FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 058

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Mary was awakened by a light rap at the door. Out the window, it was still dark. She quietly got up, careful not to wake her companions who shared her room. When she opened the door, flickering light streamed in from an oil lamp held by Joanne. Mary smiled at Joanne and another woman who came with Miriam, Jesus’ mother.

They went down to the back of the house, crossed the courtyard to the single story structure used as the kitchen. There was light showing in the windows. Mary smelled roasting meat in the air which she knew was started in the wee hours. Entering the kitchen, they found Martha and a servant working.

When Martha raised her eyes, she was surprised to see her sister. Mary went to her and kissed her in greeting. Martha looked at her. No words were exchanged. She smiled.

Mary and the others washed their hands. Then, they went to the work table to mix and knead dough. Joanne was forming rows of long rolls of dough. Mary would take two rolls and meticulously weave them into a braided loaf. As a little girl, her father had told her that the braided loaf was to remind them how God provided a double portion of manna that miraculously appeared to their ancestors during their 40 years in the wilderness. Every morning for five days each family would go out to gather the wafer bread befitting each family’s needs. But on the sixth day, they were instructed to gather a double portion. God did this so that the people would not violate the Law that during the Sabbath no Israelite would labor.

Then the loaves would go into one of the three stone ovens outside the kitchen. Mary and the women labored throughout the morning preparing the food for over thirty people. By the time the sun reached it zenith, Martha gave warning that the Sabbath was almost upon them. All the food had to be laid out on the tables and to help them out, Jesus with twelve others came to the kitchen and started to carry platters full of food into the house. This gave Mary and the others to rush up to their rooms to tidy up.

As Mary was tying up her into a bun, she espied at the far end of her vanity among a variety of bottles, a tiny alabaster cylindrical bottle with an intricate carving of a cluster of grapes hanging off a vine. She recognized it as the perfume vial that her father gave as a surprise gift just before he had to exile himself from them because of leprosy. That was ten years ago.

She reached for it. It was still sealed with beeswax. She shook it and was delighted that the aromatic contents did not dry out. She was about to break the seal, but then she hesitated for some reason. In her mind, she imagined a voice telling her, ‘not just yet’. She shrugged her shoulders and placed the bottle back on her vanity.

The Sabbath was celebrated on the seventh day starting with the evening meal of the sixth. Her father started it with the traditional uttering of the blessing. He gave a blessing of thanksgiving for the land and its bounty, and for Lord’s goodness in feeding of family, the guests and all creatures.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 057

JOANNE THE HONORABLE WIFE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

It had been a month since they all had witnessed Lazarus, dead for four days, being brought back to life by Jesus. The great city and the surrounding environs are still talking about it. Joanne who had been staying in the house of young Mary’s family in Bethany is standing on the front stoop expectantly waiting for her husband who had sent a message of his arrival from Herod’s palace in Perea.

Then, the gate bell was rung and a servant goes to open the gates. Chuza enters followed by two porters. Joanne went to him and greeted him.

“Is he here?” asked Chuza

“No… not yet,” said Joanne. “What is wrong?”

” I have news concerning him.”

Then she heard the front doors open. She glanced back to find Simon coming out followed by Martha and Lazarus.

“Welcome to our home, Chuza, high chamberlain of Herod Antipas.”

“Peace be upon this house,” said Chuza, giving the traditional greeting.

“And peace be upon you.” Simon returned.

“I have been an admirer of your business exploits for sometime now,” said Chuza. “When I heard that my wife Joanne was here staying with you, I was delighted.”

“The Lord had been generous,” Simon said contemplatively. “Please… come inside.”

Just inside the antechamber, a servant waited holding a towel, a jar of water and an empty basin. Chuza ritually removed his sandals while the servant laid the basin before him. Chuza hiked up his robe and hovered his right foot over the basin. The servant was about to pour water but Joanne stopped him. He passed the towel and jar to her. She gets down to her knees and pours water on his foot. She wiped his foot with the towel and then repeated the process on his other foot. When she stood up, she found Chuza looking at her with a surprised look.
An hour later, Jesus and his entourage arrived. When they were all settled, Joanne went to Simon Peter and asked if she can meet with Jesus. After the evening meal, they gathered privately. In the room was Simon, Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, John, Chuza and herself.

“Rabbi, several members of the Sanhedrin and from the priesthood arrived at the fortress of Machaerus some days ago. They met with Antipas with a message from the High Priest. I was not there on the initial meeting but when I was summoned, I came upon in the middle of them plotting to have you seized and put to death.

“They fear of your influence on the people… losing their place of respect and honor among them. They spoke of the people declaring you king and there would be outright revolt against the Romans and even themselves.

“They have set watch for you at the upcoming Passover Festival. They dare not arrest you in the open. So, they seek an opportune time. They have even placed out a reward for your betrayal.”

After the meeting, Simon Peter had sent John and another disciple to Jerusalem. John was related to the family of the High Priest. It was hoped that he could gather more news of their plot. Joanne did note that though Simon Peter and the others showed a deep concern, Jesus reflected a calm demeanor.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 3

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“Sir, we found him! He was on the road returning to Capernaum. Jacob went to him and pleaded that he comes to heal Trax. There were some that was against it, saying that he must not enter the house of a gentile; whatever that means. But Jacob pleaded even more then other men including the synagogue leader came up and told the teacher about the things that you have done for the people. So, he agreed and they are on their way here.”

“Good!” He and Flavius were about to enter the house when he paused. A thought occurred to him.

“What is it?” asked Flavius.

“If he is who I believe he is. Then, he does not have to come all the way here to heal Trax. All he has to do is will it to go away.” He looked at Cestus and asked, “how long would it take you to ride back to him?”

“About twenty minutes, sir!”

“Then go back and tell him this. Lord, I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” ***
*** Luke 7:6-8 NASB

“Sir, I do not understand why you would do that,” asked a confused Flavius.

“The man is a holy man. If he comes to this house, the house of a non-Jew, he could be declared ‘ceremoniously un-clean’ which his enemies will use against him. I refuse to be the cause of that.”

Cornelius had another reason. He had no doubt in his mind that Trax will be healed. His mind was at peace with no fear at all. He could not explain it. But this test is for Flavius.

As he sat by Trax, looked at his pale figure, he asked Flavius to sit. “In about thirty minutes, Trax is going to get up from this bed well and healthy.” Before Flavius could say anything, Cornelius held up his hand. “I know you doubt. But I ask you to listen to what I have to say.”

So, Cornelius shared with him about his search to answers to his meaning of life questions. He confessed that the Roman religion that they both grew up with had never moved him like his belief in the one God of the Jews. Then he told him of what he had discovered from the Scriptures of this man Jesus that he is now convinced is from God.

“So, does this mean that he will move the people to go against us?”

“No! I truly believe not. I believe that whatever his task is, it is not just for the Jews but for the benefit of all mankind. The question is what that task is which I am even more determined to find out.”

Cornelius gauged that Cestus must have reached Jesus by now. He focused on Trax. The boy seemed hotter than before and the minutes ticked by. Then, just as Cornelius was about to doubt, Trax began to thrash violently. Cornelius had to pin his arms down while Flavius held his legs. And then, just as quickly it began, the thrashing stopped. There was no movement. Flavius asked if he was dead. But Cornelius saw that his breathing was getting stronger and the color was returning to his face. Then Trax opened his eyes and sat up. Cornelius helped him up from bed.

“You gave us a scare, lad. But it looks like you will be fine.”

Then, to the surprise of Cornelius and Flavius both, Trax opened his mouth and uttered, “Wha… what happened?”

Feeling tingly all over, Cornelius burst out with joyful mirth. Never had he heard Trax utter a sound. With tears in his eyes, he embraced him. Porcius and other men came dashing into the room to find a very much alive boy uttering that he was very thirsty.

Flavius turned to Porcius, “Break out the grog, you ol’ miser! This is the time to celebrate!”

Jacob and Cestus returned to find that the whole compound was celebrating. It was in the late hours of the night that Jacob entered the room where Cornelius was studying through Isaiah.

“Well, the lad is finally asleep. I will have to teach him his letters but I have no doubt that in a year he will be talking our ears off.”

“That would be something!”

Jacob came close and placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “The master wants to meet with you.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 2

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

Cornelius and Jacob rushed into the house. They found the physician grinding some herbs for a potion he was preparing. He looked at them shaking his head.

“How long?”

“He will not survive the night.” He handed the potion to Jacob, “This will help him with the pain. I am sorry, Centurion. But this is as far as my skills can go.” Then he left the room.

Cornelius sat at the edge of the bed. Trax was unconscious and burning to the touch. He then took the cloth that was laying on Trax’s forehead and dunked it into a waiting basin of water and put it back on his feverish head. Cornelius have been on many deathbeds of comrades and friends before but watching Trax like this was heart wrenching for him.

Flavius entered the room, “I am sorry, sir. I know how fond you are of him.”

“He is like a son to me.” He whispered.

“Well, he is now in the hands of the gods.”

Then hope sprung up in him like he never felt before. “No, Flavius… not the gods, but one God!” He called out to Jacob and Cestus. “Take the horses, ride out to the teacher. Implore to him to heal the lad. Quickly now. Go!”

They did not hesitate. As Cornelius heard the horses galloping away, he again sat on the edge of the bed and offered up a pleading prayer to the God of Abraham for the very first time.

“Who is this teacher that you sent them to seek? And what can he do?”

Cornelius relayed to Flavius about Jesus and what he had witnessed. Flavius was understandably skeptical.

“And you think he will come and wave his hands over Trax… and then he will sit up like nothing happened?”

“Yes! I really do.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 1

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w
For the next two hours, Jesus expounded on this same theme by presenting what the people already knew through their traditions and everyday beliefs then elevated their point of focus to go beyond from what they normally do to that of what would truly please God. There were a lot of hard lessons to swallow in that sermon on the mount. Cornelius was not sure that much of what Jesus exhorted is attainable. In one part, he talked about loving the enemy and pray for those that persecute you. Cornelius could not help but look at the face of Simon the Zealot. He was almost sure that he would reject this teaching off hand and walk away. At first, Simon gave the teacher a questionable look. Then he looked down as if to contemplate on it. With his eyes closed, he subtly shook his head. Cornelius wondered if that was regret written on his face. Then Simon lifted his head determined to hear more. Jesus was truly a master teacher.

When Jesus finished with sermon, the hillside again erupted with people talking in amazement. As Jesus and the twelve made their way through the praising crowd, Cornelius motioned to Jacob and Cestus that they should return to their horses. As they were climbing the hill, it was Cestus who broke the silence.

“Never in my whole life, have I ever heard anything like that before. I do not know what to make of what I am feeling. On one hand, I feel a sense that everything I have done was wrong. While on the other, I sense there is hope for me yet. I… I cannot explain it.”

Then a noise of shouting people behind them made them turn around. They saw on the opposite hill from them a man fighting his way through the crowd. He was screaming something but it could not be heard from where they stood. The crowded parted avoiding to be near him. Cornelius saw that he was making a beeline towards Jesus who was already crossing the small stream in the bottom of the hill. Cornelius’ first thought was that this was an assassination attempt against the rabbi. So, Cornelius and Cestus raced back down the hill to get between Jesus and this man. They plowed through the crowd, jumped the stream then stopped where Cornelius gauged where the assassin was heading. Then he heard the man’s croaking shout, “Make way! Unclean! Make way!”

Cornelius and Cestus were both aghast when they saw that the would be assassin was a leper heading their way. They quickly jumped out of the way as he painfully hobbled through. Cornelius gagged at the passing smell of sweat, unbathed odor and rotting flesh. The people were cursing him, throwing stones and hitting his back with long sticks. Soon, he crumpled to the ground under the barage. The leper was decrepitedly thin and bony. He noticed that the rags that clung to his tortured body were once the clothing worn by a rich man. A thrown stick snagged the cloth that covered his face revealing it filled with bloody festering sores and a nose that had rotted away. The anger and shouting increased and so did the bombardment. They were going to kill this man. Cornelius was about to intervene when a large burly shape came roaring in and swinging his staff in a mad violent circle. The people stopped their beating and backed away, forming a circular clearing, from this bear of a man. It was Simon Peter, the fisherman. Then behind him the crowd parted to let another man through. It was Jesus.

He calmly walked over to the giant and placed his hand on his arm. He looked up at him half-scoldingly and said, “Peter…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence. The big man returned a half grin and a shrug. Jesus smiled shaking his head and then turned his attention to the leper who slowly and painfully got up.

He took two steps forward and then like he realized who he was facing threw himself on the ground and asked, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The crowd simultaneously gasped as Jesus did the unthinkable. He unhesitatingly reached down to help him up and softly said, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

What Cornelius witnessed was beyond anything he had ever experienced. What at first was a leprous creature lying on the ground with a flesh eating disease was now a whole man standing before Jesus restored to full health. This was no trick. The process of the healing took place as Jesus touched him until he straightened up. The disciples surrounded the man, removed the rags that he wore, and covered him with a robe. Jesus and the disciples led him to a large tent among a copse of trees a short distant away. The people were in a festive mood. There was dancing and singing.
It was late in the afternoon when they returned to the house. Porcius and Flavius were there waiting for them.

“Where have you been? I have sent some men to look for you.”

“What is wrong?”

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 6

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

Again systematically, Cornelius went down the list: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful and the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

What amazed him was that Jesus revealed a concept within a series of riddles that just turned his sense of reality upside down. Jesus’ ten riddles expound on who truly are the recipients of God’s blessing and Cornelius does not fit with any of them. He came from a world that does not consider them successful. As a Roman, with the expanse of the empire covering most of Europe, Africa and Asia as a testimony, he was brought up to make something of himself not value meekness or to be poor in spirit. He was taught to push himself to the front of others, to promote oneself, and climb the ladder to success even over the bodies of his fellows. For him, the way to inherit the earth is to get ahead. Yet, herein lay the paradox. In the eyes of God, it is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit, not those who are self-sufficient, who are in the kingdom of heaven.

Cornelius always knew that there was something lacking in his life but he could not put his finger on it. The words of Jesus may be what he sought especially the last riddle that appealed to him in some way but even that he could not peg down. The last riddle calls one to rejoice and be glad, not when things are going good, but quite the opposite. In fact, it challenges the one who is being persecuted to be happy regardless the pain they are feeling and knowing full well that he will not taste the rewards in this lifetime. He would have loved to meditate on this concept some more but then he heard Jesus’ voice again.

He opened his eyes and saw that Jesus was again addressing the crowd to listen. He spoke to them of how, as the chosen people of God, they should boldly shine out to the world and be that beacon to bring people to Him. A number of people called out to him asking who he was. His response to them was…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matt 5:17-18 NASB]

Cornelius found it interesting that as the people clamored for him to identify himself as the Messiah, he would not entertain them with a direct answer. The people, who were probably cajoled by the zealots, desire a fighting leader like in the days of the Judges. But Jesus emphasized that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. If Jesus is the promised Messiah, then there are things based in the Law that he has to accomplish first. In many ways, this is how the true Messiah would be revealed.

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   [Matthew 5:19-20 NASB]

This declaration surprised Cornelius even more. Though it mirrored the riddles that Jesus started with, he openly emphasized that the best of them, the teachers and lawyers of the Law, failed to live up to it. And he challenged the people to live better than them if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cornelius felt both relieved and concerned at the same time. He was relieved because these were not the words of a man who would ally himself with the shortsightedness of the zealots. Jesus wanted to bring change to the people but it was clear to him that Jesus will do this from the inside out. The concern was that Cornelius want him to succeed but his last statement polarized him from the religious leadership. Sure enough, as he searched the crowd, he saw them gathered together whispering to each other casting angry glances at the teacher on the rock.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 5

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

By the time they came to hearing distance, Jesus sat on an outcrop that was slightly higher so that his disciples and the surrounding crowd could see him better. He motioned for the people to sit. Again, just like at the lake shore, Cornelius was amazed with Jesus’ commanding presence. Except for the wind and the rustling of the grass, it seemed like there was hardly anyone on the hills. Then he spoke.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

[Matthew 5:1-12 NASB, The Beatitudes]

Cornelius was somewhat surprised and relieved at the same time in what he heard. He half expected him to conjure up a miraculous happening, staged by the zealots, of course, and convince the masses that this is the time to rise up against the Roman occupation. He had no doubt that Jesus’ charisma is such that he could be able to raise the whole populace of Palestine, Syria, Persia and even Egypt to push Rome out of this part of the Mediterranean. Rome would be hard pressed to claim it back or even to keep the rest of its empire intact. But instead, Jesus started out his sermon with ten riddles at the end of which he stopped. He looks first at the twelve men that he chose with a whimsical smile. The men looked at each other with puzzled looks. Until Jesus told them to talk it out and make sense of it. Then like a flood bursting, the silence was shattered by hundreds of people conversing.

Jacob and Cestus were conversing silently to each other knowing that Cornelius would prefer mulling it over by himself. Closing his eyes, he mentally blocked out the noise around him to better analyze the words. Systematically, he started out on the most prominent word that was repeated nine times, ‘Blessed’. He remembered when he was young, while listening to Jacob telling him the story of Creation, he said that God blessed the animals, and then man, saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” [Genesis 1:28 NASB]

He asked him what it meant to bless.

Jacob gave him a scholarly definition, “To bless is to endow with power for success, prosperity, fertility, longevity and so on.”

But Cornelius was only ten. He did not understand. So, Jacob picked up a wicker ball and put it on the floor. He then told that very young Cornelius that the ball was him. After a while, as Cornelius was staring at the ball, Jacob asked him if he thought that the ball was happy. He said no. When asked why, he said that the ball was just sitting there when it should be rolling or tossed around with or kicked. Then Jacob asked him if the ball can do any of that by itself. He shook his head. When asked how the ball can be made happy, Cornelius gave him a toothy smile and kicked the ball across the room.

For the first time, he finally made the connection. In the beginning, mankind was like that ball. From the first book of Moses, it says that God formed man of dust from the ground but like the ball just sitting on the floor, man was without purpose… was without life, until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But it did not stop there; God endowed to him with the ability to multiply… to fill the earth and eventually subdue it.

So, when Jesus said, “Blessed are those…” he was actually saying, “God blesses those…” God is the key. So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

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The story continues on in my next post a week from now.

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Johann Q