“What do you mean, we’re going to kill a boy? You’re crazy! I’m not going to kill anybody!”
Kim folded his arms over his chest. “How can you say such a stupid thing?”
Tie Li joined in the protest. “I not hurt anybody. Take me back home. I don’t want to stay here.”
“No, wait!” Tony lifted his hands pleadingly. “You don’t understand. Let me finish!”
The older boy stood glowering at Tony, his face shadowed with anger.
“The adopted son came here willingly. He knew what would happen.”
Kim pointed his finger at Tony. “But you said we were going to kill him.”
“In a way we are.” Tony searched for words. “I don’t mean we’re going to walk up and stab him with a knife or shoot him or anything like that. We’re the reason he’s going to die.”
Kim looked toward the village. “But why? Why does He have to die? I don’t want that to happen to anybody. He doesn’t have to die for me. I didn’t ask Him to.”
Tie Li kicked at a stone. “He not have to die for me, either.”
Tony’s voice softened. “I know. It seems weird to me, too. But that’s the way it is.”
The three continued walking, following the path winding up the hill toward the edge of the village. Kim glanced at the sheep drinking deeply from the water being poured into the trough by the well. “Why would someone choose to come here when he knew something horrible would happen to him?”
The streets echoed with the shouts of sellers at the marketplace. Flocks of sheep, following sun-browned boys and strong men, added their bleating to the clattering g of hooves on stone. Brightly colored folds of cloth hung from wooden racks. Women, wrapped in long, billowy gowns fingered the textiles and argued for bargains. Other villagers strode by, balancing large water jars on their heads, sometimes stopping to admire the wares spread on low tables beside the road.
The buildings were made of mud bricks and stone. Through opened windows and doors came the laughter and cries of children at play. The dry air carried the scent of baking bread and salted fish. Above the crowded rows of houses the bright afternoon sun sent warm rays reflecting down each dusty street.
Rounding a comer, Tony lifted his hand, motioning for the group to stop. “Over there. I think that’s it.”
The three found themselves in front of a small white washed dwelling. Handcrafted woodworking tools rested in the doorway. Peering inside, they saw a pile of shavings and sawdust covering a corner of the room. More tools hung from wooden rafters.
Tony spoke softly. “This is where the boy lives.”
Straw mats covered portions of the hard-packed dirt floor. Against a far wall an open fireplace cuddled the ashes left from the noonday meal. A low wooden table, surrounded by hard, rough wood stools, sat beside a row of large earthen jars, several filled with water. Flat loaves of bread lay stacked in one corner of the room. “Father?”
The children were startled by the sound of someone calling. They turned to see a young child hurrying down the street toward them. “Father, are you in there?”
The boy entered the house, looked around, then stepped back out into the sunshine. “Father?”
A voice answered from next door. “Jeshua, is that you?”
“Yes, I’m back. Mother said I can help you now. Are we going to make a table like we did yesterday?”
A broad, muscular man emerged from the house next door and joined his Son in front of their one-room dwelling. “That’s right. You think you’re up to it?”
The child nodded enthusiastically as his father led the way into the house. The boy grabbed one end of a long plank of wood by the workbench. “I want to be strong like you, Father. At the synagogue last Sabbath the rabbi said I should learn to work hard. It pleases God.” The wood settled with a thud on the table. “Sometimes pleasing God makes my arms tired.”
“Mine, too,” the father agreed with a smile. “The rabbi is a good man. He knows the Scriptures. If he said hard work pleases God, it pleases God.”
The two lifted another long board onto the workbench. The child strained under the load. “Is God always so hard to please?”
“Sometimes.” The man helped ease the wood into position, then grabbed a saw hanging overhead. “Other times it’s easy to do what God wants. I suppose it depends on how much you love Him.”
“I love Him.” The boy said, then hesitated. “At least, I think I do. It’s hard to love someone you can’t see. Why doesn’t God come down here and talk to us like He did to King David and Job and those other people the rabbi reads about? Then I could know what God is really like. Then I
could love Him for sure.”
The man stopped sawing and studied his son’s face. “Not a bad idea, Jeshua. He should do that.”
Nodding, the child took a firm grip on the wood, ready to hold it steady while his father sawed.
“Ouch!” The boy stepped back from the workbench, holding his outstretched hand.
The man dropped the saw and hurried over to his son. “What happened? Are you all right?”
“It hurts, Father.” A splinter of wood protruded from the child’s open palm. “It hurts.”
The man bent low and gently removed the splinter. A small trickle of blood moistened the boy’s palm. His bottom lip quivered as he fought back tears.
“There, you’ll be OK, son. I fixed it for you.”
Jeshua felt himself encircled by strong arms. The boy’s father lifted him off the floor and held him tightly. “Does it feel better now?”
The little boy buried his face in his father’s broad shoulders. He cried softly, feeling the warm love flowing from this man who meant the world to him. Whenever hurt or fear threatened, he knew the strong arms of his father waited nearby, ready to enclose him in the safe boundaries of his embrace.
Tony, Tie Li, and Kim watched in silence, each lost in memories from their own experience. Kim hesitated, then spoke in a whisper. “My father was like that.”
Tie Li reached up and took her brother’s hand in hers. “I remember,” she said.
A woman entered the room, a bundle of firewood over her shoulder. “What’s the matter Joseph?” she asked when she saw the man and child by the workbench. “Did something happen to Jeshua?”
Joseph smiled at his wife. “Nothing a little love can’t heal. I’m afraid our hard worker got poked by a piece of wood.”
She wiped tears from the boy’s face and added her arms to the embrace.
Joseph looked down at his wife. “Jeshua was just telling me how he wished God would come down and talk to us like he did with our ancestors.”
A shadow crept across Mary’s face. She took the wounded hand in hers. Seeing the trickle of blood, the woman closed her eyes tightly, as if to chase away a terrible vision.
Mary took the child from Joseph’s arms and held him close, her hands forming fists behind Jeshua’s back. “No,” she whispered. “Not yet.” She pressed the child’s head against her chest. “Please. Not yet.”
Kim’s eyes opened wide. “She knows. Tony, she knows!”
Tony motioned for his companions to follow him away from the little house. “We have to get back to Voyager. Our time is up.”
The three walked in silence through the narrow streets. Soon they were standing at the base of Tony’s machine.
Kim looked back toward the village. “I don’t understand. I’m confused by all this. Who is that little boy? What’s going to happen to him?”
Tony set the switches on the panel above his head. “We’ll find out soon enough. Come on. Let’s go home.”
Voyager disappeared from view, leaving the hillside empty except for the sound of the wind and the gentle lowing of sheep. In the village, a little boy sped along a dusty street, happily running an errand for the father he loved.
A mother wept. Her first born was growing up too fast. She watched her son disappear around a corner. But the road continued south, through the marketplace, down into the Plain of Esdraelon, and over the horizon, finally ending at the cold stone walls of Jerusalem.