“Here you go. Now take that to your father.” She handed him a small basket covered over with a ragged cloth. “Now you hurry. He’s hungry I know. And don’t forget the water. It’s a hot day and he’ll be thirsty. Don’t touch any of this. You’ve already had your meal.”
“Yes, mother,” he said, slipping the goatskin over his shoulder. “I’ll walk fast.”
The road was ancient. Many had traveled along this path which led to
. Jacob had been to Jerusalem once with his family. They had made the trip in better times when his father had been a fisherman. That was the living he had loved. The wage was far better, too. Jacob didn’t think much about that. He picked up stones along the road and skipped them out over the sand. Jerusalem
It was a blistering hot day. The sun beat down as it always had on this rocky path. A crow flew overhead. He picked up a heavier rock and threw with all his might. The bird tipped his wing averting the stone with ease.
“Could have got him with my sling,” he said.
He stopped a moment and placed the basket on the roadside. The leather water carrier was digging into his shoulder and he heaved it to the other side. As he leaned over to pick up the basket a chariot sped passed him kicking up dust.
“Damned Roman,” he muttered under his breath. That was what his father said each time he saw one. His father hated all Romans. “They enslaved our people,” he always said. “One day we will send them packing. One day, when the messiah comes.” Jacob repeated his father’s oft-stated phrase as he began to pick up his pace.
The field was beyond the next rise. The road was crowded with men walking in the direction of the hill.
“I’ve never seen so many in this part of the road before. What could be going on?” Jacob spoke out loud.
“Boy, don’t you know. He is going to speak. Come. Listen. He loves children. He would be happy to see you with me. I’m one of the chosen to follow him. My name is Andrew. Come with me. I’ll take you up close so you can hear him and he can see you.” He led Jacob up through the crowd and they sat on the grass incline.
The young man standing at the top of the hill was framed by a great golden cloud. He looked down at Jacob and smiled. Jacob smiled back and sat down placing his basket between him and Andrew. He let the heavy water skin slide off his shoulder.
Jacob sat spellbound before this man who spoke softly. No one seemed to notice how quietly he spoke. Each man, woman, and child sat still as if entranced. The birds sang in the nearby trees. The lilies of the field began to sway in the breeze producing a gala color fest for the eyes. He spoke of these things. He spoke in plain language. Jacob always squirmed in God’s house because he never understood what the Rabbi was saying. Always words he never understood about things beyond him. As this man spoke, in his quiet way, Jacob's heart filled with a joy he had never experienced. It completely engulfed him. He was lost in the warmth of the sun, the blue of the sky, the song in the air and the waltzing petals along the hill’s incline.
“What do you have in your basket?” asked Andrew. He lifted the cloth.
“It’s my father’s meal,’ Jacob answered.
“ meal, is it? Past that now, my boy.” He looked to the sky and pointed out the sun’s decline to the west.
“Oh no, my father will beat me. My father’s been working all day without anything since this morning.”
“It’s all right, lad,” said Andrew lifting the cloth on top of the basket. “Here, this boy has three loaves and two fish, but it’s hardly enough to feed so many.”
“Wait, I can’t let you have this. I’ve got to run. He’s famished, I know.”
The man on the hill approached and placed his hand on Jacob’s shoulder. “Don’t be anxious, Jacob. It will be all right. Would you allow me to have your loaves and fishes?”
“I can’t. It isn’t mine.”
“I promise you it will be fine if you will allow me?”
He looked up at him. He looked at his basket and then the sun. He looked into the man’s eyes and lifted the basket to him.
“Thank you, son.”
He walked to the top of the hill, raised the basket to the sky and said a brief prayer. He returned to the men who accompanied him and began to break the bread and fish into pieces, which he gave to each of his twelve followers. They made a basket of their garments and he filled each with the broken bits. Jacob stared in astonishment. “Where did all that come from?” he asked no one in particular.
The followers of this man walked out into the crowd and began to give to each person as much as he wanted. “So many,” thought Jacob. He looked at the man who handed back his basket, now empty.
“You have given all you had for others without thought of yourself. Your heart is in the right place. Do not lose this.”
Jacob took the basket and held it tightly thinking this is what he meant.
“No. You misunderstand,” he said. He touched his chest. “This is what I am talking about. Don’t lose the open and loving heart that beats in your chest. Do you love God?”
“I’m not sure I know Him.”
“Yes, you know Him. He speaks to you now, here.” He touched his chest again. “Do not forget Him, and always love your fellow man as you did here today. Do not forget. Promise me.”
“I promise,” though he had no idea why he was promising. He turned to leave with his empty basket and the water skin.
“Wait,” said Andrew. “Take this to your father.” He handed him a basket twice the size of his own. It was heaped with bread and fish. The aroma of fresh bread and cooking fish poured out from beneath the cloth. His mouth watered but he had to get to his father.
The man waved at him as he ran down the hill dodging people and animals. He ran all the way to the field where his father worked.
“Jacob, where the hell have you been? Your mother promised she would send you hours ago!” he yelled at him.
“I’m sorry, father. I was stopped by a crowd of people who sat listening to a man speaking upon the hillside.”
“Where the hell is my meal? Give me the water.” He snatched it from Jacob’s shoulder pulling him to the ground. His father drank greedily. His eyes fell upon the basket. “Where’d you get that? That’s not ours.”
“The man gave it to me.”
“What man?” he asked drawing back the cloth. He sucked in the wondrous fragrance of bread fresh from the oven and fish recently cooked. He grabbed a piece of the bread and devoured it. The fish followed suit. “There’s more here than I could ever eat. What was your mother thinking?”
“Father, she only gave me three loaves and two fish. It was yesterday’s bread and dried fish she put in the basket. The man I was telling you about took your meal and blessed it. He fed thousands with what I had. Andrew gave this to me to bring to you.”
“What kind of extravagance is this? He would shame me this way?” Jacob’s father grew angry as he spoke. “I’ve worked all day in this hot miserable sun pulling weeds and cutting wheat. Then he gives away so much to loafers who sit upon the grass idling away the time listening to some vagrant preacher?”
“Father, why are you so angry?”
“I had to give up work that I loved to come to this miserable field. If this Andrew is who I think he is, it’s all his fault. He and Peter walked away from their boat to follow this charlatan. Left me stranded. I couldn’t do it alone. I had to give it up. Damn them all.”
“Father, you shouldn’t say that. You weren’t there. You’d be different if you if you had seen him.”
“I have seen him, boy. He takes hardworking men away from their families, their livelihoods…I have seen him. I don’t want you near him, understand?”
“But, I never felt so alive before. There was a new wonder about life. Everything was so much more…”
“I said I do not want you ever to go near him again. That is my final word on this.”
He shoved the basket back into Jacob’s hands and threw the water skin at him. “Now take those back home.” He walked back into the field and picked up the scythe. He savaged the first row he came to as Jacob stared at him.
Jacob’s walk home was steeped in sorrow. He wanted his father to see him, hear him. He knew he’d change his mind if he would just listen to him. As he approached the hill that had brought so much joy into his heart he looked up. Everyone was leaving to go home. The man turned to him as he looked in that direction. Jacob saw him touch his chest over his heart and smile at him. With that look, the joy of earlier in the day flooded back into his heart. He nodded and touched his chest. The man grinned then turned his face in the direction of