Luke 2

The house was spare, but clean and warm, and as I entered, she welcomed me with grace. Her loving smile spoke the words of her heart.

Mary beckoned me to a table, one of rough-hewn edge and finely finished top. Strong and sturdy, it was a table of substance and beauty.

“He made this,” she said. “Please, sit.”

She was young, she was old; radiant, timeless, but worn with care, with grief and sadness. Joy yet lived within her like a promise fulfilled. Peace fell like a cape from her shoulders, and love danced in the depth of her eyes.

She said, “Lukas, might I offer you refreshment?”

I said, “Water would be nice. Thank you.”

She rose to pour two cups from a ewer. I wondered if he had used that same one.

“Can we speak of him? I want so much to know more.”

She hesitated then turned her head to look out the window, seeking . . . something . . . The fine lines about her eyes betrayed an instant of the pain that had placed them there.

Attentive to me again, she smiled. “Yes, surely.” Her hands fluttered for a moment, then rested, clasped together.
“Those early days in Nazareth, he was so precious, so very small. I remember his softness. So helpless, so vulnerable, such precious treasure. How fine was that scattering of downy hair at the back of his head. How lovely was my baby’s wistful fragrance, how wonderful to feel him seek me, to find me and suckle, to know that I could comfort him. Him.

“I remember such joyful times. He had just learned to walk and I would chase him about the house, and he would squeal in delight and run from me. Joyful laughter spilled from him, so joyous, and I would catch him up and swing him high in the air. Oh, so happy! And the sparkle of his eyes, they spoke such love to me. Arms tight about my neck, he would snuggle and hug, and murmur, ‘Mama, my mama.’

A tear slipped down her cheek. Her downward gaze left my eyes and I felt my own tears.
Silence was a weight between us.

Her sigh comforted me. “Often,” she said, “when he was young, he would run into the house, take me by the hand and lead me outside to the workbench where he and Joseph had put together some delightful creation from scraps of wood.

“‘Look what we have done, Mama, Father and I.’

“‘It is beautiful,’ I would tell him. He would beam at my approval and with our hands in his, we three would dance around in circles, laughing, laughing.

“Oh, he had about him such a sense of wonder about him, for all things. Why, for hours at night, he would lie upon the ground and watch the stars in the heavens. I remember one time I watched him ponder a single pebble, turning it over and over in his hands. And flowers! Oh, my, flowers were so special to him. I don’t know how many times he brought me bouquets, fresh-plucked, stems still pressed and warm from his tight-clenched little boy’s hand.

“As a youth, he would quietly come up behind me and, oh, so gently, place his strong, young hands on my shoulders and rest his cheek close to mine. We needed no words, he and I. Always, he spoke so clearly from the heart.

“At Pesach, he delighted in asking the questions that began the Seder. He never tired you know, of hearing the story of Moses, of the journey of our people out of bondage into freedom.”

She paused, this lady of sorrows, this woman of joy. The afternoon sun caught the silver in her hair.

“Perhaps,” she said, “he was . . .

“Later, after Joseph had died, he would lead the Seder, letting our little T’ziems ask the questions and take us, our family and all the neighbors, too, through the remembrance of Israel with such fervor, such excitement. Why, how could anyone doubt that we were the chosen ones of Adonai?

“I remember when he came of age, how proud we were the day he was called to say the blessings over the Torah. He thrived on reading the ancient scrolls, the telling of the stories of the patriarchs, the men of faith, even the women. I must say with some embarrassment that when he read from the scroll of the judges, recalling the story of how Jael drove the tentspike through Sisera’s head, he laughed. Mind you, he was but a youth. Nonetheless, he was pleased to be welcomed into the community as a man.

“As he grew older, he spent more and more time, deep in thought, often speaking with the rabbi. There were times when he was so solitary I worried about him, not playing with the other boys, but …”

She stopped, sorting her thoughts, nodding to private recollections. Then she tilted her head and looked at me, Mary of Nazareth . . . and winked!

We laughed, and she touched my hand, so softly. I felt the warmth of joy fill my heart.

“When I heard he had been arrested, that they had taken him to the Sanhedrin, I ran to be near him but was barred by the temple guards. Later that day, I struggled through the crowd that had assembled before Pilate’s praetorium. There, I stood in the crowd and when I heard Pilate speak the words, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’ my heart soared with hope. Then Judea’s Governor, hoping to pass the problem on, sent him to the Tetrarch of Galilee. Herod Antipas, that foolish, bumbling man, could find no fault in Jesus either, so it was back to Pilate!

“Agh! A serpent’s dance! These men of power squabbled like hyenas over a bone to rid themselves of this problem, almost desperate they were to avoid blame! Imagine that! My son, Jesus, a problem!

“By now you have heard, I am sure, that according to Roman edicts, anyone who had been arrested was subject to flogging. I suppose Pilate thought this would allay the Pharisees, so he delivered Jesus to the Roman soldiers. From what was later reported to me, they tied him to a post. Thus began the parade of humiliation of spit and slaps, of blows from fists and feet. Then came the scourging. The flagrum, you know, that wicked horror that strips flesh from bone? That is what they used. As if that monument of shame was not sufficient, one soldier found a tattered robe and another fashioned a crown of thorns. With that mockery they adorned him, one audacious enough to pronounce him the King of the Jews!’

“Then it was back to the Praetorium. Pilate spoke with Jesus and I am told that Jesus told that man, ‘You would have no power over me had it not been given to you from above.’ I do not doubt that Pilate had no understanding of what Jesus meant.

“Well, then, Pilate summoned the chief priests of the Sanhedrin, told them he found no basis for their charges against my son. I was told later by Miriam, the wife of Clopas, who served at the Praetorium, how Pilate pointed his finger at Caiaphas, the chief priest, and shouted, ”I find nothing wrong in this man. You punish him!’”
Mary’s eyes creased as if to guard against bright sun. Her lips compressed to a hard line, then twisted. She swallowed once, twice, before she could speak again.

“I have looked into Caiaphas’ eyes. I have seen the cold darkness there, like in the eyes of the akidneh. You know, the viper?

“Phaugh! That sanctimonious raka! He replied, ‘This man claims to be the Son of God. Blasphemy! For that, our law says he must die! Your law says we can punish him but we cannot execute him. You, yourself, have heard him say he is a king.

Therefore, by your own law, any man who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’

“As a chorus of crows, the Pharisees renewed their cry, ‘Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!’
Pilate, coward that he was, capitulated. “Behold the man! You may mount the cross,” he said.
When I learned of this edict, I was struck dumb. Paralysis took me and were it not for dear, sweet John who stood at my side all the while, I would have fallen.

“The procession through the streets was a shade of the darkest dreams, all the people who only a few days before were shouting hosannas now yelled crucify! Crucify!

“I remember stumbling out the Judgment Gate, how my heart wrenched at the sight of Golgotha.
Her hands made fists. “Oh! That hated hill! I watched them! I watched them tie his arms to the cross, then drive nails into his hands, his feet.’

Mary’s gasp was harsh and raw. Even after these many years, her tears were a cascade of sorrow. At long last, she was able to speak again.

“It seemed as if each hour of his dying crept by like a long winter day. To this day, his moans of anguish, his gasps for breath echo in my heart.”

Again, Mary looked out the window. I expected tears to fall anew, but they did not. Perhaps she had none left.
She turned, and with a touch of brightness, said, “You know, Lukas, just before his spirit left him, he said the most remarkable thing! Hanging on the cross, he looked at the Roman soldiers, the ones who had driven the nails into his hands and feet, and said, ‘Father, forgive them. They do not understand what they have done.’

“I … I know, I know, I should have the same forgiveness for the Annas, for his toady son-in-law, Caiaphas, and for Pilate, the Roman soldiers. But I cannot. Not yet. Someday, perhaps.

“Moments before he died, he lifted his head and I felt his eyes meet mine. ‘Mother, embrace your son,’ and to John who stood yet at my side, he said, ‘John, embrace your mother.’

“Since that time, Lukas, John has cared for me as if I were his own mother. So kind, so gentle. Such a thoughtful man.”

“Near to the end, Jesus called for water. His voice sounded like the croak of a frog. Someone from the crowd, I don’t know who, soaked a sponge in posca, vinegar-water, and extended it to him of a branch. He took a taste, a swallow and gasped words from the psalm of David. ‘Eli, eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

“Then, he spoke his final words that chilled my soul. ‘It is finished. Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’
Mary’s hands covered her face. Her body bowed as if drawn into itself. Like a great tearing of her soul, sobs rent this precious woman, her grief still keen, still striking a wrenching pain.

““Lukas! They killed him! I watched him die! Oh, my Lord, my God! Why have you made me drink of this cup! I loved him so, my son . . . my son!”

This woman, beloved mother of Jesus, and of James, Joseph and Jude and Simon, of Miriam and Salome, whimpered, then sighed.

We were quiet together, she and I, as evening fell.

Until a small voice intruded.


She looked up. “Ah, Joseph, my little one. Come to your grandma.”
A child, bubbling with joy, ran in and tugged at her hand. She stood and with his hands in hers, they danced round and round, la, la, la. Sweeping little Joseph high up over her head, Mary twirled as the boy filled the room with squeals of delight.

Hugging Joseph close, she said to me, “So good of you to come, Lukas. I must go now. The family gathers for Shabbas.”
She rose, and with an exquisite tenderness, kissed my cheek.
Her smile was one of gentle peace. “You know we shall see him again, Lukas . . . our Jesus.”

Copyright © 1982 Peter K. Schipper