by Ramon Ballard
Jacob sat with his knees curled up to his chin and his back to a wall, excited by the throngs of visitors. His town had doubled and then doubled once again since the decree from Rome. His father was of the lineage of King David, so he and his family didn’t need to journey to pay their required taxes. He loved the constant flow of the crowds, unusual for this small town. He could sit and watch it all day long, if his father would let him.
The sun was about to set and the shadows would soon become darkened streets, which meant he would soon be forced inside for the night. His attention was inexplicitly drawn to a man guiding a donkey through the crowd. The donkey brayed and hesitated before moving. A young girl, not much older than him sat on the animal. She was very much pregnant. Jacob quickly assumed that she was the obviously much older gentleman’s daughter.
The man stopped before an Inn and not one of the better Inns mind you, only to be greeted with a shake of the owner’s head. One after another innkeeper’s heads gave the same reply. There was no room to be had.
My father has a spare room he thought to himself. He rushed forward to tell the man and his daughter the good news, but found that Ezieliel, one of Bethlehem’s elderly blind men, had fallen amongst the crowd and was in danger of being crushed. He looked toward the couple to find they were talking to another keeper. He didn’t know what to do. If he left the old man in the streets, he would surely die but something drew him to the young girl. He took a few steps away from the fallen man, but returned and touched him on his shoulder.
"Who is there?" the blind man asked.
"It is Jacob, son of James."
"I seem to have fallen and have no strength to get up."
A quick look satisfied Jacob that he could help both Ezieliel and the young girl. With all his might he helped the man to his feet and then looked after the man and his daughter, and frowned when he realized they were no longer in sight. He lost them when he stopped to help the blind man. Without thinking he asked the blind man if he had a place to stay and food to eat.
"I have none," the blind man confessed.
"Tonight you will be the guest of my father. He is already sleeping after a long day’s work, but I’m sure he won’t mind," Jacob said, his heart inexplicably warming and a blanket of joy covering his soul.
That night as he knelt to pray, the room brightened noticeably as a bright star shone brilliantly in the Northern skies. "I wonder how I have not seen that star before."
The following morning Jacob’s father ran to where he slept awaking him with a vigorous shake.
"What is it father?" He knuckled sleep from his eyes and remembered the blind man he had given shelter to without permission. "Please forgive me, father, the old man had nowhere to go last night, and as you were already sleeping when I came home, well I could not ask you. I was sure you would not mind."
James blinked and scratched his beard. "Old man? You mean Ezieliel? Son you have done the right by offering him shelter for the night." He rustled his son’s unruly hair. "We have more than we could possibly need."
"Then what troubles you father?"
"The shepherds are telling all that will listen that they were visited by angels last night," said James wringing his hands in excitement. "Get dressed son, we must be off to Jerusalem."
Jacob stared at his father. "Jerusalem?"
"The story the shepherds are telling is they were watching their flocks when they were visited by the angels." His father could not hide his excitement. "They were told that a child was born in a manger during the night. And he would be known as Christ the Lord."
"Baby? Manger?" asked Jacob.
"Yes, the shepherds left their flocks and visited the manger, to their amazement they found the child swabbed in swaddling clothes amongst the animals. Praise be to Jehovah."
"We need to go to the manger at once father." Jacob hurried to dress.
"I visited, the manger is empty. I can only assume they have gone to the Temple. According to our laws, the babe must be circumcised before eight days old."
"Did the shepherds tell you about the parents?" Jacob’s mouth went dry.
"They said nothing about the father, but said the mother was no more than a child herself. Why do you ask?"
"I think I saw them last night. I wanted to offer them a room here father." He wiped a tear from his eyes. "I failed."
"You did not fail my son, you helped one less fortunate. I can ask for no more from you." He hugged his son. "Get dressed, I must tell Simeon. He has been waiting so long for the Messiah. Our plight will soon be over."
"Simeon? Is he the one that has been promised to live until he saw the Messiah?" Jacob said, tying the chord to his robes.
The father and son had travelled less than half way to Jerusalem before they spied a young boy sitting by the side of the road. He sat with his head cupped in his hands and crying uncontrollably
"Father, we should see if we might be of assistance." Jacob said and he jumped off his mule before his father could stop him.
"Why do you cry?" Jacob asked.
The young boy looked up at Jacob, shielding his eyes from the sun. "Five of my flock has run off. I cannot leave the rest to locate them." He rubbed his nose before continuing. "My master will have my hide."
Jacob sat next to the young boy and placed his arm around him. "Father, you go to Jerusalem by yourself, I will help my new friend locate his sheep, and then return home."
"We shall find his sheep and return home together," said his father with a gentile smile. "I have a feeling the spirit will tell Simeon. We need to help your friend."
Jacob searched in every crowd. There were times he swore he saw them, alas it was always another baby and another mother.
His father told him, "The baby and family had most likely returned to their homeland, as they were in Bethlehem just to pay taxes. And he should forget about them for the time being."
Jacob refused to give up at first. But slowly his resolve weakened. A year passed, maybe two. Jacob lost all hope in finding the baby and his mother. Finally a rumor surfaced that three magi and their caravan had been seen in Jerusalem. He heard it on good authority that the wise men had talked to King Herod. It was also said that the Magi were coming to Bethlehem but he never saw them. King Herod’s soldiers thundered into the city instead of the Magi.
Horror ensued. The soldiers were systematically going from house to house killing every male child. His sister and young nephew’s turn would be next.
Soldiers trudged through the streets blood dripping from their swords. Cries of anguish and grief filled the air, mothers held the lifeless bodies of their slain children in their arms. Jacob, swept with panic, looked around his kitchen for anywhere he could hide his sister and child his eyes settled on the row of wine and spice barrels against the far wall. Searching frantically, he found an empty spice barrel.
"Hide inside the barrel and try to keep little Jude still." He held back tears as he watched his sister grab the child and climb into the barrel, her dirty face streaked with tears. "All will be safe. The soldiers can do as they wish with me, but you will be safe. I promise. You must hurry." Despite the imminent danger, Jacob felt a warmness envelop his heart.
A loud bang on the door startled Jacob as he placed another empty barrel on the one hiding his sister and nephew. The door flew open and three burly soldiers burst through.
"Are there children in the house?" The largest soldier barked. The other two busied themselves turning over cushions, running swords through draperies. They concentrated on the young boy when nothing was found.
"No it is just myself and my father, and he is away on business." Jacob felt his heart thumping in his chest, but used all his strength of character to keep his outwardly self-calm. Well, as calm as one could expect when surrounded by blood thirsty killers.
The steely eyed soldier licked his lips, and without warning nicked Jacob on the cheek with his sword. "You know what happens to boys that lie to King Herod’s soldiers?"
Jacob held his ground. He refused to rub the blood from his cheek. He smiled and said, "I am alone, my father is away on business. May I offer you and your companion’s refreshments?" The soldier snarled and barked orders to the others. "This is all the refreshment we require," he said as he raked his sword on Jacob’s leg. "Move out. There is nothing here."
Jacob ignored his pain as he watched the soldiers ride out of town. He helped his older sister and nephew from the barrel, and comforted her.
"Jacob, they cut your face. You did that for me?" She hugged him. "Come, we must dress the wound."
"The wound can wait. I need to see if those I could not save could use comfort." He concealed the wound on his leg until it was almost too late. His cheek wound scarred over and remained with him as a sign of his good deed. His leg became badly damaged and he would walk with a profound limp after that time. It was a small price to pay for the safety of his loved ones.
Time piled day upon day and soon year upon year. Jacob’s search for his Messiah waned with the passing of each season. His generosity, kind heart, and care for the less fortunate grew as his hope failed. But in his heart, he believed himself a failure. The only thing he had asked of life was to meet the Messiah and he had failed miserably on several occasions. His lame leg prevented him from making a name for himself like his father. The scar on his face haunted him and was an obstacle in finding himself a wife, although the obstacle was more in his own mind than in the young ladies. Any hope of finding the Messiah faded completely when he and his father moved to Capernaum to get closer to his ailing grandmother. His search for the child ended nearly thirty years after it began.
He was a failure, plain and simple.
Finally one day he heard of a preacher from out of the wilderness spreading the word of baptism and love.
"Jacob, I have witnessed the most wonderful event, please set yourself down and let me tell you."
"Father, please sit and have your dinner first, you haven’t been eating properly lately. I’m worried about you."
"Father, sit down. I have dinner right here. Sit down and eat. Then you can tell me of your exciting events of the day."
Jacob’s father knelt for supper.
"Father, have you heard about the Baptist?" Jacob asked.
His father swabbed the last bit of broth from his plate with a chunk of bread. "Jacob, that’s just what I was trying to tell you. I saw him today by the stream. His message was so compelling that I could not deny the truth." His eyes sparkled as he told Jacob of his new conviction.
"Is he the one we have searched for these many years?"
"I thought he might be but his message was, he baptized by water but another would fill our soul with fire."
Jacob shook his head. "What does that mean?"
"I really did not know until soon after my conversion and baptism." A glow came to his eyes. "A man came forward, many in the crowd whispered that he was from Nazareth." He placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. "The Baptist told the man that he was unworthy to fasten the man’s sandals. I heard it myself. He also said that the Nazarene should baptize him."
"The Nazarene could not possibly be the Messiah. The Messiah came from Bethlehem. We were there." "I thought so too, but I am convinced the Nazarene is our Messiah."
"Why so father?" Jacob dabbed a tear from his eye.
"He told the Baptist that it was he who needed baptism, and asked the Baptist to baptize him. I will forever remember what happened after the baptism." He looked toward heaven with his hands outstretched in reverence. "Son, I testify to you that the skies opened and a dove descended and a voice exclaimed THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED."
Jacob jumped up and rushed to the door. "I must find this man from Nazareth."
"They may have both gone. You must hurry, Son."
"I spent my day today with an old blind man, tending to his fever. But he passed despite my care. I wasted my day. I should have stayed with you today, Father," Jacob said as he grabbed his cloak from the peg.
"You did your best. You were where you needed to be." His face contorted as he clutched his chest.
Jacob rushed to his father as he slumped to the floor. "Father," he cried cradling him in his arms.
His father looked up, pain etched on his face, spittle on the corner of his mouth. "Go Son, you can find your savior if you hurry."
"My savior can wait until you recover Father. He can wait."
Jacob's father improved slightly over the next few weeks. Jacob spent all of his time either sleeping or caring for him. He sat by his father's side applying a wet cloth on his feverish forehead. When the condition worsened Jacob prayed and held his father's hand tight.
"You have been a faithful son," he said, his breath shallow and labored. "Go, follow your heart. I will survive. I have burdened you for far too long." He closed his eyes and sighed as his grip loosened.
Jacob did not have the time to answer his father.
The door flew open without a knock and his neighbor rushed in. "You should have been there, Jacob."
"Been where Isaac?" Jacob asked, taking his watchful eyes from his father briefly.
"The hill outside of the city of course." Isaac could scarcely hold back his excitement. "How is your father?"
"He is resting." Jacob glanced at his sleeping father for any signs of breathing. "What happened on the hills?" He asked in a hushed voice.
"The new Rabbi, Jesus, taught us." Isaac looked to one side and then another. "He fed the multitude with a few fish and even less bread."
"The Messiah is in town? He is here now?"
"Some call him the Messiah, after today I too believe him to be the One prophesied about."
"What did he teach?" Jacob questioned his friend. "Did he say what we are to do about the Romans?"
"That is just it, he is preaching peace. He preached that the poor in spirit will be blessed."
"What does that mean?" Jacob quizzed.
"He said that the poor have a Kingdom in heaven and those that mourn will be comforted. The meek shall inherit the earth."
"Why would the meek want the earth?" Jacob laughed. "The Rabbi said more, but I cannot remember all. The pure of heart are blessed, the peacemakers, and the merciful also." Isaac caught his breath before continuing. "He taught us how to pray also."
"I know how to pray. I have been praying for my father’s recovery."
"Perhaps you are praying for the wrong thing, my dear friend."
Jacob hung his head low. "What shall I pray for?"
"Go ask the Rabbi, he has performed miracles. It is said he has healed the sick, and your father is sick, is he not?"
"Yes. Did you hear that father? The Messiah is nearby, I have faith he can heal your ailment." Jacob rushed to his father side. "Does the Messiah raise from the dead?" A tear rushed down his cheek, a drop at first, followed by a raging river of tears.
"Not that I know of, my dear friend, not that I know of."
Jacob was alone for the first time in his life. He searched for the new Messiah, but could never get close. His limp become more pronounced and it became harder for him to get around. He returned to Bethlehem to the care of his nephew, rejected and a failure. His was over forty and had nothing to show for his life.
"Uncle," his nephew said as he entered the doorway. "The Messiah is in Jerusalem for Passover."
A spark of energy filled Jacob’s bosom. "I am unable to walk, it is too far."
"I will carry you Uncle," his nephew insisted.
"I am too ill, maybe in a few days." Jacob coughed into a rag, concealing the blood left behind.
"I will seek him Uncle; I will bring him to you, if I can. It is said he has raised Lazarus from the dead. I am sure he can heal you."
"Thank you, you have been kind to me, a lame useless man. I am grateful for your assistance."
"The privilege has been all mine. Rest, I shall return."
Jacob was unaware of how long he had waited. Darkness permeated the day.
A bright light pierced the darkness, and Jacob held his hands to his eyes, shielding his sight.
"Jacob, my wise and faithful servant, I am well pleased, you have served me well." "That is not so, my Lord. When have I had the pleasure of serving you? We have never met. I have always either been behind you or ahead of you." Jacob’s lips quivered. "My life has been a failure."
"When I was tired, you gave me rest. When I was afraid, you gave me comfort. When I was lost, you found me. When I hungered, you fed me. When I was sick, you consoled me."
"Nay, I have not done any of that for you my Lord. You have the wrong person." "Jacob, if you have done it unto the least of your brothers, you have done it unto me. Follow me now Jacob. You have earned your reward."
Jacob’s nephew entered the house, his heart heavy and his eyes red from tears. He wished he had better news to tell his Uncle. The Messiah, the living son of God had been crucified during the night. How could he tell his Uncle, who had searched so diligently for his savior for so many years that he was dead? He found Jacob, lying in his bed with a look of total peace and contentment.
Jacob had found his Messiah.
It's the season for remembrance of our Savior's birth, and his ultimate act of kindness. A random act of kindness costs very little and takes almost none of our time. We should all pay it forward from this day hence. Change your problems one smile at a time. Spread your sunshine to the less fortunate.
"You may be only one person in this world, but to one person at one time, you are the world."