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.
Several months passed and gradually news started to filter back to Nazareth about Jesus, the carpenter, and how he was steadily attracting large crowds of people wherever he went. There was much talk of his teaching publicly about ‘the Kingdom of God’ and also about his apparent healing of all kinds of diseases and sickness.
The townspeople were quite amazed about the reports and found it hard to believe that their very own down-to-earth fellow Nazarene could, in any way, perform miracles or wonders of any kind. In any case, they muttered, didn’t charity begin at home? So why hadn’t he cured all the sick people in Nazareth first, before gallivanting all over Galilee?
Jacob kept silent whenever his acquaintances informed him of the latest ‘tittle-tattle’ picked up at the market, the synagogue or brought back by travellers arriving from the surrounding towns and villages. His first concern was for Jesus’ mother Mary and how all this gossip could be affecting her. Since his first visit with Samuel, he had called in with Samuel to see her on a couple of occasions and had grown to admire her strength of character and sweetness of nature. He was convinced that, although appearing rather frail, she was nevertheless a woman of great resilience who believed completely in her son’s mission.
In any case, it was in his own mind that Jacob was confronting doubts and turmoil of all kinds. What if it were true, he wondered, what if Jesus was really doing all those marvellous things ascribed to him? What if he were actually the Messiah, the One for whom the people of Israel had been anxiously awaiting for so long? Could the hour of liberation have finally come? But, on the other hand, what if he were a charlatan, a trickster, leading the people to their deaths and their country to its ruin and desolation?
Jacob and the people of Nazareth soon had a chance to make up their own minds on the matter as quite unexpectedly Jesus returned one day to visit his mother and family. On the following Sabbath, the small synagogue was almost bursting at its seams with an expectant congregation hoping to see him and possibly hear him speak.
Jacob, who had gone quite early to the synagogue, was seated relatively near to the front and was able, therefore, to see Jesus the moment he entered. He noticed that he had a white mantle with brown stripes and the usual blue and white fringes over his long tunic, which was fastened by a leather girdle. He head was covered by a sort of white turban and his dark brown hair was streaked with grey, something that Jacob was certain he had not noticed the last time he had seen him. What really impressed him was the assurance and self-confidence that seemed to radiate from him. He became more convinced that this man, despite the criticism and sneers of many of those attending the service, was somebody very special.
Just then, as Jesus took his seat, their eyes met and Jacob felt deep emotions of peace and, strangely enough, even paternal love, flowing into his very being. How curious, he thought, I hardly know the man, but I am certain that I would follow him to the ends of the world.
After a few minutes, Jesus stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has chosen me to bring
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty
to the captives and recovery of
sight to the blind;
To set free the oppressed and
announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save His people.”
He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him and it was so quiet that one could have heard a pin drop.
Jesus looked around him and said with a firm voice “ This passage of Scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read”. There was an almost inaudible gasp as his words slowly began to sink in, and the next moment people were nervously whispering to each other, sniggering and even raising their fists at Jesus. Jacob, for his part, was quite impressed with what he had heard and seen, although he was starting to become rather worried about the changing mood in the assembly.
As Jesus tried to make himself heard over the increasing crescendo of noise, Jacob spotted three or four of the more hot-headed and vociferous members of the community, make their way towards the front.
Suddenly, Jesus was being manhandled and dragged out of the synagogue amidst scenes of frenzied pandemonium. Jacob, on realising the seriousness of the situation, immediately left his seat and pushed his way out through a churning mass of bodies, just in time to see the angry crowd leading Jesus pell-mell out of the town.
He run after them, almost tripping in the process over some loose cobble stones and once he had recovered his balance, he saw that the intention of the mob seemed to be to have their victim thrown over the cliff-top.
“Stop, stop!” Jacob shouted at them at the top of his voice, “Let him go! He has done nothing wrong!” But they paid no attention to his pleas and continued to jostle Jesus all the way up to the very brink of a high precipice.
All at once, something incredible happened; one moment Jesus was being held tightly, about to meet a certain death, and the very next he was walking calmly away. His would-be captors had moved back as if blown like leaves by a strong wind and some of them had even fallen to the ground, whilst Jesus seemed to exude an air of majesty and power which filled those present with awe and fear.
They watched dumbfounded as he slowly made his way down a winding path lined with cacti and fig trees until he disappeared from sight. With downcast faces and muttering wildly among themselves, the angry group returned to Nazareth, passing Jacob without giving him a sideways glance.
He wondered whether they actually felt guilty about their disgraceful conduct which appeared, to a certain extent to have had the support of most of the townspeople. He was certain now that he could no longer feel at ease amongst them and, there and then, he made up his mind that he would leave Nazareth with his family and settle elsewhere. He would also take the opportunity to follow Jesus’ progress and learn more about his teachings and way of life. And so, with a firm and resolute step, he returned home, feeling at peace with himself and happy with the decision he had just taken.
“Samuel, Samuel!” He heard somebody calling his name repeatedly, but it sounded very far away and he tried with all his might to shut out that insistent voice. He felt so very happy where he now was, and he didn’t want anything or anybody to interrupt this glorious feeling of peace.
There he was, running barefoot over a wide expanse of green pastures carpeted with flowers of all shapes and colours under a brilliant blue sky. He turned around and saw a large flock of sheep and their lambs frolicking playfully under the swaying palm trees. He moved stealthily in their direction and started to chase them; as they scattered about he suddenly noticed the tall figure of a man, dressed in a dazzling white robe.
Samuel approached him fearlessly and saw that the man’s face seemed to shine like the moon at night. Shielding his eyes, he looked up at him and immediately recognised him as Jesus, his very special friend.
He was almost certain now that he was the one who must have been calling his name so insistently and so he spread out his arms wide in welcome to him. Suddenly, he felt himself being shaken roughly, “Samuel, Samuel, do wake up!” He opened his eyes cautiously and stared with complete surprise at his sister, Rachel, bending over him. Sadly, he realised that it had just all been a dream.
Samuel reacted angrily, “I hate you!” he exclaimed loudly as he tried to hide his head under the blanket, “Leave me alone or I’ll tell Papa! I want to get back to Jesus, he’s waiting for me!”
Rachel, realising that it would be useless to argue with her brother when he was in such a mood, started to nudge him and tickle him until he could stand it no longer. In the next instant, he had leapt up from bed and began to chase his giggling sister round and round the room. His petulant anger soon dissolved into shrieks of laughter and after a while, feeling quite exhausted, they both slumped down on the floor holding each other tightly.
Suddenly, Samuel cupped his sister’s face in his pudgy hands and gazed into her dark hazel eyes, “Rachel, I don’t think I hate you anymore.” His sister looked at his solemn little face and burst out laughing, “And I think I love you more and more each day, even if you are a silly lazybones!” she said, “Now, seriously, you must get dressed whilst I prepare something for you to eat, because, today, if you are a really good boy, we might be going to see Jesus”.
Samuel could hardly believe his ears. “Hurrah! I’m going to see my friend again!” he shrieked, jumping up and down excitedly. “Come on, quick, let’s hurry up before he goes away without us!”
Rachel smiled as she left the room, thinking of how happy her brother was nowadays and how much their whole lives had changed since their first encounter with Jesus. Without doubt, the greatest transformation had become most evident in their father who seemed to have found, at long last, the peace and joy that had been lacking in his life for so long.
But possibly the greatest change affecting them all had been the fact that within the last few weeks they had moved, bag and baggage, from their native town of Nazareth and settled in the town of Magdala, on the shores of Lake Galilee. The decision to move had been taken by their father, after much soul-searching, as a direct result of the dreadful incident the previous year when Jesus had almost been killed by an unruly mob.
It was true that their present house, situated on the outskirts of Magdala, well away from the smoke and smell of its dye works, was much smaller than their previous home. However, the cooler weather more than made up for it and it was a constant joy to be living beside the clear blue waters of the lake and be surrounded, wherever one looked, by so many green fields and orchards.
When deciding where to set up their new home, Jacob had taken into account the fact that Jesus had recently made nearby Capernaum, and the surrounding towns and villages, the centre for his preaching. In this way, they would have a greater opportunity of learning more about the Master, as Jesus was now popularly called, and in some measure attempt to put his teachings into practice.
Even now, at this very moment, her father was up in Nazareth, making all the final arrangements to sell their house and lands, and, what would have been most surprising to anyone who had known him previously, she knew that he intended to give a large proportion of the proceeds to the poor. In his absence, Rebecca had been left in charge of Samuel and of their new home, helped by just a handful of servants.
Whilst she was thinking about all these recent events, Rachel, who was a very practical young woman, was also busying herself packing a basket with barley loaves, pickled fish and some fruit. She well knew that her brother had a most voracious appetite, and if as expected, they were to spend a good part of the day following the Master, then there might not be much of an opportunity to buy any food at any of the villages or towns nearby.
Just then, her thoughts were interrupted by Samuel rushing into the room, clutching his beloved flute, and exclaiming, “Quick, quick! Let’s go, before we are too late!” With that, and completely forgetting that he had not had any breakfast, he started pushing and shoving his sister impatiently towards the door. Rachel just had time to clutch the prepared basket and quickly throw a shawl over her head before hurrying away with her brother towards the shore in the direction of Capernaum.
They skipped along the main highway, hand in hand, watching with increasing curiosity and amusement the antics of a pair of brightly coloured kingfishers trying to catch their early morning meal. The birds would fly up high into the sky, wheeling and soaring overhead, and after seemingly stopping in mid-air for a split second, would suddenly swoop down, diving into the still waters of the lake and appearing moments later with small shining silver fish in their beaks.
After a while, Samuel who had by now tired of watching this never-ending display, managed to wriggle free from his sister’s grasp and sprinted with all his might along the road, heedless to Rachel’s frantic pleas to stop. So engrossed was he in trying to get away, that he accidentally bumped heavily against a tall woman, walking immediately in front of him.
For a moment, she appeared to be about to lose her balance and fall down, but steadying herself, she turned around sharply and looked long and hard at Samuel who stared up at her fearfully, expecting to be told off severely for his unruly behaviour. Realising that he was only just a little boy, and by then having got over her initial surprise, she took him gently by the elbow and amidst peals of laughter, cried out loudly, “Who does this little billy-goat belong to?”
At that precise moment, Rachel arrived hurriedly on the scene and grabbing her brother by the scruff of the neck, apologised for what had happened. “Don’t worry, my dear,” the woman told her, “I realise it was just an accident and that he didn’t mean any harm.” Then, turning to Samuel, she asked him, “Now, I’m sure that you are not really a billy-goat, are you, little boy?”
Samuel, having by now recovered his confidence and realising that she was not really angry with him, retorted, “No, I’m not! Samuel is who I am! And when I tell my friend Jesus what you have called me, he’s going to be very cross with you!”
Rachel felt more and more embarrassed about all this and would have given her brother a well-earned scolding there and then, if the woman hadn’t reacted by laughing out loud at hearing his reply.
“Well, I’ll tell you something,” she said, bending down beside him, “As Jesus also happens to be a very good friend of mine, we’ll do one thing. You don’t tell him what I called you and I, for my part, won’t say anything of how you pushed me just now. Is that a deal, Samuel?”
He thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Yes, alright”. With that, he planted a very wet kiss on her cheek and taking her hand he said “Come on, now. What are we waiting for? Let’s hurry up before Jesus goes away without us.”
They set off again down the road, which slowly, as the morning progressed, became busier with people travelling, mostly in small or large groups, going in both directions. There were peasants and traders, some of them driving their heavily laden mules and donkeys to Tiberias or Capernaum; there were shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats, the occasional long caravans composed of litters and chariots with long lines of camels taking up the rear and, ever so often, there were the ever present and in many cases, forbidding Roman soldiers. Sometimes just a small group would gallop by, doubtlessly on important business for the Empire. At other times they would meet quite big detachments, made up of foot soldiers or archers, the sunshine gleaming on their spears and shields, as they marched smartly and rapidly, four-abreast, down the highway, raising clouds of dust as they went.
They had now been travelling for most of the morning and were starting to get tired. Suddenly, Samuel stopped in his tracks and sat down in the middle of the roadway, “ I’m hungry!” he cried out, “And I won’t move from here until I have eaten!” Rachel looked at him despairingly, “Well, you should have had your breakfast before rushing away this morning,” she told him, “Come on, let’s go and see whether we can find a quiet shady spot and have something to eat”. The woman interrupted her, “If we walk on for just a bit longer, we’ll come to a small inn and I’m sure we’ll be able to have a good meal there”. Rachel tried to protest and explain that she had brought a picnic lunch with her which they could all share but the woman paid no attention, so much so, that taking Samuel firmly by the hand, she made him continue the journey at a faster pace.
A few minutes later, they rounded a bend in the road and immediately saw, tucked away among some trees, a squat stone building with an open courtyard. They made their way in, thankful to be away from the hot midday sun and inside its cool interior.
As their eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, they noticed that although the dining-area was relatively small, it was nevertheless very clean and the wooden benches and tables appeared to be well scrubbed. They went and sat down by a corner table near an open window which overlooked a large garden. Through the trees, they could make out the lake with its many fishing vessels and beyond that the scorched pale brown hills of Gergasa to the east.
They looked up on hearing somebody approaching and were greeted by the welcome sight of a hefty but jovial innkeeper bringing along a brimming jug of water and some wooden tumblers. The woman, taking over completely, ordered the speciality of the house and before long they were tucking in to platters of charcoal-roasted fish, goat’s cheese, sweet-smelling bread and a wide variety of fruit.
As they dipped hungrily into the common bowls, the woman said “You know, my dear, I still haven’t told you my name, and you must think that I am very ill-mannered. I am Mary and all my life I have lived in the town of Magdala, and so most people know me as Mary Magdelene.” Then, delicately nibbling a small piece of fish she continued. “Today, I am on my way to join two friends of mine, Susana and Joanna, whose husband Chuza is an officer in King Herod’s Court. We all met, some time back, through Jesus and we have decided to get together and use up our time and money to follow the Master and minister to him and his disciples.”
Rachel looked at her quizzically and before she could stop herself, exclaimed, “How on earth can you leave everything and do that?” Mary smiled at this short outburst and her eyes glinted, “Because, Rachel, I owe my whole life to the Master,” she replied, “Before he appeared, I was known as the mad woman of Magdala. I was possessed by seven evil spirits and had to be locked up in a bare room because everything that I touched, I would destroy and everybody who came near me, I would try to hurt. Only the fact that my family had been quite rich, saved me from being banished from the town and ending my life in the desert, living as an outcast and even possibly being devoured by wild animals.”
Rachel was quite astounded to hear this account and found it hard to understand that if that was the case, how strange it was, then for this woman to be sitting opposite her and to be acting so normally. Mary seemed to read her thoughts, “Well then, as I was saying, one fine day, the most wonderful in my life, the Master happened to be travelling through Magdala and on passing by my house he heard my awful screams. Upon enquiring from the servants about the cause of them, he asked to be allowed to see me without thinking of any possible danger to himself. They say that I was having one of my very worst attacks, grinding my teeth, foaming at the mouth and grovelling like a wild beast. The Master then came in, and with awesome power, commanded the evil spirits to depart forever. The only thing that I remember is a mighty force engulfing me and shaking my whole body until I could feel only a great nothingness. Slowly I experienced a beautiful feeling of peace and happiness. When I opened my eyes, the first thing that I saw was the Master’s face, full of compassion and love, bending over me. Since then, I have decided to dedicate my entire life to him because I know that he is the Messiah, the Holy One of God.”
Rachel, who had sat silently listening to what she could only assume was a wondrous miracle performed by Jesus, then told Mary of her own family’s experience with him. Despite constant interruptions from Samuel who, in between mouthfuls, kept correcting his sister in the finer points, she recounted the events when he had got lost and had been found again, and how this had changed all their lives.
Once they had finished their meal, which Mary paid for, despite protestations from Rachel, they set off again, feeling quite refreshed. After a long while, they reached the outskirts of Capernaum, which appeared to be quite a prosperous town and a bustling centre for trade of all kinds.
As they were walking near the shore, by a small wooden jetty, they came across a group of fishermen sitting near their boats, cleaning and mending their nets. One of them, a big swarthy fellow, who was stacking large rolls of rope on top of a wooden barrel, suddenly shouted at them, “If you are looking for the miracle worker, he has already left with his bunch of friends towards the shore opposite,” and with that, he pointed at a boat in the distance skimming over the still waters of the lake towards the direction of Bethsaida Julias. “And you know,” he continued, rather uncouthly, “he and his so-called disciples thought that they could fool all those no-good crowds who were flocking to see him! Little does he know that, at this very moment, they are all racing around the northern shore of the lake taking their sick and maimed with them and will get there before him. Let’s see how our know-it-all wonder-worker copes with so many thousands of people!”
Mary looked vacantly into the far distance for a few minutes and then turning to him, said rather firmly, “My good man, I thank you for that information. I suppose you are in a rather bad humour because you probably haven’t caught any fish this morning. So, how would you like to earn several silver pieces by taking me and my friends over to Bethsaida Julias?”
The man frowned and started to blurt out something, but quickly thinking it over and realising that he was onto a good thing, he grinned slyly and accepted the offer.
Despite feeling rather cramped, seated in the stern in between Mary Magdalene and his sister, Samuel was nevertheless enjoying himself tremendously at being in a boat for the very first time in his life. The boat, which was not very large and had seen much better days, was manned by two fishermen, one of them being the owner who had spoken so disparagingly about Jesus. Although it was equipped to have a sail and mast, which was at present lying in the bottom of the boat covered by a jumble of nets, the men were forced to row, as the wind had dropped and there was hardly any breeze at all.
As they moved steadily towards the centre of this part of the lake, the town of Capernaum slowly receded in the distance and, before too long, they could see the flat-roofed houses of Bethsaida Julias, a white-washed little town situated at the inlet of the River Jordan.
The rowers now began chanting an age-old song as they worked the great oars in and out of the water and, to their great surprise, Samuel joined in by playing his own reed flute. Soon everybody was singing merrily and the apparent surliness shown previously by the fishermen disappeared completely.
“Are you coming with us to see Jesus?” Samuel suddenly asked them. The owner, whose name was Aaron, stopped his rowing and looked at him with a twinkle in his eye, “You know, young lad,” he replied, “I might very well join you after all and see what that fellow has to show me, that is, if the ladies will allow me”.
Rachel glanced at Mary and smiled knowingly, thinking that once again God had used the simplicity and joy of a child like Samuel to soften even the hardest of hearts. “We’d be delighted if you would accompany us,” she said, “I’m sure that you will never regret it, and in any case, we would feel far safer travelling with you.”
Shortly after, they reached their destination and alighted at a small wooden jetty which appeared to be quite deserted. Aaron tied up the boat and then made his way up one of the narrow alleyways leading to the market square, returning a few minutes later. “Come on quickly!” he shouted, making frantic signs to them to follow him. “The miracle-worker is just leaving town with his friends, followed by what appears to be a very large crowd of people, and they are heading towards those hills yonder.” The only sound that could be heard was that of their sandals echoing on the cobblestones as they hurried through the almost empty town with Rachel holding Samuel tightly to make sure that he did not sneak away again. As they turned a street corner on the outskirts, an ever-increasing murmur of voices came distinctly to their ears, culminating in a loud babble of noise. Suddenly they stopped and stared in astonishment at the spectacle of the many thousands of people winding their way into the open countryside.
As they got closer and finally mingled with the crowds, they realised that everybody seemed to be there, following the Master; the old and the young, the humble and the rich, the curious and the fanatics rubbed shoulders with the lame, the crippled and the sick. There were tax collectors, farmers, fishermen, mothers with babies at their breast, Pharisees and scribes, and even some Roman soldiers.
They tried to wend their way closer to the front of the multitude, but this became quite impossible due to the huge numbers of people and they were therefore forced to trudge on and follow wherever they were being led.
After what seemed like hours, they arrived at a big open meadow, located between some low hills and, to their great relief, they realised that they were finally making a stop. People were soon spreading their cloaks over the green grass which grew plentifully there and were making themselves as comfortable as possible. However, Aaron decided to continue a bit further on, up the gentle slopes of one of the hills to where a small sycamore tree was growing. There they squatted under the welcome shade of its branches. They gazed down at the sprawling crowds which seemed to resemble a vast, multicoloured mosaic and then up towards the crest of the adjoining hill, where they could easily make out the imposing figure of a tall man standing in complete isolation. Samuel recognised him immediately and pointing at him, exclaimed: “Look, there he is! There, over there, it’s Jesus!”
There seemed to be a sudden hush in the air and all movement and sound ceased as the clear, resonant voice of Jesus was clearly heard:
“Happy are you poor;
the Kingdom of Heaven is yours!
Happy are you who are hungry now;
you will be filled!
Happy are you who weep now;
you will laugh!
Happy are you when people hate you, reject
you, insult you and say that you are evil,
all because of the Son of Man!
Be glad when that happens, and dance for
joy, because a great reward is kept for you in
The crowds listened mesmerised to the teachings and parables of Jesus and they were astounded by the authority with which he spoke.
After preaching for a long while, he sat down and his disciples who were near him, started to sing psalms and play the tambourines. Everybody joined in and this appeared to be the sign that they were waiting for to bring the many people who were sick and crippled to the Master for him to lay his hands on them.
Aaron was quite surprised to observe that the people there were not being unruly or making a mad dash towards Jesus. Instead, he saw that the disciples were forming the crowds into queues and they were all being very good-natured and patient whilst they awaited their turn. Very often, he would hear loud clapping and shouts of joy, as apparently more and more people were cured of their ailments. However, from their position opposite, up the hill, it was almost impossible to see what was really happening and he longed to get nearer.
Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by Samuel’s shrill and insistent voice, “I can’t see anything! I want to go over there where everybody else is!” he shouted, jumping up and down. Aaron looked at Samuel and felt rather sorry for him, thinking what a shame it was to have come so far and not to be able to get nearer to where such wondrous things were apparently taking place. Just then, an idea came to him, so turning to Rachel, who was trying unsuccessfully to calm her brother, he said, “Would you like me to take the young lad for a short walk? That way you ladies can have a chance to rest and it will keep him quiet and occupied in the meantime”.
Rachel smiled at him and replied, “Yes, why not. I know Samuel will be alright with you and, in any case, I am certain that you are probably as curious as he is to find out with your own eyes what is happening over there!”
With a cry of joy, Samuel clutched Aaron’s strong hand and pulled him in the direction of the waiting crowds, but not before grabbing the basket of food. “I’m taking this with me, just in case I get hungry!” he told his sister. Rachel burst out laughing, “Well, you’d better take care that people don’t find out what you are carrying inside the basket, otherwise you’ll have to feed them all”.
She watched them as they made their way carefully down the slope and then, turning to Mary Magdalene said, “Have you noticed how much our friend the fisherman has changed in the very short time he has been with us?”
“Yes,” replied Mary, “He certainly seems to have lost his gruff manner and his bad temper and to have made great friends with Samuel who has undoubtedly unlocked his heart. That reminds me,” she continued, “the other day, I was with a small group of people sitting with the Master, just talking with him, when one of his disciples asked him who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus then stood up, took a child who was there with his parents and, putting his arms around him made him stand in front of us and said, “I assure you, that whoever welcomes this child in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, also welcomes the One who sent me. For he who is least among you is the greatest.”
Whilst the women were carrying on this conversation under the sycamore tree, Aaron and Samuel had managed to climb up the adjoining hill and were able to find a gap amongst the crowd, quite near to where Jesus was sitting on a boulder. They watched with growing interest as he prayed and laid his hands on the heads of the many sick and infirm who were continuously being brought to him, some even being carried on makeshift stretchers or helped along by friends and relatives. Aaron was completely bewildered at witnessing at first hand the constant miracles being performed and he could hardly believe his eyes as he saw cripples walk again, the dumb hear and the blind recover their sight.
As the afternoon wore on and the lines of people waiting to be healed dwindled, he became aware that Jesus seemed to be quite exhausted. It was almost as if an immense power was emanating from him each time that he placed his hands on the sick.
The sun was beginning to set when the last of the healing was finally over. Jesus then stood up and in a loud voice gave thanks, saying, “Let us give glory to God! May He, the source of all hope, fill you all with His joy and peace. Amen.”
Aaron then saw one of his disciples approach him and say to him, “Master, it is already very late and this is a lonely place. Send the people away so that they can go to the nearby farms and villages in order to buy themselves something to eat. Jesus answered, “They don’t have to leave. You yourselves give them something to eat.” The disciple looked at him in astonishment and replied, “Master, for everyone to have even a little, it would take more than two hundred silver coins to buy enough bread.”
Jesus looked around at the people with eyes full of compassion and then addressed the disciple again, “Philip, go with the others and find out how much bread there is available.”
As the disciples rather reluctantly approached the waiting crowds, Aaron suddenly noticed that Samuel, who had all the time been quietly standing by his side, had dashed away and was trying to attract the attention of one of the disciples, another fisherman that Aaron knew, called Andrew.
“Look! I’ve got food here for my friend Jesus!” he told him, offering the small basket that he had been carrying. “I’m not hungry now, so you can give it to him!” The disciple appeared for a moment to disregard the little boy, but thinking better of it, he crouched down and peered inside and saw, in effect, that there was some food there.
To Aaron’s surprise, and before he could attempt to catch hold of him, the man whisked Samuel off to where Jesus was standing and heard him say, “Master, there is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two pickled fish.”
Jesus looked at Samuel and smiled, “See, little sparrow,” he said, “I did tell you that one day you would come along and help me, and, now that time has come.”
He then turned round to his disciples and instructed them to make all the people sit down in groups of about fifty. Then, when everybody had settled down, he took the five loaves and the two fish from inside Samuel’s basket, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks to God.
Aaron, who had been watching everything very intently, then saw Jesus break the bread and fish into pieces and hand then over to his disciples to distribute to the crowds patiently sitting on the grass. However, he could not really understand what was happening and he kept rubbing his eyes and even pinching himself to make sure that it was not all a dream.
For before his very eyes, the same scene kept repeating itself continuously, as more and more people were fed by the very same pieces of bread and fish which were there originally. Aaron’s mind reeled and the wonder and the reality of this miraculous multiplication was further brought to him when he was handed his own portion. He was then able to touch and taste the bread and fish and confirm that it was real food and not just an illusion or a trick. Tears welled up in his eyes and with a voice choking with emotion, he cried out, “Surely, this is the Prophet who was to come into the world!”
Jesus heard his words and turning towards him, he looked deep into his eyes and replied, “Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask.”
And taking Samuel by the hand, he walked over to Aaron and told him, “How fortunate you are, my friend, for your eyes see and your ears hear. I assure you that many prophets and many of God’s people wanted very much to see what you see and hear what you hear, but they could not.”
Then bending down, he clasped Samuel tightly to him and said, “Go now, little sparrow. Your task is almost accomplished. Soon, I promise you, we will meet again and then we shall be together always.”
Samuel looked at Jesus and wondered what was meant by those strange words. Would he be travelling all over the country, spending all his time helping Jesus with his miracles; or, rather, would Jesus come to live with him and his father and sister in their house? Whatever it was, he decided, he knew that it would certainly happen and, in any case, it would make him very happy. He planted one of his very wet kisses on Jesus’ cheek and wagging a finger at him, said, “Now, don’t take too long to come for me. Remember, I’ll be waiting for you”. And taking Aaron’s hand, they both slowly made their way through the departing crowds to where his sister and Mary Magdalene were waiting for them.
“Rachel, Rachel!” he shouted, “You were right! Jesus has fed everybody here with my bread and fishes. Look!” And then opening up the basket which was slung over his shoulder, they saw that it was full to the brim with large fragments of barley bread and pickled fish.
Aaron, who could hardly contain his own excitement, said, “And on the way up here, I myself have seen the disciples collecting another twelve baskets full of pieces.”
So, praising God for the marvels that they had witnessed, they joined the rest of the multitude of people as they returned to their homes and families in the certain knowledge that their lives would never be the same again.
All through the spring and summer of that year, Samuel and his family had frequent sightings and news of Jesus, as he and his disciples travelled extensively throughout the whole of Galilee, preaching and healing, and followed constantly by the usual large crowds of people. Then with the advent of autumn, they learnt that he had gone to Judaea and was later reported as staying with friends at Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, for the Feast of Lights.
It was shortly after this, that Samuel, in one of his frequent escapades to the lakeside, caught a chill and became quite ill. His worried father brought along the very best doctors available, but despite all the latest kind of treatments and remedies, these appeared to be of little avail.
In the meantime, his sister, Rachel, would hardly move from his side and she would gaze sadly as he lay despondently and exhausted in his bed. She would try to coax him to eat some of the delicious titbits that she had so lovingly prepared for him, but he appeared to have lost his usual healthy appetite and soon became quite pale and thin. The only time that his eyes would glisten, was when she sung to him or told him stories of Jesus and of his many miracles.
As spring arrived and Samuel’s health improved slightly, his father, Jacob, decided that his family would travel with him to Jerusalem for the Passover. He would thus be able to grant his daughter’s wish to visit the Temple for the great Feast and also take the opportunity to have Samuel examined by a really good physician.
The distance from Magdala to Jerusalem was over eighty miles and it would take them about four days, travelling by caravan along the dusty winding roads, to reach their destination. Before long, the expected day arrived and they joined the many other pilgrims and travellers on the main highway heading south in the direction of Jerusalem.
Samuel, who was still quite weak, had been placed on a mule, with his sister seated in front, on top of layers of sleeping mattresses and thick blankets. Suddenly, he turned around to her and exclaimed, “I bet we will be attacked by jackals or bandits!” Rachel tousled his short, curly hair and replied, “Heaven forbid! You must stay still and rest a while and before too long we shall have reached Jerusalem safe and sound.”
The journey, in fact, progressed without incident and by the evening of the third day they had reached Jericho, the renowned city of palms. There they found the whole place buzzing with the incredible news that Jesus, who had only left the city that very morning, had healed a blind beggar called Bartimeus. There were also wild rumours that some weeks before, the miracle-worker had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, after he had been in the tomb for four days.
“These are truly wonderful news!” Jacob told his daughter, once they had settled down for the night in the inn where they were staying. “God has come to save his people!”
“Yes, Father,” replied Rachel. “I am more than ever convinced now that Jesus is the Messiah who has at long last appeared among us. Maybe, within the next few days, we shall see his glory as he manifests himself to everybody.”
“I agree, my dear,” he said, “These are indeed exciting times; but now we must get some rest, for we still have a very long trek ahead of us tomorrow and we have to get up very early. Who knows, we might even get the chance to meet the Master again, which would certainly cheer up little Samuel.”
The following day, being Friday, the caravan set off before sunrise on the last leg of their journey to Jerusalem, as it was necessary for them to reach the city before sundown, when the Sabbath would commence. Jacob had friends living in Bethpage, a small village situated just outside Jerusalem and he had already made arrangements to spend their first night there with his family and share the Sabbath meal with his friends.
As the day progressed, there arose a growing feeling of expectancy amongst the travellers as they realised that they were coming to the end of their journey and were nearing the Holy City. Suddenly, as they came up the brow of the hill by the Mount of Olives, there before them in all its glory, appeared the wonderful panorama of Jerusalem, the fabled city of their forefathers.
Above the high ramparts with its many watchtowers and massive gates, they could see the rooftops and terraces of the newly whitewashed houses. But, what literally took their breath away was the shimmering Temple of white marble and gold which seemed to float in the brilliant blue sky like a snowy cloud over the city. Their hearts swelled with pride and joy, and, very soon the air was filled with resounding voices praising God, accompanied by the beating of drums and the clanging of cymbals.
Shortly after, on reaching the village of Bethpage, Jacob and his family bid farewell to their fellow-travellers and soon afterwards, were being welcomed by the jovial, fat Mathias and his equally plump wife, Esther.
Mathias was a silversmith, who had his shop and adjacent workshops in one of the commercial suburbs of Jerusalem, near the Gennath Gate. He and his wife, who were childless, had opted to have their home away from the bustle and noise of the city, but still within a relatively short distance to make it a practical choice.
No sooner had the visitors entered the household than they were being offered all sorts of refreshments and comfort and Samuel, who could never remain silent for long, approached Esther and said, “You do have a nice smile, and I do like your fat cheeks. Can I give you a kiss?”
The woman was taken aback for a moment, but then she picked him up and planted a large kiss on his forehead, “I think you look a bit thin and need to eat some of my good cooking, little boy. Before long we’ll have you looking as fat as Mathias!” They all burst out laughing, but Samuel interrupted then, “Well, I won’t have time to eat very much because quite soon I will be going away with my friend, Jesus.”
Mathias stared at him in surprise and then turned to Jacob, “My friend, surely the boy is not referring to the same Jesus, who is performing all these great miracles and wonders everywhere?”
Jacob nodded and replied, “Yes, the very same one! We got to know him some time back when he was just a carpenter in our little town of Nazareth. Even then, he impressed me very much as being an extraordinary person, and Rachel and I have now come to believe that he could well be the Messiah, for whom we have been waiting so long.”
“I personally no longer have any doubt about it,” Mathias stated, “Some weeks back, Esther and I had to travel to Bethany, which is just over the other side of the Mount of Olives, because we had received news that a dear friend of ours, Lazarus, was seriously ill. However, when we arrived, we found out that he had died that very morning, so we took part in the funeral rites and decided to stay with his sisters to try to comfort them. What struck us most,” he noted, “was the strange attitude of one of the sisters, Martha. She was so certain that this man, Jesus, could have cured her brother, that she could not get over the fact that despite sending him countless urgent messages for him to return to Bethany, he had apparently not bothered to even answer her and now her brother was dead! So much so, that when he finally appeared four days later, she rushed out to meet him in the outskirts of the village and actually told him off about it. And what I am going to tell you now is true, my friends, because I was present and saw and heard everything that happened on that day.”
“I remember that she told him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I also know that even now, God will give you whatever you ask of Him’. Jesus, who to my mind, appeared to be rather put out by her words, replied, ‘Your brother shall rise again’, to which she retorted, ‘Yes, I do know that he will rise again on the Last Day!’”
Mathias could see that Jacob and his daughter were hanging on to every word that he was saying. “Well,” he continued, “Jesus looked at Martha and then uttered some really incredible words ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this, Martha?’ To which she answered, ‘Yes, Lord, I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’ Jesus then told her to go and fetch her sister and without another word, she run back to the village, leaving us all in a state of bewilderment.”
Esther then interrupted her husband, “In the meantime, I myself was with the other sister, Mary, in her house, sitting with her and some other women on the floor, trying to console her in her grief, when Martha arrived like a whirlwind and exclaimed, ‘Mary, get up, quickly, the Teacher is here and is asking for you!’. The sisters seemed like madwomen as they rushed out of the house, through the village, like huge ravens, the black robes and veils fluttering behind them. The other mourners and I, tried to keep pace with them, thinking all the time that they were going to the grave to weep there.”
Jacob smiled, trying to picture poor plump Esther waddling as fast as she could, behind the two agitated sisters. Mathias then resumed the account of the story, “Yes, they both arrived to where Jesus and all the rest of us were, and as soon as Mary saw him, she threw herself at his feet, crying out, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!’ I remember that we were all so taken up with the emotion of the events, that we were soon all crying as well. Even Jesus was sighing and weeping openly. This made me think that he must have loved Lazarus very much to be so deeply moved.”
“Just then,” Mathias continued, “Jesus asked the sisters where they had buried Lazarus and once they had reached the spot, he rather surprisingly ordered the stone to be removed from the entrance to the cave. We were all horrified at the idea, and Martha, who must have felt the same way, answered, ‘There will be a very bad smell, Lord. He has now been buried four days!’ Jesus calmly replied, ‘Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?’ And so they obeyed him and rather reluctantly ordered some men to roll the stone away.”
“What happened next?” asked Rebecca. “Well,” Mathias replied, “Jesus looked up to Heaven and in a loud voice, which seemed as if he was groaning in the spirit, cried out, ‘I thank you, Father, that you listen to me. I know that you always listen to me, but I say this for the sake of the people here, so that they will believe that you sent me.’ With this, he called out in a loud voice. ‘Lazarus, come out!’ There was complete silence for a few minutes, and then to everybody’s shock, the impossible happened! Lazarus emerged from the darkness of the tomb into the morning light, hobbling along, with his feet and hands still wrapped in grave clothes, and with a cloth round his face. We all fell to the ground, astounded, and then I stared as Jesus wondering what kind of man this was, and, that is when I knew for certain that he was the Messiah!”
Jacob noticed that Mathias’ lips were trembling and he appeared about to burst out crying after telling them these awesome news. His wife, Esther, looked at him and continued the account, “Jesus then ordered Lazarus to be untied and once this had been done, we saw that he was the perfect picture of health. Mind you, he could not remember anything at all of his recent illness or his death; and if we hadn’t stopped them, his sisters would surely have suffocated him with their many embraces and kisses! As you can well imagine, our mourning immediately changed to celebration, and the next few days were filled with feasting and dancing. People came from all over to look at Lazarus and since then many have come to believe in Jesus.”
The conversation was interrupted by the distant sounding of the trumpet warning them that the Sabbath approached and that it was time to stop whatever they were doing. They all soon get ready and after the customary prayer at the doorway, they entered a long, brightly lit room where a low table had been set with beautifully decorated pottery bowls and goblets. They all sat down on cushions on the paved floor, which was covered with brightly coloured thick carpets and the ceremonial meal commenced. The wine was blessed and drunk in turn and then they shared the main meal composed of dishes of mutton with rice, beans and leeks.
Some time later, and feeling quite exhausted after their long journey, Jacob bid his hosts goodnight and he and his family retired to bed where they soon fell asleep.
The following day, Samuel was up at first light, having been woken by the insistent crowing of a cock in the distance. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, peering around in the semi-darkness at the unfamiliar room, and noticed that his sister, who was lying just beside him, was still asleep and snoring softly. He rose silently and left the room on tiptoe, looking furtively to his right and left, but without seeing anybody else around.
He walked stealthily down a narrow corridor and, coming to a partially-open door, he crept in and found himself in a large kitchen area. There was nobody in the room, but he could nevertheless hear the sound of female voices in an adjoining open courtyard, one of them being the unmistakable hearty laugh of the fat lady, Anna. This jogged his memory, and in his mind he went over the events of the last few days since he and his family had left Magdala on their long and tiring journey to Jerusalem. He also remembered quite distinctly that his friend Jesus had promised to come and collect him and take him with him; but these thoughts were soon forgotten the moment he saw the huge bowl of shining red pomegranates on the kitchen table. Unable to resist, he grabbed the largest of them and accidentally toppled the whole bowl, which made a deafening noise as they bounced and rolled onto the floor.
“Who’s there?” someone shouted from outside the courtyard. Samuel jumped in surprise, and instead of waiting around for the outcome of whatever might happen, he rushed out of the room and raced up a short flight of stairs onto an open terrace.
The bright morning sun was just rising over the nearby Mount of Olives and the air was sweet with the aroma of spring flowers, as he gazed around him at the marvellous view over the roofs and terraces of Bethpage. To the south, he could see literally thousands of tents and small booths covered with palm fronds among the olive trees. He vaguely remembered his father telling him that this was the main encampment used by many of the poorer pilgrims arriving for the Passover. He then looked towards the city and noticed that already the winding road, leading over a deep ravine to the main gate, was beginning to fill up with dense crowds of people, all heading in that direction.
As he leaned slightly over the low parapet, to his great delight, he saw down below a donkey and its foal, near the front entrance of the house. Down the steps he run again, as fast as he could, and without another thought, he lifted the door-latch and let himself out into the cobbled lane.
Samuel crept warily towards the animals, which were tethered by a long rope to an iron ring set into the wall of the house. At first, the foal shied away from him, trying to hide behind its mother, but, apparently realising that no harm was going to come to it, it approached Samuel; then gazing up at him with huge sorrowful eyes, it rubbed its damp nose against the boy’s face. Samuel was startled for a moment, but he was soon giggling with delight and caressing the little foal, watched rather anxiously by its mother.
Just then, he heard the sound of sandals on the cobblestones and turning around, saw the approach of two men running towards him. To his great surprise, they began to untie the donkeys with the intention of taking them away with them. Samuel instinctively knew that something was not quite right, and without further ado, he yelled out, “Help! Help! My donkeys are being stolen!”
The men froze for an instant, and before they could react in any way, the front door of the house burst open and Mathias rushed out of the house, his face contorted in rage, “What on earth do you think you are doing, taking my donkeys without permission?” One of the men stared at him calmly and replied, “We have been told to tell you that the Master has need of them and will send them back at once.”
Mathias was perplexed by this reply, but recognising the other man as a disciple of Jesus, he stammered lamely, “Well, alright, by all means, take them both with you! But do make sure to tell the Master that Mathias says that he can borrow them for as long as he needs them.”
Samuel gazed sadly as the animals were led away and Mathias noticing that the little boy was close to tears, felt quite sorry for him and told him, “I say, Samuel, what would you say if we follow those men and find out what they really want the donkeys for?” Samuel could hardly believe his luck and, shrieking happily, he grabbed Mathias’ hand, tugging so hard that he almost toppled him as he tried to make him go as fast as possible in hot pursuit of the men and the animals.
A few moments later, Rachel and her father, who had been woken up by all the commotion, appeared at the doorway just in time to see their plump host running hand in hand with Samuel down the winding lane.
As they rounded the last straggling houses of the little village, Mathias halted suddenly, for there in front of them was a large group of men surrounding the donkeys and laying some of their cloaks over the foal. Jesus, then emerged from amongst them and without another moment’s thought, sat on the little foal and slowly rode the animal down the hillside towards Jerusalem, followed by his excited disciples, singing psalms of praise.
When Jacob and his daughter finally caught up with them, they were equally astonished at the strange spectacle taking place. Moreover, Rachel could not understand how anyone could appear so majestic whilst simply riding such an ordinary-looking little donkey. But then her heart almost missed a beat as she remembered the words of Scripture prophesying the coming of the Messiah:
“Tell the city of Zion
Look, your king is coming to you!
He is humble and rides on a donkey,
And on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Meanwhile, excitement was steadily increasing amongst the growing crowds of people, who, after cutting branches from the nearby trees were waving them in adulation. Others were spreading their cloaks on the road, in front of the approaching procession, as it made its way to Jerusalem, chanting: “Praise to the Son of David! Bless Him who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise the Lord!” Jacob seemed rooted to the spot, “Look, Rachel,” he said, “Doesn’t this remind you of the story of Moses, when he crossed the Red Sea with all our people on their way to the Promised Land?”
“Yes, Father,” replied Rachel, “But let us hope that these very same crowds do not change back into a raging sea!” Jacob stared at his daughter, realising that even now, as the Master was making, what appeared to be, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, there were still so many unknown dangers facing him and he also became concerned for his safety.
Just then, he felt somebody pulling sharply on his robe, and looking around he saw that it was little Samuel trying to attract his attention. “Papa,” he explained, “Can I wave this, just like the others?” His father immediately burst out laughing at seeing his son trying, with all his might, to lift a huge olive branch, at least twice his size, which he must have dragged from a nearby field. “Samuel, I do believe that this branch is much bigger than you! Let’s go and see whether we can cut or collect some palm fronds and if we hurry we’ll be able to wave them before Jesus finally arrives at the city gates.” Before too long, they had picked up various small branches which were scattered around and were in hot pursuit of the trailing crowd making up the rear of the ever-growing procession. The throngs were very dense, and as they seemed to be making hardly any headway, Jacob decided that they should cross through some olive groves. Quite soon they had reached the open area in front of the massive city walls.
Standing near one of the main gates, they looked up towards the direction of the Mount of Olives from where a huge multitude was slowly making its way towards them, almost resembling a tidal wave as it moved relentlessly above a thin haze of dust rising from the parched ground. The air was filled with the loud sound of cymbals, drums and pipes accompanied by psalms and hymns and punctuated by the occasional shouts of praise.
This cacophony brought about the rapid presence of the ever watchful and apprehensive soldiers on sentry duty, who streamed out of the gates in semi-panic, almost expecting to find a fully-fledged assault on the city. However, discovering to their great surprise that the enemy armies were, in effect, just noisy but peaceful crowds of pilgrims being led by a nondescript preacher astride on a humble little donkey, they very quickly returned to their routine duties. As the crowds got ever nearer, Rachel glanced at her brother whose face was very flushed and realised that he also seemed to be completely taken up by the growing hysteria. He was mumbling and jumping up and down, excitedly brandishing the small branch that he was holding, to the despair of two Levites standing near to him. She became quite concerned especially after touching his forehead and ascertaining that it was burning with fever and there and then, she decided that it would be wiser to return to their lodgings.
However, her decision came too late, because, all at once, they were being shoved and jostled by the masses of people approaching the gates and above all the rumpus, Rachel was surprised to hear her brother’s distinctive piping voice shouting, “Praise to David’s Son!” which was being repeated by all and sundry. Just as Jesus came alongside where they were standing, she could not fail but hear a heated discussion going on between the two Levites, one of whom exclaimed out loud in a mocking voice, “Teacher, cannot you hear what they are shouting?” Jesus brought the donkey to a halt and gazing calmly at him, said, “Indeed, I do. Haven’t you yourself read the psalm where it is written. You have trained children and babies to offer perfect praise?” And smiling rather knowingly at and Samuel, he continued on his journey into the city.
Once the crowds had finally dwindled away, Jacob was in a bit of a quandary whether to follow them into Jerusalem or return to Bethpage. However, before he had a chance to decide one way or another what to do, Samuel uttered a loud cry and collapsed in a heap in front of him.
To be continued