Late afternoon was bathing Bethsaida in golden light; summoning birds to their nests or to search for late lakeside suppers near the fishing boats.
A few families were seeing their fishermen off for another night’s work, but people were mostly at the well: women refilling water jars; men swapping stories or waiting near Benjamin’s spreading cedar tree to hear what he and the elders would say.
It was not really Benjamin’s tree, but he was always there; a beloved community figure; wearing his faded blue robe and headdress.
His inscrutable, grizzled visage surveyed the scene. Background squeals and shouts from children’s games and water jars scraping and clunking together all sounded normal, but yesterday’s picnic had filled the air with conflicting opinions.
Benjamin’s tree crowd was bigger today, and he scanned a kaleidoscope of expressions, silently praying about how to achieve any consensus.
Aaron was first to speak.
“Benjamin, this Yeshua will silence those Judeans who think we’re all fanatics up here. Oh, they welcome us in Jerusalem with their mouths, all the while rolling their eyes or winking at each other.”
“That’s right Aaron,” added Eliab. “Our Jewish roots are shorter than theirs, but they still accept our Temple taxes!”
“Yes, yes, my brothers,” replied Benjamin, “but what about that picnic yesterday? Did Yeshua really feed so many people from a boy’s lunch bag?”
Silas chimed in: “I was right beside Andrew, the disciple who brought the boy to him. I heard him ask: ‘What is this for so many?’ Yet it seemed enough for Yeshua. He told his disciples to sit us in groups of fifty while he blessed five loaves and two fish. Then he served out the food. And somehow it kept on coming!”
“Enough for us and five thousand of our closest friends!” smirked Manasseh.
“It boosted Reuben’s Recycling and Rubbish Removals business,” Josiah offered, “he collected twelve basketfuls of leftovers!”
Ephraim’s call rose above the murmurs of agreement: “Hey, Yeshua and I could build a catering business. Just imagine - a chain of "Galilean Gourmet" franchises that even Judeans might buy into!”
Benjamin’s eyebrows twisted slightly: “So Ephraim, one prophet for us and many profits for you?”
“He’s a fake!” sneered Jacob. “His disciples had hidden some food, so they could produce it so mirac-u-lous-ly after Yeshua gave the blessing. Either that or lots of people felt sorry that he had so little to pray for, so they shared the food they had. Humph, some prophet!”
“And they all knew beforehand that a boy would also appear with some food?” smiled Benjamin.
Isaac was more enthusiastic: “But it’s his teaching that held us for hours! He talks about heaven as if it’s happening here. He doesn’t argue about theories or what other rabbis say!
“We could help him set up this kingdom of heaven. Just imagine a return to King David’s days. We were a world power then, so let’s think about how we could drive the Romans into the sea and reclaim our land for ourselves!”
Isaac’s eloquence caught the wave of emotion swirling from the younger men behind him. “If Yeshua had our political support, we could support him so he would not have to disappear like he did yesterday after that miraculous picnic!”
Benjamin shifted uneasily, knowing he had to speak with reassurance and hope – and caution.
“My brothers, some people wish for a return to life in Bethsaida before this Yeshua arrived with his teaching and his miracles, but he is unlike anyone before him. I well remember Judas the Galilean’s rebellion and how he came to nothing. The Maccabean revolt also cost so many lives.
“Our history is littered with the remains of would-be Messiahs and their followers, but I sense that Yeshua’s mission may stretch beyond business or politics, and maybe even Galilee itself. Do you remember last month how that vicious storm burst over us and then stopped just as suddenly? Yeshua was across the lake that day, setting a man free of demons – a Gentile, and in Gadara at that!
“He is one of us, a Galilean. He knows our laws, but he neither fears nor resents Gentiles. He mixes with lepers and beggars and business people, and he respects fellow rabbis. He even welcomes children to be blessed.
“Let us withhold our judgement and keep listening to him; for who knows, as the great prophet Isaiah promised, he may be God’s light to the nations.”
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