FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 053

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

The next day, he was awakened by murmurings just below him. His first thought was that the soldiers had discovered his hideaway. Then he heard women crying. He slowly stuck his head out the hole and peered over the ledge. It was a funeral procession.

It was a large procession of more than a hundred people from Bethany. By the finery of the clothes of the mourners, the person that was being buried must have been very rich. They were just passing by under him, carrying the body on an open liter. The body, surrounded by flowers, was tightly wound by linen wrappings coated with a concoction of spices. Following it were the immediate family. One of them may have been someone he knew. But that was impossible, for the one he was thinking of was a leper and was probably long dead.

He watched the procession go to the far end of the quarry into one of the fenced-in garden. From his high vantage, he had a clear sight of the garden which was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high. This family was very rich for there were four burial chambers some of which were carved out halfway up the canyon walls. There were rough steps carved into the rock that led up to several ledges. Those carrying the liter climbed to the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor. The ledge was only wide enough for about five to six people. A large heavy circular stone was rolled away to reveal the tomb. Two men carried the body in. After a minute, they came out and rolled the stone back to cover the chamber.

Then, another man, a much older one, went up to stand by the tomb. He reluctantly placed his hand on the stone to say goodbye. He turned to the mourners and spoke. Joram could not hear what was spoken but that was not what surprised him. The old man speaking was not only a man he knew, but one he thought was long dead. As he peered closely at the speaker, his eyes widened in disbelief. The man he is now seeing is his friend of fifteen years, Simon the Leper. But this man, clearly, had no trace of the disease. When last he saw Simon, his nose had rotten away and his face was bleeding from multiple sores. His back was hunched low and he was in constant pain. That was three years ago, when his friend asked him to leave him to die.

He was about to crawl out of his hideaway to see his friend, when he noticed two Romans lazing around near the entrance watching the funeral. He was wondering if they were posted there to keep an eye out for him. He was flattered but his pouch of food is only good for one more day, maybe two. He has to find a way to sneak past them. He thought of going out with the funeral mourners but his dirty clothes would not blend with their finery. Besides, he may have robbed some of them one time or another. So, he’ll go out when it gets dark.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 3

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius wanted to leave but the collecting of tax was not completed. So, he and Jacob retreated from the sun under some trees. Then a young man approached them. Jacob recognized him as one of the brothers of Jesus. He went straight to Jacob first and whispered into his ear.

“He said to follow him,” Jacob said.

They followed the lad to a house not too far from the square. He knocks on the door and gestured to them to enter. Cornelius pushed open the door and entered into a darkened room. The only light visible were several narrow streams coming through the gaps of a shuttered window unto a table where a veiled woman was sitting. Standing behind her were two younger women.

“Peace be upon this house,” Jacob offered.

“May the Lord too bring blessings to you,” said the woman in a lithe soft voice. “This house belongs to my kin. I am the mother of the one you seek. I am Miriam.” She then turns to Cornelius and he saw that she was not that old and was a handsome woman. “It is you that we have heard from the disciples of John. He has sent word that you seek wisdom and that we are to offer every hospitality.”

One of the women brought some fermented juice, goat cheese, salt, flat bread and a bowl of dried dates.

“You came to ask about my son.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cornelius said. “We have heard many strange things about your son. Earlier today, your son almost caused a riot in your own Synagogue because of his declared claim.”

Before he could ask, she spoke in her quiet voice, “I was among the date trees with the other girls harvesting fruit then everything around me started to slow down. I thought I was sick and very very dizzy. I closed my eyes for just a moment and when I opened them, there was no one to be seen. I was all alone. I looked all around and I ran but I knew not where.

“There was a voice calling my name. Then… before me was a man all in the brightest of white. He was so beautiful that I was so afraid. He said, ‘Hail Mariam, thou art highly favored among women. Do not fear for the Lord is with thee. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

“I was so confused for I have never known a man before. But he said, ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ ” [Luke 1:28-35 KJV]

Cornelius was totally stunned to hear her story. The skeptical part of him could not believe of a virgin conception.

“In some ways, I probably looked like the way you both look right now. The angel then told me of a recent miracle with my cousin, Elizabeth, who was barren but became pregnant in her old age with her husband, Zecharia.” She then looked at Cornelius and said, “I believe you already know their son. They named him John.”

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 052

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Thieving had always been Joram’s way of life since he was a small boy in the streets of lower Jerusalem. If he was not pocketing fruit from a vendor’s stall, he would be climbing through a third floor window pilfering someone’s valuables. In whatever situation he was in, he could always count on being chased.

Joram was on the run again.

He was spotted pilfering through the packs of some sleeping Roman legionaries in an encampment in the Jordan River valley just north of Jericho. He decided to evacuate the area most haste. He was about six miles from Jerusalem on the Jericho road, when he was recognized by a Roman patrol and he had to desperately flee into the ragged surroundings of the Judean highlands. When he got to the edge of Bethany, he thought he lost the pursuit, when he heard a shout, “There he is!” from behind him. Rather than hiding in the village, Joram high-tailed it down a narrow track that jotted back into the trees. The track wound it’s way to the south-east side of the village then it went about another mile until it went down into a quarry which is utilized by the wealthy dwellers of Bethany as burial places. He also knew of a well hidden spot.

The quarry is situated in a box-canyon with only one entry way. From behind the bushes he was hiding in, Joram had to dash across out in the open through the entryway. Most thieves normally would not get caught dead in a place with only one entrance, but he was not concerned for he knew of a couple ways out of this canyon. The craggly limestone walls of the quarry rose up about thirty feet on both sides of the path until it widens up. The grave sites that he walked by were fenced in by three foot-high rock walls. Some of the enclosures had flowery gardens in them, a sure sign they belong to the rich.

Joram followed the path further in until it went right by a pile of old rock-fall against a sheer roughly hewn wall. He got on the top of the rock pile then finding hand and foot holds on the wall, he began to climb. He went up about fifteen feet where there was a ledge and a hole in the wall. As he squeezed through it, he found the chamber exactly the way he left it. He had used this hole before. And he went in just in time, for he heard voices below him.

The voices he heard were talking in the Roman tongue. Apparently, from what he could make out was one of the soldiers thought he saw him run into the quarry. They spread out and searched. Fortunately, they will not be able to see the hole from the ground nor will they even notice the ledge since it is not easily distinguishable against the ragged wall.

Joram heard a whistle blow twice. A commanding guttural voice called out, probably a command to assemble. As the voices faded, he took a quick peek outside and sighted the tail-end of the line of soldiers leaving the quarry. He smiled to himself.

“That was a little too close,” he said to himself.

He backed back into the chamber. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark then took stock of his small hideaway. The chamber was not natural. It had a very low ceiling and had room enough for three large persons laying side by side. The far wall was stacked with some very old rusted tools and broken crates. He figured that this chamber was a supply cache when the quarry floor was still level to it. He imagined thousands of bedraggled Israelites digging away and mining it for limestone and marble slabs probably way back in the days of Solomon’s building boom hundred of years back. Joram went to one of the crates and tilted it up to reveal a number of items he left when last he was here. He picked out a small oil lamp. Shook it a little to see if there was some oil left in it. Satisfied that it hadn’t dried out, he struck his flint to light the lamp. From his pouch he pulled out a half eaten roll of flat bread and took a bite. Unfortunately, he would have had a big chunk of a roasted fowl from the mess tent of the Roman soldiers, but the cook’s slave came in just as he was about to carve out a slice. The slave called out an alarm and all he got away with was a bit off piece of flatbread and an over ripe plum. That was his meal until the next day. At least, that was how long he had to stay hidden, he figured.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 051

MARY THE FAITHFUL
33 AD – Death of Lazarus – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

One afternoon, Lazarus woke up in the midst of a fever and in a low hoarse voice, he said, “Mary, I do not think I will make it.”

“What talk is this, Lazarus?” Mary said a little scoldingly. “Jesus will not let you die. He will come.”

“Comfort my heart. Tell me a secret like you used to when you were little.”

Mary knew a secret and she was going to share it with him when he gets better.

“I did discover something,” she whispered. “It was when the disciples were talking amongst themselves when Jesus said ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ [Mark 9:30-32]

“I was shocked to hear it but the disciples showed very little in emotion. Joanne later told me the he had said this a number of times before. The disciples are having a hard time trying to comprehend it and fear asking him about it. Some of them believe that it was more figurative. I believe otherwise… from the things I learned so far.”

Mary was given a great privilege. When Jesus saw that she had great capacity to learn, he gave instructions to his disciples to give her tutelage of the Scriptures which were traditionally reserved only for Jewish boys. Matthew took it upon himself to instruct her. Using the holy scrolls of a friendly Synagogue leader, Mary’s eyes opened to God’s written word. In the course of a few months, she saw a repeated pattern weaved within the stories of Moses and the books of the prophets. It was a pattern of sacrificial substitution provided divinely to temporarily pay for the original sin of Adam, the first man. But those sacrifices only benefited just a few. Mankind is still eternally in danger.

Mary, however, had also gleaned a promised hope in that pattern. She saw this promise float to the surface from within the literature like pieces in a puzzle starting with a voiced certainty that the future offspring of Abraham would be a great blessing to the nations. Those pieces came together in the prophecies of the coming Messiah. The question in her mind though was what would the Messiah do? The Jews have it in their minds that the Messiah would be a returning victorious king from the line of David freeing them from the tyranny of the Romans. But Mary believed that that prophecy will not come about the way her people expected. In her mind, their way of thinking only serves their nation. But prophecy says that the Messiah would be a great blessing to the nations… to all mankind. And that blessing will come in the form of a sacrifice to top all other sacrifices. She put it all together.

“Lazarus,” she whispered into his ear, “Jesus is going to die for all of us. I don’t know how yet, but I believe it is going to happen soon… very soon. I know this because of the way he had been talking to us lately. I think I am the only one who believes this. Lazarus? Lazarus, did you hear me?”

Mary thought he was asleep. When she placed her palm on his forehead, it was cold. She expected it to be feverishly hot. She sighed a breath of relief thinking that maybe his fever broke, but then to her dismay, she realized he was not breathing.

“Abba!” She called out as loud as she could.

Simon came rushing in followed by Martha and some of the servants. As Martha wailed loudly, he calmly assessed the situation. Going to a countertop, he retrieved his daughter’s hand mirror and gently held it under his nostrils trying to detect even a slight puff of air. He looked at Mary and shook his head. Then he pulled his son’s bed covers over his head.

The activity around the house was solemn. Mary was tired and walking around in a daze. She walked into the room where Lazarus was being prepared for burial. His body was almost wrapped with linen soaked in aromatic spices. Two women were solemnly wrapping his right arm and shoulder. Mary went to the other side of the table and rolled up her sleeve.

“Mary, you should not. You will be unclean,” said one of the women. “We can finish this.”

But Mary had already picked up the soaked strips and started to delicately wrap his other arm. When only his head was left unwrapped, the two women respectfully left the room to let Mary finish up.

Mary’s tears started to fall and she started to stroke her brother’s hair. When she turns toward the open window, she says, “If only you have come…”
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