Jesusby Walter Wangerin Jr.
Walter Wangerin Jr. is know for his powerful storytelling in such books as The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of God, and Paul: A Novel. Now he offers the most important story of the Christian faith—the life of Jesus presented in the author’s inimitable style. Rich in atmosphere and historical detail and as compelling as any contemporary fiction, this novel will move readers with its creative perspectives and deep insights.
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By Walter Wangerin, Jr.
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Walter Wangerin Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Room
Zechariah and his son, John, had preceded the rest of the families by ten days to the city of Jerusalem. Indeed, all the able-bodied priests in Palestine, and all the Levites too, arrived in the Holy City some few days ahead of the worshipers: they had to prepare themselves for their sacred service, and then to prepare-to purify-the Temple and its precincts for the remembrance of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. More than one hundred thousand pilgrims would pour into a city whose normal population was thirty thousand. Jerusalem, swelling four times its size, required the services of all twenty-four divisions of priests and all the weekly courses of Levites, a workforce of eighteen thousand men.
Zechariah's division was the eighth, that of Abia out of the hill country of Judea. It lay closer to Jerusalem than most of the others. Nevertheless, Zechariah left home a full week earlier than priests from regions more distant than his. He had reasons. He had purposes. But, though the man was pious truly, piety was not one of those purposes.
Zechariah had grown most old. His eyes had hardened into a pearl-white and staring blindness. The last time Mary had seen him-and this a year ago-she'd suffered pity for those eyes overhung by great bushes wild and uncut; pity, too, for his shoulders, bent at right angles to his spine, driving his face forever toward the ground. She had known him old and strong, the man now old and stooped. Travel was hard on him, even when he crouched upon his little donkey and was held in place by the hand of his son. For this reason Zechariah had left early with John, who was old enough to know the way, to lead the donkey, to find both food and drink for his father, to arrange places of rest every other hour in the day. The boy had turned thirteen just eight months ago. He'd attained the age of a man.
There was yet another reason for their early departure, more pragmatic than spiritual, more familial than personal. Zechariah wanted to secure a room in one of the houses owned by the Temple. Not a house. Just a single room.
Despite his great and respectable age, the old priest was as ordinary as any other country son of Aaron. His only advantage would have to be in approaching the Temple authorities first. On this year particularly Zechariah desired his family to eat the Passover meal within the walls of the city of Jerusalem. His whole family, in a room large enough to accommodate three tables and twelve bodies.
* * *
"He was able to reserve the same room for ten years straight," Mary said to her son as they walked among the pilgrims. "Two years ago he lost it. Last year too we ate in a strange place. Poor Zechariah. He knows we like familiarity. Then the women have no trouble finding the oven, the dishes, cloth, water, cushions-"
Mary walked in silence awhile.
Then: "But I don't think that's the deepest reason he wants the same room again this year."
* * *
Mary and her husband had discussed the matter of Zechariah's tremulous intensities, how absolute he had become regarding things of small significance.
They sensed finality.
Joseph and Mary both suspected that this would be the last year the old priest would serve at the Passover. Actually, the lack of sight was not his greatest handicap. Zechariah knew by heart every inch of the generous Esplanade and every gesture of his office. But now his hands shook with an uncontrollable violence. He could scarcely hold the silver tray beneath the flow of the lamb's arterial blood. Last year Joseph had been forced to grab the priest's wrist so that any blood at all might be caught on the tray.
Finalities, then: Joseph believed that Zechariah, unable and infirm, sought a little rest and a lot of sunlight in his shrinking years. "He'll stay to home next. Man'll sit on his roof and smile."
Mary, on the other hand, thought it likelier that Zechariah would not live to know another Passover, not in Jerusalem, not in the hill country where he dwelt, not in this world.
The silver cord will snap- So went the sentiment in the woman's mind, a mournful sort of music: the golden bowl will break, the pitcher crack upon the fountain, and the man that once could move with the strength of the sea will, under a withering sun, sink into himself like a dry well full of dust.
Aloud, and more than once, she said to Joseph, "When he cannot go up to Jerusalem, he will not live at all."
Joseph said, "I think he'll wait till his son turns priest. Like himself. Like Elizabeth's father."
Mary said, "They waited nearly to death for the boy to be born in the first place. And when they received him, they received the assurance of descendants." Mary had been present at that birth. She had seen the transfiguration of the parents, stunned by such a birth in their old age. "For him, Joseph," she said, "for Zechariah, I think this is life enough, that a son has followed him into the world, not that a son must follow him into the service of priests."
"Children are children." The big man bit his sentences, making them short. "But grandchildren are descendants."
Yes, but Mary was often more than a step ahead of him. She had said for Zechariah because she knew her husband's mind: that for him, for Joseph the carpenter, the development of one's son was all in all the purpose and the merit of a father's life. Young Yeshi, twelve years old, had conned his father's craft, stood skillfully in his father's tradition. The boy's deft use of a plane caused Joseph to nod with silent approval, thin shavings curling before the blade, olive wood smooth as basalt behind.
But more than the craft, it was Yeshi's intellectual aptitudes that silenced the carpenter's mouth with pride. For at the age of five the child had suddenly begun to read the Aramaic words he saw everywhere in the big city of Sepphoris; and then at seven he, with an ancient rabbi in their tiny synagogue, was reading the Hebrew of the Holy Scriptures-causing Joseph's eyes to water and his nose to run. And why shouldn't the father permit himself such tender internal delights? He and Nazareth and most of his kind couldn't read a word in any language.
"He'll make his living as a carpenter," Joseph whispered in Mary's ear while they lay abed together. "But he'll make his name as a scribe. In Jerusalem. I'll be there. Old, crippled. Content."
* * *
A grand company of Galilean pilgrims had been climbing the hills of Judea for half a day toward Jerusalem for the Passover, when Mary and Joseph and the boy turned aside. They departed the jubilant music and the great river of Jews going up to Jerusalem. Leading the donkey that bore their loads, they went single file up a narrow, stony path until they came to a little village as old as Moses. There they approached the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
It was almost a week ago that young John had seen to the old man's travel. Now these would see to hers. She would ride. They would bear their possession on their own backs.
"Elizabeth? Elizabeth, are you ready?"
Everyone would arrive safely there. And they would celebrate the story again, and they would experience deliverance again as if it had happened just yesterday.
Excerpted from Jesus by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Copyright © 2005 by Walter Wangerin Jr..
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Meet the Author
Walter Wangerin Jr. is widely recognized as one of the most gifted writers writing today on the issues of faith and spirituality. Starting with the renowned Book of the Dun Cow, Wangerin’s writing career has encompassed most every genre: fiction, essay, short story, children’s story, meditation, and biblical exposition. His writing voice is immediately recognizable, and his fans number in the millions. The author of over forty books, Wangerin has won the National Book Award, New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year Award, and several Gold Medallions, including best-fiction awards for both The Book of God and Paul: A Novel. He lives in Valparaiso, Indiana, where he is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University.
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