Chapter 1 The Journey
The time of the olive harvest arrived and I awoke at the first light of day and went to fetch water at the well. Lowering the goatskin into the cistern, I recalled the story Abraham told me a week ago when he came from Jerusalem. The old friend of Cousin Jonathan still lived in the Holy City with his father Simon, his wife Marianne and their two sons. He belonged to The Way and often related tales from the life of Yeshua, the Messiah.
Yeshua was known to associate with sinners even the loose woman from Samaria He met at Jacob’s well. As Abraham often repeated, the Messiah looked into the heart and knew the longings of those He met while He walked on the earth. He saw the ambitious, pompous longings of a great many Pharisees and religious leaders. But when He met the Samaritan woman who had lived with five husbands and now a sixth man who was not her husband, Yeshua saw an open heart.
Pulling up the goatskin, I saw my own reflection in the water of the shallow well. A picture flashed in my mind from five years ago when my family and I were baptized by Philip the Evangelist. My siblings were all married now. Only I remained to care for my parents. The eyes looking up at me reflected the strain of being tied to this place. If the Messiah looked into this heart of mine, He would see the yearnings residing there. I wondered if Yeshua would condemn the selfishness in me?
“Matthias, hurry. We have much work to accomplish this day,” Father said interrupting my day dreams.
“Coming, Father,” I said feeling guilty for the desire to leave my parents, especially since they were the kindest people and most deserving of my devotion.
I loved the family who lived here: Aunt Avigail, my grandparents and cousins, and also the family of Matthew of Cana who owned the groves where we worked. They were relatives of Cousin Jonathan’s wife Sarai, whom I never knew because she died before my birth. In spite of the loving family and friends surrounding me, I could not help thinking about what lay beyond this cluster of humble dwellings a few miles from Jerusalem.
All of us belonged to the Way and believed in Yeshua. Sometimes we journeyed the few miles to Jerusalem and met with Peter, the Apostle chosen by Yeshua to lead the Way. Yesterday Father announced that we would join Peter and a group of believers in the Holy City on the day after the Sabbath. We knew some of the Jewish leaders, the Sadducees and Pharisees and also Herod and the Romans sought to wipe out the ‘cult of Yeshua’ and persecutions were taking place in the city. However, being in the presence of Peter and the others who actually spent three years with the Messiah, the Son of God, was worth the risk.
In fact my friends and I were drawn to the adventure. We had several narrow escapes from discovery by outsiders, even one time by a Pharisee. We had heard the story of a Greek speaking deacon named Stephen who was stoned at the Sheep Gate some time after Pentecost when the Spirit came upon him and three thousand others. I remembered Father telling us how Cousin Jonathan and his friend Josephus of Capharnaum witnessed the martyrdom of the deacon. This happened just before my uncle left for Caesarea where Philip, also a Greek speaking deacon like Stephen, was to eventually join him.
All these thoughts ran through my mind as Father and I walked toward the groves. A week ago we had observed the feast of Atonement, the Holiest day for Jews. This year the ten days of reflecting on my sins centered around this burning desire to leave my parents and meet Cousin Jonathan in Caesarea.
I wondered if this dream of mine came from the Spirit of God or was it my own fantasy, my own desire. For now, obedience to take care of my parents kept me here. Yes, I must spend these precious days with them for this was only one season of my life.
“Come Matthias. Grab hold of the other side of the cloth. This tree must have been here since the time of Abraham. The wood looks as old as Methuselah. Son, here take the stick. You seem far away in thought but it is time for work not day dreaming.”
“Yes, Father. There is a time for everything under the sun.”
I held the stick tightly and swung at the branches above my head. The olives rained down unto the cloth we had spread beneath the tree. I stepped to one side but the first falling fruit pelted my arms and oil dampened my skin. The olives continued to fall and oil from the bruised fruit soaked into the cloth. After two more swipes, Father and I dumped the olives in a basket and squeezed the oil from the cloth into a large flask. This oil would be used to burn in the menorah of the Holy Temple.
Wielding the sticks at the branches continued throughout the daylight hours. We stopped only for water as the sweat dripped from our bodies. The work was exhausting yet gratifying. Aunt Avigail often came to the groves with some flat bread, goat cheese and figs. We would sit with her a few minutes and take sips of sweet wine she brought. My aunt was quite different from my father. You might even say she was overbearing at times, while his manner remained steady and mild. I was more like her but sometimes wished for a portion of my father’s serenity.
When I glimpsed Aunt Avigail coming toward us through the trees, it did not surprise me. However, reaching us we saw she carried no wine or food and stood before us breathless and trembling.
“Avigail, what is it?” Father asked gently gripping her shoulders.
“Hadar, it’s, it’s Jonathan!” she gasped. “He is ill, gravely ill.”
“Cousin Jonathan in Caesarea?” I asked.
“Yes, he has the fever. Philip sent a messenger for someone to come. He may die,” she said. Looking at Father tears came into her eyes. “I’m sorry, Hadar. So sorry. You must go.”
He turned away and began sobbing and said,“I can’t go. Not now, my dear sister. The olives won’t wait.”
Father looked at me and with some effort said, “I will send you, Matthias.”