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Bible Backstories: Lunch with the Rabbi


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By Judith Shadford

How do you tell which lost or forgotten thing will make a difference?  I had a day once when a cat rescue was more important than the financials for the annual report.  I decided wrong, but my secretary was right.  I’m still glad she disappeared that afternoon.

Bible Backstories (1)“Mother, I must go!  The people are following the rabbi.  Maybe he will speak and if he does I have to hear him because I want to be his follower as soon as I have my bar mitzvah!”

“You aren’t going anywhere without water and some lunch, Reuven.  Now, here.”  She draped the water skin strap over one shoulder and then tied a bulging leather bag to my belt.

Well, I’d take the water.  But that lunch bag made me look like a girl, banging against my leg with every step.  As soon as I closed the gate, I untied the bag and tossed it up into a crotch in the olive tree across the lane, whistled for my ratty little dog and headed up the road on a run.  Bobbing heads, shoulders pushing, clusters of two and six and three, staffs poking up like trees without leaves.  They covered the road like locusts—or what I thought a hillside of locusts might look like.

The sun hadn’t risen above the hills yet.  Little curls of dust followed the crowd.  I took a deep breath.  It would be hot soon enough, but for now, the lake glittered and made little swallowing noises against the shore.  I lifted the water skin and made my own swallow—water still cold from the well.  I plugged the nozzle and slung it over my back.  No more till I got to wherever we were going.

About a half hour later, I saw Yeshua scrambling up on a rocky out-crop just where the lake bends south.  Some of the guys he was always with crouched on the pebbly beach.  Fishermen—they could sit like that for hours.  Another tall man, dark skin with scary dark eyes leaned against the rock, a couple feet away from Yeshua.  He was watching the crowd.  Mostly men, groups of women and children off to the side, little kids running around.

I pushed my way downhill and found a good place at the front corner—closer to the women than I wanted, but I needed to hear.  He was in the middle of a story…

“And that whole crunch of pigs started to squeal and run and before anyone could do anything, they just jumped off the side of the cliff into the lake—not twenty leagues south of here.”

Sounds of disgust rippled through the crowd.  A voice from somewhere said, “Yeah, and a bunch of ‘em washed up right over there!”

“Except that’s not the point of the story, is it, Malachi?”

I’d heard Yeshua was really good with names.  Was that really a Malachi?

Malachi sat down and Yeshua grinned a little.  “So the poor pig man found some clothes and said, ‘I’m going home now—even if I have to tend the vegetable garden and feed the goats.’  I gave him a hug and a blessing and sent him on his way because I knew who would be waiting for him…”

An old old man stood up, leaning on a cane.

“My boy came home.  My boy who was lost.  He came back to me because you healed him.  Praise Yahweh.”


Behind me, three or four women started to push forward.

“Maybe he’ll heal you, too, Auntie.  Maybe he’ll heal you, too.”

Yeshua looked over at the little group and smiled, kind of patted the air so they sat down again.  “But right now we’re thinking about things that are lost and how Yahweh’s kingdom might be like something we’ve lost that we wish we hadn’t.

“Reuven, what would you do if you discovered a treasure buried under the olive tree across the road from your house?”

Me?  Was he talking to me?  I looked around, looking for another Reuven he already knew, except that he was looking at me.

“Yeah, I’m talking to you, Reuven.”  Big grin.

I thought about that strip between the road and the lake across from our house where the olive trees were old and hadn’t been cut back since long before I was born.  Just gnarly branches and no olives.  What if there was a big chest buried under the trees?  Full of gold.  What would I do?

“Umm…I guess I’d see if my mom could find the owner, maybe ask if I could dig a little.”

“You wouldn’t go over there after dark and just dig it up?”

My face turned into flame.  That was exactly what I would do.

Another guy farther up the hill said, “I’d buy that land, get the gold and then build an olive press so I’d have gold and oil!”

“That would be a lot of work wouldn’t it?  Buying the land, cleaning it up, pruning the trees, waiting for them to bear fruit, building a press—take years off your life before you’d see your profits.”

I heard the guy sigh from where I was sitting.  I pictured all the work and tried not to think of just grabbing the gold and taking off.

Yeshua leaned forward, looking at the smart guy, but giving me that sideways look that said he hadn’t forgotten about me either.  “If…uh, Levi, is it?…”

The man nodded.

“If you’re willing to spend 10 years of your life, Levi, to turn a sudden fortune into a profitable life—that’s some risk for something that maybe turns to dust during the next years of drought.  But what if I told you that finding the Kingdom of Yahweh is pretty much like finding a treasure in a field?”


“I know—the Kingdom isn’t something stuffed inside a chest.  But the work, the risk without any guarantees….  What do you think might happen if you spent ten years to expand your heart and your mind and your family for Yahweh?  That wouldn’t ever turn to dust.  What about that?”

A sharp wind scuttered across the hill.  I looked up to see that the sky’s hot blue had turned into long fat ropes of gray.  Yeshua gave a quick glance over his shoulder and then we were all staring.  A lot more wind was pushing the lake into white waves and off to the left, water spouts twisted up into the clouds.  With luck, we’d just get soaked.  But I was thinking about those dead pigs, about what I’d look like…drowned.

He stood up.  “C’mon, everybody!  Up the hill.  We’ll go into that fig grove.  See if we can find the Kingdom up there.”

Rain had found us.  I scrambled over rocks and dodged behind the old people who were just getting to their feet.  All of a sudden, there was my mother, holding out my lunch bag, her lower lip tucked in.  I was wet and in trouble.

“Mother!  What are you doing here?”

“Apparently delivering your lunch.”

“I’m sorry…what did you do with Hannah?”

“She’s over there with your ‘friend’ apparently, since he seems to know your name and where you live.”

And there she was.  My sister, tugging on Yeshua’s sleeve.  I dashed over to pull her away, but he’d already stopped and crouched in front of her.  He took off his scarf and held it over her head to keep the rain out of her eyes.

“And what got lost in your house, little Hannah?”

“My mommy lost one of the silver pieces from her bride headband.  She was so afraid.  She made me sit on a stool in the middle of the room while she looked and looked and looked.  For hours!  She cleaned the whole house.  She looked all over the roof.  She even looked in the goat pen.”

“Did she find her silver piece?”

“YES!” Hannah shouted.


“It was under the oil jar.  I could see the tiny shine and I yelled, ‘Mommy, mommy’ and pointed and she found it and burst out crying and then she called all the ladies over and we had a party that lasted till dark and then my father came home and we were all still happy, but much much quieter.”

“That’s a great story, Hannah.  Thank you for telling me.”  He picked her up and carried her on his shoulder until we got under the trees.  Some rain came rattling through the leaves, but people were sitting down again, waiting for Yeshua to talk about the Kingdom and lost things and how to decide which was the Kingdom and which was just a lost thing.

Except, he said, “I’m starved!  Anyone have any food?”

The men looked down.  I could see they hadn’t thought about food for a long time.  Some of them shook their heads and pulled at the folds of their tunics.

“My brother has food.”

Hannah.  Why couldn’t she just keep her mouth shut?

Yeshua looked at me—serious, no grins for kids this time.  I pulled off the lunch bag and lifted its leather flap.  Pita.  Dried fish.  A couple apricots.  Yuck.

“Just this…”  I handed the whole thing over to him.

He nodded.  Still serious.  Not looking at anyone.  Not even me.  But I could see all along the edges of the grove, women were handing their men pouches and bags and boxes.  His head was still down.

“We will give Yahweh thanks for this food,” and he pulled the stack of pita and the dried fish out.  He dropped the bag.

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu...” and spread out his arms, then handed the food to his own friends and told them to share with everyone.

I stared.  All around me, people started giving food to each other.  The dark-skinned friend of Yeshua came over to me, his high cheek-bones shining with rain, his mustache and beard blurred together like black fingers around his mouth, like he was going to call someone from a long way away.  He handed me pita and dried fish and pulled an apricot from his pocket.

“Thank you, Reuven,” and went on along the rows of people who were eating and talking and then eating and laughing, giving them pita and dried fish.

And my wretched sister was sitting on Yeshua’s knee, talking with her mouth full and making him laugh.

When Mother finally locked our door that night, I asked her, “Why did you come today?”

“If you want to follow Yeshua, I need to know what he teaches.”  She lit the lamp and a candle for me to take to my room.  “You know where your lunch bag was?”

“Up in the tree across the road?”

She shook her head.  “It had fallen into the grass.  I watched you get rid of it, so I went looking for it—sort of an important lost thing, don’t you think?

Judith Shadford
Judith Shadford
After a career in marketing and public relations in New York City and Santa Barbara, Calif., Judith Shadford moved to the Northwest to focus on writing.


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