+JMJ+ Welcome to part 34 of A Journey, the rough draft for a work-in-progress set in New Testament times. The trials of the past few days and weeks are catching up to Jonah.
And now the journey continues. (Here there be plot holes, but that’s what rewrites are for, right?)
A Journey – Part 34
Fifth Day for the Fourth Time, Thursday
Titus had many friends among the soldiers stationed along the road to Capernaum and was able to get us through several checkpoints. Gaius is well-respected by Jew and gentile alike for his honorableness, his fairness, his courage and his strength. I have seen the way the soldiers look at him when we pass through a checkpoint where Titus can reveal the identity of the man who looks like a fish out of water without his sword and uniform. At least, that is the way he looks to me. But most of all I see him as a man with a good heart who is coming to know who our God is. He is a God-fearer, meaning he is not quite willing to take the next (and, for an adult male, quite painful) step in our religion. But he has already gone farther in this direction than have most gentiles.
We ran into some trouble on the way into town and I thought for sure this time we were going to be caught and carried all the way back to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem where Gaius has been ordered to appear. But his friends have so far outnumbered his enemies who were subdued, and I have decided not to ask for details. Yet. Gaius says the less I know about some things, the better. And I agree. For now.
Outside the town Raphael suggested that we split up to avoid all being caught at once. Oh, yes, better that we were caught separately, I said and laughed. No one else did.
Yaakov’s group included Rachel, and Nico and Joseph who needed no disguise to look like two ancient grandfathers. Rachel was made to appear an old woman escorted by her son and elderly family members. All in all, a non-threatening assemblage, we hoped. A few of Titus’s men would follow at a distance to insure their safety.
Gaius and I rode with Titus and we met with the others at the base Titus had set up with his trustworthy men and those who were loyal to Gaius. They numbered more than I expected, yet fewer than I had hoped. Still, at least we were not defenseless.
We were just getting settled when a visitor arrived and sought an audience with Titus and Gaius. I was surprised to see Mary of Magdala enter our temporary military headquarters, but even more surprised to learn that she was the one who had sent Titus to search for us on the road. They had never met before but she sent him word that she had had a dream that Gaius was apprehended by troops sent by the Council who thought he had played a part in stealing and hiding the body of the missing dead rabbi, and that he was in grave danger.
Not long after he received Mary Magdalene’s warning, Titus received word that orders had been sent to find Gaius, reported to be a deserter (and Titus knew that could not be true), and take him to Jerusalem, which was odd, he thought, because the Sanhedrin should have no jurisdiction over either one of them. The whole thing more than hinted at corruption and he was glad he had the earlier warning. He set out to find his friend at once.
This was explained and then they all disappeared behind closed doors for a while. I was left alone with my thoughts, at last. The past few days had seemed like a whirlwind and there had been no time to absorb all that happened. I took some time to pray and as I did, I realized how much I have missed going to the synagogue in Jerusalem. I can pray anywhere but how I long to pray in the assembly. To hear the ancient words of the Fathers, to pray the words that were ancient before our grandfathers’ grandfathers’ grandfathers were born.
After a while they returned from behind closed doors and we all enjoyed a meal that we could eat reclining, and not standing with girded loins, ready to depart at a moment’s notice, though we were not out of danger and the thought of that was never far from our minds, and surely not far from mine, and we really were ready to depart and at a moment’s notice.
As time went on that evening the past days took their toll and sleepiness began to overtake me. So I went to the room assigned to me and drifted into a much-needed sleep, even as I heard Raphael issue a warning that we should all stay within the building and not venture out so as to maintain our advantage of being in the town unbeknownst to those searching for us.
Sixth Day for the Fourth Time, Friday
I slept until morning, a little ashamed but also glad that no one had awakened me. Shaking the sleep-fog from my eyes and mind, I slipped out the door and into the street to feel the light of the sun on my face, unheedful of the warning issued the night before, whether I was too tired to remember or whether my carelessness arose from some inner rebellion at the many insults, intrusions and insufferable inconveniences experienced in succession since this misadventure began. I was surprised to see that the sun was high above Mount Arbel. Surely the hour could not be so late, and then my stomach growled so loudly that the sound of it almost made me jump. Thankful that we had good food to eat (Mary Magdalene saw to that), I stretched my muscles, which still ached from so much recent and unaccustomed fighting and horseback and donkey riding, and turned to walk back to the house serving as our base.
And walked right into the tentmaker.
“I did not expect to find you here.”
I did not expect him to find me here, either.
“Where are your friends?”
“Friends,” I said, “what friends?”
“Do not play games with me. I have searched all over Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, yes, even Samaria, looking for you and your fellow conspirators. Where are they? What have you done with the body of the rabbi?”
“Look, it is late, I am tired,” here my stomach growled even more loudly than before. “I am hungry, and I am going to find some dinner. You are welcome to join me, if you like.”
“You are not going anywhere. Guards!”
“What? Listen to me, I do not know where the rabbi is.” Rough hands closed around my arms. “Call your guards off! I am not lying to you!”
“Maybe you are not, maybe you are. You can lie all you want to when I get you back to the Sanhedrin. And when I find the rest of you schemers, you can all lie to your heart’s content.”
And with that I was thrown to the ground, shackled, and thrown into a cart like the one we shared before but not nearly as well-appointed or well-built. Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Thou has left my stomach empty for this ride. And this is a good thing, but thankfully the ride was short (so short that I knew I must still be in Capernaum) and then I was dragged out and shoved stumbling into a darkened building, and down some steps and into a dank, dark cell where I was chained to a wall, and where I would wait for who knew how long, and for no one, because no one knew where I was. None of my friends would come for me, no one knew I was missing, much less that I had been captured and imprisoned. My captor did not know where my friends were. I must keep it that way.
Several times during the night (or was it day, I could not tell) the door to my cell opened and I was questioned about the rabbi and his followers. And every time they asked, I answered truthfully, that I do not know where they are or where the rabbi is, and every time I was beaten. And every time I was beaten, I prayed to the Lord and told Him how I wish I had never heard of this rebel fiend they sought. And every time the beating continued until I fell into darkness.
I awoke to an unending cycle of questions, accusations, threats, thrashings, then darkness, then light and it all began again. I thought surely I had been tormented and tortured this way for days on end, but word came to halt the proceedings until after the Sabbath, for the tentmaker is a faithful man. So it had only been a day. Not even a full day. At least I could not feel my earlier aches anymore. They all blended with the recent ones until my skin and all of my muscles were as fire, a fire that gave no light, and I welcomed the darkness that swallowed me. This is how I met and celebrated the Sabbath that day that was no day and night that was no night but one long timeless time that stretched, and stretched my bones, sinew, and oh-so-tired muscles, until I did not know where my reeling mind ended and my bloodied body began. And since these two cannot really be separated, the truth is that I was become misery and the darkest abyss of sorrowful woe.
Seventh Day for the Fourth Time, Saturday
I awoke choking as a bucket of dank water was poured over my bruised and bleeding face. This happened several times. Once I was awakened from my stupor to be told that I had been stripped of my seat in the Jerusalem Sanhedrin. This did not hurt me as much as my tormenter evidently hoped. Another time to be told that my properties had been seized. That caused a pang of regret. Another, that my money had been confiscated to pay my debts. This last was a clumsy lie because I owed no debts, but my tongue and lips were so swollen that I could not form the words. And the truth was that, whether I owed the debts or not, the Council had taken my treasures away from me. All except my sister. I would cling to the thought of her now to survive.
I received no more beatings on the Sabbath, but I also was not given any food or water. No one came to bandage my wounds. No one released me from my chains so that I could relieve myself. My humiliation was complete. Never had I thought I would experience anything like this.
Memories came flooding into my mind unbidden, unwanted. I watched as the flagrum tore his skin, sending rivers of blood to the ground beneath him, the crown of thorns was pressed with savage force into his head, piercing the skin, causing unbearable pain. I did not want to think about this. Did not want to know it, to see it. Do I not have enough trouble of my own? Am I not suffering enough? Darkness welled up and, thankfully, I saw no more that night. Or day. Whatever it was.
First Day for the Fifth Time, Sunday
Another bucket of stinking water. “Wake up. Time has come to take you back to Jerusalem.”
I opened one swollen eye as far as it would open. Not very far. Looming over me was not the tentmaker, whose name I take great pleasure even now in not pronouncing. Let him be like the pharaoh in the Torah whose name to this day is unknown, while the names Shifrah and Pu’ah are known throughout the world.
The jailer sat a dirty bucket of water next to me. The thought of drinking from it made me ill. (I was amazed that I could feel worse than I already did.) He leaned close and whispered, “I am sorry about your sister. We were following orders, you understand. Could not have foreseen what happened. No one could have. No hard feelings, then?”
I heard nothing past “sorry about your sister.” What did he mean by this? I tried to ask him but he would not stop talking and then he was gone. I tried to yell to anyone, to come explain to me what he meant. Where was Rachel? What had happened to her? Was she alright? When could I see her? I pleaded, I threatened, I pleaded some more. I demanded to be heard and answered.
I was heard. My answer was another round of beatings. The Sabbath was ended.
I began to tell the accursed dead and missing rabbi what I thought of him. That he was a deceiver of souls, a destroyer of families and friendships, a dissolver of livelihoods, a monster who ruined my life and the life of so many others who believed in him. How could they, how could my sister, how could these esteemed members of the Sanhedrin, and these accomplished military courageous intelligent men, how could anyone believe that anyone could raise anyone from the dead, let alone raise himself from the dead?! It is nonsense! Impossible! The worst stupid excuse for religion I have ever heard of and I cannot believe that my own sister is–was–part of it! And look what it got her! Look what it has gotten any of them! Look what it got me and I am not even one of them! And I never will be! Never!
The thought of my sister, deceived by this maniacal group, the thought of her coming to harm by anyone, but especially because of her association with these deluded–I could not finish the thought. My grief for her welled up within me and for a time I could only weep. For all that was lost? No. All those things that were lost could be had again. All of those things but one: Rachel was irreplaceable and my grief knew no bounds. I do not know if I ever told her how much I loved her. And that indicates that I probably did not.
If I could talk to her again, I would tell her that I love her, and so much more. I would listen. If she wanted to marry someone with less standing than our family had, then we could work on that. If she did not want to marry anyone at all, we could work on that. Anything she wanted to do. Almost anything. Anything but the one thing she had insisted on doing. Following the one person she had no business following.
If I could say one thing to that imposter–
“What would you say to Me, Jonah?”
The light that filled the dark cell was like no other I had ever seen. And the voice. I knew that voice. There is no way it could have been that voice.
“Turn around, Jonah.”
No, I will not. I am going crazy or there is a demon in this cell with me and I will not do what it says.
“You are not crazy, Jonah, I am not a deceiver or a demon, nor your imagination, nor the destroyer of families, though families be torn apart when some follow Me and some will not. Turn around, Jonah. All you need to do is turn around.”
I cannot. This is not real. I will not speak to it. If only the others were not so far away. If only Rachel were here with me. Rachel. Rachel.
“Your sister is faithful to My Father and to Me, always near. Yaakov is near because of her. Nicodemus and Joseph are closer than Yaakov. Gaius is very near. But you, Jonah, are more distant now than the day you came to me asking what you must do to have eternal life.”
It is not who it pretends to be. It must be my imagination or a demon that knows what I know somehow. And it pretends to know about my friends or uses what I think I know. Or I am delusional from lack of food and sleep and from loss of blood.
“Jonah, Jonah, Jonah, you are troubled by many things.”
“Of course I am troubled! Look at what they have done to me. They beat me! And my heart is broken! So many hearts are broken and it is all your fault!” I cannot have said that!
He looked at me with such love. I could feel it even though I could not see it, standing with my back to him, the same look he gave me when I sought him out that day. And I hated him for it.
“I have told you what you must do. The way is simple but not easy, but I will help you.”
“I no longer have anything to give up. Are you happy now? Are you satisfied?”
“You are still clinging to all of those things, Jonah, even though you yourself admit that you no longer have them. Turn to me.”
“I will not! I no longer have those things because you took them from me! My sister trusted you, loved you! What am I saying? You cannot be here, it is not possible! I am glad our parents are not here to see what has become of their children, their legacy.”
“Rachel has always made your parents proud. But you, Jonah, will you make them proud? Will you keep their legacy intact, being faithful Jews? I have plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you–“
“Not to harm me.” I said it with a sneer. He repeated the words as if I had not. I was instantly ashamed. With a measure of contrition I continued the familiar words, “To give me hope.”
“And a future. All you have to do–“
“Is turn around,” I said, turning, “and follow You.” I hesitated.
“I did not come to harm you, I did not form you in your mother’s womb in order to break your heart but to give you a new one, made of flesh and not of stone, one open to Jew and gentile alike, one that sees not Pharisee or Scribe, or Zealot or Essene, tentmaker or soldier or anything else at all but one made in the image of God, one of My little ones, one whom I came into this world to redeem. I was born and lived and died for you and for all of these. Those who believe in Me are not crazy to believe, and you are not crazy to believe Me now, as I know you do.”
I turned fully around and looked into His eyes and I KNEW! I knew as I was known and He looked into my eyes and through me and all the way through to my soul and back again. And in that moment (and all it took was a moment) I knew that I was meant to follow Him and that He was why the world was created and why the stars sang in the morning and why deep called unto deep in the long hours of the night.
I fell to my knees and tears streamed down my face and I could not hold them back. It was when I saw His eyes, I could not help it, but my heart broke open in that moment, in that blessed moment. And I heard myself say the words that I had so pitied Thomas for saying:
“My Lord and my God! I am sorry! I am so sorry! Forgive me, I did not believe, I said terrible things, please, forgive me!”
And then I saw Him again as He was on the Cross, bleeding, and standing there was His mother–
His mother! She must be somewhere nearby! Has she seen Him? I must tell her! But I am trapped in this cell and–
The door opened and sunlight flooded into the dark cell, and the light was so pale that it seemed darker than the darkness of the cell without it. And the tentmaker’s voice said, “Unchain him and bring him. We are leaving. Now.”
They dragged me outside, the sunlight temporarily blinding me, and shoved me into the same wagon I had ridden in before. Just before I disappeared within I heard a voice I recognized.
“Halt! What prisoner is that? I know of no prisoners being transported from this area.” A uniformed Roman officer on horseback strode into view.
“Centurion, this is none of your business. I have orders from the Council–“
“The Council in Jerusalem, correct? This is Galilee, Capernaum, to be precise. And you have no jurisdiction over Roman jails.”
“Centurion, Gaius, am I correct? How odd to see you here.”
“Yes, I am sure. Rumors of my desertion (and recall) have been greatly exaggerated. I am here–” and at a signal from him, thirty men stepped forward, thirty uniformed and armed men, “I brought along some of my troops, as you can see. Now do you have orders that will cause me to order my men to stand down? Or do I need to take this man into my own custody? Until we can settle this matter between our respective authorities, you understand.”
The tentmaker bristled but there was not much he could do. Gaius ordered his men to remove me from the wagon, and they tried to, but I brushed them off and said I could stand on my own. I took one step toward the edge and promptly fell over it and off the wagon and onto the hard ground below. Had I remained conscious, I would have been embarrassed. As it was, I was blessedly out cold.
End of Part 34
Other parts of the story are linked on the Fiction page.
Note: Before anyone asks, no, Jonah is not referring to the Church Fathers but to the Jewish fathers. See the Pirke Aboth or Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers), which was compiled between the third century B.C. and the third century A.D.
Thank you for visiting and reading. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy, and remember, we are all on the journey to the heavenly city. So pick up your cross daily and follow Him, so you can become who you were meant to be: a SAINT! May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Image in the cover: From the east, Nazareth, Holy Land, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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