Chapter 9 - A Fire Kindled
Anna swept the cooking area, humming an old Jewish tune. She collected the piles of dust left by Rebekah and Kitra as they had “swept” earlier in the day. She smiled, remembering the frenzy with which they had plowed through their chores, eager to get out of the house and play. Her stomach suddenly started churning in subtle but increasing pain. She shrugged it off, thinking, Surely this will pass as it has before. Going to the corner of the room, she got her mantle and wrapped it around her shoulders—more for the comfort than for warmth.
As she swept, Anna thought about the man called Jesus and smiled wryly. He has caused quite a stir around here, considering He has yet to set foot in Capernaum. What will He do once He’s here? Reports were spreading of the new Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who had recently been installed—he was rumored to be a cold, cruel man. Will Jesus overthrow this Roman overlord? If He is really the coming King, will Jesus install Simon to a place of height and power once His kingdom is established? She smiled, trying to imagine the huge, brawny fisherman in a place of power over Judea—then she cringed. No… Perhaps a smaller province? She shook her head, still shuddering at the thought. I don’t think so!
Simon. What a character. Despite her confident words to Lemuel earlier, she still struggled at times with the thought of him being gone for long. And Jared…her heart went out to him—trying so hard to rise to the task of providing for them. She wondered at the possibility of Jared working with Lemuel. Hmmm, we’ll just have to see about that. She didn’t understand her uneasiness about the idea; it just had never quite sat right with her.
Still mulling over the questions in her mind, Anna worked her way over to the fireplace in the center of the small room where a pot of stew was simmering. Suddenly, a burning pain swept through her abdomen. She gasped, stumbling to the floor. The broom clattered into the fire as she bent over double, crumpling to the ground. She felt paralyzed and helpless as waves of pain continued to grip her. And yet she had her wits about her enough to realize the straw head of the broom had caught fire and her mantle was lying across it. She reached feebly to swat at the flames, but the movement only made her seize up more with pain. She struggled to call for Jedida, but her voice was helplessly weak. A rising panic grew in her as the flames drew nearer and nearer.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and Lemuel stood in the doorway.
“Mother! What’s going on? Did I hear you call—” Lemuel cut himself short as he saw his mother curled on the floor, the flames getting out of control and dangerously near. With three swift steps, he rushed over to her, ripped off her flaming mantle, scooped her up in his strong arms and carried her to safety on the other side of the small room. As he sprinted back, he tore off his own brilliant purple cloak. Reaching the flames, he beat them relentlessly until every last spark was out.
The stew was filled with ashes, completely ruined. Lemuel, his face streaked with sweat and soot, whirled around to return to Anna. Her silver hair fell across her face, covering it almost completely. Lemuel tenderly brushed it off, revealing closed eyes and tightly—pressed lips.
“Mother? Mother, are you all right? Mother!” Anna opened her eyes.
“Y—yes. I’m fine. I just dropped the broom, but I’m fine.”
“Mother, what happened? I came in and you were on the floor—what happened?” His voice rose in pitch and intensity, and his normally controlled face was clearly anxious as he spoke.
Anna pressed her hand to her forehead. “I’ll be fine. Just give me a moment. Occasionally I have pains like these. This one surprised me!” Anna took a deep breath. “It’s nothing. Really!”
“Nothing! Mother, what are you talking about? I’ve never seen you in so much pain. You must rest! I’ll find you the best doctor in Galilee!”
“Oh, Lem,” Anna tried to speak with a strength she didn’t quite yet feel, “I understand your concern, but this sort of thing passes very quickly. I don’t have time for a doctor. There’s simply too much to be done. I can’t—”
“No. Rest! I don’t care what you think you have to do. I’ll get Jedida or Ashira to do it for you. Here.” Lemuel unrolled a bedroll for her, then helped her to it.
Anna tried to protest once more. “Lemuel, it’s happened many times before—” She stopped herself, but it was too late. Lemuel had caught on.
“Happened many times before?! Mother, why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t anyone else tell me? I don’t believe this!”
Anna drew in a deep breath, and, with determination, she tried changing the subject. “Son, you didn’t tell me why you stopped by—we weren’t expecting you today!”
Lemuel heaved a sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. “Well, I wasn’t planning to stop, but it’s a good thing I did.” He looked up as Jedida entered.
Alarmed to see her mother lying on the mat, Jedida cried, “Mother? Are you all right?”
Lemuel couldn’t contain himself. “Jedida, where were you?!” He broke off in frustration. “She was in a heap on the floor calling for help! The broom, even her mantle, was on fire. She could have been seriously hurt, notwithstanding whatever ails her in the first place! And she says these pains have happened many times! Why didn’t you tell me?”
Jedida’s eyes widened. She hadn’t seen her brother like this in a very long time. She tried to find something to say, but found she couldn’t come up with anything that sounded reasonable. “I—I—”
Lemuel snorted in disgust.
Jedida and Anna sensed a full-blown crisis ensuing, and were perplexed over his disposition. He is unhappy about far more than my pain, Anna thought.
With uncharacteristic cynicism, Lemuel added, “Oh, and just to let you know, Jedida, the one person who is supposed to be taking care of everything here is almost back from his romp around Galilee. That’s what I came by to tell you. Simon, Andrew, that man Jesus, and several others traveling with them are supposedly heading to the synagogue.” His words hinted at his disapproval.
There was an awkward silence.
Jedida ventured, “Lem, what do you think of Jesus?”
Lemuel bristled. Then he said, his words dripping with resentment, “I know nothing about him except that he has dragged the irresponsible head of this house off to who knows where for who knows how long for no one knows what reason. He has encouraged irresponsibility and incivility, he has proclaimed himself Messiah, and he has given Simon, Andrew, James, John—and others, I’m sure—an excuse to go cavorting across the countryside with complete abandon and not even a shred of accountability. And they call him the Messiah!” he spat out.
“But what if He is?” Jedida asked. “Wouldn’t you be glad then that Simon and Andrew pursued Him?”
“But what if he isn’t?” Lemuel countered. “Wouldn’t you be upset then that Simon and Andrew had wasted all this time chasing after a false Messiah?”
From her mat, Anna finally spoke. “Whoever Jesus is, we do know that Simon and Andrew are following their hearts in pursuing Him. And for that I am glad.”
Lemuel said nothing, but his scowl spoke well enough.
Jedida and Anna glanced at each other uncertainly.
Anna broke the silence. “They will all surely be hungry after journeying for so long. If they are at our synagogue this afternoon, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Simon brings them here this evening.” She brightened at the thought, but sobered quickly when she caught sight of Lemuel. She said matter-of-factly, “We must get busy preparing some food.”
“Get busy?!!” Lemuel was incredulous, his irritation and frustration again worsened by his fears for his mother. “What are you thinking? Mother, don’t forget I found you in a heap on the floor a few minutes ago.”
“Lem is right, Mother,” Jedida agreed. She looked around at the ashes and at the burnt cloak and broom. “You must rest. The girls and I can clean up and prepare food.”
Anna asked, “Can you send Ariel off to the well for fresh water?”
“Yes! And perhaps we can get meat from the butcher. We can make a fresh stew, and perhaps prepare a bit of lamb and some fresh barley loaves.”
“A lot of fresh barley loaves!” Anna said, smiling. She shook her head in wide-eyed wonder at the thought of what the evening might hold.
Realizing that he was now being ignored, and sensing no one shared his opinions of the latest Messiah, Lemuel abruptly took his leave.
The firm sound of the door closing dampened Jedida’s and Anna’s spirits for a moment. They looked at each other, not knowing what to say.
“Can I get you anything?” Jedida asked softly.
“No, thank you. I’ll be fine.” Anna watched her daughter leave to begin preparations and then lay back on her mat and took in another deep breath. She had never felt so torn over joy and sorrow. The Messiah is coming! Yet she was deeply troubled over Lemuel. He had left so resolutely. Had he closed a door in his heart, as well? She feared it had been shut permanently. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked toward the ashes, still barely smoldering. She recalled King David’s words in the Psalms:
Our God comes and will not be silent;
A fire devours before Him,
and around Him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above and the earth,
that He may judge His people.
“Oh, Lord,” she whispered quietly. “I can handle the pain in my body. And if a foolish fire destroys our home, it doesn’t matter. Only soften my son’s heart. Don’t let the fire of Your wrath devour him in his stubbornness. Help him to see his own weaknesses.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she realized how much she loved Lemuel, and how painful it would be if he were gone.