The Naked Man – pt. 45

prophet-speaks-to-king-croppedThe mood in the courtyard was subdued during the meal. There had been fresh outbreaks of violence overnight, with some of Simon bar Giora’s troops attacking temple-goers who they accused of being zealots. Complaints by the victims’ families to the Council had been met with disdain: the ruling elite apparently dismissed the incidents as merely “security concerns.” I wonder what Benyamin has to say about all this, thought Mark as he got to his feet to address the gathering.

“Last night Ya’el asked a question about the threat of violence that hung over the disciples after they were sent out by Jesus. The power of G_d was at work in them as it was in Jesus, and they were casting out demons and healing people. Now ‘king’ Herod heard of this, for Jesus’ name had become well known; and people were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.’ But others were saying, ‘He is Elijah.’ Still others were saying, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he clearly feared that John had indeed returned to haunt him, for he kept saying, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has risen!’”

Yiftach spoke up. “King Herod? That’s old fox was never king!” “No,” agreed Mark, “but it wasn’t for lack of trying.” Seeing some confused looks among those gathered, Mark explained. “Herod Antipas was tetrach of Galilee and Perea for four decades, but his sights were always aimed higher than that. Caesar Augustus refused to give him the royal title he craved, but he kept using it anyway, apparently goaded into doing so by his second wife. His own people would never own him as their king: the Herodian dynasty was half-Jewish, but they showed little interest in keeping the Law unless it was expedient to do so. Antipas was a prime example of his family’s disregard for our people. When he built his capital city, he named it Tiberias, no doubt hoping to curry favor with the new Emperor, but the site he chose was an ancient cemetery, which meant any who chose to settle there would be perpetually unclean. But it was his marriage more than his aspirations to monarchy that drew the ire of John.

“Herod had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her after repudiating his first marriage to the daughter of Aretas IV of Nabatea. Now, John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ So Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death but could not do so; for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.”

“But,” Yiftach interjected, “not enough to do what John said apparently.” “Indeed not,” responded Mark. “He was right to be afraid of John. The flouting of G_d’s Law always drew the attention of G_d’s prophets. The people listened when John spoke out against Herod’s re-marriage, and I imagine some heard a call to insurrection in John’s critique. And with the ongoing threat of the insulted and incensed Nabateans to the East, attempting to silence John by imprisoning him was only natural. But Herod stopped short of killing him, despite the urging of Herodias. So she formed a plan to remove the threat John posed to her marriage and to her husband’s honor, waiting patiently until just the right moment to put it into action…”

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Best books of 2016 – fiction

I love ‘Best of…’ lists, especially ‘Best books’ lists. Here’s my annual offering – I hope you find something to look for on your next visit to the library! (Note: although I read the following books last year, many of them were not published in 2016.)

img_0491my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry – Fredrik Backman

My favourite novel this year. Blurring the lines between fairy tale and reality, the author introduces us to Elsa, an “almost 8 year-old” whose granny invented a magical fairyland for her called “the Land-Of-Almost-Awake.” Granny sets Elsa the task of delivering letters to people she needs to apologize to. As she meets each person, Elsa begins to make connections between her granny’s beloved fairy tales and these people. Laugh out loud funny in places, devastating in others, heart breakingly beautiful and broken throughout. A triumph.

With racism, xenophobia and nationalism front and center in our newsfeeds this year, I chose to immerse myself in fiction set in World War 2 and the Shoah, to remind myself just how terrifying these movements can become.

rose-under-fireI began with Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein. A harrowing account of life in Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, told from the perspective of an 18 year-old American transport pilot, mistakenly sent there after being captured. An unrelentingly painful and disturbing narrative that somehow still manages to capture the beauty of unlikely friendships forged in unbearable circumstances.

thread-of-graceA Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. Regardless of genre, Russell never disappoints. A powerful portrayal of the new-to-me story of how Italian peasants hid tens of thousands of European Jewish refugees during the German occupation of Italy from ’44-’45. Compelling characters, unflinching and brutal, her story allows no fairy-tale ending for the main characters.

salt-to-the-sea-by-ruta-sepetysSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Four characters flee from the advancing Russian army in Poland, trying to get to ships the German army has arranged to evacuate the populace and wounded soldiers. As the story unfolds it becomes a rarely-told account of the worst maritime disaster ever: 9,000 people (5,000 of them children) drowning in icy waters after a Russian submarine torpedoes the Wilhelmina Gustloff.

berlin-boxing-clubThe Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow. I read this in a single sitting. An absolutely riveting story of a German Jewish teenager in the late ’30s who does not identify as Jewish, which makes the narrative voice quite different than similar novels. Boxing becomes his salvation and the occasional mentoring he receives from champion and German hero Max Schmeling leads to a tense and brutal conclusion. Fantastic.

the-hummingbirdThe Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kieran. Deborah Birch is assigned to be the latest hospice nurse for a crotchety retired professor. As she slowly earns his trust, they are both surprised by what they gain from each other: he, someone to read him his controversial final book about a WW2 Japanese pilot who fire-bombed the Oregon forests; she, insight into her PTSD-suffering husband. Absolutely riveting, beautifully written, with an authentic, hopeful ending.

how-the-light-gets-inIn murder mysteries, How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny was the standout this year. The ninth outing for the Québécois opens with Chief Superintendent Francouer decimating Chief Inspector Gamache’s homicide unit, his blatant intent to drive Gamache into retirement before he uncovers the details of the conspiracy he has long investigated. Gamache returns to Three Pines following the murder of an old friend of a village resident, and the various plot lines unfold with increasing tension before the breath-taking climax. Simply stunning. Again.

the-stagesThe Stages by Thom Satterlee offers a fascinating first-person perspective for a crime thriller. An American expert in Kierkegaard who lives with Asperger’s becomes the chief suspect in a murder enquiry in Copenhagen. His inability to appreciate other peoples’ emotions continually creates problems for him during the investigation. Very different, very enjoyable.

open-seasonI’m always on the look out for new series in this genre, and the standout character I discovered this year was Joe Pickett, C. J. Box’s Wyoming game warden. The series opener is Open Season, in which a series of murders leads to Pickett’s uncovering of a conspiracy centering on a small mammal his daughter finds. A cracking adventure, with a likable character.

the-well-of-ascensionIn fantasy, The Well of Ascension, the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series was the clear winner. Truly worthy of the appellation “epic,” the story continues with Elend Venture awakening to the new world wrought by the destruction of the immortal Lord Ruler. But he and his beloved Vin have no time to enjoy his dream of a more just society, as three rival armies descend upon his capital city to besiege it. Vin becomes entangled with Elend’s half-brother, a fellow Mistborn, as well as coming to believe that she might be the messiah-like figure of legend to bring about the true new world. Sanderson’s ability to create compelling fully-realized worlds is quite amazing.

Children’s fiction

Our kids continue to be voracious readers – I think Maggie averaged 3 books a week this year. Of the ones I read with them, these three were my favourites:

breaking-stalins-noseBreaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Velchin captures the brutalizing fear and suspicion endemic of Stalin’s Russia through the eyes of Sasha, a middle-schooler whose whole world is turned upside-down in just two days.

the-graveyard-bookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a novel inspired by and highly reminiscent of the Jungle Book. A toddler is saved from his parent’s murderer by ghosts, who raise him as Bod (“Nobody”) in their graveyard. A series of short adventures unfolds as the boy grows up, culminating in the revelation of why he was targeted for death. Fantastic, as Gaiman always is.

dodger-by-terry-pratchettDodger by the sorely-missed Terry Pratchett, is the story of a street urchin in Victorian London who makes a living scavenging in the sewers. He saves an upper class girl from being kidnapped, and then, with the unlikely assistance of Charles Dickens, the police and some noblemen, saves the realm from a political nightmare, and possibly war. Fabulous.

Well, that’s my ‘best of fiction’ list for another year. If you’d like to see my recommendations from previous years, click here: 2013, 2014, 2015.

(I link to Amazon as a convenience and as a participant in their Associates Program. I encourage you to buy books where you want to see them sold. Or check them out of your local library.)

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The Naked Man – pt. 44


“Jesus summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and he instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; but to wear sandals; and he added, ‘Do not put on two tunics.'” Mark took a sip of wine before continuing. “When Jesus initially called the twelve to be with him, he told them he would send them out to preach and have authority over unclean spirits, and now the time had come to do just that.

“As they went, they would proclaim the same message as Jesus, and as John the baptizer before him: ‘Repent!’ Jesus’ instructions forced the disciples to rely on the hospitality of others. Take no bread, no money – not even a change of clothes. Jesus had been rejected by his own and from that point on relied upon the kindness of strangers, as would his disciples as he sent them out.

“And he said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. And any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.'” Yiftach spoke up. “That sounds familiar. When we traveled with Simon bar Giora, we were always looking for safe houses – places we could stay overnight, with maybe a loaf of bread to share. People sympathetic to the cause. But we never stayed longer than a night, for fear of a neighbor turning us in to the Romans.”

Mark nodded. “I’m sure not everyone was pleased to see your band arrive in their village. And certainly not everyone welcomed the twelve – nor the message Jesus’ disciples carried. Occasionally no one could be found to host them, and Jesus was clear what they were to do when that happened: a visible break with that community – not even taking the dust of the place with them. But those villages where hospitality could be found became central to the mission of Jesus as he and his disciples traveled around Galilee over the years.

“And so the twelve went out and preached that people should repent. And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. The kingdom of G_d was coming on earth as it is in heaven. Some were glad to see it – many were not. But always the threat of violence hung over their heads.” Why?” asked Ya’el. “I could see people refusing to host them. But doing violence to them?” Miryam sat forward. “It wasn’t the villagers that caused such concern. It was Herod.” “Herod? Why? How would he even know what they were doing?” Miryam replied somberly. “He may not have done. At least at first. But he had certainly heard about Jesus. And what Herod had done to John gave them cause for great concern.” Ya’el leaned in. “Why? What did Herod do to John?” Miryam turned towards Mark, who responded. “Perhaps we should save that story for when we gather tomorrow night…”

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The Naked Man – pt. 43

Rejection Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.

Having settled his mother in her seat, Mark surveyed the courtyard as people continued to arrive for the evening gathering. He noted Yiftach in typically animated conversation with a friend. He also noted with interest Adina’s occasional sideways glance at Yiftach and the smile she tried to hide behind a hand. He rose to his feet and the courtyard gradually grew quiet.

“After the dramatic events in Capernaum, Jesus left there and came to his home town, Nazareth, and his disciples followed him. Word about what had happened in Capernaum went ahead of him, and when the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished. They said, ‘Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to him, and such miracles as these performed by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”

“Wow, that’s quite the put-down,” said Yiftach. Mark gestured for him to elaborate. “Well, they make it sound like he’s the last person who should be doing those kinds of things. Teaching with wisdom and authority, healing.”

Devorah spoke up. “And ‘son of Mary’? Why would they say that? Why not, ‘son of whatever his father’s name was’?” “Why would they say that?” asked Mark. Devorah’s cheeks flushed as she responded. “Well, they’re you know, questioning his…” Her voice tailed off. Yiftach finished her thought. “They’re saying he’s a bastard.” “Quite so,” said Mark. “And,” continued Yiftach, “saying, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter?’ is dismissing him as just the local handyman. As if someone with thick callouses and muscles couldn’t possibly say the things he was saying. Or do the things he was doing.”

Miryam leaned forward and spoke. “And so they can dismiss both him and his message. The Kingdom of G_d that Jesus proclaimed threatened to overturn all they knew and understood – it truly was dangerous. So they call him illegitimate and ignorant and have an excuse to take offense. And then reject him.” Devorah’s brow wrinkled as she asked, “How did Jesus respond?” Mark continued. “And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household.'”

“Even in his own household?” Ya’el asked, a note of astonishment in her voice. “Apparently so,” said Mark. “Even his own brothers seemed to have a hard time accepting him. At least, to begin with.” “I can understand that,” said Yiftach. “It’s not always easy to accept the ‘local boy made good.’ And when it’s your oldest brother… I can see them being a little puzzled by all the fuss – maybe even angry. Resentful. I imagine their neighbors laughing at them behind their backs. ‘There goes James – I wonder what that crazy bastard brother of his is up to now.’ That’s got to be hard. And confusing.”

Miryam noticed the flash of pain that crossed Mark’s face, and knew that he was thinking of his own brothers, just as she was. She spoke up. “And yet James would come in time to embrace his brother as the Messiah. He led the church here in Jerusalem for thirty years, and presided at the Council where the question of just how the gentiles would participate in the Kingdom of G_d movement was settled.” She offered Mark an encouraging smile, who returned it gratefully. Ya’el noticed the exchange, and looked confused, not understanding what lay behind it.

She continued. “Jesus had already redefined family when he said, ‘The one who does the will of G_d is my brother and sister and mother.’ But saying this in his hometown marked his break with kinship structures. Only those who were open to the gospel he proclaimed and the new order he was bringing would experience what G_d was doing wherever he went.” “Indeed,” said Mark. “Jesus could do no miracles there in Nazareth except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he wondered at their unbelief. For there were many in Nazareth who needed what Jesus had to offer, but their suspicion of the local boy prevented them from receiving it. So he left to go around the neighboring villages teaching. That was Jesus’ last public appearance in a synagogue on the sabbath.”

Devorah shook her head slowly and said, “How sad. To be rejected by your own people. By the ones who surely ought to know better.” Miryam responded. “Heartbreakingly so, my dear. But this incident just points ahead to the time when Jesus – the Messiah – will ‘come home’ to Jerusalem and there also be rejected, with truly terrible consequences.”

“And so,” Mark said, “his own people having rejected him, Jesus continued with those he had chosen and who had chosen him. He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs…”

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The Naked Man – pt. 42


Adina pressed Mark. “Why would Jesus say that? That’s, that’s…cruel. The man’s just been told his daughter has died, and Jesus’ response is, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.’? What kind of faith?!” “Perhaps,” Miryam responded gently, “the same kind of faith the woman had just shown. That G_d’s healing power was available in the presence of Jesus.” She paused. “I’ve often wondered if Jairus looked from Jesus to the woman and back again. And if he felt any kind of hope as he did so.” Adina’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “What possible hope could he have? Did Jesus say anything else to him?”

Mark picked up the story. “Capernaum is a small village, and it wasn’t far to Jairus’ home. Without saying anything further, Jesus strode off with Jairus, allowing no one to follow him except Peter, James and his brother John. And they came to the house of the synagogue official, where he saw a commotion, people loudly weeping and wailing. And entering the courtyard, he said to them, ‘Why make such a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.’ The professional mourners began laughing at him. Who was this man to walk in and make such a ridiculous claim?”

“A man who tells stories about seeds that sleep in the soil while the farmer goes about his business until the day they rise from the ground.” Attention shifted to Simeon as he spoke these words. “A man who talks about great reversals: the first becoming the last; the greatest becoming the least; losing one’s life in order to live.”

“But she was dead,” insisted Adina. “That’s why the mourners had been called.” “Indeed she was,” responded Mark. “Jesus threw out the mourners, then took the child’s father and mother and his own companions and entered the room where the child was. When Peter told me this story, he said the room already smelled of death when they entered. Jesus knelt at the girl’s side, took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha kum!’ – ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’” Mark turned to his mother, whose eyes had that twinkle in them again. He smiled, turned back to Adina and said, “And immediately the girl rose and walked.”

Adina’s jaw dropped. She turned from Mark to Miryam, looking for some sign that this was just some kind of joke. They held her gaze until she blurted out, “You’re serious. You’re saying Jesus raised this girl from her death bed. I…I…” Her voice tailed off and she fell silent. Yiftach’s voice broke the silence. “How is it I’ve never heard this story before? That’s the kind of story that wouldn’t be forgotten in the hills of Galilee.”

Mark replied, “Of course – those present were completely astounded. But Peter told me that Jesus gave them strict instructions that no one should know about this; and then Jesus told them they should give the girl something to eat.” Ya’el looked over at Yiftach and said, “But why wouldn’t Jesus want people to know he’d done that? I mean, who but a great prophet of G_d could do something like that?” Those gathered looked from Yiftach to Mark and back again, waiting for a response from one of them.

Yiftach stroked his beard as he began to speak slowly, thinking through the implications of what had been said. “I think I see the wisdom of keeping it quiet. Our small band of insurrectionists had to hide from the Romans and Herod’s troops in the hills of Galilee. If we were perceived as a threat, what would someone like Jesus have seemed like to Herod? Someone leading a kingdom of G_d movement with this kind of power? Herod would have had him hunted down and killed as soon as he heard about it.”

Mark nodded at these words. “I think that’s right, Yiftach. Jesus will confront the power of Herod, and Rome and the Temple – the very systems that oppress women like the one who reached out for healing – but not with an army following a man who could raise people from the dead. No – Jesus will confront the powers – and Death itself – by submitting himself to their power. And those of us who followed him would need to remember this story when that happened. Because just as the announcement “your daughter has died” seemingly brought an end to Jairus’ hopes, when Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross, we would need to remember Jesus’ words to Jairus: ‘Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.’”

As Mark’s words echoed across the courtyard, Miryam pushed herself up from her seat. “We may think this story is about Jairus, but it is really a tale of two women. One has lived a life of privilege for 12 years as the daughter of one of the leaders of the synagogue: the other has been excluded from the community for those same 12 years. Yet Jesus heals them both. For the revolution of G_d is not to bring down oppressors and merely replace them with the oppressed. It is to bring an entirely new social order with equal status for all.”

Miryam saw the looks of confusion on the faces of Rachel’s friends, and offered them a reassuring smile. “I know: this is a lot to take in on your first time to be with us. But I hope you will keep coming back to break bread with us – and to hear more.” Adina shook her head as she said, “You’re right. I don’t know what to think about all this. Nothing has prepared me to hear something like this.”

Mark moved to his mother’s side and placed his arm around her shoulders. “Then you’re in good company, Adina. Because those who knew Jesus best didn’t know what to make of all this either. As we will hear when we gather tomorrow evening…”

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The Naked Man – pt. 41

Woman with the issue of blood - Angela Johnson

From his place beside his mother, Mark surveyed the gathering. He was pleased to see that Adina, Devorah and Ya’el appeared to be comfortable in their new surroundings, although all three cast sideways glances from time to time. He smiled – how many times had he sat at table with Jesus, or Peter, or Paul, and seen newcomers to the table act in the same way? It took time to become accustomed to sharing table fellowship with those one would not normally dine with. He rose to his feet, and began the story Miryam had suggested.

“When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a great multitude gathered about him; and he stayed by the seashore. And one of the synagogue officials there in Capernaum, a man named Jairus came up, and upon seeing Jesus, fell at his feet. He begged him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay your hands on her, that she may get well and live.’”

“That’s hard to imagine,” said Yiftach. “Indeed,” responded Mark. “Many in the Capernaum synagogue feared that word of this new kingdom of G_d movement would reach the ears of Herod Antipas, knowing his lack of tolerance for anything that even remotely challenged his power. I’m sure they kept their distance from Jesus as much as possible. But when people heard that Jairus had approached Jesus as an equal, even prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet, well, what would they make of that?”

“I’m sure all that went through Jairus’ mind that morning,” Miryam said. “But sometimes a father’s love is stronger than his fear of reprisal from the powers-that-be. Stronger than any concern for the whispers that would no doubt greet his entry at the synagogue the following sabbath.” Mark nodded and continued. “Jesus went off with him; and a great multitude was following him and pressing in on him. Now, there was a woman in the crowd who had suffered from continual bleeding for twelve years. She had endured much at the hands of many physicians and had spent all that she had. But they had not helped her at all, but rather, had made things worse.”

Angry mutters from a few of those gathered greeted these words. Most knew what it was to squander limited resources on medical care that did not help. Ya’el spoke up, tentatively. “That poor woman. To suffer in that way for so long. To be so isolated because of her impurity.” “And how brave,” interjected Devorah, “to risk exposure by joining the crowd around Jesus.” She turned to Mark. “But what could she possibly hope for? Jesus was acting on behalf of an official of the synagogue – he wouldn’t stop for a request for help from one such as this woman.”

Mark smiled. “That thought may well have been foremost in her mind, which perhaps makes her all the braver. After hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind him and reached out to touch his garments. For she thought, If I just touch his garments, I shall get well. And immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.” Immediately Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see the multitude pressing in on you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’

“If she had hoped to slip away unnoticed, that was now impossible. Ignoring his disciples, who were trying to move him along, Jesus looked around to see the person who had done this. His eyes scanned the crowd quickly, until the woman, with fear and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”

Ya’el spoke up. “I can just picture Jairus. Wringing his hands, hopping from foot to foot. Any delay must have been torture for him. How long did they stand there? What did Jesus say to the woman?” Miryam continued the story. “Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’ ‘Daughter.’ How beautiful! I wonder what Jairus thought when he heard that word. For there he was, advocating for his own daughter who was at death’s door, only for Jesus to stop and call this woman ‘daughter,’ a woman who it seems no one had advocated for over the previous twelve years.”

Adina, eyes locked on Miryam, asked the question many were thinking. “What did Jesus mean, ‘Your faith has made you well’? What kind of faith?” “Yes,” chimed in a member of the ecclesia, “She didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. She just touched his garments. What kind of faith is that?” Miryam looked thoughtful as she responded. “Clearly faith that Jesus could heal her. And faith that healing was available to her without asking for it. Power went forth from him, which Jesus knew instantly. It must have surprised him! And as the disciples pointed out, he could not possibly have felt her touch on his garments, the crowds pressing in on him as they were. But he knew someone had touched them. Someone had faith that touching his garments would give them access to his healing power.”

“But how? Why?” Ya’el pressed. Miryam gestured towards Yiftach. “Yiftach, would you please stand for a moment?” Yiftach pushed himself to his feet, curiosity on his face. “Thank you,” said Miryam. “Now, Ya’el, you see the tzitziyot – the tassals – on Yiftach’s outer garment?” “Yes,” she responded. “I believe this woman reached out for the tzitziyot of Jesus’ garment, because she believed Jesus was messiah, and because the prophet Malachi has written that when messiah comes there will be “healing in his wings,” referring to the feathers at the edge of a bird’s wing. Or, perhaps, the tzitziyot at the edge of a man’s garment.”

As people chewed over Miryam’s response to Ya’el’s question, Adina spoke up. “So did Jairus start tugging on Jesus’ arm? I’m sure he was desperate to get home!” Mark responded this time. “While Jesus was still speaking, people came from the house of the synagogue official and said, ‘Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher anymore?’” A gasp escaped Adina’s lips. “Oh no! That poor man. Whatever did Jesus say when he heard them?” Mark responded, “As Jairus turned towards Jesus, his shoulders slumped and an agonized look spreading across his face, Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid, only believe.’”

“What?!” exclaimed Adina…

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The Naked Man – pt. 40


Mark spent the morning reading over his manuscript again. His mind often drifted back to Peter, and that cell in Rome, where he had heard so many stories of the early days of life with Jesus. Which to include, which to leave out? How did you tell the story faithfully, and in such a way that it invited faithful response? He had once more felt a sense of urgency: how much longer before the Roman legions received orders from their new emperor, and the siege began? And do I stay, or return to Rome before those orders arrive? Or do I take this gospel back to the hills of Galilee where so many of these stories took place? He laid down the manuscript, and turned to prayer.

Later that afternoon Mark wandered into the courtyard, where he discovered his mother in animated conversation with Rachel and a few other young women he did not recognize. “Ah, Yohannan,” his mother greeted him, “come and meet my new friends.” Noticing the look of surprise on the face of one of the women, Miryam laughed, and laid her hand over the young woman’s. “As you will discover if you choose to spend time with our ecclesia, Jesus has profoundly changed the ways in which we relate to one another.” She turned to Mark. “Rachel came by to see me, and brought Adina, Devorah and Ya’el with her.” Mark greeted them before taking the cup of watered down wine his mother offered him.

“Adina was a servant in our household,” Rachel began, seeing Mark’s curiosity. “After my father died, and things became hard, we had to let our servants go, and Adina returned to her father’s household. I bumped into her and her friends in the marketplace today, and your gathering came up in conversation, so I brought them to meet your mother, and to ask if your hospitality can extend to three more in the evenings.” “And I just assured her,” said Miryam, “that all are welcome here, and that we each share what we can and somehow there is always just enough.”

Adina looked at her friends before speaking. “We would be grateful to join you in the evenings. Prices in the market continue to rise, and I have not found a new household to serve. None of us have. If you will extend your patronage to us, we will honor you in the marketplace, and serve you as you tell us how.” Rachel smiled, and addressed Miryam. “I keep trying to tell them that your household is different, and your ways are…not quite subversive, but certainly different.” “I heard you were subversive – and worse!” blurted out Ya’el. “I served in the household of a member of the Council. I have waited on your son, Benyamin. On more than one occasion after he left, I heard them speak of his family in…ungenerous ways.” Miryam smiled sadly. “I imagine you did, my dear.”

Miryam turned to Mark. “Yohannan, perhaps you can tell a story this evening that would introduce these young women to the Way of Jesus and how it has re-shaped our understanding of honor and shame and how we relate to one another.” “Do you have one in mind, mother?” asked Mark. A twinkle appeared in her eyes, and Mark felt a surge of affection and then…grief. Sudden grief. He knew how tenuous life had become. He had seen the consequences of proclaiming and embodying the gospel, of being part of the Way. And yet, as he held his mother’s compassionate gaze – for she saw the rush of emotions in his face – he was reminded once more that he had determined long ago that the life he had found with Jesus and the Way was worth any cost.

“Well,” said Miryam, “there are many such stories to choose from. But I am thinking that you could tell the story of the time the synagogue leader in Capernaum approached Jesus, desperately seeking his help. Although,” she said, the twinkle returning to her eye, “it is not really his story, is it…”

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