Jerusalem 44 A.D.
sat outside for over an hour meditating, praying and remembering. The
rising sun wrapped her in a warm cocoon that threatened to lull her back
to sleep. Mary arched her back and stretched. She ran her hands over
the cream-coloured pillow covering her precious bench and yawned. Joseph
had surprised her with the bench the first year they were married. They
would often sit together in the early morning hours, when the rest of
the world was still asleep and the sun was waking up.
How she longed for those times again, when Joseph would take her hand and they would begin the day in prayer and dedication to Yahweh. My sweet Joseph, how I long to hear your voice and feel your embrace once more.
She had known Joseph for most of her life. In a village as small as Nazareth, it would have been unusual if their paths had never crossed. Older than her by twelve years, Joseph had watched Mary grow from a child into a beautiful young woman. With careful planning, he had placed himself in her life with the purpose of marrying her when she came of age. He had called her "Little Mary" and she had called him her "Gentle Giant", names said with an affection that had grown into a deep and lasting love.
"You're such a long way up, Joseph!" she would laugh. "I get a sore neck just looking at you, much less kissing you."
Then one day he had come into the house and said, "Little Mary, I have a surprise for you, but first, you must close your eyes!" Mary obeyed and felt Joseph sweep her up in his muscular arms and place her on something soft and luxurious.
"Open your eyes now," Joseph said, his brown eyes twinkling with excitement.
"Oh, Joseph!" For the first time in their marriage, she was able to look straight into his eyes.
"What is this?" She looked at her bare feet and wiggled her toes into the cream-coloured pillow that stretched across a new oak bench. A small gasp of surprise escaped her lips. "It is beautiful." She sighed as she ran her hands along the back of the bench. "Hear O Israel.Oh, Joseph! You have carved the Shema into it. Oh, how precious." She clasped her hands together and turned toward her husband. "You made me a prayer bench." Her almond shaped eyes shone with delight.
"Ah, well - my motives are not that pure I am afraid."
She tilted her head. "Oh?"
"Yes, I was thinking we could use it so you wouldn't get a sore neck kissing me." He wrapped his arms around her tiny waist pulling her close. "Or you could use it for praying." He shrugged and smiled. "Your choice."
She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I think for now I shall use it for kissing you and later I will use it for prayer."
Mary sighed, a sleepy smile lingering on her face. They had dubbed it the kissing bench. They had thought it was something their children would laugh and giggle over in the years to come. What a wonderful life we made together!
It was a good marriage, despite its uncertain beginnings. So many events had happened in those early days that Mary could not imagine which memory she cherished most - the angelic visitation, the birth of Jesus, or his resurrection. The enormity of what had transpired in her life had humbled her more than she realized.
course, she would never cherish the memories of what they had done to
her firstborn son. Forgiving them was easier than forgetting. She could
never forget. How long had it been since that horrible day? She could
still smell the blood and hear Jesus' screams mingled with her own. Her
chest grew tight with grief as she closed her eyes to dispel the images
that had haunted her for the last eleven years.
She was fifty-eight years old and until six months ago had been with her nephew, the Apostle John, on a brief visit to Rome to strengthen the churches there. When the Emperor Claudius began expelling Jews from Rome, John had decided that she should return to his home in Jerusalem for her own safety.
"Poor John," she muttered as she recalled the argument she had had with him over returning.
"It's too dangerous for you in Rome now, woman!" He had pleaded with her all day and finally in anger and frustration gathered up her belongings and started stuffing them into a satchel. "As the mother of our Lord and a Jew, your life is in more danger than mine right now. This discussion is over. You will leave without any more arguments."
Mary remembered folding her arms across her chest and swallowing the angry words that had threatened to spill from her lips. No one had ever talked to her in such a manner.
"John, if it is dangerous, why are you staying? Should I, the mother of the Messiah, become a coward and run to save my life when others are dying? It is not right. Your brother James was beheaded for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. I should do no less."
"Jesus charged me with your safety, Aunt Mary. Would you have me dishonour my Lord by shirking my responsibilities?"
That was when she had seen the pain and anguish on his weathered face. She had finally understood. He could not bear losing her as he had his brother and so she submitted to his wishes.
He took her to Jerusalem, stayed for a while to help her adjust and then returned to Rome to minister to the churches there. She now spent her days with the other believers in Jerusalem, meeting together regularly for prayer and fellowship. Today she was expecting Luke, a Greek physician led to salvation through the Apostle Paul.
As she waited for his arrival, she kicked off her sandals and wiggled her toes. Although it had rained the night before, it was now a beautiful spring day. Mary loved the earthy smell in the air after a rainfall. It was a combination of mud, water and worms that oddly reminded her of the seaside. Breathing deeply, she leaned her head against the rough stone of John's home, stretched out her bare feet and plopped them in the nearest puddle.
From the time she was a child, she had often gone barefoot through the hills of Galilee after it had rained, for she loved to squish her toes in the mud and feel the cool blades of grass on her feet. In Jerusalem, a plot of grass was hard to come by, which made her miss her home in Nazareth all the more. Joseph had always worried that she might cut her feet on the sharp rocks, or sting them on the nettles hidden throughout the Galilean countryside.
She sighed and closed her eyes. Oh Joseph, my darling, there is no fear of that here.
"He is risen!"
Startled, Mary shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up to see a blonde, blue-eyed man, with a clean-shaven face and strong jaw line.
"He is risen indeed! You must be Luke. John has told me so much about you. Come to check up on me have you?" She smiled, grabbed the bowl of olives that sat beside her and put it on her lap.
Luke chuckled, his dimples showing off his chiselled features. "Actually, I just wanted the chance to meet my Lord's mother - but don't tell John. He thinks I'm here to inquire after your health."
She laughed, her brown eyes sparkling. "You don't fool me, either of you. John sends so many different people to check on my welfare that it's a wonder I can remember all their names."
She patted the bench inviting Luke to sit. Taking some olives from the bowl, Mary proceeded to pit them. Luke watched in fascination at how quickly her slender fingers worked.
"May I help?" He asked.
Raising her eyebrows, Mary stared at Luke for a moment, then nodded and placed the bowl between them. "Jesus used to like pitting olives too. He said he found it calming." She giggled. "Unfortunately, he ate more than he pitted."
Luke chuckled as he popped an olive into his mouth.
"I'll tell you what I told Jesus," she said, shaking her finger at him. "If you eat more than you pit, then you've just had your supper."
"Well then, I'd best stop eating them, as I'm used to eating more than olives at my meals."
"Get to work then and I might feed you more than olives!"
Content in an affable silence, they settled into their work. Luke immediately felt welcome, as if he had known Mary his whole life and he told her so. Mary blushed and thanked him.
"Oh, my goodness!" She suddenly jumped up from the bench and ran into the house.
Luke, perplexed at her sudden disappearance, continued pitting olives. He was about to follow her into the house when she returned with a basin of water to wash the dust off his feet. She knelt on the ground and removed his sandals. Embarrassed that the mother of the Lord was washing his feet, Luke swallowed his discomfort and allowed her to minister to him, remembering the lesson Jesus had taught his disciples the last night they were together.
When she finished, she proceeded to wash her own feet and then put her sandals back on. This led her to tell him about Joseph and his fear of her running barefoot.
"He was such a wonderful man," she said. "He was a man who feared the Almighty, a good man, especially when I found myself with child." She poured the dirty water from the basin onto the ground and then sat beside him. "You cannot begin to imagine what it was like during those days! I was fourteen years old, betrothed to a man much older than I and with child - but not with his child."
She grew still and stared off into the distance. Luke gazed at her in silence, revelling in the fact that he was with the woman who had given birth to the Saviour of the world. He wondered how she had handled that night. Where was she when the labour had begun? Who had delivered the baby? Had there been any complications? Luke had so many questions, he hardly knew where to begin.
Mary's eyelids dropped as she let her mind wander back to the night of Jesus' birth. She had been surprised at the pain. In fact, she had never realized it would hurt so badly. Afterwards, oh afterwards, the reward of her son was so great that she had thought her heart would split wide open with love. The King of the world had been born to her!
Mary's eyes flew open. Blushing, she smiled and said, "His birth,it amazes me still."
"If you don't mind my asking, what was it like back then? When you found out you were . . . um . . . with child?"
"It's been over forty-four years since Jesus' birth." She shrugged. "Aside from my immediate family, I've never really talked to anyone about it before." Mary sighed and pitted more olives as she contemplated how much she should tell the young doctor.