“Where’s your brother going?” Imma asked, coming to Rachel’s side.
“He said that he wanted to share his lunch with the Teacher. I couldn’t say no, although I’m sure the bread is dry and the fish have seen better days.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Head back home, I guess, when John comes back. I wish I had known to bring more food. Everyone is hungry.”
“It’s going to take a long time to get back down the mountain,” Imma said. “All these people . . . and I’m worried about Miriam.”
Rachel glanced over to where her friend still sat on a rock. Her face was beaded with sweat, and she was grimacing as if in pain and rocking herself rhythmically back and forth.
“Imma! Is she in labor?”
“I don’t know. She shouldn’t be. It’s still two months till her time.”
“Someone needs to get the Teacher!” Frantically, Rachel turned toward the front of the noisy, chaotic crowd. She could no longer even see Jesus because of all the people thronging around him. With a swoop of fear, she wondered where John was in all that mass. “Imma, can you stay here with the children, make sure they stay together?” Rachel asked.
“Yes, of course, but what are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure yet–” she broke off, looking at Miriam again, whose face was masked in pain and fear. “I’m going to go ask the Teacher to help Miriam. She’s in labor, I’m sure of it. I can remember Mother’s last birthing.” With that, Rachel took a deep breath and plunged through the crowd.
She had only taken a few steps when she heard a loud voice asking everyone to be seated in the grass. Right in front of her was one of the Teacher’s followers, trying to convince the people around him to sit down.
“Please,” she said to him, touching his arm to get his attention, “I need some help.”
The man was clearly hassled and exhausted. He barely spared her a glance as he said, “I’m sorry, miss, but I really just need everyone to sit down. We are going to serve a meal before everyone goes home.”
These words stopped Rachel, who had puffed up in indignation at his indifference. “You’re going to serve a meal? What are you talking about? Where could you possibly have gotten enough food for all these people?”
“PLEASE EVERYBODY! WE NEED YOU TO BE SEATED ON THE GRASS SO THAT WE CAN SERVE YOU SOME FOOD!” the man’s voice was loud, right beside Rachel. She saw that the people around them were starting to pay attention. “ORGANIZE INTO GROUPS OF ABOUT FIFTY PEOPLE! WE WILL BE BRINGING YOU FOOD AS SOON AS WE CAN!”
Wonder was evident on the faces around them, but they began to do what they had been asked. The disciple was moving off to another area in the crowd.
“Please, sir,” Rachel pleaded, placing herself directly in front of him. “I know you’re busy, but this is a true emergency. My friend is in labor. She is before her time. Surely the Teacher can help! I have seen him do great things today.”
Finally the man seemed to really register what she was saying. He kept walking, scanning the crowd, shouting out instructions for everyone to organize into groups and be seated. Across the field, more people seemed to be catching on, for the throng was becoming quieter, less chaotic. The disciple turned to Rachel. “I will help you. You there–” he pointed to a large, beefy fisherman Rachel recognized from her village, “Can you please continue to organize these people? Groups of fifty?” Startled, the fisherman stared for a moment and then nodded his agreement.
“All right,” the disciple said briskly. “Let’s go see Jesus. What is your name?”
“Rachel, I am Bartholomew. I will take you to the Teacher, but you must not take up much of his time.”
Bartholomew was apparently not a very talkative man, but he walked briskly and the crowd seemed to part automatically before him as it never would have for Rachel. She jogged a little to keep up with him, her heart pounding. All morning she had wanted to stand in line, talk to Jesus, but her problems had seemed so small and the needs of others so great. She had hung back until it had been too late. And now she was to see the Teacher, speak to him, and what would she say? With a sigh she knew she could only ask for help for her friend. Miriam must take the priority, as her siblings must every day, as her father must.
Is this going to be my life? Serving others, never having my own needs met or even noticed? Rachel felt that this carpenter– this Jesus of Nazareth, with His power and His compassion and His wisdom– would have the answers she needed. Surely there is more that he offers than healing of the body. I need healing for my soul.
They were nearing the group of men clustered around the Teacher. Looking back over the field, Rachel realized that most of the crowd were now seated, facing where she stood with expectant faces. She tried to find her own family in the crowd, but there were too many people. She turned back toward the disciples in time to hear a voice say, “She can’t see him. He’s getting ready to feed everybody.”
“She needs to see him now, Nathaniel. It’s an emergency.”
“I’m sorry. It will have to wait. I think that feeding thousands of people is more important than this girl’s problem, whatever it is.” Nathaniel was carefully not making eye contact with Rachel, and Rachel felt her temper rising up in her. Bartholomew put a warning hand on her arm.
“Just wait here, Rachel. I’ll go tell the Teacher what you need.”
Nathaniel stood there helplessly as Bartholomew shouldered past him and into the group of disciples. With an air of studied nonchalance he turned away from her and surveyed the crowd. Rachel ignored him, eyes trained on the backs of the men circled around Jesus, blocking her view of him. After a moment, a crack appeared in the wall of cloaks, and several of them craned around to see her. And there, in the middle of the group, his hands holding the bag she had filled that morning with a little bit of bread and a couple of fish, was the Teacher.
He was looking right at her, listening as Bartholomew explained why she had come. She met his eyes and whispered, “Please, help my friend Miriam.” He held her gaze for another moment as though reading her very thoughts, and then he smiled, nodded. The circle closed back around him and he was lost to sight again.
Rachel took a deep breath and turned to make her way back through the crowd.