The Naked Man – pt. 18

Broken gobletsMark and Simeon watched as Benyamin entered the house, followed by his mother, her hands resting on the shoulders of her great-grandchildren. They stood in silence for a while before Simeon spoke. “Something must have happened for your brother to bring the children here this late.” Mark nodded. Simeon stepped forward so he could look at Mark. “It has been hard for your brother since Joseph died.” Again Mark nodded, but remained silent. “Those children have brought much light into his life, but Samuel looks so much like his father, that I’m sure every time Benyamin looks at him he is reminded of the loss of his son.”

Mark finally turned from staring at the house and looked at his old friend. He laid a hand on his shoulder. “Yes. Yes, I can only imagine how hard it has been for him. To bury your child is bad enough. But to lose him to a civil war you are somewhat responsible for,” his eyes returned to the house, “what guilt must that evoke in a father?” They stood in silence for a moment longer. “I will go and see if I can help with anything,” Mark said. “Good night, Simeon. I will see you tomorrow evening.” Simeon offered Mark a blessing, and then shuffled across the courtyard. Mark took a deep breath, blew out his cheeks and then strode towards the house.

Mark stepped into the reception hall and found his mother sitting with a shawl around her shoulders, looking anxiously towards the stairs. “Benyamin is getting them settled in their room,” she said. She shivered, and not just from the cool night air. “I don’t know why he brought them here. Something has happened.” Mark sat down beside his mother and took her hand. “Yes, but let us wait to hear from Benyamin. ‘Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.’” His mother offered him a careworn smile before responding, “Yes. But Jesus went on to say, ‘Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ What trouble has found its way to Benyamin’s household?”

“The usual.” Mark jumped: he had not heard his brother descend the stairs. Benyamin looked intently at Mark before crossing to join them, pulling up a stool and sitting down. He poured wine into a goblet, downed it in one long swallow, and then refilled it. “How are the children?” asked Miryam. “They are tired and a little scared,” he replied. “But they will sleep now, I think.” Miryam leaned forward, groaning a little as she shifted her weight. “What scared them Benyamin?” He glanced at Mark before saying, “The shouting. The arguing. The threats.” His tone became bitter as he sneered, “All that which supposedly passes for civic discourse these days.” Seeing the concerned look on his mother’s face, his face softened. He ran his fingers through his hair as he continued. “Some of the Council met at my home tonight. Mostly those who supported the decision to invite Simon bar Giora to enter Jerusalem and quash the Zealot forces. He has managed to establish relative peace which has just about made the streets of our city safe to walk again. But with the Romans just sitting out there, waiting, the tension on the Council has become almost unbearable. And so we squabble – we the leaders, arguing like the common city folk, divided into factions supporting Simon, or John of Giscala or Eleazar ben Simon. First we debate, then we shout, and then we threaten. I looked up and saw little David sitting on the stairs, crying. I walked over and scooped him up, then woke the others and brought them all here. This has always been a house of peace. Mine is not.”

An awkward silence fell, until Mark finally said, “It is good to see you, Benyamin. I have missed you.” Benyamin cast a sideways glance at Mark before he responded. “Really? I doubt that I cross your mind very often, Yohannan. After all, you have a new family now, do you not? Hundreds of brothers and sisters – spread throughout the Empire it would seem. No, I do not think you miss me. Or any of us – except mother. You abandoned us, turned your back on your own people. You say you miss me? What has it been, twenty years or more since you were last in the City of David?” Seeing Mark about to speak, Benyamin held up a hand, palm outward. “No, don’t say anything. You made your choice a long time ago.” He stood, finished off his wine and walked towards the opening to the courtyard. He turned and said, “I must return to see if I can talk some sense into them. To remind them that our enemies are outside the walls. Cooler heads must prevail, or we will go back to doing the Romans’ work for them.” He spun on his heel and left.

Miryam looked at her oldest son, both their faces etched with sadness. “Mother…” he began. “I know,” she said. “He carries a heavy burden. He has lost much, and stands to lose much more. It is not just you. He has not spoken to your brother Daniel in years either.” She pushed herself to her feet slowly, Mark rising quickly to help her. “My three boys – all seeking to be faithful to G_d, I believe, each in their own way. Two still waiting for Messiah. Nothing I have said over the years seems to crack their hard shells, to become open to the Gospel of the kingdom. I am tired, Yohannan. So tired. Every day I pray for Jesus to return. And every day, I pray for your brothers.

“As do I, mother, as do I,” Mark said. Miryam walked to the stairs. “I am going to bed.” “I will sit here a while longer,” said Mark. “Goodnight mother. May the Lord bless you, and keep you…”

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