The following is an excerpt from the beginning of my new book, a short novel, entitled "Herald of the Resurrection." It would make a great Easter gift.
Shaking, everything shaking.
Another earthquake? The second in three days? I pulled my blanket over my head.
“Malak, wake up. You’ve got a run to make.”
I recognized the voice. I opened my eyes and rolled over to see John Mark standing over me, grinning. Now fully awake, I recalled the events of the last two days and moaned. “Go away, Mark, it’s too early.”
“You’re to report to David at Nicodemus’s home right away. Hurry up, Snail.”
I made a face, and he laughed. Mark had given me my nickname. Because I was one of David Zebedee’s strongest runners, he often gave me the longest runs, which meant I often returned last. Mark teased me for being slow, though he knew better.
I sat up. “I would’ve thought Friday’s message would have been the last.”
“You got off easy on that one.”
True. I had only returned from the fifth leg of an Alexandria run on Friday, so David had not sent me out with the other runners to deliver the news about the soul-crushing cataclysm. The respite had only given me more time to agonize.
“What’s this one about?”
“David will tell you. It’s not my place to say.” Mark stuck his tongue in his cheek, which only made me more curious.
“But you know, don’t you? You always seem to know. Sometimes, I think you know more about what’s going on than David himself.”
He focused on the laurel bush outside my window. “I have to go. More messengers to alert.”
I got up and put my hand on his shoulder. “Someday I hope to have a son like you.”
He swelled. “Someday you will, if you’re not too slow with the women, Snail.”
“There’s only one,” I said.
“Ah, yes. Shoshana.” He winked at me.
“In fact, perhaps it’s time to focus on my personal life.”
Mark squeezed the mole near his right cheekbone like I’d once seen him do when struggling to make sense of a parable. “I’ve a hunch today changes our lives in ways we don’t yet understand. My father says we all have some tough decisions to make, Malak.”
He left. I dismissed his remark as unnecessary drama. I dressed, slipped on my Lion of Judah armband, left my apartment, and began to trot toward the estate of Nicodemus. Several children from the neighborhood, up far too early it seemed, began chasing me and calling me by my nickname. I picked one up, tossed him on my shoulder and ran in a circle, then repeated the game with the others. I love kids; in fact, I like people and make friends easily. The chance to interact with other men was one of the perks of being a messenger.
As I waved them good-bye, I readjusted my armband. If any Roman soldiers saw me running, they would see the lion, know I was a Temple runner, and ignore me.
Indeed, I had been a loyal Temple runner before hearing Jesus speak in the synagogue at Capernaum three years earlier. I’d been sent there to gather information on him because of my reputation for being a good listener, a good judge of character, and adept at telling when someone is lying, but it’s all just a matter of paying attention. As I stood in the shadows in the back of the synagogue, overwhelmed by his commanding presence and his reading from Isaiah, I became aware of someone standing beside me.
“So. What brings you to Galilee, Judean?”
I turned my head to see a muscular Galilean, arms akimbo, sizing me up.
I had taken my armband off before entering the city because I’d been trained to be unassuming so as not to interfere with events as they happened. But the presence of messengers and other agents of political and religious authorities was a fact of life among the people, and I was accustomed to being spotted for what I was by the most alert, especially outside of Judea, where my clothing gave me away. I learned soon enough the youngest of Zebedee’s three sons was usually the most perceptive. Not much got past David Zebedee.
“I’ve a hunch you’ve guessed why I’m here,” I said.
“Yes, to spy for the Temple.”
I bristled. “I resent being called a spy. My job is to gather information and report what I learn to my superiors. I do my job well, and I’ll thank you to not judge me for it.”
My irritation seemed to amuse him, but he dropped his eyes and nodded. “Fair enough. So. What will you tell Caiaphas?”
I turned back toward Jesus. “I want to hear more.” For several minutes, David watched me while I watched and listened to Jesus. “This man is astonishing. A true rabbi. A prophet.”
I glanced at David and saw that his face had softened. He stepped closer to me. “And you will tell this to Caiaphas?”
I bit my lip. “If I said what I’m thinking right now, he would banish me from the Temple.” Again, I became lost in the presence and musical voice of Jesus. Although he was the length of the synagogue away from me, I felt like he was reaching out and touching me.
When I again turned to face David, he stood chin in hand, studying me intently. Finally, he said, “Come with me.”
I hesitated, pivoting toward Jesus. After all, I had been sent to learn as much as I could about this fellow some were calling the Promised One. “I have an obligation to learn as much as I can about Jesus.”
“I can introduce you to Jesus later,” David said. “The priests will be impressed if you can tell them you had a chance to question him. First, I want to show you something.”
I followed him down to the Sea of Galilee, where he walked to the bow of a small boat, pulled it into the water, and climbed in, beckoning me to follow. He rowed out to a larger fishing vessel, and we climbed aboard.
I examined the cedar planks and mast. “This is a fine boat.”
“So. My name is David. My father, Zebedee, is a boat builder.”
“Zebedee?” I remembered something I had been told at the Temple. “Two of his followers are named Zebedee.”
“My older brothers.”
I ran my hand along the rail. “My name is Malak. Your father is an excellent craftsman.”
“My father didn’t build it. Jesus did. I helped him.” David cocked his head as he saw my surprise. “In my teen years, Jesus came to work for my father. He lived with us for a year. My brothers used to hang on his every word, but back then, his skills as a carpenter impressed me more. I’m fairly handy myself, and I used to help him as much as I could.
“When we finished this boat, I asked my dad if I could buy it in installments. Instead, he gave the boat to Jesus as part of his wages. Then, Jesus sold it to me. I had only made three payments when Jesus mysteriously disappeared for two years. But, before he left, he gave me the boat. No more payments necessary.”
“Where did he go?”
David shook his head. “No one knows. I suspect my brother John knows something about it, because money would show up from time to time, and John would give it to one of Jesus’s brothers. But John won’t talk about it.”
“Jesus is a man of mysteries.”
“A man among men,” David said. “You have heard him. I watched your face change as you listened to him. I’ve seen it happen before. There’s no one like him.” We walked the full length of the deck before he spoke again.
“So. What will you report when you return to Jerusalem?”
“Mainly, a straight-forward account of what he said, how the crowd in the synagogue reacted to him, and that they should listen to him themselves. That’s the most diplomatic thing I can say if I want to keep my job.”
David narrowed his eyes, stepped closer to me and whispered, “I’m putting together my own messenger service. So. Maybe you could have two jobs.”
That’s how I became David’s inside man at the Temple. I made it known to my boss, Eli, the chief of the Temple’s messengers, that my sister had married a Galilean and now lived in Chorazin, and I would be glad to keep tabs on Jesus’s movements in Samaria, Galilee, and points north in exchange for the chance to visit family. For three years, Eli called on me first whenever the Chief Priest wanted to know the whereabouts and exploits of Jesus. Before long, old Long Nose, as we called Eli, came to think of me as the most knowledgeable of his runners on Jesus. He didn’t know how right he was.
I had been a Temple runner for almost twelve years—a long time in my profession. Because of my experience and dependability, the Temple paid me well, so I had refused the meager payment David offered his other messengers; being unmarried, I could even afford to give part of my salary to David.
My assignments to watch Jesus meant I spent less time running the Lydda-Joppa-Caesarea circuit on mundane Temple business and more time as part of David’s “traveling circus,” as the disciple Thomas called David’s messenger corps. I became accustomed to hearing Jesus give the same messages and tell the same stories in town after town. I liked his “Blessed are” speeches, but my favorite was what Paltiel, another messenger, called the Trilogy of the Lost: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost piece of silver and the prodigal son. It made me feel even a dust-eater like me could be saved if I put my faith in God.
Best of all, David often camped near Jesus and the Twelve. Some evenings, while I relaxed before my return to Jerusalem the next morning, I had the good fortune to eavesdrop as they sat about their campsite and chatted. How can I explain to you the stirrings I felt in my breast as I sat in the dark and heard Jesus talking and joking with his disciples?
His voice. So musical. He could have been an excellent cantor. But more than that, his voice sometimes seemed like a duet, like two voices together in perfect harmony.
And his humor. Jesus could be hilarious when alone with his friends. I’ll never forget the time he hung by his knees from a tree limb in mock argument with Nathaniel to make the point of how Kingdom of Heaven values sometimes seemed upside down when compared to society’s values. He also seemed to know whom he could tease and how much, without someone taking offense. His favorite targets were that practical joker, Nathaniel; Peter; and Thomas, although he kidded almost all of them at one time or another. Except Judas. I never heard him tease Judas.
From time to time, the Twelve argued over the meaning of his parables. Often, Jesus declined to explain what they meant; instead, he would challenge them to give their own interpretations, complimenting them on their creativity and thoughtfulness as they spoke. When each had taken a turn, he would say something like, “Well done. Think about these things tonight as you drift into sleep.”