It was a strangely assorted company which met in the wheelwright’s shop at Cana two days later. Fishermen and gardeners, clerks and farm-labourers were hobnobbing with noblemen like Isaac and wealthy tradesmen like Abinadab; Jabez and his wife had come together from the far side of the lake; old Jonah was there from the slums of Capernaum, chatting with Dr. Luke, the rising young doctor. The women were almost more oddly mixed; ladies of aristocratic birth and upbringing like Joanna and Susanna were conversing freely and without self-consciousness with the wives of shopkeepers and farmers, with domestic servants and charwomen. Mary of Magdala was not the only young woman present who had formerly walked the streets of the lakeside cities.
Moving from group to group was the one who had brought them all together, the carpenter of Nazareth. He it was who had broken down social barriers and united these people of widely different occupations and classes in one common purpose of spreading the good news of the generosity and love of God.
The wheelwright and his wife had insisted on giving hospitality to their visitors. When the meal was finished, Jesus gave them their instructions. These followed precisely the same lines as those given to the Twelve for the previous tour. They were to take no extra clothing, no money, no spare sandals; they were to depend for food and entertainment on the generosity of the people whose towns and villages they visited.
“The harvest is waiting to be gathered in, but how few are the labourers. Let us ask the Father that your work may inspire hundreds of others to come forward to help in the world’s harvest-field. You will not find friends everywhere; sometimes you will feel like lambs in the midst of wolves, alone and helpless. But cheer up! It is a great work you have undertaken; and my Father will support the lambs and give them courage and confidence when things seem most dangerous and difficult, and when the wolves show their teeth most fiercely. Heal the sick, as I have taught you; and remember that sickness of the body is not the worst form of evil; so remind those whom you heal that the Kingdom of God is close at hand.”
On the next morning the seventy missioners set off in their pairs for the districts which had been assigned to them. Jesus stood at the door of the workshop watching their departure and speaking a few words of encouragement to each couple.
The problem of Judas’ partner had exercised Jesus’ mind considerably. None of the Twelve were to travel together, as their experience from the previous occasion would be valuable in helping the new recruits.
But Judas’ enthusiasm, if it again took the wrong direction, might so easily infect an eager young worker. Finally Jesus had chosen a responsible middle-aged man named Matthias to be his companion; he had first met Matthias at Luke’s house and had been impressed by his earnestness and understanding. Since then Matthias and the doctor had often discussed Jesus’ teaching and aims, and both appreciated them as few others did. He was a man of good education and breeding who lived on a small estate north of Capernaum. His personality was strong enough to stand out against any patriotic propaganda, if Judas were so unwise as to attempt it. But above all Jesus hoped that Matthias’ sincerity and intelligence would bring Judas to see that his own conception of the Kingdom was narrow and unsatisfying.
Just before their departure Judas drew Jesus aside.
“I know you didn’t think much of my efforts last time,” he said with a whimsical smile. “Perhaps on this occasion I shall have more success.” Turning abruptly on his heel, he rejoined his partner. “Come, Matthias, we must be off.”
Jesus watched them turn a bend in the street; his face wore an expression of mingled anxiety and puzzledom. What did that strange man mean by success? Success for his own ambitions, or success in carrying out his Master’s wishes?
The last couple to leave were Joanna and the girl Mary. “Don’t forget your promise to look up my Mother when you get to Nazareth,” he enjoined. “I am going there myself for a few days and will tell her to expect you.”
Jesus glanced through the open shutters of the familiar Nazareth workshop. Joses was working alone, fitting a new handle on a scythe.
The voice startled the solitary worker. He looked up in surprise. “Hullo, where have you sprung from?” was all he said. But the pleasure in his face belied the curtness of the greeting.
“Is Mother in?” asked Jesus again.
“She’s out shopping,” was the reply. “James is somewhere about.”
He walked to the inner door and called: “James!”
As the scribe entered the workshop, the astonishment on his face was almost comical.
“Why, it’s the lost prophet,” he exclaimed. “Where have you been all the summer? We seem to have heard nothing of you lately.”
“Just as well, perhaps,” replied Jesus with a laugh. “When you do get news of me, it’s generally something that upsets you.”
“Well,” answered James, “we were a bit worried in the Spring when we heard you had been trying to be proclaimed king. But, of course, that may have been an exaggeration, as I told Mother at the time. Since then there’s been no news at all. Where have you been hiding yourself?”
“I’ve been working in Phoenicia and Syria.”
“Oh, I see. That accounts for it,” was his brother’s reply. “Mother’s been a bit anxious. I’m glad you’ve turned up.”
“I was thinking of staying a few days,” answered Jesus. “Is there room?”
“Any amount,” said Joses heartily. “The two boys are away on a job in the country.”
“And Joses and I,” added James, “are off to Jerusalem tomorrow for the feast of Tabernacles.”
Joses laughed. “James is trying to persuade me to go,” he remarked; “but I can’t leave the shop.”
“Nonsense,” said the scribe; “you need a change. Besides Sim and John will be back before the end of the week. They are perfectly capable of carrying on.” He turned to Jesus; “Why not come with us?”
“I’m not very popular in Judaea,” was the laughing reply.
“All the more reason for coming,” urged James. “The whole trouble in Jerusalem is that the facts about your work are misunderstood there. It was the same here. We all got the wrong impression because exaggerated rumours reached us and we had no opportunity of judging the truth for ourselves. When we actually came to Capernaum, it was quite different. We could see with our eyes the value of the work you were doing in the slums. You’d undertaken a tough job and had already, from all accounts, achieved a certain measure if success. With a bit more tact you could have kept on good terms with the local leaders of religion and there would have been none of the criticism, which has undermined your influence, or complaints to the Council in Jerusalem, which may easily put a stopper on your work altogether.”
“When you say tact,—” began Jesus.
“One minute,” interrupted his brother, “or you won’t see what I’m driving at. My point is that you’ve got something to say to the world and a considerable power of getting it across. I liked that address of yours in the synagogue here,” he continued with the unconsciously patronising manner of the professional teacher towards the amateur. “There was good stuff in it: that idea about the Fatherhood of God, for instance; that might be worked up into something really telling. One would have to be a bit careful, of course, not to give an impression of too great familiarity with the Almighty. But even as you put it, there was nothing that a broad-minded person could really object to. Now I don’t want you to think I’m laying down the law, but I can’t help feeling that you’ve started your work in the wrong way—or, to be more exact, in the wrong place. Why in Capernaum? Why in Galilee at all? If you’d begun in Jerusalem, where all the great religious movements have originated, you would have been recognised at once as a great teacher. You might in time have even been admitted to the Doctors’ College, possibly to the Council itself. This hole and corner business in Capernaum has just led to misrepresentation, which it will be difficult for you to counteract. That’s why I say, come to Jerusalem now. There are plenty of people in Judaea ready to accept your teaching, so I’m told. But they only know it by hearsay; you ought to give them the chance of hearing it themselves.”
“Then there’s your power of healing,” put in the practical Joses. “That speaks for itself.”
“Quite so,” agreed James, “and that would give you a following which would be impossible for most teachers. Forgive me for lecturing you like this; but you have something to give to the world and you’re such an impractical beggar, you can’t see how to give it. Do stop hiding your undoubted talents in Capernaum and declare yourself openly to the world.”
“The time for the fulfilment of my work has not yet come,” was Jesus’ reply. “You advise me to declare myself to the world. Perhaps ‘the world’ means different things to us; to me it means the worldly people who put money and personal advancement before their service to God, people like the priests and professors at Jerusalem, whose one idea is to improve their position or to heap up little fortunes for themselves.”
“I say!” began James hotly; but Jesus was not to be stopped.
“You can mix freely with these people, James, because you have been trained to believe that our religious leaders can do no wrong. They don’t hate you, because you don’t see through them. But the one thing the world does hate is criticism; it hates its weaknesses and faults to be exposed; and it hates me for exposing them. You don’t like me saying that kind of thing, I know; but if you want to teach the truth, James, you must be ready to see and face the truth. A blind man is no use as a guide for another blind man; he’ll probably lead him straight into a ditch.”
The three laughed together and the tension was relaxed. “You take Joses up to the Feast by all means,” continued Jesus, before James could collect his thoughts for a reply; “let him have his holiday. I’ll stay here with Mother and look after any odd work which may come in, at any rate till Sim and John come back.”
“Well, of course,” said Joses gratefully, “that makes all the difference. It’ll be all right when the boys are home again; and I must say, I shall enjoy a holiday.”
“You’ve got some use for a prophet then?” Jesus chaffed him.
“More use for a carpenter,” replied the younger man with ponderous humour.
In after years Mary used to declare that those three days were the happiest in her life. She had her beloved eldest son all to herself; he busied himself in the shop as of old; he helped her in the house. She knew him to be a great teacher; she believed him to be the long-expected Messiah. But to her he was just Jesus, her first-born son, the baby she had borne in the stable of the Bethlehem inn, the child whose life she and Joseph had saved by their timely flight to Egypt, the boy who had been lost at his first Passover in Jerusalem, the man who had supported the family through the anxious years which followed her husband’s death.
They talked of homely little things; memories of his childhood; often they sat together in the little back room exchanging no words—those wonderful silences, full of sympathy and understanding.
Mary asked him about his work, about his plans for the future.
“James advises me to go to Jerusalem,” he replied; then he smiled across the table; “James and I don’t always see eye to eye about things, as you know; but, curiously enough, I had already planned to go there. As soon as this short visit is over, I travel south to Judaea.”
An anxious look came into his Mother’s eyes.
“My dear,” she said, “is it safe? People are saying that the Council are waiting for a chance to arrest you.”
“James thinks the Council may change their opinion if I am working in the capital.”
“But do you think so,” inquired Mary.
“No, Mother,” he answered at once. “The Council don’t want to be convinced that my teaching is true.”
“Then you will be in danger?”
“Is danger a thing to be avoided?” Jesus replied quietly. “The soldier who fights for his country doesn’t run from danger; and my fight is for something greater than country; I am fighting for the salvation of mankind.”
And like countless mothers whose sons throughout the ages have gone into battle, Mary faced the future with unflinching courage, knowing that she might lose what was dearest to her on earth.
On their last evening together he told her of the Seventy who were spreading his teaching throughout the country.
“You are going to have visitors, Mother,” he went on, “Joanna, wife of King Herod’s chamberlain, has promised to come and see you with her adopted daughter, Mary of Magdala.”
And he told her the story of the girl, whose childhood had been degraded through her mother’s avarice.
Mary listened in silence. When he had finished, her only comment was:
“Can there really be mothers like that, who are ready to sell their children’s happiness?”
“Mary is learning from the Lady Joanna what a mother’s love can be,” Jesus reassured her.
“But it was you who saved her,” she replied proudly. “It was thirty three years ago that the archangel Gabriel told me to name you Jesus—the Saviour. It has taken me all that time to understand his meaning.”
It was Jesus’ intention to reach Jerusalem quietly and unheralded by the gossip of other Galilean pilgrims. He therefore decided to travel by the western road through Antipatris and Lydda; by this route he was unlikely to meet people of his acquaintance.
At Lydda he joined the main stream of traffic from the port of Joppa; he entered into conversation with some of the pilgrims from overseas. There were Jews from Greece and North Africa, some even from the Imperial city of Rome; all journeying with a common object, to be in the Holy City for the autumn festival.
It was a hot day and Jesus was glad enough to unstrap his pack for the midday meal; he mopped his forehead and sat down by the roadside.
“Warm, isn’t it?” he remarked to a burly middle-aged man, who was munching a meat pie close by.
“Call this warm,” was the cheerful reply. “You should try a summer day in Libya, shouldn’t he, boys? These are my two little sons, Alexander and Rufus,” he went on, nodding facetiously towards two gigantic young men who sprawled beside him on the grass. “They’ve never been in the home country before; both born and bred in Libya.”
“You’ve lived there a long time then?” said Jesus to keep the conversation going.
“Went out there as a young man, soon after I married,” continued the other; “couldn’t get much work in this country, so decided to try my luck overseas. I’m a stone-mason by trade and these two lads have been brought up to the same job. I lost their poor mother when they were only kids; fever it was; so I had to do for them myself. Oh, well, they’ve not done too badly.”
“Can you get plenty of work out there?” asked Jesus.
“Much as ever we want,” said the man cheerfully. “Been on the same job now for six years without a break—a great new aqueduct. The Roman are great builders and they expect good work; but if the work’s good, the pay’s good. We’ve saved a tidy sum, so I’ve brought the boys to spend the winter here; want to show them the old country. After six years of heavy work, I think we’ve earned a holiday. Come on, boys,” he went on without a pause, “if we want to get to Jerusalem tonight, we must push along.”
He rose to his feet and began strapping on an immense pack, which presumably contained all their requirements for six months. The elder of his two sons protested.
“Here, dad,” he said, “give me that. It’s my turn to carry it.”
“Now don’t you start arguing, Alexander,” returned the stonemason. “I can’t have you little lads tiring yourselves. I’m built for carrying loads and I’m used to it. Well, goodbye, stranger; perhaps we’ll meet again sometime; we’ll be round and about till after Passover time. If there’s anything I can do for you, call on me; I’m not good at book-learning or figures,” he showed his teeth in a broad grin, “but if you want anyone to do a bit of stone or timber lifting, I’m your man. Simon’s my name—Simon of Cyrene.”
“And mine’s Jesus of Nazareth.”
He watched the three as they strode along the hot road, the father bearing the huge load on his back and overtopping his two great sons by half a head. Something seemed to tell him that he would meet this friendly giant again, that one day his offer of help would be welcome.
Lolling in the sunshine by the roadside, Jesus let his thoughts range idly into the future. He had purposely made no definite plans: so much depended on his reception by the common folk of the capital, on the advice of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, on the opposition he encountered from the priests and other Jewish leaders. He foresaw all too clearly that difficulties lay ahead, probably dangers; he had as yet few friends in the capital; the two who would be most eager to help him had their hands partly tied by their membership of the Council. All the weight of authority, all the centuries of tradition seemed to rise like a great barrier between him and the attainment of his goal—the salvation of mankind. And all the while in the back of his mind loomed the bald, shapeless outline of Skull Hill.
Yet he was not unhappy. He was on the brink of a new venture and looked forward to it with eager anticipation. He was aware that new friendships awaited him, new opportunities for doing the Father’s work, new souls to be won for the Kingdom of God. And if the Messiah must suffer pain and insult, humiliation and death, what did that matter, provided that the foundations of that Kingdom were well and truly laid?
Prominent in his mind was the desire to seek out the boy whose offer of his picnic lunch had enabled him to feed the five thousand. He remembered his eager face, his alert intelligence, above all his spiritual insight: “Isn’t that the same as saying, ‘God is love?’” How completely that boy of seventeen had grasped the inner truth of all his teaching.
The Twelve had been trained for action and organisation, to become the officers and ministers of the Kingdom, to carry on the work which he had himself begun. But none of them were great thinkers, with the possible exception of Nathaniel and Thomas; Jesus’ mind dwelt on those two and weighed them up. Thomas was too cautious and critical to see to the heart of things, Nathaniel’s nature was too sensitive; he felt things so deeply that he could not view them dispassionately.
Yet the Kingdom of God needed thinkers as well as men of action. And again Jesus’ thoughts turned to the boy John; had he a great part to play in the drama of human progress—and would he be willing to play it?
As he rose to his feet, Jesus smiled to himself. His thoughts were running away with him. He must see more of John before he could hail him as the philosopher of the Kingdom.
The westering sun hung like a ball of molten fire over the Roman barracks, as Jesus topped the crest of a hill and came in sight of the sacred city.
At the same moment there was a clatter of horse’s hooves and a Roman trooper cantered past, shouting: “Clear the road! Make way for his Excellency the Proconsul!” Looking behind him, Jesus saw a chariot approaching, escorted by cavalry. With the other pilgrims he moved to the side of the road and stood silently watching as the representative of Imperial Rome drew near. For the first time he was to set eyes on the man who might one day have to decide his fate.
A contingent of twenty horses led the way; then came the chariot, in which sat the governor and his lady. As the cortège came abreast of where Jesus stood, the driver pulled up abruptly; the proconsul looked up impatiently.
“What’s the matter, Plancus,” he asked.
“It’s a trace gone, I’m afraid, Excellency,” replied the man. “Here someone, hold the horses’ heads a moment.”
A young man advanced from the crowd and did as he was asked. The driver dismounted and examined the traces; then he returned to the side of the chariot. “We shall need a leather-worker to put this right, Excellency,” he explained apologetically.
“Can’t you patch it up till we get in?” said the great man peevishly. “It’s only a matter of five or six miles.”
“I shouldn’t care to take the risk, sir,” answered the driver. “Probably there’s a cobbler in the village over there. A good man could sew this up in a quarter of an hour. Shall I inquire, sir?”
The proconsul did not answer him directly.
“Here, you!” he said, beckoning to Jesus as the nearest bystander. “Run over to that village and see if you can get hold of a saddler or someone, to mend this confounded thing.”
“I’ll do what I can, Excellency,” replied Jesus.
A narrow cart track led off the main road to the village which was only some three or four hundred yards distant. Arriving there he asked if there was a leather-worker in the place, and was directed to a small shop where the owner was putting up the shutters for the night.
“The Proconsul wants a trace mended,” Jesus began without any preliminary greeting. “His chariot’s just up at the end of the lane.”
“My work’s over for the day,” returned the saddler with a broad grin; “but need’s must when the devil drives.”
He disappeared inside the house and returned in a few moments with an awl, some stout thread and strips of leather. At a leisurely pace he accompanied Jesus back along the track.
The proconsul had dismounted and was standing talking to the officer in command of the escort. He was clearly in a bad temper and chaffing at the delay.
“It’s bad enough,” he was saying, “having to leave Caesarea and come up four or five times a year to Jerusalem for these damned Feasts, without getting stranded on the road like this. We meant to get in before sunset; it hardly looks as if we’d make it now. Why can’t that fellow Plancus keep his harness in proper order?”
“It’s a mere accident, Caius,” said a quiet voice from the chariot. “It’s not Plancus’ fault.”
“What’s that, my dear?” replied the governor testily. “Oh well, perhaps he’s not to blame; but it’s a bore, all the same.”
“Your messenger’s coming back,” his lady remarked.
The proconsul swung round; he took no notice of Jesus, but spoke brusquely to his companion.
“Are you a saddler?”
“Saddler, shoemaker, any work in leather, sir,” was the man’s cheerful reply. “What’s the trouble, sir?”
The driver bustled up and pointed out the broken trace; the man set to work at once. The governor turned back to continue his conversation with the officer. Jesus had time to observe him more closely.
Caius Pontius Pilate looked what he was, an efficient, but unimaginative civil servant. Of medium height, and undistinguished appearance, he would have passed unnoticed in any crowd in Rome.
By hard work and partly by the influence of his wife, the lady Procula, who was distantly related to the great Julian family and could therefore pull some strings at court, he had been promoted to the governorship of the unimportant little province of Judaea. Here he had, with characteristic thoroughness, been at some pains to learn the language of the country, without making the slightest effort to understand the life and thoughts of its inhabitants. He loathed Jerusalem, which he regarded as the hotbed of priestly political intrigues, and only took up his residence there when official duties demanded his presence. At the time of the Jewish feasts, when pilgrims from all over the Empire thronged to their ancient capital, there was always the risk of disturbance, and he made a point of being on the spot in case of need. This entailed being civil to the priests, whom he heartily disliked, and to Herod Antipas, the Idumaea puppet king, whom he despised, with some justice, as a degenerate oriental. For the business community he had some respect, realising their shrewdness and ability, but he had made little attempt to become intimate with any of them. The rest of the population, artisans and tillers of the soil, he lumped together in his mind as the proletariat, of whose lives and circumstances he knew next to nothing.
According to his lights Pilate did his best to administer his little province justly and efficiently. Under strict instructions from Rome he was careful to respect the religious susceptibilities of the people who for some unknown reason considered themselves the chosen race of an invisible God. But Judaea, to his narrow official mind, seemed an unimportant corner of the great empire of Rome, and the Jews themselves struck him as a ridiculously touchy and arrogant people, considering the smallness of their country. Judaea was to him nothing but a step in the official career of Caius Pontius Pilate; success here meant promotion to a larger province with greater opportunities and pleasanter surroundings. In the meantime Caesarea was not too bad a place in which to live; there was at least some Roman society there. And the place was not priest-ridden like this detestable Jerusalem, in which he was doomed to pass the next tiresome week.
The lady Procula was a complete contrast to her hard-headed husband; brought up at Nemausus in the south of Gaul, she had none of the prejudice of the Roman born and bred in the Imperial City. Intensely interested in people, she had that rare gift of sympathy and understanding which is granted only to the favoured few. Through the Jewish employees in the Residency at Caesarea she had already become acquainted with the customs and ideas of the country to which destiny had called her. She was attracted by the lofty idealism of the Jewish faith, though she shared her husband’s opinion of the priesthood which presided over it. There was something spiritually magnificent about a religion which held that there was only one God, invisible and omnipotent, of whom no effigy nor symbol was permitted. Yet to one of her warm-hearted character there was something lacking too; this Jewish religion was too cold, too impersonal. She searched in it for some sign of humanity and found it not. It inspired but did not satisfy her.
It was Procula who noticed that her husband had not thanked the messenger whom he had sent to the village; the man interested her; he was not a common type. Was he of the artisan or clerk class? She could not place him. As Jesus turned his eyes from the governor to the chariot, the lady beckoned to him. He drew near.
“The Proconsul is worried,” she began; “it was important for him to be in Jerusalem before nightfall. This little misfortune has upset him. May I thank you on his behalf.”
“It is nothing, lady,” was the courteous reply. “I would have done the same for anyone in a difficulty. I was fortunate enough to find a craftsman able to do the work.”
“May I at least know to whom we are indebted for this service?” continued the lady. “The proconsul sometimes has an opportunity of showing his gratitude in a practical way.”
“I should not wish to receive any reward or favour, lady, in return for a small act of common courtesy,” Jesus replied.
“At least let me know,” urged the lady, “where you come from and who you are.”
“My home is at Nazareth,” was the answer; “my name is Jesus.”
The lady Procula looked at him searchingly before replying.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” she said reflectively. “Then you must be the teacher and miracle-worker of whom I have heard reports.”
“I have done some teaching, lady. It is my aim to bring all who will listen to a knowledge of the Truth.”
The proconsul hurried up; he stared without recognition at the stranger conversing with his wife. Ignoring him completely, he spoke to her.
“The trace is mended, my dear; we must push on.”
He clambered into the chariot and sat down.
“We shall be lucky if we’re at the Praetorium before dark,” he grumbled. “Plancus, have you paid that fellow? Right. Then get a move on.”
The driver whipped up the horses; the escort in front and behind broke into a trot. The representative of Rome drove on to the capital between rows of silent staring eyes.
“Caius,” began his lady when they had driven a few hundred yards in silence; “you remember the man you sent on a message to the village?”
“I didn’t notice him particularly,” was the indifferent answer; “Why?”
“He was the preacher and miracle-worker, Jesus of Nazareth,” explained Procula.
The governor chuckled.
“Was he indeed?” he remarked drily. “I’ve heard of the rascal. Not very popular with our friends the priests, I gather; regarded as a bit of an upstart, I fancy. Well, as long as he doesn’t start a popular rising, he can go his own way, for all I care.”
“I spoke to him just now,” went on Procula; “he’s a good man, Caius.”
“Must be a good man, my dear,” the proconsul replied flippantly, “if he tries to put a spoke in the wheel of those damned priests.”
“I have a feeling,” said his wife, “that you’ve not seen the last Jesus of Nazareth.”
“One of your intuitions, Procula?” her husband teased her. “Well, if the priests bring him up for trial, my sympathies will be with the prisoner. By the way, did you remember to tell Xanthippus to send off that case of figs to Lentulus?”
Procula sighed. Would this matter-of-fact husband of hers never talk seriously with her?
“Yes,” she answered dully; “I gave him the order.”
As the chariot and its escort clattered away in a trail of dust, Jesus stood gazing after it. The other pilgrims resumed their patient plodding, but he remained motionless. So that was the man who represented the majesty of Rome! The only man in Judaea who had the legal right to give sentence of life and death. Could Rome among her thousands of able citizens spare no one better than this commonplace person to rule over an ancient and honourable race?
He was roused from his reverie by a touch on the arm. It was the leather-worker.
“It’s getting late, friend,” he said; “if you’re not in a hurry to get on to Jerusalem, I shall be glad to put you up for the night.”
The invitation was gladly accepted; together they strolled back to the village of Emmaus.
The man’s name was Cleopas; he lived and worked with his partner Nathan. As the only leather-workers in the village they did a lively trade, mending harness, making sandals, patching saddles or water bottles. They were a cheerful and honest couple, both bachelors and were popular in the village.
Nathan, a younger man than his partner, was cooking the supper. He gave the stranger a cheerful nod and asked him to sit down. Cleopas put his tools away in the workshop and brought in a bowl of water.
“Here’s water for your feet,” he said hospitably. “We are always glad to welcome strangers. But may we know the name of our guest?”
“My name is Jesus; I come from Nazareth.”
Both men looked up quickly.
“Jesus the prophet?” asked Nathan.
“Some people are good enough to call me a prophet,” said the traveller with a smile as he gratefully bathed his dusty feet. “My work is to teach the truth about God.”
“And heal the sick and cast out devils,” put in Nathan.
“Where I can relieve suffering,” Jesus said, “it is my happiness to do so. God is very good to those who trust him.”
“After supper,” said Cleopas, “you must explain things to us.”
The younger man put a bowl of steaming soup on the table.
“Will you bless the food, sir,” requested Cleopas.
Jesus took a little loaf of bread, broke it on half, and spoke the words of blessing: “May our Father in Heaven who gives life to all his creatures, bless this food to our use and accept us in his service.”
Then he explained the blessing to them, as they ate their meal, declared the love of God, asked them to think of Him as their Father, the author of their life, the generous giver of all good gifts, the Being who forgives what is wrong and strengthens what is noble and right.
Till late into the night they talked and when his hosts showed him to their little guest-chamber, he was able to thank the Father for this happy start to his work in Judaea.
The leather-workers pressed him to stay longer with them in Emmaus; but he explained that there was much work for him to do in Jerusalem; he was anxious to be there before the end of the Feast.
Cleopas walked with him as far as the main road. As they parted, he said, “you have opened up a new world to us. It’s all so simple, as you explain it, yet it means so much. At last God seems real.”
“That is the one thing that matters,” Jesus replied; “if God seems real to us, we cannot help carrying out his wishes.”
“Emmaus is only a few miles from the City,” Cleopas added; “when you want a breath of country air, come out and spend a night with us, the oftener the better.”
“I’ll come whenever I can,” answered Jesus; “and I shall always be grateful to the Proconsul for picking me out as his messenger.”
It was Jesus’ intention to spend the first fortnight with Lazarus and his sisters at Bethany. He had sent word to them by other pilgrims, and they were expecting him. It was the active Martha who opened the door.
“We half hoped you might be here last night,” she said. “Come in. My brother’s in Jerusalem, but Mary’s about somewhere.”
It was restful in the evenings after a long day at the Feast in Jerusalem to return to this peaceful and happy home in the quiet little village. Every morning Jesus went up to the crowded Temple Courts to join with other pilgrims in the services of thanksgiving for the safe ingathering of the harvest and vintage. Every evening he returned to the peace of Bethany, where in the little garden he and Lazarus passed the night in a rough hut in accordance with the rule of the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated the years which the Israelites had spent, camping under Moses’ leadership in the wilderness of Sinai.
It was a surprise to Jesus, as he mingled unrecognised among the crowds in Jerusalem, to hear his own name so frequently mentioned. On the first day he overheard a conversation between two labourers, both obviously a little the worse for liquor.
“I wonder if that Jesus of Nazareth’s coming up for the Feast,” said the first.
“Let him stop in Galilee, I say,” was the truculent reply. “He’s not wanted in jolly old Jerusalem.”
“Why do you say that?” queried the first speaker. “There are just as many sick folk to be healed in Jerusalem as in Capernaum—and a sight more devils to be cast out. What’s wrong with the chap, anyway? I reckon he’s a good man.”
“Good!” burst out his companion with withering scorn; “did you say Good? Why, the fellow’s a Sabbath-breaker! Now what I say is this. ‘There are six days in which men ought to work’—that’s in the Scriptures, that is—and have a jolly old slack on the Sabbath. We don’t want anyone telling us we ought to work seven days in the blooming week! That’s just leading the multitudes astray, if you get my meaning.”
“Here, not so loud,” hissed his friend; “there’s one of the priests over there. Better not let him hear us talking about the prophet, or there’ll be trouble.”
“Trouble for you, I dare say,” grumbled the other; “it wasn’t me as said he was a good man.”
On the fourth day of the Feast Jesus spotted the boy John in the crowd; he was with another lad of his own age. Elbowing his way through the throng, Jesus touched him on the shoulder; he turned. A look of joy came into his face.
“Master!” he exclaimed, “I’ve been longing to see you again. I wondered if you might be up for the Feast.”
“Is this a friend of yours?” asked Jesus.
“Yes,” replied the boy, “his name’s John too; but he has a second name—Mark.”
“Then I must call him Mark,” answered Jesus, “or I shall get you muddled up.”
“We’re studying at the Sacred College,” explained John. “We were at school together before that.”
“We’re both doing a course of modern languages at present,” added Mark, joining in the conversation for the first time. “Greek and Latin. But John’s best subject is philosophy; I’m hopeless at it, can’t get the hang of it at all.”
“Perhaps you try to search for the truth in unlikely places,” remarked Jesus quietly, “when really it’s right under your nose the whole time.”
Mark laughed. “I don’t think it’s that, sir,” was his reply; “the fact is, I probably don’t really search at all. I’m a very practical sort of person and don’t bother my head much about the why and wherefore of things. Often, I think, one senses the truth without being able to explain how one knows it is the truth. But that’s not much use to a philosopher.”
“It’s of supreme value for life,” said Jesus; “and life is more important than philosophy or than any theory of life. Don’t you think so, John?”
Addressed suddenly like this, John was for the moment at a loss for a reply.
“Yes, I suppose so,” he said rather doubtfully; “oh yes, certainly. But I do think it’s awfully important, Master, to try to understand things—things that really matter, I mean.”
“A child can understand the things that matter most of all,” Jesus said, “better, perhaps, than most grown up people do.”
“I do so want Mark to hear you talk,” went on John, “about God, I mean—about his being like a Father to us all.”
“Let’s go and sit down over there,” Jesus said in reply; “we can’t talk standing in this crowd.”
They made their way to a quiet spot and sat down together. As he was speaking to intelligent and well-educated young men, he began by explaining to them how men’s ideas about God had become more reasonable and closer to the truth throughout the long centuries of history.
“In the early times,” he told them, “people believed in many gods and goddesses. Almost every hill and valley and river had its particular god which watched over it. Every country had its own special gods to protect it; and if they were more powerful than the gods of neighbouring countries, then that nation subdued the others round it. Until a few centuries ago, I suppose almost everyone believed that.”
“But surely,” objected Mark, “our own nation believed in only one God—Jehovah.”
“They certainly believed it was right for them to worship no god but Jehovah,” Jesus replied. “But if you examine the Scriptures, you will find that they thought the nations all round them had their own gods as well. The Sacred Law itself proves that; ‘Thou shalt have none other gods but me;’ there would be no sense in such a commandment, unless it was the general belief among the Israelites that there were other Gods besides Jehovah, but that it was wrong for them to worship them.”
“Yes; I see,” agreed Mark. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
While Jesus was talking, other people had drifted up and stood listening. The first to join them were other students, acquaintances of John and Mark; then several older people were attracted by the little group. Two young lecturers of the College strolled up.
“Gradually wise men began to see,” continued Jesus, “that the old idea of many gods was impossible; there could only be one God, the God by whose will everything came into being, the God who controls the world and all natural things; our own prophets understood this, and some of the famous thinkers of Greece and Persia. That was a great step forward towards the truth. And that is as far as most people have got now.”
“But surely one can’t get further than that, sir,” interposed one of the students. “That is the truth, isn’t it?”
Jesus looked up with a smile.
“Certainly, it’s the truth,” he answered, “but not the whole truth. You see, this one and only God loves each one of us, cares whether we do right or wrong, continues to love us even when we do wrong; just as a shepherd will go after a lost sheep or as a father will continue to love his children when they have done all sorts of things to hurt and displease him. So God will go on loving each one of us, whatever we do or whatever we are. This is the Truth which I have come to the world to teach: the almighty God is our Father. If the world would accept this truth, if people would honour and love God as the Father of all, and would treat one another as members of one great and united family, what a different place the world would be; there would be no wars, no class-hatred, no jealousies, no oppression. All would go forward with one common object, to serve their Father in Heaven and to help one another on this earth. And believe me, it is the Truth that I am telling you.”
One of the young lecturers spoke. “You are Jesus the Nazarene, I believe.”
“Yes,” replied Jesus.
“A carpenter by trade, I understand.”
“Until two years ago I worked as a carpenter, yes,” was the answer.
“It’s curious,” went on the cynic, “that a man of no education should claim to know better than the wisest thinkers of any age.”
“My teaching is not my own invention,” said Jesus, unruffled by the man’s sarcasm; “it is the Truth which God has sent me into the world to declare. If anyone wants to know and do the will of God, he will understand the Truth that I teach; he will see that it is a message from God himself—and not just my own fancy. A person who makes up his own theories and teaches them as the truth is a conceited humbug. But when a teacher cares nothing for his own reputation, but is interested only in giving God’s message to the world, then he is a genuine teacher and no just criticism can be levelled against him.”
The young man was about to reply, but Jesus went on: “Moses gave us the law, didn’t he? It is a pity that some of those in high office don’t obey the laws of Moses. Why are they trying to get rid of me?”
“Get rid of you?” parried the other; “I don’t see what you mean.”
“If you want it more plainly,” said Jesus calmly, “why are there plots against my life?”
The tension was relieved by a loud guffaw from a good-natured man in the crowd.
“Oh come,” he said. “That’s a bit thick: You must be out of your mind to say things like that. Who’s plotting to kill you?”
But the two young professors, who knew something of the mind of the Council, looked supremely uncomfortable.
When the little group dispersed, John and Mark wandered away with Jesus. Some of the other students loitered about, discussing the strange scene which had just been enacted.
“It’s perfectly true,” said one, “that they are considering how he can be got out of the way. I heard my father talking about it last week. He’d heard something from Dr. Habakkuk.”
“Well, it doesn’t seem to prevent him teaching,” put in another; “here he was, talking quite openly, and no one tried to stop him.”
One of the boys, who had been specially impressed by Jesus’ talk, added meditatively: “I wonder if he really is the Messiah and the rulers know it and daren’t take action against him.”
“I don’t see how that can be right,” said a fourth; “we all know where this man comes from; he’s a carpenter from Nazareth. But it’s always said that when the Messiah comes, nobody will know where he’s come from.”
“He’s getting a tremendous following, the second speaker remarked; and not only in Galilee. The account of his healing has made a big impression on the people in Jerusalem. Last time he was in the city, he cured a cripple at Bethesda pool—an old man who’d been on his back nearly forty years. What people are saying is, ‘When the Messiah does come, will he be able to do more miracles than Jesus of Nazareth has done?’”
Dr. Alexander was now one of the governing body of the Sacred College. The two lecturers went on to inform him of Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem. He was himself a kinsman of Annas, who was just completing his period of office as High Priest.
Annas was a shrewd and capable old Statesman; none of his colleagues was ever quite certain what line he was likely to take in any given circumstances. But they all respected his judgement, and had lately given proof of this respect by electing his son-in-law Caiaphas as his successor for the coming year. They knew Caiaphas to be a man of only average ability, but had recorded their votes in his favour as it was known that he was much swayed by the advice of old Annas. In this way they felt certain that the policy of Annas would be continued.
To his cousin Annas, then, Dr. Alexander repaired. The High Priest made very little comment while he told his story. When he had recounted what he had heard from the lecturers, the old man rang his bell: a servant appeared.
“Ask Captain Nimshi to come and speak to me,” said the High Priest. When the man had retired, he continued: “It would be easier for me to form an opinion of this man Jesus, if I could cross-examine him. It would have to be done on the quiet, of course; but I fancy I could persuade him to discontinue his activities,” he added with half-closed eyes, “if I could have half an hour’s conversation with the fellow. We must see what Nimshi says.”
The Captain of the Temple Guard was announced.
“Ah, Nimshi,” began Annas suavely; “it appears that the Galilean preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, is in the city.”
“So I am given to understand, my lord,” said the Captain guardedly.
“I am anxious to see the fellow,” continued the old intriguer; “if I could have an interview with him, it would help me to decide on our future policy. Now, would it be possible for two or three of your officers to get hold of him—without any fuss or disturbance, of course; he has considerable support—and bring him to the Palace?”
“It might be done, my lord,” replied Nimshi doubtfully, “but I don’t quite see how it can be managed without making rather a stir.”
“I must leave it in your capable hands, Nimshi,” went on the High Priest. “Choose out a few really trustworthy and discreet men. There is a Council meeting at noon on the last day of the Feast; let the man be brought here to my office at eleven.”
“I’ll do what I can, my lord,” promised the Captain. He saluted and took his departure.
“Perhaps you would like to be here when I see the Galilean,” said Annas when the Officer had gone. “If he’s obstinate, we may have to bring him before the council.”
“And if he still refuses to discontinue teaching,” suggested Alexander tentatively.
A slow smile spread over the old politician’s face. “There are places underneath the Palace,” he remarked drily, “where his teaching would not be easily heard. A few months in one of the cells would perhaps cool his ardour. If not,—” he paused and looked slyly at Dr. Alexander, “the proconsul might have to try the case. No doubt we could find the necessary evidence.”
During the next three days Jesus saw a great deal of Mark and still more of young John. The two boys were altogether different in character; both were quick and intelligent, both very much in earnest; but whereas Mark viewed everything from a practical standpoint and was eager to apply new truths to everyday life, John seemed to grasp the inner significance of Jesus’ words and ponder over them until he had extracted all their meaning.
Both the boys were the sons of widows. Mark’s mother was a well-to-do lady who lived in a comfortable home near the city wall. John’s father had died some years before, leaving his wife Deborah with a fair sized house and a very limited income. In order to pay the College fees for her son, she let a part of her house whenever that was possible.
When Jesus called on her, he was at once struck by her sympathy and wisdom; she was evidently devoted to John, who was her only child; but she had not spoilt him. There was between them a bond of understanding, which was evident to any acute observer; each seemed to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of the other. John knew well enough that his mother was sacrificing some of her comforts to give him an education suited to his birth and intellect; and he was determined to make the best use of the opportunity thus afforded him.
In the course of conversation Deborah asked Jesus if he were staying in Jerusalem.
“Not at present,” he answered; “I’m paying a visit to some friends at Bethany. But I intend to move into the City in about a fortnight’s time. I shall have to look about for some rooms.”
“Why not stay with us?” suggested John immediately; “This old house is much too big for Mother and me, as you see. There’s any amount of room.”
“It would mean extra trouble for your Mother,” said Jesus. “I can easily find lodgings when the Feast’s over.”
“But we often have people in the house,” put in Deborah; “you see I’m not well off, and I let some of the rooms when I can.”
“I’m afraid I shouldn’t be a very profitable lodger,” laughed Jesus, “but I could at least pay for my keep.”
Deborah looked hurt.
“You are John’s friend,” she said; “if you would care to make your headquarters here as our guest, it will give him and me great happiness. But there must be no question of payment.”
And Jesus remembered his own instructions to the Seventy: “Accept hospitality where it is offered you.” He knew he could do much for John and his mother. By accepting the invitation he could give, as well as receive, great happiness.
And so it was settled. In a fortnight’s time he would become their guest for as long as he remained in Jerusalem.
Whenever Jesus showed himself in the Temple courts, a little concourse of people flocked round him and asked him questions. These he answered courteously and straightforwardly; then, suiting his teaching to his audience, he would talk to them. If most of the crowd were simple, uneducated folk, he would tell them little stories of everyday life and leave them to work out the meaning for themselves. When he had an audience of students, he spoke more in the manner of a philosophic lecture.
He noticed that frequently priests and Pharisees or doctors of the law would stop to listen. By their expressions he judged that they were waiting to hear him say something about which they could make a complaint against him. On the last morning of the Feast he was not surprised to see three officers of the Temple garrison on the outskirts of his group of listeners. It entered his mind that they were there for a purpose, but they did not molest him either during or after his discourse.
Jesus watched the members of the Council crossing the courts on their way to their meeting. He saw Nicodemus and Joseph enter the Council-chamber together, the High Priest elect, dignified and aloof, walk into the building alone. He had previously noticed Dr. Alexander admitted into the private door of the adjoining palace. He himself left the Courts and walked down the steps toward the Bethany Gate.
It was ten minutes to twelve. Dr. Alexander was impatient and on edge; several times he got up and wandered away to the window which commanded a view of the Temple Courts. His old Uncle remained cool and unruffled; he watched his nephew with secret amusement, sipping occasionally from his goblet of vintage wine. He was too old a schemer to be worried by a slight hitch in his arrangements.
“You seem a bit fussed, Alexander,” he remarked pleasantly. “I’m afraid Nimshi’s officers have failed us. We shall have to revise our plans.”
“I saw them listening to the Galilean as I crossed the courts,” Alexander blurted out. “Surely they can’t have let him give them the slip.”
“More probably they thought the moment inopportune,” said the High Priest. “You will remember that I emphasised to Nimshi the importance of causing no disturbance—we shall hear their report later. It is time for the meeting; you had better take your seat before I come in.”
A minute later the whole Council rose to its feet as the High Priest made his official entrance. They remained standing while in deep, solemn tones he invoked the blessing of God on their deliberations.
The first part of the meeting was concerned with formalities; the minutes of the last meeting were read and approved; the Treasury accounts were passed; there was some discussion about a decline in the profits from the sale of sacrificial victims; half an hour went by and there had been nothing but the usual routine business. Nicodemus and Joseph began to breathe more freely; now that Jesus was in Jerusalem, they had expected some reference to be made to him.
An attendant entered and whispered to the High Priest; he nodded.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “three officers of the Guard were at my request detailed by Captain Nimshi for a special duty today. I was expecting their report before our meeting, but they have only just returned to the Palace. As the matter is one which concerns the Council, I suggest that they be admitted to make their report here.”
A number of members signified their approval; no one raised an objection. The attendant retired and reappeared with the officers; Dr. Alexander half rose from his seat and sat down again when he realised that they were alone. The High Priest remained calm and impassive. He spoke to the senior officer.
“The gentlemen of the Council would be glad to hear your report, Captain,” he said. Then he rose and addressed the whole meeting. “These officers had orders to bring the Galilean preacher, Jesus the Nazarene, to my office. I wished to cross-question him with the intention of reporting on my interview to the Council. They were strictly enjoined, however, to take no action which might lead to any public disorder.” He turned again to the Officers: “I take it, Captain, that no suitable opportunity occurred for you to bring the fellow with you?”
The officer looked uncomfortable.
“It wasn’t quite that, my lord,” he said gruffly.
“May the Council hear your explanation, then?” went on the old statesman affably.
The Captain cleared his throat. Then he took the plunge.
“Well, my lord, I felt it would be wrong to detain the man,” his voice gathered confidence as he proceeded; “we listened to his teaching. No man has ever spoken like that. He must be doing an immense amount of good. My brother officers agree with me.”
Dr. Alexander rose. As the High Priest’s nephew, he had considerable influence.
“Have you been taken in by the impostor, too?” he said with biting sarcasm. “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees accepted his teaching?”
Here was Nicodemus’ chance.
“Have any of them heard him?” he asked. “Is it just or right to condemn a man unheard? I propose that we invite him to speak every day for a week in the lecture-hall and judge for ourselves.”
“If they could only hear him,” he thought, “they would be convinced.”
“We know that you are not a Galilean by birth, Dr. Nicodemus,” said Dr. Alexander unpleasantly; “I hope you are not one of this Galilean’s admirers. Just search the Scriptures for yourself; I challenge you to mention any prophet who has come from Galilee.”
Nicodemus was about to reply; but his voice was drowned in the burst of laughter which greeted Dr. Alexander’s words.
The High Priest raised his hand for silence. He turned to the officers.
“Now that you have made your report, you may withdraw,” he said without the slightest irritation.
“I am sorry, my lord, that we felt obliged to disobey our orders,” said the captain stiffly. “We are all ready to resign our commissions if that is considered necessary.”
“That is a matter for Captain Nimshi,” was the smooth reply; “you must report the incident fully to him.”
The officers saluted and left the Chamber.
The High Priest rose to address the Council.
“It is clear,” he said in dignified tones, “that this ignorant Galilean preacher is becoming a menace to our whole order. Our friends at Capernaum have informed us that he openly scoffs at the scribes and religious leaders. If we were to follow Dr. Nicodemus’ advice,” he smiled graciously at Nicodemus, “and invite every travelling tradesman who sets up as a preacher to lecture at the Sacred College, it would be—hardly dignified. I agree, however, that it would be unwise—nay, even wrong—to arrest the man on insufficient grounds. I suggest, therefore, that every member of the Council shall regard it as his sacred duty during the next few months to collect every piece of evidence he can about the activities of this Nazarene preacher. Do you agree with me, gentlemen?”
A forest of hands shot up.
“Is there anyone against?” he enquired.
Two members raised their hands.
“Thank you, gentlemen,” continued the High Priest suavely. “My proposal evidently has your approval. I only wish to make one more suggestion,” he sank his voice impressively, but every word was clearly audible; “if it could be proved that the man had said or done anything which could be regarded as treason against the Roman Empire, such evidence would carry more weight with the Proconsul.”
He sat down. Nicodemus glanced at Joseph; Annas was advocating the death penalty. That meant Skull Hill.
The High Priest rose again: “That concludes our business today. Thank you, gentlemen. I declare the Council adjourned.”
It was Dr. Joseph who came out to Bethany to give Jesus information of what had passed in the Council. Jesus listened to his account quietly. He did not even interrupt when Joseph urged him for his own sake to leave Jerusalem and continue his teaching elsewhere.
When the other had finished, Jesus rose. He stood looking down at the older man.
“Joseph,” he said gravely, “you and Nicodemus have shown me friendship and kindness ever since I was a child. But in this matter I cannot take your advice. I have a job of work to do in the world. If I were to shirk that work because of danger or from fear of death, I should be disloyal to Him who sent me. Perhaps my death is necessary for the completion of that work. But the work must be done.”
After Joseph’s information Jesus was not surprised to notice a change in the attitude of the Priests and doctors of the Law. Instead of avoiding him, some of them seemed determined to seek him out; they began to listen to his teaching, often to ask him questions, to treat him with apparent courtesy. But many of the questions were obviously put to see how he would reply, rather than to discover his opinion. The questioners were not genuine seekers after the truth, but spies employed to catch him in his talk.
One such occasion occurred a few days after the council meeting. A young lawyer whom he did not know approached him in the Courts; with him were several older men, among whom Jesus recognised Dr. Alexander. Jesus was at once on his guard.
The lawyer spoke to him courteously, addressing him by the formal title of Rabbi.
“What must one do, Rabbi,” he asked, “to qualify for eternal life?”
“What is written in the Books of the Law?” Jesus inquired in return. “Your own reading will give you the answer.”
“I imagine,” said the lawyer, “that you refer to the passage in the Second Law: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.’”
“You see, you have answered your own question,” said Jesus with a smile; “if you keep these two great precepts, you undoubtedly deserve eternal life.”
The young man looked somewhat foolish. He had got nothing out of the Galilean at all. He felt he must justify his question further.
“That’s all very well,” he went on; “but who am I to regard as my neighbour?”
Jesus saw the eye of Dr. Alexander fixed on him. The occasion of their first meeting flashed into his mind—the dusty road, the well-mounted young priest, the kindly Samaritan peasant with a wounded Jew on his donkey. A mischievous impulse seized him; he would alter the story a little to answer the lawyer’s question.
“Well,” repeated the questioner, “who is my neighbour?”
“A man was travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho,” Jesus began; “He fell in with a band or robbers, who stripped him, knocked him about and made off, leaving him half dead by the roadside. Now it happened that a priest was travelling along the road; he saw the wounded man, but pretended he hadn’t. He crossed the road and passed by on the other side. Soon afterwards another member of the priestly tribe came to the place; he looked at the unfortunate traveller, saw that he was unconscious and also passed him by. It was then that a peasant came along on his donkey; he was a Samaritan and might almost excusably have disregarded a Jew in trouble, but not he. He was sorry for him, stopped, bound up his wounds, treating them with oil and wine, put him on his donkey, brought him to an inn in the next town, where the landlord was his friend, and took care of him. Next morning the Samaritan had to go on home; he left some money with the landlord, and said: ‘Take care of the stranger. If that doesn’t cover the expense, I’ll pay you the difference next time I come along.’”
Without obviously watching Dr. Alexander, Jesus had observed his reaction as the story progressed. At first the priest had worn an indifferent expression, as if he were hardly taking the trouble to listen. At the mention of the Samaritan and his donkey, a look of puzzled bewilderment came into his face; he looked searchingly at Jesus, as though trying to connect him with an incident which had almost faded from his memory.
“Well,” asked Jesus cheerfully; “which of the three do you consider behaved as a neighbour to the man who had the adventure with the robbers?”
The lawyer looked at him doubtfully; he had set out to catch the Nazarene and had found himself caught.
“I suppose,” he replied slowly, “the man who rescued him.”
“Quite right,” said Jesus at once; “so imitate my Samaritan—and not the hardhearted priest.”
Dr. Alexander walked away.
It was Jesus’ last day at Bethany. He had decided to spend the whole day in the peace and quiet of the country. He was sitting in the little garden; Martha and Mary had been doing some gardening; they put away their tools and Mary came and sat on the grass by Jesus’ feet. Martha hurried into the house.
“I shall get into trouble with Martha for not helping with the cooking,” said Mary.
“Why not go and help then?” was the unexpected reply.
“It’s so much pleasanter out here,” Mary answered; “and it’s the last day of your visit, so it’s obviously my duty as a good hostess to stop outside and entertain you. Besides if I do go to help Martha she never lets me do anything. I’m always getting in the way.”
“Mary,” Jesus said with mock severity, “you’re a little humbug.”
Mary laughed. There was a long pause.
“Master,” she began again in quite a different tone.
“Lazarus told us the Council are making things very difficult for you. Why?”
“They don’t approve of me,” he answered. “They consider that I break the Sabbath laws and that many of my friends are very disreputable people.”
“But it’s not true!” exclaimed Mary indignantly.
“In a sense it’s perfectly true,” Jesus said. “I have frequently healed on the Sabbath, for one thing.”
“Well, anyone can see that’s right,” replied Mary. “What could be better than to do God’s work on God’s day?”
“That’s the way I look at it, too,” said Jesus; “but the Priests don’t agree. You see, Mary, they’ve been brought up to think that any work, even a work of mercy, is wrong on the Sabbath.”
“Anyway,” Mary went on, “that’s no reason for saying that your friends are disreputable.”
Jesus smiled. “But a great many of them are most disreputable,” he remarked, “or at any rate have been—people whom you and you sister wouldn’t think of knowing. There’s a girl of about your own age—she’s called Mary too; if you met her now you’d welcome her to your house, for she’s the adopted daughter of a great lady. But two years ago you’d have looked the other way, if you’d met her in the street.”
“Tell me about her,” Mary begged.
So for the second time in a few weeks, Jesus found himself telling the story of Mary of Magdala. He told of his meeting with her on the beach; of their second meeting at the supper party in the Pharisee’s house, when she had wetted his feet with her tears and smothered them with ointment and wiped them with her hair; of her choice to leave Abinadab; of her service with the Lady Joanna; and finally of her adoption by her mistress.
When he had finished the story of the little outcast, Mary remained silent for a long time.
“Master,” she said at last, “I should like to know the other Mary.”
“I hope some day you will be her friend,” he answered.
“Where did she get the ointment from?” was the next unexpected remark.
“It was given her by our host,” explained Jesus.
“Was it valuable ointment?”
“Probably. Our host was a wealthy man.”
“I have some very expensive ointment,” Mary went on. “It was given me by my Uncle. Spikenard. Martha says it’s worth a tremendous lot.”
What a strange girl this was! There was something in her mind beyond the value of the spices. Jesus knew her too well to suppose that the story of her namesake’s life had left no other impression on her mind than the cost of a pot of ointment. Throughout his tale she had listened spellbound; her sympathetic heart had been touched, he knew. Then why this interest in the ointment?
“What had been given her to please her vanity, she gave to you,” said Mary reflectively; “and a girl like that would know its worth. It was a beautiful act.”
Martha hurried out of the house and came across to the spot where they were sitting.
“Well, dinner’s ready,” she said; “but I don’t think it’s quite fair that I should have to do everything myself; Mary, you are a slacker, sitting here gossiping while I’m slaving away inside. You know, Master, you’re just encouraging Mary in her laziness; tell her she ought to help me.”
All this was said with the utmost good temper, but there was a hint of rebuke in her tone.
Jesus looked up at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “You’re a wonderful housewife, Martha,” he replied. “If Mary had come to help you I expect she’d only have been getting in the way. She’s been better employed talking to me. And I believe she’s got something out of our conversation which can never be taken away from her.”
While at Bethany Jesus had made a point of calling at the nursery where James and Thaddaeus had formerly lived; he found young Tobias and his wife contented and happy. There was a baby a few months old, which occupied much of Rebecca’s time and attention. Tobias had settled down into a steady and hard-working young man. The garden was still a model of neatness and the crops were flourishing.
“You’re doing pretty well, it seems,” said Jesus.
“Not too bad,” replied Tobias with a grin; “you did me and Rebecca a good turn, sir, when you asked James and Thaddaeus to join you. And I’ll always be grateful to Thaddaeus for giving me the chance to carry on here. Here’s our latest possession,” he added as they reached the garden gate. “I bought her six weeks ago. She carries the vegetables into market every morning.”
He walked out into the main street of the village where a well fed and carefully groomed donkey stood patiently, tied by her bridle to the garden railing; beside her was a young foal.
“Hullo, Sarah, old girl,” Tobias addressed the donkey. “Here’s a friend to see you. I tell you what, sir; it’d save you a double walk every day if you rode Sarah into the city. We’re always back from delivering the vegetables by eight o’clock, and you wouldn’t be starting before that.”
“Wouldn’t it tire her?” asked Jesus, touched by the friendly offer.
“Not it, sir,” was the cheerful answer; “she gets bored standing out here all day, don’t you, Sarah? There’s always company for her outside the city gate; the old chap that keeps an eye on the donkeys there is a friend of mine. He knows Sarah well, and he’ll look after her while you’re up at the Temple.”
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts