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The Five Books of Jesus
Book One, Chapter Seven
It starts in the assembly.
One of Jesus’ former disciples reads from Ezekiel: And I will judge you, the way women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged; I will give you blood in fury and jealousy. Then he sits, and speaks about Israel’s obligation to keep its covenants, about the dangers of religious laxity in a time of occupation.
Jesus himself reads next, also from Ezekiel: Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Then tell them the truth about the dark sins of their fathers. Then he sits, and speaks of the way people persecuted and killed the prophets.
As soon as the meeting ends, the congregation begins to fracture: those without a desire to take sides rush home as quickly as they lawfully can, while others gravitate toward Jesus or his opponents. An old man sits in the center, absolutely still except for lips lost in silent prayer. Then he stands, turns toward Jesus, and extends a withered hand.
Wait until tomorrow, thinks Andrew. He’s not dying, he can wait. Don’t challenge them by healing him now.
But Jesus looks over at the crowd of those who are against him, calls out, “You’re scholars?”
A few of them nod their heads, but most just stare at Jesus and hope he’s about to do something rash. Preferably something that would prove to Capernaum’s fickle elders that drastic measures against him need to be taken.
“Here’s a question, then,” says Jesus, “does the law say to do good on Sabbath days, or evil? Is it better for me to save life, or for you to plan how to destroy one?”
No one answers, but some people who are sure Jesus is dangerous are beginning to worry that he can also read their thoughts.
“Let me see your hand again,” says Jesus to the old man, but when the old man brings it up to show Jesus, there’s absolutely nothing withered or wrong. The man stares at his own hand in wonder as Jesus says, “It looks healthy. Maybe there’s no need to answer my question about the law today after all.”
And Jesus leaves the meetinghouse, walking away from one man’s faith and others’ fury, accompanied by his followers’ rising fear.
They’re all a little relieved when it becomes clear that Jesus is walking out past the edge of town: though there’s no conclusive evidence against him, they’d rather get far away from Capernaum now. But they’re still more relieved when Jesus stops in a field by the road and sits down: you’re not supposed to travel too far on a Sabbath, and it’s nice to know he’s exercising some caution.
Simon from the south is the first to see three figures approaching in the distance: a few of their old companions have followed them up the road. He nudges Thomas, who keeps an eye on the men who appear to be doing no more than keeping an eye on Jesus. Jesus is sleeping, though, so the three men who have followed him crouch at a distance and wait.
By the time Jesus wakes, everyone’s a little hungry. It’s an old custom that you can take grain kernels with your hand as you pass through a field—only if you use tools to cut the stalks is it considered theft. So they pick a few grains each, rub them in their hands to loosen the shells, and then toss them up in the breeze to blow away the chaff from the kernel.
That’s when the three men walk up. “You shouldn’t be letting them do that,” they say.
Jesus glances at them. “Do you think I should tell the wind not to blow chaff from wheat on the Sabbath?”
“They shouldn’t be picking and rubbing it in their hands like that,” say the three.
“Have you ever read the scriptures?” says Jesus. One of the men tightens his jaw and a second tightens his fist at the insult, but Jesus doesn’t balk. “When King David and his men were outcasts and grew hungry, didn’t they eat the priests’ sacred bread? If such great allowances can be made for my ancestor and his men, can’t some small allowances be made for the men who follow me?”
“Is that who you are?” asks the first. “Are you really the One, the Son of David?”
But Jesus just plucks a grain and rubs it in his hands.
“If it’s true, we’ll come back to you,” says the second.
“But we need to know it’s true,” says the first. “We need a sign that you have the right to do all this.”
Jesus tosses the seed in the air, and the breeze blows the loosened chaff from the kernel.
“The only sign given to those who leave the duty God has given them,” says Jesus, “is the sign of Jonah, who spent three days in the belly of a shark.”
James Goldberg is a poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, documentary filmmaker, scholar, and translator who specializes in Mormon literature.
Original artwork by Sarah Hawkes.