Miriam sat in the corner of the large room, weaving with fierce determination. She had set the loom just where the shafts of morning sunlight slanted against the stone wall and lit up the worn and ancient slabs at her feet. This house had been here for many generations of her husband's family, and from the first weeks when she had come to live here, she had chosen this corner in which to set up her loom. But neither the history of the old stone house, nor the the rustling of the olive branches at the window were able to intrude into her thoughts, as she worked with a kind of desperate rythmn, and her fingers, swift as the darting flight of the dragonfly, guided the reed between each thrust of the spindle. It was much better to be occupied than to be idle whilst waiting for more news . . . even though it was likely to be more bad news.
Achim had brought the message only an hour ago, his own agitation indicative of the seriousness of the situation. Jesus had been arrested last night in Jerusalem, and from what Achim had been able to tell her, was still being held at the court of Pontius Pilate. Miriam knew there were other things she should be doing: today was Friday, the preparation day, but she had neither heart nor will for any work that required thought. Instead, she turned to her weaving as she always did when anger or fear made it impossisble to exercise the judgement required in her other tasks.
As she worked, her mind travelled back in time to the sunswept hills of childhood. So strong was the mental picture that she felt herself wrapped in the euphoria of the carefree idleness of those summer days in Nazareth: days when Jesus had lived in Nazareth too. He had spent more time at his home than any of the others, she remembered, but when he did come to join them in play, he was always welcomed by all their company. No matter what game was in progress, it seemed to take on added delight when Jesus was there. Funny how fights and squabbles just seemed to fizzle out into nothing when he was in the game, and even when the other children were bent on mischief, he inevitably seemed to have something else for them to do. Once, they'd all decided to steal melons from Hadaphaz's field, and Jesus had changed their minds by telling them of a puppy that needed rescuing from a ditch. They'd all been so engrossed in saving the poor little thing, that they'd forgotten all about the melons.
Then there was that time when young Simon had been bent on tormenting a ragged old man who always hobbled into town on a crutch. "He looks so funny, and he's so dirty!" said Simon. "Let's chase him away." Miriam would remember the look on Jesus' face until the day she died. He hadn't argued with Simon, in fact, he hadn't said one word against him. Instead, he began to tell them about the old man, and the misfortunes which had reduced him to his present level of existence. He speculated about how difficult it must be for such a sick old man to tend his garden and do his chores, and before long, Simon was suggesting that they all go and find him and lend a hand. They spent the entire afternoon digging weeds from the old fellow's garden, and came away knowing a lot more about him and respecting him because of it. Jesus always seemed to create that effect.
* * *
The sun had moved away from the window, and now MIriam sat in shadows. Her hands lay idle in her lap, stilled from their feverish activity by the calming thoughts of the past. Having entered adolescence, her parents had withdrawn her from the society of males, but still she had observed Jesus as he grew to manhood. There was a time when her girlish dreams had included hopes that he may be the one . . . but alas, the family had moved to Cana, and her parents had chosen Achim to be her husband. Her eyes took on a dreamy look, and her lips parted slightly in a smile. How wise they were. What a wonderful husband Achim had proved to be. Jesus, in fact, his whole family had come to the wedding. That was a day to remember. How happy he had seemed for them as he took each of their hands in his own and prayed the most beautiful prayer for their happiness: the most beautiful prayer she had ever heard. But something mysterious had happened that day too. She knew that it had something to do with the wine, and that Jesus was somehow involved, but other than that she knew nothing. Her father-in-law would not speak of it, and Achim would tell her nothing, and yet after that day, her husband appeared to hold Jesus in very high esteem.
Her eyes sought the window and rested on the rustling green of the olive tree. Then there was the time when young Joash, their first son, was sick. Jesus had come to visit: had stood gazing at the pale damp body, his eyes full of compassioin. Miriam had been crying. She had only seen a blurred picture of Jesus as he bent over the small figure and took up one limp hand, and then he'd quietly left. But Joash had opened his eyes, and from that moment he'd begun to mend. It was as though the very presence of Jesus had brought about the child's healing. Achim had been very quiet. Although he said nothing, Miriam knew that he thought a great deal.
News began to reach them then, about the things that Jesus was doing. Reports came to them that he had healed lepers and restored sight to the blind. In Gallilee, crowds had flocked to him for healing, and in Bethany it was claimed that he had even brought a dead man back to life. He had a following of men -- ordinary men, of the poorer classes: fishermen and tax collectors, and they claimed that he was the Messiah. Miriam wondered. It was hard to think of someone like that . . . someone you'd known all your life, as being something as wonderful and important as the Messiah! Miriam continued to wonder, and Achim continued to say nothing.
Suddenly the door burst open bringing Miriam brutally back to the present. Achim stood there, a look of utter anguish on his face. "They're going to crucify him!" he said hoarsely.
Miriam's hand went up to her throat. "No . . . they can't. He's not a criminal!"
"I don't know what's going on. He was being shuttled back and forth between Herod and Pilate, and neither one of them could find anything against him, but the crowd was all stirred up -- for some odd reason, and even when offered the choice between Jesus and Barrabas, they demanded that Barrabas be freed and Jesus crucified." He crossed the room wearily and sank onto a chair. "Of course, Pilate, in his usual cowardly way, gave in to them and surrendered Jesus up for execution -- just moments after declaring him innocent of any crime!"
"But how did he come to be arreested in the first place?" Miriam was close to tears, and Achim rose from his seat and drew her into his arms.
"That wretch, Judias Iscariot! He knew the Sanhedrin was after Jesus' blood, and he betrayed his whereabouts to them. Would you believe for thirty pieces of silver?"
"Achim -- can we go to Jerusalem? -- please?"
"What can we hope to do? It's too late. He's been sentenced already."
"I know, but . . . " She buried her face in his chest and began to sob.
"Come on Miriam, love. I know . . . I feel the same, but . . . ' He hugged her close, then, thinking aloud he said, "at least we could be there for him." He held her at arm's length. "Come on, we'll go up to the city."
* * *
By the time they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus was already dragging the heavy cross along the cobbled streets. They followed the crowd, shocked and silent: disbelieving the evidence of their own eyes, and too stunned to speak, even to each other. They climbed the hill Golgotha with the mob. They witnessed the savage, barbaric ritual as his hands and feet were nailed to the rough wooden planks, and their souls shuddered when the cross was lifted and dropped into the hole, to see the agony on the face of the man hanging there
Mriam hid her face, and they would have left, but some irresistible. force held them there, weeping and clinging to one another. They heard him pray for his tormentors. They heard his loving concern as he made provision for his mother even in the midst of his suffering. They were still there to witness the unearthly darkness, and the earthquake which accompanied his death, and many were the silent, thoughtful faces that gazed at the body of the man who had claimed to be the Son of God.
* * *
A week later Miriam and Achim were over most of the shock. They were attempting to put the whole tragic episode behind them, but something had changed. Something would never be the same again. Achim had taken to studying the scriptures. Every evening he poured over the scrolls of Micah, Jeremiah and Isaiah. One night he turned to Miriam with a strange light in his eyes. "Wasn't there some question about Jesus' birth?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I heard that his mother and father didn't marry until well after he was expected."
"That wasn't his fault!"
"No, of course not, but look, here in Isaiah it says: ' . . . therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin will conceive and bear a son.'"
"What are you getting at Achim?"
"Well, he claimed to be the Messiah, didn't he? The Son of God? Well . . . I think he was . . . is."
"Do you remember pestering me about the mystery of the wine at our wedding?"
Yes dear, I certainly do."
"Well, I didn't want to tell anyone, but father had miscalculated with the wine for the feast. We ran out!"
Miriam thought this was a trivial matter to bring up just now, but she could see that Achim was in deadly earnest.
"You know," he went on, "you know what Jesus did? He took some jars of water . . . and turned it into wine!"
Miriam's eyes were wide now.
"That's not all. The Scriptures are full of references to the Messiah. In Daniel, even the exact time of his birth was foretold. I bet you didn't know that!"
"No -- I -- "
"And while everyone in Israel has been waiting and hoping for the Messiah to appear, he came and we didn't even know him. That's in Isaiah too. Read it for yourself, here in chapter fifty three. 'He was despised and we did not esteem him.' It even says 'they made his grave with the wicked', read the whole thing. It's like a commentary on the life of our friend, Jesus. Even the betrayal for thirty pieces of silver was foretold."
"But Achim, the Messiah was to be a mighty Prince, to rescue Israel from bondage."
"Aha! That's what everyone thought. That's why we didn't recognise him. But don't you see? The killing of the Passover Lamb . . . the sacrificial lambs at the temple . . . the Day of Atonement . . . it all makes sense to me now. Everything was pointing to him, and we were too blind to see, even though he tried to tell us. Don't you see?"
" I -- I don't know."
"Think about it love. Why do we go so often to the temple to sacrifice animals?"
"To find forgiveness for our sins."
"Yes, and those sacrifices, for thousands of years have been pointing forward to him, the ultimate sacrifice. Did you know that at the moment of his death that big heavy veil in the temple was shredded apart . . . from top to bottom? What does that tell you?"
Miriam shook her head.
"That the sacrifrices no longer have any significance. The Sacrifice has been made."
He left the scrolls and moved to the window to stare out at the moon through the branches of the olive tree. He began speaking again, quietly and deliberately. "His followers are saying that He rose from the dead and was taken up into Heaven." He paused. "They say he's coming back . . . next time as the Mighty Prince we all expected." He turned to look at his wife. "I believe them Miriam," he pointed to the scrolls, "because that's in there too!"
Miriam's mouth was open but her eyes were smiling. She thought again about the horrifying scenes on Golgotha, and with humble amazement she realized for the first time that Jesus had suffered willingly. She heard again the voice of the Centurion as he said, 'Surely this was the Son of God."
Achim was nodding silently as she stared at him. "There's a meeting being held in town tonight. It's a meeting of those who believe that Jesus of Nazareth was . . . is, the Christ. Shall we go?"
She came to stand beside him at the window. A thrilling voice in her heart was telling her that this was right. "Yes Achim, let's go."
As they quietly left the house, the moon cast a mottled pattern of olive leaves and moonbeams on the ancient stone floor of the house in Cana.