asked.
“They’re running short of wine,” was her answer.
“How like you to fuss about other people’s troubles,” said her son affectionately. “I’ve no doubt they’re sending out for more.”
But Mary, with her quick feminine intuition, had sensed a little crisis inside the barn. Simon was looking intensely uncomfortable; his mother had bustled out and returned in a moment shaking her head; the best man, or master of the feast as he was called, was talking in hurried undertones to the wheelwright. Mary knew there was no more wine to be had; with her ready sympathy she was almost in tears.
“Can’t you do anything about it?” she said with touching confidence in her son’s power to smooth away difficulties.
“What can I do?” he smiled down at her anxious face. “It’s not time for me to start my work yet.”
Mary took no notice of this remark; Jesus’ face had reassured her. She beckoned to the workmen who were standing in a little group near the barn door. One of them came across the yard.
“Do whatever he tells you,” Mary said to the man, nodding her head towards her son.
Standing by the main entrance of the workshop were six large earthenware jars which had held the water for washing the guests’ feet on arrival. They were now almost empty. Jesus walked with the man across the courtyard to where the knot of workmen was standing. “Fill the waterpots with water,” he said.
The men looked at one another with some surprise; who was this guest who was ordering them about? And what was the use of more water now that everyone had washed? From the look of things, it was wine that was wanted, not water. But, perhaps this gentleman was a friend of the master’s. The man to whom they had spoken nodded to the others.
“Right you are, sir,” he said good-humouredly. “We shan’t be a minute.”
They hurried off to the well with the jars. While they were drawing the water, Jesus stood by the door and looked into the barn. What he saw made him still more determined to help; the master of the feast was talking unnecessarily quickly to conceal his embarrassment; Simon was trying to comfort his sister who was almost in tears, while her husband stood looking sheepish and uncomfortable by her side. The bride’s mother was valiantly trying to induce her friends to have more to eat; the wheelwright, looking the picture of gloom, was laughing uproariously to hide his misery. Some of the guests, realising the situation, were tactfully making their way towards the bride and bridegroom to say goodbye.
The men hurried up with the jars, water slopping over the brims. Jesus put his hand on the side of the first jar; all he said to its bearer was: “Carry that to the master of the feast and fill up his mug.”
The man gaped at him; did this fellow want to make matters worse by a silly practical joke? He hesitated.
“Do as I tell you,” said Jesus. He spoke with authority.
Uncertainly the man made his way across the barn; he lowered the jar from his head and poured some of its contents into a mug which stood on the table near the best man. In his astonishment he almost dropped the jar; he stood staring at the ruby liquid in the mug.
The master of the feast turned and saw the fellow with a jar brimming with wine. He had some difficulty in concealing his delight; the situation was saved.
“That’s right, Ezra,” he remarked in an offhand voice, “you’ve brought in the second supply. You’ve been very slow. Fill up these gentlemen’s mugs.”
In a daze Ezra and the other men obeyed; the guests imagined that nothing had occurred worse than a small hitch caused by the inexperience of the waiters. Conversation and laughter broke out again. The episode was forgotten.
The master of the feast walked across to the bridegroom.
“Sly dog, Jonathan,” he said in an undertone. “So you sent those fellows over to the farm. I didn’t know you kept a supply there.”
“I assure you—” began the bridegroom.
But his friend interrupted him. “Don’t perjure yourself on your wedding-day, old man,” he said with a laugh. “You rather miscalculated the amount people can drink on a hot day. It’s bad luck having to draw on your secret store, isn’t it? Especially when it’s such a good vintage? The first wine was good, but it was nothing to touch this stuff. You’ll have me dropping in at the farm pretty often, if there’s any of it left.” And nodding good-humouredly, he strolled away to speak to another guest.
After their guests had gone, there was a little family conclave; how had Ezra managed to get a new supply of wine? That was the gist of the talk. Ezra was sent for.
“Well, Ezra,” said his master, “you did splendidly; but how did you manage to get that second lot of wine?”
“Wasn’t anything to do with me, sir,” answered the man. “Chap outside the door—told us to fill up the jars with water; we drew it as usual from the well. Then he said, ‘pour it out’; well, we did as he said; and it wasn’t water—it was wine. Chap must be one of them conjurors, that’s what he is.”
A light broke in on Simon; he had noticed Jesus standing by the door.
“Is Jesus still here?” he asked. They all looked at him with surprise. What bearing had his remark on the problem that was absorbing them?
“He and his mother left some time ago,” said Simon’s mother. “They said they had to get back to Nazareth, and asked me to excuse them.”
“When was that?” asked Simon abruptly.
“Now let me see,” replied his mother vaguely; “I think it was soon after Ezra brought in that wine.”
“That explains it,” said Simon.
It was two days later on the quayside at Capernaum that Jesus renewed his acquaintance with Simon Peter and Andrew; he was strolling along the water’s edge when he heard a hail; looking in the direction from which the shout came, he saw Peter standing in a boat which was moored a short distance out. He was stripped to the waist and Jesus could not help admiring his powerful build; the muscles stood out in great knots on his brawny arms, as he pulled up the heavy stone which served as an anchor in this shallow water.
“Wait a bit,” he called; “I’m coming ashore.”
He inserted a scull in the stern and skilfully paddled the boat between the craft moored at the water’s edge. Making fast, he ran up the stone steps and in a moment was at Jesus’ side.
“Andrew’s out in the other boat,” he said; “but I want you to meet our partners. Their boats are about fifty yards along the quay.”
With characteristic impetuosity he led the way, leaving Jesus to follow.
“There’s old Zebedee,” he called back over his shoulder, “taking his afternoon nap in the boat. Fine old fisherman too. He’s well over sixty and has never had a day’s illness. His sons are fine fellows, both of them. What those three don’t know about fishing isn’t worth knowing. There are James and John, coming across the road.”
Jesus looked at the pair and took an instinctive liking to them; James the elder was a tall, spare man, with a short black beard and fine dark eyes. He might have been about thirty five years of age. John was considerably younger than his brother, not much over twenty five, Jesus reckoned. His face was clean shaven; crisp, dark curls covered his head; his whole appearance was one of cheerful friendliness.
The two brothers were carrying their nets across to the boats from an open space across the road where they had been spread out to dry. They did not notice Simon Peter till he spoke.
“James,” he said. “I’ve got a friend here I want you to meet.”
James glanced over his shoulder. “Half a minute,” he said. With the deftness and precision born of long practice the two brothers stowed the net away ready for use in one of their boats and returned to the slimy steps.
“This is Jesus of Nazareth,” said Peter by way of introduction.
“Oh yes,” returned James, with a twinkle in his eye. “Andrew has told us quite a lot about you.” John smiled broadly, showing a magnificent row of teeth.
Jesus could not fail to see the significance of their amusement.
Andrew had been declaring that he had met the Messiah in the south country. It was only natural that the two brothers should have treated the information as one of Andrew’s fancies; no doubt there had been a good many jokes at his expense. And now they had come face to face with Andrew’s Messiah and saw nothing but an ordinary working man like themselves. Jesus himself saw the humour of the situation.
“Andrew’s been singing my praises too loudly, I’m afraid,” was all he said.
John laughed outright.
“He did say one or two things that seemed a bit startling,” he said.
“I hear you’ve been nicknaming Simon here,” said James, to change the subject. “The rock, eh? Very good, if you don’t mind me saying so. His face is like a rock and his nature’s like a rock, sort of obstinate, but dependable.” He emphasised his remark by slapping his partner on his bare shoulder. “We’ve started calling him Peter ourselves, sometimes.”
“Yes,” added John; “that’s the sort of name that sticks.” And so the talk drifted into easy and unimportant channels. This was just what Jesus wanted; it was a pity that Andrew’s enthusiasm had proclaimed him as the Messiah to two men whom he had never met before. Such advertisement was likely to do more harm than good. If these men, or any others, were to accept him for what he really knew himself to be, such recognition must come through personal contact and intimate conversation, not through the statements of other people.
And in the next few weeks Jesus did become very friendly with James and John, as well as with Peter and Andrew; they took him out fishing in the boats and sometimes, on dark still nights on the lake, with the little light twinkling at the masthead, he would talk to them of the love of the Father. And all the while, though he and they knew it not, his words were taking root in good soil where they would spring up and bear fruit.
As the one married man of the four, Peter offered to put Jesus up; his house was small, but there was a little room overlooking the lake where a guest could sleep. Both Peter and his wife were indignant when he offered to pay for his lodging.
“We’re making a tidy bit these days,” said Peter; “it’s a poor look out if we can’t have a friend to stay.”
The household consisted only of Peter and his wife and her mother, a frail little old lady who nevertheless managed to get through as much housework as her daughter. The cottage was always spotlessly clean; Peter’s wife took a real pride in polishing the brass and scrubbing the floors. She was a good mate for the burly fisherman—cheerful, good-tempered and never rattled. She was the one person who stood in no awe of his somewhat overbearing manner; he realised this and appreciated her all the more. She treated her middle-aged husband very much like a little boy who had to be kept out of mischief.
“The Lord’s given us no children,” she suddenly said to Jesus one evening at supper. “But perhaps it’s as well; I’ve got my hands full enough already.”
And she looked affectionately across the table at her bronzed husband.
“I’ve often wondered about that,” said Peter reflectively; “kiddies sort of tie you down, don’t they? Keep you stuck to your home? Perhaps it’s the Lord’s purpose that I should move about more sometime; what do you think?” he concluded, referring to Jesus.
“That seems to me very likely,” replied his friend, who earnestly hoped that the honest fisherman would one day in the near future do a bigger work, as well as his fishing.
Jesus had not forgotten his promise to the young gardener, James the son of Alphaeus, to make the acquaintance of his brother Levi, the tax collector. He enquired where his office was and learnt that he was generally to be found at an open-air stall under one of the gates connecting the quay with the market-place. Here he accordingly went.
Levi was sitting at a table, apparently arguing with a fish-dealer about the amount of the tax which should be charged on his profits for the past six months. The other man was clearly flustered and angry; and Jesus could not help admiring the cool, unruffled manner in which the collector was explaining the columns of figures in the return. After a good deal of unnecessary bluster the tradesman banged down the required sum; Levi counted it, wrote a receipt and courteously handed it over the table with a word of thanks. The fellow grabbed it, and spat ostentatiously as he walked away.
Levi sighed, locked up the money and turned as Jesus approached his table.
“What can I do for you?” he asked in a businesslike way.
“I don’t want to intrude on your business hours,” replied Jesus. “I met your brother James when I was in the south; he asked me to look you up.”
A cloud passed over the tax-collector’s face; did this mean that he had broken so completely with his home that any reminder of it annoyed him? Jesus thought not. His expression was one of regret rather than of impatience.
“Excuse me one moment,” said Levi, as he turned to attend to another tax-payer. When the transaction was finished, he spoke again to his visitor.
“I should like to hear the news from home,” he said quietly; “Would you care to come to supper with me this evening?” He gave the invitation almost apologetically, as if expecting it to be refused.
“I shall be delighted,” answered Jesus.
The tax-collector blushed slightly and looked pleased. “Six o’clock then,” he said; “it’s a small villa on the outskirts of the town, on the Bethsaida road. Anyone will direct you—if you ask for the publican’s house,” he added, with a touch of bitterness.
Though not a pretentious house, the villa was tastefully arranged. Levi was evidently a man who liked beautiful things and his salary was sufficient to enable him to indulge his tastes. The meal was not an elaborate one, but it was well cooked and served; the wine was of a good vintage. But in spite of the comfort in which his host lived, Jesus had the feeling that he was not a happy man.
At supper Levi put question after question about his home; Jesus answered to the best of his ability, but was unable to supply the intimate touches which would have meant so much to the exile.
It was not until the meal was over and they were seated in the little garden, watching the setting sun touching the ripples of the lake with gleams of gold and scarlet, that Levi really opened out.
“I was a fool ever to embark on this job,” was what he said. Jesus waited for more; but no more came. He saw that he must make the next move.
“What made you leave home?” he asked.
“There were several reasons,” replied the other, eager to talk to a sympathetic listener. “In the first place I’m not a gardener by nature; I’m fond of flowers, yes; but I have never been able to get up much enthusiasm about carrots or cabbages. Then I suppose I had an ambition, too common with young people, to raise myself above the station in which I was born; I wanted to be rich, to live in comfort. Then figures and accounts have always interested me; and there was a feeling of adventure in leaving home and launching out on my own. But really,” he concluded with a burst of candour, “it was the desire for money; the Roman banks pay us well in this job. I didn’t realise at the time that I was selling my soul for a good salary.”
“Selling your soul?” repeated Jesus with a note of inquiry.
“Well, perhaps not quite that,” answered Levi with a short laugh; “but selling my good name, my home life, the respect of my fellow-men and my chance of marriage with a decent girl.”
“I see,” answered Jesus; “I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by selling your soul.”
“You thought my love of money had—” He hesitated for the right phrase, “had ended in my collecting more than I had to hand over?”
“Many of your profession do,” said Jesus.
“There are very few who don’t,” answered Levi bitterly. “But honestly I’ve not been a swindler—at least not consciously. As a matter of fact it’s frightfully difficult to know exact figures as a rule; the whole system is so corrupt. You see, the Roman Government fixes the total taxation of a province at a certain round sum, say five thousand talents a year; one of the big Roman banks advances this money and takes over the right of taxing the province; they’ve got to pay their tax-collectors’ salaries and probably they make a hundred per cent clear profit as well. All they send us is a lump sum to be collected from our particular district, together with the names and assessments of last year’s tax-payers. You see the whole business is fraudulent and it’s a little hard to criticise one’s colleagues if they make a bit of profit on their own. I’ve tried to collect honestly, but I know we’re all just lumped together as publicans; it’s funny how the name publican has ever come to be used for us ordinary collectors; the publicans are really the banking firms which employ us, but to our countrymen any tax-collector is a publican, and is despised just because he is one.”
“Then you’d like to change your job,” suggested Jesus.
“That’s not an easy question to answer,” replied Levi. “I’ve been at this work now for eight years; I’m not fitted for anything else. Besides, it’s no good disguising the fact that a good salary does attract me; if I chucked up this job, I should have to give up a great many things that have become a part of my life. I couldn’t afford to live in this house; I should have to sell most of the little possessions which I have collected round me. No, I shall probably stick to my job; I look forward to a time when I can retire in comfort and devote myself to my chief hobby.”
“What’s that?” asked Jesus.
“Literature,” answered Levi; “It may seem an odd pursuit for a tax-collector;” he gave a little self-conscious laugh, “but I do try to do a bit of writing in the evenings. It’s my ambition to write a book.”
“And for these pleasures you are prepared to sacrifice your happiness?” said Jesus quietly.
“Yes, I suppose so,” replied the other with a shrug; “after eight years I’m pretty thick-skinned. I’m used to the contempt of other folk—accustomed as a publican to being classed with traitors and criminals.”
“And looking forward,” urged Jesus, “do you really feel you are going to find happiness by continuing to work in a system which you have yourself described as fraudulent? Even when you retire with a comfortable income, will you be really happy?”
“Yes, I hope so,” said the tax-collector lightly. Then, with a sudden burst of honesty he exclaimed, “no, I’m certain I can’t be happy. I should like to be done with it all. The sneers of my neighbours cut me like a lash; and the worst part of it is that I despise myself. But I haven’t the strength of mind to chuck it all up; I can’t face poverty after living in comfort.” He sat for a moment, gazing gloomily at the ground. “Now you see what sort of a fellow I am,” he continued bitterly; “no backbone.”
Jesus ignored this last remark. “If you could find other work which really interested you,” he suggested, “you would accept it?”
“Oh yes,” answered Levi with biting sarcasm, “if it was a well paid job.”
“I am not thinking of the pay,” continued Jesus; “the only thing for you is to get right out of yourself, to forget yourself in the interest of some absorbing work—work which will bring you into sympathetic contact with other folk.”
“I expect you’re right,” returned the other hopelessly. “But where’s such a job to be found?”
“Work of that kind,” answered Jesus, “is staring one in the face wherever one goes.”
He knew he had said enough; he felt a wonderful sympathy with this young man to whom a life of comfort seemed so necessary. He must not antagonise him by pushing him further tonight. He got up.
“I must get back,” he said. “We’re an early household.”
Levi rose reluctantly.
“I suppose there’s no chance of your coming round again some evening,” he said, almost as if expecting a snub; “I’m a lonely bird, as you see.”
“Of course I’ll come,” said Jesus. “I shall be out fishing tomorrow night; what about Thursday?”
“Thursday will do splendidly,” answered Levi with almost pathetic eagerness.
They walked together to the quay. As they parted Levi said, rather unexpectedly: “Shall you be seeing my brother James when you are next in the south?”
“Certainly,” answered Jesus; “I have promised to visit him and Thaddaeus.”
“Do you happen to remember,” asked Levi, with his eyes fixed on the distant coastline of the bay, “what name James used in talking about me?”
“He spoke of you as his brother Levi,” said Jesus rather puzzled. “Why.”
“Oh nothing,” replied the tax-collector hurriedly. “Goodnight.”
He turned and paced away into the night. Jesus looked after him till the darkness swallowed up his retreating figure. The man interested him immensely; he saw great possibilities in him—a publican who had kept himself honest and yet was hungering for something better. Jesus turned and entered the cottage. The warm glow of the flickering oil lamp lit up the homely, contented faces. No luxury here, but happiness born of affection and sympathy.
As Levi walked back to the comforts of his solitary home, he was wrestling with a problem: “What on earth induced me to lay my soul bare to a complete stranger?” But even as his mind tried to solve the riddle, he knew that he was glad; he knew that he was looking forward to the evening after next with an eagerness which he had never felt before.
At their first meeting Jesus had told Levi nothing about himself, about his proposed work or about the truth he intended to bring to mankind. He realised that he was in the presence of a man who had become self-centred as a result of the contempt in which his profession was held; he knew that if he was to win this man’s friendship, he must let him talk about himself; while he remained a sympathetic listener.
In the second visit Levi began to ask him questions—questions which showed that he was taking an interest in someone outside himself. The tax-collector was genuinely anxious to be a friend, not merely to have a friend. He wanted to know what had brought Jesus to Capernaum, why he had given up his business at Nazareth, and so on. Jesus answered his questions simply and without reserve; and the more Levi learnt about his intentions, the more interested he became. He questioned him about his teaching; Jesus sketched for him an outline of his belief in God as a loving Father. He did not develop the theme in any detail, being anxious only to give the other as much as he wanted to hear, and to avoid any impression that he was preaching to him.
In this way the two began to understand and appreciate one another.
Before leaving the tax-collector’s house, Jesus broached a subject which had been puzzling him.
“I couldn’t make out the other day,” he said, “why you asked me that question about your brother.”
“What name he had called me by?” asked Levi.
“It meant rather a lot,” answered Levi. “You see, at home they always called me Matthew; of course my real name’s Levi; but Matthew it’s been ever since I was a little boy. It started like this; we used to play games as children, and I always insisted on being Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees; it was rather fun, because I used to kill James when he came to offer sacrifices to the idols.”
Levi’s face was working strangely; the lump in his throat almost prevented him from going on. Queer how these childhood memories affected him.
“Well that’s how it started,” he continued after a pause. “They all began calling me Mattathias; that got shortened down to Matthew. And Matthew I remained until I became a publican. In the few letters I’ve had from home since then, it’s always been ‘my dear Levi;’ it seemed so cold, so distant. That’s why I asked what James had called me.”
“I see,” said Jesus; “next time I see James I shall give him messages from his brother Matthew.”
“I must see James again,” said Levi suddenly. “I wish he could get away from his garden to come and stay with me.”
“Wouldn’t it be a greater pleasure for you both,” suggested Jesus quietly, “to meet again in your old home?”
Levi said nothing; he was clearly thinking over the idea. When Jesus left the house that evening, he said: “Do you care for sailing? Because if so, come out on the lake with me one evening. I’m out pretty often at nights with my landlord and his brother, or with Zebedee’s sons. Tomorrow we’ve two friends from Bethsaida joining us; why not come too? I should like you to meet them all.”
“Many thanks,” answered the tax-collector; “but I don’t think I will.” Jesus stood in the darkness, but a lamp hanging in the hall faintly illuminated his face. A look of disappointment passed over it, which did not escape Levi. He added hastily: “Don’t think me unfriendly, but,” again he paused, “I don’t think my presence would add to the pleasure of the party.”
“It would add greatly to my happiness,” said Jesus; “and I can answer for my friends.”
Levi was standing silhouetted in the doorway; Jesus could not see his face. But there was clearly a struggle on in his host’s mind.
At last he said: “It’s very good of you—”
“That’s splendid,” interposed Jesus, before the other had time to change his mind. “Be on the quay at about seven; I’ll be on the look out for you. Goodnight, Matthew.”
There came no answer—only a gulp from the dark form in the doorway:
Next day there was something of a scene on the quayside.
Jesus was up early; the fishermen had been out all night and he was on the jetty to see the boats come in. The night had been squally and the catch a poor one. His friends were tired and hungry.
The two boats were made fast and the few fish were loaded into baskets. Andrew and Peter were ashore first; in the other boat old Zebedee and his sons were still furling the sails.
“Rotten night,” said Peter.
“Fishing’ll be good this evening,” replied Andrew philosophically; “the wind’s getting round.”
“I’ve asked a friend to come out with us tonight,” said Jesus, wondering how his proposal would be taken.
“Have you,” replied Andrew, “that young gentleman that’s staying with you do you mean?”
“They’re coming,” said Jesus, “but I’ve asked someone else too.”
Peter looked up; he had been counting the fish disgustedly. He was wondering who this new friend was, whom Jesus had picked up. In the few weeks which he had spent in Capernaum, he had already struck up an acquaintance with most of the riff-raff on the quayside. “Jesus’ friends” were already a standing joke with the fishermen, all except Andrew; he knew that Jesus was the Messiah and could make no mistake. The other three laughed and chaffed him; but it did not escape them that old Ezekiel had been seen sober two or three times lately and that young Caleb had given more thought to his boat-building, and less to making himself attractive to the girls. But which of his many undesirable friends did he mean to bring out with Philip and the other young gentleman? Peter waited for the explanation.
“It’s a young man called Matthew,” said Jesus. “You may know him as Levi the tax-collector.”
Peter stared in astonishment; he had been prepared for anything but this. Then he burst out laughing.
“So that’s the latest,” he said; “well Andrew, what do you say to that? Do we take out the publican tonight?”
“If he’s a friend of Jesus,” answered Andrew, with his eyes on the sail of a boat still out on the lake, “he’ll be all right.”
“Well, let’s hope so,” grumbled Peter, “still, a publican! Here, you two!” he shouted down to the other boat, “have you paid your taxes yet?”
“What’s that got to do with you?” called up John good-humouredly.
“Oh nothing,” replied Peter, “but if you’ve not, you’d better get it done today. Jesus has invited the publican to come out with us tonight.”
James dropped an oar with a clatter into the bottom of the boat; John straightened himself and looked dangerous. Old Zebedee glanced up at Peter to see if he was serious; Peter nodded.
For a moment there was silence in the boat; then John burst out: “none of those fellows are coming in one of our boats.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jesus quietly but firmly; “but I’ve invited him.”
“I don’t care who’s invited him,” shouted John angrily; he sprang up the steps to the quay. “They’re our boats anyway, not yours. And you’ve no right to ask anyone without consulting us.”
James was still straightening up the boat; he had said nothing. But his deliberate movements were somehow more menacing than the younger man’s noisy indignation.
“I was relying on your friendship,” said Jesus in answer to John’s protest. “Of course the boats are not mine; but you’ve made no objection when I asked other friends to come out—young Caleb for instance.”
By this time James had put the boat to rights and was coming slowly up the steps. His face wore an expression of sullen determination.
“Now look here, Jesus,” he rumbled in a slow, threatening tone, “You’ve got to get this straight. I’m not going to have any publicans in my boats. The other stiffs you’ve managed to pick up are different; a drunk’s a drunk, but as likely as not he’s not a bad sort of chap. But a publican’s nothing better than a traitor,” his voice rose, “a dirty Roman slave.”
“And no Roman slaves sail in boats belonging to good Israelites like us,” shouted John in a fury.
“Oh, you two sons of thunder,” said Jesus with a gesture of mock despair. “Can’t we discuss this more quietly.”
The good humour of the remark caught the two angry men unawares. John burst into a laugh; James shrugged his shoulders, but his face remained stubborn.
“We’ll talk it over as long as you please,” he said, “but I stick to what I said. No publicans in our boats.”
“Now look here, James,” remonstrated Jesus; “you’ve never met this man.”
“Oh, haven’t I?” said James. “I paid my taxes to him only last week. Supercilious blighter, that’s what I thought of him.”
“Perhaps your behaviour to him was not very friendly,” parried Jesus.
“Not likely it would be,” put in John.
Peter was watching the scene with a twinkle in his eye. Though brought up in a rough school of experience, he was a shrewd judge of character and this clash between strong personalities interested him. He knew and respected both his partners, but he was prepared to bet that his guest would prove to be more than a match for them. Andrew had sat down on an upturned basket; he saw the anger of James and John as the froth on the top of the wave, threatening but powerless; the Messiah was like the sea itself, strong and deep and full of love to those who had ears to listen to its music. He waited patiently, knowing what the issue must be.
“James,” said Jesus, “if you were to become a tax-collector yourself would your father disown you?”
“Of course he would,” retorted James hotly.
“You mean he’d have nothing more to do with you?” Jesus pursued.
“Nothing,” said James positively; “and quite right too.”
“Don’t talk like a fool, James;” the unexpected interruption came from the boat below the jetty. Old Zebedee had joined in the fray, but not on the side his sons would have expected.
“If you did do a silly thing like that,” continued the old man, “I’d give you a jolly good hiding, if you weren’t twice as big and strong as myself.”
His two great sons burst out laughing. It was comic to think of their little father taking a stick to James as he had done once or twice many years ago.
Zebedee got up slowly and climbed to the jetty; his joints were a bit stiff; he looked as if they needed oiling. It was one of the freaks of Nature that this little apelike man should have had these two handsome giants for his sons. His shrivelled brown face, peering from a fringe of white hair, was a strange contrast to the fine features of James and John.
Not a word was spoken till Zebedee stood dwarfed between his two great sons. He grasped James’ hairy arm firmly and looked up into the bronzed face towering above him.
“James,” he said sternly; “you know quite well that however much of a fool you made of yourself, my door would never be shut on you. Now don’t you?”
“Of course, father,” muttered James shamefacedly.
“Then don’t make out,” continued the old man, “that I’m such a narrow-minded fool as you are yourself. You two are like a pair of naughty overgrown children; but I’ve seen you grow up from toddlers; I’ve helped nurse you through measles; I’ve taught you to handle a boat and to swim like fish; I’ve smacked you when you wouldn’t do as your mother told you; I’ve been out in all weathers to put food into your mouths and clothes on your backs; and then I hear you say I’d turn you out of my house. James, you don’t begin to understand what a father’s love means; but you will one day if you settle down and have kiddies of your own.”
There was something wonderfully moving about the little man’s homely speech. James knew that his hasty words had wounded him and cursed himself for his stupidity.
“I’m sorry, father,” was all he could find to say.
“Of course you’re sorry, boy,” replied the old man cheerfully. “So that’s all right. But Jesus was just going to say something when I lost my temper with you. Now we’d better hear what it was.”
“You’ve said it all for me,” said Jesus quickly. “You’ve shown these two sons of yours what a father’s love means.”
“I don’t quite get you,” said John.
“A father wouldn’t shut his door on his son, even if he were a publican.”
And to the two big men came the memory of those dark still nights on the lake and the face of their new-found friend, feebly lit by the lamp at the masthead, but eager with an inward light as he compared the love of God with a father’s love for his children. They felt humbled and eager to make amends.
It was Peter who saved them from the necessity of climbing down. “When does this chap meet us?” he asked.
“I told him seven o’clock,” replied Jesus.
“That’s all right,” said Peter. “Philip and his friend ought to be here by then. You’ll not be taking the boats out today, will you, Zebedee?”
“No,” answered the old man; “and tonight we’ll take the ‘Whale,’ so as not to split up the party.” The “Whale” was the biggest boat that the firm owned. “We’ll take two of the men with us as well. The wind’s getting round nicely. Now, you two boys,” he addressed the two giants, “carry this wretched lot of fish up to market; I’m off to breakfast.”
John clambered down into the boat and handed up a couple of baskets; James took them from him and placed them with the two which Peter and Andrew had already brought ashore. This was the total catch.
“I’ll give you a hand with the baskets,” said Jesus. And by this trivial act of service, the situation was restored to a normal basis. The three trudged off up the street, carrying the fish between them.
The night’s expedition turned out to be an unqualified success. By his quiet manner Matthew made a good impression; he and Nathaniel found they had much in common and struck up an acquaintance which later ripened into close friendship. James and John, to Jesus’ delight and secret amusement vied with one another in doing little acts of courtesy to the tax-collector. It was a warm night with a steady breeze, and fish were plentiful. After they had parted company on the quay, John drew Jesus aside.
“I’m glad that fellow came,” he said with grudging approval. “Pity he’s a publican; he wouldn’t be half a bad chap if he was in an honest trade.”
Two days later Philip rode over to see Jesus. He was accompanied by a well-dressed, middle-aged man. At the first glance Jesus could see that Philip was worried.
“What’s wrong, Philip?” he asked as the two dismounted.
“It’s about John—the Baptiser, you know,” replied his young friend; “he’s been imprisoned by Herod.”
“I was afraid of something like that,” said Jesus with anxiety. “What do you know about it?”
“My friend here can tell you more than I can,” answered Philip; “this is Chuza, the steward of Herod’s palace; he’s been a friend of my people’s for many years.”
“I’ll tell you all I know,” said Chuza. “It all happened three or four weeks ago; but I was supping last night with Philip’s people and mentioned the incident quite casually. I had no idea that Philip himself was a friend of the Baptiser.”
He paused for a moment, but no one made any comment.
“Since his marriage to Herodias,” continued the chamberlain, “the King has been doing a considerable amount of entertaining. I expect you know there has been a lot of criticism about his marrying his brother’s widow, especially so soon after Philip’s death. By his lavish hospitality he was anxious, I think, to disarm criticism and so hush up the scandal. Herodias is a most attractive woman and her daughter Salome quite a beauty; guests enjoyed coming to the palace and probably felt disinclined to go away and talk unfavourably about the royal marriage after the entertainment they had received.
“One evening, just over three weeks ago,” continued Chuza, “the festivities were on a larger scale than usual. Most of the notables in the district were present. Wine had flowed freely and the boisterous mirth was at its height. The king was sitting at the end of the banqueting-hall facing the entrance. Suddenly he half rose from his couch, staring across the table; his guests turned and saw a strange apparition in the doorway. There stood the Baptiser clad in his camel skins, his hand raised as if invoking the wrath of God on the scene of debauchery. A profound silence greeted his entrance. Then he spoke. He didn’t raise his voice, yet every word carried to the farthest corners of the hall.
“‘The life of a King,’ that’s how he started, ‘should be a pattern and an inspiration to his subjects. But you, King Herod, have broken the sacred law given to us by our father Moses. You are encouraging your people to live in sin. That woman by your side was your brother’s wife. It is not lawful for you to have her.’
“As the Baptiser began to speak, the King had sunk back on to the couch, where he sat staring at the intruder; he seemed stupefied with terror; he’s very superstitious, you know. But as the prophet finished, Herodias sprang to her feet. Her eyes blazed.
“‘Bind the madman!’ But not a soul stirred. They were waiting for the King’s command; and the King remained speechless.”
“She turned on her husband. ‘Do you sit there, while that impostor insults your wife?’
“‘Your brother’s wife,’ came the deep voice of the Baptiser in correction.
“At last King Herod spoke. But his voice was hoarse and unnatural: ‘take him to the dungeon.’ The guards closed round him. I shall never forget the Baptiser’s glance of scorn, as he turned without a word and left the hall under the escort of the royal bodyguard.
“Of course the banquet was at an end. The guests dispersed. There has been no entertaining since.”
“How is John treated?” asked Jesus after a long silence.
“With consideration,” replied the chamberlain promptly; “he is kept in confinement of course; but he is allowed to see his friends and is provided with such books as he asks for. The King visits him almost daily; it’s whispered in the palace that he is rapidly becoming a convert.”
“If that happened,” put in Philip, “John would be released.”
“I am not so sure of that,” answered Chuza. “The Queen is a very determined woman. And the more her husband comes under the Baptiser’s influence, the more bitterly she hates him.”
“It was a brave act—” began Philip.
“John is a brave man,” said Jesus.
“But he must have known,” continued Philip, not heeding the interruption, “that it would end like that.”
“I wonder,” said Jesus. “Perhaps he thought it would end—differently.”
Philip stopped abruptly.
Jesus nodded. “He told me his work was finished. Poor John! He is a man, who values his freedom more than his life. He would have preferred his last service to God to have ended—as he expected.”
A month had passed since Jesus had returned from the wilderness. He was now fairly launched on his work, but it was too early as yet to predict what success would come to him.
There was no doubt about his popularity with the working-classes to which he himself belonged, and with whom he at first naturally associated. But easy as he had found it to become friendly with these simple folk, he did not feel that he had yet made much real headway; those whom he had come to know intimately saw that his character was something unusual; they felt an influence for good pass from him to themselves. And when he came to speak to them about God, as he often did quite simply and naturally, without any affectation or self-consciousness, he seemed to be bringing them an entirely new idea, something which really affected their lives and made them want to live better.
But Jesus himself was not satisfied. Two things were worrying him; the progress seemed so slow; and he was as yet gaining so few educated followers. The Pharisees and the scribes disregarded him, and had in fact never heard or thought of him. The Messiah was making very little stir in the world; even in the town of Capernaum where he had chosen to begin his work, he was only known to a few people of his own class, common working folk, as Jesus, the Nazareth carpenter. He knew he must widen his scope.
And now an opportunity had come to him by what seemed the merest chance. Some days before, he had spoken to a crippled boy on the quay; he was the son of a fisherman; Jesus was always popular with children and had soon made friends with the little boy. It appeared that the child’s only toy, a wooden horse, which he called Job, had broken its leg. Jesus set to work with his knife and a small piece of driftwood to carve a new leg, while the little boy watched him with absorbed interest. Then with some borrowed glue the leg had been stuck on, and the horse was himself again. Little Simeon clapped his hands.
“How clever you are,” he said. “I thought Job was going to be lame for the rest of his life—like me.”
“Look at me, Simeon,” said Jesus. The boy turned his wondering eyes on his new friend. “I could make your legs quite well again—like Job’s. Do you believe that?” he added, rather anxiously.
Simeon said nothing for a few moments.
“Mother says I shall be lame always,” he said at last.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “but God will let me straighten your legs, if you believe I can.”
“I don’t believe you’d say you could if you couldn’t,” answered little Simeon. “You don’t look that sort. You can try, if you like.”
Jesus stood up. He had been sitting by the little boy who was propped against an upturned boat. He gave both his hands at Simeon and said: “Look straight at me. Now, stand up.”
“But I can’t,” said the child.
“Yes, you can,” answered his friend almost sternly; “stand up.”
Slowly the little boy tried to rise.
“That’s splendid,” said Jesus encouragingly; “You’ll be up in a minute. I’ll give you a pull.”
He gently raised him to his feet and all the time he felt the life-giving power passing through his hands into the child’s body. The feeble little legs straightened themselves; the joints were strengthened.
“I’m standing!” cried Simeon in his excitement.
“Well done,” answered his friend, “now stand by yourself. You can if you try.”
He released his hands; for a moment the child swayed; then with growing confidence, his sense of balance increased.
“I believe I could walk,” he said.
“Try,” was the answer.
Simeon held the side of the boat for his first attempt, then found that he could go without support, and in a few moments was walking and running with the agility of any other child of his age.
Jesus felt a hand laid on his shoulder and turned. A young man was regarding him strangely; he was well dressed and evidently of the professional class.
“May I have a word with you?” he asked.
“Certainly,” replied Jesus. He called to Simeon: “Run along home, Simeon,” he said, “and show your mother how well you can walk and run. I’ll come round and see her this afternoon.”
And the little boy scampered off, proud of his new accomplishment.
Jesus watched him enter the door of his home; he smiled as he pictured the joy and astonishment of the mother. Then he turned.
“Now I’m at your service, sir,” he said to the young man.
“Who are you?” asked the other.
“My name is Jesus; I come from Nazareth,” he said.
“I watched everything you did to little Simeon,” said the young man, “from my own house across the road. I know the child well; he has been lame from birth. What I saw a moment ago is the most astounding cure of modern times; you achieved the impossible. I am well qualified to judge, being myself a doctor. My name is Luke. I want to talk to you, to learn how you did—what you did.”
“That I cannot tell you,” answered Jesus; “it is no skill in myself. The power of the Lord was with me to heal.”
“Come and sup with me,” said Luke. “I have much to ask you.”
The two young men crossed the road together and entered the doctor’s house.
After supper they talked until far into the night; and this conversation had important results. The young man of science was profoundly impressed by his carpenter-guest; he realised that here was one who had the secret of life, who spoke from personal knowledge of the love and goodness of God. And Jesus had asked for his help in a matter in which it was easy to give it; he wished to preach in the synagogue on the following Sabbath. Luke was a rising man who had some influence in the city; he knew the Rabbi well. He could easily arrange an introduction.
So it came about that Jesus had been invited to give the address on the next Sabbath day.
The Synagogue was crowded; for besides the regular congregation many of Jesus’ quayside friends had come out of curiosity. As some of these entered the building, the well-bred Pharisees drew back and held aside their garments that they might not be contaminated by touching the clothes of well-known bad characters, both men and women. It mattered nothing to the Pharisees that old Ezekiel the drunkard now drank no more; he was a sinner and must be avoided. But the preacher, Jesus, sitting by the Rabbi, nodded to Ezekiel and to many others whose presence in the synagogue seemed an outrage to the Pharisees.
The Service proceeded in the customary way and it was time for the Sermon. Jesus rose and gave out his text. He began a little hesitantly; so much depended on this first impression and he felt some natural nervousness. But soon he lost his shyness in what he was saying; he told his hearers of the goodness and love of God; he made them feel that God was a loving Father who cared for the poor and outcast as much as for the rich and respectable. They felt if God was amongst them in very fact in the synagogue.
As Jesus sat down there was an awed hush; no preacher had ever moved his hearers like this before. Then a group of the scribes and Pharisees heard some of the common folk whispering behind them: “He knows what he’s talking about.”—“You’d think he had been taught this by God himself.”—“Very different from the dry teaching of the scribes.”—Such sentences came to their ears and filled them with anxiety. If this man were allowed to continue preaching their own influence would soon be gone. He must somehow be stopped.
As these thoughts passed through the Pharisees’ minds, there was a sudden interruption to the service; through the sacred building rang a weird shout and a high-pitched cackle of laughter. Ephraim the idiot had lost control of himself; the devils which possessed him were crying through his mouth. He was shouting blasphemies: “What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
And then the amazing thing happened. Jesus rose and confronted the mad man.
“Silence!” he cried: “Come out of him.”
The poor lunatic gave one cry, twitched convulsively and fell senseless on the ground; Jesus bent over him, took his hand, raised him up and led him gently from the building.
As the congregation dispersed, there was much wagging of tongues. The general opinion was to hail Jesus as a prophet with remarkable powers. And within a very few days his reputation had spread throughout the cities on the lakeside.
But as the Pharisees and scribes walked home to their Sabbath dinner, they were conversing in anxious undertones.
“If this fellow is allowed to go on unchecked, what will become of us?”
“And he is not one to be encouraged; even today he has broken the law by healing on the Sabbath.”
“And he makes friends of the lowest type of people; did you see that crowd in the synagogue today?”
“If he continues to break the law, the whole case must be referred to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem.”
“Ha! Dr. Luke, what do you make of the new healer?”
Luke turned; “His power is amazing,” he said, “and without doubt genuine. But more convincing than his healing is his teaching; if ever a man was inspired by God, this Jesus is.”
As he said this, he saw with surprise a look of malignant jealousy come into the face of the scribe who had addressed him.
“Good morning, Doctor,” said the other. “Our ways part here. And if you are going after the Nazareth carpenter, our ways will part in another sense.”
On his return from the synagogue Jesus found Peter waiting rather anxiously for him on the doorstep.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” he said; “the old lady’s pretty poorly, I’m afraid. I was wondering if we ought to have the doctor.”
His mother-in-law had not appeared at breakfast that morning; when Jesus had enquired about her, he was told she was not feeling quite herself; but no one had seemed at all anxious. Peter had come straight back from the synagogue to be greeted by his wife with the news that her mother was in a high fever. This Peter recounted to Jesus as they went upstairs together.
The old woman was tossing restlessly on her bed; her face was flushed and she was muttering incoherent snatches of nonsense. Jesus looked down at her for a moment and realised that she was seriously ill; Peter noticed that his lips were moving as he watched her. Then he laid his hand on her forehead and immediately she became quiet; a look of peace overspread her features and she opened her eyes. Next moment she sat up in bed.
“I don’t know why you people are keeping me in bed,” she remarked, in a voice which was almost comic in its disapproval. “I’m feeling perfectly well; and you’ll be doing more than your share of work on the Sabbath if I don’t get up, Judith.”
Peter and his wife exchanged glances.
“You must stop in bed today, mother,” said her daughter soothingly. “You’ve had a touch of fever.”
“Now Judith, you’re not to fuss me,” complained the determined old woman. “I’m going to get up, whatever you say.”
Peter’s wife appealed to Jesus with an anxious glance.
“I should let your mother have her own way,” he said with a smile; “the fever’s left her.”
Half an hour later they were all sitting at the midday meal; and it was the old lady who was bustling in and out with the dinner. Jesus was conscious that Judith and Peter were looking at him thoughtfully from time to time. But no one mentioned the subject which was uppermost in their minds.
That evening there was an extraordinary scene outside the house. The news of the recovery of the idiot Ephraim had spread like wild fire through the poorer quarters of the town; the flames were fanned by Judith, who had told her next door neighbour, in the strictest confidence of course, of her mother’s sudden cure. Such a story was too good to keep to oneself, and added to the other it made a great impression.
Just as Peter’s household was finishing its evening meal there came a hesitating tap on the door; Jesus was sitting nearest, and got up to open it. He was astonished to see a large crowd of anxious-faced people outside; lying all along the waterside were sick folk on hastily devised stretchers. Others, crippled and diseased, had managed to drag themselves to the place and were sitting with that air of patient resignation which is so common in those who are seldom out of pain. A few mentally deficient children had been brought by parents who hoped against hope that the tale of the healer’s powers might be true.
Jesus’ heart smote him as he came face to face with this mob of suffering humanity. Would the Father enable him to bring healing, or even relief, to so many? He realised that he had no power in himself, that the power passed direct from the Father through him to the sick person; but could he stand the strain of allowing that overwhelming force to pass through him time after time.
“Father,” he prayed silently, “use me to help your other children.”
He laid his hands on a crippled child and saw her straighten her little body; on an old woman whose face was covered with sores; on a young man with a fractured hip whose friends had carried him here on a stretcher. In every case healing had followed his touch.
He walked about among the crowd, bringing joy and health wherever he went. He was surprised and overjoyed to find that he was not experiencing that sensation of physical exhaustion which had been so evident on previous occasions. In thinking only of those he was helping he was in fact becoming a more perfect channel for the manifestation of God’s healing power.
At least a score of people had already been cured when he came to a paralysed man who had been brought to the place on a mattress; as he approached him he was aware of some strong force operating against the divine power which had healed the rest.
“How did you became paralysed like this?” he asked.
The man on the mattress turned his tortured eyes on him; but all he said was:
“I’m past praying for.”
“If you believe in the power of God,” said Jesus; “He will give you healing.”
“If you were like this, you wouldn’t believe in God at all,” said the man bitterly.
“Tell me how you became paralysed,” answered Jesus, “and I believe I can help you.”
“It was my own fault,” said the sufferer; “Don’t pry into what doesn’t concern you. I know you can’t do anything for me; I didn’t want to come. These fellows brought me; now they can take me back.”
Jesus turned to one of the man’s friends; he saw many others waiting anxiously and made a quick decision. “Wait here till afterwards,” he said; “I’ll attend to these other people first.”
As the crowd dispersed, expressions of gratitude and astonishment surrounded Jesus. But he was not satisfied; there was still the paralysed man who had not been healed. He returned to the place where he had left him. The man was not there.
Jesus looked towards Peter’s door; he and his wife were there and had been joined by Andrew and Zebedee’s sons. They were talking together rather anxiously and James and John were glancing down the street where two well-dressed figures were disappearing round a bend.
James crossed the road to Jesus.
“Did you notice those two?” he asked.
“The two Pharisees?” replied Jesus. “Yes; I saw them.”
“As they passed us,” said James, “they were saying something about healing on the Sabbath.”
Jesus sighed. “I suspected as much,” he commented; “I wonder what they think God’s day is for—for the good of his children, or to keep them away from His loving care?”
“It would be wiser to do your healing on some other day,” suggested James. “No point in getting across the Pharisees and Scribes.”
Jesus did not answer this. Instead he asked: “did you see the old man on the mattress?”
“Old Jonah?” said James. “Yes; a bad old lot, if ever there was one. Poor old fellow,” he added as if by an afterthought.
“How did he get like that?” Jesus asked.
“Brought it on himself,” answered James.
And he told Jesus a story, common enough but sordid and depressing, a story of drink and wife-beating, of a big family growing up in starvation and misery, of cruelty to the children—then loss of work, a final bout of insane drinking, a stroke and paralysis.
“Is the wife alive?” asked Jesus.
“Yes, poor soul,” replied the fisherman; “she’s done everything for him for the last fifteen years and has got nothing but grumbles and curses for her pains.”
“And the children?”
“All doing well; the poor mother had a hard struggle at first; but the neighbours were very good to her and to them. Misfortune does seem to call out the best in poor folk. Oh yes, the children are all on their own legs now, and earning good money. It’s Jonah’s missus I’m sorry for.”
“James,” said Jesus; “I wish you’d do something for me. You know old Jonah don’t you?”
“After a fashion,” replied James; “he’s not the sort one sees much of.”
“It would only make him more obstinate if I went to see him,” said Jesus. “But you could drop in quite naturally. You might tell him how sorry I was he went away before I could come back to him. I know he can be cured, but it depends on himself; he told me it was his own fault that he’s paralysed; he realises that, you see. If he could be made to understand and be sorry for the suffering he has brought on his wife and the children, that would be the first step. And then he must believe that God is waiting like a good Father to welcome him back to the family and that He will give him healing for his body as well as for his mind and soul.”
James hesitated. “Do you think he’d believe that?” he asked uncertainly.
“We can but try,” replied Jesus. But his tone was so hopeful that James was encouraged.
“I’ll do it,” he said, “if only for the sake of his poor wife.”
“If you can make Jonah see sense,” answered Jesus, “you will have done a great thing for her—but still more for him. It may take a bit of time to make him understand; but the moment he asks to see me, let me know. I long to bring the Father’s healing to that poor body—and still more to that tortured mind.”
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