Almighty, part 7

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Rachel could still taste the flavor of her mother’s bread– her bread– The Teacher’s bread– as she took her two youngest siblings’ hands and began the trek back down the mountain to the village. “Stay close now, everyone,” she instructed. “It’s getting dark.” Behind her, Imma and Miriam  carefully picked their way down the steep path. John, somehow walking taller than he had that morning, led their little group, holding back the branches that threatened to grasp at their clothes and hair.

The crowd’s noisy rumble filled Rachel’s ears, the chattering voices about what they had seen, what they had heard. But Rachel was silent, lost in her own thoughts. Every part of her longed to turn back around, to flee up the mountain, back to the Teacher. She had so many questions. But mostly she was filled with the desire to find Him and to fling herself on the ground at His feet in worship. She wanted to give Him everything she treasured, not just yesterday’s leftovers. She wanted to thank Him for healing Miriam, for accepting John’s little gift, for feeding her sisters and brothers, for all His wise words.

Rachel felt, in that moment, like she would gladly have given up everything she owned if she could just join the Teacher’s band of followers. Of course she couldn’t. Too many people depended on her. Who would take care of the little ones, of Father? Rachel sighed. The beautiful joy and wonder and peace of the day were marred by a sliver of discontent that she couldn’t shake. It always seemed to come down to this– her whole life was ruled by caring for children she hadn’t borne, keeping a home that wasn’t hers, meeting needs that should have been met by Mother. And now these things weren’t just keeping her from marriage and a family and home of her own; they were keeping her from following Jesus.

Guilt overtook Rachel’s emotions at these thoughts. Her life was so much better than so many people’s lives were. She thought of the young woman who lived in the house next to hers, married to a man four times her age who yelled and beat her. She thought of the beggar woman she passed whenever she went to the market– widowed, forsaken, begging bread for herself and her daughter. I have everything I need. How can I be so ungrateful?

The steps of her little brother and sister were slowing, and Rachel realized they were nearing the village. The crowd had thinned as people had turned off to other villages and to the farms outside the town.

“Rachel!” an old, creaky voice greeted the young woman just as her house came into view.

It was Joanna, the ancient woman who lived across the way from Rachel’s family. “Yes, Joanna?” Rachel replied.

“You’ve been to see that Teacher, haven’t you? That Jesus of Nazareth? I saw you leaving this morning. Watched all day and knew you weren’t back yet. I’m glad you went, dearie. You are always so busy and responsible. I saw your father get back, and so I just went over there and invited him to break bread with us. I hope you’ve eaten. I noticed your shelves looked pretty bare. Your father didn’t know where you were, but he sounded a bit envious when I explained that you had gone up the mountain to hear the Teacher teach. What was he like? The Teacher, I mean. I heard he is a carpenter, and I must say I never heard of a carpenter who was a good teacher.”

“Oh, Joanna, He was truly remarkable. I need to get home, but why don’t you stop over tomorrow and I will tell you all about it?”

“Well, now, that’d be nice. I will do that. I watched all those people going by this morning and wished I were younger and could join them. Being old is no joke, young lady. Have you had anything to eat? I bet all those little ones are hungry. I could get you some of that stew . . .”

“Thank you, but we ate on the mountain. Jesus took John’s lunch and feed the whole crowd with it, Joanna! It was the most amazing thing! Thank you so much for making sure Father had something to eat. You are a wonderful neighbor.” Rachel gave Joanna a quick, gentle hug and turned to follow her siblings into her house. The warm yellow light spilling out felt welcoming and comforting. “Have a good night!”

“You too, dearie!”

With one more quick goodbye, Rachel gratefully crossed the threshold of her home.

Part 8

Almighty, Part 6

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

With the crowd all seated in groups now, Rachel had a much easier time making her way back to where her siblings and friends were waiting. From partway across the field she could see a disturbance, and as she drew nearer she realized it was clustered around the rock where Miriam had been seated. She quickened her pace until she came close enough for Imma to notice her.

“Rachel! Miriam’s pains– they just stopped! One moment we were trying to find a midwife and the next moment she was perfectly fine! Did you– did you talk to the Teacher?”

A feeling of wild wonder was surging through Rachel at that moment, and she gasped with the joy of it. “He healed her.” The words were all she could manage. She had known He would, known from the moment she had looked on His face with all its rich compassion. But to see it– to see Miriam standing there with a wide smile on her face that just moments ago had been pale and beaded with sweat– it was glory. Rachel raised her face toward heaven and breathed out thanksgiving.

“Rachel!” It was John, there at her side. “Where were you? I got back here and you were gone!”

“I had to speak to the Teacher. Miriam’s baby was coming too soon. But she’s fine now.”

“I gave my lunch to that disciple but then it took a long time to get back here. Everyone was acting all crazy.”

Rachel spontaneously threw her arms around her brother, who stood awkwardly for a moment before patting her gingerly on the back. “I’m so glad you’re safe. I saw Jesus holding your lunch. I think– I think something amazing is about to happen.”

“This whole day has been amazing! Did you see James the Cripple, running around like all the other boys?”

Rachel couldn’t keep the delight out of her voice. “I know!”

A tug at her sleeve made Rachel realize that she and John, deep in their animated conversation, were the only two people left standing up in their group. Everyone was seated, expectantly facing the front. Flushing, Rachel turned, dropping as quickly as she could onto the cool grass and raising her eyes to where Jesus stood, slightly up the mountain. Even from so far away she could make out the little loaves he held in his big carpenter’s hand, and the little dried fish.

The Teacher lifted his eyes to heaven and once again his voice somehow carried to every ear as he thanked God for the loaves and the fish. My loaves and fish, Rachel thought with a start. She didn’t understand how He could possibly use that little bit of food to feed all these thousands, but as she glanced over at Miriam, seated contentedly on the grass with her hand resting on her belly, she knew that this man was able to do whatever he chose to do. Her stomach let out an expectant growl as Jesus began to break her little loaves into pieces.

“Rachel, what are we doing?” Little Sarah had crawled over, climbed into Rachel’s lap, and placed her chubby hands on either side of Rachel’s face. “I thought we were going home.”

“We will, but first we get to eat some food.”

“Oh good! I’m soooooooo hungry!”

“Me, too. The Teacher’s helpers are going to be bringing us some food in just a few minutes.”

“Rachel, that crippled boy can walk now. Did you see that?”

“Yes, I did.”

“How did that happen? I thought his legs were all twisted. I didn’t think he was ever going to be able to walk.”

“The Teacher made his legs strong again.”

“How did he do that?”

“I don’t know. I think he has special power from God.”

“How did he get that?”

“I don’t know. Some people say he is the promised Christ. Remember the stories about Elijah? He could do miracles too– amazing things like healing sick people. Maybe the Teacher is a prophet like Elijah.”

“I wish I had special power. Then I could keep the boys from teasing me. I would just touch them and ZAP them and they’d leave me alone.”

“I don’t think that’s what God gave Jesus this special power for, Sarah. He only uses it to help people. Like he helped James the Cripple, and like he helped Miriam not have her baby too soon.”

“Oh. Well I bet if he had big brothers he would maybe just now and then give them a ZAP.”

Rachel laughed at her little sister, drew her closer and hugged her. The joy and hope of this day made her feel like laughing, like dancing. All these people around her– all of them experiencing this amazing gift, seeing the miracles, hearing the words of Jesus. Her breath caught in her throat as unexpected tears welled up. Her heart was just so full. She had been a part of this beautiful day– had seen the face of the Teacher, had had her request answered.

Rachel was brought suddenly out of her reverie by a voice saying her name. She looked up, and it was Bartholomew, the disciple that had brought her to the Teacher. In his hands he held a basket filled with pieces of bread and fish. “Would you like something to eat?” He asked, his eyes twinkling. “I hear the woman who baked the bread is quite remarkable.”

“How did you–”

“The Teacher told me. He said to be sure to thank you.”

Rachel felt a flush spread over her face. “I’m sure it’s a little stale. It’s not very fresh . . . ”

“Try it now,” Bartholomew responded with a smile. Rachel reached a tentative hand toward the basket and took a small piece of bread. It felt as soft as if she had baked it that very afternoon. Popping it into her mouth, she felt her eyes widen as she chewed and swallowed.

“It tastes just like how Mother’s used to. I always make it the same way, but it never tastes quite right, somehow.”

“I have learned this about the Teacher. No matter what he starts with, he always ends with something good.” Bartholomew smiled. “You’d better take some more and pass it on. Your sister there looks like she’s pretty hungry.”

Rachel took the basket from his hands, served her little family, and passed the basket on to Imma. Making sure everyone had their food and was content, she lifted her eyes again to the front of the crowd, where Jesus was still breaking her loaves into pieces.

Again that sense of wonder and peace filled Rachel’s heart, and the words of the Psalmist came unbidden to her lips.

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
    for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
    he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
    he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
    his understanding is beyond measure.

Surely this man was the Son of God.

Part 7

Almighty, Part 5

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

“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.”

“Rachel, I am Bartholomew. I will take you to the Teacher, but you must not take up much of his time.”

“Of course.”

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.

Part 6

Almighty, part 4

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The shadows were stretching long from the west when Jesus of Nazareth, the Teacher they had all come to see, finished his teaching. There was something captivating about this man– something that caused even the young children to still themselves, to attend to his voice. Something that brought the whole of the restless crowd to silence, that they all might hear his words.

Rachel knew that she would be pondering his words, so unlike the words of the Rabbis and the Pharisees and yet somehow so familiar, for a long time afterward. Her heart longed to rush to the front of the crowd, to sit at his feet and ask him to explain what the parables had meant, to ask him if he truly were the Son of God, the promised Messiah. But the Teacher was surrounded on all sides by the men who followed him, and they were clearly having a conversation that looked as though it would suffer no interruptions. Rachel watched as one of the men gesticulated toward the crowd, frustration growing in his features. He looked tired. Rachel wondered how many days they had been out traveling, when the last time had been that they had followed any kind of normal life routine.

“Rachel! I’m hungry!” The little voice snapped Rachel out of her reverie, and she became aware of three little faces gathered around her, pulling on her robe, their faces clearly telling her that they were all hungry. How long had it been since they had eaten? Looking to the sky, she saw the sun was well on its way to the horizon. It had been hours since the noon meal of bread and dried fish. As if to corroborate the stories told on the faces before her, Rachel’s stomach rumbled, long and low. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She realized that she had a problem at that moment. At home, there was very little food ready. She had expected to be back in time to cook the evening meal, but they were nearly an hour’s walk from the village, and even then there wasn’t much left in the house to prepare.

“What’s that?” little Sarah asked, pointing to the bag that lay in the grass at Rachel’s feet. “Whose lunch is it?”

Rachel stooped to grab it before the children could. Glancing within, she saw clearly it was one of the lunches she had packed hurriedly that morning– a few little rolls of bread, a few little dried fishes. Enough to fill a young boy’s belly until the evening meal. Certainly not enough for the three children clamoring before her with their eager, hopeful faces, or the two other children she saw racing toward her across the high, rocky field. Thinking back through the day, she couldn’t remember who hadn’t come for their lunch. A feeling of shame came over her– how could she have forgotten to make sure they all ate? Somehow it had slipped her mind.

The two running children skidded to a wild stop before Rachel, panting after their dash across the grass.

“Rachel!” gasped John. “That’s my lunch!” He reached out to take it from her, but she held it behind her back.

“Why didn’t you eat earlier, John? Now everyone’s hungry. I can’t just let you eat it in front of your brothers and sisters.”

“But–”

“No, John. I know it’s not a big meal, but we’re going to have to share it around as best as we can and then eat more when we get home.” As Rachel spoke the words, she realized that the sounds of the crowd around her were becoming louder and harsher.

“Nothing to eat . . . ”

“How did it get so late . . . ”

“Half a day’s journey from home . . . ”

Little children cried as their empty bellies made themselves known. Nearby, a red-faced husband berated his wife for not thinking about this need early that morning when they had left the village and begun the climb. Miriam, who had gingerly lowered herself to a rock nearby in the grass, looked pale and tired.

Rachel’s own stomach let out another, louder growl as she surveyed the restless crowd with wide eyes. Had it only been a few moments ago that the Teacher had spoken of love and kindness and the kingdom of God? All these people had seemed so entranced by his words, but now they were like wild animals, ready to turn on the Teacher and his followers. She glanced again to the place where Jesus was standing with his men, and knew they were thinking the same thing as their nervous eyes passed over the throng.

“Rachel?” John’s voice cut into Rachel’s thoughts. She looked at him impatiently and crossed her arms in front of herself, the little lunch still clutched in her hand. John was Rachel’s most frustrating sibling. He was only a couple years younger than she was, and should have been out in the boats with Father, but he was too wild and immature. As the oldest boy, he should have been starting to take on extra responsibilities– if not in the boat, at least helping Rachel more and behaving more like an adult. But instead he was one of her greatest challenges, forever forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, losing things, fighting with the younger children, arguing with Rachel because she wasn’t Mother.

“What, John?” Rachel hated the sharp sound in her voice. Hadn’t she just been judging those around her for the same response to their hunger and worry?

“That man up there–” John pointed to one of the Teacher’s men, who had separated himself from those crowded around Jesus and was scanning the section of the crowd where Rachel’s family stood. “That man up there asked if anyone had any food to share, and I said he could have my lunch, since I never ate it.”

It took a moment for the absurdity of John’s words to reach Rachel’s mind. “John,” she said in as patient a voice as she could muster, “There isn’t even enough food in this bag for the six of us. There have to be at least 10,000 people here. What good is your little lunch going to do?”

She watched the boy take a deep breath, straighten up. He was nearly as tall as she was now, and his eyes held– for a moment– a glimmer of the man he would someday become. “It’s not for the crowd. It’s for Jesus. He wants my lunch, and I want to give it to him. Please, Rachel?”

Rachel looked up again, back toward the Teacher. She remembered the brief, eternal moment that morning when their eyes had met. He hadn’t eaten all day, as far as she had seen. How much strength did it require to heal and do miracles, to speak for hours to a huge mass of people?

She looked at her siblings. They were hungry, yes, but they were far from starving. It would be a long trek down the hill, a long process to make up a supper, but they would all survive. Rachel wanted to do this thing. She took a deep breath.

“I don’t know if it’ll even be enough to fill Jesus’ belly, John,” Rachel said. “He’s a grown man and hasn’t eaten all day. But I suppose it’s better than nothing, and anyway it’s all we have to share. If you want to give it to him, go ahead.” And she offered him the bag, with its five little pieces of bread, its two little dried fish.

It certainly wasn’t what she would have brought today, if she had known it was going to feed the Teacher. He deserved a feast.

“Thanks, Rachel!” John turned to run back to where the disciple stood, still searching the crowd.

“John– wait–” Rachel reached out to her brother’s shoulder, grabbed it before he could race away. He turned toward her with an expression of defiant worry. She knew he thought she had changed her mind. “I’m proud of you, my brother,” she said awkwardly. How long had it been since any kind of affection had passed between them?

Immediately his face relaxed, broke into a grin that reminded Rachel of the children they had been, the little games they had played back before Mother had been taken ill. They had been the best of friends at one time.

Holding his head high, John raced through the increasingly restless crowd, carrying his little lunch to Jesus.

Part 5

Almighty, Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Rachel felt like everything– the crowd, the noise, the sound of Imma’s voice, the wind in the rocks of the hillside, the warm bright sunshine– suddenly receded. For a moment, the face of the Teacher was all there was, all that mattered. He held her gaze for that moment, and unbidden the words of Hagar from the book of Moses came to her mind– I have now seen the One Who Sees Me.

The Teacher smiled at her, nodded, and then turned his attention to one of the men standing near him. In a rush, everything came back to her, and she became aware of Imma’s pressure on her arm, trying to get her to move forward so they could find a place to stand.

“Rachel, we need to move! We’re standing in the way!”

Imma took Rachel’s arm, guided her off to the right of the crowd, where a group of women and children had gathered. Rachel recognized several women from their village, and noticed her friend Miriam standing slightly apart, one hand at the small of her back, the other resting on her swollen belly. Miriam had been married less than a year, and already God had blessed her with a child.

“Miriam!” Rachel called, “You shouldn’t have made that climb! Are you sure you should be out here in this hot sun?”

Miriam barely heard Rachel’s voice. Her eyes were fixed on the Teacher, on Jesus of Nazareth. Rachel glanced up to where he stood and saw him smile at Miriam before turning again to the people directly before him. It was a father and his son, Rachel saw– a boy Rachel knew by sight, who had a crippled leg. Suddenly there was a stir of excitement, and Rachel saw the boy scramble out of his father’s arms, land solidly on the ground, and jump in celebration. In awe she realized what had happened. The boy impetuously threw his arms around the waist of the Teacher, who laughed in delight and hugged him back. Then, with a boyish whoop, the newly sound boy ran off, brandishing his walking stick as a sword at a group of boys who hung on the edge of the crowd, watching in amazement.

“Did you see that?” Rachel asked Miriam, turning again to her pregnant friend. Miriam’s eyes were filled with wonder and a peace Rachel had never seen there before.

“I have seen the One Who Sees Me,” Miriam said, more to herself than to Rachel.

“What did you say?”

“I have seen the One Who Sees Me,” the young woman repeated. “The words of Hagar in the desert . . . they came to my mind just then, when the Teacher looked at me. Rachel– that is no ordinary carpenter, whatever people might say about him.”

With a sense of awe that she could not have begun to describe, Rachel opened her mouth to respond, when she was interrupted by one of her young siblings.

“Rachel! I’m hungry! Did you bring food?”

Rachel glanced at the sky. “It’s not time for eating yet. The Teacher is going to talk soon. In awhile I have some bread and fish for you.”

“Rachel! Did you see what happened to James the Cripple?”

“I did see. You’ll have to start calling him by a new name now.”

“James the Really Fast Runner, maybe.”

Rachel laughed. “That sounds perfect. Why don’t you go see if you can catch him?”

“I will.” The boy turned away, then turned back again. “Rachel?”

“Yes?”

“I like the Teacher. He has good eyes.”

“I like him too.”

“I have to go play with my friends!” And with that, the boy was gone, flashing across the high field without a backward glance.

Rachel turned her attention back to the spot where the Teacher stood. A line had formed– the sick and the broken, all lined up and beseeching the carpenter for a miracle. She saw a girl her own age who was possessed by a demon and had spent her whole young life in chains for her own protection suddenly stop fighting and screaming, become quiet and docile, fall down and worship her healer.

She saw a young man who had been horribly disfigured in a fire have his face restored, saw the joyful tears of his parents and the joy rising in his own eyes.

She saw a pair of twin brothers who could not speak or hear suddenly open their mouths and praise God.

She saw a couple, a few years older than her, who had been unable to have children, approach the Teacher, whisper quietly with him, and walk away with new hope on their faces.

She saw a little boy, heedless and wild, run headlong into the Teacher’s knees and nearly knock him off balance. And she saw his disciples step forward quickly, angrily. Saw his mother race up, shame painting her face a deep red. Saw Jesus of Nazareth stoop down, grasp the little one under his arms, and toss him high up in the air. Heard the laughter and squeals of the airborne child.

All morning, people came to the Teacher and had needs met. All morning Rachel watched, occasionally commenting on what she saw to Imma or one of the other young ladies around her. As the sun reached the top of the sky, her siblings came one by one to her side and she gave them the little bags of food she had prepared. They sprawled in the grass, munching yesterday’s bread, laughing with their friends, watching the Teacher.

Finally Jesus moved to a rock situated high up on the hillside and sat down on it, as the Rabbis sat in the synagogue when they taught. A hush fell over the grassy field where thousands were now gathered.

The Teacher was about to teach.

Part 4

Almighty, part 2

Part 1

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.

Part 3

Almighty, part 1

She slipped out of the house in the middle of the night, just as the wind off the lake was starting to pick up. Clouds raced across the moon as if they were contestants in some heavenly chariot race. In the distance she could see flashes of lightning. She didn’t care. She had never been afraid of storms.

Of course she shouldn’t be out at all, especially alone, especially at night. But with all the little sisters and brothers tucked in and finally asleep after chattering far past bedtime about the happenings of the day, she needed some time of her own to think things over. So she covered her head, listened for her father’s deep, even breathing, and silently slid out the door.

It had been such an unexpected day. The rumors had started early that morning– the Teacher was up in the hills, and he was going to teach. Father had already gone out to fish, leaving her as usual at home with several young siblings and a long list of work to do. Oh, how much she wanted to go hear the Teacher! She had heard so many stories about him, stories she longed to discover were true. There were whispers– could this be Messiah?

“Please, Rachel! Let us go see him!” The children clamored around her, begging. She glanced around the house. Always so much to do– weaving and bringing the water, baking the bread and mending the clothes that the little ones wore through so quickly.

She missed her mother so much. Still young, at the death of her mother Rachel had become the woman of the house. Her father relied heavily on her to care for the younger children and for the work of the home. Rachel wondered how long it would last– she was old enough to marry now, and she knew that at least one man had approached her father about the topic, but he seemed unable to make a decision. Rachel knew that unless her father remarried himself, she might stay here raising her brothers and sisters and caring for her father’s home until she was too old to find a suitable husband. It all seemed so unfair.

The young ones were still pulling on her, begging her to let them go see the Teacher. “I heard he can do miracles!” “I heard he healed someone in Jerusalem who couldn’t walk!” “I heard he turned water into wine!” Rachel sighed. She could use a miracle.

With a sudden flash of a smile, Rachel reached a decision. There was enough bread and fish for another day or two. “All right,” she agreed. “Let’s go see the Teacher.” The excited squeals of the little ones seemed to shake the little house. Rachel filled several little bags with food for them, determining to go without to make sure there’d be enough for Father when he reached home.She sent the children scurrying around to the corners of the house, tidying it up, leaving it neat and cared-for, as Mother had always done, as Father liked it.

Opening the door, Rachel peered out into the streaming sunlight of the morning. The crowd in the street made it look like a festival day. Children and their mothers, old men, and even some of the working men who hadn’t made it out to their boats or their shops yet– all were pushing their way along the dusty road, talking loudly and excitedly. Rachel’s brothers and sisters rushed out, too, spotting friends and acquaintances and cousins in the crowd. Shutting the door behind her, Rachel felt a rush of thankfulness that there were so many people she could trust to keep an eye on the little ones. As alone as she felt sometimes, the people of the village had been in many ways a big family for her and her brothers and sisters. She knew she would never have survived this long without their help.

“Rachel! Are you going to see the Teacher?” Rachel squinted into the sunlight to see her friend Imma waving to her from the road. With a quick wave back and a final tug to make sure the door was shut completely, Rachel lifted her shawl up over her head and joined the other girl in the long procession of people who were making their way up into the hills to see the Teacher they had heard so much about– Jesus of Nazareth.

Part Two

My God Who Knows Me

All the places where I fail
Are places where You wait with grace;
All the helpless prayers I wail
You hear, turning to me Your face.
All the wayward wanderings
My wild heart insists are right,
All the painful ponderings
My mind cannot let go at night,
All the weaknesses I see
When I am brave to look within,
All the prideful flesh in me
That thinks it can approval win,
All this You know, and more of these.
You are not shocked to see my pain;
When I am driven to my knees
You meet me there with love again.
You never fail, my faithful Friend;
You never change in all my doubt.
Of darkest nights You know the end,
And you will surely lead me out.
Oh, keep me small before Your throne,
Where I find mercy for my need–
Teach me to turn to You alone,
For You, oh God, are Lord indeed.

2016 by Erin Jo Kilmer
togetherforgood.wordpress.com

I Am Peter

You feel sometimes like you’re standing in quicksand, trying to set up a life there. Maybe not even a life– maybe just a little tent for a couple of nights, but where do you hammer the pegs? And meanwhile you’re sinking.

Of course, we’re not called to build our lives on quicksand. We sing it with the little children– The wise man built his house upon the rock! The trouble is that sometimes the rock is there, in the quicksand. And we’re too busy flailing around, trying to nail tent pegs to shifting ground, trying to save ourselves, that we never think to just let our feet sink a few more inches and discover that firm foundation.

The same Man who told us to build our houses on the rock also told Peter to step out of the boat, to ignore the waves and the storm, the wind and the crashing of the thunder, all the pounding of his own heart, and to come. We’ve heard the story a hundred times. We forget, when we’re sinking in the quicksand of uncertainty or drowning in an ocean of sorrow or being battered by a hurricane of crises we can’t handle, we forget that we are Peter.

We are Peter, stepping out so confidently, asking Jesus to let us come, to invite us on this epic faith walk across stormy seas.

We are Peter, taking a few steps and being amazed at what we can do when Jesus calls us to do it.

We are Peter– I am Peter— finding my view of Jesus obscured by rain and hair blown fiercely across my eyes.

I am Peter, nervously remembering that what I’m doing isn’t possible, that nobody can walk on water, that I am surrounded on ever side by waves of water.

I am Peter, taking my eyes off the Faithful One who called me, looking instead at the wild storm, listening to the voice of the wind that howls the ridiculous audacity of one who would step out and whispers that nobody can save me now.

I am Peter, sinking so quickly. Oh ye of little faith.

It is always Jesus who saves. Always Jesus who answers that most desperate plea for help as the waters swallow us. It is always this Faithful Son of God who is there the moment we cry out, with a steady hand. We gasp and choke and spit out water and suck in air, all undignified and broken and desperate again. And there He is.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

Sight shrieks out Warning! Warning! Waves! Water! Wind! Storm! WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU IDIOT? NOBODY CAN WALK ON WATER!!!

Faith answers back, He who called me is faithful. Faith believes that under the surface of the wild storm there is a foundation no one can shake. Faith steps out, eyes on Jesus, even when His face is dimmed by darkness and rain and wind and the spray of the sea.

Faith builds the house on the quicksand, if that’s where God commands, knowing that there is rock beneath.

I am Peter– calling in desperation, always being answered, learning so slowly, discovering this:

There is no safer place than the roughest sea, no more joyful experience than walking, even for a moment, on the wild waves, because the One who calls me is faithful.

Blessed by the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.

My God Is for Me

It was there in Psalms yesterday, right when I needed to read it, on a morning when I felt pressed down by a secret, invisible weight that threatened to flatten me.

This I know, that God is for me.

Do I know this as David did? I wonder. David didn’t pen those words while in his palace, king of all he surveyed. He wrote them right after he had been seized by the Philistines, long-time enemies of his people.

David cried out to God in desperation, for his life was in danger. He was hated, pursued, attacked, trampled, oppressed. Yet even in his fear for his life, David chose trust. He chose to believe in God’s faithfulness to all His promises.

Psalm 56 shows a constant contrast between the apparent hopelessness of David’s situation and his unwavering faith in the reality of who God is.

My enemies trample on me all day long,
    for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?

In the midst of trial, David has the audacity to praise— to praise the word of the Lord, all God’s promises to David. Those promises– that David would be king of Israel, that God would always be with him– must have seemed pretty tenuous as he waited in captivity among the Philistines. But David refused to give into doubt and fear. He knew that no harm could come to him, because his God was trustworthy.

Beyond that, David believed that God cared for him– cared for every tear, every sleepless night. He believed that God would answer his prayers and show him His rich grace and mercy.

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.

This faith of David’s in spite of his circumstances, in spite of the appearance of hopelessness, in spite of his feelings of abandonment and loneliness in the midst of his enemies, this is an audacious, wild faith. This is the faith I am called to practice– a faith that praises God for the deliverance that hasn’t even come yet, because it believes so very strongly that it will come because God has promised it.

I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

David was just so sure that God was for him. He trusted the word of the Lord to him. He refused to look at his circumstances as a hindrance to God’s ability to keep His promises.

And what has God promised me?

Abundant life–

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Spiritual victory–

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The unceasing presence of Christ–

I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Power–

[I pray that you may know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.

Overflowing grace–

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Access to God as a beloved child–

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Welcome before God’s throne in times of need–

 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

A God with a plan–

And we know that for those who love God all things work togetherforgood, for those who are called according to his purpose.

and the ability to make it happen–

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

This is just skimming the surface of the rich inheritance I am promised as a child of God. And when I consider this, when I determine to praise His Word as David did, to trust God and not fear, then I am living in faith that My God is for me.

And I can rejoice in trials, knowing that God is going to do something amazing in them.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Steadfastness. Maturity. Sufficiency. All found in trials and troubles. And through it all, the unfailing love of my God.

This I know: That my God is for me.