As the members of the ecclesia rose and began to depart, Yiftach made his way across the courtyard to where Mark was in conversation with his mother and Simeon. Seeing him approach, Mark turned and held out a dish of dates. “Ah, my young friend, I am so glad you continue to join us for table fellowship and to hear the story of Jesus.” Yiftach took a date and chewed on it thoughtfully as he considered Mark’s words. “Yes,” he said eventually, “I am also glad. And somewhat surprised at myself, to be honest. I am still unsure of what to make of all this,” he said, his arm making a sweeping gesture around the courtyard, “and I admit the things you say about Jesus intrigue me. Until recently it was only my friendship with one of your members that kept me from dismissing outright this ‘gospel’ as you call it. Your community’s claim that Jesus is Messiah has always rung hollow, given that the Romans are still at our door thirty years after he was last seen in Galilee. Even if he were somehow alive as you believe, where is he? And where is this ‘kingdom’? And yet…” He took another date from the dish and turned it in his hand absentmindedly.
“And yet?” prompted Mark, gently. Yiftach looked up. “And yet, here you all are. Living like this,” his arm once more sweeping around the courtyard. “Still walking in the dust of your rabbi, living out his teaching and paying no small price for doing so. A price I am not unfamiliar with. Yet I confess, it was easy for me to follow Simon bar Giora down from the hills to fight for our land, for our people. I finally felt part of something, something bigger than myself. The comradeship, eating on the run, murmured conversation around the campfire late at night as it burned low, the feeling of exhilaration after attacking the Romans. The sorrow every time one of our number fell to a legionnaire’s sword.” His face sagged for a moment, before a spark returned to his eyes. “And there are still moments when I wonder if Simon truly might be the one who will lead us in the final battle against the enemies of G_d, if he is the one to restore the kingdom of David to us.” His eyes drifted to the south, to the dark space in the sky where the temple obscured the stars on the horizon.
Moments passed before his eyes returned to Mark’s face, then passed to Simeon’s, and finally came to rest on Miryam’s. “But over the last few nights I have felt those same feelings here. Just briefly. And perhaps not as strong. There is that same sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself here. You clearly have deep affection for each other.” Turning to Miryam he bowed low and said, “And the food is definitely better than what we ate up in the hills,” which elicited a burst of laughter from Mark’s mother, as well as a gentle bow in response.
Yiftach turned back to Mark. “When you spoke of Jesus healing people just now, I felt defensive for some reason. I recognize it is because I want to find ways to dismiss the possibility of him actually being Messiah.” He paused, seemingly embarrassed by his admission. “Because to open myself to that possibility turns everything I understand and believe about the world upside-down.” Miryam gently laid a hand on his arm. “Yes. Yes it does. I remember all too well those same feelings. I had them myself those times when Yohannan would come home after being with Jesus and talk about what Jesus had said, what he had done. I thought I was losing my son – I feared for him. Because you are right: Jesus was turning everything we know and understand about the world on its head. And his gospel continues to do so.”
Movement on the far side of the courtyard caught Miryam’s eye. Figures moved through the shadows, and as the face of the tallest was suddenly revealed in the lamplight, Miryam’s hand flew to her mouth, as she looked from the figure to Mark, standing beside her. Mark and the others turned to see a man carrying a sleeping child, and leading three others across the courtyard. As the man drew near, the three children ran to Miryam and flung their arms around her. When he reached the small group, he looked at each in turn without saying a word. Then he locked eyes with Mark for a long moment before curtly saying, “Yohannan Marcus,” and nodding a brief greeting.
“Benyamin,” Mark said, as the brother he had not seen in two decades turned and walked into the house, his mother following him inside…