by Luise Rinser
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
In the evening Yeshua told the story of the sheep who separated from the flock and was lost. The shepherd left the flock and went to find the sheep. He found it in a thorn-bush, freed it, carried it home on his shoulders, called all the neighbors and rejoiced.
Shimon said: Yes, but what about the other sheep? What if meanwhile the wolf came? The shepherd saved one sheep and abandoned the rest.
I said: The story is nice and comforting, but will every sheep by rescued at the right time by the right shepherd? Won’t many sheep be torn apart by the wolf before the shepherd notices their absence?
Miryam, you are thinking in hours, days, years. We have an æon before us.
All right, but a dead sheep is a dead sheep and stays one, or doesn’t it?
There is no dead sheep. There is no death. Only transformation. No sheep is abandoned.
That would be great, said Yehuda. Unfortunately though, I have seen many dead sheep and lambs. And they weren’t the only ones I’ve seen perish, ripped apart by the Roman wolf. Where is the shepherd, Rabbi?
Listen to another story, perhaps you’ll understand then. A man had two sons. The elder one stayed with his father and helped him with the work. The younger asked for his inheritance and went abroad. There he squandered his inheritance and became as poor as a beggar, to the point where he scraped his food from garbage pails. One day he was so far gone that he told himself: either I die in poverty or I return home. But haven’t I lost the right to return home? I will be hounded from the farm. It will be hard. But I must try. Of course I can’t expect father to accept me as a son, but maybe he can use me as a stable boy. So he started homeward, his heart full of deep shame and worry. His father saw him at a distance. Now judgment will fall over me, the son thought, and he fell to his knees. The father, however, paid no attention to that, or to the tears of regret, but he lifted him up and embraced him. You are back again, child. Come, we will celebrate your return. The older brother saw this and was angry. All this fuss over a tramp! No embraces for me, who worked so hard for father, no feast, nothing. The father heard his grumbling. My dear, you were always with me and safe, your brother was as good as dead for me though, and now he has come back to life. Shouldn’t I be happy?
Yehuda said: Nice justice. One can therefore do no better than run away, squander his inheritance, live a dissolute life and, when there’s no other choice, return home, beg for forgiveness and everything is again in order. What kind of story is that, Rabbi?
Yeshua looked at him in a way that made me shiver. What was going on between the two of them?
Yehuda continued: The story is ambiguous. On one hand: the son is worthless, is nevertheless loved like a Benjamin, very well, maybe the father liked him the way he was, a lover of adventure, maybe the son did what the father would have liked to do, and didn’t, and so there was love and understanding. Or did you tell the story in order to emphasize the previous one: the father and the shepherd, they are one and the same. The great charitable one. Also fine. But: who is the lost sheep, who the lost son?
Yeshua was silent and Yehuda went on: This son, is he not a wretch? That he isn’t ashamed to beg, and worse still: returning home after the defeat! Was there no other way for him than crawling home to his father? This story, Rabbi, is the story of a man’s failure. Doesn’t it mean in essence: stay comfortably home, stay in the accustomed, no risks, it will fail anyway if the father doesn’t intervene. He doesn’t change anything though, he only puts everything in order, in the old, the habitual way. You contradict yourself, Rabbi. Don’t you, especially you, always talk about change. New wine belongs in new skins, you said, and one doesn’t patch a shredded coat. That is the radical repudiation of the old. And now this story about repentant return to the old. Which is valid?
You see contradiction where there is none. The father is the same, certainly. But the son is transformed, and therefore the father is also transformed. Without departure and homecoming everything would remain the same, the old. But departure and homecoming cause a radical change in the whole. The old becomes the new. What remains is the father’s love.
I see, said Yehuda, and walked away, and as he went I felt a pain in my heart and didn’t know what the hurt was.
Where did Yehuda go when he disappeared so abruptly? He never said and Yeshua didn’t ask, he allowed him complete freedom.
Yehuda came back late that night. I was worried and stood on the road to look for him. Finally he came, whistling as he walked, he was unusually cheerful.
What’s that smell on you, Yehuda? Smoke! The smell of burning!
Where there’s fire, there’s smoke.
You were very close to fire, Yehuda.
Very close. Listen: the people who were driven from their land burned down three estates. As a warning, do you understand?
I understand. But you, why were you so close?
Not to put the fire out. Don’t ask more now.
Yehuda, do you want to cast suspicion on us? Doesn’t the rabbi already have enough enemies?
Mustn’t someone like him have enemies? Or do you want him to be everyone’s darling?
After two more days journey we crossed the border into Galilee and came to the town of Nain. We wanted to go around the town, but a funeral procession held us up, weeping and lamenting. A girl was on the bier, or was it a boy, I don’t know anymore. I also don’t know how it came about that Yeshua asked the bearers to put down the bier, or rather, I didn’t know then. So they put the bier down and he lifted the cloth, then he said: But the child is not dead, she is sleeping.
Not dead? Of course she is. She died yesterday and we must bury her soon, for in this heat putrefaction sets in quickly.
I tell you: the child is not dead! Tell me her name!
They told him, I forget it. Yeshua called the child by its name and touched its forehead. Then she opened her eyes and looked around in wonderment. They bearers ran away terrified, the funeral procession broke up, the mother screamed and wrung her hands. They all thought what happened was hallucination or black magic. We did too.
But Yeshua took the child’s hand and said: You have slept long. What did you dream?
The child smiled at him: Of you! I saw you in my dream, and now you are really here.
Gradually the people dared to come closer. But Yeshua left quickly. We followed feeling numb.
When we were far enough from the town and sat down in the shade, he said: What’s the matter? What are you so surprised about?
Rabbi, we aren’t surprised, we are afraid. Who are you that you waken the dead?
What do you mean? The child wasn’t dead.
But how did you know that?
The silver cord was not yet broken, life had not yet escaped. One can feel that when one has learned to heed the signs of nature. You can also learn it. One must only be attentive. Nature teaches us everything, and everything is so simple.
Nothing was simple, everything became more difficult.
At first it seemed the day would be beautiful and peaceful. The homeland lay green and soft before us, and the sea was still and blue. And the accustomed smell of fish and reeds. And boats out in the water, and the springing of silver fish.
It was Yeshua who had the idea to rent a pair of boats and row across the sea, from the south the whole way to Kefarnachum. Gradually we forgot the dead and yet not dead child, and we were merry, Yeshua as well.
No sooner had we reached land on the northern shore than we heard roaring. It wasn’t human, but not animal either, and it came from one of the deserted cave-graves. I remembered immediately: that was our childhood terror. Don’t go to the cave-graves, the children were told, the wild man is there, who will grab and eat you, listen, he is rattling his chains!
Sometimes we children really heard it. He had broken the chains again, with which he was bound while in a deep sleep.
The man was sick, an epileptic, raving mad, a violent maniac. He is possessed, it was said, and his strength comes from the demon within him.
Rabbi, where are you going? The man is dangerous.
But Yeshua kept going, right to the cave from which the roaring came.
Rabbi, he will kill you!
Yeshua motioned us back with a firm gesture and went on. We trembled from fright.
But it turned out differently from what we expected. Incomprehensibly different. As Yeshua stood before the cave, the mad man sprang out. This was no childhood terror, no boogieman; he was as we imagined Beelzebub, the highest demon, to be. Yeshua stood still. The madman also stood still. They stood three paces from each other. Suddenly a scream and the madman fell to the ground. Yeshua knelt over him, touched him gently and spoke to him. We didn’t hear what he said. The madman reared up again and struck out about him with hands and feet. Then he lay still. Yeshua continued to stroke his matted hair and speak to him as though to a child to be calmed. After a while he said to us: Now he sleeps. When he wakes up tomorrow morning he will remember nothing, he will be healthy.
We still trembled, and in leaving one or another of us turned to look back.
That evening I dared to ask the question: Rabbi, who are you that you can do such things?
He said: Do you want to know? So listen: First of all you may not have a shred of fear.
The way you say that, Rabbi, is what makes one afraid, why weren’t you afraid?
Why should I have been afraid? The man was sick. His body and his soul fought each other, and no one helped him. Everyone was afraid of him, and that made him strong. When he saw that I was without fear he surrendered to the stronger one, and the stronger is always he who desires nothing for himself and fears nothing.
Yes but: he was sick and you cured him. How do you do that? Does the art of healing lay in your hands. Tell us your secret!
You talk as though I were a sorcerer. It is no secret. It is very simple. When does a person become ill? When his juices are out of balance. Why is the balance disturbed? Because he forgets that he is a child of the Eternal One, to whom no harm can be done. Whence comes this forgetting of the exalted protection? From the lack of love. When a person is unloved, he lacks protection. Negative forces attack him and he falls ill. Give him love and trust, and his balance is restored and he is healthy.
We understand, Rabbi, but who can love as you do?
As though the teaching were to be continued and what was said was to be immediately confirmed, we experienced another healing the next day.
Just before we reached Kefarnachum, a helmeted rider, a Roman captain, rode up to us, sprang from his horse, saluted the rabbi in a military manner and said: Rabbi, my son, my only son, is dying. Come, help him!
I am not a doctor, nor a magician.
Rabbi, I am a captain and have officers and soldiers under me. When I say to one of them: Come! he comes, and when I say: Go! He goes.
I am not a captain and I have no soldiers.
You have a different power of command. Rabbi: a word from you and the illness leaves my son.
Do you believe that, man?
To us he said: If only Yisrael had such faith!
To the captain he said: Because you have the strength to believe that I can heal, you also have the strength to heal your son yourself. Do you believe yourself capable of such faith?
If you say it is so, then it is so.
Ride home now. You son is healthy.
The captain saluted again, jumped on his horse and rode off.
We were completely confused. Speechless. I was afraid of what could happen if the boy died meanwhile.
But Yeshua’s word: your son IS healthy! Did he really say that? Yes, everyone heard it. There was no doubt. Not: he WILL BE healthy. He IS healthy.
I thought that the illness could have been at its high-point and turned around, so to speak. A crisis, then recovery, very sudden, that happens. Then Yeshua would be a clairvoyant. That also happens. That he heard the unspoken, what was only thought, and in time and space saw what lay distant, that we had often experienced. Why couldn’t it be the same now?
Again I thought: Who are you, who in fact are you?
Behind me I heard an exchange of words: Yehuda and Yochanan.
Yehuda: Well, that’s something new, a healing at a distance, that is impressive, it’s convincing, it can bring in hundreds of followers.
And Yochanan: You always think in numbers! You always have something to count: coins, distances, people.
And you? You leave the numbers to me, it’s not worthy of you, but I’m good enough for it. Someone has to dirty his hands counting money, someone has to reckon how long the money will last and how far it is from here to there, someone must keep his feet on the ground so the others can fly. And then look down from above, right?
The argument would have continued if a cry hadn’t suddenly come from the direction of the city, a cry of joy, that was soon clear, and through the city’s gates a mob rushed out, led by the captain, on foot now and without a helmet and without attention to military bearing he ran, he tripped, had to be helped up, and he cried: My son lives! My son is healthy!
Our entrance into the city of Kefarnachum was embarrassingly splendid. They cheered Yeshua like a homecoming hero who had just won a great battle. Meanwhile the news of his healing of the cave dweller arrived: The rabbi spoke to the demon, to Beelzebub himself, no, there were many demons, and when the rabbi expelled them they rushed into the swine and drowned themselves in the sea.
I laughed out loud. The poor swine. Which swine? Not Jewish ones naturally. We didn’t eat pork. They were Greek swine from over there, from Decapolis, and now they are drowned in our Jewish sea. Stupid people, I said, but who heard me in all the jubilation.
And then to top it off the news from Nain: The rabbi woke a dead child, it lay already in the grave, it stank, and when the rabbi cried: Come out! It came out, jumped around and lived. Go to Nain and see for yourselves!
Rabbi, I said, stop this nonsense, it’s bad for your reputation.
Yehuda said: Leave them their belief. The main thing is that they have hope. The lame walk, the blind see, the dead rise, that’s what they heard, that’s in the scriptures, it serves them as a sign.
What of, Yehuda, what of?
What of? About whom is it said?
Be quiet, Yehuda, Yeshua said angrily. We’re not staying here. Leave without drawing attention, a few in this direction, a few in that direction. We’ll meet in Shimon’s house.
He drew his cloak tightly around him and left.
Yehuda said: He doesn’t want to be it. If only he wanted it!
He ground his teeth.
Yochanan said: That won’t do. Then everything is false. The spirit becomes course material that way. They will never ascend. The realm of peace will always be a dreamland for them, flooded with milk and honey. What a foolish people.
Before anyone in the city noticed, we had disappeared. We stayed hidden for a few days in friends’ houses by the sea. Finally, though, they discovered us and called for the rabbi.
Before he showed himself to them, I said: Rabbi, no more miracles, please! Otherwise everything will go wrong. The must learn to see you, you, not miracles, or what to them are miracles. YOU are the miracle, Rabbi! Don’t descend to them, lift them up to you!
What a mob of peoples awaited him! They came from everywhere. We heard Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Phoenician, Syrian. Not even the Baptist drew such crowds.
The people camped on the slopes. There must have been many hundreds. A thousand perhaps, or more. And stragglers kept coming. What did they expect? What dream led them there? What desperate hope? Hope? In what? Foolish people, I had said. In my heart I took it back. Poor people, I said, too long, too harshly tested people. They had always trusted the Eternal One and the holy covenant. That they still hoped, that was a miracle. So much faith, so much hope cannot be frustrated.
The people had sat down and become still. Yeshua sat also. He sat at the foot of the hill. His talk was a masterpiece of openness and revelation. It was such that Yochanan wept from joy and Yehuda enthusiastically rubbed his hands together and said: At last!
But what did the rabbi say? Was it so terribly new? Not really. What he had told us in a small circle during conversations at night, sometimes offhandedly, he now summarized and made into a whole, and he did it publicly before a large crowd, which was in no way completely Jewish. He spoke without barriers. It was what Yochanan understood and was in accord with his higher worldview, and what Yehuda, possessed by the Jewish plight, did not hear. What Yehuda heard was the description of a liberated Yisrael, a foretelling of a radical change in the political situation.
Who today hungers, will be sated. Whose property is now stolen, will receive it a hundredfold. Who is imprisoned will be freed. Who now weeps will laugh. Who is now persecuted will find peace.
The people applauded. Yeshua continued: You who are poor and oppressed, you will find justice. No master will be over you and make you unfree. The debtor’s prisons will be opened and the debts erased. The master will embrace the servant and there will be neither master nor servant, neither rich nor poor. Each will have what he needs, and since all will have the same, there will no longer be envy, no thievery, robbing, no murder. The lamb will lay alongside the wolf. Each is brother and servant of the other. The violent will no longer rule, but the peacemakers.
The people jumped up, wept and danced from enthusiasm. In the midst of the giddiness a strong voice called out: But what happens meanwhile? What happens to our oppressed? What about the feudal masters, the rich, the priests? They won’t leave on their own, they must be pushed out! The nest of vipers must be dealt with.
Some shouted: Down with them! Down with the rulers!
Soon many were shouting it. Then Yeshua stood up and raised his hand.
You’re speaking badly! You’re thinking falsely! You’re thinking of violence! The evil wheel keeps turning you. You would make new weapons from ploughshares, daggers from vine-dressing knives. And you believe that improvements will come from that? Drive away violence with violence? Make peace with murder? Build the new house on the field of death? Mix the mortar with blood? That is the renewal you hope for! And I should help you? Fools!
There was no applause. But no objections either. A great silence.
And once more Yeshua raised his voice: Nothing will change unless you change yourselves! There will be no peace on earth if there is no peace in you. Make peace with your brothers, peace with those you’ve declared to be your enemies! The brother-kiss to all!
Yehuda gnashed his teeth, then he murmured: Peace to the Romans. The brother-kiss to Herod. Embrace the priests.
He said out loud and very angrily: I want to love my enemies if there are any left after the purge, then!
A few laughs, but only shortly, then silence again. No one knew what else to say.
It had become dark, for many too late to start the long way home. It became evident that many had not reckoned with not finding a place to sleep and that the shops would be closed. They were hungry.
Yehuda said: Rabbi, the people are hungry!
He said it critically, as if it were Yeshua’s fault, and he said it challengingly. He didn’t relent. Whatever the rabbi might say, the task was his. “The people are hungry,” meant: Give them bread! And that meant: Finally assume your role.
Rabbi, what shall we do? We can’t send them home. There are children with them, and they are hungry.
Yeshua said: How much provision have we?
Provisions? What provisions? A basket of flat cakes and another with some dried fish. Just enough for ourselves.
Bring the baskets and distribute the food.
So we distributed: small pieces of cake and small shreds of dried fish. A hopeless task. We kept distributing and distributing. We saw that those who received something shared it with others, and many added something from their own, at first held back provisions, and the sharing continued in that way, nobody received much, but everyone got something, and at the end there was still something left in the baskets for us, we didn’t know how that happened.
Once we had all eaten a great restfulness enveloped us. The night was warm and full of stars, and the half-moon gave light. Yeshua slept, like most, on his back with his arms crossed under his head. I couldn’t sleep. I looked at him. Without opening his eyes he said: Sleep! You have a long way ahead of you.
What did he mean by that? Why didn’t he say: we? But I fell right away into a deep sleep.
We woke up very early. The people had to go home to work. The hill emptied out. We were also ready to leave. However, we didn’t get far, not even to Chorazin. A whole region was in movement. People followed us, people ran up to us, circled us and pushed against us. And what people they were: all sick. They hobbled along on crutches, they were carried on stretchers, and the whole misery gathered around Yeshua. Like dirty water that foams against a rock. The stink of pus and dried blood, of sweat, of unwashed clothing, of poverty. I never learned to be insensitive to smells and ugliness. How could Yeshua stand it? The sick thronged about him, to touch him. One pushed the other away, many were thrown to the ground.
It was Yehuda who made order. He screamed orders. He made the people line up right and left of the path. Thus Yeshua could walk between them, touch them, speak a few words to them. Yehuda kept them in check, but he was impatient and in conflict with himself, I saw that. He stood on the side of the poor, but what Yeshua did was patchwork for him. A few healings, a hundred healings, a thousand: what meaning did it have when all Yisrael was sick and in misery? Don’t heal the sick, don’t give alms: pull out the roots!
He grumbled, he growled at the people, but he loved them, because for him they were the exploited, the victims of thievery, those who were tricked out of their first-born rights by the clever, the efficient without scruples, the deal-makers, the friends of the Romans, those who bowed down before priests and bureaucrats.
Not only the poor came, for, as Yehuda happily realized, the rich also got sick, but as soon as they were sick rich, Yehuda stood at their side, for now they were a minority and this minority suffered and must be supported. But he couldn’t accept that they be treated as the poor were, that is, without paying. I saw people give him money. For a long while Yeshua didn’t notice, but when he did he was furious. I hadn’t seen him so angry since the temple scene, and never afterwards either.
Give me the purse, Yehuda!
Yehuda held it tightly with both hands.
Yehuda, the purse!
Yehuda pressed it to his breast. Thereupon Yeshua ripped it away from him and emptied it among the people. Yehuda screamed in anger, then in triumph: the poor fought for the money like dogs for bones.
Yehuda stamped his foot and screamed: Give the money back, immediately!
Shocked, they gave it back and understood nothing. Great confusion.
There you see, Rabbi, Yehuda cried, where alms giving leads! Patchwork!
Yeshua ordered him and all to be silent. He spoke to the people:
What do you want from me? To heal your suffering? This is your suffering: wanting to have!
One cried out: Tell that to the rich! We have nothing.
Do I speak of having? I speak of wanting to have. You have nothing, but you want to have, nothing but to have. And if you had, it would never be enough. Rich or poor: you’re all sick. Your desires are sick, your souls are sick, and therefore your bodies are sick.
Another called out: Then heal our souls, Rabbi!
Come here, you, said Yeshua, take that pitcher there, go to the rubbish pile and fill it with sand and stones. It’s heavy now, isn’t it? What are you carrying there, friend? It’s filth!
The people laughed.
Yeshua said: Do you want it to be lighter? Well then, empty out the pitcher! Does it seem lighter to you now? And now go to the cistern, wash out the pitcher and scoop up clear water!
And now: drink! How do you feel now, friend?
The people understood and clapped.
But one called out: What you call filth is none. It’s power and whoever has power is master.
Of what power do you speak, friend? Was Herod the Great powerful? Where is his power now? Leprosy has eaten him up, him and his power. Empty your pitchers, friends! Throw out your foolish desires, and you are healthy.
Someone said: You may well speak, your purse is full.
Yeshua said: Haven’t you eaten today?
Whoever has not eaten, raise your hand.
Who has a pair of old sandals?
Three or four came forward. Yeshua gave Yehuda the purse: Give them money for new sandals!
Yehuda murmured: You believe anything. They’re professional beggars.
Yeshua went on: Do any of you not have sleeping quarters for the night?
Again a few came forward. The purse emptied. When it was empty he showed it to the people and said: I have only one pair of sandals and one cloak. I have no house and no land. I have neither a cow nor a donkey. The foxes have caves, the birds nests. I never know during the day if I will have a roof over my head. And I lack nothing.
A woman called out: You say that because you have no children. If your children are hungry you can’t say: I’m not worried, the crows will bring bread and quail will fall before my feet.
Yeshua said: You are right to remind yourself and us all of what happened to our forefathers in the desert. Bread fell to them from heaven when they were hungry. But why? Because they trusted the Almighty. Do you see the sand lilies over there? Who feeds, who dresses them? When our fathers traveled through the desert they had only one thing in mind: to find the Promised Land. But when Moshe was too long on the Sinai in order to speak with the Almighty, they lost patience and trust, they made the Golden Steer and sacrificed to it and forgot the way and the goal, and the Almighty decided that they should perish. If one individual, Moshe, hadn’t been there to placate the Almighty, you wouldn’t be here, the bones of your fathers would be strewn in the desert. But they turned over a new leaf, destroyed the idol, purified their hearts and directed their desire once again toward the Promised Land. So they reached it, and you are here. To you also a land is promised: the realm of peace. But like your fathers you are careless with your salvation. Like them you have made an idol and sacrificed your lives to it. Don’t you see that your idol is made of mud and filth? Don’t you see that it has cracks and leaks? A gust of wind and it will turn to dust. A second gust and the dust will become a sand-cloud that will bury you. Destroy the idols before it is too late! Direct your hearts to the only necessity: the realm of peace and love. Everything else, friends, will be given to you. If only you would believe me! You live in the middle of the Promised Land, and you don’t see it. Open you eyes: the earth is beautiful, and only on thing is needed to make paradise of this earth: Love! Love one another, friends, give the kiss of peace, reconcile your differences, then the Almighty will manifest his love to you. You could be happy, friends, if you only wanted to be!
The people had listened in silence. They forgot that they had come to ask to be healed. I don’t know if it happened to some. Something great had happened. The people left silently.
When we were alone Yochanan said: You preached beautifully, Rabbi.
Yehuda said: Beautifully, yes. Beautiful.
Yeshua said: What do you have against me, Yehuda?
What I have against you is that you talk beautifully.
Speak clearly! Let the poison out!
All right, if you want to know. Moshe was on the mountain. He left his people alone much too long. A people without a leader loses its way. Waiting too long blunts hope. How should the people know that Moshe wasn’t dead, but would return? That’s overburdening, Rabbi. And furthermore: that the Almighty didn’t think of that, that he kept Moshe with him too long! Shouldn’t he have known that the people were desperate? What kind of dangerous game were they playing? And then afterwards: Who was to blame for the aberration with the golden calf? Who then: the people. Not Moshe, not Adonai. The people. Rabbi: Yisrael’s waiting is taking too long. Who can blame them, if they give it up?
What do you expect, Yehuda?
What then: Yisrael’s savior.
And what does this saving consist of?
What a question! The water is up to our necks. Not a foot of our land belongs to us, the people. Foreign soldiers eat our fields bare and our stalls empty! And our own rulers, what are they? Thieves, usurers, exploiters, that’s what they are. And you ask what the saving consists of!
Yehuda: Would you cure violence with violence?
You are wrong, Yehuda. You think that healing comes from outside. But it comes from within. Don’t go, listen to me. You think that liberation lies in reversing the situation: those on top should be toppled, those who are below should rise up. And then, you think, the wheel of time stands still, and everything is good forever. You are thinking too shallow, Yehuda. Much too shallow. Destruction happens quickly. Building up takes time, patience, trust. Does that sound bad in your ears, impatient one?
Bad, very bad. Patience, trust: the virtues of sheep, Rabbi! As if every year didn’t count, every month, every day! Time, this is our time, Rabbi, Yisrael’s reality is now!
Yehuda, I say to you: Yisrael’s time isn’t to be counted in years and days. What can be counted and measured perishes. What remains is the bond between the Almighty and Yisrael. But Adonai is no Jewish tribal god, and Yisrael is not Yisrael alone. Yisrael - that is humanity’s waiting for the realm of peace.
Yehuda said: Who can understand that? Who can understand you at all, Rabbi?
You, Yehuda, you can, but you don’t want to. Why do you stay with me anyway?
From obstinacy, Rabbi.
One day, Yehuda, you obstinacy will be broken. You will lose patience and leave me. Where will you go though, friend? Yehuda: My death will also be yours.
Could be, said Yehuda and he walked away. Yeshua watched him for a long time, then he wrapped his cloak tightly around him.
None of us dared to ask anything. I was cold despite the heat.
That evening Yeshua said: We’re not going to Chorazin, but to Nazareth. The anniversary of Joseph’s death nears. I want to go to his grave.
When I was alone with Yeshua I said: Must that be? Your family, Rabbi, you know what they think of you. And anyway: Nazareth. An unfriendly place. Let’s rather go to the other side of the sea, to Decapolis, maybe to Hippo. What do you think? A little rest would do you good.
He smiled. You begin cleverly. Why don’t you say openly that you don’t want to go to Nazareth? What are you afraid of? Meeting the family that you call mine, or what else?
You aren’t liked in Nazareth. You know: No prophet is ever respected in his hometown.
We went anyway.
We noticed the attitude towards him by the way they greeted us: with sidelong glances, or not at all, and fleeing into their houses as though we brought leprosy with us. No one of his family had time for us: they all had something else to do. We were barely invited to sit. Finally when all the others had left, his mother brought bread, sheep-cheese and wine and sat with us. We didn’t know what to talk about.
Now and then Yeshua’s glance met his mother’s, like a fleeting encounter on a high bridge, nothing permanent.
Are you going with us to the grave, I asked her, and she looked at her son questioningly.
As you like, he said.
It pained me that he wasn’t friendlier to her; of course he wasn’t unfriendly, only distant, terribly distant.
Come! I said, and then she went with us. We went last. The question left her lips with difficulty: Miriam, is it true what they’re saying, that he brought a dead person to life and cures the sick and drives out demons? Tell me: Is that all true?
Yes and no, I said. He has healing power, many have that. As far as the demons are concerned, it’s about sick people, those who have fits, lunatics. He can help them. And the dead ones who he revived, they weren’t really dead yet, and he felt it. Of course the fact that he felt it, that means a lot.
So basically it’s all natural.
She sounded relieved, and at the same time disappointed. And otherwise? What else does he do? How does he live?
Why are you worried about him?
How can I not worry. He shouldn’t make so many enemies. We notice it here already. They tell us we should bring him home and forbid him to rile up the people. He’s said to be either a rebel or a lunatic.
Do you think that, too?
I don’t know. He was always close to me and at the same time distant. He was never my child.
What are you saying? You gave birth to him.
I don’t know who he is.
Do you know it then, Miryam?
Yes and no. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. What I do know is this: It’s not important what he does, and not even who he is. What’s important is that he is HERE.
How do you mean that?
Something comes from him, a good force. Even his appearing has an effect.
Hard to say. Maybe it’s this: Suddenly there’s hope, and this: one no longer knows what’s important and what isn’t. Or perhaps I can say it better this way: He comes and opens a gate, and light comes from out the gate.
You love him, Miryam.
Many love him.
I wish he would start a family and live permanently somewhere.
I had to laugh out loud. He and a family and permanence! I said: You have borne a lion and now you want to make him into a lapdog? That won’t happen.
She smiled, though fleetingly. He is no lion in my dreams, but a lamb, and he is torn apart by wolves. Miryam, I have prophetic dreams.
Your fears become dreams. Don’t dream them! What must happen, will happen.
We arrived at the grave. I wondered what Yeshua was thinking and what the dead one under that grave-mound really was to him. I came to no conclusion.
When we were leaving the grave, Yeshua stood for a moment beside his mother, and he put his arm around her shoulders. A fleeting gesture, very seldom, also later. She accepted it calmly, with a little smile which cut my heart. But when we spoke later about having to find quarters for the night she offered us none. So we separated and went to various lodgings in the city. They were not friendly to us there.
The next day was Shabbat and Yeshua went with us to the synagogue, he kept to the rules of the Law.
As is customary, they handed the scroll to the guest and showed him where they had already read and where he was to continue, and Yeshua read. They were the words of the prophet Yeshayahu.
“The spirit of the Almighty rests upon me, the Lord has anointed me. It is He who has sent me to bring a glad message to the poor, to loosen the bonds, to comfort the mourners and to proclaim a Year of Rejoicing.”
He read no farther. He returned the scroll. Now it was his turn to interpret the words.
He sat quietly for a while, and all eyes were upon him. Then he began to speak. What did he say? He only repeated Yeshayahu’s words:
I am sent to proclaim a Year of Rejoicing.
Why did that sentence suddenly sound so different, as though an even older manuscript had shone through an old one? “I am sent.” That “I”, what did it mean? The scribes looked nervously at each other. He left them time to think. Then he said for the third time: I am sent to proclaim a Year of Rejoicing.
Now they heard that “I” even more.
And then another pause.
One of the scribes said: You talk of a Year of Rejoicing. But it is no Year of rejoicing now, not even twenty years have passed since the last one, the next one won’t be for another thirty years.
Hear what I say. There are Years of Rejoicing which you reckon, and Years of Rejoicing which escape your reckoning.
They shook their heads.
And who determines such a Year of Rejoicing, when not the Law of Numbers?
Yeshua said: Laws don’t decide, but the people’s need.
One of the scribes said: Explain yourself better. Didn’t you say that you are the one who proclaims the Year of Rejoicing? Must we not understand it so? But who are you, that you could do that?
Who I am you will know later. What I am proclaiming is the Year of Grace. A question for you: what happens during a Year of Rejoicing?
When they didn’t answer right away, in order not to fall into a trap, he gave the answer himself:
The Year of Rejoicing is the year of the freeing of the slaves, forgiveness of debts, the return of bought or expropriated land, the restoration of justice.
We know that, they cried, but this is no Year of Rejoicing.
You are right: it is no Year of Rejoicing, injustice reigns, stolen property is not restored, expropriated land not returned, debts are not forgiven, the slaves are not freed, property is not shared. Not a Year of Rejoicing!
Why do you reproach us? Is it our fault that it’s not a Year of Rejoicing? Is it our fault that everything is going so badly? Go to Herod, go to Pilate, go to the High Council! And anyway, why do you appear here as if you were who knows what, you son of a carpenter? Does it amuse you to play the prophet? Or even the Messiah?
They yelled such things in confusion.
Then Yeshua stood up, and something went out from him that silenced them. He let them wait a while. They didn’t know what to do, they stepped from one foot to the other. Suddenly one of them, who was very old and whose voice trembled, said: Tell us who you are.
Yeshua said: I am he who fulfills the scripture, and it is fulfilled now.
I was shocked. What did he mean? What did that “now” mean? This hour, or this episode of our history, or an eon-long now? And if now is now: what is fulfilled?
They were furious at what he said and they cried: He applies Jeshayahu’s words to himself! We heard right: I, the Lord’s anointed one, I, who fulfill the scripture. Outrageous words.
One went up to Yeshua and screamed in his face: Say openly who you claim to be! Say: I, the Messiah, Say: I, the Son of Man!
They all pushed against him and threatened him and shoved him out of the synagogue. To the rock! they cried. Previously blasphemers were thrown from the rock. When we realized that we threw ourselves between Yeshua and his persecutors. Yehuda especially screamed and cursed and manhandled them. Then Yeshua turned around and suddenly it was quiet and we heard him say in a calm voice: What you wanted to do others will do at the appointed time. You, though, should thank the Almighty that he spared you from the guilt of shedding blood.
He wrapped his cloak tightly around him and walked through them and out of the town. No one followed us.
We left the town embittered, and not only against the scribes. Only why had Yeshua provoked them in the way he did? Was that necessary? What was the result? How were those provincial teachers expected to understand him? Nevertheless: that they wanted to kill him, that was incomprehensible. Furthermore, they had no authority to do so. In the occupied country only the Romans could give it. And on what did they base their judgment? On his words? What had they heard to make them so furious? “I am he who fulfills the scripture.” Did he claim to be the Messiah? And even if he had: death is not the penalty. Many wandered around the country and acted like and declared themselves to be the Messiah, and no one even threw a stone at them. What had really happened then? The scene was dark, the attack and the defense. A glance from him and they were defanged. They stood there like beaten dogs. And he simply walked away. But his words, those dark words: What you wanted to do others will do at the appointed time. What did he foresee? What was he conjuring up?
The only satisfied one, more than satisfied, was Yehuda. Rabbi, you spoke wonderfully. It was a great speech. The Year of Rejoicing! That’s it. The abolishment of wage slavery, the return of expropriated land, land reform, equal distribution of property. Back to the life of our forefathers, where everything belonged to all before they came to Canaan and set up Baal over Adonai. Back to a time of justice. Forward to it! And you, Rabbi, you are the one who will lead us to it. You are the envoy, the anointed one!
What had come over Yehuda? His own words frightened him, as though another had spoken them. But he allowed himself no retreat. What has been said has been said. The anointed one, the envoy. Whatever his words were, he meant the revolt; it and only it could bring about a just situation for Yisrael, the old-new social order, and he meant Yeshua’s leading role.
Yeshua listened to Yehuda’s long speech while walking and said nothing, so that Yehuda was also silent.
So we went silently on our way and didn’t even ask where to, until Yeshua said: To Kerfarnachum.
But we never got there.
Bad news held us up: Herod had succumbed to insanity after he had the Baptist killed. He no longer slept, wandered around the palace crying: The Baptist isn’t dead, he has returned from the realm of the dead, kill him or he will kill me!
And he gave orders to kill the new Baptist. Everyone knew that his insanity was speaking. However, who could know if willing hands would not be found.
We must flee, Rabbi!
And we fled. Long wanderings by night, sleeping by day in hiding. We always found an empty sheep stall, a cave, a hearth, and always a well, a cistern, dates and wild berries and herbs, and the flight became a time of joy. No scribes, no sick people, no demands and the rabbi alone with us and we discovered what we had forgotten: that we were all young and could make jokes, even Yehuda. We had never seen him that way, and would never again. Once we organized a race, and he won. We forgot that we were fugitives being chased by secret bloodhounds. We crossed the Syrio-Phoenician border at Tyros on the ocean. We were inland folks and had never seen the ocean. We jumped in and were like children and splashed each other and dived under, almost all of us had grown up near the sea, we swam like fish. We were happy, simply happy, also Yeshua, and, happily exhausted, we slept on the beach.
But the peace didn’t last long. As we rested on the beach a woman saw us, and that was no accident, she had heard, who knows from whom, that the miracle rabbi, the great doctor, had come, and she appealed to him: My daughter is possessed, Rabbi, drive out the demon!
Leave the rabbi alone, Yehuda said, and stop talking about demons, she is sick, find a doctor.
The woman said: I had three doctors and none cured her, for it’s no illness, it’s a demon, drive him out, Rabbi!
She was so stubborn, so wildly believing, that Yeshua yielded. He said: You’re Greek, aren’t you? Why don’t you appeal to your priests and your gods? Am I a Greek? I am a Jew, woman!
She said: Jew or Greek: you are one who can cure like Asculap, but Asculap is dead.
Yeshua smiled, but he didn’t offer to help her, on the contrary, he said: To whom does one give bread: to one’s own children or to the stray dogs?
The woman was Greek and had the Greek sense of humor: Yes, she said, to the children of course, but crumbs fall from the table for the dogs.
Yeshua laughed. The woman was not diverted. She stood her ground and stared at him.
Yehuda said in Aramaic: She’ll stand there until she gets him to do what she wants; we won’t get rid of her; she wants her miracle, and if we know the rabbi…
No miracles, only no miracles!
Shimon said: But her faith, her hope! How can he disappoint her.
Yeshua said nothing, he looked at the woman and she at him; it was obvious that she wanted to squeeze the miracle out of him, cost what it may. Drops of sweat broke out on his forehead. Finally he said: Go home, woman. Your daughter is healthy.
What was that supposed to mean? Didn’t he believe in the illness? Or was it like with that Captain to whom he attributed healing power? Did it mean: Go and heal the child yourself?
However the woman understood it, she gave a cry of joy and ran off.
That’s the end of our peace, I said. Now all the misery of Sidon will be at your heels, Rabbi! And it will be the same here as there: they demand miracles.
Let them come. They demand outer signs because their inner eyes are blind. Some among them will become seeing.
What about the girl, Rabbi?
She is cured.
Nothing more. She is cured. Holding her mothers’ hand, she ran to us and laughed.
The mother fell at Yeshua’s feet: Rabbi, during the time I was with you my daughter had a powerful attack, but then she suddenly lay still. And that was the moment when you said: the girl is healthy.
Stand up, woman! Yeshua said, and don’t say anything about it, I beg you.
Too late: the city knew about it already and the army of the sick was on its way; all the misery descended on us. I was superfluous to that scene and thought: It’s a beautiful day, Yeshua doesn’t need me, I’ll go to the ocean.
Miryam! Are you fleeing?
Denial didn’t help with him, and all my escape routes were blocked.
We stayed a whole week in Tyros and surroundings. Then we went south along the beach to Ptolemais. There we received news from home: all was calm. So we dared to cross the border and make our way home. For a short while we stayed hidden on the north shore of the Kineret Sea. Shimon and Andrew had reliable friends there. Yehuda, who wasn’t known there, acted as scout.
It’s calm, he said. Come out of your caves, desert foxes! And you wild pigeons: fly away! It’s springtime!
You are in such a good mood, Yehuda. Seeing you like this, rubbing your hands, makes me nervous. You don’t have the smell of burning in your beard again, do you? What have you cut with your dagger? Grass and reeds?
You live in your fancies, Miryam. My dagger is rusty and my beard fusty, so what do you want?
What’s the cause of your good mood?
Do I please you more when I grumble and gnash my teeth and yell dark prophesies?
Frankly, Yes, Yehuda. Cheerfulness doesn’t fit you.
You’re right, it’s not my way. I stole it. It belongs to the favorite, the half-Greek, the philosopher. He only needs to talk nicely. He doesn’t have to dirty his hands. He doesn’t smell of smoke. He floats above it all. But one day it will be clear who loves Yisrael more, he or I.
What are you talking about? Why this anger from out of a blue sky? Did something happen between Yochanan and you?
Did it? It does and will, and it is not only between him and me. But what do you know? he sobbed.
Yehuda, don’t run away. Sit down. Let’s talk this over reasonably.
Reasonably? I’m the only reasonable one here. I am the one who sees Yisrael’s condition, and I am the one who acts. The rest of you also see it, but all you do is talk and deplore.
You act, Yehuda? How?
Figure it out for yourself. Do you think I go around gathering news and informing people and forming groups and finding meeting places for fun? That’s what I call acting, and that is reasonable, and necessary. How else will freedom and change come about?
Yehuda, the rabbi thinks otherwise: nothing outer changes, rather the inner man changes.
Yes, yes, I’ve heard him say it. Sounds nice. I’ve had it up to here though. People change? Push a millstone up a mountain. It’s possible. Oh sure. It only takes time, and that’s just what we don’t have. The opposite must be done: we must change the situation and the people with adapt to it, voluntarily or by force. Don’t you know our people’s history? Don’t you celebrate Chanukah with us? What are you celebrating? The memory of the Macbabee’s resistance. Aren’t you a daughter of Maccabees?
Yehuda, there was a time when I was willing to fight. But then I threw my dagger away.
And if I bring you a new one? You don’t want that? No? You give up? You desert me? So that’s the way it is.
He jumped up and walked into the night, mute with anger. He didn’t scream. Why then do I still hear his scream? Is it our fault that he felt himself betrayed? That he felt that the one he loved so much had given up on him? That he saw himself as the unloved? And wasn’t he right? Didn’t we let him fall?
Even beyond his death he remained the unloved, the lost. Only I saw that glance with which Yeshua looked at him during the arrest: it was the glance of love, and it gave him the deathblow.
The rabbi couldn’t hear our conversation, but on the same night, when Yehuda returned, late, he called us to him.
Those of you who are fishermen know that a thrown out net does not only find good fish, but also all kinds of others. What do you do with them? You throw them back into the water. Is it not so? Listen: a farmer planted wheat, it grew nicely but there were many weeds. The harvest was free of weeds though. How did the weeds get there? Let us pull them out, said the workers. But the farmer said: Leave both to grow until the harvest. If you do the weeding now the danger exists that you will not only pull out the weeds, but the wheat sprouts as well.
What did the rabbi mean to accomplish with this story?
Philippos, the strict Baptist disciple, said: Yes, Rabbi, but when a tree bears bad fruit, one cuts it down. Didn’t you once curse a fig tree because it bore no fruit in winter?
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
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Luise Rinser (1911 - 2002), a schoolteacher who faced execution by the Nazis and lived to write about it, became one of the most celebrated and politically engaged authors in Germany. A best-selling novelist, diarist, short-story writer and political essayist, Ms. Rinser published about 30 books. Her works sold more than five million copies in 24 languages.