Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sarah and the Baptist, part 2

(the conclusion of Sarah's adventure; for part one, click here)

'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?' Ruben squinted against the glare from the sparkling water.

'Yes,' he said. 'I'm not surprised he's here. His mother told me once that she was a cousin of Elizabeth, the Baptist's mother.'
'Really?' said Sarah, thinking to herself – so, I know someone who knows the Baptist … how wonderful is that? 
'Uncle,' she said 'I want to see Jesus being baptised … it'd be fantastic to see someone I know being dipped, especially if he's a cousin of the Baptist. Can we go down?' 

'I don't see why not,' her uncle smiled. 'But I don't think we have much time if you want to get close … Jesus isn't far from the head of the queue and the Baptist seems to work fast!'

'I'll run ahead and you follow,' said Sarah and off she ran before her uncle could answer.
'Wait for me by the edge of the water!' Ruben called. 

Sarah dashed through the crowd, ducking under arms, one time even sliding between the legs of a particularly fat man because it seemed quicker than going round him. Within moments she was by the river's side … and just in time, because Jesus was wading out to the Baptist. She wanted to call out to him, to let him know she was there watching. But suddenly she felt shy before all those people and the words wouldn't come out. Just before he reached the Baptist, however, Jesus paused and turned, his eyes scanning the crowd. His gaze fixed on Sarah and he gave her a slight smile. Thrilled, she gave him a big wave. His smile broadened and he turned again to the Baptist. 

She couldn't quite make out what was happening, but they seemed to be talking. The Baptist hadn't done that with the others. But then he and Jesus were cousins. They were probably catching up about their families. With a sudden motion, John reached out to Jesus and thrust him almost roughly into the water. He seemed to hold him under for a very long time. Sarah only realised she was holding her breath when she felt a tightness in her chest and took a deep, gasping breath. And still he held Jesus under. Then with a great splash, he pulled him up again.

And then something happened for the rest of her life Sarah couldn't quite understand. The clear blue skies above Jesus seemed to boil and shimmer and turn almost golden, as if she were looking into heaven itself. A voice like thunder rang through the air: 'This is my son, the Beloved: with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.' And out of nowhere a single white dove seemed to appear, hovering above the head of Jesus.

A hand clasped her shoulder. She turned. It was her uncle Ruben, smiling down at her.
'Well, little one; were you in time to see the baptism of our neighbour?' 
'Did you see it, uncle Ruben?' she gasped. 
'The baptism? No, I was still caught in the crowd.' 
'No, well yes, but I meant did you see what happened after? The voice; the dove; the sky – it was like the heavens opened above him!' 
'Above John?' 
'No. Above Jesus?' 

Sarah turned to look back at Jesus, but he was gone. John stood alone in the water. Around them people were murmuring, asking each other if they had heard and seen. Some said they had seen the dove and the sky. Other said they had seen nothing or at least nothing unusual. There was nothing odd about birds flying or the sky shimmering on such a hot day, especially over water. 
'But what about the voice?' 
'What voice? You mean the thunder?' 
'How could there be thunder out of a clear sky?' 
'Why couldn't there be?' 
'Anyway, why would anything special happen when that fellow was baptised? Who was he anyway?' 
'The Baptist's cousin?' 
'Why would the heaven's open for him if the Baptist was the Messiah?' 
'Is it he who is the Messiah?'

Looking around her, Sarah saw that the Baptist was still alone in the water. She glanced at the crowd. In the confusion, the queue seemed to have been forgotten. Sarah seized her chance and waded out to the Baptist. From behind her she heard her uncle call out. She didn't stop and he didn't come after her. As she waded through the cool water, she felt the eyes of John the Baptist on her all the way. When she was a few feet away, she stopped.

'You are the little one my cousin looked at before I baptised him,' he said. 'What is your name child?'
'Sarah. I live in Nazareth too.' 
'Ah.' He looked at the crowd. 'The people seem disturbed.' 
'The things that happened … the sky, the voice …' Her own voice trailed off. 
'You saw it then?' The Baptist said smiling. 
'Didn't everyone?' 
'No. Some can never see something like that, even if it happens right in front of their eyes.' 
'But what does it mean?' 
'What do you think it means?' 

The Baptist looked at her intensely. Sarah swallowed hard. 

'Some on the bank think it means that he might be the Messiah. But that can't be, can it? People say you are the Messiah.' The Baptist sighed.
'I am not the Messiah. I have told them that many times.' 
'So is it Jesus then? Is he the Messiah?' 

She looked earnestly at the Baptist. He smiled at her. 

'That is not for me to say. Only he can answer such a question. And only then when the time is right. I can tell you that compared to him I am nothing. I am not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandal.' 

Sarah was astonished. How could the one that all the people were flocking to talk like that? A thought struck her.

'But if you are so unworthy, then why did he come to you for Baptism?'
'A very good question. I say that, because I asked him that myself.'
'And what did he say?' 
'He said that it must be done to fulfil all righteousness.' 
'And what does that mean?' 

The Baptist laughed at her question.

'It means it had to be that way because it had to be that way. Because it is what God wants, even if we don't understand. And now, enough talk, little Sarah. Hold your breath!'

He took her by the shoulders and swung her round and plunged her under the water. She clamped her lips tightly together and screwed her eyes tightly shut. Her lungs began to feel like they were on fire. Then suddenly she was up in the air again, gasping for breath, rubbing the water from her face with her hands, swinging her curls from side to side to get the water out.

'Back to the bank, child,' said the Baptist placing a hand on her back and pushing her gently towards the waiting people. As she started to wade away, he called after her.

'You have seen extraordinary things today, young Sarah from Nazareth. Never forget them. Remember them all your life.'
'I will,' she called back. 

Her Uncle Ruben helped her from the water.

'You were with him a long time,' he said. 'What did he say?'
'He saw the things that I saw too,' she said. Ruben seemed a little disappointed. 
'So he is not the Messiah then? But surely it is not Jesus? How could the Messiah be a carpenter from our village?' 
'I don't know, uncle,' she said. 'But the Messiah must be from somewhere, mustn't he? I mean, John came from somewhere. Everybody comes from somewhere.' Her uncle laughed. 
'That is very true little one. Perhaps we will have to keep an eye on this Jesus from now on.' 
'I think that would be a good idea, uncle Ruben.' 
'And now it is time to get you back to your mother and father and out of these wet things.' 
'I'm not cold, uncle Ruben,' she said. But she went with him. 

As they made their way through the crowd, in the distance she saw Jesus heading away from the crowds, walking at a very fast pace towards the dessert beyond. As she watched, he stopped and turned. His eyes seemed to move over the crowds until he was staring right at her. He was too far away to see clearly, but she imagined a slight smile on her face. She remembered her promise to the Baptist. 

'I will never forget,' she whispered. This time she was sure that he was smiling. He turned away and in a moment disappeared over the hill.

'I will never forget,' she said again softly. And she never did.

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

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