10. FORGIVENESS AND HEALING
The beggar who had come into the synagogue was only one of a crowd that had been gathering, drawn not just from the town by the events of the previous evening, but from the whole countryside round about by the news that Jesus was back in Capernaum. Jesus, with his fury still showing, swept through the crowd behind Rock and the other fishermen, heading down towards their house.
The beggar was an attraction, for it seemed that many knew him, and were amazed as he showed them his arms. They must all have known him from one of the other towns nearby, however, for I hadn’t ever seen him before. But he provided a diversion as we left the synagogue, so that the greater part of the crowd was slow to follow, and the rest of us all got into Mama’s house and courtyard, and the doors were closed with only a dozen or so strangers on the inside.
Andrew’s wife Rachel came up to Jesus: “Please don’t let them make too much noise, Teacher. Mama got a fever last night, and it hasn’t left her. We won’t be able to –” But Jesus was already striding past her, into their sleeping room, and I followed as closely as I could. He felt Mama’s forehead, took her hand, raised his eyes briefly then stared down on her, reciting in the same angry voice as before:
“I adjure you, all demons that enter into the body to cause pain and suffering, I adjure you, whatever sins have allowed you to enter, I adjure you, in the name of the Lord, ‘He who removeth iniquity and transgression’, O Fever-demon and Chills-demon and Head-ache-demon and Stomach-pain-demon, whichever of you are present, to come out of this woman! You are forbidden to disturb her by day or by night, awake or asleep, whether she has sinned or not. Leave, and return no more!”
She opened her eyes and looked at him – tired, I thought, and perhaps a little scared. “Thank you; I feel much better.”
“The glory is God’s,” he replied. “We are thirsty after the synagogue.”
She rose weakly from the couch. “I can get you some water.”
“Wine,” he corrected her.
“I’ll see what I have.”
He went back out into the courtyard, to bless and touch and heal and to preach the Good News of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. Some minutes later, while he was still engaged in this – for the work never ended, as people found their way inside by one means or another – there was noise up on the flat roof, and a brick and some plaster came down, and unbelievably a group of men were using ropes to let down a bed from up there, a bed with a young man lying on it!
They called down: “Teacher! We couldn’t get in – but this man is a cripple – he’s paralyzed – but we know you can help him!”
Jesus looked around at the crowd. “Who has not sinned? Who has not been sick? Even a small sin can let in a small demon. How big a sin must it be, for a man to be made helpless, bedridden, for the rest of his life?”
He looked at the man on the pallet, unmoving except for occasional twitches, his head turned to one side, face blank, looking at nothing, mouth open. “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The man didn’t move, but a kind of peace came over him, and the twitching stopped.
Several people in the crowd protested, however: “This is blasphemy!” “No one can forgive sins except God!” and so on. Being contradicted in this way brought the anger back into Jesus’ voice, as I was coming to expect.
“What do you mean, no one except God can forgive sins? If you are hurt by someone sinning against you, who but you should forgive them? Are you saying you have never forgiven anyone for a sin? Then watch out, for God will judge you in the same way that you judge others! Now consider this: would it be easier to say to a paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say ‘Stand up, pick up your bed, and walk’?”
The crowd hung on him, his anger ripe with signs and wonders.
“So in order to show that each and every one of you has the power to forgive,” and here he turned back to the cripple, “Stand up! Pick up your bed! And walk!”
And the man’s face came alive, he tentatively and joyfully stood up, then picked up his bedding, and went out through the house to his friends and the uproar of the crowd outside. And Jesus followed with him to the doorway, where he could address the most people:
“For the Kingdom of God to be brought about, for Israel to be restored as the light shining before all the nations of the world, Israel must repent!, and reform!, and forgive! The Kingdom of God is at hand – for all the prophecies are being fulfilled. So prepare yourselves!” (“Amen!”)
“Prepare yourselves, and choose whether you are on God’s side or against Him, for the Day of Wrath is coming against God’s enemies, the idolaters, the unbelievers, the unclean, the Law-breakers, and they shall face God’s people, led by the Messiah, and they shall be swept from land and sea into the pit of fire!” (“Glory to God!”)
And he walked among the crowd, touching and blessing. Many of them were sobbing or shouting, repenting of their sins, promising to forgive their neighbors. And Jesus passed back into the house and courtyard, and out by a back way, and went towards the lake with most of his followers.
I stayed where I was. But Judas the Sicariot, talking with Mary of Bethany, called to me: “Matthew! Aren’t you going with Jesus?”
“Maybe,” I said. “What’s he going to do?”
“Too many people here – he needs a rest. We’re going across the sea.”
“Well, let me think about it. I still have to settle up with Mama for last night.”
“What’s there to think about? Didn’t he tell you to follow him? She can wait.”
I laughed. “It’s not quite that easy. I’ve got a job here, the Tetrarch wouldn’t like it if I just wandered off.”
“Did you hear Jesus say it was time to choose whether you’re on God’s side, or against Him?”
I nodded uncomfortably.
“Then it’s time to choose, Pig-lover.”
“Jesus doesn’t need me, anyway.” Well, maybe my cash.
“Don’t be so sure; he has different plans for each of us. We’re not all the same, his followers. We’re more different from each other than you may have realized yet. There are a lot of different things to be done.” He glanced at Mary; she nodded at me with those gorgeous eyes. He said: “How many other people have you seen Jesus call, like he called you? None, right? He wants you.”
This was getting serious. “You mean, not just for a day or two, but permanently?”
The Sicariot stared at me. “ ‘Permanently’? The end of the world is coming, and you ask about Permanently?”
My mind was rapidly considering what Pilate would say to this. With the Baptist locked up, Jesus might be the new mouthpiece of the Galilee resistance. Who knows what else I’d see or hear. Wasn’t this exactly what Pilate wanted? Though it had all the dangers that Caninus warned me of. “I mean, even if I crossed the lake, the sea, I’d still have to leave things in order here: put things away, lock up, send my resignation to Herod, and so on.”
“I’ve got no personal grudge against the authorities. I like to keep my promises, fulfill my obligations, as best I can; and when I can’t, for whatever reason, I tell people. That’s just how I am.”
I saw his jaw clench, but he nodded. “Tell you what. You go ahead and get everything straight. I’ll be down at the water, and I’ll make sure that a boat waits for you. If you take too long, I’ll come looking for you.” He grinned without warmth, and left.
It made me shiver. Mary saw, and said, “He strikes some people that way; I think he’s sweet, though.”
Not a word I would have used. “I still don’t know about going off with Jesus like that.”
“Judas is right; I think you should.”
“Have you seen Jesus heal people like that before?”
“Lots of times.” She smiled with those deep, dark eyes, as though they held some unfathomable secret.
“Not just ‘fever-demons’, but the crippled, the paralyzed?”
“Uh-huh,” amused. She seemed too young to be assessing me, to be enjoying how little I knew or believed, but that’s what it felt like.
“And you… Are you going too?”
“No, I’ll start home tomorrow.” I must have looked concerned: she touched my arm: “There are several of us going together, don’t worry. I’ll be safe.” She paused. “And I’ll see you again, if you’re going to be with Jesus.” Was my face betraying me, or was she reading in things that hadn’t been there? Within the space of a few heartbeats, I no longer knew. She smiled, and was gone.
I went to settle up with Mama. I paid less than she asked, but not much, for I felt lucky to have any money left at all, after leaving it lying around for Judas to pick up. Anyway, if they were all in this together, they knew that they would get all the money one way or another – there was no need for it all to go through Mama’s hands.
Then I went to my office, lifted the loose tile and dropped my remaining cash in. Good. My next priority, of course, was to write to Pilate. But I had to have something innocuous in case I was caught, so I wrote to Herod first.
To Herod I made no mention of Jesus. I merely said that the duties had been so onerous, and with no financial reward, and with the dangers exemplified by the legionary killed almost outside my door, that I needed to close the office temporarily. I was leaving everything in the hands of the Capernaum fort, and, when things had calmed down, I hoped to return. I was returning the keys and the seal to the fort.
Hurriedly I rolled it up, folded it flat, heated a stub of sealing wax over the small oil lamp always burning on the table, dripped wax to seal the letter shut, licked Herod’s metal seal and pressed it in the wax. Then I folded over the loose corners, walked to the door and glanced around without seeing anyone; and I tucked the letter inside my robes.
Now for Pilate. I switched from Greek to Latin and explained how Jesus, being in the habit of staying with the family that provided my meals, had trusted me enough to ask me to be one of his followers. I listed several of them, explaining their backgrounds and beliefs – specifically, I mentioned the names of Mary the Magdalene and the other wealthy women who had irritated me. I wrote that I had seen Jesus apparently heal several sick people. I said that I had seen him argue in the synagogue, and call for the cleansing of Israel and all Jews from foreign influences, and heard him claim that God was going to establish a kingdom in Jerusalem; but I had not heard him claim that either he or John the Baptist were the Messiah. And now I was going with his disciples across the lake, which I hoped would be what Pilate –
As I wrote I suddenly noticed that Judas was watching me from the doorway. I signed the letter immediately, folded it, sealed it – it seemed to take forever – with Pilate’s seal. I stood up, and with my back to Judas, tucked both the letter and Pilate’s seal inside my robes.
“Judas! I didn’t think you’d be so quick. I’ve still got to return Herod’s keys and seal to the fort…” I swept my eyes round the office, picked up the keys and Herod’s seal, walked out, prepared to lock the door.
“And the letter.”
“Yes; the letter.”
“I can get a boy to take them for you.”
“No, I really think I should take them myself. Then I’ll know it’s been done properly, nothing’s lost, and my responsibilities will be completed.” I moved to close the door. “I’ll be back within an hour.”
Judas kept the door open. “Who’s the letter to?”
“The Tetrarch. I told you I had to send in my resignation.”
“That’s all it is?”
“I’d like to see it.”
I reached into my robes, felt for the one with folded corners, pulled out the letter to Herod. Simultaneously, Judas reached into his own robes and pulled out his curved sica.
“It’s just a letter,” I said.
“No problem, then.” He grinned and took the letter from my fingers. He inserted his blade into it and cut out through the blob of wax, breaking the seal but not damaging the letter. He unrolled it and looked slowly down it.
“I didn’t know you could read Greek,” I said.
“I can’t; but I know the letters. I don’t see Jesus’ name here.”
“It isn’t – would you like me to read it to you? Maybe help you learn a little more?” My voice was very helpful, but I hoped he felt that he was being either teased or attacked. I wanted him to think that I was annoyed that he was seeing what I had written.
“Do that. Slowly. Run your fingers over the words as you translate them.”
I translated the letter of resignation to Herod.
When Judas was satisfied, he suggested I reseal the letter; I did, and locked up, and then he walked with me to the fort. He was more relaxed, asking me if I was prepared for going with Jesus, if I had travelled rough before. I told of having wandered through this part of the world, and the random way in which I found employment, and he accepted me more, I thought.
Before we got within sight of the fort he said he would stop and wait for me – “I don’t like seeing Westerners, and they don’t like seeing me; but I’ll be watching. Don’t take too long.” He moved off the road toward a stand of trees. The fort was on level ground and the area around it had been cleared, but Judas would be able to follow gullies and thickets and be close enough to see what I was doing, if not to hear what I said.
I walked up to the front gate. Bibaculus was on duty.
“Ave,” I greeted him, “but keep your voice down. I’m being watched. Don’t call Buteo, but give him this.” I reached into my robe, felt for the scroll without the folded corner, handed it over. “It’s for the Governor. I’ve been asked by Jesus of Nazareth to join his followers, and I think it’s best that I do. But that means I’m giving up my Customs post in Capernaum. Here are the keys for the office and the house, and Herod’s seal. Do me a favor, and send a report with my resignation to Herod – tell him there was no money and it got too dangerous for me to stay. Don’t say more to Herod, and don’t mention Pilate – there are people in Herod’s court who could be in contact with the insurgents; I don’t want to be talked about.”
“This Jesus – is this the preacher and healer?”
“And he’s leading the insurgents now?”
“I don’t think he’s active in the insurgency itself, but he’s a strong sympathizer. I’m pretty sure some of his followers are active, though.”
“And they’re watching you now, and you’re going to join them? Well, rather you than me! You better not spend too long chatting here. I’ll have a drink for you tonight!”
“Your health!” I said, and walked back towards Capernaum.
There was still the issue of the scroll to Herod that I had in my robes – I hadn’t dared hand over two scrolls, for fear of Bibaculus letting it be seen which would raise questions with Judas. But I couldn’t very well throw it away, or keep it. I met up with Judas around the first bend in the road, and he seemed comfortable with whatever he had seen of my brief conversation with Bibaculus.
Fortunately at that point the gods smiled on me, and Nature came to my aid. I needed to step off the road and behind the bushes to relieve myself, and Judas would expect that that should be private. I found a discreet place where the soil was soft, dug a quick hole with a stick and my hands, and squatted. The letter to Herod now came into use, and it went into the hole, and I covered it over.
“That feels better,” I said as I rejoined Judas. “So, where are we off to?”
“Jesus wants to preach in the Decapolis; do you know the area?”
“Well enough.” As a Greek speaker, I had wandered through the Greek ‘Ten Cities’ scattered south and east of Lake Tiberias.
“He wants to start with Gadara.”
“You never call Jesus ‘Master’ or ‘Teacher’ like everyone else,” I observed; “why is that?”
“We Zealots acknowledge no Master but God. No master, no teacher, no ruler, no governor, no law, no authority, none but God, whose will is made clear in the Torah. To accept anything else would be to serve Satan.”
“You and he call each other ‘Friend’.”
“A term without masters, as Zealots prefer.”
“Then may I call you Friend, too?”
“No. It is only between Zealots. From you, I would find it an insult.”
“But Jesus calls you Friend.”
“And your point is?”
“But he’s not a Zealot.”
“How would you know what he is, or is not? He spent time with us in Qumran – that’s where I met him. He wears the white. He loves the Law. He not only awaits the Kingdom of God, he works to bring it about.”
The settlement of Qumran had originally been developed by Essenes in an attempt to get away from impure influences, but the Essenes had abandoned the complex after the earthquake sixty years ago, to escape poisonous fumes from the Dead Sea. A generation later, the surviving Zealots had retreated there after the defeat of Judas of Galilee. It made sense Jesus would have been accepted by Zealots… “But,” I said, “he keeps company with women, and even people like me.”
That got a sharp laugh of amusement from Judas. “So who understands Jesus? He keeps the Law as thoroughly and conscientiously as anyone I have ever seen – but in ways that I have never seen. Some people at Qumran call him confrontational. But when he speaks, the common people listen and believe, and when he touches them, he cleans devils out of them and heals their sicknesses. God works through him, and who am I to tell God how to act? Jesus sees things that we Zealots don’t. If God works through anyone to restore Israel and establish His Kingdom, then know that the Zealots will be there, fighting to help make it happen!”