SAMUEL – God’s Special Gift
This is the story of Samuel, a child with a
mental disability and his encounter with Jesus,
who became his very special friend.
Samuel knew that something was very wrong or at least completely different from any other day. He had lain awake now for a very long time, he was certain it must be hours and hours! Nevertheless, he felt very comfortable and safe in his bed with the colourful woollen blanket tucked up to his nose.
He nestled ever deeper in his warm cocoon and tried to make out familiar shapes in the room, which was quite dark as the shutters were firmly closed. Only pinpricks of light gleamed through them and as he tossed and turned, tiny specks of dust danced in the thin rays of light.
Samuel watched them, mesmerised, but he soon tired of this and he shut his eyes tightly, wishing with all his might to see Hannah, his old but beloved servant, open the door as she usually did every morning at around this time. How very strange, he thought, that she hadn’t yet appeared with his breakfast. He missed her jovial face, the huge kisses she planted constantly on his fat cheeks, and especially, her never-ending stream of funny stories.
In his mind’s eye there appeared visions of raisins, figs, dates and honey and he began to feel hungrier and hungrier. His stomach began to rumble and no amount of rubbing it could stop the strange noises it was making.
Where was Hannah, he wondered, starting to lose his patience, and when was he going to have something to eat?
Suddenly he heard a strange wailing noises coming from somewhere in the courtyard below. Maybe, he thought, it was some wild animal which had strayed inside, or maybe it was an owl which had hurt its wing and was crying out in pain.
His curiosity finally got the better of him and he leapt out of bed as fast as his short little body could manage. He ran to the window and flung open the wooden shutters, in the process flooding the room with the late morning sunshine.
Samuel stood on tiptoe and managed to lean out of the window sufficiently to see what the commotion was all about. Down below, he saw small groups of people, mostly women, some of them wearing black cloaks, hurrying into the courtyard through the main gate. He could hear crying and moaning and this made him very sad and it soon had him bursting into tears.
His sobbing soon grew into loud wailing and some people started to look up at the upstairs window and point up at him. Samuel stumbled back, frightened by the sight of so many blank, staring faces. He was not accustomed to having contact with strangers, and apart from his widowed father and elder sister and a handful of house servants, he was unfamiliar with almost everybody else in the small town of Nazareth, where he lived.
Samuel, who was just eight years old, was not like other children, either in looks or in aptitude. Although he had been born a healthy baby, it became obvious very early on that his general development was slow. He took a long time before he could walk and had certain limitations in speaking.
The grief this had caused his father, Jacob, was further accentuated by the sudden death of his mother, Miriam, shortly after his birth.
Since that terrible day Jacob had had very little time for his son, whom he blamed for the loss of his wife and whose birth he considered a punishment from God. He could not bear to look at his flat, round face with the button nose and slightly slanted eyes.
Jacob lived constantly in anguish, angry with himself and others and always asking himself, “Why has this happened? Why my son? Why me?” He was so ashamed of what people would think or say that he had decided from the very beginning that it would be better for his son never to venture outside the house or its grounds.
Although they sometimes caught quick glimpses of him in the garden, as he played among the trees and flowerbeds, the people of Nazareth did not know very much about Samuel. There were rumours and gossip about him, some even saying that he had an evil spirit.
They also felt sorry for his father, Jacob Ben Tobias, who they respected and admired as one of the town’s leading citizens.
But, coming back to Samuel, he had by now stopped crying and had retreated to a corner of the room where he sat cross-legged on the floor, feeling very confused. Suddenly he heard a creaking sound, the door opened and his sister Rachel rushed into the room. She looked very agitated, her long auburn tresses escaping from under an unfamiliar long black veil covering her head.
For a moment, she could not find her brother, then she spotted him sitting on the floor, in the corner, between the heavy wooden cedar chest and the doorway. Although she normally tended to be rather stern with him, she nevertheless loved him very much and her heart went out to him. How could she explain to him that old Hannah would never again wake him up in the mornings or prepare his meals? How could she make him understand that she would no longer be there to play with him, scold him or even tuck him up in bed at nightfall?
Rachel knew that Hannah had been the mother that her brother had never had, the only person who had really had time for him and given him all the love and understanding he so rightly deserved, but now she was dead.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Samuel’s plaintive little voice repeating over and again, “Hannah, Hannah, where is Hannah?” Rachel knelt down beside his trembling little body and hugged him tightly, staring long and hard into his sad brown eyes. Then she whispered softly, “Samuel, Hannah is gone. An angel came and took her away to join Mama in heaven. Do you understand, Samuel? Don’t cry, little brother, everything will be alright”.
For a few minutes he relaxed in her arms as she rocked him back and forth gently, but the very next moment she felt herself reeling backwards, as with a loud howl, he pushed her away violently.
Panic-stricken, he struggled to get up, and stepping over his sister, who lay in an unceremonious heap on the floor, he rushed out of the room. Down the steps he fled, in his bare feet, his short tunic flying, into the courtyard and past the groups of wailing black-clad women. To his great surprise, he saw that the main gate, which was always kept securely locked whenever he was around, had been left slightly ajar. Without another thought he run through it and for the very first time in his life, ventured out into the unknown.
Instinctively, as if realising that he would have a better chance of getting away, he veered to the left, away from the outskirts of the town and towards the surrounding low hills.
He run haphazardly over gentle slopes and ravines, past isolated mud-walled farmhouses nestling in the undulating plains, until, at last, he reached a small wooded area. Being completely out of breath, he sat down on a large boulder and examined his bare feet, which were bleeding in some places from having run over the rough terrain. Samuel felt very sorry for himself – he was tired and thirsty, hungry, hurt and lost and immediately he began to cry.
Suddenly, he heard a voice behind him saying, “Little boy, why are you crying?” He turned around but could not quite make out the tall figure silhouetted against the noonday sun. Squinting up at the stranger, Samuel sobbed, “Hannah has been stolen by an angel, the one who took Mama away. And I run away and now my feet hurt!”
Even before he had finished speaking, he felt strong arms picking him up and enfolding him. All his fears left him and his tears ceased immediately as a sense of peace totally engulfed him. He then felt himself being carried for a short distance, until presently he heard the gentle gurgling of water. The next thing he knew, he was being deposited by the pebbly bank of a fast-flowing stream.
When Samuel saw the stream, he could not resist the temptation of rushing right in and jumping up and down joyfully in the cool, refreshing water. After splashing around for a while and getting drenched in the process, he decided to take a rest and go and sit down beside the stranger.
“I’m Samuel,” he said, “and I’m hungry!” The man replied, “And I’m Jesus, and I would like to be your friend, your very special friend”.
And the unknown man took out of a pouch that he was carrying, some dried dates and a barley loaf. He blessed and broke the bread and gave Samuel a large chunk together with some of the dates and they began to eat.
As he munched noisily, Samuel glanced up at Jesus, who was scattering some crumbs of bread on the grass. “You see, Samuel,” he said, “you are not the only hungry one here.” He pointed to some sparrows that had flown down and were hopping timidly towards the fallen morsels.
“Our Father in Heaven, has, in His great goodness, created all things and He loves all His creatures with an everlasting love. He loves these birds, but He especially loves you, Samuel, because you are a very special child.”
“Then, why doesn’t he love Hannah and Mama also? Why doesn’t He?!” Samuel retorted angrily.
Jesus looked at him tenderly and replied, “My dear, dear child, He has sent for them so that they can be with Him forever because He loves them very much and needs them with Him. He also needs you very much, and I’ll tell you a small secret. Some day, quite soon, you, little Samuel, will be doing something very important for Him and for me. So much so, that for all ages people will be talking about it.”
Samuel shrugged his shoulders and suddenly got up and chased all the birds away which instantly flew up into the bright blue sky. Jesus called him over, “You know, Samuel, my own father, Joseph, died last year and I also felt very sad and cried a lot. Both my mother and I miss him very much because he was a very good man.” He continued, “In the same way as those sparrows have flown up to the sky, your Mama and Hannah and my father have also been taken up to Heaven. They are now at peace and much happier than they have ever been, for very soon they will be in the Heavenly Paradise forever.”
Samuel looked up at Jesus and stared deeply into his dark brown eyes. Something in his heart told him that he had been speaking the truth. Jesus smiled down at him, as if knowing what he was thinking and told him, “Come on, little sparrow, hop onto my back and I will carry you back home before they start sending out search parties looking for you.”
Samuel jumped onto Jesus’ back and held tightly to him as he was carried dizzily over plains and slopes all the way up to the crest of hills where Nazareth was situated. Before they had even sighted Samuel’s home, they saw his father, Jacob, running down to meet them, followed by his daughter Rachel and some of the servants.
Samuel was afraid that his father would be very angry with him and would punish him severely. He closed his eyes tightly and clung closer to Jesus, but this was to no avail, because immediately he felt himself being lowered carefully but firmly by Jesus onto the ground.
He opened his eyes again, and there in front of him he saw his father looking all dishevelled, kneeling down before him, stretching out his arms to him. Suddenly, he was being kissed, caressed and embraced by him, and held so tightly that he found it hard to breathe. Jacob kept repeating again and again, “My son, my son, thank heaven you are alive and well. Please forgive me, Samuel, for treating you so badly!”
Samuel was quite amazed to see and hear his father, always so dignified and distant, behaving like this, especially as he never seemed to have time for him. He was further surprised when his sister, instead of being furious with him for having pushed her earlier, also run to him and hugged and kissed him. He didn’t quite know what was worse – the expected punishment or having his sister’s tears wetting his face. Looking up at his father and tugging at his sleeve, he pointed at Jesus and said “Papa, this is Jesus, my special friend.”
Jacob turned to him and said, “Yes, you must be the son of Joseph, the carpenter, bless his soul. How can I ever thank you enough for bringing back Samuel to me? Because, my son, who I thought was dead or lost has been brought back to me, alive and well. So therefore, today will be a day of great celebration in my household. But, above all, I have also discovered, at long last, how precious this son of mine is to me. And by recovering him, I have also found peace and joy in my heart. May the Lord’s name be praised forever.”
Jesus then lifted his eyes up to heaven and said in a loud voice, “Father, Lord in Heaven and Earth, I also thank you, because You have shown to the unlearned what You have hidden from the wise and learned,” and turning to Jacob, he told him, “Go, therefore in peace, Jacob, and remember that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as Samuel. Whoever does not receive the Kingdom like a child, will never enter it.”
He then bent over Samuel and laying his hands on his head, blessed him and made his way back to Nazareth.
Samuel watched him leaving and shouted after him, “Jesus, I love you.” Jesus looked back and said, “And I love you too, little sparrow, so be happy for one of these days we’ll meet again.”
Samuel kept waving to him until he disappeared behind a ridge. Then, turning to his father, asked him, “Papa, can we go home now? I’m still hungry.”
Jacob looked at his son with affection and replied, “Yes, my child, let us all go home and I promise that from this day on, you will never again be hungry for food or for love.” And picking him up tenderly, he made his way back home, followed by Rachel and the servants.
From that momentous day onwards, Samuel’s family life began to change drastically. He no longer found himself isolated or rejected and his father, instead of seeing his son as a burden or as an embarrassment, finally opened his eyes and his heart and slowly began to appreciate the precious gift that God had given him.
For the first time in years, the sound of laughter and singing was constantly heard in the house and the whole atmosphere became relaxed and peaceful. Even the servants could not but notice the rapid transformation that was taking place and the sheer joy was so contagious that they themselves were changed by the new warmth and happiness.
Every day, Jacob would sit with his son and daughter and tell them stories just like old Hannah had done. They played games, walked in the garden, shared their meals and even said their prayers together.
Samuel became the happiest of children, but he could not forget the kind stranger who had looked after him and had brought him back home when he had gone off and got lost. One morning, he approached his father and told him, “Papa, Papa, I want to see Jesus, my friend!” Jacob looked at him and replied, “Yes, my son, I think that it is time that we should both go and visit him and thank him properly for bringing you back safe and sound. I have an idea”, he added, “Why don’t we take him some fruit as a small gift?”
“Yes, Papa, lots and lots of lovely grapes!” exclaimed Samuel, jumping up and down excitedly. So Jacob took some bunches of the dark purple grapes which grew in his own vineyards and placed them in a wicker basket together with dates and figs. Then, taking Samuel’s hand very firmly, they set off for the town.
They walked hand in hand through the shady country lane until they reached the carpenter’s little workshop, situated halfway up the town, just a few doors away from the synagogue. It was quite gloomy inside, but they knew that somebody was there, as the sound of sawing could be clearly heard.
Samuel left his father’s side and rushed into the workshop, trampling over the aromatic wood chips and shavings strewn over the floor, shrieking “Jesus, Jesus! It’s me, Samuel, come to visit you!” But instead of finding Jesus, another man, completely unknown to him, holding a saw and part of a wooden frame, appeared from behind some planks which were leaning against a wall.
For a moment, Samuel was quite startled, but he bravely held his ground. “You are not Jesus!” he snapped, “What have you done with him?”
The man began to laugh, “Of course, I’m not Jesus, little fellow, and I haven’t done anything to him – he’s just gone away”. Then noticing that Samuel was not alone, but was accompanied by his father, whom he recognised, he continued, “Master Jacob, my name is Tobias and I’m telling you the truth, Jesus left Nazareth last week, saying something very strange about going about his father’s business”. He scratched his head, “As you know, sir, his father has been dead now for well over a year. Anyway, to make a long story short – he’s rented the place out to me, as I already know the trade; and from now on I will be paying the rent to his mother, Mary.”
Jacob was rather surprised to hear this news and made up his mind to find out more about it. “Could you please tell me where his mother lives, as I have something for her?” Tobias led them round the corner to an alleyway and pointed to a white-washed house surrounded by a low wall covered with verbena and bougainvillaea. Jacob thanked the man and, taking Samuel by the hand, made his way up to the house. He immediately noticed how small it was, possibly consisting of only a couple of rooms. There was a tall ladder propped up on one side of the building which gave access to the flat terrace which was covered, in part, by a framework of dried palm fronds.
What really astonished him was the great profusion of flowers growing in the enclosed garden – hibiscus, iris, daisies, lilies and many other blossoms spread their colours under the weight of the myriad of bees and butterflies. Pigeons and sparrows flitted above or perched on the branches of a tall cypress tree, cooing and chirping.
He could well imagine that this was how the Garden of Eden must have looked, but his fanciful thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the sound of singing coming from somewhere behind the house.
“I long to be in the Lord’s Temple. With my whole being I sing for joy to the Living God.
Even the sparrows must have built a nest, And the swallows have their own home.”
Jacob recognised the beautiful verses of the 84th Psalm, but he was certain that he had never heard them sung more sweetly nor with such feeling. His curiosity finally got the better of him and clutching Samuel and the basket of fruit, he opened the gate and ventured into the garden.
As they turned the corner of the house, he stopped, entranced, for sitting on a rustic wooden bench under the shade of a huge elm tree, was a middle-aged woman, dressed in a long blue linen robe, singing and working at a loom, totally unaware of their presence.
All of a sudden, Samuel wriggled free from his father’s grasp and rushed headlong towards the woman. “Mama, Mama!” he exclaimed as he threw himself on her.
The woman stopped her singing in mid-sentence, turned her face to him and half-surprised, smiled warmly and immediately enveloped the boy in her embrace. Samuel clung to her tightly, sobbing and laughing at the same time as she rocked him to and fro, almost as if he were a small baby.
“Hush now, little boy, don’t cry. I’ll be your mother if you want me to”. Samuel looked at her plaintively and cried, “Yes, oh yes, please say you will!” Then turning to his father, who looked quite speechless he told him, “Come on, Papa, give the nice lady the grapes”.
Jacob stammered nervously, “Please do forgive us for this intrusion. We just came by to ask about your son and to bring this small gift of fruit as a token of appreciation. However, I never expected Samuel to react in this matter”. He stared at his son who was now sitting on the ground tentatively poking at a ladybird with a twig. “His mother” he continued, “died shortly after he was born and I always tell him stories of how she loved being in the garden working at her loom, just as you were doing now. So, I suppose, for a moment, he must have imagined that you were his mother”.
Mary smiled at him and said, “You do not have to apologise, Master Jacob, I quite understand. My son, Jesus, told me all about Samuel and, anyway, I had a distinct feeling today that I would be getting some visitors, and of course, it makes me very happy to have you both here with me”.
She got up, and taking Samuel’s hand, she told Jacob, “Please sit down here in the shade and make yourself at home, whilst Samuel and I fetch some refreshments”.
Jacob watched them as they disappeared into the house and then took the opportunity to look around him. He saw that this corner of the garden was mainly devoted to the growing of vegetables and herbs. These were laid out in neat rows and he also noticed that there was even a chicken coop behind a large laurel bush at the end of the garden.
The sound of laughter and of a musical instrument being played came to his ears, and the next moment Mary appeared, carrying an earthenware jug and some goblets, followed close on her heels by a very happy Samuel playing a reed flute.
She poured some clear cool water into the goblets for herself and Jacob and then sat down on a heavy wooden stool opposite him. “That flute belonged to my son when he was a little boy”, she said, “and I’m certain that he would very much like Samuel to have it”.
“You are very kind and thoughtful to have done that. May God bless you always”, he told her. She looked serenely at him and said, “You know, Master Jacob, when Jesus was only twelve years old, he also disappeared for several days whilst we were returning from Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover”.
“Oh, that must have been terrible for you”. Jacob commiserated. Mary looked across at him and he thought that he could detect a measure of silent suffering and even acceptance in her eyes.
She continued, “Yes, you are quite right. Both my husband Joseph and I were very worried and thought that he might be with another group. So we travelled a whole day and then started to look for him among our relatives and friends”. She sighed, remembering the distress that she had gone through at the time. “We did not find him with them, so we returned to Jerusalem, looking for him everywhere”.
“Papa, the same as me!” Samuel laughed and clapped his hands, “Jesus got lost the same as me!” “Yes Samuel” Mary told him, “he disappeared the same way that you did, not so long ago, and we soon found him sitting in the Temple with a group of scribes, listening to them and asking questions”.
“I’m sure that you must have both felt very relieved,” Jacob said, recalling his own feelings when Samuel had been found again.
“Yes, of course we were, although at the time we could not understand any of it. I still remember his reply when I told him then how worried we had both been. I will never forget his reply, “Didn’t you know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” And truly, I tell you, Master Jacob, no day goes by that I do not ponder these words in my heart”.
Jacob was quite amazed at this account and wondered where he had recently heard similar words. Of course, he thought, this was just what Tobias the carpenter had told him that Jesus had said before leaving Nazareth. Like Tobias, he could not understand either what was meant; but certainly it must have been very important for Jesus to have left his trade, his town, his family and friends.
He stared at Mary, who had a distant look in her eyes as if remembering that important event in her son’s life. She noticed his gaze and smiled at him, saying, “Yes, my son Jesus is not like other men and this is why he has left Nazareth, so that he can do the will of the Father”.
Jacob was very puzzled about this and however much he thought about it, the less sense he could make of her words. He was beginning to understand that Jesus was certainly different from anybody else that he had ever known, and this made him more curious to learn more about him and the reason for his sudden departure. However, he also knew that it would be indiscreet of him to ask any more questions; so standing up and bowing to Mary, he said, “I think we should be leaving now as it will soon be time for Samuel to have his usual afternoon nap”. He beckoned him over, “Come on, Samuel, say thank you to the kind lady for having given you the flute”.
Samuel scrambled up onto Mary’s lap and kissed her effusively, “You do smell like roses!” The next moment, before she had time to react, he had climbed down and began to skip round and round his father, making all kinds of strange musical tunes on his flute. “See, I’m a cuckoo now!” he giggled, “Tell Jesus that I can sing like the birds!”
Mary laughed and clapped her hands, “I can assure you, Samuel, that not even the angels in heaven can sing as merrily as you or play the flute better!” She waved, as he made his way out of the garden with his father and then called after him, “And don’t forget to come back someday to visit me again”.
Samuel waved back and as they turned the corner of the little alley, he looked up wistfully at his father and said, “Papa, I do wish Mary was my mama”.
Jacob looked at him tenderly and replied, “Yes, my son, I’m certain that she would make a most wonderful mother for anyone”. And, setting him up on his shoulders, they set off for home to the sound of Samuel’s flute.
To be continued