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Authors: Bodie,Brock Thoene

Tags: #Historical, #Fiction, #Christian

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BOOK: When Jesus Wept
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I met with Joseph of Arimathea, the elder, a wine exporter, with ships sailing from Joppa. He had been a great friend of my father and had lived in Rome for a time. He became the chief exporter of Judean goods to the Roman colony in Britannia. Trade with the Gentiles had made him very wealthy.

Joseph had worked closely with Judah ben Perez and was well connected throughout the Roman Empire. With Judah gone now, Joseph stepped in to help those of us who did not have the connections needed to sell our produce. He was in his midfifties and from the tribe of Levi. Though his lineage qualified him for priestly duties, an accident in his youth had left him maimed and ritually unable to serve at the Temple. He wore a patch over his left eye and was missing two fingers on his left hand. He had focused his intelligence on business. His contacts with Gentile merchants gave him the ability to conduct his affairs without suspicion or interference from the Roman government.

Today’s meeting was intended to ask Joseph’s advice on pricing and marketing. We met in the storage caverns hacked out by my grandfather beneath the limestone hills.

The air at the surface sweltered with the midday sun, and I felt sweat trickling between my shoulders. But once inside the first bend in the tunnel leading downward, the atmosphere was noticeably cooler.

“Instant relief,” Joseph remarked with admiration, “and the same all year round.” He had visited my underground warehouse
before and never failed to comment on how perfect it was for storing wine.

Samson stepped forward from the shadows to greet us. His wizened face and bent form suggested a barrel stave brought to life. “Always the same, if I may say so, your worship. It may boil or freeze out there,” he jerked his head upward, “but the life of the vine rests in comfort beneath.”

“Ah, Samson, still here I see, and as poetic as ever. Another year, another vintage, but like fine wine, you just get better with time.”

My vintner beamed his gap-toothed smile under Joseph’s praise. “Your pardon, sir,” he corrected, “but the best wines don’t really get better, they just get … different. A great vintage possesses fine qualities throughout its life but chooses to reveal them gradually as time passes.”

“Samson has no need to prove his value any more than he has already,” I said. “However, as I think you’ll see, he’s still revealing new abilities.”

“Just a suggestion I made,” the steward demurred. “Really the master’s doing. This way, gentlemen, if you please. This way.”

Leading us onward with a crablike, sideways shuffle, Samson directed our course past a series of side tunnels, each devoted to some aspect of my craft. In one rested the great fermenting casks.

In another branch, dimly seen by the light of a single flickering oil lamp, already filled shipping amphorae were being packed in straw-filled crates. Like shadowy wraiths, a pair of barely seen workers carried out their task. Their movements were hushed by the spilled stubble underfoot. Though never ordered to do so, even their conversation was carried on in hushed tones.

The entry to the third side passage was more brightly illuminated. Racks of wooden barrels higher than our heads formed a canyon stretching away in the darkness, like a corridor reaching through time toward an unseen future.

In the middle of the space rested a single barrel lying on its side in a cradle. The bung hole used for topping up the wine and for sampling the contents was already open. A glass chalice and a glass tube rested on a table.

Joseph sniffed the air. “Love the aroma in your storage caverns,” he said. “But something’s different … what?”

Samson was almost skipping from side to side in his eagerness, but like the good servant he was, he deferred to me until I gave him permission to explain. “It’s these barrels, if you please, sir,” he suggested, grasping an oil lamp and bringing it near the staves. “See how much tighter is the grain, sir? And more uniform in color, not so streaky? Shall I tell him, sir?”

I grinned and waved for him to proceed.

“It’s not acacia, sir,” Samson said. “It’s oak. The master paid for all new barrels two years ago.”

“And the reason for this extravagant innovation?” Joseph questioned.

I took up the reasoning. “For one, it lets us age the wine longer. You know that more than a few months in acacia gives the wine a yellow tinge and a sharp aroma.”

In his enthusiasm Samson shrugged off the leash of subservience. “Two years,” he noted with pride. “Two years in these barrels. Topped off every month by me personally to make up for the angels’ share.”

“And was it worth it?” Joseph inquired.

“That’s why you’re here,” I said, indicating that Samson should plunge the pipette into the barrel and withdraw a sample.

The wine, a gloriously rich purple in color, foamed slightly as he released the contents of the tube into the cup. With evident pride he held it up toward a wall sconce before presenting it to the merchant.

The established protocol of tasting a new wine was simple: swirl, sniff, sip, and spit.

It was somewhere between sniff and sip that Joseph’s face took on a transfixed appearance. He held the liquid in his mouth, closed his eyes, swallowed, then took another mouthful and yet another.

“Was it worth it?” I said, repeating his query back to him.

“I have never tasted such a perfect wine,” he exclaimed. “The elegant and inviting scent … lavender? And the balance between tart and sweet. The smoothness. Extraordinary! Not even from the great vineyards of Dalmatia or Gaul have I tasted such. I taste ripe blackberries and figs and maybe a hint of pepper?”

“And our market?”

“To where they will pay the most,” Joseph said conclusively. “You know how I warn you about the uncertainties of the market in Rome and the dangers of shipping, but this … this!” he said, swirling the wine yet again and swallowing another mouthful. “This is worth the risk. I want the lot, and I want to arrange it today.”

Joseph was a fair, righteous man, and we settled our contract in the same terms I had enjoyed with Judah. As was the custom, at the conclusion of our business we rode back to my home to share a meal together.

The merchant of Arimathea knew my concerns and my questions before I inquired. He waited until my household servant had served us and left the room before he murmured, “I have news about our friend Judah.”

I leaned closer. “Judah! Still alive?”

“A galley slave in a Roman warship. So, for the time being, alive.”

“I will pray for him.”

“Pray his suffering does not last too long.” Joseph spoke the blessing, tore his bread, then dipped it into the hummus. “A man does not escape from such a living hell.”

I pictured the torture my good friend endured: the whip, the hunger, chained night and day belowdecks without relief. “May God have mercy …”

Neither of us talked of the injustice of such a fate. Joseph answered, “Our ancestor Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave in Egypt. Slandered by a woman, he was put in prison. How many years did Joseph suffer? I have pondered all these things, and the story of a good man’s life does not end, even when he descends into the grave. Who he is and what he accomplishes will live beyond him, for good or evil. Does he who made the ear not hear? I tell you, the arm of the Lord is not shortened. Pray the Lord will make himself known to Judah, who is trapped like Jonah in the bowels of a Roman ship.”

I nodded. “I have tried every way I know to learn the fate of Judah’s mother and sister.”

Joseph lowered his chin slightly. “They are dead.” He answered plainly. “A Roman quartermaster told my steward as much when we delivered a load of wine to the Antonia Fortress.”

Tears stung my eyes. I had not expected such news. “Tortured?”

“No. An illness. Some disease—a scourge of the lungs—swept like a wind through the women’s cells. Prostitutes and righteous women like Judah’s mother and sister died together. Buried by night in the potter’s field. Jemima and her mother were swept away within days of their arrest.”

Perhaps it was a mercy for these good women to be in Paradise together. “God has indeed delivered them from the hand of their enemies.”


Omaine
. My thoughts,” Joseph answered. “In such an evil world as we live in now, perhaps this is more merciful.”

“Judah would be relieved to know his mother and sister are not destitute and locked away in a dark cell, but embraced and cared for by angels within the bosom of Abraham.” Yet my voice was unsteady, lacking confidence.

Joseph was matter-of-fact. “I hired mourners to keen for them. There is no more to be done.”

I thought of my wife and child and did not reply for a long time. “I will say
kaddish
. It is good that the suffering of the innocent ends quickly.”

Joseph continued eating, though my appetite was gone. He moved on to other matters. “The prophet in the wilderness, John the Baptizer. Jesus of Nazareth. The Anointed of God is now among us. There could not be a better moment in all of history for the Deliverer to show himself. Like Moses of old, coming to free our fathers and mothers from Egypt … we are little more than slaves in our own land.”

“It is well with you, though, my friend?” I asked Joseph.

“It is well. Business flourishes. The Romans need my skill to feed their armies and their citizens.” He hesitated a long moment. “Your sister, Mary of Magdala, has political connections in Galilee that may keep you safe from suspicion.”

I tried not to let disapproval of my sister register on my face. “Mary goes her own way. It is not my way or the way of my family or of the God of our fathers.”

“She is great friends with Johanna, wife of Kuza, the steward of Herod Antipas.”

“Johanna and Kuza. Those two!”

“I have spoken with Mary at great length about her vineyards and her wine. Mary sells the wines of her late husband’s estates at a fine price to the garrison in Tiberius. No need to export.”

Bitterness consumed me. “Mary has sold her soul, Joseph.”

“Her estates are in the Galil. The Messiah is there. Perhaps your sister’s soul may yet be redeemed by the Redeemer.”

“My younger sister was only trouble from the start. Not good and solid like Martha. A flighty thing. Pretty and spoiled.”

“I remember her as a sweet and lonely child. Affected deeply by your mother’s death. You married her to an old man for the sake of a business arrangement.”

“A great opportunity,” I shot back, “since Mary would not have had other offers in marriage. Mary should have been obedient and accepted with righteousness her purpose.”

Joseph chewed a bit of roasted chicken as he pondered my judgment. “That may be. But even so, with Mary’s husband dead now, she might welcome her brother’s visit.”

I shook my head slowly. “That would be too much for me to swallow. I have nothing to do with my sister. She is a shame to me and to my father’s name.”

I saw pity in the eyes of Joseph, who had seen much more of life and was thus more merciful. At last he said, “Your father was my dearest friend. After your mother died, he wed Mary’s mother. It was plain to all that he did not love her. Nor did he look with favor on your half sister when she was born. When Mary’s mother … drowned … there was speculation that perhaps she had taken her own life. Speculation that because your father did not love her, she waded into the water of the Sea of Galilee and put an end to her loneliness.”

“That speculation and her sin branded us as a family,” I insisted. “It left us few options.”

“And it left your sister Mary … beautiful little child … alone,” Joseph said swiftly. “Now I see, David, that you have your father’s indifference. Perhaps you live in judgment of a woman who has spent her life looking for love.” He stood. “I believe you will be attending your cousin’s wedding in Cana? I pray that Mary will be there also … and that you will show the mercy your father never showed.”

The old man was honest with me. He had brought things to light that my own father had never spoken about before his death. And he was right in his conclusions.

My stepmother’s suicide had affected us all. We had never spoken openly about the circumstances surrounding the death of Mary’s mother. Little Mary had never recovered from watching her mother drown.

Joseph was also correct about my lack of compassion. I had never showed my sister any kindness. When the thirty days of mourning for my stepmother had ended, I had dismissed Mary’s tears and demanded that the child “get on with life.” And so she had. Bold and defiant, she had gone her own way. The kindness she did not find at home she sought in the arms of lovers. Her first lover had been Barak bar Halfi, the son of our wine steward. Even after the young man was joined to another woman in an arranged marriage, Mary pursued him shamefully. After that, I had married her off to an old man in Galilee to save her … to save all of us.

Mary was a young and beautiful widow now, and she was rich, having inherited the estate of her elderly husband after his death. I hoped Mary would not dare to show her face at the wedding in Cana, yet I expected she would. I dreaded the encounter.

Chapter 9

I
t was seventy miles from Bethany to Cana, and the journey to attend the wedding would take almost a week. Alone, and on the white mare, I might have done the trip in three days by sleeping rough; two if I rode from dawn to dusk. With Martha along, riding in a donkey-drawn cart, even a full Sabbath-to-Sabbath span would barely be enough time.

We set out at full light on the first day of the week. I was comfortable leaving the vineyard in the hands of Samson and Patrick. Martha had her maidservant, Leah, riding with her in the cart, which was driven by my man, Uri. Going with us as a wedding gift was an amphora of the best vintage.

The most direct route to the Galil was directly north, through Samaria. That route was straight along the spine of hills flanking the valley of the Jordan. It was a good road and evenly planted with cities, but there was still a problem. As much as we Jews disliked our Roman overlords, there was even more animosity against Samaritans. We regarded them as apostates and traitors.

BOOK: When Jesus Wept
10.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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