Chapter 1 - The Day Dawns
Capernaum was waking. This was Ashira’s favorite time of day, with the city poised on the very edge of peacefulness before the commotion surged into the usual flow of a day’s work. She ran quickly down the twisted streets of packed earth. Though the winding tangle of roads often confused newcomers to the city, Ashira found her way with ease, having lived in this small, fertile corner of Galilee for every one of her fifteen years. Her friend, older by a year, trotted behind her with some difficulty. “Wait up, Ashira!” Elizabeth called, laughing. She stopped suddenly. “Ashira!”
Ashira reappeared from around a turn in the street. Her head cloth had slipped back in her haste, and a mound of wild, dark curls now framed the sharply cut lines of her face. “What is it?”
“Where is your jar?”
Ashira laughed—something she did often—and looked at her empty hands. “Oh, I completely forgot it! I was too eager to get out of the house this morning!”
Careful, responsible Elizabeth looked at her, bewildered for a moment. “It’s no use going back; we’re almost to the square. I brought two jars; you can use this one.” Ashira unstrapped a jar from Elizabeth’s back and lifted it to her own shoulder. Weaving their way again through the maze of streets, they turned right, left, and then left again. At the intersection of several roads, Elizabeth paused and motioned down the street ahead. “Ezra warned that more Romans were recently posted down that direction. We’d better take a different way.” Ashira nodded in agreement, and they passed down a shaded side street. Before long the curving path opened onto the central square and the well. The girls greeted by name the several other women already gathered there, and joined in the cheerful conversation as each waited, jars in hand, for their turn with the rope and bucket.
As the leather bucket disappeared into the shadows of the well, Ashira leaned further over the stones and let the knots in the rope slip rhythmically through her fingers. She tipped her head back, scanning the paling sky.
“Oh, Elizabeth, look!” she touched her friend’s arm, and they craned their necks as the air was filled with the clatter of a hundred birds. The silhouetted shapes swooped low over the crowded, whitewashed houses, startling a pair of goats in a nearby courtyard. Then the cluster turned and diminished into a thread above the northern hills. Ashira let her breath out slowly, her brown eyes fixed on the empty sky.
“Elizabeth, don’t you wish you were a bird?” she asked.
Elizabeth stared wide-eyed at her friend. “I—I don’t know,” she stammered. “I can’t say I’ve ever really considered it before.”
“Good morning to you, girls.” Elizabeth’s aunt approached the well with her jar, her earrings jingling.
At the sound of Zivah’s voice, Ashira lost her grip on the rope she had been hauling up. The full bucket splashed loudly as it hit the water below. Sighing, she began to pull it up again. “Hello, Zivah,” she willed herself to say—but not warmly.
“Your father is at the Jordan again, isn’t he, Ashira?” Zivah questioned. The sharp-eyed woman always seemed to know, in an uncanny way, just what everyone else in Capernaum was up to.
Ashira nodded. “We’re expecting him back sometime today.”
Zivah shook her head disapprovingly. “It’s a shame you lost your uncle to the baptizer and his lot. And now your own father, too.”
Ashira felt a piercing pain in her tongue as her teeth came down on it forcefully. Zivah made it sound as though the men were thoughtlessly abandoning them…the woman could not be more incorrect. Uncle Andrew is with the baptizer because he knows that John speaks the Truth. Ashira had felt the fearlessness behind John’s words in many conversations with both her father and with her uncle. She knew it was the untainted desire to see God honored that had drawn Andrew away from his home and trade to be nearer to the Baptist. Her father did feel the responsibility of supporting their household and only left for short times. If abba ever stays for long—she swallowed the catch that rose in her throat at the thought—
But she only said, “We will see. Many think the Prophet’s words are important and trustworthy—a welcome light in our dark world.”
Zivah’s eyes narrowed into thin slits. “Hmmph!” She snatched up the rope and bucket and lowered it.
Elizabeth spoke quietly. “We’d better go now, Aunt; Ashira and I are going to work at the loom together this morning.”
Zivah straightened. “Oh, are you? I’ll stop by soon and check on you then. The loom is a fine one—left by your mother. Elizabeth, it’s not to be played with.”
“Ashira! Ashira!” a high voice echoed off the walls. Ashira’s tight face broke into a relieved smile as her younger brother Ezekiel tore around the corner. “There you are! I have to get to the synagogue, but I came to tell you—”
“To the synagogue!? Look at your clothes, and your face! Young man, you must learn to wash up in the lake before you leave the shore. You can’t go to the synagogue like this.” Ashira rushed over to the panting boy. She splashed water on his hands and face and rubbed away the grime. Vigorously she brushed off his striped robe and cap, fussing at him. “Really, Ezekiel, I know you’re the son of a fisherman, but you can’t go to school smelling like fish! Whew!”
Zivah smirked. “Your little brother here isn’t exactly in the image of your older brother, eh?”
Ashira laughed. “Ezekiel, yes…he’s very different from Jared!” She stood up and straightened Ezekiel’s cap and smoothed his unruly hair, clucking her tongue. “Well, I’m afraid that’s the best I can do. Hurry to the synagogue, now!”
“But Ashira, I came to tell you that father returned just a little while ago—he was wondering where you were.”
Ashira’s face lit up. “Elizabeth, come on! My abba is home! Thank you, Ezekiel. Now run and don’t dawdle on the way. Goodbye, Zivah.” She disappeared down the street in a flutter of hurried steps.
“Ashira, your water!” Elizabeth called.
Ashira pounded back to the well. She retrieved her jar and raced away again, calling her friend to follow. Elizabeth moved down the street in as ladylike a run as she could muster, following the trail of spilled water.
Ashira’s sandals slapped the ground as she wove through the familiar streets. Just ahead she glimpsed the house. It was simple, like most of the other structures in this part of the town, but large enough for the ten members of her household. The gate in the wall surrounding the courtyard squawked as she opened it. She strode over to the large storage vessels near the back door and dumped her water into one of them. Elizabeth came to a stop behind Ashira, breathing hard. “I’m sorry for what Zivah said, Ashira. Are you all right?”
Ashira leaned against the house and nodded. “I think so; I just don’t understand how Zivah can have so little respect for John. He’s a prophet—I know he is!”
“You know Zivah is bitter about many things. She doesn’t always make much sense.” Elizabeth paused. “Well, my father is expecting me home. I’ll see you later about the weaving.” Picking up her jars, Elizabeth left through the gate.
“Goodbye,” Ashira called.
She stooped to lift a basket of food and skin of wine she had prepared earlier in hope of her father’s return. Setting off again, she now directed her quickening steps downhill towards the lake. Gradually, the houses around her became less closely packed. She crested the small hill that sloped to the water and could not help but pause. The field fell down from her feet like a robe, covering as far as she could see with red anemone flowers, beautiful against the rim of whitened stones where the water lapped at the shore. She filled her lungs with the sweet air, hung with the aroma of the spring blooms and lake water. The sun peeked over the eastern border of the darkly shadowed sea, throwing golden colors across the view in all directions. To the south, the hills of Gerasa glowed purple. She envisioned the other villages, nestled unseen on the distant shores. Somewhere in that direction was Magdala. Farther along the western shore was Tiberias, the new Roman city in which no Jew set foot. On the opposite side of the lake was Gergesa, and then close by, small Bethsaida. At the far south end of the lake and down the river would be Bethany, where her father had been for the past several days. He made trips to the Jordan often now.
Small voices behind Ashira caught her attention and she turned. Two girls ran from between the houses, their clothes flapping in the breeze: nine-year old Rebekah—practical, and one to act several years older than she actually was, followed closely by little Kitra—bright-eyed, talkative, yet always hiding behind her sisters’ skirts at the sight of a stranger.
Kitra pleaded, in her irresistible five-year-old lisp, “Can we come with you to thsee abba? Mama thsaid it would be all right if you take usth!”
“Of course.” Ashira bent down and grinned. “I’ll race you to the lake! Ready? Go!”
Both of her sisters let out a squeal and flung themselves down the hill, their arms spread back. Ashira ran after them, skillfully balancing the basket on her hip. They reached the water, and the clatter of a typical morning at Capernaum’s shore filled their ears. Men shouted to each other as they worked. Some mended sails, others sorted fish in baskets. The girls tiptoed around numerous racks where nets had been left to dry in the sun. Several fires were started, and flames gleamed off the scales of dozens of fish that lined the rotating spits. Scented smoke hung momentarily in the air, and then was rushed away with the cool, damp breeze off the lake. Ashira called for her abba, but her voice was lost in the ruckus. She searched the score of boats. Some were dragged up on the shore; others were secured to anchor stones and swayed in the water.
She made her way to a familiar vessel and the slender figure standing in the stern. “Hello, Jared!”
The seventeen-year-old, of medium height, brushed a thin lock of dark, sweat-soaked hair back from his equally sweaty forehead and grinned down at his sister. Ashira was always struck to see the usually tidy, thoughtful Jared such a mess after a fishing excursion.
“How was the trip?” she asked, leaning forward to observe the piled catch that he was scooping into wide baskets.
He grunted and swung down from the boat, heaving a heavy basket to his shoulder. “The time with the baptizer was great, if somewhat shorter than we might have liked. His words sure have a way of capturing people. His energy pervades your mind—as if it is not his at all! His words are strange, though hard to understand at times.” Jared paused and breathed a sigh. “But for the past couple days we’ve been fishing near Magdala and—well, you know how fishing usually goes for me.” He lifted his head and looked far out across the lake, motionless.
With a quick movement, she sent a sudden splash of cool water onto her brother. He sputtered and stared at her for a moment, shaking his head in shock. “You’re good for me, little sister!” he laughed, but she avoided his return spray with a quick spring towards the rocks.
A strong, familiar voice rang out behind them. “My Shira!” Her father’s broad figure appeared through a wisp of smoke. Kitra’s arms were wrapped around his neck as she rode on his back, and Rebekah’s small hand was clasped in his huge one.
“Abba!” Ashira hurried into his huge embrace. She caught the familiar scent of lake water and fish in his damp clothes and shaggy mop of tangled hair. She looked up into his leathered face and smiled. “I’ve brought you breakfast!” Simon accepted the food eagerly and tore into a small loaf with a sound of satisfaction.
“Jared!” he barked, looking over his shoulder, “Get some more fuel on that fire!” Ashira removed the skin of wine from her shoulder and offered it to him, along with the cheese and a handful of almonds. He threw up his hands as if he were amazed. “Your name means ‘prosperous,’ and so you are, Shira! Look! You’ve brought me a feast!” They both chuckled, and as he dropped to the ground the younger girls ran off giggling. Ashira sat down beside him, setting her chin on her knees. He swallowed several mouthfuls and swiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Tighten that line on the mooring stone, Jared! Your knot is slipping.” Under his breath, Simon muttered in exasperation, “What am I going to do with that boy?!”
Ashira lowered her head. Why was it always this way? She loved her brother. He was everything she was not: quiet, practical, sensible and steady. And her father—her adoration for him she had long stopped trying to put into words. She wished she could explain to someone what her abba was like—the life of their household, a blundering blaze of fervent passion, he rarely thought about anything for very long before diving into it. In the most joyous way, he was almost crazy. Ashira’s closeness to these two made the constant tension between her father and Jared all the more painful to her. But what could she do?
Ashira looked up as James called out from a nearby boat. “What about the catch of three hundred you promised we’d come back with one of these days?” He grinned and motioned to the baskets of fish Jared had laid out neatly on the shore.
Simon wagged his finger at James playfully. “You just wait, my friend. If Andrew and your brother John get back before the coming rains, we’ll be hauling them in. You just wait and see!”
Ashira laughed. It was just like her father to aim for the impossible. “How many was it this time, abba?”
“Despite James’s disappointment, it was a good catch—I counted eighty-seven.”
Ashira dug her toes into the rocky soil. “Did you see Uncle Andrew and John when you went to the Jordan?”
Simon smiled slightly. “Yes, I saw them…still thinking and pondering and asking the Prophet questions.”
Ashira opened her mouth, but Simon caught her. “—And you want to know more of the Baptist?”
He leaned forward eagerly. “The crowds are large—more and more are being baptized.”
“Like you, Andrew, and the others were.”
Simon nodded thoughtfully. “But the prophet John keeps saying over and over that another is coming after him. He said that one is coming who won’t baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.” Simon put emphasis on the last word. “What do you think he’s talking about, Ashira? I can’t understand it all. When I was down in Bethany, he said that one stands among us who we do not know. John said, ‘I’m not worthy even to untie his sandals.’”
“Abba, do you think He is really here in Israel?”
“I’ve not met such a Man, Shira, but it has to be true—all these signs, and John’s prophecy—the Messiah is here. He’s alive; we just don’t know where or when we’ll find Him.”
“Can you tell me again what happened—was it thirty years ago?”
“Yes. It was the year of the census, and several strange happenings stirred the hearts, or at least the conversations, of the people. There was a great star, never seen before or since, that hung in the sky. Some say it was only a rumor, but a few shepherds near Bethlehem spread the tale of a child, born at that time. An angel, they said, had promised this was the Savior. And then there are the prophecies of old. The song your grandmother sings, from the words of Isaiah, is one.”
Ashira knew it well and repeated the words.
“A child is born,
A son is given to you
And all the world is under His reign.
Listen! At His coming, you will call Him this:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The expansion of His kingdom
And the increase of His peace
Will not end.
He will sit on David’s throne
and rule over His kingdom,
Building it on a firm foundation
And upholding it
With wisdom, justice, and righteousness.
Beyond time, through kings and nations,
Though they rise and fall
His House will be forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
Will bring this to pass.”
It was quiet for a moment. James called about something related to salting the fish and Simon stood. “Shira, you can tell your mother I’ll be finished before noon. It won’t be long before I can come home.”
Ashira grinned as she nodded. She knew well enough by now that, after a successful fishing trip, “before the noon meal” meant “close to sunset.”
Moving off towards James, Simon rumbled further directions to Jared. “When the fish are unloaded, spend some time mending the net you tore.”
A sudden movement in the corner of Ashira’s eye caught her attention. A man down the beach was running towards them. She stood quickly and stared as the figure drew closer.
“Uncle Andrew!” she shouted in astonishment.
Simon whirled. “Little brother! What are you doing here?”
Andrew stumbled to a stop, panting. “Simon! We have found Him!”
“Who? What do you mean?”
“The Messiah, Simon! His name is Jesus—this man must be the Messiah!”
Simon drew in his breath sharply and blinked several times, as though the wind had been knocked out of him. “What?”
Andrew struggled to catch his breath. “Simon, when John baptized Him, he said that he saw the Spirit, like a dove, come and remain on Him. Later, when he saw the man again, John called Him the Lamb of God. Then he turned to us and said ‘This is the one I have been telling you about for so long. I have been baptizing so that He may be revealed.’” Andrew pleaded, “Will you come with me?”
“Andrew, I’ve been away for days already!”
Ashira glanced at her father. His voice was weighted with responsibility and a measure of hesitation, but she caught in his eyes a spark of fervor.
“You have to meet him, Simon. I have spent some time with Him, and I…come! Come see for yourself!”
Simon turned and called, “Jared, mind the fish—roast those large ones, and sort out some of the smaller ones for the market.” With that, he ran down the shore after Andrew, towards Bethsaida.
Ashira watched them, breathless. “But, abba…”
Simon stopped and turned back to face her. “Don’t worry, Shira,” he called. “Tell your mother that I will be back soon, maybe in a few more days.” The smile that flew across his face melted her lingering uncertainty in an instant. Then he was gone.
Jared’s confused voice called out from the boat at the shore behind her. “Ashira, what happened? Where’s father going?”
Ashira fumbled for words, shouting back toward her brother. “He—he left—to the, uh, Jordan! He went to see—could it be Him?!!”
“What do you mean?! Who?” he cried out.
Ashira could see his bewildered face but she was still lost in her own world of wonder.
“Oh, Jared!” she laughed, unable to answer him. “I have to go tell Mother what happened!” Picking up her skirts, she bounded up the slope. Her thoughts whirled with excitement. The Messiah, possibly here? Now? After so many years…could it be? In my lifetime?!
She practically flew through the streets, whipping around corners as fast as her legs would carry her. She apologized hurriedly as she collided with a vendor on his way to the market. Finally, the house was near. She clattered through the front gate. “Mother! Abba left again!”