MY STORY—The Innkeeper

My name is Sol, well, really it’s Solomon, but they call me Sol. I am the one you know as “the inn keeper.” You have heard much about me down through the years. But, like many other parts of the story of the birth of Jesus, you’ve never heard my story. How many times have you seen a small boy dressed in his father’s too big bathrobe with a towel wrapped around his head open the cardboard door to a motel with a star on top and shout to Joseph, “I tell you there’s no room in my inn.” It wasn’t that way at all. The word translated “inn” simply means a dwelling place, or a guestroom.

Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home. It’s why he had to come back to register for the census. The idea that his family would let Mary and Joseph stay outside in a stable would be unheard of. Joseph and Mary stayed with me. You see, Joseph was my older brother. He moved to Nazareth to find work and we had not seen him for quite sometime. Our mother was living with my family and me because our father had died.

Most of the village homes were two room dwellings. One room was the family living space and the other was a bedroom. The family stayed together and at night the family’s valued animals were brought inside for warmth for the family and protection so the animals would not be stolen. The animals were separated in the living area by a makeshift wall, and there was a small manger dug into floor at one end for hay.

The family wasn’t really sure what was going on with Joseph and Mary. We had heard rumors that Mary was pregnant by someone else before they were married and Joseph was going to break the betrothal by divorce. Then Joseph said he found out that Mary had not been unfaithful to him so he suddenly married her anyway. It was not like Joseph to be impulsive or unreasonable and so we thought it must really be his child. When word of the census came out, we knew we would see Joseph again soon and Mary, too.

The journey was very difficult for them because of Mary’s condition, so it took longer than expected and by the time they arrived the house was already full with family guests from other towns who were staying with me. Mary and Joseph had to sleep in the family area with several other families because the bedroom was packed with people, too.

They had been with us for a few days when Mary went into labor. It was not such a big deal because all women had their babies at home.  Our mother was there and some of other ladies were able to help with the delivery. The men were outside with Joseph, where we belong.

The baby was wrapped up like a papoose with cloth, because it helps calm a baby. It’s true that because there was no room anywhere else, he was laid in the manger full of hay, since it was the softest spot.

Things got back to normal for a few days after the baby was born except for the extra commotion that is caused by a new baby crying in the night. But then some shepherds came by with an odd story. They said a few nights before an angel appeared to them in the field and told them that the messiah had been born in Bethlehem and they could find him there. They had been in town knocking on doors and asking for the house where a baby had been born. They said they had come to worship him because he was the Savior.

We thought they were just crazy old shepherds. You know how they are, but after they were gone, Joseph told us that an angel had also appeared to him in a dream telling him that Mary’s baby was from God and then Mary told her story of the angel which had appeared to her saying she would have God’s son. It was a lot to take in and we weren’t sure exactly what to believe. I was particularly skeptical.

Eight days later the baby was circumcised and they gave him the name, Jesus. They said it was the name the angel told them to use. Yeah…okay!

Things sort of got back to normal until it was time to take Mary and Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification. While we were in the temple courts, this crazy old man named Simeon grabbed Jesus out of Mary’s arms and cried out, ‘“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.” blah, blah, blah, or some such thing. Joseph didn’t know what to do and then the old guy blessed them and turned to Mary and as he handed Jesus back to her he said quietly, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God,” and mumbled some other stuff but ended with, “And a sword will pierce your very soul.” How uplifting! What a crock!

While Simeon was still talking, Anna came up. She’s an old woman who went crazy when her husband died and she came to live in the temple and has never left. She prays and fasts and worships all day and goes around giving so-called prophecies. She doesn’t smell very good either. She began praising God and talking about the child being the one who they had been waiting for. We got out of there as quickly as we could since she was starting to draw a crowd.

My wife and my mother were intrigued by the stories about the angels and the babblings of the two crazy people in the temple and convinced themselves that Jesus might really be the messiah. Yeah sure, the King of Israel would be born in my house. What a laugh!

Joseph found a job with me as a carpenter and they stayed with us for a while after all of the other relatives left. It was nice having them around.   A year or so later a group of astrologers arrived in the area. Great…educated, crazy people! They, too, were going house to house looking for some special baby. They said a sign had appeared to them in the sky and they had been following that sign for quite awhile. They had stopped by Herod’s palace to ask his wise men about the scriptures. Anyway, somehow they wound up here, but at least they brought gifts. They had gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold was pretty cool, but the other two items seemed odd gifts for a baby and we didn’t understand.

After they were satisfied they had found the right baby, the guys left. They mentioned they were supposed to go back to let Herod know where they found the baby, but they didn’t trust him and were going home a different way. We sat up and talked most of the night about their visit.

After finally going to sleep, Joseph woke up alarmed by another dream. Another angel had appeared to him and said that Herod was going to try to kill the baby. Joseph said he was taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt, which is where the angel supposedly told him to go. We tried to talk him out of it, I mean, you’re going to Egypt on a dream?

I guess it was a good thing they had been given the gold, because it allowed them to travel and get started in a new life in Egypt. We thought Joseph had lost his mind until a few days later the whole country was overrun with soldiers who came into every house and killed all the baby boys that were about two years or younger. For the first time I really wondered about the “angel” stories because without Joseph’s dream, Jesus would have surely been killed. A couple of years later, after Herod died, we heard that Joseph was going back to Nazareth.

Every year, we all meet in Jerusalem for the Passover festival and get to have a sort of family reunion together. I remember the year that Jesus was twelve. After the celebration, all of the Nazareth family was leaving because they had farther to travel than us. We were staying in Jerusalem a few extra days. A couple of days later, Joseph and Mary came to where we were staying saying that Jesus was lost. They had assumed he was with the rest of the family and had travelled for a day without noticing he wasn’t with them. They had travelled back and wondered if Jesus was with us or if we had seen him. We had not, so we joined in the frantic search. We went to the big market and all of the other places that might interest a twelve-year-old boy. Frustrated and frightened, we stopped by the temple for evening prayers. There he was, sitting with the religious teachers. We watched…it was like a game. They would ask him tricky questions and he would answer with another question, which would stump them, then he would grin and explain what he meant.

Mary finally went up and tried to make him feel guilty for their frantic anguish…Jewish mother, you know. He seemed clueless. He said, “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house doing His business?” I glanced at Joseph and he looked as if for the first time he truly realized that Jesus was not really his son. I think all of the dreams became his nightmare that day. Joseph was never the same after that. Oh, Jesus continued to honor and obey him, as his earthly father, but Joseph knew that Jesus was on a path Joseph couldn’t follow or understand. Fortunately, he died right before John went nuts.

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, John, had always been, what shall we say, different. He had sort of been raised that way. His parents were really old when he was born and they always told him that his birth was a miracle and God had special plans for him. I always felt sorry for him. Then he finally cracked and moved out into the desert wearing animal skins and eating insects. He preached to nobody until people began to go out to listen to his crazed ravings. His crowds grew larger and even the religious leaders began to worry about him and started going out to watch him. It was hilarious. He called them a pile of snakes!

One day Jesus showed up to listen to John and was baptized. John started the talk about Jesus being the messiah again and things went down hill from there. John was arrested and killed and Jesus started his ministry of teaching.

I was back in Bethlehem working again and only heard stories of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. I knew the authorities were getting scared of the crowds that were following him. Many of them were hoping that Jesus was really the messiah and would restore Israel to greatness again. I guess in my heart, I hoped the same thing. But who can overthrow the Romans?

I had never really believed he was the messiah until I started hearing of the miracles. I began to study the scripture. Micah 5:2 says, “But you, O Bethlehem are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you…” And Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Hosea 11:1 says, “…I called my Son out of Egypt.” These and other scriptures reminded me of the stories told around his birth. I began to hope and wonder.

We were in Jerusalem again for Passover when everything went wrong. Jesus came riding in on Sunday with crowds praising him. I knew this would lead to trouble with the authorities. Neither the Jewish nor Roman leaders liked this sort of thing. Before the week was over the crowd was crying for Jesus to die. How could this have happened?

We tried to stay close to Mary to support her in her tragedy, but I was angry. Angry with the crowd of followers who turned on him; angry with his disciples who didn’t get him out of Jerusalem when they saw this coming, angry with God…God…Jehovah…I’m not even supposed to speak his name. He had played games with my brother and his family…angels and shepherds and stupid wise men. Why would he save Jesus from the quickly merciful sword of Herod’s soldiers just to let him die an agonizing death on a cross years later? It made no sense. It couldn’t be God. I felt betrayed and foolish that I’d allowed myself to even hope and ALMOST believe that Jesus was the one. I went home.

It wasn’t long before the rumors reached us of the resurrection. Jesus had come back to life. Really! You expect me to buy this stuff again.

I found my peace in the scriptures. I saw God’s games; Abraham and the promise…the “almost” sacrifice of Isaac. Jacob and Esau and the deceit and lies, even Jacob was tricked by his father in law. I especially enjoyed rereading the story of the Exodus from Egypt. I enjoyed God’s games, but this time he was playing with Pharaoh. Each plague brought him closer and closer to letting the Israelites go.

Moses’ staff became a snake, he turned water to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, and locusts, darkness but Pharaoh would not listen. Then he came for their firstborn.

If God wanted to free Israel from Rome, he could. Once again the lamb could be killed and eaten and the blood used to save the lives of those living under the blood the way it happened in Egypt.
A couple of years after Jesus’ death, we went back to Jerusalem for Passover. I was more excited than usual because of my detailed study of the scripture. I understood that life was required for forgiveness and life was in the blood. As in all of the sacrifices through the years, be it a bull or goat or lamb or dove, it is blood that is required for forgiveness of sin.

I found myself meeting with some of Jesus’ disciples that I had known while he was alive. They were called “apostles” now. Jesus’ followers had multiplied since his death. They were organized and meeting to continue his teaching. Not only were they saying that he had come back to life, but they talked of the Passover meal shared together the night before he died. On that night he took the Passover meal that we had celebrated for centuries to remember being set free from slavery, and used it to portray himself as the lamb slain, whose blood would be our salvation.

We celebrated what they now called a “Holy Supper” a “Communion” with God through Jesus life and death. They said that in the middle of the Passover celebration he took the bread and broke it and gave thanks to God and said, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT IT: THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU. “

And after the supper as the cup of salvation is shared, he took the cup and said, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT: THIS IS THE CUP OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT. IT WILL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR ALL SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME. “

Suddenly, I understood…I can’t explain. It was as if all of the stories came together in one vision. The pregnant young girl, the questioning and unsure groom, the birth in our poor, crowded home, the crazy Simeon and Anna, the shepherds and the astronomers, the escape to Egypt even as we had escaped from Egypt…the grin on a boy in the temple and Joseph’s face as he lost his son. Even crazy John the baptizer fell into place and the miracles and teachings of Jesus made sense. I realized that the King of the Jews was really born in my house. But it was a kingdom not of a house, but of a heart. It was not about our love of life, but about living a life of love.

He came on that day so long ago so He could give His life, so that we could then have His Life, so that we could then give Our Lives…for Him. It’s not a cycle…it’s not a circle of life…it doesn’t go back around…it moves forward. He’s not the lamb slain at the Passover…He’s the lamb slain from the very foundation of the world for forgiveness. And as He lives His life in us and through us, we become his living sacrifices so that our world may know that He is the baby, He is the Lamb, He is the Life and the Light of Life that came into the world.

15. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: JESUS HEALS ON THE SABBATH

          One Sabbath, we were all with Jesus as he was teaching in a synagogue.  I think it was the last time I remember being in a synagogue with Jesus.  People loved listening to him teach.  His teaching in the synagogue was usually different from his teaching to the crowds.  Outside, he often taught with stories and we were never really sure what he was trying to get across.  People would go away with all different kinds of ideas of what he was saying.  Sometimes he would sit with us later and tell us what he meant, but sometimes he just let us find our own meaning, too.

          In the synagogue, it was sort of different because he was teaching from the scripture.  As I’ve said before, his teaching was so different from the other rabbis.  As people listened, the scripture came alive in Jesus.  He explained the words of the prophets as if they were his own.  His interpretations of the law took away the burden in a way that made sense and even made it desirable to obey.  It was amazing to listen.

          Anyway, on this particular day, while Jesus is teaching, he notices this woman in the back of the room.  You can barely see her because she’s bent over in a horrible position.  When Jesus looks at her, he stops teaching and everyone starts turning around trying to see what he’s looking at.  You can tell she is starting to feel uncomfortable with all of the attention.  To make matters worse, Jesus points her out and asks her to come up front.  Now everyone is really looking at her.

          As she is sort of shuffling forward, Jesus changes her humiliation to hope by saying, “Woman, you are free of this disease!”  You could feel the excitement.  As she got to Jesus, he put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up.  You should have seen the look on her face, wow!  She started praising God and most of the crowd was laughing and rejoicing with her.

          But there were a few of the regular religious jerks sitting together in the front.  They were scowling, as if something was wrong with this picture.  A couple of them put their heads together and mumbled a few things, then one of them, who was actually the leader of the synagogue, stood up and got the people to be quiet.  He looked over at Jesus like he was going to scold him or something, but when their eyes met, he turned away quickly and glared at the woman and the crowd.  “There are six days for working, so come on one of those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”  His cronies were nodding their heads and making grunting sounds of agreement.  Peter leaned over to me and whispered real loud, “Yea, like that happens here just any day of the week.” Everyone laughed.  The leader looked over at Peter, but before he could say anything, Jesus spoke up.  You could tell he was, uh, ticked off.  He looked straight at the leader and the other jerks, “You bunch of hypocrites, every Sabbath, you untie your ox or donkey and lead them to water, don’t you?”  They just stared at Jesus with this blank look on their faces.  They hadn’t caught where he was going with this.  He went on, “And yet you think this woman, this daughter of Abraham, should be left bound by this disorder today, just because it’s the Sabbath?”  Well, they finally got it…you should have seen their faces now.  It’s hard to describe a look of embarrassment and anger together.

          The crowd loved it.  They enjoyed seeing the jerks on the other side for once, but they quickly moved on and started rejoicing with the woman, who was still standing in the middle of all of this.  She stood so proud and looked at Jesus with an amazing look of gratitude.  It was as if she was so thankful for being healed, but equally grateful that Jesus stood up for her and the others.  Jesus just smiled and nodded to her…he understood.

14. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: JESUS RAISES A DEAD GIRL AND HEALS A SICK WOMAN

          One of the days when we were out walking, I don’t remember exactly when, a synagogue leader came up in kind of a hurry and then knelt down in front of Jesus.  That always looks kind of weird and starts to draw a crowd even if one is not already following us.  The fact that he was a leader in the synagogue and known by the locals was another reason people started looking our way.

          So, his name is Jarius and he starts to talk and sobs a couple of times and finally says, “Jesus, my 12 year old daughter is dying.  But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”  Well, I thought that sounded pretty presumptuous and I said so.  I even thought this might be some kind of trap, since he was from the synagogue.  But Jesus would hear nothing but this father’s faith in the middle of his grief.  So off we go to this guy’s house.

          By now, there’s a pretty good crowd following along with us.  They are pushing and shoving  trying to stay close to the action.  All of a sudden, Jesus stops and looks around.  “What’s wrong?” Peter asked quickly, looking around for someone to whack.  He’s always looking for someone to whack.  Jesus says, get this, he says, “Somebody touched me.”  We laughed and looked at each other like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Peter actually said it, “You’ve got to be kidding me, people are pushing and shoving and a dozen people or more must have touched you.”  Jesus said, “No, that’s not what I mean.  Somebody touched me on purpose, and I felt healing power leave me.”  Well, good grief, we didn’t know what that meant, but we started looking around the crowd like we did know.  All of a sudden this woman slinks out of the crowd and kneels in front of Jesus with her head bowed.  “It was me,” she stammered.  She was shaking and looked really frightened, and we didn’t know why.  Then she told him that she had suffered from a bleeding disorder for twelve years and no one could cure her.  That’s why!  A woman bleeding is unclean and shouldn’t even be out among other people.  If she touches them, she makes them unclean, too.  She went on, “I know I’m not supposed to be out with people and I know I’m not supposed to touch you, but I thought if I could just touch your robe, I could be healed.”  Jesus just looked at her and smiled.  He said, “Well, we don’t do so well with that clean and unclean thing ourselves, but it wasn’t my robe that did the healing; it was your faith that made you well.  Now get up and go in peace.”  Well, she jumped up and hugged Jesus and then ran off shouting, “Thank you,” as she headed home, well for the first time in a long time.

          Bleeding was a really difficult thing for women.  It made them weak and anemic besides the “unclean” thing they always had to deal with.  Many of them just took their chances and went on with a fairly normal life and hoped they never got caught.  This one was able to touch Jesus and her life was changed.  We all knew where the healing came from, though.

          So after this little interruption, we had almost forgotten where we were going in the first place, when a messenger shows up and tells Jarius that his daughter has died and there’s no more reason to bother Jesus.  Jarius turned to Jesus with this hopeless look and Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid, just have faith.  She’s going to be okay.”  Jarius looked at us for some kind of assurance, but we just shrugged our shoulders.  We had no idea what was going on anymore.

          When we finally arrived at his house, you could hear the mourners from the street.  Jesus told everyone to stay outside, but Peter, James and John walked in with Jarius.  The rest of us hung around and listened to what was going on. When Jesus went in, he told the mourners that they could stop wailing since the girl was just asleep.  Well, you should have heard the wailing turn to laughing.  These women were professional mourners; they’ve been around dead before, and they know dead.  Peter told me later, Jesus takes the little girl by the hand and tells her in a really loud voice to get up.  We heard that part from the street.  So, I guess the little girl just jumps up and the first thing she said was she was hungry.   So Jesus told them to feed her but then he asked them not to tell anyone what had happened.  Well, that was pretty useless since the women mourners had left the room screaming as soon as they saw the little girl stand.  They weren’t use to seeing dead people get up.  So they were already out spreading the news.  It’s hard to keep miracles a secret, I guess.

13. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: RESTORING THE DEMON POSSESSED

          After the storm, when we were getting close to the shore, Jesus was up and standing in the bow of the boat.  He seemed to be anticipating something, even though no one knew we were headed this way.  This was a Gentile area; not many Jews live over here.  As we were approaching the shore we heard the most terrifying screaming.  It made you cringe.  We couldn’t imagine the torture someone was experiencing that would cause that kind of screaming.  Plus, it sounded like more than one person in agony.  Jesus looked back at us with a look of excitement.  We had never seen him react to someone’s suffering that way.  As soon as we got close enough, Jesus jumped out of the boat and ran up into the cemetery that was there.  Some of us jumped out and tried to keep up as others stayed back to secure the boat.  After we ran a good way into the cemetery toward the tombs in the rocks, where it seemed the screaming was coming from, a couple of men jumped out from behind a tree.  They were huge and looked like they might rip off your head and spit down your neck.  Their hair was wild and they were naked.  Their bodies were bleeding from cuts they appear to have caused themselves.  They were dirty and smelled worse than any leper I had ever smelled.  We knew about guys like this.  Every city had some.  They were crazy and their families couldn’t keep them around anymore.  Some were worse than others.  Obviously these guys were worse than most.  They still had remnants of chains locked around their necks where they had been chained down but broke away.  They stayed out here around the tombs where no one would bother them.

          All of us screeched to a halt except Jesus.  He walked right up to the men.  “Hey guys, what’s going on?”  Their faces just contorted into horrible expressions and they just howled.  One of them growled in the most frightening voice I’ve ever heard, “Son of God, why do you torture us before it’s time?”  Jesus was so calm with his answer, “Because you are destroying these men’s lives.  What’s that about?  What are your names anyway?”  He screamed, “We are Legion!”  Jesus turned around to look at us as if to say, “Wow!”  We all knew that a Legion in the Roman Army had from 2000-4000 men in it.  That’s a lot of demons.  We took a few steps back.  The rest of the guys had joined us by now but were looking like they wish they had stayed with the boat.

          Jesus turned back and said, “You know you guys are going to have to come out now, don’t you?”  They both screamed so loud that we had to put our fingers in our ears.  One of them stopped screaming and asked, “Can you send us into that herd of pigs?”  Jesus frowned, “I don’t know, they didn’t do anything wrong!”  Peter yelled from three rows back, “Yeah, but they’re unclean, anyway!”  Jesus looked back at him and said, “It’s not their fault; they didn’t do anything to deserve that.  Besides, I’ve heard that bacon is wonderful.  We might have to rethink that “unclean” thing someday, but I guess today’s not the day for that.  I’ve got to give these guys some help.”  He turned back around, “Okay, you can go in the pigs.”  Suddenly both men collapsed and the pigs squealed a horrible sound and the herd started running for the lake and ran like lemmings, one after the other into the lake, where they drowned.  The guys watching the pigs took off.  They were scared and they wanted to tell the story so they wouldn’t get the blame for the loss of the pigs.

          Jesus took the guys down to the lake so they could clean up and he healed the wounds they had cut into their flesh.  We cut the chains from their necks and got them some extra robes that we had in the boat so they could dress.

          We heard the crowd coming before we could see them.  They were mad about the pigs and they were running toward us.  When they got close enough to see the two men who had been possessed, they stopped suddenly.  They all knew these men.  They knew how wild and dangerous they had been.  Seeing them dressed and sitting quietly at the feet of Jesus listening stopped them in their tracks.  You could see their expressions change from anger to fear.  Something had happened and they didn’t know what it was, but it was scary for them.  The guys who had been watching the pigs and saw everything told them the story.

         They started coming toward us again, but with a lot more caution.  The leader asked what had happened to the men.  Jesus said, “Well, I had to cast some demons out of them and they went into your pigs…sorry about that.”  They assured him that it was okay about the pigs, but they asked us if we would leave the area.  Jesus was surprised, “Really, after seeing what I can do, you want me to leave?”  They assured him that they did.  So we started getting into the boat.  The two men asked if they could come with us.  Jesus said, “I wish you could, but I need you to go back to your families and friends and tell them what I did for you, so they won’t be afraid.  No one should fear what I bring.”

          So we left and headed back across the lake.  As we were talking about what happened, Jesus said, “You know, I expected the religious leaders and Pharisees to be against the change I would bring, but I thought sinners and especially the gentiles would be glad to hear the good news that they are welcome in my kingdom.  I guess receiving forgiveness and acceptance is not as easy as it sounds.” 

12. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: CALMING THE STORM

                  One day, after Jesus had been teaching and telling stories, he said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.”  Sometimes we knew his plans and why we were going to a particular place, but sometimes he just decided to go and we went, without asking questions about why. 

          So, we got into a boat and headed out.  It was a beautiful day when we started.  The sails were up and the lake was calm.  There was a nice breeze that carried us along.  Jesus was really tired, because I think he was up all last night.  He did that every now and then.  After we were asleep, he would slip away to be alone.  Since he was so tired, he found a soft spot in the back of the boat, crawled under a tarp and went to sleep.

          We were about half way across when dark clouds started forming.  Storms often came up pretty quickly on the lake, but this one looked bad.  Matthew, who had spent all of his life on the land, was looking pretty nervous.  He said, “We’d better hurry.”  Peter, who was steering, laughed, and shouted over the wind that was rising, “Maybe you want to paddle, then.”  It was a nervous kind of laugh, though, and I could see on Peter’s face that even he was worried.  He had been out on this lake his whole life as a fisherman and he knew how bad this storm looked.

          The wind didn’t seem to be coming from any particular direction that allowed us to continue to use the sails, so we pulled them down before the boat was capsized.  We threw out the oars and started rowing.  Peter steered us into the waves so, hopefully, they wouldn’t come in over the sides.  It got pretty scary.  It was so dark that we could barely see and it was so rough that I could hear a couple of guys throwing up over the side of the boat.  Or, at least, I hoped it was over the side.  The rain was cold and sharp and it stung when it hit because the wind was blowing so hard.  The waves were washing over the bow by now, and Peter yelled for anyone not rowing to start bailing.  Someone yelled back, “What do you think we’re doing?”  But Peter couldn’t really see them; he only knew the water was up to his knees. 

          The storms on the lake were usually pretty short lived, but this one didn’t seem to be slackening.  I don’t how it could get any worse, but it seemed to by trying.  We were getting exhausted from rowing and bailing and I was beginning to worry that we might all drown. 

          A big waved washed over the bow and Matthew, who didn’t know enough to lash himself to something to keep from being washed overboard, was knocked down.  The water washed him, screaming all the way, to the back of the boat, where he bumped into Jesus, who was still asleep.  Everything had happened so fast, that we almost forgot he was with us.  Matthew grabbed him, still screaming, and yelled what appeared to be the obvious, “Wake up, wake up, we’re going to drown.”  Jesus crawled out from under the cover and waded to the middle of the boat, where we could all see him and he raised his hands and said, “Peace…be still.”  Well, the rain suddenly stopped and the wind quit blowing, so the waves died down, too.  We watched the sky as the clouds just began to disappear.  In a moment’s time, the sun was out, the water was calm and the easy breeze was back.  Jesus looked around at the mess the boat was in and then looked at all of us.  One guy had just finished puking.  He could see on our faces how scared we had been.  He quietly asked, “If you were so afraid, why didn’t you wake me sooner?”  Peter jumped in, “We didn’t know you could do that!”  Jesus just shook his head as he walked back to sleep some more.  When he got to the back he turned around and said, “By now, I would’ve thought you had more faith than that.”  Then he just crawled under the cover. 

          Well, we looked around at each other and if you think there was fear in our faces before…whoa!  Peter said in a loud whisper, “Did you see that?”  We were all nodding that scared nod you do when you don’t really know what’s happening and you don’t know what to say.  Peter looked back at where Jesus was and then back at us and said, “Who is this guy?”  We were all thinking that.

          We hauled up the sails and as the boat started moving across the calm waters, we all spent the rest of the trip, quietly in our own minds, just thinking about that question.

 

11. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: THE DISCUSSION ABOUT FASTING

Sometime after Matthew joined us we were confronted one day by the disciples of John the Baptist.  That’s what they were calling him now…it was sort of like a stage name.  But, because Jesus was becoming so popular, John was losing his crowd.  This group of hardcore John followers was pretty upset about that and when we saw them coming toward us, we sort of gathered in a circle around Jesus to protect him.  Yeah, I know it sounds stupid.  Looking back on it, I can see how ridiculous it was that we thought we needed to protect Jesus.  But we did.  Peter even picked up a couple of rocks to have handy.  That was the nice thing about where we lived, there were always rocks around.

Anyway, as these guys walk up, Jesus steps out of the circle.  The leader comes up to Jesus and in this real whiny voice asks, “Why don’t your disciples fast like we and the Pharisees do?”  It had this “John’s disciples are better than yours” sound to it.  Jesus turned around and looked at us with this smirk on his face that only we could see and sort of whined, “Yeah, you guys.  You haven’t been fasting?  You told me you were.  What are the Pharisees going to think of you?”  We weren’t always sure when Jesus was joking, but we were pretty sure this time.  James pipes up, “It makes us too hungry.”  We all laughed, even Jesus.         Then Jesus turned back and said, “Sorry, we were just joking around.  But seriously, do wedding guests mourn while they are celebrating with the groom?  Of course not, but someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.”  The guy just stood there with this blank look on his face.  Jesus looked around at us and we were all nodding our heads like we knew what he was talking about even though we didn’t understand what he meant either.  So he tries again, “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth?  The new patch would shrink and rip the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear.”  He’s getting nowhere here.  He continues, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins.  The old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.  New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”

So there you have it.  Jesus answers the question, “Why don’t your disciples fast?” with a story about a groom who disappears, patching old cloth with new and the fact that fermenting wine expands.

You should have seen those guys…by this time their brows were furrowed and they were nodding and some were stroking their beards like they were thinking real hard and beginning to understand what this wise teacher was saying.  They thanked Jesus for his answer and backed away and left.  Jesus turned to us and said, “I thought that went well.”  We all burst out laughing and were patting Jesus on the back and John said, “Great answer, they’ll be trying to figure that stuff out for awhile.”  You see, we all thought Jesus made up a bunch of convoluted stuff just to confuse John’s arrogant disciples.  It wasn’t until after he was resurrected and gone that we realized what he was saying.  He was the groom who would be taken and the Kingdom he was bringing was so new that it couldn’t be just mixed in with the old.  The old way wouldn’t contain it.  Remember what I wrote about Jesus at his baptism, “Suddenly he knew that he was to lead God’s people on a new path…into a new kingdom…a kingdom, not about law, but about love; not about rules, but about righteousness; and he knew that he was to be that path.”  Well, the old is rarely excited about the new.  And the old Kingdom, even the one we were hoping for, was not prepared for what Jesus was bringing.  We would find that out soon enough.

10. A DISCIPLE REMEMBERS: THE CALLING OF MATTHEW, THE PARTY

Being a tax collector, Matthew was a pretty rich guy and the first thing a rich guy wants to do when anything happens is throw a party.  They don’t care what it’s about; they’ll celebrate anything because they can afford to throw great parties.  So, this life changing decision to follow Jesus starts out with a banquet.  The rest of us didn’t mind.  We really didn’t like the idea of a tax collector joining us, but we didn’t feel strongly enough about it to miss a party.  Besides, we knew that Jesus was going to reach out to whoever he wanted and he wasn’t going to listen to us.  So, it was party time.

Matthew knew how to be a great host.  He invited all of his friends to come so they could meet Jesus, too.  His family wasn’t so sure of what was going on, though.  They were glad he was leaving the service of Rome, but leaving everything to follow a teacher around wasn’t really their idea of a wise career move.

While we were inside eating, some religious leaders and the lawyers who had argued with Jesus earlier came by and were standing out front.  Matthew and a couple of us went out and he invited them in.  He was just fooling around; since he knew they wouldn’t come in and eat with us.  One of the lawyers asked, “Why does Jesus eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Matthew laughed, “Because we’re more fun than you guys.”  We all laughed, but they didn’t think it was very funny.  They don’t think anything is funny.

Jesus had noticed something happening and he came outside and asked, “What’s going on?”  The lawyer started, “The law says if you eat with these people, you’re unclean.”  Jesus smiled and asked, “God’s law or your law?”  Nobody answered, they just glared…they knew the answer.  Jesus waited a little to let them think about it and squirm, and then he went on, “Do people go to the doctor if they don’t know they’re sick?  Of course not, only sick people go to a doctor.  You need to learn what Hosea meant when he said, ‘I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.’  You’ve missed that part.  You’re all about the sacrifices, but you don’t know anything about the love and mercy.  You see, I have not come for those who think they are righteous, like you…but for those who know they are sinners.”

Well, the discussion changed pretty quickly from unclean to, “Who do you think you are to tell us we only think we’re righteous.  Besides that, why would you be calling sinners, they just need to offer sacrifices for their sins and change their ways.  Nothing you are saying makes any sense.”  Jesus just listened and smiled at them.  You know that smile.  The one someone has when they know something you don’t know.  Jesus said, “Maybe someday you’ll understand what I mean.”  Then we watched them storm off.  I looked at Jesus and said, “A lot of what you say doesn’t make any sense to us either.”  He put his arm around my shoulder and whispered, “I know, but it will, and at least you’re trying.  That’s enough for right now.”