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Christmas III – Her Father Wept

December 25, 2012

This is my Christmas story that I wrote a few years ago. Perhaps, you will enjoy it and get a new view of the Christmas story.

A Father’s Tears

  For Hannah it was a new and wonderful experience. Getting away from the noises and the clutter of Jerusalem to the quiet of the little village suburb of a town in the Galilee.

  Everything was new. There was Mount Tabor to the east, Mount Carmel to the west, Lebanon to the north and the plain of Esdralon to the south.

  Her aunt has been so glad to have her help with the arrival of her first and treated her as if she was much older than her twelve years. Hannah had enjoyed being with the other girls her age, but more with the new and interesting women she found there. Their talk seemed so conspiratorial and hidden in that special world that boys and men could not enter.

  Lingering at the well, she could hear bits and snatches of the village gossip, which was far more interesting than standing behind father’s vending stall all day in dusty Jerusalem.

  One woman in particular caught her interest, for she always arrived at the well just as the others were departing. She had a free and winning smile and seemed strangely wise, yet few women in the village were willing to speak with her – certainly not her aunt Rebecca. All that Hannah was able to learn about the woman was that she was Miriam Bat Elie, wife of the well regarded Bar Yakov.

  As each day went by, Hannah’s curiosity about the woman grew until it was about to burst. So, today, with her aunt not feeling well and having the responsibility of fetching the water alone, she decided that she would stay a little longer and speak to the woman.

  But, no sooner than she had introduced herself to the woman than her aunt appeared at the doorway, frantically calling her to come back immediately.

You are never to speak to that woman again. Your mother would not speak to me, if she thought that I had allowed you to speak with a woman like her.”

  An old man, watching from nearby, saw the incident. His eyes were filled with tears. He was Elie bar Matthat, the father of the woman.

** Years Before **

  Elie Bar Matthat’s life had begun with so much promise, but had come to much emptiness.

  He had been born the son of a stonedresser/mason. It was all one job in that time, and, what with the needs of the temple, the government and the palace-like mansions that the wealthy were building, the work was mostly steady and when the work was going slow, there were always smaller jobs and some carpentry that the men of this small stonemason’s community could put their tools to. By the standards of the day, it was a middle class existence. He would live well.

  He also had a wonderful heritage, being a descendent of the great King David. So, his father had been careful that he live an attentive religious life, for he knew that it had been prophesied that one day Elijah would return and that King David’s house would be restored, that the enemies of Israel would be defeated. The anointing oil would fall on a righteous son of David. Perhaps, it would be his son, Elie.

  Elie married, and though it seemed that no crown would pass to him, perhaps he might sit at the king’s table, if a son or grandson became the great messianic king. But only a daughter survived childhood. She would carry the Davidic birthright to another family.

  That, in itself, would be a great asset in negotiating a good marriage for her with any family in the village. Only Yakov’s son could not benefit from claiming the line of David. For he, too, was of the line of David, but of the line that was cursed by the prophet Jeremiah, according to the word of the Lord, the line that was excluded from the messianic line.

  But, as if to mock all hopes, this Bar Yakov was the most virtuous of the unmarried men – hard working, godly, beyond reproach. And though men might argue about her beauty, she was calm, quiet, thoughtful, discerning. So, when he sought her for his wife, and she favored him, there was little that Elie could do to refuse him. He buried his hopes so that hers might live.

  The customary year of betrothal or engagement began uneventfully and Elie was pleased. Then, suddenly, everything went awry. She was pregnant, and not even he could believe that his future son-in-law was the father. Certainly anyone in the village who might have known was not saying.

  He was crushed. He never would have believed that she would betray him, affianced as she was. He wanted to know who the father was, but was afraid of the answer. Beside, it was hopeless. He knew her. She would keep her own counsel. She would not betray the father. And what might he and Yakov’s son do, if they knew? What might the villagers do?

  Now it was all in Bar Yakov’s hands. Would he insist on publicly exposing Elie’s daughter to protect his own reputation, or would he divorce her quietly? Only he and God knew.

  What had come over his daughter lately? First, this, then running off to Jerusalem to visit her aunt? It was bad enough that he should be humiliated at home, but, come Passover, when a thousand Elies would be at the temple, he would be separated out from them: “There’s that Elie whose daughter dared to enter the temple district pregnant and unwed.”

  Where was that girl’s mind? Where was her heart? How could she do this to her father, make him weep this way?

** Back Again **

  Elie walked back from the well to his daughter’s home and sat down.

  He had been blessed and he knew it. Instead of divorcing her and leaving her to the dregs of the village for remarriage or worse, or leaving her to Elie’s lifelong charge, he had married her and pretended, it seemed, that the boy was his – a futile gesture, since everyone still refused to believe that he was the father. Still, there was something to be said for appearances. He had taken her south before the boy was born, then out of the country for a few years. This gave the gossip plenty of time to die down. For that, Elie was grateful.

  But a stonemason must live where he can work his trade, and now they were back in the village and the whispering had started once more. He was now the grandfather of three – the boy and his two younger brothers. The younger ones would argue over some worthless object or fight over petty jealousies until their father or mother appeared, but the older boy seemed too good to be true.

  Often he found himself looking at the boy, seeing something of her, and so, some of his and his wife’s family, but the rest was perplexing. There was nothing in the boy that resembled Bar Yakov or any of Yakov’s kin. That he was not the father was plain – far too plain. Elie had hoped for some ambiguity, something that would make others more uncertain about the truth about the boy’s real father. It would have been a help to Elie and his kin.

  The simple truth was that he did not resemble anyone in the village. Nor did he seem to resemble any of the foreign mercenaries that were encamped in the nearby city. That, at least, was a mercy. All the same, he seemed foreign, yet disturbingly familiar all the same.

  Elie was certain that he ought to know the boy’s father; surely he should be familiar with the person, yet one whose face he did not really know – perhaps, someone he had seen briefly in a crowd or passed on the road as evening was turning to night; perhaps, someone he had seen just before he turned away; or could it have been someone he had met at the temple in Jerusalem. He thought, “Someday I shall see him and know who he is.”

  But his thoughts would always return to the boy, and what would become of him. Could a boy born this way remain so good, so perfect? What curse would he bear? Would he be content to remain a stonemason and a respectable member of the community, or would he, one day, kick over the traces and find himself among criminals and insurrectionists?

  Would he end up in prison, or worse, be stoned or crucified?

  There was no knowing, but Elie wept as though his musings were prophesies. And, sometimes in the night, he would cry our, “Miriam, what have you done to us?”

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