For the setting and a cast of characters for this series, click here.
Simon held Yiftach’s gaze for a long moment. Several emotions played fleetingly across his face before the anger lines and tension eased from his expression, replaced by something that Yiftach thought might have been sadness. But as Simon pushed off from the tree and got to his feet, his face hardened once more as he looked down at Yiftach.
“It sounds like you’ve made your choice then. Which means you won’t be needing that.” He pointed at the sword lying beside Yiftach. Yiftach’s hand leapt reflexively to the hilt, but then it dropped back to his side. He offered no resistance as Simon leaned down and picked up the weapon. “I will find someone whose allegiance lies with his people to give this to. Someone who understands the meaning of fidelity and friendship. Someone I trust, as I once trusted you. Farewell Yiftach.” He turned, and walked away without looking back.
As Yiftach approached the gateway into the courtyard where the ecclesia was gathering, he felt hot tears splash on his cheeks, and he turned aside to wipe them away. Had he really made his choice? Or had Yiftach just made it for him? Was he truly going to turn aside from the path to liberation he had walked for so many years to now join the Way? Was he really turning his back on the band of brothers with whom he had shed blood to align himself with this – he had to admit – vilified sect? Did he believe – as they did – that this Yeshua was the Messiah? In that moment he didn’t know what was true of himself. But then his stomach rumbled, and a wry smile broke out on his face. One thing is true, he thought. I’m hungry as usual. And he stepped into the courtyard.
As Mark observed Yiftach from across the courtyard, he noticed that his young friend looked troubled. He seemed to eat the food before him without tasting it, and was not engaged with the conversation that flowed around him. He didn’t even seem to be giving Rachel the attention Mark had noticed over the past few evenings. When Yiftach looked up and caught Mark looking at him with concern, he quickly looked down and studiously avoided making eye contact again. As Mark got to his feet, he made a mental note to try and catch Yiftach before he left.
“My friends,” Mark began, “I’d like to pick up the story where I left off last night. Peter told me that after Jesus fed the crowds, he immediately made his disciples get into a boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the lake, to Bethsaida, while he himself was sending the crowd away.” Rachel spoke up. “Why would Jesus do that? If he wants people to understand that he is the Messiah he could have made sure everyone there understood what had just happened. I mean, there must have been some excitement in the crowd after he fed them all, surely? Why wouldn’t he encourage that – if only for his disciples’ sake?”
“I don’t know, Rachel,” Mark responded. “Peter indicated that there were some in the crowd who were ready to march on Jerusalem there and then and make him Messiah by force, which was never Jesus’ intent. Word was already getting around about Jesus as we heard a few nights ago, and if what Herod had done to John the Baptizer was anything to go by, Jesus certainly didn’t want that kind of attention. Whatever the reason, after bidding them farewell, he left for the mountain to pray.”
“When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. He saw them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them. At about the fourth watch of the night, in the darkness before the dawn, Jesus came to them, walking on the sea; and he intended to pass them by.” Yiftach had been listening somewhat distractedly to Mark’s words, but now he sat bolt upright and called out, “What? Now you’re telling us Jesus could walk on water?!” He looked at his neighbors, spluttering, “And you all believe this latest tale? On top of feeding thousands of people with a few hunks of bread and some dried fish?” He sat back, his arms folded rigidly across his chest, his face a fury. The woman sitting to his right leaned away slightly. Mark held Yiftach’s gaze, understanding that something lay beneath his fierce response besides sheer disbelief, but not yet knowing what it was…