I wonder what century I’m in now?
Cold, tired, confused and out of breath from running, he crouched behind a thick bush and listened to the sounds of heavy footsteps approaching.
I am getting too old for this.
He touched the cross around his neck, ensuring it was secure, and squinted, trying to adjust to the darkness.
He waited, straining to listen to the conversation of the two strangers standing a few feet away. Clutching the tall stick he’d taken from a tree he eased himself up and peered around the bush.
“Are we resting here for the night?” a thin man asked his traveling partner with the long beard.
The bearded man gathered twigs, placing them on the ground. “We do not have enough silver to find a suitable place to rest. I am tired of sleeping in these foul conditions,” he said, adding thicker pieces of branches onto the pile of twigs.
“We have no choice,” the thin man said as he rubbed two sticks together. “We are here for our brother.”
Unsure of who the men were, he wondered if he could trust them as he continued to listen to their conversation. He let his body relax for a brief moment while welcoming the warmth emanating from the fire the men had managed to start. Is this the place and time where he would be? It looks familiar but I am not sure. If I do approach them and ask about him, what would the reaction be? He was popular among many but a threat to others. Heck, look what the public did to the disciples after he left.
He took a few steps closer.
“When do we ask our brother to lead us into battle?” the bearded man asked.
The thin man gave him a look of astonishment. “What battle are we talking about?”
“Fighting the Romans.”
The thin man shook his head. “Our brother is a man of peace, not of confrontation. He talks to us about love, not war. He encourages all to love each other, not kill one other.”
The bearded man scowled. “We have lived far too long as sheep. He is the one. We have seen his work, his miracles, his power. We will not be peasants under the Romans no more. He is our King. He should lead us into battle.”
That has to be Judas. He was the apostle that believed in taking on the Romans. He was the rebel in the group, anxious for war. I know this has to be true. It is him.
“No. This is not what our brother wants. I will not be part of this,” protested the thin man. “You will be removed by our brother if he discovers what you want. This is not what he wants.”
The bearded man paced back and forth. He picked up a stick from the fire, its flame piercing the darkness of the night. He waved it around. “What he wants may not be what he finds is possible. The great men of this world have spilled their blood into battle many times more than our brother, risked far more men. No. It will not be possible for our brother.”
“Our brother has talked about spilling his blood, not our blood to save others,” the thin man said, showing a deeper look of concern. “Has there not been enough blood spilled in our world during our time?”
The bearded man waved the stick toward the thin man. “One must spill your blood to have any gain in this world. Have you not learned this?”
It is Judas. He was the power hungry apostle. He fingered the cloth in his pocket. I cannot let him get this. I cannot let him even think I have something like this. He would use it for his own power.
“I have,” said the thin man, who turned his back. “I have learned as well that it does not stop more to be spilled later.”
“Cowards do not become heroes and forge history,” said the bearded man. “Have you forgotten?”
The thin man approached his friend and tugged at his arm. “Put the stick down. I have not. I have not forgotten why we walk many steps with our brother, face the wrath of so many, yet speak about peace and love and walking into his father’s kingdom some day. Have you forgotten?”
The bearded man pulled his arm away in disgust and threw the stick back into the fire. “I have not forgotten my brothers and sisters being attacked, maimed, and killed. I have not forgotten their blood spilling into my hands from the Romans’ spears and swords. You have forgotten, not me.” He walked away, taking a few steps up the hill.
Maybe now I can take a chance with this apostle. I do not know who he is but it isn’t Judas.
“Where are you going?” the thin man asked.
“To rest. I have many ideas to think over. It is best I do it without having to listen to a sheep.”
“So be it, my friend.”
The bearded man turned around. “We may walk with our brother side by side. We are not friends.”
He disappeared into the darkness. The thin man stood watching, not moving, only turning his head around as a howl echoed in the distance.
He will not trust me. He pushed the cloth deeper into his pocket and tightened his grip on his makeshift cane. I am old but I can strike him if necessary. What am I thinking? Striking an apostle? I will go to hell for sure. No. I will approach him with caution, tell him I am lost but looking for a preacher so I can give him my respects. Yes. That’s a good plan.
The thin man started to walk away.
I will take my chances. I have to now or I may lose a chance to speak to him.
“My brother, I come in peace,” he said, putting his hand up in a gesture of surrender.
“Stop,” the thin man said. “Do not take one more step. Judas! Come quickly.”
The bearded man ran down the hill. “What is your business, old man?”
“My business is one of peace,” he said, struggling to keep his voice even. “I have come to see my Rabbi. Jesus.”
“What business do you have with him?”
“I just need to see him. I am in need, sick,” he said, making it up as he went along. “I have come many steps to see him. Please, my brother. Let me speak to him.”
From behind a tree, a woman appeared. She had long, black hair and striking blue eyes. Her face was thin and she wore a light blue robe. “The Rabbi is resting. I will see if he is feeling well enough to see you. What is your illness?”
Feeling guilty of his fibbing, he lowered his head. “My legs. They are weary and fill me with pain when I walk.”
“You are old,” said Judas with a snarl. “Your legs will give you pain.”
“Stop,” the woman said, giving Judas a look of dismay. “Rest, my brother. I will see if the Rabbi has some time to speak to you. What is your name?”
“An odd name. Where do you come from?”
“Afar past those hills.” He pointed to his right, not knowing what was beyond the high terrain.
He grabbed her arm. “Please.” He looked into her eyes. “It is important I see him only for a few moments. I promise.”
She nodded and left. He leaned against a rock as the men continued to watch him. He felt a light, sweeping wind caress his face and for a moment his weary body relaxed. He no longer felt uneasy and nervous. He realized this was where he had to be. “Would you mind if I sit down? I am so exhausted.” Judas did not answer. The other man gestured to him to sit.
I wonder if he will ask me to return to the field. I am not sure I can make it back there. But so many lives are at stake. I really should not be concerned how tired I am. I am not sure I can stand much longer or hear any more cries. I must tell him.
It was several minutes before the woman emerged from a higher point on the small mountain. She was out of breath but smiling. “The rabbi is tired like you. He has taken many steps like you. He needs a few moments to recover. Rest and await my call to come up to see him.”
Judas glared as the woman left. He circled around him. “You have odd looking hair.” He put his hand on top of George’s head. Then Judas put his hand up to his nose. “You smell like a woman.” The other apostle laughed as Judas walked away. “I have met many people, many men and women and children. I have never smelled anyone like you.”
“I come from a different town.”
He turned around and stared. “What town is that? You do not come from near here.” He raced over, pulling on his arm to lift him up. Judas’ breath was foul, smelling of wine. “Speak the truth.”
What do I say now? He tightened his grip on the cloth in his pocket.
“What is wrong?” the woman asked, walking down the hill.
“I do not trust this old man,” Judas said. “We should send him away, back from where he came.”
“No one is going away. The rabbi will see you now.”
She put her shoulder under his arm. “Let me help you, my brother. How bad are your legs?”
“They are bad. Your help strengthens me. Thank you.”
“You are a courageous man to come so many steps to see my rabbi.”
“I am not. He is. I am humbled by being with you and him.”
She led him into a cave, illuminated by small fires in four parts of the room. The shadow of a hooded man stretched high upon the walls. He turned. “I am fine, Magdalene. You may go.”
She left and the man approached with a smile. He pulled down his hood, his dark beard in full view, and his brown eyes filled with concern. “You have come a long way to see me,” he said. “My son, what worries you?”
“I have grown tired. My body is failing me, my Lord.”
“You have done well, my son, protecting those babies.”
“How much more blood be spilled?” George asked.
“Where there is life, there is good. Where there is life, there is evil.”
“How much more evil must I fight?”
“Until you are called home into my father’s kingdom.”
“The steps have taken their toll on me. The cries for help have burdened my heart. There are others who can help.” He pulled the cloth out of his pocket and gave it to Jesus. “There are others who may need this. Others are traveling, too, back where I come from.”
Jesus took it. “You have honored me, using this only for others’ gain, never for your own. You should go home for now. Be with your wife for she too is tired, weary and worried. Treasure your time with her.”
“I am afraid I will not be able to get back.”
“Follow me,” Jesus said. He led him deeper into the cave, past many patches of fire. A big stream of water rushed from the tip of the mountain and below, seemingly well over a hundred foot drop. “Follow the stream, let your body and soul believe in me, and find your way home.”
He hesitated and looked back at Jesus. “Through there?”
He nodded and smiled, his gaze sparkling from the fires several feet in the air as the water’s mist blew back toward them.
“Believe, my son. Do not hesitate in your faith.”
“Will I see you again? Will I be traveling again?”
“If your soul is strong enough.” Jesus took his makeshift cane away. “Believe.”
George staggered a few steps and stopped.
Jesus grabbed his arm to steady him. “Our bodies eventually fail but our souls forever fight on.”
“My soul will always be willing.” He took a few steps, feeling the mist of the stream hitting his face and arms. The sound of the water plunging downward drowned out his fearful thoughts. He walked through the stream, the water drenching his body.
Of their own volition, his legs left the ground, his feet dangling in the air. He held his arms upward and floated downward for what seemed like an hour.
He finally landed.