Mark found himself strolling around the courtyard in the shadows of late afternoon, his lips moving in silent prayer. He paused from time to time to lay a hand unthinkingly on a bench, or a tree as a distant memory overtook him. The scuff of sandal on stone interrupted his prayerful reverie and he turned to see Yiftach standing in the gateway. “Yiftach! Come in, come in.” As Yiftach approached, Mark indicated one of the benches, and they sat down together. Yiftach leaned forward, contemplating the hands he folded in his lap. Mark said nothing, waiting for his young companion to speak whatever was on his mind.
Eventually Yiftach straightened up and turned to Mark. “I wanted to try and catch you alone before the gathering this evening. I find my thoughts are increasingly…troubled by what I have heard you say over these last few nights.” Mark nodded, encouraging Yiftach to continue. “I was a simple farmer when I met Simon bar Giora, and he turned my world upside down.” He looked down at his hands once more. “These hands were calloused from the plow handle and from pulling out the rough stones the plow uncovered. Within a year of meeting Simon and moving into the hills, I had lost the callouses as I learned to wield first a knife, and then the sword. Rough hands that had always had dirt under the cracked fingernails, turned softer, and now had blood under the nails.”
He looked up at Mark again. “But you must understand, Simon turned my world upside down with hope. He gave my life meaning, he gave me a brotherhood I did not know I had longed for. And I believed in something, perhaps for the first time in my life. I have placed my life in his hands on many occasions, ultimately following him to Jerusalem, so I can play my role in the final battle against Caesar’s legions out there.” He gestured down the mountain with his chin. “But…?” Mark said gently. Yiftach held his gaze before continuing. “But…now I have doubts. I have given my allegiance to Simon and the cause – I love that man – but all that you have said about Jesus, and his way has me…conflicted.” He looked down at his hands again.
“I heard that in something you said last night,” said Mark. “Yes,” Yiftach replied, “for which my friend berated me afterwards. He believes my faith in our promised victory is waning.” He turned to Mark earnestly. “And I confess that it is. I find myself wanting to be here, among your ecclesia, listening to these stories of Jesus, more than drinking wine and making battle plans with my friends with whom I have shed blood. And I do not know what to do with that feeling. Because I am far from convinced that this kingdom you talk about is any more likely to come than the one Simon promises.”
“These parables you tell, about soil and seeds and farmers – that is the world I left behind for the world of cold steel and banditry. I left the world of powerlessness far behind, and learned the power of the blade and brotherhood.” He laughed self-mockingly. “Oh, in some ways I knew we were just playing at revolution. Knifing a Roman soldier in the back and running away. Killing the occasional collaborator or tax-collector. Stealing food from our fellow countrymen who I knew could not spare it, and who might have shared it with us anyway. But then…” He paused. “But then,” picked up Mark, “came the battle of Beth Horon.” “Yes!” exclaimed Yiftach. “We defeated the Syrian legion of Cestius Gallus! 6,000 troops killed – the greatest defeat the Roman army has ever suffered – at our hands! And then, when Vespasian brought down the wrath of Rome upon us, and then suddenly stopped out there” he gestured with his chin once more, “Well, why not believe that G_d was with us, and that the final battle was at hand?”
“Why not, indeed?” asked Mark. Yiftach’s shoulders slumped. “Because we started fighting with ourselves, that’s why. John of Gischala, the Zealots – it’s no wonder the city elite invited Simon to lead us into the city and try to bring some sense of order. I believed each faction would rally to his banner, but no, we each control our own part of the temple or city. And no doubt the Romans just sit out there and laugh at us. Before…” “…before they receive the order to besiege the city,” completed Mark. “Yes,” replied Yiftach, his eyes dropping once more to his hands.
He spoke softly, his eyes rooted firmly downward. “I guess you have forced me to see the truth I did not wish to see. And all the hope and belief I have developed over the years is being stripped away.” He looked up at Mark, a pleading look in his eyes. “But I find I cannot embrace the hope and belief you have. So where does that leave me? If Simon’s 15,000 troops cannot defeat the power of Rome, then what can your ecclesia do? Because the mustard seed of your story may indeed grow into a tree, but that tree can be cut down. What power does your Jesus – do you! –truly have? Where is this kingdom? Tell me.”
Mark laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder, looking up to see the first members of the ecclesia to arrive walking into the courtyard and said, “What power? Tonight’s story may hold an answer to your question…”