It’s not often I get inspired to write a fictional story, but when I read through the gospel of Luke and came across the passage below, a story jumped out at me, begging to be written. Sometimes the Bible can be very unemotional–it was written by men. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the characters in the Bible were real people with real emotions, doubts, fears and questions. My hope in writing this short story is to connect emotion to the characters and situation so we may experience a deeper connection to an age old passage, and feel closer to Christ.
“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts” Luke 2:43-46
After Three Days
She pointed to the sky. The clouds bled red and orange, edges trimmed in gold like the temple dome we left behind this morning. The beauty of God’s creation was never lost on Adinah’s five-year-old mind. I nodded and smiled. Our caravan made good time for the day, but it would be time to stop for the night soon. Thoughts of dinner preparations and settling the children for the night, drained my last stores of energy. I glanced behind me to find Yosef, but I could only see the line of mules waddling under their heavy loads and the throng of my beloved family and friends, seventy in all, who made the trip for the Passover this year.
Turning back to the painted sky, I replayed the last week in my mind, filing away the memories as years past. The feasting, dancing, and singing were more enjoyable this year without a small child strapped to my back, as was the ease of the five day journey from Nazareth. Everyone seemed to enjoy each other. Yeshu`a seemed especially tuned to the ceremony and traditions this year. He was quiet, somber, and watched the men with a learner’s eye, no longer a rambunctious child running around like the others. He was growing up.
The pounding of hooves kicked up the dust around us as the rider sped by. I knew he was carrying the message to the front leader to stop for the night. I was grateful. My feet and legs ached.
We began to set up camp for the night, Adinah unpacked the pots, while I picked up the stray sticks to start a fire. The sun set and the hue of dusk rested on our busy crowd as fires start up down the line. I heard Yosef and turned to see my boys gallivanting back and forth between him and each other. I looked for Yeshu`a but he was not with them.
“And where is Yeshu`a?”
Yosef looked around our circle, “I thought he must be with you.”
“Up here with the women?”
“He’ll find us,” Yosef said taking the sticks from my arms and preparing the fire.
Darkness fell quickly as we prepared the meal. I stood up from the fire once dinner was done and still no Yeshu`a. I shot a worried frown to my husband, “Yosef?”
He nodded, “Iakobos, and I will go look for him. Eat while it is still hot.”
I could not eat, my stomach in knots as the night wore on. The other children had finished and wiped the dishes clean. They were settling in their sacks for the night. I kissed them goodnight without revealing my worry.
Quick footsteps quickened my heart. I looked for Yeshu`a among the returning.
“No one has seen him,” Yosef said, out of breath from running.
My eyes widened,“Was he with you when we started out this morning? Where could he be?”
He placed his hands on my shoulders. “I thought he was. Maria, we will just have to go back and look for him in Jerusalem.”
I did not want to leave my other children with relatives but Yosef was right, they would only slow us down. Oh Yeshu`a, where are you? Are you afraid? Are you alone? I wiped a stray tear, feeling the pull of sleep on my eyes as the caravan became small specks of light behind us. There was only darkness before us. Though it was dangerous to travel at night we did not feel we could stop to sleep.
I kept my gaze on the flicker of flame held by my husband, lighting our path. I wrapped my shawl tighter around my shoulders, and allowed my mind to wander to another time a similar flame lit our way to Bethlehem almost thirteen years ago… It was then when the discomfort I felt in my swollen belly slowly turned to pain. It started while we could only see Bethlehem in the ravine. We started down the steep road that led to the entrance of the city, but we had to stop every few minutes so I could lean on the donkey and pant through another pain. Yosef didn’t know what to do until I showed him to press on my back to help me through it. It was slow progress to the city gate but we finally made it just as a gush of water left my body. “Yosef, he is coming now.” Every place we stopped told us the same. No room. The town was packed with sojourners here to register, the same reason we were. “I don’t care where we go, but we have to find a place now,” I panted, after the third place turned us away. The next inn keeper took pity on us and showed us around the back of his establishment. He shoveled fresh hay over the floor of his half-roofed barn where his animals stayed. “I’m sorry.” His only reply as he left us. The pain was blinding. “Yahweh, help me!” I cried, on my hands and knees, remembering why I was in this situation to begin with. Memories flashed in my mind. An angel. His ridiculous words. The shame. Embarrassment. Yosef’s anger and finally his acceptance and love. Of course no one believed me and I’m not sure I believed myself at certain moments, but when my belly started to grow, knowing I had never been with a man, I was shocked and scared, awed and excited.
This life ripped through me with another rush and Yosef laughed with shock. Finally the pain subsided and he placed my son in my arms. I wrapped him in my shawl weeping, remembering the name the angel had given me. “Yeshu`a… Oh Yeshu`a”
The rooster’s crow woke me from my thoughts of his birth. The early morning light broke above the horizon in the east and we could see Jerusalem’s city gates opening for the overnight travelers who slept outside. My mind felt drunk with sleepiness, my body numb.
“We’ll start back at the Bekhorath house,” Yosef said, “Surely he went back there to wait for us.” But he was not with our friends. We went up the block of homes knocking on doors and asking if anyone had seen a lost twelve-year-old boy. No one had. The streets were not as busy as they had been the past week and shop keepers were still cleaning from the festivities of the Passover. I could smell the roasting fires start up and felt a lump of tears crawl up my throat. “Yosef… I” I buried my face in my hands and wept.
His arms encircled me as we stood in the street. “Let’s go back to the Bekhorath’s. We will make a plan.”
My plate sat untouched and cold on the table at the Bekhorath’s, our long-time friends we stayed with when we came for the Passover. The men left hours ago to continue the search. I could not argue with my husband about staying behind, but I felt helpless sitting here. I prayed, Yahweh, show us where he is. Please do not take him from us. I cannot bear it.
I jumped at the latch lifting on the door. Yosef and Uria came through, but no Yeshu`a. IIana came in from the kitchen to trim and light the candles, bringing with her the smell of supper.
“No, Yosef, no,” I whispered, his image fading in my tears. He came to me. “Maria, we must eat and rest. We will do Yeshu`a no good exhausted. We will continue our search at first light.”
I pushed the food around my plate, but none touched my lips. The nausea came in waves as did the tears. After dinner Yosef led me upstairs to the roof where we would sleep. I felt delirious and stopped to vomit before he picked me up and carried me the rest of the way. He laid me on the mat. I grabbed his tunic, “Where is he?!”
“Shhhh…my wife. We must sleep. Perhaps in a dream Yahweh will reveal his plan as he has before.”
Yes. Surely Yahweh would lead us to him. From before his birth Yeshu`a was not like any other child and though many did not believe our story, Yosef and I knew he was special to Yahweh in a way no other person was special. We didn’t fully understand it. The years surrounding his birth were scary and chaotic as we moved from place to place, but one thing continued to ring true. The prophecy. More than a handful of people confirmed it along the way, but we never discussed it with anyone and only told Yeshu`a Yahweh had chosen him for a special purpose. After he turned four-years-old everything seemed to settle down. Until now.
Yosef laid next to me, letting out a long sigh. “Maria… Yeshu`a asked me something strange at the beginning of Passover. I… I didn’t know what to say.”
“What did he ask?” I turned to him. He wrapped his arm around me and I laid on his chest.
“It was right after we killed the lamb and began to prepare it for the meal. He was so quiet, I asked him what was wrong. He said, ‘Papa I am the lamb, aren’t I?’ I… I didn’t answer him.”
“Oh, Yosef, I do not know what to do with him. He knows things I do not understand. What are we going to do?”
He kissed my head, “I don’t know…. I don’t know.”
My sleep was restless. Images played in my mind. Blood. So much blood. The bleat of a lamb echoing through flames of fire, Yeshu`a calling for me, but I could not get to him and then the earth shook.
“My love,” Yosef’s voice cut through the fog. He shook my shoulder. “It is morning.”
I rose and washed, finding everyone downstairs for the morning meal. I sat next to Yosef and whispered. “Has Yahweh visited you in your dreams? Do you know where Yeshu`a is?”
“No,” he looked down. “You?” I shook my head. We discussed our plan with Uria and IIana and decided I would go with Yosef this time to the upper region where we had distant relatives, and they would canvas the outskirts of the wall where the squatters village sank into the muddy streets.
I felt more focus today after having slept but didn’t mention my dream to Yosef for fear of speaking words of death out loud. The gleam of the sun glinted off the gold dome of the temple as we traveled up to the region that overlooks the city. The town bustled with movement but quieted the farther north we traveled. We stopped a few times along the way asking shop keeps if they had seen Yeshu`a. No one seemed able or willing to help unless we were buying. I saw Yosef clench his jaw, his beard moving slightly each time, when yet another owner shook his head and offered us his merchandise.
We arrived at the house of Eliakim, the servants washed our feet and set an elaborate meal for us before we even saw Yosef’s father’s distant cousin. I ate a few bites of bread and dates at the urging of my husband and wondered what Yeshu`a was doing for food. I swallowed the food and my tears.
The men discussed their options. I stayed quiet. My eyes followed the curves of the embroidery on the table cloth. What had the prophets said when Yeshu`a was born? It felt so long ago, and yet, just like yesterday. I shifted through my memories of the first couple years of Yeshu`a’s life. It had all been so strange. The shepherds came only hours after his birth. We were sleeping when we heard them approach. They told us the heavens opened before their eyes and told them about a Savior. It matched what the angel told me only ten months before. Later, the Magi with their gifts, the multiple warnings Yosef received from Yahweh’s messenger to keep us safe… all confirmed that I hadn’t dreamt the crazy story of this child’s conception. But nothing else had happened since.
We left Eliakim’s with our next step. Contacting the Roman Guard. This plan did not appeal to Yosef, but it seemed the only course of action now. “They won’t do anything. We are not important enough,” he said on the way back down into the city.
I walked behind him. “Yosef, what did the prophets say? When we brought Yeshu`a to the temple for circumcision, after his birth? Do you remember?”
Silence remained constant until we reached the bottom of the hill. He turned to me, pensive. “One was Shim’on. He said he had waited his whole life to see the salvation of the Lord and now he had. He said… he said Yeshu`a was a light to reveal to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel.”
“There was more,” I said, my voice trembling. “He told me Yeshu`a would cause many to fall and many to rise… that he would be spoken against; that he would reveal what is in the heart of all men. Even my own…. and the old woman? Remember?”
“I think she might have been crazy,” Yosef said.
“No, she was respected. Everyone listened to her when she stopped us. ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’ that’s what she said.”
Yosef looked toward the setting sun.
“What does it mean, Yosef?”
“It means they thought Yeshu`a was the Messiah.”
His words stunned me to silence. I considered him for a moment. “What if he is?” I grabbed for his arm. “Is this it? Has the Lord taken him? Why would the Lord give him to us just to take him away? I do not understand Yahweh’s plan…Yosef, what if… what if he’s gone? What if we never see him again?”
He grasped my hand, “Maria, that is what we will do. We will go to the temple at first light in the morning. To make a sacrifice and pray.”
Yosef dropped two denarii in the hands of the priest working behind the desk at the temple gates. I remained close to my husband as the crowd thickened for the morning sacrifices. I secretly examined the faces of every child and saw Yeshu`a in each one. I kept thinking at any moment he would materialize in front of me. I willed it to happen. The priest took down our name and noted our contribution for our sacrifice. He gestured us forward with the waiting throng of worshipers. The line of people pressed against us. We shuffled along until we reached the inner courtyard and had a little more room to walk around and breathe until we found our separate places for the morning services. I scanned the crowd again from my spot in the women’s court, seeing small groups gathered around each other. The hum of voices seemed to vibrate my whole body.
A grouping of priests caught my eye. They seemed engrossed in conversation, their robes creating a curtain as they stood close together. Two stood hovering over two others who sat on low stools. They were speaking to a child who sat on the stone floor. The child had the same inky hair flecked with gold as Yeshu`a’s.
I heard the cry of anguish before I realized it came from my throat. “Yeshu`a!, Yeshu`a!” Yosef caught my stunned eyes from across the rotunda. It’s him. I see him! I screamed internally, pushing past the other women around me. I felt a strong hand grasp my arm and allowed Yosef to take the lead to where I pointed out the group of priests. I saw it on Yosef’s face now too. His distress dissipated with visible relief and he blinked away tears.
We made it to the other side of the rotunda and approached the priests with respect. “Yeshu`a?” The boy looked up from his place on the ground. “Mother.” His voice was calm, his demeanor placid. He got up and walked toward us. I knelt, gripping him with all the strength that came rushing back into my body. I wept into his dirty hair and felt Yosef’s arms wrap around us both. I released my first born and held him at his shoulders, my relief turning slowly to frustration. “Yeshu`a why have you done this to us? Do you not know your father and I have searched for you for three days? We feared the worst. We did not know what had become of you!”
“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I would be here,” he gestured around the temple, “in my Father’s house?”
A long breath escaped me, “Oh Yeshu`a.” I did not understand what he meant. Sometimes I felt as if he were a stranger and not my own son. I hugged him close seeing Yosef speak to the priests before they dispersed for the sacrifice.
The trumpets began to play and Yosef took Yeshu`a back to the men’s court for worship and I returned to the women’s court overlooking the ceremony. My heart felt heavy despite the relief of having my child returned unharmed. What child is this? What am I to do with him? I felt a foreboding in my spirit as the priests sang. The Levite priests slit the throats of the bulls and lambs brought to be sacrificed. Their blood spilled around the alter, filling the basin. As the sacrifices were made the Holy Scriptures were read aloud by the high priest.
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted….” my eyes rested on Yeshu`a, my cheeks suddenly wet as I tried to focus on the reading. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering…. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
We left the temple and after taking provisions from the Bekhorath’s we set out for the five day journey back to Nazareth. Yosef and Yeshu`a walked ahead. I kept at a distance so I would not breathe the dust kicked up by their feet. I worshiped Yahweh for the safe return of my son, pleading that I would never have to endure such pain again. I felt in my spirit this would not be the last time I would lose this child, but somehow it was part of a bigger plan.