John’s tutors at the College had always regarded him as one of their most promising pupils.
It was therefore a worry to his mother when one of the professors, a kindly elderly man who had been a friend of her husband’s, called on her and told her that for the last month her son’s work had gone all to pieces.
“He seems to have lost all interest, Deborah,” he said with a worried frown; “and he’s cutting lectures and tasks right and left. I know that Jesus the Nazarene is your guest and that John is seeing a great deal of him. I’m a liberal-minded man, as you know, and I do not criticise so harshly as some of my colleagues. But I cannot help attributing the deterioration in John’s work to his friendship with the Galilean teacher, a man of little education, by the way, though many of his views are original, I must admit, and at first sight attractive. A lad of John’s intelligence ought to be able to distinguish between real learning and specious originality. But he has evidently conceived a kind of hero-worship for this man Jesus and can take no interest in anything but his teaching. Have a talk with John, Deborah; it’s a pity to see an able boy like him wasting his time and his capacities in this way.”
When the old gentleman had gone, Deborah sat down by herself to think things over. She had always been ambitious for her son’s success; at the same time she could not disguise from herself that Jesus’ influence over the boy was wholly good; John had become more helpful at home and had lost the touch of intellectual conceit which is such a common failing in clever young men. At the same time it seemed wrong that he should neglect to make to the best use of his brains.
Finally she decided to refer the matter to Jesus himself. She had a great respect for his judgement and was certain that he would advise nothing which was contrary to John’s interest. She took the first opportunity of putting the whole case before him. He listened attentively, asked a few questions and finally said: “I’ll have a talk with John. Then I shall know better what advice to give.”
He immediately went off to the little room which was called John’s study. He walked in without knocking. John hastily turned over the parchment on which he was writing.
“Hello, John,” Jesus began lightly, “writing a love letter?”
John reddened and laughed awkwardly.
“No, of course not,” he replied.
“No; not even poetry.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t your work,” Jesus went on, “or you wouldn’t have tried to hide it.”
“As a matter of fact, it was work of a sort,” said the boy with some embarrassment.
“It was about your work that I came to talk to you,” said Jesus, changing the subject. “Your mother’s a bit worried. She’s had a call from one of your tutors, who complains that you’re not working.”
“Old Dr. Boaz, I suppose,” said John with a smile. “He’s a good old sort.”
“Well,” Jesus went on, “is his criticism true?”
“From his point of view,” admitted John candidly, “it’s perfectly true. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually worked so hard as I have the last few weeks.”
“But not at your College work?” Jesus pressed him. “No,” said the boy at once; “I seem to have lost all interest in the scholars’ interpretations of the Scriptures—and even in the Greek philosophers. They don’t get you anywhere. I don’t feel that I can attend to lectures on Aristotle and Zeno, when I might be outside listening to the words of life.”
“That’s a little short-sighted of you, John,” said Jesus seriously; “you can appreciate the Truth better, if you understand how far the great thinkers of the past have advanced along the road to Truth.”
“It seems a waste of time,” the boy blurted out, “when I have to miss any of your teaching. Besides, I can’t get on with my real work if I do.”
“That’s easily remedied,” said Jesus; “I’ll do my teaching in hours when you are not supposed to be working in College.”
“Oh, but that would make all the difference,” cried John delightedly.
“That’s settled then,” said Jesus. “But what did you mean just now by ‘your real work?’”
“This,” said John sheepishly, putting his hand on the overturned parchment; “I didn’t mean you to know about it; but you can look at it if you like.”
Jesus took the scroll which the lad held out to him. He glanced through it. One phrase after another leapt to his eye.
“If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink.”
“I am the light of the world.”
“You know neither me, nor my Father.”
“When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you shall know that I am he.”
They were his own words, exactly reproduced.
“How long have you been doing this, John?” he asked.
“Ever since you came to Jerusalem,” John replied.
“And you do it all from memory?”
“I write it down as soon as I get home,” the boy said. “I expect I’ve forgotten a fearful lot.”
“You’ve remembered all that matters,” Jesus replied. “Go on with this, John. Some day, in the distant future, it may be wise to give this to the world. But not yet; not for a long time yet. When quite a lot of people have come to believe in me, when others have written of my work and recounted my simpler teaching, the parables and so on, that will be the time to add the deeper truths. That shall be your job, John, to act as my mouthpiece. Perhaps these words which you are writing will be read centuries hence and bring a knowledge of the Truth to generations yet unborn.”
Jesus had been speaking almost to himself; yet John had drunk in every word.
“I’ll do my best, Master,” he said humbly; “But I wish I could remember everything.”
“And stick to your other work,” Jesus continued, “especially your Greek. Sometime you must translate this into Greek. It’s more widely understood and read than our own tongue.”
Later in the day Jesus had another talk with Deborah.
“You needn’t worry about John,” he reassured her; “he’s going to work very hard indeed.”
On warm evenings Jesus would often walk after nightfall outside the east wall of the city. His favourite haunt was a large olive orchard, popularly known as the Garden of Gethsemane. If he had not too much work on hand, John would accompany him; and sometimes Mark joined them as well.
It was on one such occasion, when both the boys were with him, that John suddenly said; “Master, John the Baptiser used to teach his followers how to pray. Won’t you teach us to pray, as he did.”
“The most important thing about prayer,” replied Jesus without hesitation, “is to remember who it is you are praying to; think of God’s love and generosity and goodness and understanding. So when you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’ I’ll teach you a prayer that I’ve already taught to the Twelve; but remember that it’s not so much a prayer to be learnt by heart and repeated mechanically, as a pattern of what prayers should be like. We begin them with, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven;’ that’s to remind us that though God is a Father to each one of us, we can talk to him as intimately as to our own father or mother. He is holy and infinite; so we go on with a request that we and all other people may honour him in that way: ‘hallowed be thy name.’ You both know what I’ve come to the world to do, to found a kingdom of God; very well, then, we go on with the words, ‘Thy Kingdom come;’ and lest we forget what that means, we add: ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;’—that is, perfectly, willingly and joyfully. When you’ve prayed for the coming of God’s kingdom then you can begin to think about your own needs; but don’t be selfish about them, don’t ask just that your own wants may be supplied, but pray for everybody else too. ‘Give us this day our daily bread;’—not only food, of course, but all the necessaries of everyday life. Then you can ask the Father to forgive what you’ve done wrong, because you’ll often have the feeling that you’ve failed in some way and you see sin of various kinds all round you in the world, which needs God’s pardon for those who do it; so say, ‘And forgive us our trespasses;’ but it isn’t really fair for people to ask God to forgive them, if they are not ready themselves to forgive others who perhaps have done them some small injustice. I’ll tell you a story about that sometime, but let’s get on with our prayer: ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.’ Then we’ll finish by asking God to help us to do the right thing and refuse the wrong: ‘and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
For a moment neither of the boys spoke. Then Mark, with a puzzled frown, asked: “But surely, Master, God doesn’t put temptations in our way on purpose?”
“Certainly not,” Jesus answered with a smile, “but He does give us freewill; and because of our human nature, we do very often want to do what’s wrong. If you take those last two sentences together, you’ll see what they mean: ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;’—in other words we are asking God to see that our desires to do wrong are not too strong for us, but that we may have the power to overcome them.”
“Is that the whole prayer?” asked John.
“That’s all the prayer,” said Jesus, “if you mean, all the asking part. But I always feel that when we talk to the Father, we ought to think of his greatness and goodness and generosity; we ought to feel grateful to him and praise him. So if you like, you can end up like this, ‘for thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.’”
“I like it much better like that,” said John.
“Say the words, then,” agreed Jesus at once; “but it doesn’t really matter whether you say them or not, provided that in your heart there is praise and thanksgiving. Now say the whole prayer after me, so that you may get it into your heads; and think of it as a pattern of what your own prayers should be like.”
And sitting under an ancient olive-tree, whose branches laid black patterns upon the moon-silvered turf, the two boys repeated after their Master sentence by sentence the words which have now become so familiar that they have for many almost lost their meaning.
When they had finished, John’s mind turned back to the phrase, “Thy Kingdom come;” he seemed to see a world in which those three words had come true, a world freed from tyranny and war and lust and falsehood, a world in which all people were striving to live the simple, perfect life of the Master.
His reverie was interrupted by Mark.
“Master,” he said, “will you tell us the story about forgiveness?”
“I’ll tell you the story, Mark,” said Jesus, “and leave you to make out its meaning. A rich man was making up his accounts and found that one of his servants owed him an immense sum of money, so immense that it was quite impossible he would ever pay it. He sent for the man and pointed out his debt. The fellow grovelled abjectly and pleaded for time, promising to pay the money in full. His master was sorry for him and, being a generous and kindly employer, said he was ready to cancel the whole debt. The servant thanked him profusely and warmly and went about his work with a fearful weight lifted from his mind. But the very same afternoon, in the servants’ quarters, the same man suddenly remembered that one of his fellow employees owed him a few pounds—perhaps it was a little bet they’d had—that doesn’t matter. Anyway, he went up to him when all the other servants were there and said, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time you paid me that money.’ The other man replied, ‘Well, give me a bit of time. I’ve not got it at the moment. But I’m going to pay up next wage day.’ That started an argument which soon developed into a quarrel. The first man set on the second and seized him by the throat. Of course they were quickly parted, and the other servants thought the fellow had behaved very badly and reported the matter to their master. He sent for the man again and this was a very different interview from the first. ‘You ungenerous fellow,’ said the master sternly, ‘I cancelled your debt this morning because I was sorry for you. Couldn’t you have treated your fellow-servant with the same consideration that I showed to you? There’s nothing for it but the debtor’s prison for you, till you’ve learnt to treat your fellows with more generosity.’”
In one of the Temple porches day after day sat a blind man. Round his neck hung a placard, bearing the inscription: “Totally blind.” In front of his crossed feet stood a wooden bowl into which compassionate passers-by occasionally flung some small coin. Every now and then he picked up this bowl, rattled it mechanically and cried: “Pity the blind.” For the last seven years he had occupied the same pitch and had become a well-known feature of the landscape. He was quite a young man, twenty five years old at the most. It was the Sabbath. As Jesus passed through the porch on the way to the Temple service, he spoke to the blind man.
“Is your blindness the result of an accident?” he asked; “or have you always been blind.”
“Blind from birth, governor,” the man replied cheerfully, as if it were an accomplishment of which he had some reason to be proud. “That’s better than losing your eyes; that’s what I always say. If you’ve never seen, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
“But you would like to see?” said Jesus.
“I’d like to see right enough,” answered the beggar; “then I could do an honest day’s work, like my three brothers. Not as I do too badly, I’m not a drag on the old people at home, I generally bring back enough of an evening to pay for my keep. Folks are good to me; there’s many will toss a little something to me as they pass. I’m coming to be pretty well known here. Elihu the blind beggar would be missed if he wasn’t at his usual place. Still I won’t deny it’s dull sitting here in the dark day after day; and I sometimes wish I didn’t have to depend on my neighbours’ kind-heartedness. But there; it’s no good complaining; the good God made me with sightless eyes, so I must put up with it cheerfully, and not bother my head about why he made me different from other folk.”
John and Mark had been waiting for Jesus in the Temple courts. Seeing him talking to the blind man, they had strolled across to join him. They had therefore overheard Elihu’s last remark.
John drew Jesus aside.
“Master,” he began, “there must be a reason for everything. But it is hard to understand why a loving God should let a child be born blind. Is it a law of justice being worked out, because in some previous life this man did wrong? Surely it can’t be as a punishment to his parents for anything, they’ve done?”
“It’s not as a punishment, at all,” replied Jesus, “either for the sins of Elihu or his parents. It’s just to give to him and to you and to others a chance of understanding the power and goodness of God. While I am in the world, it’s my job to bring the Light of the Father into the world.”
“Are you still there mate?” asked the blind man.
“I’m here,” replied Jesus, approaching him again.
“That’s all right,” said Elihu cheerfully. “It’s a nice change to have a chat with someone. There’s not many as’ll stop and speak to me. You’re a northerner, aren’t you? What’s your name?”
“My name’s Jesus—of Nazareth,” was the reply.
The blind man caught his breath. The sudden intake made a kind of hissing sound.
“Does that mean there’s a chance for me?” He half stumbled over the words. “They say you heal disease, disablement, even—blindness.”
“Nothing is beyond the power of God,” Jesus said quietly.
It was a dry, windless day. The dust lay thick in the porch. Jesus spat on the ground and began mixing the dust into a little dollop of clay.
“I’m mixing a poultice,” he explained. “Now, I’m going to smear your eyes with clay. There; that’s all. You can find your way to the pool of Siloam?”
“Well, of course,” said the young man.
“Go there,” Jesus ordered, “and wash the clay off your eyes.”
Elihu jumped up and with swift and unerring sureness made his way down the irregular steps.
Jesus walked on into the courts. The whole scene had taken place so unostentatiously, that none of the passers-by had noticed anything unusual. Only John and Mark had seen what had happened.
An hour later the young man was back by the porch. He was looking about him with an expression of bewilderment. With one hand he clutched the masonry of the gateway, as if to assure himself that something was still real in a strange universe or to maintain contact with the world he had known for twenty five years.
A group of students was standing a little way off. Their remarks reached his ears.
“Isn’t that the fellow that used to sit here begging?”
“Can’t be, you ass, he was blind.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure it is he.”
“It’s jolly like him. A twin brother, perhaps.”
“I am he,” Elihu could not help saying, loudly enough for them to hear.
The young men clustered round him, laughing and joking.
“Well, you are a fraud,” said one.
“I suppose you thought no one was watching you,” added another.
“I’m not a fraud, sir,” he said so seriously that their banter ceased at once. “I’ve been blind for twenty five years—was born blind, in fact. Now I can see.”
A young Pharisee halted by the party.
“What’s that?” he exclaimed. “You say you were born blind and can now see?”
“That’s right, sir,” said Elihu.
“How were you eyes opened, then?” rapped out the Pharisee.
“The man called Jesus made clay,” explained the beggar, “and put it on my eyes. Now I’ve washed it off, as he told me; and I can see.”
“You’d better come along with me, my man,” said the Pharisee. “This will have to be looked into.”
Without a word Elihu followed him across the Courts.
Most of the priestly body belonged to the party of the Sadducees, but there was an influential minority of Pharisees on the Council. It was they who were most particular about the strict observance of the Mosaic laws. The chairman of the committee for the maintenance of the Sabbath was Dr. Alexander.
It was to his rooms therefore that Elihu’s guide directed him; it so happened that the committee was actually in session and was able to deal with the case at once.
Elihu was asked how he had received his sight; he gave a perfectly straightforward account of what had happened. He was told to wait in an adjoining room while his evidence was discussed.
A small ratlike man with a tight mouth gave his opinion first. “This man,” he declared, “cannot be an agent of God, because he does not keep the laws of the Sabbath.”
“But how,” objected another member, “can one who is a sinner perform such miracles?”
A heated argument began. It was cut short by the chairman.
“Gentlemen,” he remarked in acid tones; “we shall do no good by quarrelling. Whatever may be our private opinions, we have had a lead from the Council. Anyone who declares the Nazarene to be the Messiah is to be excommunicated. We had better cross-question the beggar again.”
Elihu was brought in.
“Now, my man,” began Dr. Alexander, “you say that this man Jesus opened your eyes.”
“That’s right, sir,” agreed Elihu cheerfully.
“And that you have been blind all your life?”
“Born blind, sir, blind as a kitten. But not so lucky as most kittens; had to wait twenty five years to get the use of my eyes.”
“This man Jesus,” continued the chairman with dignity, “have you ever seen him before today?”
“Haven’t seen him yet,” was the prompt answer. “He wasn’t there when I came back from washing off the mud.”
“Have you spoken to him before?” persisted Dr. Alexander.
“Not to my knowledge, sir.”
“What is your personal opinion about him?”
Elihu scratched his head. This was not such an easy question.
“Well, sir,” he ventured, “he opened my eyes and I’ve been blind all my life. I reckon he’s some sort of prophet, if you know my meaning.”
The rat-faced man intervened.
“Mr. Chairman,” he began shrewdly, “have we any evidence to support this witness’ statement that he has been blind since birth? Or, for that matter, blind at all? There’s a good deal of fraud in what we may call the begging industry.”
He sat back in his chair with a self-satisfied glance round the room.
“Where do you live?” Dr. Alexander began to question Elihu afresh.
“Street of the coppersmiths, just down the steps and second to the right. That’s my old father’s trade.”
“Your father is alive?”
“Father and mother too,” replied Elihu briskly; “both getting on now, but still pretty hearty.”
The question was promptly answered and a messenger despatched to summon the old couple.
In a quarter of an hour they were ushered in, agitated and mystified by the summons. Elihu was brought in again. When his parents saw that he had the use of his eyes, their astonishment and joy were so genuine that few could doubt the truth of the son’s story.
Their examination was little more than a formality.
“Is this your son?” asked the chairman.
“That’s our son, sir,” replied the old man nervously.
“He states that he was born blind,” went on Dr. Alexander; “do you corroborate that?”
“I don’t rightly understand, sir.”
“Is it true that he was born blind?” said the chairman with studied patience.
“Oh yes, sir, that’s true enough,” answered the witness, “isn’t it, mother?” The old woman nodded her assent.
“Then how is it that he can see now?” The question was shot out, as though Dr. Alexander hoped to catch the old man in a falsehood.
He blinked at the suddenness of the attack, but answered without hesitation: “I know nothing about it, sir. When he left home this morning, he was a blind as a bat, wasn’t he, mother?”
“Then you can give us no further information?” asked Dr. Alexander.
“No, sir,” was the father’s reply; “we know this is our son Elihu and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, we have no idea. Or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Wouldn’t it be better to ask him, sir? He’s grown up and can speak for himself.”
The chairman cut him short.
“Does anyone wish to question these people further?” he asked. “Very well, that’s all. You may return home.”
The old couple retired. Elihu was instructed to remain.
Twenty minutes elapsed before he was again summoned before the committee. He noticed an air of strain in the room. There had evidently been some disagreement. He was encouraged to greater boldness.
The chairman addressed him gravely.
“You have had a remarkable recovery. You must attribute it to the mercy of God. It is our considered opinion that it was not due to the agency of this man Jesus. We know him to be a sinner.”
This was too much for Elihu.
“Whether he’s a sinner,” he retorted bluntly, “I don’t know or care. One thing I do know. I used to be blind: now I can see.”
A fat man spoke in a wheezy, asthmatic voice: “But what proof have you that your recovery had anything to do with Jesus of Nazareth? What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
Elihu grinned; he was beginning to enjoy himself. “I’ve told you once,” he said; “you can’t have been listening. Must I tell you the whole story over again?” He looked round the room at the gloomy faces; then, as if a light had suddenly burst upon his mind, he added: “Oh, I see what it is. You want to know more about him so as to become his followers.”
Dr. Alexander looked up suddenly: his face was white with fury.
“You are his follower,” he snapped. “We are the followers of no one except Moses.” He pulled himself together with an effort and continued more calmly: “We know from the Scriptures that God talked with Moses. But as for this man Jesus, we don’t know who he is or where he comes from.”
“You don’t know where he comes from, eh?” said the beggar with mock seriousness. “Well, that’s a queer thing, that is. You don’t know where he comes from—and yet he opened my eyes. God don’t listen to sinners, do he? But he do listen to them as worships him true and proper. Since the beginning of the world I’ve never heard tell of anybody opening the eyes of a man born blind; now I ask you, gentlemen, honest, have you?”
Again he looked around. No one answered his challenge.
“What I says is this, gentlemen,” he concluded triumphantly. “If this man didn’t come from God, he couldn’t do a thing.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then the chairman cleared his throat. He spoke gravely, as if conscious of the seriousness of his words.
“On your own admission you were born blind: this means that you were born in sin. Yet you, a sinner, have had the presumption to lecture us, who are the representatives of the Sacred Council. It will be our painful duty to report the whole case to the Council and to recommend them to pass sentence of excommunication upon you.”
Dr. Alexander had sat with his eyes on the table, as he pronounced his verdict. Now he looked up, to find the beggar watching him with an expression of whimsical unconcern.
“You understand what that means?” he added sharply.
“It means that you will be excluded from the Temple and from all synagogues; that you will have no part or share in the worship of God; that you will be shunned by your fellow-men as one under the curse of God.”
“Well, if that’s so,” said the beggar with unabated cheerfulness, “I’d better wish you gentlemen good morning. And I’m sorry to have wasted so much of your valuable time.”
He turned on his heel and left the committee room.
Later in the day Jesus met him again. He laid his hand on his shoulder. No sign of recognition came into his eyes until Jesus spoke; then his face lit up.
“Is it true they have turned you out of the synagogues?” he asked anxiously.
“True enough, sir,” answered Elihu with a grin; “and if the synagogues are full of chaps like them, it won’t be much loss.”
“Yet it’s a serious thing, Elihu,” replied Jesus gravely. “You do believe in God, don’t you?”
“Who wouldn’t,” said the beggar at once, “when it’s him as helped you to open my eyes?”
“And don’t you mind being cut off from worshipping him?” asked Jesus.
“I can praise and worship God all right,” was the unexpected answer, “without the help of blokes like that.”
The young man’s simple outlook delighted Jesus.
“Do you believe in the Son of God? The Messiah?” Jesus went on. There was a trace of anxiety in his voice.
“You just point him out to me,” answered Elihu at once. “If you say he’s the Messiah, I’ll believe right enough. Who is he, sir?”
“You have seen him already,” said Jesus. “He’s talking to you now.”
For a moment the young man looked at him as if he thought he might be joking. Then a wave of comprehension and joy spread over his features.
“Lord,” he whispered earnestly, “I believe.”
He knelt in the dust and kissed the hem of the Messiah’s rough tunic.
Winter had set in. An icy wind, with unaccustomed flurries of snow, swept the temple Courts at the Feast of the Dedication.
This did not prevent Jesus from teaching nor crowds from collecting to hear him. Nor did it stop his opponents from trying to trip him up and make him say something which could later be used against him.
During the last few weeks Jesus’ teaching had become more and more definite. He continually spoke of God as the Father and made it abundantly clear that he regarded himself as the Father’s special representative on earth. Though he never claimed in so many words to be the Messiah, he was daily becoming bolder in proclaiming his own mission to mankind. He openly asserted that no one could understand the Father’s nature without accepting his own teaching.
For the comfort of his listeners he had taken his seat on this cold, windy day in the colonnade known as Solomon’s porch. When he had finished talking, he walked towards the gateway. A man approached him with a question.
“Rabbi,” he began politely. “Why do you keep us all in suspense. It’s not fair to hint at things as you so often do. If you are the Messiah, tell us so plainly.”
Jesus looked at the questioner. There was nothing distinctive about him; he might have been a clerk in any of the Temple offices. But near enough to overhear his reply was a group of priests, their eyes fixed on his face with an expression of greedy anticipation. The question was evidently an inspired one.
He spoke loudly enough for all around to hear; he even included the priests in his answer.
“Surely everything that I say and do is an answer to your question,” he said; “the best evidence of my work in the world is to be found in my words and in the healing which I am able to do in my Father’s name. I am only able to do the Father’s work, because the Father and I are in perfect harmony—the Father and I are one.”
A couple of young men picked up stones with the obvious intention of flinging them at him. Jesus faced then.
“Are you intending to stone me again?” he asked with a smile.
“You have seen me do many good works with the Father’s aid. For which of those works do you want to stone me?”
“It’s not for good works that we mean to stone you,” one of his assailants answered aggressively, “but for blasphemy. You are nothing but an ordinary man and are trying to make out that you are God.”
“Isn’t it written in your law, ‘I said, ye are gods?’” came the reply, quick as a sword thrust.
“Very well, then,” Jesus interrupted; “the writer called certain people gods, when God’s word came to them, didn’t he?”
“I suppose so.” The young man was beginning to feel foolish.
“And will you say that the Scriptures can be mistaken?” came the inexorable question.
“No; no of course not.”
“Then is it fair,” continued Jesus, “to accuse of blasphemy, one whom the Father has sent as his special envoy to the world, just because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If what I do is contrary to God’s work, then even though you don’t believe in me, you must believe in my work. And in that way you’ll see what I meant when I said, ‘the Father and I are one;’ for you’ll understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father.”
He turned and walked unmolested out of the Courts. But the priests carried a full report to their superiors, who after careful consideration came to the reluctant conclusion that there was still no justification for an arrest.
“The fellow’s as slippery as an eel,” commented old Annas to his son-in-law, with a chuckle. “But patience my dear Caiaphas, patience. Sooner or later he’s bound to give himself away.”
And the expression on the old man’s face was that of a cat waiting patiently at a mousehole.
“I shall have to be off tomorrow morning,” said Jesus.
It was a week later. The weather had changed; warm sunlight streamed into the green lattice window by which John was sitting. He turned suddenly.
“Why, Master?” he asked.
“My seventy preachers are due back at Bethsaida in a week’s time,” Jesus explained. “I must be there to receive their report.”
“May I come with you?” asked the boy eagerly.
“Certainly not,” replied Jesus with a laugh; “you’ve got to stick to your work, young man. Your last term at the College begins next week, doesn’t it? And you’ve got your final exams before the Passover. For your mother’s sake as well as your own, you’ve got to pass out at the head of the list. That’s right isn’t it, Deborah?”
She looked up from her sewing and nodded gratefully.
“We can’t have you gallivanting all over the country during your last term,” continued Jesus, “or there’ll be a plough for you at the end.”
“You’re right, Master,” agreed John with some reluctance. Then he laughed. “But then you’re always right. That’s the one annoying thing about you.”
Jesus smiled. The words had been spoken too lightly to bear any trace of impertinence.
“When you’ve passed that exam,” he went on, “you’ll be free to follow your own bent.”
“What I’d like to do,” said John slowly, “is to go about with you. I could act as your secretary; keep a fuller record of your teaching than I’ve been able to do so far. Would that be possible?”
A look of pain passed over Jesus’ features. For a moment he did not reply.
“I should love to have your help, John,” he said at last, “but it’s very doubtful if it will be—possible.”
The boy’s face fell.
“I shall be back here for the Passover,” Jesus went on in a lighter tone. “We must see then how things turn out.”
“You’ll stay with us again, I hope?” put in Deborah.
“I’ve promised to go to my friends at Bethany,” said Jesus. “And I shall have the Twelve with me. But I should like to be in Jerusalem for the actual Passover meal. Have you already let your big guest-chamber on the top floor?”
“No,” replied Deborah; “I’ll book it for you and your friends.”
Jesus walked over to the window, where John was gazing out moodily. The parchment which he had been studying had slipped from his fingers and lay unheeded on the floor. Jesus laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t look so glum, John,” he said cheerily; “I’ve not turned down your offer, you know. If it were possible, I’d accept it at once. Only I don’t want you to count on something which may never come off.”
John’s face cleared.
“I thought,” he said, “you were trying to tell me very tactfully that I couldn’t be of any use to you.”
“Nothing of the kind,” was the immediate reply. “But we’re wasting this glorious day. There’s still about a couple of hours before sunset and it’ll turn cold again after dark. You’re doing no work in any case, so we’ll frankly make it a holiday and go for a last walk in Gethsemane. What’s the time?”
“Three o’clock,” answered John with a grin; “Malachi’s just started for the well.”
Old Malachi was the general factotum of the household. It was a standing joke that he was so regular in his habits that you could tell the time by his movements. At exactly seven in the morning and three in the afternoon he made his daily excursions to the well at the end of the street. At exactly a quarter past he returned to the house. It took him just two minutes to reach the fountain and three minutes to come back with his full pitcher. That allowed ten minutes for filling the jar and gossiping with a crony from a neighbouring house, whose habits were as methodical as his own.
“Has Malachi never been late?” asked Jesus with a laugh.
“Never in my lifetime,” chuckled the boy, springing to his feet.
“You’re wrong there, John,” said his mother. “On the day you were born, he started to the well at four minutes past three.”
Cheerfulness was restored. The sun was shining, there was an early hint of spring in the invigorating air; the ancient olives of Gethsemane cast their grotesque shadows on a carpet of moss and peeping crocus. And in the companionship of the boy, whose friendship he had come to prize so dearly, Jesus lost sight for two brief hours of the tragedy which loomed ahead.
He was back in Bethsaida. The lake, shimmering in the early morning sunlight, seemed to welcome him as he stood under the portico of Philip’s home. He had arrived late the night before, unknown to anyone except his host and hostess. And it was his intention to return south with the Twelve, as soon as the seventy had made their report.
His host had put at his disposal a large threshing floor half a mile from the house, for the weather was still too chilly to sit for long in the open. Here he waited to receive the missioners as they arrived.
The great barn was a scene of lively activity throughout the day. As each couple entered, Jesus went forward to greet them and congratulate them on the success of their work. There seemed to be a general consensus of opinion that God’s blessing had furthered the whole enterprise. As one of the seventy remarked with a note of surprise, “Even the devils were subject to us.”
Joanna and Mary were some of the first to appear and Jesus had leisure to enquire about their visit to his home.
“Your mother’s a wonderful person,” said Joanna. “She understands the risks you’re running and would not wish you to draw back.”
“Like the mother of any soldier,” smiled Jesus, “who is fighting is a righteous cause.”
“And she was such a dear to me,” added Mary. “I was rather nervous that she might not care to have me there, when she knew all about me. But she knew it all beforehand.”
“Yes, Mary,” said Jesus, “I told her.”
“And it made no difference,” the girl went on with a break in her voice. “If I’d had a mother like her, things wouldn’t have gone with me as they did.” She was silent for a moment as if pondering over something. “But then I might never have met you,” she added.
Judas and Matthias came in with a number of others. Jesus noticed a restless, almost defiant look in Judas’ eyes; he singled him out.
“Well, Master,” Judas remarked with candour, “I promised you success and I’ve been the most dismal failure. I didn’t manage to hit it off at all with that crowd at Samaria. But Matthias made some headway,” he added with a show of generosity. “Barabbas is in gaol,” remarked Jesus casually.
Judas started. Then the Master knew. But this was not the moment for explanations.
“I heard they’d laid the fellow by the heels at last,” he said jauntily—and turned aside to greet Luke.
In the evening, when all the seventy were reassembled, Jesus sat down and spoke to them. Men and women grouped themselves in little intimate knots upon the floor, heedless of the sweet-smelling chaff which clung to their rough clothing.
“One of you this morning,” he began, “seemed astonished that the devils came out at your command. But the whole of the work you have been doing has been to tear down the forces of evil which hold men and women in chains of slavery and fear. I seem to see Satan falling from his pinnacle of power, as the lightning falls from the sky. You must remember that I gave you the authority to trample upon the powers of darkness as you would crush a serpent or a scorpion which was about to attack your friend. No spiritual harm can come to you when you are engaged in the Father’s service. But,” he added with a smile, “don’t congratulate yourselves because the devils are subject to you; but rejoice that you have been able to do a good job of work for God, who has your names written down, as it were, on the roll of his servants. How wise and clever some of our religious leaders think themselves! Yet they cannot understand or appreciate the simple truths which I sent you out to teach. But, thank God, there are many who do accept them, readily and easily as a little child believes what he is told. All my teaching comes from the Father; no one except the Father fully understands what he sent the Son into the world to do; and no one quite understands the nature of the Father except the Son,” he paused for a moment, then added in a lower tone, “and all those to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
He looked round the barn; every eye was riveted upon his face.
“Happy are those,” he concluded, “who see the things that you see. I tell you many prophets and kings have longed to see the things that you see and have not seen them—and to hear the things that you hear, but have not heard them.”
For hour after hour Jesus lay awake that night. Now that he had rejoined the Twelve, he must come to some decision, about his attitude towards Judas. Two courses seemed to be open to him; either he could make no further reference to his negotiations with Barabbas or he must tackle him seriously and try once again to convince him that the kingdom of God was to be a reign of love and peace and brotherhood and could not be established by violence and bloodshed.
By his reference to Barabbas this afternoon he had made it clear to Judas that he knew about his schemes and their failures.
Might it not be better to leave the matter there, trusting to Judas’ own sense to see the futility of such plans? Jesus shrank from an open quarrel, which might result in Judas severing all connection with the Twelve; for though such a course might make things easier for himself, he had never forgotten that long night of prayer before the appointment of the Twelve and the conviction which had then come to him that Judas was to play a necessary and decisive part in the Father’s purpose for the salvation of mankind.
As he lay staring into the darkness, he laid the whole problem before his Father, as was his custom. Yet no immediate solution came to his mind. This did not trouble him; experience had taught him that God answers prayer in his own way and at his own time. The way would be made clear sooner or later.
It was not until the second day of their journey south that Jesus knew that his prayer was answered. They had passed the night in Cana and pushed on early in the morning to Nazareth.
“I’m going to look in at my home,” Jesus remarked to the Twelve. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll catch you up on the road.”
Half an hour later he emerged with his mother from the little back room. He stood for a moment on the threshold of the workshop surveying the well-known scene. Instinctively he knew that this was the last time his mortal eyes would light upon its familiar details—the tidy, well-kept bench; the tools, each in its appointed place in the chest; the pile of deal planks in one corner, always different, yet always the same; the smaller stack of sweet-smelling cedar for the better-class work; the huddle of damaged furniture, brought in by neighbours for repair; the sawdust and shavings lying on the sanded floor; the scent of timber and oil and glue which is common to every carpenter’s shop in the world; above all the winter sunlight, streaming in through the open shutters, picking out the metal objects with gleaming points of brightness and illuminating the homely room with shafts of glory in which danced the selfsame motes which had danced there when he was a child; all these things tugged at his heart strings for he was bidding them farewell.
He kissed his mother and hurried out into the street; before turning the corner, he looked back. Mary stood motionless by the open door, her eyes slightly screwed up in the bright sunshine, just as she had often stood years ago, watching her little son on his way to school. Simultaneously the two raised their hands and waved a farewell. Then Jesus struck down the cross street and walked rapidly to the South gate.
At a short distance from the town the main road dips down a long steep hill into the plain. Halfway down this Judas emerged from the shelter of a barn behind which he had taken cover from the raw wind. “The others have gone on, as you suggested,” he remarked, as he fell into step with Jesus. “I thought I’d wait for you. The fact is, I want to get things straightened out with you.”
Jesus’ heart leaped. Here was the Father’s answer to his prayer. Whether he liked it or not, he must have it out with Judas now.
“So you know about my dealings with Barabbas,” Judas went on after a pause. “How did you find out?”
“I saw you with him in Jerusalem,” was the answer. “Your eyes are quicker than I expected,” remarked Judas with a short laugh.
“What made you approach a man like that?” asked Jesus.
“I thought he’d be a useful ally,” Judas replied promptly. “I was wrong. The fellow turned out a hot-headed fool.”
“You don’t seem to understand my purpose,” Jesus went on. “Isn’t it obvious to you yet that a kingdom of love and justice and brotherhood cannot possibly be established by violence and bloodshed?”
“Now that’s just where I can’t agree with you, Master,” Judas declared; “you talk of a kingdom of love and brotherhood; there I’m with you all the way. But there’ll be opposition to such a kingdom; will the priests welcome it?”
“Not those now in power,” agreed Jesus.
“There you are, then,” said Judas exultantly, feeling that he had scored a point. “The existing priests are our opponents; they must be cleared out of the way. Will the Romans want a rival king to their puppet Herod?”
Jesus sighed. “We’re talking at cross-purposes, Judas,” he explained patiently. “When you speak of the Kingdom of God, you think of a worldly kingdom with a ruler like King David or Solomon on the throne, with ministers and armies and a treasury government offices and alliances with foreign powers. But the Kingdom of God is not a political organisation; it can only be established by the gradual spreading of a belief in the love and fatherhood of God, bringing in its train a new conception of human relations and a desire for peace and goodwill between all nations and classes and individuals.”
“Rather a slow process,” consented Judas cynically.
“A very, very, slow process,” Jesus agreed.
“It looks as if we shall all be dead and buried before such a kingdom comes into being.”
“Do we matter?” said Jesus quickly. “If we have laid the foundations of the Kingdom, others will reap the benefit of it. Several thousand years may pass before the kingdom embraces all nations, tongues and colours. But when that time does come—and come it will—then the prayer that I have taught you, ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ will have its fulfilment and the work which we have begun will be complete.”
For at least a hundred yards Judas paced moodily beside his companion. At last he spoke.
“Why should the world wait for thousands of years, when a swift, bold stroke would hasten the final result and bring happiness to millions? Your idea of a gradual spreading of goodness and brotherhood is all moonshine. It sounds well enough, but it’s impractical. If you want your ideas to bear fruit, you must look facts in the face and be prepared to act.”
“And your idea of action,” rejoined Jesus, “is to enlist the help of a notorious brigand and cut-throat.”
“You’re not generally so squeamish about your companions,” sneered Judas; “don’t you know that they call you, ‘the friend of publicans and sinners?’”
Jesus did not lose his temper.
“It’s one thing,” he said calmly, “to befriend a murderer to help him to give up crime and a very different thing to engage him to commit more murders. I think I could have helped Barabbas, if he hadn’t first tried to help me.”
Judas ignored the last remark.
“Look here, Master,” he went on impatiently; “is it right that the world should have to wait thousands of years? Think of the evil and misery which could be avoided, if your teaching were put into practice at once.”
“It’s you who are not facing the facts now, Judas,” Jesus replied with a smile; “the world will accept my teaching when it is ready for it—not before. And just as I must go through suffering and humiliation to found the Kingdom of righteousness, so all mankind, century after century, must pass through countless sufferings before they can appreciate and act upon the principles of love and justice and brotherhood, which are the only laws of that kingdom.”
“And all these sufferings could be avoided,” urged Judas. “Do you remember comparing the Kingdom of God with a lump of leaven? I’ve often thought of that since. Once our perfect kingdom is established, a kingdom in which righteousness and justice can flourish, its influence will spread to all the nations round and in twenty years the whole civilised world will look with envy and admiration upon the Jewish state, which will lead all others along the path of progress and happiness.”
A fanatical light shone in Judas’ eyes, as he conjured up this picture of triumphant Jewry.
“And this model state is to be brought into being,” said Jesus quietly, “by intrigues with brigands, by the wholesale assassination of the priests and a treacherous attack on the Roman garrison with whom we are not at war. No, Judas, the Kingdom of God cannot be established with the devil’s weapons.”
“The priests are a worthless lot,” Judas blustered; “you’ve often said so yourself. To cure the whole body, we must cut out the infected spot.”
“Can a reign of goodness,” asked Jesus, “result from murder, which has always been rightly regarded as the worst of human crimes? Can the love of God be proved to mankind by savagery and massacre? You can’t rid your mind of the idea of a great national revival, bringing power and prosperity to the Jews. But the Kingdom of God is not necessarily a Jewish Kingdom.”
“Aren’t we God’s chosen people?” queried Judas hotly.
“Only so far as we are ready to be the instrument of God’s purpose,” was the prompt reply. “The good workman discards the tool that fails him.”
Judas maintained a surly silence. After a long while he spoke again.
“All the rest of the Twelve are expecting you to found a kingdom.”
“True. They don’t understand yet,” was the sad rejoinder; “but they will, Judas, they will. And they are content to leave me to do my work in my own way.”
“Without stirring a finger to help,” replied Judas bitterly.
“They help me by their confidence and trust,” said Jesus. “All I ask from you, Judas, is that you show the same trust and patience. If you can do this, you will understand with the rest.”
Judas made no reply. For mile after mile the two strode along side by side in silence, each engrossed in his own thoughts, until topping a gentle rise they caught sight of their eleven companions picnicking fifty yards ahead under the lee of a haystack. Philip saw them and waved.
Judas suddenly stopped and faced Jesus.
“Master, there’s one question I must ask you,” he said; “do you honestly believe the Kingdom can be established without bloodshed?”
For a moment no reply came. Jesus’ eyes searched his companion’s face and held his gaze. Then he spoke.
“No, Judas. Blood will be shed. The corner-stone of God’s Kingdom must be laid on blood. But it will not be the blood of the priests or of the Romans.”
Judas watched him, as one hypnotised.
“Whose blood, Master,” he whispered.
“It matters nothing whose blood is shed, so long as the stone is well and truly laid.”
In the late afternoon they reached the outskirts of a village close to the Samaritan frontier. The sons of Zebedee volunteered to go ahead and find lodgings for the night. No sooner had they left the party than Jesus noticed a little encampment some hundred yards from the road and well away from the houses on the edge of the village. A group of men was clustered about a little fire; three rude huts stood near, so carelessly constructed that they could have afforded little protection against wind and weather. These small settlements were a painfully common feature of the countryside, recognisable at a glance as leper colonies. Here lived these outcasts of society, banished from their fellows as a precaution against the spread of the dreaded scourge. Whenever they moved abroad, they were compelled by law to give warning of their approach by proclaiming their own uncleanness.
Without hesitation Jesus struck down the side-track leading to the huts. Ten faces, all more or less disfigured by disease were turned towards the intruder; ten pairs of eyes, peering from sunken sockets, watched his approach. As he emerged from the belt of olives which fringed the road, two of the lepers rose to wave him back and all broke out into a monotonous chant, “unclean! unclean!”
Then one of the sufferers turned and spoke to his companions; the words were not audible, but all started to their feet and gazed more earnestly at the oncoming figure. Suddenly as if a common thought had struck them all simultaneously, they began to cry in unison: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
Jesus reached the group. The lepers clustered round, but instinctively avoided touching him. He spoke to them, asked them questions; how long had they had the disease? Where had their homes been? Had they been married? Did they ever have news of their relations?
They all began to talk at once, in the blessed relief of speaking to someone from the outer world. One of the lepers, from his dialect, was evidently a Samaritan; the rest were Galileans.
“Is there a priest in the village?” Jesus asked.
The babel broke out afresh. Yes, there was a priest; he lived in one of the houses over yonder; he occasionally came out to the settlement and spoke to them from a safe distance.
“Then go and show yourselves to him,” Jesus ordered. “Ask him for a certificate that you are cured. By the time you reach his house, you will be free from all signs of leprosy.”
The ten stared at him as if they did not understand his meaning. Then one of them spoke.
“We’d better do what he says.”
And they trailed away into the gathering dusk.
Jesus made his way back to the main road to find that James and John had just returned; they were in a state of great indignation.
“I call it scandalous,” shouted James; “there are two inns in the village and neither of them would let us in.”
“We tried some of the cottages too,” added John with equal fury, “and it was the same story. One woman just banged the door in our faces.”
“What’s the matter?” asked Jesus as he came up. “Are the Sons of Thunder thundering again?”
“The moment we mentioned your name, Master,” said James, “the people would have nothing to do with us. I’ve never met such an inhospitable lot.”
“I’d like to see lightning fall from heaven,” cried John, “and burn up the whole blasted village.”
“People are beginning to know,” explained Jesus rather drearily, “that I’m not approved of in high circles. Where they know of me without knowing me, it’s quite natural they should feel nervous of entertaining us. In the future if you are going to teach and heal in my name, you will have to put up with much more than the inconvenience of missing a night’s lodging. The mention of my name will bring you unpopularity; you will have to stand in the courts before Kings and governors; you will be imprisoned and beaten merely for your loyalty to me. But don’t worry; the Spirit of God will be with you to help and strengthen you. Come; it’s no use our staying here; let’s push on. Perhaps the next village will be kinder to us.”
Even as he spoke, they became aware of a strange, jubilant sound. A man was approaching them, singing a psalm of praise. Jesus recognised him as the Samaritan leper; but there was no sign now of the ravages of the disease. He ran to Jesus and flung himself down at his feet. Incoherent words of gratitude poured from his lips.
“Weren’t all the ten healed?” asked Jesus. “Where are the other nine?”
“They’ve gone on to the priest as you ordered, sir,” the man replied. “But I felt I must come back first to thank you—and to thank God, by whose power you have given me back life and health.”
Jesus turned to the Twelve.
“You see none of our countrymen have returned to give glory to God,” he remarked a little sadly, “no one except this foreigner.”
Then he spoke again to the Samaritan.
“You are free to go to your home again. You believed in the power and goodness of God; that is why the leprosy left you.”
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts