Rachel and Imma climbed up the road into the hills above the town, following a crowd that looked like it included the majority of the village’s population, as well as people from neighboring towns and the countryside. Rachel’s spirits rose higher with the sun. There was something about this day, about the sunshine and the crowd, about the children racing each other in and out of the people, about Imma’s company and the laughter around her. There was something about the promise that waited at the end. For this moment, Rachel didn’t feel so hopeless and weighed down by her responsibilities, the cares of her life. She felt like a young lady, staring into a future of bright possibilities. Today she would see the Teacher.
The Teacher. Rachel wasn’t sure when she had first heard of Him. He had been traveling all over Galilee and Judea for more than a year with a group of men and a few women. The stories were that he did miracles of healing and that some of his followers also had the power to heal and to cast out demons. There were rumors that he had clashed with the religious leaders about the topic of the Sabbath. There were even wilder rumors that he had claimed to forgive sin, claimed to be equal with God.
Some people believed he was Elijah, brought back to life. Some people believed he was John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded. And a few people believed he was the promised Deliverer.
Rachel didn’t know what to think. Of course she had grown up hearing the stories of the Deliverer, the one who would come to save the Jews from all their enemies, who would break the Roman chains they had labored under for so long. But how could anyone from Nazareth be the Deliverer?
Before her mother had died, Rachel’s parents had often held lively conversations about the Law and the Prophets, about the issues of the day. Although they were just a fisherman’s family, her father had done all he could to learn the Scriptures, attending synagogue and faithfully taking his family to the temple in Jerusalem on all the high feast days. Rachel’s mother was an intelligent woman who always had an opinion of her own. Sitting at meals with them, Rachel and soaked up much, had had her thoughts and ideas challenged and been encouraged to think and form opinions. But then Mary had died, and Matthias had retreated into his work and himself. Although he still attended synagogue and took the children to Jerusalem at Passover, his passion for truth and for discussion had been quenched by the cold waters of his wife’s death.
And now here was this Jesus, somewhere ahead, and here was Rachel, shirking her days’ duties for the chance to hear his voice and look at his face and try to decide for herself, who was he? Rachel felt like her whole life hung in the balance today.
At her side, Imma chattered on about the doings of their little community, about the rumors about the Teacher. Her brother, she said, had been at a wedding in Cana more than a year ago where the wine had run out. He had been sitting at a table with some friends who had introduced him to a carpenter from Nazareth. He had heard a strange exchange between the carpenter and his mother, had seen servants fill jars with water, had drunk the best wine he had ever tasted from one of those jars.
At Decapolis, a demon-possessed man who had lived naked and wild out in the tombs in the cliffs above the Lake had been found clothed and in his right mind. Some swineherders who had seen the whole thing said that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, had spoken to the demons, told them to come out. The demons had gone into the herd of pigs and the whole herd had madly dashed off the cliff, into the sea. Imma’s uncle lived in that area and had gone with the townspeople to ask Jesus to leave.
All around her, Rachel heard the excited crowd repeating such stories. Some had known someone who had been healed of blindness. One man even claimed that this Jesus had brought somebody back from the dead.
Now and then, as they climbed the dusty trail up into the hills, Rachel saw one of her brothers in a group of friends. His cheeks glowed with the excitement of a change of scenery, a new adventure. Rachel knew how he felt. In spite of her uncertainty, her slight feeling of guilt over leaving her work undone, her fears that this was all for nothing, she could not seem to keep her heart from skipping. In fact, it was all she could do to keep her feet from skipping up the path, as though she were a little girl again.
She looked at Imma, who had let her scarf fall back off her forehead and was tipping her face to the sun. The girl caught Rachel’s eye, blushed a bit, drew her covering closer around her head again. But Rachel smiled.
“There’s something different about today, isn’t there?” Rachel said understandingly.
“The sun feels so warm and the sky is so blue!” Imma laughed. “I feel like a little girl. What would Simon think?” Simon was Imma’s betrothed husband.
Rachel never had a chance to respond to that question, because just then the path, which had been narrowly picking its way through a rocky part of the hill, opened up onto a high field, where the crowd had begun seating itself on the grass. And as Rachel scanned the area ahead of her, her eyes stopped short when they met a pair of dark eyes set in a face that looked like every other Jewish face and yet somehow not like them at all.
Rachel knew without a doubt that she was looking across a sea of people directly into the eyes of the Teacher. And she knew that everything had just changed.