"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
The dialogue of Jesus with John, whom he loved, and now with myself, as I am.
I knew him, as a boy. We played and hammered at invisible nails until we were old enough to work, and then we worked hard and he was such a carpenter. We raced and he usually won but sometimes he’d fall and skin his knee, and mother came running every time. It wasn’t anything special, but he loved me then and he loves me now and he is my best friend.
Lying here, in this cave, on this island, I remember how we were as boys. I feel my bones regain strength, and I am not feeble or weak or shriveled, but I am young and strong and loud, living within him. I think to when he called me, and when I answered, and how still nothing else matters.
I remember seeing him that day, on the shore, beckoning. It was pleasantly warm so early in the morning, and a dry wind skated over our faces out on the water. He beckoned and then he spoke, and I could hardly believe it, but we heard him. “Follow me,” he said. And we heard him, out there on the water and in the wind. He did not shout, and he did not strain for us to hear. He spoke and we heard. We knew and we followed. I left the boat in good shape, you know. I brought it in and tied it up. But I didn’t hesitate, and neither did James. It didn’t matter, but we did everything completely, without abandon, and reckless all the same.
When we walked in, they were there already. Not all twelve as they would be, but Simon, Andrew, and Philip, who stood as we walked in and greeted us warmly, soundlessly. Heavy pats on the back, holding our heads and placing warm kisses on our temples. The room was humble and clean, like the ones we grew up in, the ones in which we escaped the sun as boys. The silence made it sacred. Their eyes were bright with hope and from everything I was feeling – which didn’t feel like much more than numbness in the awe of everything – I can imagine mine were the same. What were we to see? This was just the beginning.
“I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” he said.
The hot air expanded and wrapped around our limbs. There was something new, deep in my chest, pushing against my ribcage and sounding in my ears – something new and something that changed everything. He walked as any other man, but we could see the clearly superior confidence and grace in every step. He walked as though his feet and every fiber of his being loved the land he walked upon and humbly bent into the dust. When he turned and talked with us, we knew that he loved us, too. He laughed, and touched my shoulder, for we were going to a wedding.
Mother was there, smiling and laughing with everyone, scattering the harsh humidity. I wrapped her in my arms and turned her toward her son. She laughed and welcomed us all, and then remembering something, pulled Jesus to the side. I could hear her in hushed tones, say, “My son, they have no more wine.”
I wondered why she told him this with such secrecy, and glanced over to the wedding family who gathered together closely, smiling and celebrating. They were young – thirteen or fourteen – and dressed simply. Neither they nor their relatives declared wealth or prestige. I turned back, and Jesus embraced her elbow in his palm. He replied gracefully, “Woman, why do you include me? My time has not yet come.” My brow wrinkled, and then softened, because the look on his face said “thank you”.
He found my eyes and inclined his head, so I followed him. He smiled as though he had a wonderful secret and I became enthralled. We walked toward the back of the courtyard where the wedding ceremony had taken place and toward the empty washing jars that lay piled against a wall. I heard mother’s voice and the frantic servants become calm: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Then I heard again that voice that I heard days before, out on the water. He softly, with humble authority, commanded the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and as James and I had diligently followed, so did they. They felt the urgency, but held close to their duties and performed them with excellence, and more precision that ever before. They filled each to the brim.
“Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet,” he instructed. “Master?” I thought, glancing toward the wedding family once more. I wouldn’t have called the thin young man, or even his father, “master”. But this was Jesus, and Jesus was different. The servants again obeyed.
When the jars were turned and rich red wine poured from them where once washing water had been held, I lost my sense of reality. I stumbled as though an earthquake had shaken the dust beneath me and grabbed for stability to find James there. I held his shoulder and we watched the eyes of the family light up in their soft faces and cry out with joy. The father, a gentile and regal old man in his simple wedding dress stood and touched his son’s shoulder. “You have saved the best for last?” I heard him ask, although he celebrated it and it did not require a response.
Jesus leaned and spoke with his mother by the wall. He laughed, and she squeezed his hand with joy and approval. Her, the mother of this man, this man of God, this man who would turn out to be our LORD, and she submitted to him her motherly approval with a tight squeeze.
A few days later, after the festivals of marriage had simmered, we went down into Capernaum, Jesus and those closest to him. One afternoon, he and I walked into Jerusalem, before everything had closed up, but when quick cool breezes began to at the sun’s fatigue, and we walked past the temple. It was almost the passover, so our words and steps seemed to contain fresh energy. We talked of the wedding, how beautiful and simple and hopeful it had been, and then I sensed a shift. One breeze was a bit colder than the last and my eyes turned to Jesus’ face, which had grown solemn. His eyes flashed and he turned sharply up the steps of the temple with such authority that I was left in the street, fearfully in awe.
A table crashed against the wall and coins scattered, echoing over the scuffed stone floors. “What?” my mind screamed. Another crash, and squawks from pigeons and chickens rose in a desperate scramble for safety. Jesus moved rapidly through the corridors, between pillars, into the open and summoned words from the depth of his being: “How dare you!” Was this my friend, was this my patient, loving brother? I spun around to catch the faces of the pitiful vendors on the steps freeze in terror. Not one of us wanted to enter the courts. Snap. Suddenly a wave of men, women, sheep, birds, and goods came pouring out, down the large stone steps. I moved quickly behind a pillar to avoid trampling. When I emerged, Jesus stood outside the courts, breathing heavily but without effort, a whip of cords in one hand, dangling out over the first step. “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The words echoed in my mind from distant moment that I now drew close to, and warm, awesome pride for Jesus filled my face. A priest, or some other fool from across the temple area outside called up to him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” He had no doubt heard of the wine at the wedding days before, but his voice cracked in the silence.
The flame I could see in Jesus’ eye dimmed, but did not go out. I can’t remember one moment in the years I knew him that it wasn’t there, even as he washed my feet in his final days. The cord whip slipped from his fingers and he raised his hand, touching the massive pillar beside him. “Destroy this temple,” he spoke, without strain, and everyone heard, “and I will raise it again in three days.”
I watched his arm fall, and his strong legs stride down to me from the edge of the temple court. I knew he couldn’t mean this building, but I didn’t yet have a clue that his lean, brown legs would be the ones to break, his strong, warm arms the ones to drain of all life. The Jews in the temple area questioned him with false confidence as he descended, but we were gone.
3. One among the pharisees was curious. If more were curious, only one had the courage to approach Jesus with the humility of a student. I remember waking up