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Jesus realized it would be wise for him to get away from Kefer-Nahum for a while and so he told his disciples they should stay and work here for a few days, that he would soon return, but that he was going to visit some friends near Jerusalem. Making the excuse that Rosh ha Shannah was about to be celebrated in Jerusalem, he told them he would go up to Jerusalem for the feast, and visit some friends as well.

Jesus decided to take a less traveled road on this occasion, going through Samaria and down into Judea. He figured that there would be less of a chance he would be recognized if he went this way, because most pious Jews would not go through Samaria. They saw it as an unclean land full of unclean persons, and so they preferred to take the road heading south on the other side of the Jordan down to Jericho and then cross the Jordan and enter Judea. Jesus took his time on the some seventy mile journey, stopping along the way near Sychar and Mt. Gerizim then again in the northern part of Judea, finally coming down to just beyond the Mt. of Olives where lay the small town of Bethany.

Bethany was the home of Eliezer and his two sisters, and Jesus had promised to come for a visit, and so when he knocked on their door in the middle of a week, in the middle of a morning, and introduced himself, there was an immediately a flurry of activity, as he had not been expected at this precise time or day. Martha, the older of the two sisters greeted him at the door and said “Of course you must come in master. Eliezer has spoken often of you, but we were unsure when you might be coming. He is away today on business, but I anticipate his return this evening.” Taking off Jesus’ sandals Miryam, the younger sister, washed Jesus’ feet right after he had come into the house off the dusty roads, and gave him a small bowl and a cloth to wash his hands and face with as well. She also anointed his head with oil to keep his scalp from cracking in the heat.

Martha was in her late 20s, a good sized woman by ancient standards, measuring 5’6″ tall, and muscular and robust. Her younger sister Miryam was a considerable contrast to her outgoing, take charge older sister. She was small, quiet, shy, and contemplative, more serious in her piety and devotion to Torah. Jesus sat down in the front room of the small mud brick house where Miryam was sitting, and began to have a conversation with Miryam, while Martha was bustling about in the cooking area of the house trying to prepare a meal for them to share together.

“So Miryam, tell me about what Eliezer said to you about John the baptizer, and what has been going on at the Jordan?”

“We have all been looking for the restoration of Israel, G-d’s people and the land itself, for some time. Of course here in Judea we are now ruled by a procurator, Pontius Pilate and you may know that he does not like Jews, and shows little respect for our religion and our customs. There have been several incidents since he came this past year, none of them good. The most horrific recent one was when Pilate got angry with some Galileans, and had them killed, mingling their own blood with their sacrifices! Just shocking and horrible. This and other incidents produced a furor great enough here that a delegation was sent to Rome about Pilate’s flagrant violations of our customs, and his lack of respect for us as a people. I gather he has been put on notice by the Emperor Tiberius that he needs to be more co-operative with our religious leaders, and less vicious and venal in his actions. Any more slip ups and Caesar will not call him ‘friend of Caesar’ any more. He will call him troublemaker.”

“This is terrible. Very troubling,” replied Jesus, “but of course John is saying that G-d will soon be intervening in judgment on the corruption in the land, both Jewish corruption (since judgment begins with the household of God), and pagan corruption as well”. While I do not disagree with John, I am here to tell you a slightly different tale, a tale about the good news of G-d’s saving activity already breaking into our midst through what G-d has sent me, and my disciples to do.”

Miryam sat very quietly listening intently to Jesus, but Jesus was aware that Martha was muttering to herself in the other room. Suddenly she popped out of the cooking area and said to Jesus “Master, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself, while she sits at your feet and just soaks up your marvelous teaching? Tell her then to come help me!”

But as Miryam was arising to go and help, Jesus turned to the older sister and said “Martha, Martha you are worried about and distracted by many things. But just now there is need of only one thing, and Miryam has chosen the better dish, the better food, which will not be taken away from her.” The usually vocal Martha was dumbfounded by this response. “You mean, you think that studying the work and word of G-d is the main thing, the top priority for women as well as men, and that they even have a right to put that first in their lives?”

“That’s exactly what I am saying,” replied Jesus, “and this is especially so since G-d’s final divine saving activity is breaking into our lives, and we all need to understand and receive, and believe in it, women and children and slaves included, not just free Jewish men.” The conversation went on for a while with Martha, and occasionally Miryam asking questions, and as the afternoon began to wane, there came a knock on the door and then Eliezer entered without waiting for someone to come welcome him. He was extremely pleased to see Jesus, coming over and giving him a hug and a kiss of greeting on the cheek, as Jesus rose to meet him.

“There is great excitement in Judea about what has been heard about both the activity of John, and also the miracles that are said to have been performed by you. Are these stories true?”

“Yes indeed,” said Jesus, “I have performed both healings and exorcisms, and there has been no little controversy about it, not least because I have chosen to do some of these things on Shabbat.”

“On Shabbat??? Really?” asked Eliezer, “Was this some kind of emergency?”

“All things are urgent now that the time is fulfilled and the Dominion of G-d is at hand. We have reached the end of days, when the rules change and the true time of Jubilee begins with release of the captives, both the spiritually and the socially bound, and good news is preached to the poor, healing is brought to the lame.”

“What is said about you by those who are favorably impressed, is that you are like other northern prophets, Elijah, or Elisha, but your public teaching seems to be like one of the sages or seers of old— all those parables, riddles aphorisms about G-d’s Dominion. I must confess I do not understand all this. One thing that is clear to me is that you have some excited sympathizers here, such as my family, and you have peeked the curiosity of at least one important Jewish elder and teacher and member of the Sanhedrin, one Nicodemus. I have taken the liberty to tell him I would arrange a time of meeting with him, perhaps as early as tonight, if you are not too tired” said Eliezer.

“Of course you have your detractors as well, both for healing on Shabbat, but also for the exorcisms. Some have even whispered you must be in league with the Adversary if you have power and authority over unclean spirits. Some of the Pharisees seem especially concerned about this sort of activity on your part. And is it really true that you have dined with the unclean–with tax collectors and the notoriously immoral?”

“Yes all these things are true, for I have come to call the sinners especially, I’ve come to heal the sick. I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel in particular, but G-d’s saving activity is for everyone else as well.”

“Well I suggest you explain some of these things and discuss them with Nicodemus,” replied Eliezer, “but after supper. Martha what are we having for dinner tonight?”

“I thought we never get around to something practical like that,” replied Martha with a little bit of exasperation. “We have some soup to start with, and then there will be some fresh vegetables and olives of course, some leavened bread with a nice relish for dipping it all in. We will drink some of the new wine we have, and we will finish with some really lovely dates, figs, and nuts.”

“Wonderful,” said Jesus, “and then after dinner I will have my chat with Nicodemus, as promised.” Jesus was asked to say the blessing over the meal, and he did so reciting the Kaddesh prayer “Blessed are you O G-d, who brings forth bread from the earth…..” The meal passed quickly, and with much good conversation and conviviality. Jesus already loved this family and could see that this home, like the home of Simon’s mother in law in Kefer-Nahum could serve as a base of operations for him, when he was in Judea. But he realized that his approach to things in Judea would need to be different than in Galilee, both in regard to teaching, and in regard to healing.

Judea was a different place, especially since it had become a Roman province not long after the death of Herod the Great, which is to say, when Jesus was still quite small. There was a reason John the baptizer did not come directly into Judea to minister, even though he had relatives from Judea. It was a dangerous place in many ways for prophets and unauthorized teachers and healers. Here, especially in Jerusalem, messianic figures would be watched most carefully, and would be in danger of falling afoul of the law, not just Jewish law, but Roman law.

Unlike in Galilee, there were many priests and Levites in Judea, and their scribes, experts in the law of Moses were also around. There were a thousand eyes scrutinizing any kind of religious teaching or preaching or healing in or around Jerusalem, and those eyes were looking to find something wrong, especially if the ones doing the teaching and preaching and healing were from beyond their circle, beyond their control, from beyond the borders of Judea. Jesus nevertheless felt he could talk with this family confidentially without fear, and it was clear he already had considerable affection for them, especially in light of the trauma in their past.

Simon, the father of these three siblings had died of a dread skin disease, leprosy. And not only had it left a mark on Simon, and left the family without a father, it had left a spiritual mark and stigma on the family. Even though all three of the siblings were scrupulous in their attention to issues of hygiene and ritual purity, still the memory of the leprosy lingered in Bethany, and so none of these children of Simon had been able to marry, their overtures to others had been rebuffed for fear of contagion and even disease leading to death. Such was the fear of leprosy. But Jesus felt right at home with these people and their warm welcome to his presence and message. After all, why would they not be excited to have a healer in their midst, and a promise of a better day when all uncleanness and impurity would vanish or be banished?

It was decided that the meeting with Nicodemus would transpire at Eliezer’s house, but since the conversation would best be a private one, the three siblings told Jesus they would go over to Jerusalem for a couple of hours to say some prayers and do a little shopping, so Jesus and Nicodemus could feel free to say what they wanted. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, in part because he did not want his fellow Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin to know about it, lest tongues start wagging and his influence in those circles be compromised.

Nicodemus was a man in his 50s, well respected, and well-to-do, and his clothing showed it as well. With a considerable white beard and wearing a head covering and a black and white prayer shawl, he looked every inch the Pharisaic teacher he was, and he began the conversation with directness and boldness: “Master, we know you are a teacher who has come from G-d. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if G-d were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “Amen, amen I say to you no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again, born from above.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born again!”

Jesus answered, “Amen, amen I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of G-d unless he is born out of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are one of Israel’s most respected teachers,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Amen, amen I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still people like you do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

What Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus was that G-d so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For G-d did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of

G-d’s one and only Son.

Jesus added: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through G-d.”

Perhaps the most astounding, and offense part of what Jesus shared with Nicodemus was the radical notion that even a pious old Jewish man needed to be born again, born from above, born of G-d, but Jesus was very intent to make this clear. Like John who called all to repentance, Jesus as well was calling both the high and the low, both the pious and impious, both the sinner and the holy man to repentance and to be changed–radically changed, such that a person turns and becomes as a child, so they might one day enter the final Dominion of G-d on earth.

It was too his credit that Nicodemus did not immediately reject or object to Jesus’ earnest appeal to him, but rather he simply wondered and worried how these things could be true, and if they were, how his fellow Jewish leaders would take the news that G-d wanted them to repent and start over again on their spiritual journey. He also found interesting, but strange that Jesus pronounced the Amen to his own teachings in advance of enunciating what there were. It was as if he could verify the truth of his own words, and did not need outside witnesses to do so.

The conversation had come to a lull when there was a quiet knock on the door, and Jesus respond “Come in, we were just finishing.” Nicodemus rose to leave, saying to Jesus “until another time. Shalom alechum” and Jesus returned the ‘peace’ greeting with a smile and a brief embracing of Nicodemus.

After he left, Eliezer asked Jesus, “So how did that go? Did he receive your radical message with gladness?”

“Perhaps not immediately with gladness, but he is ruminating on it, his mind has been teased into active thought, so it is a beginning, a small beginning in the right direct, God be praised” replied Jesus. “And now” said Jesus, “I must get some rest, as tomorrow I plan to walk over to the Pool of Siloam and visit those seeking healing.”

Eliezer grimaced for a moment and said “Well, that will certainly attract some attention, but then I guess you can hardly avoid attention any longer.”

“Besides,” said Jesus, “the night is coming when I will not longer be able to work, so I must make the most of the time while it is still day.”

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