Book Two, Chapter One
The rumors that get back to Jesus’ family in Nazareth are not encouraging. They don’t listen too closely to the former disciples who pass through with stories about how his fame has filled him with arrogance. They do their best to ignore the men who come just to look for Mary, to warn her of plots and snares they’ve heard about from people who want to see her oldest son imprisoned. Yes, they try not to worry about all that: they know about the controversy Jesus can cause, and they’ve accepted that. No, what worry them are the details they hear from the travelers most hopeful about Jesus.
Mary asks these people a litany of questions about her son: where does he sleep? how many hours is he sleeping? how does he keep warm at night? how does he stay healthy if he’s always surrounded by the sick? is he eating enough? Even his most ardent admirers have to throw their hands up against the river of her words and are forced to admit with more than a little shame that they’ve never paid enough attention to his condition to give her answers.
But Mary is not the kind of woman who gives up. Think carefully, she tells them: what was the last thing they saw him eat? Nothing? How long were they watching him, how many people would they say were in the crowd? If he never seems to eat while he works, when exactly does he eat? Are his cheeks sinking in? Close your eyes and see him again, she says: was he wearing a robe, too, or just a shirt? Were any patches of hair or skin showing through threadbare spots in his clothes? What about his face, she asks, and grabs one of her other sons to demonstrate: did the skin under his eyes sag here, were there dark spots right through here?—he gets very distinctive marks under his eyes when he isn’t sleeping well, she says, they couldn’t have missed them.
And the travelers hesitate, insist they don’t remember, and then don’t want to say—but Mary won’t take no for an answer: she asks and she asks until they’ve dredged up memories they didn’t even know they had just to make her stop.
Soon it’s Mary who is letting concern for another keep her from eating; soon it’s Mary with distinctive dark spots under her eyes, and that’s when her sons say “enough” and pack their things to go. James, Judas, and Simon leave their brother Joseph to care for their dead father’s business and ask their youngest sister to tend the animals and keep up the house while they take Mary to see her oldest son. If his condition is better than she expects, they reason, she may be content with giving him a mother’s short scolding. If things are looking out of control, though, Joseph’s sons are stubborn when they need to be and strong as the trees whose wood their father lived by, so they’re prepared to bring their brother home.
It’s a dusty journey for the family from this village to that, looking for a man who doesn’t stay long in one place anymore. Mary hears he’s in Nain, but by the time she and her boys get there he’s moved on and there are at least four different versions of where he went. In the next village, it’s the same and the same in the one after that, so that Galilee begins to feel like a labyrinth of memory mixed with rumor, a maze—or maybe just a mirage?—that has swallowed up her oldest son.
When Jesus was a boy, he wandered off at the end of a family trip to Jerusalem. At first, they assumed he’d just attached himself to Joseph’s nephews for the journey home—it wasn’t until evening that they searched the camp of relatives and friends and found that he wasn’t with anybody at all.
Searching for Jesus now, Mary remembers how she spent the next three days growing more and more desperate, how it hurt more every time they reached a new place where her son could have been but was not. Searching for Jesus now, Mary remembers how the boys cried then at night because they missed their brother, how she told them not to worry, that she knew they’d find him. Yes, she’d comforted them until they fell asleep and she was free to cry herself to sleep in Joseph’s arms.
James, Simon, and Judas aren’t crying this time, and their determination is a great relief. They quickly decide it’s no use trying to go everywhere people think Jesus must have gone, and decide to pay attention to how much people talk about him rather than what they say. Soon, they’re following a trail of talk that grows stronger as they move from where he was toward where he is—until they reach the last village and there’s no talk at all.
The strange quiet of this village tells them more about their brother’s work than all the rumors and stories they heard on the way. Here, everyone’s left their lives: in this garden patch, weeds find unexpected reprieve; by that workbench, wool must wait for the hands of its everyday destiny to spin it into thread. Yes, everyone’s gone to the wine house: where the tables have been packed against the walls, where bodies are pressed tighter together than they have been for years by the force of an overwhelming thirst. And though there is no wine being poured today and no space in the house to pour it, eyes drink in the spectacle of miracle, of the impossible rendered ordinary, and are intoxicated; ears savor the strange tastes of this Master’s surprising words.
From the outer edge of the crowd, where three dust-covered brothers and their mother stand, it looks like this: all the desperation in this place has risen to the surface like old forgotten wounds which, for no reason, begin again to sting. Decades of remembered pain swirl around their son and brother, who wears a tattered shirt and no robe at all, who is still as thin as if he’d just returned from forty days in the desert, who deposits the darkness he draws out of people’s lives in deep pools beneath his eyes.
Mary cries out a little, then stifles her half-sob and looks away. Simon puts an arm around his mother, while James and Judas put strong arms and sharp elbows to work, inching their way forward in the crowd.
“Who do you think you are?” says a man who tries to elbow himself back in front of them.
“His brothers,” says James, pointing toward the distant center of the vortex. “Our mother needs him.”
They keep pushing their way through the thick of the crowd, but word travels far more quickly than they can. Soon another James and another Judas, who have been busy making sure no one is trampled today, call out to their Master that his mother and brothers are standing outside, waiting for him. Mary and her son Simon are too far outside to see or hear, but another two Simons near Jesus try to hold the next sick person back and dismiss the crowd—until Jesus shakes his head in an unmistakable no.
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he says clear and strong enough that even over the noise, James and Judas stop pushing and listen to the voice they’ve known since they were born.
Jesus looks at all the desperate, thirsty faces in this forsaken, out-of-the-way place. “Can’t you see?” he says. “You’re my brothers, and my sisters, and my mothers.” He finds James’s face then, gives him a look like he’d give before telling James to calm down when they were boys. “My family is made up of whoever can accept my Father’s will,” he says. And then he moves forward to bless the sick boy two Simons have been holding back.
Outside, so far she can barely see, Mary remembers all at once: after those three days of searching and crying they found him all the way back in the Temple, after three days she shook him and said, “Why did you do that to us? We’ve been worried sick, looking for you everywhere!” As her ragged-looking son reaches now for the next person to heal, and the next, Mary remembers him looking up at her then and saying, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, “Why were you worried? Didn’t you know I’d be doing my Father’s business?”
In the wine house, the crowd goes crazy with rejoicing and desire; seeing so many healed so quickly, the villagers start pushing forward again just as James and Judas start pushing their way back out of the crowd and toward the only mother they know.
“It’s all right,” she tries to tell them, but she can see they’re not ready to hear.
“Let’s go now,” they tell her, their own forgotten pains having risen, as if by contagion, to the surface.
Mary isn’t normally one to give up, but she doesn’t object. She lets them lead her home because she can see they’re hurt, and she knows there are things she’ll need time to explain to them; after all, she worries about more than just one of her sons.
That night, Jesus leads his followers out of town, off the road and onto a narrow path worn into the hillside by goats and sheep, until he finally settles on a campsite. He lies down, but John can tell that he isn’t sleeping, though he pretends to sleep for more than an hour until even Judas has finished praying and half-closed his eyes. When only Peter is still obviously awake, keeping the first watch, Jesus slips out.
John nudges his brother awake. By the moonlight, they can just see Jesus, just see that Peter has left the campsite and is already following him, and they hurry to catch up. Peter notices them and motions them forward, but Jesus doesn’t seem to notice anything, just heads further into the hills, up a slope then over a crest into a still steeper walk up the next incline.
“Where is he going?” James whispers to Peter, but Peter says he doesn’t know. They try to keep up, but Jesus seems to move faster and faster as they become more and more exhausted, until he’s practically leaping up a mountainside. He moves like a deer, thinks James, a deer that has sensed danger and is retreating to a high place. He looks at peace, thinks John, like a captive who has finally been set free. But Peter only wonders how Jesus can climb so quickly. Peter’s legs feel like trees being uprooted with each step, and he wonders how long he can go on.
That’s when Jesus turns back for the first time. Peter stops, grateful to finally rest his feet. James and John stop beside him when they see their Master looking back.
“Thank you,” says Jesus. “But you don’t need to come any further. There will be times for you to follow me up mountains. For now, just rest.”
So they do: they lie down and sleep at the base of the last foothill while Jesus climbs like a deer into the mountain for the night. Back at the camp, Andrew is a little worried when he wakes for his watch to find Peter gone, but when he sees that Jesus, James, and John are gone, too, he assumes they’ve gone with a purpose.
Early in the morning, Jesus comes down the slope to wake the three who followed him. Then he tells them nine more names, and asks them to come back to the foothill bringing those nine men with them.
Twelve men gather around Jesus, who tells them how to heal the faith-filled sick. Twelve men gather around Jesus, who tells them it won’t be long before he sends them all through scattered Israel as his messengers. Twelve men gather around Jesus, who blesses them the way a father might bless his sons when he feels he is about to die.
To the Simon he named Peter, who still worries about his wife and her mother, he says, “When you go out, take no money with you: don’t even make a fold in your shirt as a pocket for it. Didn’t the sea provide fish for you? In the same way, the men you catch like fish will provide you with all you need: with food, with shelter, with a shirt to wear if not always a robe.”
Jesus looks at Andrew’s shirt and smiles. “You’ve tied knots into a net fit for your new labor. I charged you nothing for the secrets of those knots; you charge nothing for sharing them. Then men will see that charity is our Father’s currency, and they’ll charge nothing when they help you.”
Next he turns to James, the older son of Zebedee and Salome. “Though God will feed and clothe you as he does the grass, remember that men also walk over the grass and trample it, that they cut it when the first harvest comes. But don’t be afraid: whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life in this work will find it.”
To James’s young brother John, he says, “No matter who dies, I’ll tell you this: some of you standing here will live to see this world end.”
That’s when tears start to glisten in the morning light across the face of Andrew’s friend Judas, who grew up in a slum hidden under the Temple’s shadow. Jesus turns to this Judas: “I’ve told you privately, but soon you’ll proclaim it openly: God’s kingdom is here!”
To Philip he says, “Go show them the things Isaiah promised: the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame will leap like deer, and the tongues of the mute will sing: because waters have broken out of the wilderness, streams out of the desert places.”
And to Nathanael, who cared for his father’s crops and orchards, he says, “When you go out, you’ll feel like a farmer who plants a seed at night and then wakes in the morning to find it fully grown: when the earth herself does the work, all that’s left to you is the harvest!”
“When the time comes for you to go away from me,” he says to the twelve, “find places to stay the way Thomas has done: ask carefully in each town, see who’s prepared to receive the blessings of a host.” Then he turns to Thomas: “If a house or village accepts you, the peace I send with you will rest on them. But if they refuse you, it will return to you: wrap yourself in that peace and sleep soundly under the protection of the stars.”
“But don’t think,” he tells them, “that I’ve only come to bring peace to the earth. Because your words will also be like a sword, dividing mothers from daughters, fathers from sons, turning this brother against that one.” He turns to the southern Simon: “And when the mouth carries a sword,” he says, “what need do the hands have for one?”
And to the other Judas, the one whose big chest holds a bigger heart, he says, “Don’t be afraid of what men can do to your body; be afraid of what they will try to do to your soul.”
Jesus speaks next to Matthew. “You’ve kept a ledger with the names of those you bought responsibility for, and you’ve been ready to forgive their debts when they come to you. But the ledger you’ll keep for me will be like the Book of Life: won’t those who know their debts in that Book want to see you?”
Finally, he turns to the other James he called. “When you look for people who have ears to hear,” he says, “remember the story I told in Matthew’s house. Son of Alphaeus, I tell you again: the last will be first and the first will be last.”
Peter and Andrew, James and John, Judas from Jerusalem and the southern Simon, Philip and Nathanael the farmer’s son, Matthew and Thomas, the broad-chested Judas and Alphaeus’s James: these are the twelve Jesus calls to the hill, the twelve he gives his power and makes his messengers, the twelve he will keep as close as if he were a boy again and they were his brothers—until he asks them to leave, and to gather his scattered people once more.
Two named James. Two named Judas. Two named Simon. Is it only a coincidence that half of the closest brothers in Jesus’ new family share names with his first brothers, brothers who left with their mother only yesterday?
James Goldberg is a poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, documentary filmmaker, scholar, and translator who specializes in Mormon literature.
Original artwork by Sarah Hawkes.