THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch12 – part 4

THE MISSION – Capernaum, Nazareth, SidonCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius stood aside as the brothers, shaking their heads, went into the workshop. He joined Jesus by the woodpile. He was staring down the beaten track that led to the Old King’s Road then he looked up with a smile.

“Peter and the others will be here by mid day. I intend to go north to the Phoenician coastal plains so that they may rest. Do you still wish to come? It will be several days.”

Cornelius considered it as he forlornly gazed at the grazing donkeys near by. He unconsciously started rubbing his backside in contemplation. Both Jesus and Simon broke out laughing and said sympathetically, “Nay, Cornelius, I will not subject you to more discomfort.” He mirthfully pointed to a wagon by the side of the workshop and two mules.

Jesus got up, rolled up the sleeves, and then proceeded to pick up some planks. Cornelius was about to help but then Jesus said, “No. This I must do with my brothers alone.”

The rest of the morning, Cornelius watched, fascinated, as Jesus worked side by side with his brothers; the earlier argument forgotten. Jesus, assisted by his novice brother, Jude, worked on a dining table that was ordered by a merchant relative in Cana. By mid day, the table was fully assembled. Jesus was doing some final touch ups when the rest of the Twelve arrived. After they ate their mid day meal, the mules were hitched to the wagon. The table was loaded on the wagon for delivery to Cana. As they all waited patiently on the wagon, Cornelius watched Jesus and his mother quietly talk to each other. He saw sadness in her eyes as she said her farewells.

They spent about a week around the plains south of Sidon. Because they were in Gentile country only a few recognized who Jesus was. It was a time of rest and not contending with crowds. It was also a time for lessons.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 5

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

After eight days, we traveled to Jerusalem to present our baby at the Temple as in tradition. It was there, we were met by a man named Simeon who said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.’ Then he told me that ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ [Luke 2:29-32 NASB]

“After the census was finished, people went home. Joseph’s family urged us to stay. So, we stayed. Jesus was over a year old, when we were visited by several disciples of Daniel known as Magi. They presented us with the gift of gold, francinsense and myre. That night, Joseph woke from a disturbing dream. He told us that an angel urged us to leave for our child was in danger. So, we left for Egypt. It was there we later heard what Herod had done. So, we stayed two more years until again an angel told Joseph it was safe to return. When we learned that the eldest son of Herod was to rule Judea, we chose to return to Nazareth.”

Then Mariam went silent. After a long while, Cornelius asked, “Would you tell me how I may find your son?”

She looked into his face for a very long time without uttering a word. Cornelius assumed she would not give that information to a soldier of Rome who could harm her son.

“He is in Capernaum.”

An hour out on the road, Cornelius was riding his horse next to the wagon.

“Ahem… Centurion?” It was the voice of Levi, the tax collector. “You have done a kind thing back there.”

“It is of no consequence.”

“No consequence, you say,” exclaimed Jacob. “You have, time after time, shown such consideration to my people of which you again risk retribution from your own people.”

“Ah yes…” Levi said. “I have heard talk of you among our people, even from those that hate me. You are gaining many friends in the city. It may be that if my people can accept you, a Gentile. Maybe they will be able to forgive me, a tax collector, and allow me back to worship the Lord in the synagogue. Oh… how I tire of this hated position.”

Cornelius did not say a word. He kicked his horse to a trot and rode ahead. He felt conflicted inside. In the back of his mind, he knew that part of his motives to show kindness was also to add to this myth so that he may do his task to protect the empire. But then hearing that incredible tale, his duty to do his task didn’t seem so important. But he shook his head and reminded himself that he is a Roman soldier with orders and a task to do. However, he wondered how he was going to report this.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 4

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

Cornelius and Jacob looked at each other but no words were exchanged. Mariam then told them that her husband to be, Joseph, wanted to divorce her quietly but the same angel spoke to him in a dream and they got married. They thought the baby was to be born at Nazareth but then came the Emperor’s edict for the heads of family to return to where they were born. So, we left for Bethlehem where I gave birth.”

“We know of the coming of the magi from the East and the dreadful event after. Was there there anything unusual that happened on the day you gave birth?” asked Jacob.

“When we arrived in Bethlehem, the village was crowded with people because of the census. We stayed with the family of Joseph but the inn, that is, the upper room for guests was already occupied by other relatives; one of whom was also ready to give birth. The midwives were already up there. At that time, I thought I still had about a week to go, so Joseph and I were quite content to sleep on the ground with other family members. We settled ourselves on the ground where the animals were usually kept during the winter months. That night, I went into labor. All the men were ushered out of the house while the women of the household helped me.

“When my son was born, Joseph wrapped him in swaddling cloth and then he laid him in a stone manger filled with a bed of fresh hay while I rested. I still recall how magical it was when Joseph let open the large wooden doors to let the cool air in. A ray of light from the moon seem to fall upon my baby’s face. But that is not the only special event that happened that night. Something else happened in the nearby hills. For this part of the story, I bring you an eyewitness.”

She nodded to one of her daughters. She went out the door leading an old man leaning on a hooked staff. Miriam gestured to him and said, “This is Eloa. He was there when I gave birth. At that time, he was a shepherd who was out on the hillsides of Bethlehem watching over a flock of sheep. I will let him tell you himself.”

“Gre… gre… greetings, your honors,” Eloa said nervously. “I is a simple shepherd. I not talk to others too good, but this story I like to tell very very well.

“I remember… I always remember that night like it yesterday. Me, my father and ten others… we sitting around fire. Night very dark, when suddenly on hill above us, man appear like very bright sun. We all knew man was no man but messenger of the wind… sent by Yahweh. He spoke to us in very clear words.”

Cornelius then heard him suddenly speak with clear diction and it seemed Eloa’s voice was not his own.

“Fear not… for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

“Then night sky burst bright with more light and there was many holy messengers flying by singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ [Luke 2:10-14 NASB]

“Then… no light… no singing… all quiet. Even sheep quiet… no run away. We shepherds laugh and cry because we so happy. We left sheep… not worry about them… they safe we know somehow. We met other shepherds going to Bethlehem. They saw too. More and more joined us. When enter Bethlehem, we asked where babies born this night. We search and search… found five but not right one. Finally, we came to house where baby born in upstair room but baby was girl. Then walked around house and big doors open and single light from lamp over manger. When we saw baby in manger, we knew sign. First, we quiet… then laughed out loud. Soon dancing and singing psalms. When villagers came… asked why… we told them all.”

Mariam smiled and nodded. Eloa bowed and then quietly left. “Eloa stayed with us ever since. The village did celebrate that night. Joseph and his family were concerned but as is the nature of people, they easily forget.

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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 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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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 2

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

“Is this the house of Joseph the carpenter?” asked Cornelius offhandedly.

“This is the house of Joseph, but he has long been dead for some years. My brothers and myself run the business now.”

“We seek your brother, the rabbi,” said Jacob. “We heard him speak at Bethsaida and we would like to hear more. Do you know where we can find him?”

“I know not where he went. Now, if you would excuse me, I have much work to do.”

As he returned to his work, Cornelius noticed the curtain in the window part just so slightly to reveal a hand of a woman.

“What of Miriam, your mother?”

“She… she is away in Cana.” Then he went back to sawing the plank. They then started to walk back.

When Cornelius and Jacob returned to the village square, they arrived in the middle of a commotion. One of the soldiers was dragging a screaming girl towards the wagon, while two others were holding off a desperately pleading father and a hysterical mother. Cornelius pulled out and blew his whistle twice. Then he shouted, “Enough!”

“What is going on here?” He demanded. Then pointing at the soldier holding the girl, he said, “Where do you think you are going with her?”

The optio in charge approached with a nervous Levi following behind. He pointed at the father, “this man could not pay his taxes. So, we are taking his daughter.” He pushed Levi up forward to confirm it.

“Ye… yes, Centurion.” He nervously said, “he… he was short by five drachmas.” Then he retreated back a few steps.

Cornelius could not interfere. As much as he hated this practice, these people are under Roman rule. This is the reality of their lives. The soldier continued to drag the girl towards the horses as the father and mother wailed even more loudly. He looked at the parents and then at the crying girl who will probably end up in the brothels.

“Stop!” he ordered. Then he called Levi to approach, he said, “I will pay their debt.” He handed Levi some coins. The optio was livid.

“What are you doing?” The optio demanded. “Are you out of your mind? They are in violation of the law!”

Cornelius looked at him with a challenging stare. “I believe the tax collector has something to say about that.”

Levi showing a little more confidence spoke out, “Ahem… As I am the official tax collector of this district, my records now show that their taxes are fully paid. There is no violation.”

“Optio… have your man release the girl.”

The optio was still livid. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sheath sword. Cornelius swept his cape to his back revealing his sword and his armor. When the optio noticed the emblems on Cornelius’ chest armor, he knew he was not facing an ordinary procurement official but a battle hardened centurion. He moved his hand away from his own sword took a step back and gave the order to release the girl. The girl flew to her mother’s side crying.

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