Chapter 17 - He Performs Wonders
The house was dark and hot. Ashira closed the door behind her and bent to place her water jar near the door. She could hear her own distressed breathing distinctly in the silence. She paused to let her eyes adjust to the shadows of the room. Her heart felt as dark as the room seemed. She was angry with Zivah—angry at her for showing up at this painful time, angry at her just for being Zivah. Why? She fought to focus her mind, her throat still tight. Oh, I must get this water to Nana!
“Ashira?” Ariel stood in the short hallway that led to the back of the house, the baby on her hip. Her anxious voice was barely a whisper. “Nana’s fever is very high. Mother needs you.” Hands shaking, Ashira quickly filled a bowl with her well water and carried it towards the back room. Everything was so still. She was afraid. Ezekiel, Rebekah, and Kitra were huddled outside their grandmother’s room. Ezekiel’s eyes were wide.
Kitra reached for her older sister. “Shira, can we sthee Nana yet?”
Ashira stroked the little girl’s hair. “Shhh…soon.” She pushed aside the coarse cloth that hung as a makeshift doorway and stepped into the small room.
“Ashira, quickly!” Jedida’s voice was almost panicked. “She’s so hot.” Ashira sank down beside her grandmother’s pallet with a small cry. The fever had clearly taken its toll. Anna’s face was flushed bright red. Her hair was wet through with sweat. Jedida dunked a cloth in the water Ashira had brought, and laid it across Anna’s forehead.
“Nana?” Ashira said, quietly at first. She took her grandmother’s hand, hot to the touch, and rubbed it. “Nana?” There was no response.
Anna’s breaths were almost imperceptible.
“Oh, Nana…” Ashira’s voice trailed off, choked with fear. “Mother, she won’t say anything!” Tears streamed down her face.
Jedida was trembling as she put an arm around her daughter. There were dark shadows under her eyes; she had not rested in days. Ashira remembered, “Oh! Abba and Jesus—they’re on the hill. They’ve come home. Please, mother—”
Jedida’s anguished expression softened with relief. She kissed Ashira’s head. “Yes! Go as quickly as you can.” Ashira stood clumsily, fumbling towards the door. “And, have Ezekiel go with you,” Jedida added. “It would help him.”
Ashira and Ezekiel flew through the streets towards the far side of Capernaum, where the hills rolled away to the north. On the slopes of the mountainside, only a few Galileans lingered. Ashira panted. “They aren’t here!” Three young boys rushed passed them, engaged in a game of tag.
“Hey!” Ezekiel shouted, recognizing a classmate. “Where is Jesus? Where has everyone gone?”
One of the boys paused and pointed back towards Capernaum. “Jesus and most of the others went down into the city, toward the synagogue. C’mon, want to play with us?”
Ezekiel didn’t wait to answer. He turned and dashed down the hill, Ashira at his heels. As they got closer to the synagogue, the streets became more and more populated. When the structure finally came into sight, the crowd was almost too thick to penetrate. There was a sudden hubbub at the door of the synagogue. “Ashira, I see them!” Ezekiel yelled. Jesus and Simon, with Andrew and the others, were attempting to make their way down the synagogue steps.
At the sight of them, Ashira’s desperation climaxed. “Please!” she shouted, charging into the throngs of people. “Let me through!” Ezekiel held tightly to her tunic as the pressure of so many threatened to separate them. Crowd noise was rising. The hundreds pressed in on Jesus. Ashira’s voice was drowned out, and she was immobilized by the swarming mass.
Someone next to her chattered, “I saw him do it. The man was cured!”
“Did you see his skin?” another woman said. “You would never have known he had been a leper!”
The wall of people parted hesitantly behind Ashira. The opening widened beside her, as a Roman passed through. He brushed past Ashira, his uniform disheveled and dusty. Ashira felt a tug on her sleeve. Ezekiel looked up at her, eyes bright. “It’s that centurion!” he whispered hoarsely. The people fell quiet. “What’s he doing here?” a voice called out.
Frozen in her spot, Ashira watched as the man approached Jesus. Is Jesus in danger? Where is abba? The people closed in again, watching intently, and she lost sight of both of them. Ezekiel dropped to his hands and knees, squirming to the front of the crowd. Ashira stood on tiptoe, trying to see.
Jesus and the centurion stood face to face. The Roman had removed his helmet, and Ashira strained to hear what he was saying to Jesus. “Sir! I do not deserve for you to even pass through the doorway of my home. Please, just speak the command, and my servant will be cured. I myself am a man under authority, and I have authority over my soldiers. When I tell one to go, he goes! And when I tell another to come, he comes. I tell my servant ‘Do this,’ and he does it wholeheartedly.” Jesus looked into the man’s eyes, and Ashira was surprised at the Master’s expression. He was amazed. He smiled, as though He had just uncovered a treasure. Jesus turned to the crowd and said clearly to all standing there. “I haven’t found faith like this even among the children of Israel!”
Some in the crowd spoke among themselves again. “How can he say that! Are the Romans better than we are?” A few began to leave.
Jesus put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Go. It will be done just as you believed it would.”
Ashira pressed her way through the crowd to join her brother. “Shira,” Ezekiel said, “Jesus healed the centurion’s servant! Did you hear?” He pointed towards the centurion, who was hurrying back to the garrison.
“Ezekiel, where’s abba?” Ashira asked, “We need to get to him quickly.”
“This way!” Ezekiel pulled her through the loosened crowd. Simon stood tall next to Jesus, enthralled with all that was happening around his Master.
“Abba!” Ashira called, hastening towards her father.
Simon’s face broke into an overjoyed smile which quickly faded as he saw his daughter’s tear-stained cheeks. He took her in his arms. “Ashira? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Nana. She’s been in bed for days. She has a burning fever and—” Ashira’s voice broke in anguish.
Jesus came close. “Simon, Anna’s sick?”
Ashira looked at Him, struck again by His care. “Yes, she is very sick,” she choked.
Jesus beckoned to the other disciples standing nearby. “It’s time to go.”
The way was not long, but even at a brisk walk the trip felt painfully slow to Ashira. Many from the crowd had followed. As soon as the house was in sight, Simon began to run. He threw open the door and disappeared inside ahead of them.
Ashira hurried after him into the main room. Jesus was close behind, along with Andrew, James, John and several other followers.
“Ashira,” Jesus said. “Will you take me to where Anna is?” Ashira led Him through the little hall to the back rooms. She pulled back the cloth over the doorway and they came into the room where her grandmother lay.
Ariel stood just inside the entrance, her face almost white. Jesus paused and lifted her chin. He spoke her name. “Ariel, don’t be afraid.” She took a deep breath and nodded.
Ashira looked towards the far end of the room, where the others were talking together in hushed tones. Simon held Jedida close to him, and the younger children clustered near, clinging to their father. Jared had come up from the shore and stood near his father as well. Ashira met her brother’s eyes and could see his anguish.
Distraught, Simon looked down at Anna, and then to Jesus. She lay so still. Was she yet alive? Ashira slumped to the floor, against the wall. Kitra left Simon’s side and climbed into Ashira’s arms. “It’sth all right now, Shira.” Kitra whispered. “Nana’sth going to be better sthoon. Jesthusth came!”
Ashira looked up at Jesus. He was bent over Anna. At that moment she thought that He was the only one in this room unafraid of death. She had seen the fearlessness in His eyes when He told Ariel, “Don’t be afraid.” What kind of man was so stable, so powerful, so loving in the face of death?
Jesus touched Anna’s hand. “Leave,” He said. The authority in His voice reached every corner. He clearly was not speaking to the occupants of the room.
Is He commanding the fever to go? Ashira caught her breath and leaned forward.
“Anna,” Jesus called, tenderly. Ashira jumped to her feet, and all in the room gasped and gathered around as Anna opened her eyes and sat up.
“Anna!” Simon could not contain himself. “Anna, how are you! Oh, Master! Thank you!”
Anna’s hand was still in Jesus’ hand. She had not turned her eyes from Him. Gradually, she found her voice. “Yesu, this is a wonderful sight to wake up to.” Jesus smiled and helped her to her feet.
Jedida threw her arms around Anna, and then backed off a moment, clasping her mother’s face in wonder. “Your fever is gone!”
Kitra cheered and leapt into Jesus’ arms, kissing His bearded face. Ezekiel hugged his grandmother, and then let out a whoop as he raced out to tell the others. Andrew slapped Simon on the back. They had seen so many healed over the past weeks, but this was very different, very personal. Ashira found herself laughing for the first time in many days. She embraced her grandmother, “Nana, how do you feel? You were so sick.”
Anna, still trying to take in everything, was beaming. “I feel very rested, not a pain anywhere!” She turned to Jesus, “Thank you!”
Ashira’s pulse still beat quickly, and her heart was overwhelmed. The room eventually quieted a little as everyone soaked in the amazement of what they had seen.
Anna glanced toward the window, her eyes lit with the familiar twinkle. “Jedida, how late is it? Can I fix you all something to eat?” She began to move towards the door.
“Anna!” Simon reproached playfully. “Are you sure you’re up to it?”
Anna laughed. “Well, Simon bar Jonah! I think that is the first objection you’ve ever made to getting a meal!” She squeezed his hand. “Really, dear, I’ve never felt better!”
Jesus grinned. “Unless, of course, Peter, you want Andrew to cook for everyone.”
Andrew chuckled, and Peter moaned. “Oh, no! We tried that on the way back from Jerusalem!”
Amidst more laughing, they all streamed into the front room. Jared brought in some of his catch. Ashira uncovered the windows that had been closed for many days, and the afternoon sunlight flowed into the house.
Ashira had completely forgotten the crowd. Until now. She peered out the small, high window for a closer look. The warble of many voices surrounded the house.
“Anna’s been healed!” some said. “Jesus cured her!”
Ashira stared. Word was out, and before long the crowd had more than doubled in number. People stretched down the street in both directions, and more were coming.
“There are so many!” Ashira said.
Jesus came and looked out, too. “So many sheep….”
There was a knock on the door. Ashira went and opened it. Zivah hesitated on the doorstep, and Ashira drew back, stiffening. “I—” Zivah stuttered, uncomfortably, “I heard Jesus was here.” Ashira gave an unwilling nod.
Jesus came into view. “Hello, Zivah,” He said warmly. She stepped towards Him, almost tripping over the threshold. Ashira caught her hand to steady her.
Zivah looked at Jesus. “Oh, Sir!” She fell to the ground at His feet, her face close to the floor.
Ashira’s heart was pounding. She moved her gaze away from Jesus, reluctant to accept what was happening. Jedida and Anna had paused their work and were watching. The roomful looking on was hushed. Was the Zivah at Jesus’ feet the same proud Zivah they had all known for years?
Jesus bent and lifted Zivah’s chin. She tried to speak. “Oh, Master, forgive me—” But she could not finish.
Tenderly, He held her face in His hands for several moments, His gaze compassionate. “Zivah, your faith has healed you.” He lifted her to her feet and kissed her hand. “Be at peace.”
Zivah smiled. Ashira had never seen her as grateful, submissive, or loving before, but there was no mistaking the look on her face now for anything but a combination of those three very different qualities.
Ashira’s face grew red, her thoughts confused. Once again, Jesus had done the last thing she had expected. I can’t see into her, but He does. He sees her heart, the way He saw the centurion’s heart. He sees something, a change there, that has pleased Him. Why am I not glad? Jealousy and anger inside her warred with the forgiveness she had just witnessed in this man Jesus.
Zivah motioned out the door. “We’ve brought Jesse, my brother—please, would you come to him?” Jesus walked outside, and Zivah followed close behind. She stopped suddenly, though, as she caught sight of Anna. “Anna! You are well!”
Anna smiled and came closer. “Ahh, Yesu made me well, as He has made you well.” The two embraced, and Jedida joined them as they spoke together.
Zivah came slowly to Ashira, who had not left her place near the door. The two looked at each other. “Ashira,” Zivah said, wrestling to find the words, “Could you please forgive me for how I’ve treated you? I have been so, so wrong.” Ashira opened her mouth and closed it again. Zivah started to say more, but Ashira lowered her eyes.
There were sudden shouts outside. Ezra leaned in through the open door. “Jared! Come and see! My father is well!” The house emptied. Anna and Jedida forgot their cooking. Zivah looked once more at Ashira, and then ran through the door.
Elizabeth rushed to Ashira, laughing and crying at the same time. “Look! Look!” Ashira turned and saw: Jesse was on his feet! He was not only walking, but leaping! His shouts of praise permeated the jubilant crowd.
This was the beginning of a long, full night. The crowds brought to Jesus their loved ones—sick and lame and demon-possessed, and He healed them all. The crowd rejoiced aloud as He moved among the people, laying His hands on one after another. Crutches and stretchers were tossed away—their owners made whole. Feet danced that had never walked, and every type of disease was made to leave. Anna, Jedida, and Zivah went to work, together. They brought food and drink to those who needed it. Everyone busied themselves in various ways on this night of nights.
The stars had been out for many hours when the crowds began to dwindle. Several found places to sleep right in the courtyard; others went to their homes. Ashira looked and found Jesus just outside the courtyard wall. He helped a six-year-old child to his feet. The little boy’s constant coughing subsided, and his breathing returned to a child’s rhythm. Jesus’ arms hung heavily at His sides. Though this work meant everything to Him, Ashira could see that He was very weary. He still had not had a chance to eat. As the boy’s parents took their son home, Jesus came into the courtyard. He stooped and gently lifted Kitra, who had fallen asleep by the gate with a grin on her face.
Ashira walked with Him into the house. Most of her mind was tense and numb, but as she closed the door behind them, her heart yearned for something beyond the wondrous miracles He had brought all around her that day.
Jesus gently handed Kitra to her mother, and whispered, “Sleep well, angel. Good night, Jedida.”
I want to know Him, Ashira thought, her heart aching with longing. With all my heart, I want to know Him.