In after years, when they looked back on these months of exile from Galilee, some of the Twelve agreed that this was the happiest period of their association with the Master. At no other time, before or since, had they felt that their intimacy with him and with one another was so close. This was partly due to the fact that they had left behind them all thought and anxiety about their own occupations. They could give their minds wholly to absorbing the words and influence of their leader. And though they knew it not, he was all the time making use of this opportunity to train them to carry on his own work.
Though Jesus did as much teaching and healing in Phoenicia as by the lakeside, it seemed that he had more leisure to spend in conversation and discussion with his friends. It was summer time, the season of growth for all natural things; and for the Twelve this Summer was a season of spiritual growth, during which the seed which the Master was sowing was taking firm roothold in good soil and was starting into vigorous life with promise of an abundant crop in the future.
Very few incidents stood out in their memory; there was the woman, half Syrian and half Phoenician, whose nimble wit had brought a smile to Jesus’ lips at the moment that he healed her daughter. But there were no stupendous experiences like the stilling of the storm, the feeding of the multitude or the disaster to the Gerasene pigs.
The first few weeks were spent in the great cosmopolitan seaport of Tyre; then followed several months of travel round the small inland towns and villages. Viewed in retrospect it was a time of serene peace, of the hum of bees, of the dappled shade of ancient olive-trees, of the scent of new-mown hay and toiling oxen and of words of life dropping as if by chance from divine lips.
Divine they knew those lips to be, for all by this time had reached the conclusion that the Master was the very Messiah. How or why this was so, they neither knew nor cared; what the work of the Messiah was to be, they did not understand. He would decide this in his own time; with this reflection the eleven were content. The twelfth concealed his impatience and bided his time.
In mid July they left the placid beauty of the countryside for the turmoil of the busy docks of Sidon. Here Jesus worked and taught among seafaring folk of all nations; seamen from Greece and Italy, from Spain and Gaul, from Phrygia and Cyrene, black men from the coast of Africa, even a sprinkling of fair haired traders from the fogbound shores of Britain beyond the Pillars of Hercules—all who could understand Aramaic listened spellbound, while in simple, childish stories he explained to them the truth about the love and goodness of God.
“If one in every twenty of those who hear me,” he used to say to the Twelve, “would believe and remember and pass on the truth wherever he went, very soon the whole world would know of the Father’s love. For those who sail the seas visit many strange lands and could be the messengers of God.”
But in Sidon they remained only three weeks; to the surprise of the Twelve, Jesus suddenly announced one day: “Tomorrow we return to the Lake. Most of you will have things to attend to at home. And there is work for me to do too.”
He was conscious of the swift look which Judas threw at him; he could almost read his thought: “Has the Master changed his mind? Has his head been turned by his success and popularity in Sidon? Has he at last discovered the joy of leading men?”
On the southward journey Judas was in high spirits; this ridiculous period of inaction was at an end; back in Capernaum he could at least note the reaction of the people to Jesus’ return; that would give him a line for the future. But his hopes were doomed to disappointment.
They passed the fourth night at Gishala, a small town some fifteen miles north west of the Lake. It was here that Jesus told them his immediate plans.
“I shall leave you tomorrow at Safed,” he remarked casually at supper, “and cut across the hills to the north of the lake. There’s someone I want to see on the eastern shore. You had better push straight on to Capernaum.”
“When shall you be coming there, Master?” asked Judas.
“I shall not visit Capernaum,” was the reply; “I don’t want it to be known that I’ve returned. Please don’t spread the news about. Our holiday is not over yet; we are off to Syria to finish it.”
“Then what was the point of coming back at all?” grumbled Judas.
“Chiefly to let those who live by the Lake get home to see how things are going,” answered Jesus; “but that’s not the only reason.”
And he laid before them a plan which had been in his mind for some time. Just as he had sent out the Twelve in pairs on a previous occasion to teach and heal, so he now intended on his return from Syria to send out a much larger number to do the same kind of work.
“In this way,” he said, “a wider area can be covered. And it will also be a test of the sincerity of those we ask; if they are ready to give their time and energy to such work, they must be so genuinely keen on the truth I have taught them, that they long to share it with other people.”
And then he asked Nathaniel, Philip and Thomas, as the three with the least home cares or duties, to sound a few friends who might be willing to give up a couple of months to a tour of this kind.
“Get in touch with Isaac of Capernaum,” he added; “if you can interest him, he is the very man to collect the party in our absence. I will give them the actual instructions when we come back.”
On the next morning they walked together as far as Safed and there Jesus took his leave of them.
“Meet me at dawn a fortnight from today at the village a mile to the north of Bethsaida,” he said as they parted. And with long, swinging strides he turned up a mule-track which led due eastward over the hills.
The Twelve stood looking after his diminishing figure. It was Judas who spoke.
“What’s he after now, I wonder? He’s a queer fish, this Master of ours. You never know what he’ll be up to next.”
But there were no subtle schemes in the Master’s mind, as he tramped the hills north of the Lake. He needed rest—rest even from the friends he loved and in whose training he found so much happiness. And it was with the eager anticipation of a boy that he was setting off on his own into country which was new to him. As he walked, he drew in deep draughts of the fresh morning air; the mountain sheep stared inquisitively as he approached and then lumbered away to find fresh pasture; the rabbits scuttled to their burrows and there paused to inspect him with curious eyes; a fox lay motionless on the top of a boulder, watching the stranger, then slipped silently to his earth, a swift streak of tawny beauty.
He ate his bread and cheese on a hill overlooking the placid waters of the Lake which lay, an expanse of intense blue under the Summer sky; he slaked his thirst from the sweet water of an ice-cold spring which bubbled up in a patch of deep green moss among the rocks. Then he set his face south east and in the late afternoon reached the little town of Gerasa, which was his goal for that day.
Outside the town he overtook a cheerful little man who was returning home from his day’s work. Jesus accosted him.
“Can you tell me where a man named Jabez lives?” he enquired.
“Was it butcher Jabez or loony Jabez you was wanting?” asked the other.
“Loony Jabez,” replied Jesus promptly; “but he’s not loony any longer, is he?” he continued with a trace of anxiety; “I heard he’d recovered. Is he still all right?”
“Right as rain,” was the cheerful rejoinder; “has been ever since the magician sent his devils into our pigs. But the name sticks, Loony; it’d seem unfriendly like to call him anything else. We’re all fond of Loony, you see,” he added somewhat inconsequentially. “Here’s his house; he’ll hardly be home yet. But you’ll find his missus in. If I meet Loony, I’ll tell him there’s a visitor for him. Goodnight.”
Jesus knocked at the door; a woman opened it. She recognised him at once.
“Well there,” she exclaimed, “if that isn’t queer! Jabez was saying only last night he wondered if we’d ever see you again. He will be that pleased. Come in and welcome; he’ll be back for his supper in next to no time.”
And in a few minutes a tall, serious man entered the cottage. His face lit up when he saw Jesus. “It’s good of you to look us up,” he said; “I’ve been hoping against hope we’d meet again. I wanted to thank you—and to tell you I’ve done what you told me.”
For a moment Jesus looked puzzled.
“I’ve told the neighbours,” Jabez explained, “that it was the good God’s doing that the devils left me. That’s what you said, wasn’t it?”
His speech had that slow, majestic quality which is often to be found in men who live their lives in the open; quiet thoughtful men, whose communion with nature lent them a breadth of vision and dignity of character seldom noticeable among the more quick-witted dwellers in cities. Jesus thought of the incongruity of the nickname “Loony,” and smiled voluntarily. Jabez almost seemed to read his thoughts.
“They still call me Loony,” he went on. “But bless you! I don’t mind.” He paused for a moment, as if thinking this over. “As a matter of fact, I rather like it. It reminds me—of what you did for me.”
“Of what the good God did for you,” corrected Jesus.
“It’s all the same,” replied Jabez thoughtfully; “I often think the good God works through us men and women. Without God you couldn’t have turned the devils out of me, I know that well enough; but without you I wonder if he could.”
“Now Jabez,” interrupted his wife; “don’t bother the gentleman with your fancies now. Supper’s getting cold.”
With these new-found friends Jesus passed several carefree days. His talks with his host delighted him. Jabez could neither read nor write; but he was a natural philosopher whose ideas were founded on experience and on a simple trust in the power and goodness of God.
“If the scribes and Pharisees,” thought Jesus, “had one tenth of the perception and faith of this uneducated man, how much more easily they could lead and influence their hearers.”
To Jabez himself these conversations opened up a new spiritual world; he knew that this was what he had been groping for. It was as when the sun breaks through a bank of fog, illuminating objects which have been only dimly discernible in the mist.
News spreads quickly in a little place like Gerasa; and it was soon noised abroad that Loony’s magician had come to see him. On the first morning, when they walked together into the little market-place Jesus was aware of curious, covert glances, in which there was more than a shade of suspicion. He recognised some of the faces which he had seen on the seashore on that memorable day when Jabez’ reason was restored. These faces were not unfriendly, but they wore that wary, uncertain expression, with which simple countryfolk regard any stranger, especially if there is any doubt of his intentions.
The restraint did not last long; all these people were intimate with Jabez and if the newcomer was Loony’s friend, there couldn’t be much wrong with him. A few shy greetings were followed by more conversation and soon tongues were wagging cheerfully.
“How are the pigs?” asked Jesus; “I thought of walking up the hill to see the new herd.”
A sudden silence fell on the group; several of the men glanced uncomfortably at one another. There seemed a general reluctance to discuss the subject. With secret amusement Jesus realised that they probably imagined one of his usual pastimes was destroying herds of pigs.
“I won’t do them any harm,” he remarked with a smile.
“If you’re going,” said one of the man, not quite reassured, “we’ll come too.”
And the little party moved off silently.
Fears were soon dispelled; the pigs showed no alarm at the approach of the stranger. And their owners, with their new friend, sat chatting on the hillside while the herds grazed peacefully all round them.
Four days later Jesus parted with Jabez and Ruth and made his way southward along the eastern shore of the Lake into the province of Decapolis. From here it was his intention to make his way up the western coast as far as the city of Tiberias to visit his friends Joanna and Chuza. Before parting with the Twelve, he had given Thomas a message for Dr. Luke, asking him to meet him in Tiberias if that were in any way possible. He was anxious to learn from some reliable source what was now the general feeling about himself in Capernaum and the neighbouring cities. Luke in his professional capacity had access to all classes in the town and would best be able to give him this information. Accordingly he wrote to the Lady Joanna and asked if she could put up him and a friend; it was not difficult to find a bearer for this note. Plenty of farm carts carried their produce from the fertile Jordan valley to the royal city.
Jesus had visited Tiberias very seldom and it was unlikely that he would be recognised there. On the appointed day he walked the twelve miles northwards and reached Chuza’s house by midday. Mary opened the door.
“Oh, Master,” she exclaimed, “what a long time it is since we saw you. My lady told me you were coming. I’m so glad you’re here; I’ve been wanting to ask you to do something.”
“For you, Mary?” asked Jesus.
“No, not for me; for somebody else,” was the girl’s reply. “I’ll tell you later; my lady is expecting you.”
At this moment the Lady Joanna appeared; she welcomed her guest quietly and took him in to the living-room.
“Chuza is on duty at the Palace,” she exclaimed; “he won’t be free until the late afternoon. What time do you expect your friend?”
“He’s a doctor,” replied Jesus; “he’ll probably do his morning round and leave Capernaum in the early afternoon. He should be here by supper time.”
“Then we have the afternoon to ourselves,” said his hostess; “I wanted to have a talk with you about Mary.”
“Oh? What’s Mary been doing?” asked Jesus.
A quick smile passed over the lady’s face. “Nothing to cause you any anxiety,” was the reassuring reply. “Do you remember what I suggested when you first told me about her?”
“That you and your husband should adopt her?”
“You think the time has come?” asked Jesus.
“Chuza and I have talked it over,” she answered; “Mary is already more like a daughter to us than a servant.”
“You’re sure it’s really the best thing for her?” was the searching question. “You are thinking of Mary’s good more than your own wishes?”
“I certainly love the child more and more,” she admitted; “but I love her for what she is. Mary has a beautiful nature.”
“When I first met her,” said Jesus bluntly, “she was an affectionate little creature, but utterly spoilt and self-centred.”
“Could she have been anything else,” interposed Joanna quietly, “considering her upbringing?”
“I am not blaming her,” Jesus replied quickly, “not even criticising. I am merely stating a fact. She has been admired and petted; and that had spoilt her. Are you quite certain that the course you suggest isn’t going to spoil her in a different way? Is she ready to become the adopted daughter of a wealthy and perhaps rather indulgent couple?”
“What should you consider a test of her readiness?” queried Joanna.
“Does she think more of other people than of herself?” replied Jesus promptly.
“She’s always willing to put herself out to help me,” said the lady.
“Yes, but she’s fond of you,” answered Jesus, pressing the point ruthlessly. “Does she show the same willingness to help people who have no special claim on her affection?”
“There’s a girl who used to work here,” began Joanna by way of reply, “a pretty little thing, but vain, empty-headed and silly—quite a good worker, but always giggling and talking about nothing but young men. Her name’s Hepzibah. When Mary first came here, I was afraid they might be the worst possible companions for one another. I had half a mind to dismiss Hepzibah, to give Mary a better chance of making good. But this hardly seemed fair; I had nothing really against the girl; so I decided to keep an eye on both of them and see how things turned out. The two girls took to one another at once, but not with the result that I feared. Hepzibah became quieter and more sensible; she stopped bragging about the number of her admirers. I don’t think Mary ever spoke to her of her own experiences; but I’m sure she saw the other girl was heading in the same direction and dropped a few hints that steadied her down. Hepzibah left me a month ago to marry a young metal worker; a decent, solid young man who has been devoted to her all the time. That was Mary’s doing; I know she told the girl she was a fool to go about with flighty young fellows when she could have a man like Noah, worth all the rest put together. Mary told me that herself.”
“Good for Mary,” said Jesus.
“Hepzibah came to see Mary yesterday,” continued his hostess; “she often drops in in the afternoon. I overheard a scrap of conversation; as I went into the kitchen, Hepzibah said: ‘why don’t you get married, Mary?’ Mary just answered, ‘Nobody’s asked me yet.’ The words were spoken quite lightly, but as she turned and saw me, her mouth was twisted into a queer little smile and there were tears in her eyes. You see, Mary feels she never ought to marry.”
“Poor Mary,” exclaimed Jesus softly; “is there anyone she cares for?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Joanna; “it’s just the feeling that the past makes her different from other girls. That’s one reason why Chuza and I want to treat her as our daughter—to make her see that she is loved and valued for her own sake.”
“Mary owes a great deal to you,” said Jesus with real gratitude in his voice.
“Just a little, perhaps,” she answered. “But Mary was a changed person before I ever set eyes on her. It was on the beach at Magdala that she first began to understand things.”
Jesus said nothing. He was thinking of his first meeting with Mary by the breakwater, of the scene at the supper table in the Pharisee’s house, of his visit to Abinadab’s luxurious room, of the girl’s return with him to Peter’s house, of Joanna’s ready response to his appeal for help.
Joanna had misinterpreted his silence.
“You must have a talk with her yourself,” she said; “I’m certain you’ll find her changed.”
Jesus’ face lit up with a sudden smile.
“I don’t doubt your judgement, Joanna,” he replied. “But I’ll certainly talk to Mary. After that. I’ll tell you what I think of your proposal.”
After the simple midday meal was ended, Joanna retired to her room for the afternoon siesta. Jesus sought out Mary; he found her washing up in the kitchen. With her was a good-looking cheerful young woman, whom he at once guessed to be Hepzibah. She was drying the dishes as Mary washed them, and the two were chattering as they worked.
Mary looked round as Jesus entered.
“This is my friend Hepzibah,” she said. “We used to work here together, till she married.”
“And now she’s not got enough work to do in her own home, so she comes to help you still, I suppose?”
“Oh, well,” laughed Hepzibah, “Noah—that’s my husband, you know—goes back to work at one and I’ve finished washing up there, so I thought I’d come round and give Mary a hand. She told me my Lady was expecting company.”
“You know I asked you to come, Hep,” interposed Mary with a grin, “Because I wanted you to meet the Master, but you’re just too shy to say so. Now’s your chance to tell him about Jared. Sit down, Master. Oh, Hep,” she went on reproachfully, “you’ve put all the plates on the only stool. There’s nowhere for Jesus to sit.”
“Never mind that,” put in Jesus quickly. “I shall be quite comfortable here.” And he perched himself on a corner of the kitchen table.
Hepzibah blushed scarlet.
“Oh, sir,” she said, “I wasn’t thinking. You see, I didn’t expect you to come down to the kitchen.”
“She’s not a bad sort really, Master,” went on Mary in a tone of friendly raillery; “but she’s no sense of tidiness, have you, Hep? What poor Noah must have to put up with I can’t think. Plates on all the chairs and frying pans on the bed, I expect.”
“You are a little liar, Mary,” said Hepzibah with perfect good humour; “don’t you believe a word she says, sir.”
“Oh, Mary’s only showing off,” said Jesus. And all three burst out laughing.
“Now let’s hear about Jared,” he suggested.
The two girls were serious in a moment. Hepzibah glanced at Mary. Mary nodded.
“He’s my brother, sir,” Hepzibah explained, “two years younger than me. Mary thought you might be able to do something for him; you see, sir, he’s stone deaf—has been ever since he was born; and hearing nothing, he’s never learnt to speak properly. It’s hard on him, sir, and he feels it terribly.”
“And he’s so quick and clever with his hands,” put in Mary; “he’s one of the best woodcarvers in the town. But it must be awful not to be able to talk, mustn’t it, Master?”
“You’d feel that, wouldn’t you, Mary?” said Jesus.
“Don’t tease me, Master,” replied Mary; “but say you’ll help Jared. I’ve been longing for you to come, to make him—well, like other people.”
Jesus got up from the table. He spoke to Hepzibah.
“Bring your brother to the South Gate; I’ll meet you there with Mary in half an hour’s time.”
With a glance at Mary, Hepzibah was gone.
“When you saw me this morning, Mary,” said Jesus, “you said you wanted to ask me to do something. Was it this?”
“Yes, Master. Why?” She looked at him in some bewilderment.
“Why did you want me to do this for Jared?” he pressed her.
“Well, you see, Hep’s my friend; and she’s very fond of Jared; and I’m fond of Jared too in a way.”
She screwed up her eyes and frowned in the effort of making her meaning clear. Then she said suddenly: “Master, if you saw a boy shut up in a prison cell, where he could see other boys playing outside, but couldn’t join in their games, wouldn’t you long to let him out?”
“Yes, Mary; I should,” was the answer.
“Well, don’t you see Jared’s just like that?” she went on rapidly. “Cut off from everyone else because he can’t hear or make himself understood. He sees us all talking and laughing and enjoying ourselves, and he can only look on and long to enter into our fun. But the walls of his prison are too thick. Never to be able to share your thoughts with your friends, never to hear what they say to one another, never to talk at all! Oh Master, don’t laugh at me again—”
“I’m not laughing, Mary.”
“I know I’m always chattering,” she said, half laughing and half crying, “but chattering makes me happy and sometimes I think my chatter makes other people happy. Perhaps it’s because I like talking that I feel so sorry for Jared. Never to speak a word; never to hear a word; never even to hear the sounds we all hear without thinking about them—the song of birds, the whistling of the wind, the dripping of water, the tinkle of cowbells on the hills, the breaking of waves on the beach, the music of harps. To live in blank silence day after day, year after year—and yet all the time to be looking out at the things which you know are making sounds that you can’t hear. Are you surprised that I wanted you to come—to let Jared out of his prison?”
“There was a time, Mary,” said Jesus quietly, “when I first met you, when you wouldn’t have thought twice about a boy like Jared.”
“I don’t quite see what you mean,” replied the girl.
“If one of your companions then,” went on Jesus, “had had a deaf and dumb brother, you would either have laughed at him in contempt or, at the best, you might have said, ‘Poor devil,’ and gone off to find someone else to amuse yourself with, and forgotten him altogether.”
Mary remained silent for some minutes, her eyes on the ground. Then she lifted her gaze to Jesus’ face; the honesty of her expression gave him joy inexpressible.
“You’re right, Master,” she admitted steadily; “I shouldn’t have cared a bit. What a little beast you must have thought me.”
A swift smile passed over Jesus’ face.
“Never mind what I thought of you,” he replied. “The real fact is that you were in a prison much worse than Jared’s—a prison which cut you off from your fellows more completely than deafness, and yet a prison which so many people build for themselves.”
Again the puzzled look came into Mary’s eyes.
“You mean,” she began with hesitation, “the way I—earned my living?”
“No,” answered Jesus, “I don’t mean that, though it may have had a good deal to do with the building of the prison. Let’s call it the prison of Self. You see, Mary, anyone who wants to make the best use of himself must forget himself altogether and think always of other people. When you think of yourself and how you can please yourself or get something for yourself, you are shutting yourself inside a tiny, useless little prison cell which you’ll very soon find very boring, because you are cutting yourself off from everything that makes life really worth living. That was what you were doing when I first met you; but when you began to help the lady Joanna because you were fond of her, when you were more interested in Hepzibah’s and Noah’s happiness than your own, when you longed to see Jared freed from his deafness, why then, Mary, your own prison had crumbled into nothing and you were free.”
“It’s you and my lady who’ve set me free,” said Mary, “by showing me what friendship and kindness mean.”
“All we could do was to put a pickaxe in your hands,” was the cheerful answer; “no one but you could break down your prison. Come on; we mustn’t be late at the South Gate.”
It was only five minutes’ walk along the handsome main street of the new city. On the way Jesus turned to his companion.
“Mary,” he said, “you mustn’t be disappointed if Jared can’t talk all at once.”
The girl stopped stock still so suddenly that the passers-by turned to stare at her. Unconscious of their scrutiny, she looked up at Jesus; her eyes were filled with tears.
“You don’t mean,” she began, “that it may be a failure? I couldn’t bear that. Hep would be so miserable.”
Again the thought was for her friends, not for herself. A look of infinite tenderness was in Jesus’ face as he answered her.
“No,” he said quietly, “I didn’t mean that. The Father has never failed me yet. But Jared has never spoken, has never heard a word spoken. When he has the power of hearing and speaking, he may have to learn to use it, like a baby learning to talk and understand.”
“Yes, I see,” said Mary slowly; “well, Hep and I can teach him, can’t we? He’ll soon pick it up; he’s very bright really, though you mayn’t think so at first.”
“Mind you,” said Jesus as they continued on their way, “there’s no limit to the power and love of God. It may be that Jared will gain in one moment what it takes most of us years of experience to learn. Be sure of this, Mary; whatever is best for Jared will happen.”
As they approached the gate, they found that quite a considerable crowd had collected, in the middle of which stood Hepzibah and her bewildered brother.
“I’m afraid Hepzibah’s tongue’s been wagging,” said Jesus with a whimsical smile. Publicity was the last thing he wanted at the moment; he had hoped to visit Tiberias and leave it unrecognised. Now this was impossible; it would soon be all round the lakeside that he had returned. But it wasn’t the girl’s fault; he should have warned her to bring Jared alone.
He pushed his way through the crowd, closely followed by Mary. When he stood at Hepzibah’s side, he put a question to her.
“Does Jared know why you have brought him?”
“I tried to explain by signs, sir,” was her reply; “but I don’t think he really understands.”
Jared was gripping his sister’s hand tightly. His restless eyes darted from face to face in the crowd, as if he thought it had collected to mock him.
“How do all these people come to be here?” asked Jesus.
“I told a few neighbours where I was taking Jared,” answered the girl; “and they spread the news. They want to see how you do it. Does it matter?”
“I must be alone with Jared;” Jesus spoke so definitely that neither Hepzibah nor Mary made any protest. He laid one hand on Jared’s shoulder and pointed to the gate. The boy looked searchingly at him, dropped his sister’s hand and allowed himself to be led away. The crowd parted, leaving a passage through which they walked; then it surged forward as if to follow them.
Jesus turned and spoke to them. He raised his voice so that those behind could hear.
“I have been asked to do what I can for this poor lad. Probably many of you know him and his family. If it is the will of the loving God, he can be cured. But I cannot and will not make a public exhibition of the mercy of God. The boy and I must be alone.”
And taking Jared’s hand he led him through the gateway. Outside the south wall ran a path, which in the evenings when the day’s work was over, was a favourite haunt of young couples; but in the early afternoon of a working day it was well nigh deserted. A few children were playing on a plot of grass several hundred yards away, and their voices rose clear in the still, hot air. As soon as they had rounded a curve in the wall and were no longer in sight from the gate, Jesus stopped. Jared looked at him with an expression of nervous enquiry. It was imperative that the boy should understand why he had brought him here. Jesus stood facing him and laid his hands upon his shoulders; for a moment the two remained motionless, while confidence seemed to return into Jared’s eyes. Then Jesus pointed at the children, touched the boy’s ears and seemed to ask if he could hear them; he shook his head and an unintelligible gurgle issued from his throat.
Once more they gazed at one another till a look of trustful expectancy came into the lad’s face. At this Jesus placed his fingers upon his ears and was aware that the healing had begun; he moistened his fore-finger with his own tongue and laid it upon Jared’s as if to prove to him that the power of speech was being imparted to him. Then once again he held his shoulders, while he gazed upward in prayer. Silently and fervently he begged the Father to bestow his mercies upon Jared in whatever form was best for him.
The boy remained motionless, but his whole face glowed with eager excitement. Yet Jesus himself knew not what to expect; he was aware that the deafness would disappear, that Jared would be given the power of speech; but could he in a flash receive the faculty of speaking, the understanding of human words which had been denied to him since birth? He thought of the labour of mastering this knowledge, which is no labour for a child, but infinitely tedious to one with a man’s intelligence. A great sigh escaped him in his own uncertainty.
Then at last he spoke: “Be opened.”
A look of astonishment flooded the boy’s face; he raised his hands to his ears, as if he were conscious of them for the first time; he pointed his hand across the grass at the children in the distance. He opened his mouth.
The words came slowly, haltingly, in a curious guttural sound like the creaking of an ancient water wheel after many years of disuse. But they were words—words with sense; and Jesus knew that the Father had given ungrudgingly in full measure.
For more than an hour they wandered together outside the walls; and all the time the wheel of speech revolved more easily. Jared had escaped from his prison of silence. Jesus knew that Mary and Hepzibah would be awaiting their return. But he hoped the idle crowd would have grown tired and dispersed.
This was far from being the case. Other idlers had drifted up to inquire what was going on and the crowd had increased to nearly double its original size. There was no disorder, no animation; they were just standing with apathetic faces, watching the gate.
Jared ran on ahead to share his good news with Hepzibah; as he appeared in the gateway, the people craned their necks and strained their ears to hear if he would speak.
They heard his words of greeting to Hepzibah and a thrill of excitement passed through the multitude. Then they caught sight of Jesus. A spontaneous cheer went up, followed by another and then another; Jesus glanced towards Jared and saw his face distorted, as if by a spasm of acute pain; the discordant noise, falling upon his newly-opened ears, had caused a shock akin to a stunning blow.
He hurried across to Hepzibah and Mary and spoke to them in an urgent undertone: “Take Jared home and keep him as quiet as possible. Don’t let him talk too much today.”
The two girls hurried away, leading Jared between them.
Then Jesus faced the mob. He raised his hand for silence, but the cheering broke out afresh. Scarves and hats waved in the air. One well-meaning little man sprang up the steps of a monument near the palace wall and urged the people to renewed efforts.
At this moment a diversion was caused: a postern opened in the wall and four of the palace police issued forth. There was a momentary lull in the cheering.
“Now then,” shouted the sergeant in command, “what’s all this noise about? Move along, I tell you. Hi! You there! What are you monkeying about for on the steps of the royal monument? Come down if you don’t want to be run in.”
But the little man stood his ground.
“It’s the prophet,” he bawled back; “Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Prophet be blowed!” answered the sergeant with heavy humour. “Prophets aren’t popular in the palace, as you very well know.”
“But this prophet can do anything—anything!” cried the man on the steps. “He makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.”
Another cheer greeted the words. When it died away, the sergeant spoke again.
“I’d better have a look at this prophet of yours. If it’s he who caused all this disturbance, we’ll give him a lodging in the guardroom. Make way now! Where is he?”
Every head was turned again to the south gate. But Jesus was gone.
It was close on supper time when Luke arrived from Capernaum; and a few minutes later Chuza returned home from his day’s duties at the palace.
Before their arrival Jesus had had an opportunity of another talk with Joanna. He told his hostess how greatly impressed he had been with Mary’s unselfish outlook; she had seemed to care more for Jared’s recovery than if she had herself been the sufferer.
“In my view,” he concluded, “Mary is ready for any honour you wish to bestow on her. Adopt her now by all means. But for her own sake don’t make life too easy for her.”
“Life is never going to be too easy for Mary,” replied Joanna thoughtfully.
At supper Jesus asked Luke a direct question: “What is being said about me now in Capernaum?”
Luke looked uncomfortable.
“Out with it, man,” went on Jesus with a laugh; “you needn’t mind my feelings. Let’s hear the worst. But make sure you tell me everything. My future plans will depend on your answer.”
“The religious leaders are very bitter,” began the doctor; “and the worst of it is, they now have a more definite case against you. They are saying that when you fed that great crowd on the hillside, you tried to make them claim you as a king, but that at the last moment you funked it.”
“That’s a clever double argument,” commented Jesus; “the first point could be made into a case before the Roman courts. The second, the charge of cowardice, would put off many possible believers. A leader must not be a coward.”
“To some extent that is what has happened,” said Luke; “many of those who were ready to crown you that day have expressed disgust that you,—” he hesitated a moment, “ran away.”
“And my immediate departure to Phoenicia would lend colour to that theory,” added Jesus thoughtfully.
“The Pharisees have made a lot of capital out of that,” remarked Luke.
“Are any of my former believers affected?” asked Jesus rather wearily; “I mean any of those who really understood what I was out for?”
“Not one, as far as I know,” said Luke. “But there are not many who do realise what you stand for.”
“I sometimes wonder,” said Jesus, “if there are any at all.”
“I’ve discussed that question with a lot of my patients,” replied the doctor, “rich and poor alike. I think one might sum up the general opinion of those who heard much of your teaching in this way: you stand for the victory of right over wrong, of honesty over meanness, of unselfishness over self-interest, of openness over hypocrisy, above all of spiritual over material values; but you have no political axe to grind; you have no desire to raise the standard of Israel in rebellion against Rome. To you everyone has his value as an individual, be he Jew or Samaritan, Roman or Greek or Barbarian, rich or poor; it is what he is that matters and what he does and thinks. Every man and woman matters, because all are children of the same Father, who loves each one individually and all equally. I’m expressing this all very crudely, I’m afraid; but in the main I think that’s what most of your real followers would say.”
“And would they believe it?” asked Jesus.
“I can only answer for myself,” replied Luke with a laugh; “but it seems to me that teaching of this kind is the only salvation of the world.”
“Then my work has not been in vain,” said Jesus quietly. “Even if only a few understand me as you have done, Luke, there will be some to carry on the work when I am—no longer here to do it.”
Luke looked at him strangely.
“What are you suggesting?” he asked.
“You must see as clearly as I do,” was the answer, “that the scribes and Pharisees have got their knife into me. They would stop at nothing to bring me into discredit, perhaps to my death. The foolish enthusiasm of that crowd some months ago has given them a strong case. The Roman courts are just, but they take no account of ideas; it is the facts that weigh with them. If a perfectly true account of that incident on the hillside were given by unprejudiced witnesses, things would look very black for me.”
Their host broke into the conversation.
“It may be some help to you,” he began, “to know what is being said here in the palace. Not that Herod cuts much ice with Pontius Pilate; we all know they can’t hit it off. But Herod does represent a certain section of the people and in that way his opinion is worth knowing. This afternoon his siesta was disturbed by a noise in the street; the palace police reported that it was a demonstration in your honour; is it true that you cured a deaf and dumb boy?”
“It was Jared, Hepzibah’s brother,” put in Joanna.
“The king sent for me,” continued Chuza, “and asked what I knew of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth. Of course I did not mention that I knew you personally, but I told him that you were credited with some very remarkable works of healing. He asked what was the current opinion about you; I told him that some had suggested that you were one of the prophets of old returned to earth. His answer astonished me: ‘It’s John—John the Baptiser;’ those were his actual words; ‘I beheaded John; and now he has risen from the dead. That’s why these mighty works are done by him.’ He said no more, but for the rest of the afternoon he looked like a haunted man.”
“That demonstration was most unfortunate,” remarked Jesus; “I hoped to visit Tiberias unnoticed. I’m afraid your friend Hepzibah was responsible,” he added with a smile at his hostess.
Joanna could not restrain a laugh.
“Hepzibah always enjoys a bit of a sensation,” she commented.
Later in the evening Jesus outlined his immediate plans to his three friends. He intended to spend few more weeks abroad with the Twelve, this time in Syria. He was not returning to Capernaum for some time; if he were ever to continue his work there, it must be after the speculation about his intentions had died a natural death. He told them of his project of sending out a large band of his followers to teach in couples in different parts of the country.
“Can you spare the time, Luke?” he enquired.
“How long?” asked the doctor.
“Oh, two or three months.”
“I might manage it,” was the reply. “I’ve got an assistant since you were last in Capernaum. And I’m beginning to see that there are things that matter more than healing the body.”
“Yet sound and healthy bodies are part of God’s purpose,” was the somewhat unexpected reply, “for a healthy body can house a healthy soul and vigorous spirit. That’s why I spend so much time and energy on curing disease. But I do want you to try some of my techniques yourself, Luke: try to get away from your hidebound professionalism. Medical science will never reach its perfection so long as you doctors shut your eyes to the power and goodness of God. That’s one reason why I want you to go on this tour—to try out a new method of healing.”
“I’m on,” said Luke.
“I’m so grateful,” said Jesus, “and still more so because I know from what you said at supper that you do understand the purpose of my work. How I wish you had consented to be one of the Twelve.”
“Perhaps,” said Luke slowly, “I threw away the greatest opportunity ever offered to a man. But, from your own point of view, you could not have a more splendid set of men than the present Twelve.”
“Some of them don’t appreciate my aims as you do, Luke,” was the answer.
Then Jesus turned to his hostess.
“I want women to teach as well as men,” he explained; “won’t you go and take Mary with you. From what I have seen today of her influence with Hepzibah I know she could do a lot. And it would be a good way of starting her in the new relation you propose for her.”
“Yes,” replied his hostess, “Mary and I will do as you wish.” She threw an affectionate glance at her husband; “Chuza must manage by himself for a bit.”
“On your way,” said Jesus, “I wish you would look in at Nazareth. My mother would love to put you up; I do so want her to know you. And she’ll need real friends—later on. You see, my younger brothers don’t altogether understand.”
And so it was settled. Joanna was to collect thirty women among those who had joined the movement before. Luke was to consult Isaac of Capernaum and together they would sound about thirty men of different characters and classes; the Twelve would form the rest of the number. They would meet on an appointed day in Cana, where few of them would be well known.
“Are you intending to go on this tour yourself?” asked Luke.
“No,” was the reply; “I shall meet you at Cana to give you instructions. Then I’m off to Jerusalem. It’s time I started my work in the capital.”
“Is that wise?” put in Chuza. “The Sanhedrin won’t be very sympathetic. There may even be some danger in working there.”
Jesus looked at his host before replying.
“That’s probably true,” he said at last, “but danger must not stand in the way of the Father’s work.”
On the following morning, an hour before daybreak, Chuza’s private yacht landed Jesus and Luke at the little jetty of the village north of Bethsaida where he had arranged to meet the Twelve. In the dim light Thaddaeus and young James advanced to meet them.
“Master,” began Thaddaeus, “before the others join us, will you come to the cottage where we’ve been putting up. There’s a young chap there who lost his sight through an accident two years ago. James and I thought you might be able to do something for him.”
“Couldn’t you heal him yourselves?” asked Jesus.
“It looked too bad a case for us, Master,” pleaded Thaddaeus, as if in excuse.
“As a matter of fact we did try,” added James; “but I don’t think we had enough confidence in ourselves.”
“It’s not in yourselves you need confidence,” said Jesus with a laugh. “You really mean you hadn’t enough confidence in God. You know, you two believe in me more than you believe in the Father. That’s the wrong way round; without the Father I can do nothing.”
“Yes, but we’ve seen you do these impossible things so often,” explained Thaddaeus; “and the poor fellow’s eyes are in such a nasty mess; I think you’ll understand why we felt a bit uncertain.”
“Very well,” answered Jesus; “bring the young man outside the village. Luke and I will meet you on the west road; we don’t want a crowd collecting or anyone else to know; see?”
And off went James and Thaddaeus on their errand of mercy.
Jesus and Luke waited for them about a hundred yards beyond the last cottage.
“I wish you’d explain something of your technique,” said the doctor.
“It all depends on the elimination of oneself,” was the reply; “there must be no fear of one’s own inability, no self-satisfaction in being the means of working a cure; one’s whole mind must be filled with a desire to help the sufferer and an absolute trust in the Father’s power to heal. Only so can we become perfect channels through which that power can operate.”
Luke laughed rather helplessly.
“It’s easy to talk of eliminating oneself,” he objected; “but how many can achieve it?”
“It needs training, of course,” Jesus explained, “and self discipline, like everything else which is worth doing. But given goodwill and a genuine belief in the love and infinite power of God, anyone can make himself into such a channel. Try it yourself; you can only succeed by experimenting.”
James and Thaddaeus appeared round a bend in the road; Thaddaeus was leading a young man by the hand.
“Here’s our Master,” Thaddaeus was saying; “he’ll put you right in less than no time.”
“How long is it since your accident?” Jesus began.
“About two years, sir,” was the reply.
“Do you believe in the love and goodness of God?”
“That’s a difficult one,” said the young man slowly, “seeing that he’s robbed me of the best thing in life.”
“Nonsense,” answered Jesus briskly; “it was probably due to your own carelessness. Now, honestly, wasn’t it?”
“Well, in a way, yes.”
“That’s always the way,” Jesus went on with a laugh; “people are always blaming God for the results of their own stupidity. Now I tell you that God loves you and wants you to have your sight again; he will enable me to give it back to you. Do you believe that?”
“I should like to believe it.”
“I am going to spit on your eyes; when I have done that, you will be able to see. Now, do you believe?”
“I’m beginning to.”
“Right. Lean back your head. Don’t move until I tell you.”
He spat on the sightless sockets—first one, then the other.
“Now,” he said suddenly, “can you see anything?”
The young man strained his face towards the speaker. A look of intelligence spread over his features.
“I can see four of you,” he said jerkily; then he suddenly began to laugh; “but you look all hazy, like trees walking about.”
“Pull yourself together,” ordered Jesus sternly.
He laid his hands on the young man’s eyes, blindfolding him for several minutes. The patient remained absolutely still under his touch.
“Now,” said Jesus, removing his hands, “look at the trees again.”
“Good God!” exclaimed the young man. “I can see as well as ever.”
“Yes,” replied Jesus with a smile, “God is good; and it is through His goodness that you can see. Now I don’t want people to know I’m here; don’t even go to the village till this evening. Go for a long country walk to get used to your sight again. When you go home this evening, I shall be many miles from here.”
“How can I thank you?” faltered the young man.
“Don’t try to thank me,” was the cheerful answer; “thank the good God whose love has given you back the sight of your eyes. As you walk, look upon his beautiful world, at the sky and clouds and hills and corn fields, and let your heart sing to him with praise and thanksgiving. Now, be off with you.”
And turning on his heel, Jesus strode back through the village, followed by his three friends.
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