Meeting Yeshua

I have often wondered what it must have been like to be in the crowd that gathered around this Jesus of Nazareth to hear the Sermon on the Mount or any of the number of other lessons recorded in the gospels.  Here was a man who taught like no other had before him.  He could see the hearts and minds of his listeners and knew what they felt and what they feared.  He was able to meet them at their point of understanding, and teach them things that they needed the most.  But since we were not there to see it first hand, we read the record and try to apply the principles as best we can. 

Still, I can’t help but let my mind wander and imagine what it must have been like.  Several years ago, I began writing a story that did just that, imagined a scenario where a man comes to encounter this teacher, the turmoil he must have experienced at listening to this fresh, authoritative message.  I put myself into the role of just such a man, and let the story take me where it decided to go, maintaining the written record as a guide.

While I am sure some may see this as a pointless exercise, I greatly enjoyed the experience, as I found the story after several years and felt compelled to finally complete it.  I hope you enjoy the story, and if you feel like going back to find the text that inspired it, it’s in Luke 15. 

And so, without further comment, let’s turn back the clocks two millennia, and see if we can catch a glimpse of the greatest teacher ever to grace the earth.       

The crowd was as large as usual, and made up of the usual sorts.  There were the drunks, looking bleary-eyed and squinting against the mid-day sun, sobering up a bit in the scraps of shade they could find beneath the scraggly trees.  There were a few prostitutes trying to look uninterested in the whole affair, and yet turning an ear to hear every word of the proceedings.  A thief, two con-men, and a runaway slave nodded from time to time.  A tax collector, hated for complicity with the occupying legions, bowed his head and listened intently.  And a knot of self-righteous Pharisees scoffed at the whole thing.

“I can’t believe it, Eleazar,” said the one called Josiah. “This, this…man…welcomes sinners.  And eats with them.”  Eleazar sniffed as if he had just smelled something horrible.  He grunted a reply that Josiah understood as agreement.

“I’ve wondered and wondered about the attraction of this man.  He obviously has them under some sort of spell.  Probably in league with Beelzebub.”

“Don’t speak such rubbish, Josiah,” said Eliakim, inviting himself to join the conversation. “Have you really listened to what this teacher is saying?  He is doing no more than giving these people hope and understanding.  You’d do well to open your ears and close your mouths for a change.  Hear him out before you judge.”

Eleazar grunted again and turned away.  Josiah raised an inquiring eyebrow and stayed.  The young man, Yeshua, made his way to a large stone and hopped easily onto it, settling into a comfortable position facing the crowd.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep,” he began, sweeping across the crowd with his raised right hand, and smiling, “And suppose you are in the field with those sheep, watching over them, and they need it, as you all know sheep do: after all, there are many dangers.  Thieves.  Wild beasts.  Rugged hills where lambs can fall and be harmed.  Who among you would not leave ninety-nine of those sheep to find one lamb that was missing?  And when you find it, you’ll probably call your friends together to celebrate.

“You see?  In Heaven, there will be more rejoicing over one lost sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent!”

Yeshua looked over the crowds again.  “What about the woman who had ten drachmas in her house and one day, one turned up missing.  She knew she had not spent it.  It had to be in the house somewhere.  So she lit her lamps and swept every corner and crevice until she found it.  She calls her friends and neighbors, and happily tells them that she has found her missing money.

“The angels of God rejoice like that when one sinner repents.”

Eliakim listened happily. Josiah looked puzzled, but remained to listen as well. Yeshua went on.

“The story is told of a father who had two sons.  You have probably seen boys just like this:  a serious older son—let’s call him “Jeremiah”—destined to inherit his father’s fortune, and a younger son—let’s call him “Eli”—who just wants to have fun.  When the younger son was grown, he knew that life in his father’s house would not be very good for him:  Second sons are always in the shadows of their brothers.  So, the younger son went to his father and, in the most grown-up way he could, said, ‘Father, I’m feeling trapped here.  I need to find my way in this great wide world, but in order to get me started, I’m asking you to go ahead and give me my share of the inheritance.  I only want what’s coming to me.’

“The old man was a little hurt by his son’s request.  Had he not given his sons all they could ever need or even want?  He had amassed a small fortune and his family was quite comfortable.  Still, he remembered how he had felt many years before.  Perhaps it was time to step aside and let the younger generation prove themselves.  So he divided his wealth between his sons and virtually retired to the keeping of his eldest.”

A breeze was stirring, and the sun faded behind a cloud.  The afternoon heat cooled a bit, and Yeshua stood up and walked around.  He took a water bottle from a little boy and splashed a portion into his mouth and drank deep, savoring the cool refreshment of it.  He handed the bag back to the boy and gave him a tousle on the hair and turned back to his story.

“Very shortly, the younger son gathered all of his belongings and headed out to find his fortune, or to seek adventure, or to find himself—only he knew for sure.  He traveled far, to a land of the Gentiles, and established himself there.  He spent money freely and made friends easily and lived riotously — that is, until the money ran out.”  Yeshua nodded.  “That’s right, the money ran out, and so did his so-called ‘friends.’  To add to his troubles, there was a famine that made things even worse.  He was out of everything, and with the famine, even begging for scraps and foraging through trash for the odd moldy crust of bread was next to impossible.  So what was this young man, this son of Israel, to do?  He had to make a living.  But what skills did he have?  His father had herds, so he had been a herder of various kinds of animal from sheep to goats, to cattle.  So he hired himself out as a herder of sorts.  But remember, these were Gentiles in those parts.  They keep and eat things that we Hebrews consider unclean.”  Yeshua paused in the story.  Uneasy gasps were heard throughout the crowd.

“The young man was employed by a good man of that country to feed his pigs.  The boy was so hungry, he would have eaten the very seed pods and husks that he was feeding the pigs if anyone had given it to him to eat.  I suppose it speaks well of the young man that he did not deprive the pigs of their feed.”

“As time passed, and it didn’t take long when he reached that lowest ebb in his life, the young man finally woke up.  Reality dawned on him.  He came to his senses.  He came to himself.  ‘How many hired hands does my father have?  And they have food to spare.  I’m starving to death with a bunch of pigs for company.’  There was nothing else for it.  ‘It may hurt a little and it may hurt a lot, but I’ve got to be honest with my father, with myself, and with God Almighty.  I’ve sinned against both heaven and home.  Maybe my father will hire me on as a servant, and I’ll work for my keep.’  And the boy got up from the hog wallow, brushed off as much of the unclean filth as he could from the rags that barely covered his back, and set off on that long journey home.

“It took a while, and lots of begging and scrounging, but he finally made it home.”

“Josiah!” The shout echoed across the crowd.  The crowd parted to the sound of shushing noises, and a woman grabbed Josiah by the arm.  “You must come quickly!  Something has happened at home!”  Josiah heard the urgency in Miriam’s voice.  And yet, strangely, he was drawn to the teacher and wanted to hear the rest of his story.

“Go, Josiah!  I’ll stay and hear the rest, and tell you what happens,” Eliakim assured him.  Josiah gathered his robe and hurried after his wife who had already made her way to the edge of the crowd and was halfway to the town gate.

“What could be so urgent?” he thought.  He focused on the street ahead and saw a crowd gathering near the well at the center of the village.

“Ruth went to draw a pitcher of water for me and two wild young boys pushed her over the wall!”

“Ruth!” called Josiah.  A splash and a whimper rose from far below.  She was alive!  “Bring a torch and some rope!  We must get to her!”  Josiah’s three other children ran quickly to do as their father had asked.  “Ruth, I’m coming to you. Hold on!”

Lemuel and Jacob secured the rope around a stout old tree and fastened the other end around Josiah’s waist and lowered him over the rim.  The well was cool and dark, and as he descended deeper, the walls became slick and wet.  The torch gave reassuring light, and down below, waist deep in the pool at the bottom of the well, Ruth reached up her hands to her father.

Josiah grabbed her and held her tightly to him and called to be hoisted up.  They emerged to cheers and shouts, and more people came from the market and houses to see what all the commotion was about.

“My daughter is alive and safe!” shouted Josiah.  “Thank the Lord, and praise him for his kindness to his humble servant!”  Josiah’s wife wrapped the girl in a cloak and dried her off, crying tears of joy to see her youngest child returned, shaken but unhurt.

“A lost lamb has been returned to the fold,” thought Josiah.  “I know the joy that the teacher was talking about, now.”

When Josiah returned to the hillside, the crowd had dispersed, the lesson over.  He was sad, but saw his old friend, Eliakim talking easily with the teacher.  He strode over to where Yeshua and Eliakim were chatting.  The teacher noticed him, and still smiling, asked, “How is she, Josiah?”

Josiah looked a little stunned.  How did he know what had happened?  ‘How is who?”

Yeshua looked him in the eye, and gently said, “Ruth.  I know she fell into the well.  Is she alright?”

“Yes, Teacher.  But how—“

“I know a lot of things about a lot of things, Josiah.”  He patted Josiah on the shoulder.  “I suppose you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“I do.  But the hour is getting late.”  He looked back toward the village. “Teacher, would you come and eat with me and my family?  I’d like for them to meet you.”

“I’d be honored.  Lead the way.”

“You’re welcome to share our meal, too Eliakim,” he added.

The three men walked on toward the modest house where Josiah’s children played in the fading light of evening.  The air was becoming cooler, and glow of the lamps around the table was inviting.  Josiah sat down with those he loved, and with this stranger who really seemed like someone he had known for all of his life.

After they had their fill of bread and a fine lentil stew, Yeshua said, “Let’s see: where did we leave off?”  He quickly recapped the story for the benefit of Miriam and the children.

“Now, for months, the old man had sat outside the house, day after day, hoping that he would see his son returning.  And every day, the older son scoffed, and said things like, ‘Good riddance.’  He was certainly full of himself.

“Then finally, while that wandering boy was still far away down that dusty track of a road, his father saw him.  And despite all of the years that had settled on him, he jumped up and ran down the way to meet him.

“The father welcomed him home, sent for a fine robe, put a ring on his finger, order the fatted calf to be roasted in celebration of this poorer, but wiser, boy’s return.”

Yeshua paused.  “Now, you might think that was the end of the story, wouldn’t you?” He looked at the children, who nodded eagerly.  “It would have made a happy ending.  But this is life we’re talking about.  Things are usually more complicated than the usual happy endings.”  He sipped the wine, well diluted with sweet cool water, and continued.

“The older son was not happy at all.  Here, he had been the good son, stayed home, taken care of business, and his old father.  When he saw the party going on, he got mad.  In his best self-righteous, sincerely injured tones, he complained that he had never even been given a goat to roast with his friends.  It sounded a little petty, didn’t it?

“The old man put his arms around the older son.  ‘You were always with me,’ he said. ‘Everything I have is yours.  But this brother of yours was gone, I didn’t know if he was dead or alive.  Now he’s back, and we have another chance to be a whole family again.’”

Yeshua sat back and smiled.  The audience was lost in thought.  “That’s how things are in Heaven when one sinner decides to repent and come back to God.  If you can imagine how that father felt when he saw his son, that’s how God feels: all of that love, relief, and joy—and even more.”

“Was that a real story, Teacher?” asked Lemuel, ever the skeptical teenager, his eyes squinted as if to see through the apparent fiction.

“All stories are real, Lemuel.  They have a meaning and a purpose.  But did these events happen?  Does it matter?  Would that change the truth of it?”  Yeshua looked up at Eliakim.  “How about it, Eli?”

Suddenly all eyes were on Eliakim, a wave of recognition passing over them. “The story certainly sounds familiar,” he said with a quiet smile.  Maybe there was a little rueful regret, maybe there was contrition, but there was certainly an overwhelming measure of genuine happiness.  “You tell it well, Teacher.”

By this time, it was well into the night, but no one wanted to sleep.  They drew strength and energy just from being there with this man, listening to him, learning from him.

The next day, as Yeshua set off on foot to find another crowd and teach them another truth, Josiah and his family were saddened.  Eliakim asked them, “So…what did you think?”

“He’s amazing.  But who is he?” asked Josiah.  “I mean really?  He taught as one who had some real authority.  But they say in town that he’s just a carpenter’s son from Nazareth.  Some say he’s trying to stir up trouble against the legions.”

“Oh, he’s somebody’s son, alright.  He’s the son of God.  But he’s not out to pick a fight with Rome, Josiah.  He’s changing the world one heart at a time.”

“You mean….?”

“The same.  He’s the Messiah.  The promised one.  Isaiah and the rest of the prophets had a lot to say about him.  I believe it with all my heart.  But don’t take my word for it.  You listen for yourself, you weigh the evidence, you decide.”

“The son of God….  He was right here in my house!”

“And now, he is right here,” said Eliakim, lightly tapping Josiah on the chest and on the forehead, “in your heart and in your mind.  Welcome to the revolution.”

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