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 – Ch12 – part 3

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

“Cornelius?” Jesus approached him. “I have matters that need attending at Nazareth. Do you wish to accompany us and be welcomed in my mother’s house?” Cornelius nodded his ascent. “Good! Matthew will wait for Peter and the others to return sometime tomorrow. They will meet us there.” Jesus looked at where Cestus waited by the picketed horses. “I suggest that you send your horses back. The trail we take will not be easy for them.”

“Are we going to walk to Nazareth?” He was not looking forward trekking through the Galilean range just by foot.

“No. We have these.” Jesus pointed amusingly to where Simon was leading three gray donkeys from behind the thickets.

“Very well,” Cornelius said laughingly. “I will send Cestus back with the horses.”
Nine hours later, Cornelius’ bottom was sore. Riding this small donkey was a challenge. At first, he rode it like his horse, but without a saddle and only a woolen blanket to separate him from the animal’s ridged backbone, he regretted it. Besides which his feet was hanging very close to the ground and managed to stub his toes on every boulder on the narrow trail. After an hour and much chiding from a laughing Simon, Cornelius relented and shifted his sitting position so that both legs were on one side with one knee resting on the base of the ass’ neck. He slipped off a couple of times but after a while he got the hang of it. Though Cornelius missed riding his horse, he had to grudgingly admit that they did good time. For these small animals were better suited for these rocky terrains.

They traveled mostly southwest from the Capernaum basin over the Galilean Range. By early night fall, they skirted around the north base of Mount Tabor and finally came upon the Old King’s Road which would take them to Nazareth. Cornelius recalled that this road, which was rebuilt by Roman standards, was as old as the time when the ancient Chaldeans raided the independent city states of this region. It was one of a network of established caravan routes as far as the great cities of Babylon and of Nineveh which was no more. This particular route led south through Gaza all the way into Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest king of Babylon, led his vast armies down this road vanquishing what was left of the Philistines, all of Egypt and eventually Judah and Jerusalem. When they arrived at the house of where Jesus grew up, Mariam, his mother, was there waiting expectantly.

Cornelius was awakened by heated voices coming from the outside. By the angle of the sunlight streaming through the window, he surmised that the sun had been up for about two hours. He overslept. He groaned as he lifted his aching body off the sleeping palette. He and Simon slept in the wood crafting workshop. Simon, who was already up and about, left food for him on the worktable. Hearing the raised voices again, he goes out to investigate and found Jesus sitting on a pile of roughly hewn logs confronted by his brothers. Simon was standing slightly behind Jesus with his arms crossed and a stern expression.

“In three weeks is the Festival. You must go to the Festival, brother!” exclaimed James. “Many have already left you here but in Jerusalem, there are many there that are awaiting for you to perform your miraculous act. Think of what you can achieve.” As he was saying this, he was gesturing with wriggling fingers above his head.

“It is not yet my time,” Jesus responded quietly.

“Brother, it was you that chose this road. You openly proclaimed yourself to the public. What talk is this that it is not yet your time? Are you afraid that the Pharisees are out to get you? Then how much more should you go down to Jerusalem and show yourself to the people? After all, no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly.”

So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune.”

“What are you saying?”

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” The brothers were about to object but he raised his hand up for silence and said, “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because my time has not yet fully come. But soon it will be and you will understand.” [John 7:7-8 NASB]

Cornelius stood aside as the brothers, shaking their heads, went into the workshop.

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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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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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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 1

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

Cornelius had again seen the zealot a number of times at the synagogue mostly during the Sabbath worship. He had assigned Nacob to track his movements. Nacob had established his cover very well. Within the city, he is a smelly street beggar. Out in the countryside, he poses as an Arab shepherd. He had successfully followed the Zealot to a villa belonging to a rich merchant from Jerusalem. Though, this Simon is from Cana, a town west from here, up into the Galilean highlands, he frequently visits this villa. Nacob had also reported that this villa is frequently visited by numerous well-to-do young men some of which had recently arrived from Jerusalem. This interested Cornelius greatly. He had suspected that many of those in the Zealot faction came from there. He had arranged for them to be discreetly followed back to Jerusalem. At the same time, establish his network of spies there.

Meanwhile, his real interest is in the whereabouts of Jesus of Nazareth. He has not been in Capernaum since Cornelius acquired his house. When he heard that a tax official called Levi and six other soldiers were going to Nazareth to collect the taxes, he went with them in the hopes that this Jesus would be there. He brought Jacob along to ride with Levi in the wagon.

Nazareth is located in the heart of a valley surrounded by the highlands. It is a small farming village situated on the foot of a hill near what is known as the old King’s road which was built by an ancient Babylonian king.

When they got there, Jesus and his followers were not there. But he did find out that Jesus stirred up the men in the local Synagogue. He heard that they wanted to cast him off a cliff on the hill. Cornelius wondered what he would have said that stirred them like that. Jacob, after speaking with the synagogue leader, told him that Jesus was invited to read from the Scriptures.

“He read from the scroll of Isaiah.”

Cornelius was curiously interested.

“The passage he read went like this, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ What stirred the men was what he said after. He said, ‘Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ” [Luke 4:18-21 NASB]

“Is he declaring himself openly, Jacob.”

“Yes, I believe he is… and it is incredible.”

“You said that he has family here. Let us find out where his house is.”

Jacob got directions from the rabbi. The house that they sought was at the bottom of the hill near the southern edge. It was not hard to find the house. Since they knew that Jesus was a carpenter, they followed the sound of sawing and hammering. At first, Cornelius thought the bearded man sawing on a large plank of wood was Jesus, but it turned out to be his brother, James. Two other brothers were working on some furniture just inside their workshop and a young woman, a sister maybe, was meticulously picking pebbles out of a basket filled with grain. It was she who saw Cornelius and Jacob approaching and then called the attention of the working men. They stopped their work. James put down his saw and walked over to them at the gate.

“Shalom,” Jacob greeted.

“Shalom,” James greeted back with a slight nod. “How may we be of service, masters?”

“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.”

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