We all have choices, even when we think there’s none available to us. Usually, it is at that point when we think we have no options that our lives take radical turns.
My little girl was sick. I was flat out of money and my wife was an hysterical nagging mess. I couldn’t blame her, what’s a man when he’s got no money? Of what use is a vegetable of a human being that can’t even save the life of the one he loves.
“You don’t love us!” She cried.
“What am I to do? There are no jobs. The last foreman robbed me off my wages and I broke his nose in anger. Maybe I shouldn’t have but a man can only take so much from a fellow Jew. If Romans treat us like shit, should we do the same to our kin too?”
“Enough sermonising Tobias, If you channelled half the fire in you towards getting funds to treat our Hannah instead of brawling with your colleagues and losing jobs, that would be fine. Instead you just –”
“Enough of this already woman!”
“No! It would be enough when you actually do something useful. Our daughter is dying Tobias, do something!”
I’d had enough. There’s no winning her, especially when she’s right. I needed to do something fast if I didn’t want to lose our daughter to some illness that a few shekels of silver would cure. If her nagging was unbearable at that point, then I couldn’t imagine how it would be if something terrible happened to Hannah. She’s the last flicker of light in our gloomy home and anything other than a recovery would break us in half.
I needed to do something. I had to see Sirach.
We grew up together – brothers of necessity after our home in the city of Dan was sacked, our fathers killed and mothers taken off as slaves. We looked after each other, stealing what we could and surviving any way we could. In time, we grew to be known for pulling off some of the most dangerous heists in the city of Jerusalem. I only did what I could to survive but Sirach however had grander plans to rise and control some portion of the game. I was to help him, offering counsel while he called the shots and found others to get their hands dirty on our behalf. We would have been big time bosses…
But I met Edna, fell in love, and got married.
I hadn’t seen Sirach since I left with Edna. She made me turn my back on who I once was and I’m eternally grateful that I could know some semblance of peace. But like a dog going back to its vomit, I needed to call a brother from my past to help me out. When you have a child born out of love, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to save her.
“So you could show up after all these years. Funny how others seem so appealing when you need help, even after walking away from them because of some whore from Samaria.” Sirach said with a smirk.
I couldn’t escape his scathing tongue, not if I hoped to get his help. He took it on the wrong side when I left to build a family and the passage of time didn’t appear to have softened him one bit.
“I’m sorry Sirach. I don’t expect you to understand but I fell in love and had to make sacrifices. I’m sorry I had to turn my back on the life we had built and the dreams we had but I needed to do what I did.”
“You don’t just turn your back on one family to build another, Tobias. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have found love but you messed up brother. I know you need my help now but here’s my answer before you even tell me what’s going on and what you want from me. No.”
“Get out Tobias, you’re not welcome here.”
I felt defeated. Sirach doesn’t dally. When he says something he means it and even I couldn’t change his mind back then without a lot of prodding. So what hope did I have when I’d walked out on him years ago, leaving sour grapes behind to ferment and stink up the situation?
I turned and walked towards the exit, imagining the look of anguish on Edna’s face and the hopelessness of Hannah.
I stopped and turned.
“There’s something I can do to help but you don’t have family privileges anymore so it wouldn’t be for nothing. We just might need your skills in pulling off a job at some Roman’s home in the heart of the city. I know your daughter’s sick but you should also have kept in touch. Do this and you would have enough to take care of her and substantial change to make something of yourself. Go with Baruch here, he’ll fill you in. It’s tonight. I only hope you haven’t gotten rusty but I need not worry; you’re a natural.”
I heaved a sigh of relief but the worry didn’t still leave my face. To save Hannah, I have dip myself into the murky pit I leapt out of years ago.
We got in easy. Sirach’s men learnt from the best and their planning as well as execution was flawless. Baruch’s and the others already had the guards in the problem areas subdued and I was left to unlock the door to the treasury and avoid whatever booby traps lay in our path to the treasure.
I’d never seen so much unique stones in my life. Baruch said just one piece was worth a fortune and we had packed five bags to go with. Light enough to ensure we moved fast, worth enough to have us pretty much made for life and I began to envisage a quick recovery for my Hannah and a comfortable life afterwards.
But that was when everything went to shit.
Unknown to us, the guards that were relieved of duty were still within the premises, having a warm bath and fooling around with the maids. When they were moving out, one of them noticed that the replacements that had been subdued by Baruch and the others were not at their posts. We couldn’t run without putting up a fight. It was bloody, and by the time it was over, Baruch was dead with most of the men, two others escaped with some of the loot.
I was knocked unconscious and by the time I came to, I was chained up in a dungeon with some guy named Joab who told me everything that happened.
Life was pretty much over for me. Robbing a Roman and getting caught is death at the worst and slavery at best, but Baruch killed two guards so I could only hope for the former. I was going to die but it would have been fine because I did what I could to save my daughter.
However, nothing broke me more than when Edna showed up in a week later – puffy eyed from crying – to tell me that Hannah died two days earlier because she didn’t have any money to get her to the physician.
Intense, constant throbbing shot up my feet and hands but I couldn’t do a single thing about it. I thought the whips were bad. I thought I would pass out and just die but I didn’t. Death would have been a mercy I didn’t deserve yet after all that had happened.
I looked over to my left. Joab seemed to be oblivious to what I was going through and was busy yelling curses at the Romans and anyone in sight from his new pedestal.
“Calm down Joab, save your strength.”
“For what exactly; to just hang here like some scarecrow in a farm for people to point at and kids to stone? No, I’ll rather go with a bang than a whimper. Let these Romans know they didn’t break this Jew like they have done the others.”
In the few days I spent with him, I realised Joab couldn’t be reasoned with so I let him be. Beyond the physical pain I endured, I could never get the thought of Hannah’s loss out of my mind. It tortured me. I hoped to see her again but how’s that even possible with what I did? As the scriptures said, I would end up in Sheol while my innocent child would be with Yahweh.
Then they brought him. Somehow, from high up he seemed different. He didn’t fight or stare down the Romans when they whipped him. He let them do whatever they wanted – even when they stripped him down and cast lots to share his clothing. In a way, there was some inevitability about him, like he wanted them to do it.
He said nothing.
When they nailed him and raised him to be between us, he just hung his head and breathed slowly, waiting for the end to come. When he said he was thirsty some soldiers fixed a sponge soaked in cheap wine to him on a stalk of hyssop and further mocked him.
“He fed thousands and healed scores. He saved others, let him save himself.”
That was when it hit me. This was the Galilean everyone had told stories about. If only I had sought him out to save Hannah when I heard he was in Jerusalem instead of going to Sirach. But he looked so ordinary beside me that it was hard to believe he had as much power as people ascribed to him.
Seeing a new target he could mock despite being in the same situation, Joab began to direct his insults at the Galilean.
“Aren’t you the Messiah they say you are? Save yourself and us!”
I didn’t know what made me speak but it felt right standing up for someone. Joab was a killer and had no right to say the things he did.
“Don’t you fear God? You received the same sentence as this man but we did what we did. We deserve our place here but this man, I doubt it. He has done no wrong!”
I looked at the Galilean, still silent with his head bent, his eyes focused on a few women below and a young lad he would later address as John.
“Remember me Jesus, when you come as King!”
Jesus raised his head, smiled at me and said, “I promise you that today, you will be in Paradise with me.”
At about midday, the sun stopped shining and a strange darkness enveloped the countryside for a few hours and the earth shook violently. Suddenly, Jesus cried out and died. Some hours later, I closed my eyes and succumbed to the kind of gloom that shrouded the city. I died.
I thought it was over. But when a strange kind of bright light washed over me like the sun does when someone opens the curtain covering your window, I stirred awake. I looked around and realised I wasn’t alone. A multitude of bodies began to float, as I did towards the source of the light that I later knew to be Jesus. His face shining brighter than the day ever did, adorned with that same smile he cast upon me on the cross before we died.
That was when I understood what was going on.
Dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life.
The darkness was no more. I was going to live again; I was going to see my little Hannah.
3AM. Lagos, Nigeria.
I’d just had the strangest dream and it was as if I’d seen it before. Nursing a cup of water while trying to figure out what it was all about, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to write about it and try to recreate what I’d seen before it became clear.
I sat down at my desk, set my glass down and welcomed the shiny grin of my computer coming to life. The first thing my out-of-hibernation computer displayed as I unlocked it stopped me for a bit. But it wasn’t bad at all; if anything, I knew I needed to write and I know exactly what I had to share.
The Gospel according to Luke
I smiled, closed the window, opened up Microsoft Word and began to type.
Image credit: (Golgotha by Richard Russ) www.fineartamerica.com