Had it not been for the lies spread by those guarding the tomb of the Teacher I might never have gone to sea with Saul and my cousin Barnabas. So I suppose this narrative I am attempting to put down on scroll must rightly begin with that fateful event the morning when my dear ima came hurrying through our door to tell me of the Great Deception.
“John! John Mark!” she shouted so loud I could well have heard her had I been in Galilee. “The chief priests have met with the elders and devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the guards who watched over the Teacher’s tomb. To any who ask, the guards are to say, ‘The disciples of this man Jesus came during the night and stole his body while we were asleep.'”
When I asked why those on the ruling council would act with such duplicity, she replied, “They fear that the rumors of the Teacher’s appearance after his death might lead to an ever greater following than when we walked freely among us.”
“But is alive,” I replied. “Some of our women said as much. Mary of Magdala swears she spoke with him. Even Simon and John testify that the Teacher’s body is not in the tomb.”
“Well I know,” Ima replied, “for I have heard the rumors. But remember how after John the Baptizer was put in prison, the Teacher traveled in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the Father and saying, ‘The time has come?’ That, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent. Believe the good news?’ This is that time. You must hurry and write what you heard and witnessed and what the Eleven claim to have seen.”
“Who am I to write such things? I am not even counted among the Eleven.”
“But you have witnessed some of his miracles. And has the Teacher not dined in our home? Did you not spend time with him in our upper room? Go now and recount what you witnessed. Tell of how the Teacher walked beside the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake.”
“If others would not believe his words when he was alive why will they believe my account now that the Teacher is gone?”
“Did you not tell me yourself that you heard John the Baptizer call to the crowds, ‘Look! The Lamb of God!’ If the prophet’s words are true, should not this good news be preserved?”
“That was nearly four years ago. John is now dead and the Teacher crucified.”
“Enough! Go! Find a safe place and begin to write all these things so that others will know his testimony is true, as are the words of the prophets that foretold of his coming.”
Without haste I hurried to gather my belongings that morning, and left for a place safe from the reach of Roman guards and those on the Council who felt threatened by the power of the Teacher’s words. Well that I did for only a short while after I departed my ima’s home, Simon and John were arrested by the Sanhedrin and placed in prison. Though released, the shock of their swift imprisonment left me concerned for my own safety. Away from Ima’s home and in solitude I began to make a careful accounting of all that I had seen and heard and learned from the Teacher.
Now once more I found myself fleeing for my life and seeking solitude. The events of the past few days, of my departure from Saul and Barnabas, carried the same fear and urgency as when I fled our home in Jerusalem.
Though a few blocks from the jail, we had stopped outside a home.
“Wait here,” the young woman said to me. “I will check to see if a follower of the Way lives inside.”
The riotous shouting of the crowd continued, though now many had begun to peel away, their lust for bloodshed waining. From the inscription above the door I judged the home to be one similar to Ima’s—a home for strangers in need of boarding.
The young woman glanced up the narrow alley, back, and down as if checking to make sure the mob had not followed. Satisfied that our route through the city had gone unnoticed, she knocked: two short raps.
From the other side of the door feet shuffled. A single knock came in reply.
Twice more she knocked, hesitated then rapped three more times. When the door opened, she pushed me inside said, “Lose no time. Wash and bind your wounds quickly. The owner will give you a fresh cloak.”
She pressed some coins into the outstretched palm, for the owner of the house remained behind the door.
“You will be directed to our ship,” she added. “She lies not far from here. Hurry, now. We haven’t much time. She sails within the hour. I will wait for you by the boarding ladder, but if you are not there, we will cast off without you.”
Once inside, I found myself trapped in nearly total darkness. Only a small candle flickered.
“Tell me of the first time,” my host said.
At first I did not understand the old woman’s request.
“When you first heard the Teacher’s voice. Was it deep, loud? Or like mine, weak and tired from years of hard living?”
With a heavy sigh she settled onto hard packed dirt flooring. As my eyes began to adjust to the room’s dim lighting I noticed its sparse furnishings. Straw mat. Wash basin. Towel. A folded cloak.
“I receive so few guests,” she said, motioning towards the basin of water. “None who who believe the rumors of his appearing after his death. Please, tell me all you know of this man Jesus.”
In the brief moment when the candle’s light fell across her hand and wrist I caught sight of the dark splotches, her deformed fingers.
Leprosy! The young woman brought me into the home of a leaper. How dare she!
Perhaps sensing my hesitation, the old woman scooted back into the corner of the room, moving as far away from the mat and basin as possible.
Dropping to my knees I gathered water in my hands and washed blood from my face. This I did until my dim reflection became the shade of rose peddles in full bloom. Instantly memories of the Teacher came flooding back: his baptism in the Jordan River. His face bloodied by soldiers’ fists. Water mixed with blood spilling out when the spear pierced his side.
“When the Teacher came up from the water of his baptism,” I said, “he turned around and saw Andrew, the brother of Simon. He asked, ‘What do you want?'”
I splashed more, until at last the basin of water became so polluted with my blood as to be of little use. With a towel I dried my face.
“‘Teacher,’ Andrew had replied. ‘Where are you staying?'”
“‘Come with me and you will see.’ the Teacher replied.”
“That was the first time I heard him—the first time I heard his voice. It was that of a grown man, deep and rich. Yet his tone always seemed to be gentle. Seldom did he raise his voice. And even when he did, it was to rebuke those who refused to offer justice and mercy.”
With the sodden towel pink from blood I bathed my wrists and ankles, wincing in pain as I did so.
“After the his baptism,” I said, “Andrew and another disciple spent the day with the Teacher. The first thing Andrew did afterwards was to find his brother Simon. ‘We have found the Messiah, that is the Christ,’ Andrew told his brother. He then brought Simon to the Teacher.”
The cloak provided for me was made for a woman and too small, but I had little choice. I could not go about in the rags I now wore. Stepping behind the changing screen I undressed.
“Some days later when the Teacher found Simon and Andrew fishing by the Sea of Galilee, he called to the pair and commanded them to put out into deep water. To let down theirs nets for a catch.”
I slipped on the cloak and cinched its belt. “Might you have an extra pair of sandals?” I asked.
“By the door. They were my husbands. You are welcomed to them.”
Stepping from the screen, I hurried to the door. Though too narrow for me feet, I found the sandals’ length sufficient.
“‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything,'” Simon replied. “‘But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. The pair signaled to their partners, James and John, in the other boat to come and help. Soon both boats began to sink. At this, Simon fell at the Teacher’s feet and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!'”
The woman leaned out from the darkened corner, allowing the candle to fall across her face.
“Were the Teacher here now rather than you, I would say as this man Simon said: ‘Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful woman!”
“As we all are,” I said. “We feel no shame in the presence of the Teacher. Only love and compassion. This is the reason he came. To remove our sin. To make us clean. To heal us. And now because of your kindness I am clean enough to be seen in public.”
“Oh, that I wish that I could be made clean.”
“You only need to ask the Teacher.”
“But he is not here. There is only you.”
Taking a deep breath I approached her. My boldness sent the old woman scurrying back into her corner of blackness.
“If you wish to be made clean, made whole, to have your sins forgiven, you need only ask.”
“But I am asking. I am pleading,” she said.
There came a hard bang on the door.
The old woman jerked her hands from mine. “You must go,” she whispered to me. “Through the ceiling and out. You can reach my neighbor’s roof from mine, but careful they do not see you stepping over.”
“But what of you? I cannot leave without first giving you the gift of Jesus.”
Pushing me away, she called to the men banging on the door, “I am unclean! What is it you wish?” A final time she whispered to me, “Go now or we shall both die this evening.”
Standing atop the lone piece of wood furniture, a small table, I carefully removed four tiles, pulled myself up by roof beams, and climbed out. Kneeling, I quietly replaced the tiles, checked to make certain no one stood in the gap below, and crawled onto the neighbor’s roof.
Once more the shame at my cowardliness proved more than I could bear. Safely away, I cowered in a corner beneath a starlit night and sobbed.