Friday, January 18, 2013

Sarah and the Baptist, part 1

(this week's story for the children, young & old!)

'Wake up, wake up Sarah!'

Sarah blinked tiredly. Her mother was calling her, but it was still dark. Too early to get up. She burrowed back down under the blanket. But her mother pulled the covers back.

'Mama, no!' protested Sarah, tightening her thin body into a shivering ball. Her mother laughed and lifted her into her arms.
'Up you get, sleepy head!' 
'But it is too early … why do you want me to get up?' 
'Don't you remember? Today we begin our journey to the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. The group leaves at dawn – we must hurry!' 

Then Sarah remembered. Her parents had spoken of little else for weeks. Her father had been working extra hard to save the money so that he could afford not to work for the many days it would take to journey from Nazareth to Bethany-across-the-Jordan and back home again. Her father was a labourer and he worked from dawn to dusk all those weeks, while her mother scrimped and saved so that they might not spend even a copper coin more than needed. But at last they had enough and were ready to set out with all the others from the village who also wished to make the long journey South to see John the Baptist.

Sarah wiggled out of her mother's arms and flung on her rough wool dress and slipped her feet into her sandals. She shook out her thick black curls and ran her hands through them by way of combing them. Her parents were already dressed. They had a hurried breakfast of bread and water and threw on their packs and walked quickly through the deserted streets of the village, Sarah still taking bites of her bread and chewing as they walked.

After a few moments, Sarah saw a group of people in the gloom up ahead. A group of about 20 people stood there, talking softly so as not to wake the others in the village who still slept.

'Benjamin, is that you?' said a deep voice.
'Yes, Ruben' answered her father. 
'Good,' said Ruben. 'You are the last. We can go now.' The others picked their packs up from the ground and began to shuffle sleepily away along the southern road out of the village. 

'Come, now!' said Ruben sharply. 'That will never do! At that pace it will take us a week to get to where we're going instead of four days. Even little Sarah can walk faster than that, can't you little one?'

'Of course I can, uncle Ruben,' said Sarah proudly. She was only a child, but she was strong and fast.

'Take my hand then, and we'll show these tired old people how to walk!' He held out his hand to her and she saw his teeth flash in the starlight. Going to the front of the group, they began to stride along.

'Not too fast, little one,' said Ruben softly as they drew quickly ahead. 'When you travel in a group, you can go no faster than the slowest member. Some are old, and some carry children. So we must go at their pace. But we can not afford to go any slower!'
Sarah giggled. 

As they walked the day dawned. Other little groups from other villages joined theirs on the road until they were part of a caravan of hundreds of people. They walked until mid-morning, when the sun grew hot. Then they stopped for food and to shelter from the burning heat. After eating many slept. Sarah snuggled up to her uncle Ruben. But she was still too excited to sleep.

'Uncle, why do so many go to see the Baptist?' Her uncle smiled.
'Because he tells them that the time has come for them to repent of their sins and he washes them in the waters of the Jordan as a sign they have been cleansed of those sins.' Sarah frowned. 
'But what does 'repent' mean?' 

'A good question, little one,' her uncle laughed. 'It means turn your back completely on what has gone before. It means more than just saying sorry for your sins; it means hating them because they are wrong and vowing never to live like that again.' 
'So why do I need to go to be washed clean? I'm not a terrible sinner … am I?' Sarah looked a little anxious. 

'No, Sarah,' her uncle reassured her. 'You are a good girl. But we are all sinners, even the best of us. We all do things that are wrong. Isn't that true?' 
'Yes,' admitted Sarah, thinking of how she had sneaked a honey cake from the kitchen last week when her mother wasn't looking, and remembering how she had run off to play a few days ago when her mother had asked her to help clear up after supper. 'And will all those who are washed in the Jordan be good forever after, uncle?' 

Ruben laughed again, not unkindly. 

'Who knows, little one? It means that they want to be better. Perhaps they will? The Baptist is a holy man, a prophet sent by God. Many think he may be the Messiah, the one God promised would set us free. If he can free Israel from the Romans, who knows what else he can do? Don't you think?' He looked down. But Sarah was asleep. 

In the cool of the afternoon, they began their journey again, walking until the shadows began to grow long. This time they stopped at a huge camp where those who were travelling to the Baptist met those returning home. Many small fires dotted the night, and Sarah heard excited stories that those who had seen the Baptist had to tell.

'He told me not to be greedy and be happy with my pay, instead of squeezing people for bribes,' said a gruff looking soldier.
'He told me to only collect the taxes due,' said a man who was clearly a tax collector. 'Not to add on extra to feather my own nest.' 
'And did you hear what he called the Sadducees and Pharisees?' crowed an old woman. 'He called them a 'brood of vipers' who were running away from God's anger.' Those nearby roared with laughter. Sarah was amazed. The Baptist welcomed those whom most Jews hated, the Roman's soldier and their tax collectors. And he talked disrespectfully to the religious teachers. Perhaps he was the Messiah, as she heard so many whispering as they walked. Who else would behave like this?

After four days Sarah was tired and wondering if the walking would ever end. Gradually she became aware that the countryside around them was changing. The plants were greener and there was more of them; and the air seemed less dry in her lungs. We must be getting close to water, she thought excitedly. And sure enough, as they topped a small hill, there before them, shining bright blue in the brown landscape was the river Jordan, so wide that Sarah could hardly see the other side of it. If she hadn't known better she would thought she was standing by the sea!

And the people – Sarah had never seen so many together in one place. She had thought the night-camps on the journey huge, but they were nothing compared to throngs she saw here. It was as if everyone from every town and village from here to Jerusalem had gathered in one place! And many of those people stood in a long line, snaking through the crowd. Sarah followed the line with her eyes. 

It led to a tall, lean man, standing in the water. His beard and hair were wild and he wore an odd looking robe, the colour of camel's hair, the end of which was tucked up into the leather belt he wore around his waist. Sarah supposed he did that to keep it out of the water. As each person in the line came to him, he took them by the shoulders with his strong hands and dunked them under the water, holding them down for many seconds, before pulling them back up again.

'That's him,' said uncle Ruben. 'That's John. The Baptist.'

'Look,' said Sarah pointing to a man who wasn't far from the head of the line. 'Isn't that Jesus, the carpenter, from our village?'

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

(tune in again tomorrow, for the conclusion of Sarah's exciting adventure ... or just click the link here!)

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    comments should be comments on the post, not spurious ads for material elsewhere. That's why I've deleted your 'comment' ... but future comments on the content of this blog are more than welcome.