The First Pot-Luck Supper
"Oh, go on, let him go," said Zac's father. "He's worked really hard lately. We can spare him for a day."
Zac's mother was frowning. Zac knew that all the talk about finishing the new furniture for the innkeeper's widow was just one big excuse. She just didn't want him to go and listen to the Master. He couldn't understand what she was so afraid of. After all, the new teacher was just an ordinary sort of person - in fact, the son of carpenter, just like he was.
"All right then," she said, "but you'd better take something to eat with you."
"Oh Mum!" said Zac, frustrated. There would be bound to be vendors there, selling all sorts of interesting food. And he'd arranged to go with Tobias and Daniel. He was sure their mums wouldn't make them take food. Why was his Mum always so fussy?
He saw his father shaking his head.
"Do as your Mother says, son," he whispered. "It's only because she cares, you know."
"You can have some of the dried fish," she said, "and I've just finished baking some barley bread. It will be nice and soft to eat."
"Thanks, Mum," Zac mumbled. He watched as she parcelled up the five new loaves and the two salt fish It seemed to take an age, He just wanted to get going.
"Now, you take care, and make sure you're back by nightfall," she said. She still looked worried.
"He'll be fine," said Dad. "Now, away, son."
At last he was on his way. The sun was quite high in the sky and it was already very hot. The road was dusty. And soon his feet were dirty grey. He would be ashamed if the preacher looked at him.
He had arranged to meet Tobias and Daniel at the edge of the town. There was no sign of them when he got there. They had probably set off hours ago for the hillside. They'd probably guessed that his mother would not let him go and listen to the preacher. Well, they'd been wrong. But it had taken a long time to persuade her, and they' d probably given up waiting.
The crowds were already making their way up to hill just outside the town. Zac decided to follow them. He remembered how Daniel had told him all about the new teacher. His uncle had seen him a few months before.
"He made a blind man see!" shouted Daniel. "And he stopped Mad Mildred's seizure. " He had then writhed around on the floor as if he were Mad Mildred. "He just put his hands on her head and shouted ' be gone, Lucifer!' and she stopped shaking."
"They even say he's brought a dead man back from the grave," Tobias added, in a whisper. "We've just got to go and see him."
Zac arrived at the sloping field. All the visitors were setting out their rugs on the ground. There were so many people. The sun was getting really hot now. Still there was no sign of Daniel and Tobias. Some stern-looking men were showing people where to sit. One of them looked at Zac and pointed to a rocky piece of ground. His heart sank. If he sat there, he'd be behind the tall man with the wide shoulders. He wouldn't be able to see a thing. The ground looked so hard, too.
"Not there!" said another of the men. "Remember, the Master likes the children to be near the front!"
Zac heard the tall man grunt.
"I don't know who they think they are," he said to the woman sitting next to him.
"They're the disciples," replied the woman. "They're going to help him become King of the Jews."
Zac's heart was beginning to pound as he was shown to the front of the crowd. He would really be able to see the teacher closer to from here. Would he do anything really dramatic? Perhaps he would make a blind man see? Or make a lame woman walk again? And now he, Zack, son of a carpenter, was going to see another son of a carpenter close too. This carpenter was different, though. He was going to become the King of the Jews and he could perform magic.
Zac did not have time to look for his friends. The crowd suddenly went quiet and some of the men he has seen earlier came and stood in front of them. There was someone else as well with them. He seemed to stand taller than the other men, but when Zac looked closely, he saw that he was in fact shorter and his shoulders were certainly narrower than those of the burly men around him. He looked almost as if he were gliding as he walked along, a little as if his feet weren't actually touching the ground.
That must be him, thought Zac. His mouth went dry.
The preacher stepped forward from the other men. He looked carefully at the crowd. His eyes seemed to rest a few seconds on everyone. Zac gulped as two dark eyes looked into his. He was sure the man could understand every single thing in his head.
The teacher began to talk; he told them many stories of how they could all live together better. Zac could understand these stories, unlike the ones the priests had told him. Then came the magic. The preacher went around the crowd putting his hands on people. He helped one woman get up from a stretcher. She kissed the teacher's feet.
"Thank you Master," she said.
The preacher smiled gently at her.
He whispered something to a little girl who had not been able to talk and she was suddenly able to laugh and sing with her brothers and sisters. There were tears in her father's eyes as he thanked the preacher.
"Don't thank me," replied the preacher. "I am just going about my business."
He touched the eyes of a man who could not see. The man began walking a little unsteadily.
"So this is how beautiful the world is," he said. "This is what colour is."
"Now enjoy this creation," said the preacher.
Yes, this would certainly be something to tell his friends. But he wished he could hear more stories. He liked listening to the teacher's voice and all of what he had said seemed to make so much sense.
The preacher had stopped working now and was deep in discussion with his men. He was shaking his head. The disciples were shrugging their shoulders. It seemed as if there was an argument going on.
Zac suddenly realised how hungry he had become. He remembered the salt fish and the barley loaves his mother had given him. That would have to do. He had no money to buy anything form the vendors.
Vendors? Where were they? That was what was missing - the smell of freshly roast meat, the shouts of the wine merchants, bragging that their wine was the best and the baskets of bright colourful fruits. Of course! The Romans had forbidden them to attend when the teacher was talking or performing his magic. They did not like this man people were saying was going to become King of the Jews.
One of the teacher's men walked up to where Zac was sitting.
"Does anyone have any food?" he asked. "Anything at all? We have to feed everyone. The Master doesn't want people to have to go into town."
Zac fiddled with his food parcel. That wouldn't go far between - how many people were here? - He looked around him - five, six, maybe seven thousand. It was not as if it was anything very special either.
Then he remembered something the teacher had said - something about not worrying about what might happen, but just do whatever is right in any moment. It seemed right to offer his food.
"I've got five barley loaves and two salt fish," he whispered to the man. He thought for a moment that the man was going to laugh. He took the food from Zac, though.
"That'll be appetizing," someone behind him said.
"It'll sure go a long way amongst this lot," another voice said.
At that moment the teacher himself came over. He bent down and looked straight into Zac's eyes. Zac shivered, but it was a warm shiver as if sunlight had spread itself all through his body.
"Son," said the preacher. "You have done well. You have understood the will of Our Father."
He touched Zac's shoulder. The warmth spread through his body again, even stronger this time. He felt his cheeks go pink.
The teacher took the food from his disciple, and stood back. He held it in one hand and held the other hand over it. He looked up to the sky.
"Oh Lord Our Father," he said, "we thank You for providing the earth and sea, the sunshine and the rain, to produce this food, and the generosity in the heart of this young boy to share it with us."
Suddenly, from all parts of the crowd, people were shouting that they had food they could share..
"I have a flagon of win we can share!" shouted one.
"We have some lovely ripe grapes," cried another.
"I have seven unleavened loaves and a pound of figs," declared a third.
Soon everyone was offering something. A basket weaver had his cart nearby and he lent the teacher's men twelve baskets so that they could collect up the food and then take it round to the crowd. They went up and down the lines of people taking and offering food. The baskets seemed fuller each time they came around.
Zac had a wonderful supper. He did eat a little of the barley loaves and maybe a mouthful of the salt fish. But he also had fat black olives, softly crumbling goat's cheese and clear sweet honey on freshly baked bread. He was soon feeling full and actually turned down some food.
The teacher came over to him again.
"You have worked the magic this time, son, " he said. "You showed the people what to do."
Zac's cheeks went even pinker than before. He felt himself grinning. The teacher grinned back. Suddenly, they were just two carpenters who understood the world, rather than King and worker.
The sun was completely down by the time Zac got home.
"Well," said his father, "what was the best bit? Did you see any magic?"
"Oh the best bit," said Zac, "was when the Master magicked up food for the crowd."
"Oh, what a waste of the bread and fish I sent with you," said his mother.
Zac smiled to himself. He couldn’t wait to see Daniel and Tobias the next day.