The unforgiving noonday sun cast a smothering blanket over the town as the man passed through the gates. His long, flowing robes swayed rhythmically, their long, blue fringes tickling his ankles. He was seeking a blasphemous prophet in the area.
“I can see that sparring with these townspeople would give him the advantage--I am told he is a learned man. Now, if we Pharisees, with our superior knowledge of the Scripture were to debate with him, we could certainly expose his lies.”
Parthamaus and Reuben would join him here tomorrow to find this rebel. Stopping to adjust the slipping straps of the metal phylactery across his sweaty forehead, Cyrus squinted up at the sun. It was time for midday prayers. He would wait, though, until more people could watch his practiced pious chanting.
“There his is—come on!”
Cyrus turned, flaring his blue cloak to impress the people who had obviously been informed that he was gracing their town with a visit.
“Excuse us, Rabbi,” gently elbowing him from the beaten narrow path in their haste to pass him.
“Where are you going? It’s time for prayers. Remember to honor God as faithful Jews! Hmph!” Cyrus shook his head, “I doubt they even observed this morning’s rituals, may God have mercy on their souls.”
Cyrus forewent his prayers, continuing his journey and wishing his friends were present to witness these wayward people’s depravity. Before long the sea breeze assailed his nostrils, its cool vapors a welcome respite from the oppressive heat. He wistfully recalled carefree swimming days of his youth in this same Galilean Sea. His heavy robes, although ostentatiously necessary to give him the righteous respect he deserved, were burdensome. Shouts and laughter interrupted his reminiscing, a crowd bustling up ahead. This couldn’t be an audience for the blasphemer? Not likely. Perhaps people were gathering for a pilgrimage into their ancestral city to pay taxes.
“Filthy, bloodsucking scum, these tax collectors,” mumbling as he approached the throng.
But, no, it seemed he had actually found this Jesus. That must be him on the hilltop yonder. The crowd quieted as the man stepped up on a large rock to be heard. Cyrus made his way up to the front, people respectfully opening up his path as he advanced.
“Whatever had Reuben been thinking? THIS is a threat to us? Now, I could understand if it were that guy standing next to him—Peter, I heard him called. HE certainly looks the part of a rebel-rouser and leader, rough and burly with bulging muscles—rather a giant of a man. But this Jesus looks frail and homely.”
Nevertheless, Cyrus leaned against the trunk of a nearby palm tree to observe. Jesus opened his mouth, his face lighting up as he became animated and authoritative, even mesmerizing. The things he was saying bordered on the treasonous. Thinks like working on the Sabbath, loving enemies and sinners, and turning the other cheek. Cyrus’ derisive smile gradually faded, turning into an angry frown when Jesus started warning his listeners that forgiveness of their sins was not based on keeping the law and to beware Pharisees.
“Hmph! How dare he question our motives! Did he just call ME a whitewashed tomb? A hypocrite, am I? What audacity!”
Cyrus’ eyes grew hard and narrow as he realized the dangerous concepts Jesus was teaching. Before he could debate the issues, however, a little boy approached, handing his lunch to the prophet. Cyrus watched, dumbfounded, as this Jesus asked God’s blessing for the food to be shared with his followers.
“Hmph! Now the people will see this man for the fraud he is. What a mealy-mouthed prayer—on my worst day, my eloquent prayers are better. Perhaps he should teach them to fast instead, as I am told his disciples do not do so.”
Cyrus, amazed, watched the disciples passing the loaves and fishes up and down the rows of people . . .
“I tell you, Parthamaus, people were eating and getting full! There had to be 5,000 men, not counting the women and children who were also partaking. If it had been sorcery, we could eventually reveal the trickery, but this—this was a miracle!”
“Hmph! Twelve baskets of scraps left over? Incredible! I don’t believe it.”
“Well, actually, Parthamaus, there were thirteen. I was extremely hungry. It took hours to feed the people and I didn’t think they would miss the forgotten basket under the olive tree . . .”
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