via A Miracle in Sepphoris
Keith G. Laufenberg
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him. Matthew 14:54-57
There were six of them and they had walked all the way from Nazareth to the city of Sepphoris,which was also known as the jewel of the Galilee and was about 4 miles NW of Nazareth. They were builders, carpenters and stonemasones and had carried their tools with them on the 1-hour journey.
They had been working for weeks on the house, as the owners had been vacationing, and had just finished the job the previous day but, then, the owner’s wife had found yet another room she decided that she wanted remodeled and, having not yet been paid, for all their work of adding a room that included the masonry work and the roof as well, they had all trudged back to Sepphoris. They had already worked the entire morning and long into the afternoon when the owner came inside the room they were working in. He walked up to the oldest of the men, a man with an almost totally grey beard, just barely flecked with a few black streaks. “Joseph, my brother,” he said, “It looks like you’ve finished the room?”
“Yes, we have finally finished it. It’s quite a nice view you have of the theatre from here too, I must say, Alphaeus?” Joseph replied.
“Oh yes it most certainly is. Are you hungry then, all of you? Come with me, we have food on the table. Come, come now and bring your sons, my five nephews, with you Joseph.”
Joseph nodded at his five sons and they followed him out into the hallway and into a large dining room with a porch that had a beautiful, panaoramic view of almost the entire city, as the home was built at a very high altitude into the side of a mountain.
The table was already set and two teenage boys were just sitting down. “Ah well, Alphaeus, you are very kind to us,” Joseph said.
“Oh nonsense,” Alphaeus replied. “You are my brother and besides that, I am lucky to get a builder like you Joseph, who can do everything: all the carpenter work and also all the other necessary work, the ironwork and the masonry and roof and, of course you are my older brother but we never see enough of each other. And you have your five sons, my five nephews, to work with you, and they are all such great boys, and young men I should say. Sit, sit please Joseph, look, here are my two sons, Levi and Jamie and they never see their cousins anymore, god we should visit more often. Do you remember Jamie, he is almost a man now, and, when he was just a baby we named him Jamie and he has kept that name because he had so many friends named James and then also, if you remember, when we got together that time when he was about five or six and all the visitors mixed them up because of your James. (Alphaeus smiled at his brother’s son, James) And, my God, that was about what ten, eleven years ago? Oh, we should visit much more often. I mean we are only four miles from Nazareth.”
They all sat at the table, silent for a few seconds, and then Joseph smiled at Alphaeus, who stared at Jesus and smiled also, then said, “Ah, so Jesus are you a Rabbi then yet?”
Jesus laughed. “Oh no uncle, I am still just a humble carpenter.”
This statement caused general laughter from all four of Jesus’ brothers: James, Joses, Simon and Judas and even their father laughed heartily.
“Ah-hah, Jesus teaches them, and he really is too humble, he does nothing but study and he knows more than all of us combined and the rabbi’s and priests are afraid of him,” James said.
“Afraid of him?” Alphaeus said.
“Oh yes Uncle, afraid of his knowledge, they don’t really understand the scriptures and Jesus has to explain them to the Sandhederin as it is and they appear to be jealous of him but they can’t do anything because he always tells them the truth. We would have a high priest in our family this very day if Jesus wanted to be one, but he is too humble and anyway not all the rabbis and priests accept or believe in the truth, you know?” James replied.
Alphaeus frowned. “The truth?” he exclaimed, somewhat puzzled himself, but, smiling at Jesus and then at Joseph he said, “And Joseph, I should ask, how is Mary and your two daughters Salome and Maria?”
“Ah, Alphaeus, Mary is fine and so are both my daughters and thank you for asking after them and how about your Mary?”
“Ah, she also is fine and will be home soon, she is at the marketplace.”
“Ah, the marketplace is always crowded,” Joseph replied.
You should come for a visit more often, Joseph? I mean you met your wife here when you were working on her parents’ home too and it’s been years since you were all here last and that was to fix Joachim and Anne’s home again. Hmm, funny coincidence, me remembering that and here you are working on my home and Joachim and Anne have moved to Capernaum?”
“Yes and you know ever since they moved to Capernaum we visit there quite a lot because the boys all like to fish there and their grandpa is such a good fisherman and he teaches them a lot,” Joseph replied. “So, you see, it is hard for us to visit here also.”
The table already had bowls of dates and hummus, vegetables and fruits, and several warm loaves of fresh bread and some tin cups, with a large pitcher of goat’s milk beside them, even as a servant was bringing in some freshly caught and cooked fish. And then, when the table was finally all set, and just before they ate, Joseph asked Jesus for a blessing and everyone bowed their heads. “Father, you know all things, bless this food we share here together as it is your will and protect us all, as is your will, which will be done, always, amen.”
Joseph smiled as he broke a loaf of the freshly baked bread and looked at the freshly-cooked fish, as they all did. They were all famished and, being used to eating much less, lower quality food, than this delectable meal they dove into it like any five, hungry young men would, especially those coming from Nazareth, a veritable ghetto compared to Sepphoris.
They were all sitting around the table, fast in conversation, when it happened. The home, which was, literally, a mansion, had been built at a high elevation and had a large porch built onto the huge dining room they were eating in. Judas, the youngest of Joseph’s sons, had gone out onto the porch with his nephew Jamie, who pointed out the theatre just above the porch but Judas said that he couldn’t see it, causing his cousin to call him over to a thick, stone column that partially blocked any view of the theatre. Jamie walked over and glanced downward, over the railing that blocked anyone, especially young children, from falling over the side, which overlooked a 35-foot drop, onto a concrete pavement below and, to show off to his cousin, Jamie squeezed his thin body up and onto the railing, easily, as he had done innumerable times before, instead of squeezing through the other side of the column, a much easier task, but, wanting to show off, he continued walking on the railing and reached out for the column to steady himself, as he always had done before, but slipped and yelled out when his foot got caught between the railing and the column causing him to fall, as everyone, hearing the commotion and not knowing what had happened, ran out onto the porch. Joseph looked over the railing, along with all the others, and tears came to his eyes, when he saw Jamie’s twisted and bloodied body, lying on the concrete slab below. He looked at Alphaeus, with pity on his face. “Oh my God,” he said, followed quickly by, “Where is Jesus?” as he looked around furtively.
“He went with the servants, Father,” Simon said, matter-of-factly, causing Joseph and his other sons to say nothing further, so used to, as they were, Jesus helping servants whenever and wherever they appeared. Joseph nodded at his other sons, even as Alphaeus, and his oldest son Levi, ran down the stairs to see how Jamie was.
They all exited towards the stairs and Joseph grabbed his son, James, and said: “Go and find Jesus and tell him what has happened.” He then ran down the stairs with James beside him and exited out the door to where Jamie lie motionless, even as his son, James, headed for the servants’ quarters.
Jesus came out, with James and several house servants following closely behind. He appeared unconcerned, especially considering that there was so much horrendous wailing and crying coming from Alphaeus, his son Levi, and his wife, who had just come into the house, from the marketplace. Jesus approached them and when Joseph saw him, he cried out and grabbed his arm. “Son, you must do something, please help us?”
Jesus walked over to where Jamie’s lifeless body lie, still and motionless. You could see his left foot was twisted and bloody and he had numerous bruises and a large, swollen and bloody lump on his forehead, that had hit the concrete pavement. The boy’s mother was absolutely beside herself and her wails continued unabated until Jesus kneeled down and put his hands on her back. She stared into his eyes and became suddenly silent, then stammered: “He is dead, my beautiful son is dead; oh dear God, he is …”
“He is only asleep Aunt Mary,” Jesus replied and then put his hands on the boy’s forehead, looked skyward and said, “Father, I have not yet been called but for their grief, through me, I know your grace and mercy will answer this prayer.” And, then, Jamie’s eyes opened and he sat up. His mother, Mary, looked as if she might faint, as she threw her arms around him and cried uncontrollably, then, still sobbing, she stared at Jesus and saw God incarnate, and then, she did faint.
It was the birds that woke her up. She was inside her bedroom, lying on the bed, covered with silken sheets, and when she awoke, startled, she saw the face of her husband, sitting on the bed with her, and her two sons, Levi and Jamie, sitting on the floor, farther away. The birds were a reality in Sepphoris, which, in Hebrew, meant bird or bird town. The city was situated at a high altitude, and many mansions were built, as their’s was, into the side of the mountain, naturally attracting birds of almost every variety.
“I … I had a … a dream Alphaeus.” She smiled, and then, staring at her son Jamie, who was still sitting on the floor, she stammered: “Jamie … Jamie, you were hurt … you were lying on the ground and …” She began crying, softly, silently this time and her son, Jamie, stood up and walked over and sat on the bed.
“I’m alright Mama, I just slipped and fell but I, I’m alright now, I, I guess? I mean, I had a dream too.”
Levi, sat down on the bed now, as Alphaeus put his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “What did you dream son? Please, tell me … tell us?”
“I, I was in this beautiful, magnificent place and I, I saw Grandpa Aaron and Grandma Elizabeth and I saw Rabbi Adam. And I saw Ajil, Mama.”
Jamie smiled at his parents and then his older brother, all of whom looked strangely at one another, as his grandparents, his mother’s parents, had both been dead for 6 years and the Rabbi he had named had died 5 years before Jamie was born, and Ajil was a small lamb that Jamie had loved, like only a small boy could, when he was no more than 2 or 3-years old: a 1-year-old lamb that had been slain as a Passover sacrifice, 15 years ago.
Alphaeus’ wife inhaled deeply and stared at her son and said, “Your cousin Jesus saved you, that’s what I dreamed son. I dreamed that you were dead and he brought you back to life when he put his hands on your forehead, where you had hit the pavement after falling from the porch but now I see it was not a dream; it actually happened? And, you, Jamie, you had a left foot that was twisted and bloody and you had bruises all over your face and a large, swollen and bloody lump on your forehead and it’s all gone now.”
Jamie looked at his father, who shook his head and then at his brother, who also nodded affirmatively and they all watched as tears streamed down Jamie’s cheeks. “He is somebody special, not just my cousin.”
His mother hugged him to her and stroked his hair, as tears appeared in her eyes. She looked at him and looked somewhat puzzled. “Where did he go?”
“Jesus?” he said, as she nodded. “He went back to Nazareth, didn’t he Levi?”
“He did,” Levi replied. “He said he has some new work that he is soon to be about.”
“Joseph must have gotten more work in Jerusalem or maybe another job here,” Alphaeus said.
“Did you pay them?” Mary said.
“Yes, of course,” Alphaeus said.
“Does Jesus know you are a tax collector?”
“Of course, they all do, and as a matter of fact, while we were all eating this afternoon he spoke to me and I asked him what he thought of tax collectors?”
“What did he say?” his wife replied.
“He said I should obey all the laws and I should be absolutely honest from this day forth, and I should never collect more taxes than I have to and I should return any tax money to anyone I have stolen from,” he replied.
“He is not human,” Mary replied.
“Wha’ … what? Who is not human … Jesus?”
“He touched our son and he brought him back to this life … to this world. Jamie was not breathing.”
Alphaeus looked eerily at his wife. “He is a good man but he is a human being. Are you crazy, he is our nephew, he is Jamie’s cousin?”
“You saw what he did, he saved Jamie by praying. No human being can do such things.”
“Some Rabbi’s have done miraculous things and …”
“Alphaeus, he is the one we have all been looking for? The one Israel has been waiting for,” she replied.
Alphaeus looked horrified. He jumped off the bed and paced the room. “Mary, you cannot say such things, the Sanhedrin will take revenge on us. C’mon, I work for the Roman Empire and that is why we are living in such a beautiful mansion and have freshly baked bread and fresh fish, vegetables and fruit and we can go to the theatre at anytime we wish.” He looked around nervously, even though he was in his own home. “I, I am but a servant of Rome and look, I have been made a chief publican and have others working under me. I am going to teach Levi now and we have all this because of it. Mary, please, you know I must report to Caiaphas and to Annas and give them a percentage of the tax money. They are the worst of all human beings I tell you this knowing of what I speak. Mary, they get one-half shekel from all Jews over 20 years-old and they still demand for us to give them extra to support the rabbis and priests and they want it in our own money because the moneychangers from Rome stand at the Temple entrances and steal from Jewish currency and all other currencies everyday, they exploit us and Mary if I were to be a Jewish laborer we would be living in poverty; we would be living in …”
“In Nazareth with Joseph and Mary and …”
“Mary please, lower your voice. Caiaphas steals more in a day than I ever will in my entire lifetime. The temple tax is a farce; they keep almost all of it for themselves they are hypocrites; they use almost nothing to maintain the temple but keep it for their own luxuries and use others to maintain the temple. And Pontius Pilate he used Temple funds to build the aqueduct. He took Temple money and then they took from Solomon’s Pool, and all so they could steal more money. Both the priests and the rabbis are hypocrites, they all worship money and they have possessions no one else can afford; they even tax Jews outside of Judea. We have a good life Mary, please, we have all this … we have …”
“Alphaeus, we only have Jamie with us now because Jesus brought him back to life, he saved our son’s life, and we paid him nothing and what good is our life if our children …”
“I offered to pay Jesus but he said for me to pray to God instead and to ask for guidance.”
“Just because your collectors cheat doesn’t mean you have too Alphaeus?”
“Well, I … I have to, I mean … our home … we owe … we …?”
“Alphaeus,” his wife screamed out, “you must listen to Jesus, he is the Messiah.”
“But surely Mary, you are joking, he is my nephew. I know about Jesus’ birth and what Joseph said about the angel and his dream and the church people that day when he supposedly couldn’t talk until Jesus was born. And I know it was crazy that he named him Jesus and know about the rumors he started about his wife and how she was a virgin but, c’mon, he was probably just drunk; I know my brother, after all?
Alphaeus, you do not, he is twenty years older than you; you do not know him at all. He is a virtual stranger to you and so are his whole family: when was the last time we saw them? Five years? Ten? Jesus is the Messiah?”
“You are crazy. He, he, maybe he is a magician but Mary, you are …”
“No Alphaeus, you are the crazy one, not I. He is not a magician, he is the Messiah I tell you.”
Alphaeus ran to the door and slammed it shut and then screamed at his wife again: “Shut-up, shut-up Mary, you will have us arrested if you do not. I am reviled enough as it is by our people.”
“He told you to be honest and to collect only what you have too did he not?”
“Yes and … and … he …”
“What, what else did he say?”
“He said I should return any money I have kept for myself.”
“Return it then?”
Alphaeus blushed. “But, how? How can I pay them back now? I mean I have to pay back hundreds of people and at four times what I took from them, we can’t afford that, even with me being the chief publican.”
Jamie was crying and his mother asked him what was wrong? “Why are you always arguing over money?” he said. “He told me that I shall never have to worry about money or possessions and to pray everyday to the Lord God Almighty and through his grace and mercy I would never want for anything.”
Silence greeted this statement from Jamie and Alphaeus sat down, put his hands against his forehead and began sobbing. Mary walked over to him and put her arm over his shoulders. She whispered something to him and saw tears, streaming down his face, and then he began sobbing again, as both his sons walked over to him and embraced him, and his wife went to get a glass of wine for him.
Alphaeus sipped the wine. “How could he be the Messiah?” He said and silence greeted this question.
No one said anything for at least a couple of minutes, until Jamie finally said, in a whisper: “I saw him, in my dream I saw him, he was with angel’s, he was with a large group of angel’s.”
“What was he doing with the angels, sweetheart?” his mother said.
Everyone leaned forward when Jamie whispered, “He was talking to them. I think he was telling them a story and he was leading them too, he was their leader, and he glowed; they all glowed and they all loved one another, I could tell. And then I saw him smile at me and …”
“He smiled at you?”
“Yes, but then I woke up and I’m already starting to forget it. I’m forgetting everything.” He started crying again. “I wish I could go back there to that time but I know it was only a dream. Wasn’t it?” he said, to a silent room. Everyone was in a state of spiritual incomprehension, due to the corporeal, materialistic lives they lived daily, and they all struggled, for a lengthy period of time, to come to grips with what it was exactly that had happened, to them, on that most unforgettable of days, and what it would mean in the future. It would reshape their lives and, from that day forward, they would never be, totally, the same people, ever again.
But then, a day came, a few months later, when they thought they had recovered. Alphaeus was still the chief publican but was returning taxes to those he had cheated and was collecting only what was legally due, even though he knew his own collectors were cheating him and the Sanhedrin was stealing from their own citizens and what they paid Rome and Rome was stealing from the Sanhedrin as well and they all were stealing from the taxpayers. But, even with this knowledge, his biggest fear was that he’d never be able to repay those he had stolen from because the legal repayment figure was four times the amount he had stolen. His wife was trying to come to grips with having so little money now and Levi was struggling with becoming a tax collector himself and how he could do it and still be honest like Jesus had counseled his father and he knew he should be.
But it was Jamie who struggled even more than all of them combined, never straying far from his home or the temple, even though he saw that inside the Sanhedrin, both the Pharisees and Sadducees, were hypocrites. Jamie had heard of the Essenes, who were a Jewish mystical sect, who lived lives of ritual purity, separation and poverty and had tried to seek them out but they had disappeared somewhere into the desert, near Moab and the Dead Sea, and he became downhearted when no other information about them could be found. He had thought he could be a Pharisee and had studied for over a year with them but then he saw their divisiveness and hypocrisy when they took so much money, along with the Sadducees, and split it amongst themselves and then how they judged everyone else by different standards, by how much money they had and what they could do for them: the Sanhedrin.
Another year went by and Jamie heard rumors of a man preaching the gospel who was said to be the Messiah and he had to go and see this man who was preaching in the deserts of Judea, somewhere near Moab and the Dead Sea, the same place the Essenes had disappeared into, but now, he knew that it must be Jesus and so he told his parents and asked Levi to go with him but Levi was now a tax collector and he was also a Pharisee and he laughed at his younger brother telling him that the man in the desert called himself John the Baptist and so how could he possibly also be Jesus? But, Jamie, nevertheless, believed and left, to the tears and pleading of his mother, to search for his master, the one whom he knew was the Messiah, the one to whom he owed his very existence on this earth.
As he left that morning he only remembered one thing clearly: he wanted to go and touch Jesus, even as Jesus had touched him, because he wanted to remember, once again, that place he had gone to and had seen him with the angels and he wanted to see him smile at him again, like he had done then and when he first had come back to this life. He wanted to see Jesus again, even if only for one last time, he wanted to see and touch him again because, even if it was only a dream, it was still worth it to him, to his soul, which told him he would not be sorry and so, carried and directed by the Holy Spirit, not knowing exactly where he was going, and, without anything other than the clothes on his back and the sandals on his feet, he took nothing with him, no clothes or food and only one bottle of water and, with only a few asses in his pockets, he walked steadily through Galilee and then through Samaria towards Aenon, near Salim where the Messiah was said to be baptizing and then into the many vast areas of Judaea, including Jerusalem, and towards the Moab strip of land next to the Dead Sea, another area Jesus was seen baptizing. Jamie hiked down the Jordan River with a longing in his heart and his soul that he knew must be fulfilled.