The back of the room was filled with women chattering excitedly about the wedding procession. Laughter filled the air and everyone had caught the fever of celebration. Martha, as usual, was not part of the gaiety. She bustled busily back and forth from the kitchen area, to the triclinium, and back, fussing over bubbling pots and filling platters of food. Miri was practicing a dance with some of the other women, exchanging steps for the dance, and momentarily glanced at Judith. Beneath her veil, and behind the curtain of dowry coins, she was grieving. Miri lost sight of the bride, then for an instant, she saw her again, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her head shawl. Spinning with the others, Miri’s heart went out to Judith and the spirit of the dance left her.
She slipped out from between the others, ignoring their momentary puzzled looks and retreated toward the relative calm of the triclinium where Judith sat. Judith saw Miri looking at her and quickly turned her head away. As Miri approached, Judith tried to pretend she had not seen Miri. Determined to avoid talking to Miri, Judith stared stoically ahead as Miri sat down beside her.
Miri continued to gaze at Judith. The bride dabbed at her eye with an air of finality and closure.
“You are crying,” said Miri.
Judith stared silently into the wall opposite.
“It is nothing,” she said bravely.
“Nothing?” a stern voice asked. “For nothing you are crying on your wedding? What is wrong with you?”
“Mother Mary,” answered Miri in greeting. “It really is nothing. Judith is not feeling well.”
“Not feeling well? What could possibly be wrong?”
“The wine, I think,” suggested Miri, “She is not used to it.”
“Well, you should know,” said Mother Mary spitefully. She could never avoid a chance to stab someone in the ribs. “She’ll get over it!”
“We went to a lot of trouble to arrange this wedding. A little headache is nothing! Problems! Nothing but problems! I hope you appreciate, Judith what I’m going through for you!”
“Yes, Mother,” said Judith meekly.
“We are grateful for your efforts, Mother Mary,” interjected Miri pleasantly, “You are a model for us all to look up to.”
The knives were out. Mother Mary raised her guard, sensing the sarcasm in Miri’s answer.
“All I live for is my children,” Mother Mary had a knack for platitudes.
“And they for you,” answered Miri. The double meaning was not lost on Mother Mary.
“Mother-” pleaded Judith. She felt she would like to turn into a small snake and slide unseen into the ground.
Rebecca suddenly appeared at the table. She had seen the three together from across the room, and sensed trouble from the stiffness in their posture.
“Quite a party!” she said cheerily. She slipped her hands into Judith’s arm, “Judith, I have something to show you!” she shouted and dragged Judith away. She shot a parting conspiratorial glance to Miri, and suddenly Miri and Mother Mary were alone.
“Leave her alone!” Mother Mary hissed at Miri, then angrily whirled back to the crowd. Miri raised an eyebrow, and headed for the courtyard at the back of the house, where she had last seen Rebecca and Judith.
Miri sat down beside the two sisters. Rebecca had her arms wrapped around Judith. Miri stroked Judith’s back. The bride was sobbing.
“It’s not fair!” she moaned, “Why can’t I be like you!” she looked angrily up at her sisters. “I hate my life! Why can’t I stand up to Mother the way you two do? Yakov is so unbearable!”
She burst into tears, crying uncontrollably. The three women sat together in the dappled shade under the secluded bier off the main courtyard. Splashes of warmth came through the vines from the hot afternoon sun.
A shadow passed over Judith, and she stopped crying instantly. The women looked up. His legs apart and hands on hips, Zebedee stood before them.
“What have we here?” he asked imperiously.
Zebedee held out his arms to Judith.
“Come here,” he held out his arms, and she flowed into them, her head resting on his barrel chest. She sniffled and he stroked her hair.
“Thaddeus is not a bad man,” he said reassuringly.
“I don’t love him!” wailed Judith.
Zebedee patted her head. “So you don’t love him? What is love got to do with marriage? Your Mother was married twice to men she didn’t love.”
“What?” asked Judith. “She loves you!”
“In her fashion,” said Zebedee, “But she didn’t marry for love. Such things are for folk tales. You learn respect. You learn acceptance. You learn love. These things do not come easy.”
He held Judith out at arm’s length.
“Especially for young girls!” He smiled at her. “At your age you fall in love at the drop of a hat. Every time the wind blows up a young man’s tunic, your little heart goes pit a pat!”
“Here,” he said guiding her back to the bench between Miri and Rebecca. “Let me tell you a story!”
“When I was your age, I was in love with a young girl. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen in all my life. Short as it was up ’til then. I worked on the fishing boat with my father. He had one leaky old boat, and no men worked for him. They were hard times. He had been a farmer and lost his holdings during the rebellion against Herod of Idumea! We were poor.’
“This woman, this angel sent by the Elohim to tantalize and tempt me, this goddess- ” His eyes shone as he remembered. “Was your Mother!”
“Mother?” Judith was shocked.
“Yes. Your Mother! You are surprised? What is this surprise?”
“Well-” began Judith.
“Ah, your Father Yusef!” Zebedee darkened for a moment, “Father Yusef! Eloi forgive me for speaking so of the dead, but I hated him! Not at first! At first he was nothing to me, a young man so in love with such a beautiful girl!”
“Your mother was the daughter of one of the Saduccees who supported Herod, and he was given vast tracts of lands stolen by Herod’s soldiers from the uncles, cousins and brothers of suspected Galilean freedom fighters. He was a Judean who had helped finance Herod’s unholy rise to power!”
“I remember as a child, I was forced by the Judeans to be circumcised against my will! They held me down and-”
He recovered. “But that is another tale.” Zebedee and the three women sat in a closed circle. “I adored your Mother,” he continued, “But she would have nothing to do with me! Whenever I saw her, she always stuck her nose up into the air, and looked up to Heaven as if I were beneath contempt!”
“But slowly, over the years, although her head never came down, her eyes would meet mine! I was smaller then!” Zebedee patted his wine-barrelled body.
I was sitting one Shabbat inside the stone wall in the grove of olives on the eastern side Kefer Naum. I was thinking of her. ” He smiled mischievously, “Not thoughts suitable for the Shabbat, but- Anyway, there was a rustle of clothing; I looked up and she was standing before me.
No words were spoken. We made love.
It was the most glorious moment of my life!
Afterwards, she dressed and was gone as quickly as she had come!
That very evening at the synagogue, the Rabbi read from the Book of Deuteronomy. At the time I was convinced he knew something. I can still hear him thundering at me:
“‘Suppose a man is caught in town having intercourse with a girl who is engaged to someone else. You are to take them outside the town and stone them to Death!’’
You can imagine my consternation! And Guilt! Hoy! Talk about guilt! This Rabbi was on to me! This is what he said: “The girl -your Mother! - is to die because she did not cry out for help, although she was in a town, where she could have been heard. And the man -that was me!- is to die because he had intercourse with a girl who is engaged. In this way,” he said, “In this way you will get rid of this evil!”
I was more afraid than I had ever been! I burned with shame as I slinked back home to my Father’s house. I could not sleep as we lay down on the rooftop that night! I stared up at the stars and asked forgiveness, but all I could think of was her body in the sunlight.”
Sadness filled Zebedee’s usually cheerful eyes. “I lived alone with my shame. I could not risk confession to risk my beloved Mariamne being put to Death. Many times I walked up to the Arbel, thinking I would throw myself from the cliffs and put an end to my misery, but each time I walked back from the Abyss knowing I was not man enough to spill my own blood to atone for my own sins. The next day our nets brought only a few fish!
There was not enough that day to sell. I knew it was my fault. My father invited the Rabbi over for supper and a blessing on his nets. And at supper, as I was passing the lentils over to him, the Rabbi, an old Pharisee, said to my father, but looking all the time at me, “Young Mariamne has been sent to Nazareth to marry Yusef the Carpenter!’’
My mother gasped. “She is so young! Yusef is an old man!’’
“He has a lot of money,” shrugged the Rabbi, his eyes still watching me.
My ears were burning with shame. I could stand his gaze on more! I ran from the table, tears streaming from my eyes! Outside, I ran and I ran and I ran!”
Zebedee’s eyes were filled with tears. Judith reached up and smoothed the tears from his cheeks.
“She never came back,” he continued. “Everywhere I went, I looked for her. Whenever I passed a woman who wore her hair the way she did, my heart would leap in fear and exaltation! My ears were tuned to her name. She had two sons I heard. Twins! Then another. A daughter. When my father died, I inherited his boat. Mariamne bore a daughter.
I gave up! I met Doris in the market! She was a pleasant woman and she pleased me. Where Mariamne was a creature of Heaven, Doris was from Mother Earth. We lived together, but I still yearned for my Mariamne. Doris was a good woman! She was warm and loving and I loved her. She bore me two sons, Yakov and Yahnni -She had wanted to call Yahnni Yusef after her father, but I forbad it. I never told her why. She always called him Yusef, and after a while I didn’t mind.
My dear Doris died in childbirth, when the boys were small. The child was stillborn. I realized I loved her more deeply than I had imagined. Sometimes more than Mariamne. She was kind. And passionate! Her soul was always on fire!” he gazed wistfully off into the distance, then recovered.
“Later, when I heard Yusef died, my heart leapt for joy! I could think of nothing else but my sweet Mariamne! I had three boats now- a man of independent means! I would ask for her hand in marriage. Now that she was a widow, I would not have to ask permission of her father or uncle or brother! I could ask her! I was convinced she loved me as I loved her! I was a young man again! I was full of doubts and fears, but for the first time since that day in the olive grove, I felt alive! As though I had been under a spell for all those years, and now awoke from a dream!
Yakov and Yahnni thought I had become a madman! It was Yahn, bless him, who arranged a meeting for me with my beloved Mariamne. He arranged with a friend of his from Cana, that his mother would invite the widow Mariamne and her children to her house for supper. I was to stop by with the fish.”
His eyes darkened.
“She was not the young girl I had known. Her eyes had lost their sparkle. Someone had stolen her soul! I could hardly contain myself! Yusef had done something to her! I was sure!”
Rebecca clenched her teeth, but said nothing.
“This woman in Cana, she arranged the marriage. I didn’t see your Mother until the wedding day. She was like an automaton. She said nothing to me all day. On the wedding night, she didn’t respond to my caress, she lay stiff as a board. I had to cut open a fish to soil the bridal sheets with blood to seal our covenant of marriage. Lord forgive me for the lie!”
“I was afraid to touch her. Yet every night I could not keep myself from reaching across our bed and caressing her body. Every night she lay unmoving. I was in agony. But-” he raised a fore finger. “being close to her was enough.”
“One night, I had turned away from her, angry that my caresses were being ignored. As I lay fuming she called my name. “What?” I asked her. “I love you,” she said. I turned. She was looking at me. For the first time in our bed, she looked at me!
“I reached over and held her, and we lay together. She fell asleep in my arms. After that she began to talk to me. Not just answering me, but she would point things out she saw. She would tell me what she heard in the village. At the well.
“We made love once in all that time.’
Zebedee looked at Judith.
“But I would not trade my life or your Mother for anyone else.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes at Miri.
“You are insane!” she declared, glaring at Zebedee.
“It is the way!” replied Zebedee angrily, “Besides I was not talking to you! I was talking to Judith!”
“And now you’re going to tell her she’ll learn to love Thaddeus if she gives it time!” retorted Rebecca.
“No!” shouted Zebedee, “Love and marriage are the dreams of children! She has a duty to God and her husband and will find fulfillment through it!”
“Nonsense!” shouted Rebecca, “A wife is a bond servant to her husband! Worse! She has no way of buying herself out!”
“So you say!” shouted Zebedee.
“Enough!” The voice of Mother Mary silenced the argument.
She stood in the doorway. She glared at Miri and Rebecca. “You are causing a disturbance here! This is Judith’s wedding day!” she turned on Zebedee, “And you, Zebediah. You should know better than to air dirty laundry in public! Such fighting is for inside the house, not in the courtyard where everyone can hear!’
She looked at Judith. “Your husband will be looking for you, Judith. I suggest you return immediately and forget this nonsense! Say nothing of this to him!”
“Yes, Mother,” said Judith meekly and gathered up her skirts. She hustled past Zebedee and Mother Mary.
“Here, let me help you with your veil,” said Miri as she followed after Judith, and the two of them slipped away.
Rebecca stood her ground glaring at her mother.
“You are a headstrong girl, Rebecca,” commented Mary, “What nonsense have you and Miri of the Watchtower been feeding your sister?”
“She does not want to marry Thaddeus!” said Rebecca, “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“What is that to you?” asked Mary. “Judith has no means to earn a living. She needs a husband.”
“And he needs a scullery maid,” replied Rebecca, “Just what is your point, Mother? She can stay with us in Tarichae!”
“Really? You think I would hand my own flesh and blood over to just anyone? Thaddeus comes from a good family. He will do what is right.”
“For Judith. For God! He will honour his duties as a husband.”
Maother Mary slapped Rebecca hard across the cheek.
Mother Mary glared angrily. “Do not mention his name to me!”
“Why?” asked Rebecca, “Is it too painful to talk of him?”
“Stop!” commanded Mary.
“Why is it you refuse to think of him? I think about what he did to you all the time! I think about what he did to me! About what he did to the boys!”
“Stop!” cried Mary.
“He beat us all, Mother!”
“He beat us in the name of God!”
“He stripped me naked and beat me, all the time saying it was the vengeance of the Lord!”
“Stop this!” Mother Mary crumpled, covering her ears.
Rebecca moved in on her mother, her anger out of control.
“He came to me every night, Mother!”
Mother Mary shook her head from side to side
“Stop it! Stop it!”
“He stuffed a cloth in my mouth so I couldn’t cry out!”
Mother Mary whimpered desperately.
“Is that what he did to you?” Rebecca pulled Mary’s hands away from her ears. “Did he hold you down?” she shouted.
“Did he tell you that the only way the angels could resist you, was for his seed to fill your womb first?” Rebecca shook her mother. “Did he beat you because you were a woman? He hit me every time his penis pushed into me!”
“Stop it!” screamed her mother, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”
“You remember Mother?” screamed Rebecca, “It was the only way he could come! To hurt me! The pain excited him! He was a devil!”
“Why do you think I killed him!” screamed Mother Mary.
The two women froze, and Rebecca let go of her mother.
“What?” she asked dazedly “What?”
Mother Mary brushed dirt away from her clothes, and stood up. “I killed him.” she said matter-of-factly as she flicked dirt from her shawl. She stood up, briskly cleaning off her robe. “You want to know the details?” she said coldly. She looked up at Rebecca. “You want to know how I killed your father?”
“I-” Rebecca was stunned.
“You don’t know everything about everything,” she said, reaching across to straighten our Rebecca’s hair and necklace. “There are things that we don’t talk about in this world. But women still know. We know!”
Suddenly Mother Mary’s face softened and she held Rebecca’s head in both hands. “You think I would send Judith off to someone like your father?” The old woman shook her head sadly. “How little you know me! It was all my fault! I accept the blame. But I am too old now to change!”
Tears of welled in Mother Mary’s eyes, “I am sorry!”
Rebecca bit her knuckles, then turned and fled through the back gate.
Yakov stormed into the kitchen, just as Miri and Judith walked in from outside. He stared in dismay at the empty amphorae.
“There is no wine left!” whispered Martha.
“Are you sure? Silas will be unbearable if he discovers our family cannot provide for our needs before the bride and groom have even shared the bridal bed! How can this happen? I ordered enough for the feast! Where is the rest?”
“Yakov, this is all that was delivered this morning,” replied Martha. “The merchant begged your forgiveness, but the tax collectors came to his door, and he had only a few shekels for tribute, and they confiscated most of his stock.”
“That is why he did not show up for the celebration! Go fetch him, Ishmael!”
“Now!” commanded Yakov angrily.
Ishmael turned tail and disappeared immediately.
Miri slid her hand around Yakov’s waist. “Cousin, you mustn’t be angry on your youngest sister’s wedding day.”
Yakov clenched his jaw in silence.
“Yakov.” It was Yeshua.
He smiled sympathetically at Miri, and walked over to examine the amphorae. He peered into the cavernous mouth of one of the jars then looked back at his cousins. “You have no wine and many thirsty friends.”
“Thank you, King Solomon.” said Yakov sarcastically.
Miri stifled a laugh, and Yakov glared at her.
Yeshua smiled and stood up, placing his hand around Yakov’s shoulder.
“We shall see what we can do. Miri, help me with the jars. We will go to the well and fill them with water.”
“Water!” shouted Yakov in amazement. He looked behind him quickly, realizing that he could be heard from the other room. “Water!” he whispered, “Am I to serve water at my wedding day?”
“Trust in the Lord, Yakov.” Yeshua heaved a jar onto his shoulder. “And give me a hand.”
There was a bustle at the doorway, and Ishmael pushed the wine merchant into the room.
“Yakov, a thousand pardons, I am-”
“I am angry with you, David.”
“Yes, I know, but I gave you my last jar of wine! I had no choice!”
“Not about the wine, you dolt! I invited you to my wedding and you did not come! For that I am angry! For the wine, I am angry at the Kittim!” Yakov spat on the ground. His demeanor softened. “You are my friend and a brother, David. You should not be ashamed of what happened.”
He embraced David, and the two men hugged each other.
Miri vision clouded as tears welled in her eyes. She wiped them away and saw a small tear on Yeshua’s cheek. His eyes met hers and they shared a look of love that for a moment was almost unbearable.
“What’s happening out here?” Shimeon poked his shaggy head through the doorway.
“We’re out of wine, Shimeon,” announced Yeshua, “We must take these jars to the well, and fill them with water.
“Women’s work!” growled Shimeon. “I will find some to help you.”
“No!” Miri commanded. “You must do it!”
“What! You are to tell me what to do!” roared Shimeon and stepped into the room, and his bulk filled the available space. “I don’t do women’s work!”
“Shhh!” whispered everyone at once.
“The fewer people that know the better.” said Miri. “It is up to us few to fetch the water. Besides, no one will see you, the whole village is in the courtyard at the wedding.”
“Don’t think I’ll do this all the time-”
“That’s the spirit, Shimeon,” said Yakov lightly as he handed a jar to the fisherman.
“I’ll take two,” said Shimeon bluntly.
“I’ll take Jezebel,” called Miri, “She can carry back the full jars from the well! Martha, stay here, and keep the guests happy. Fill them with food for now!” as she stepped out of the door after the others, “We’ll be as fast as we can!”
The two men reigned in their sweating horses as they reached the rise. Simon Zealotes and Judas Iscariot were handsome, physical men, well-muscled and bronzed from the desert sun, warriors heart and soul. They grinned at each other through the dust raised by their horses’ hooves. Judas, mounted on a magnificent black stallion looked back, and Simon, riding a stocky bay, a ram for the wedding meal, tied over his lap, looked forward.
“How much further?” asked Judas.
“It is there!” Simon pointed toward the village of Cana. “Ha! Look there!”
By the well, Rebecca was furious. She raged to herself, kicking the ground and flinging whatever stones she could pick up as far as she could hurl them. Her cries reached the two men.
“No wonder you fight as well as you do, Simon!” laughed Judas, “If all your women have a temper like that one, the Kittim will have to watch their ass!”
Simon shook his head as he recognized the girl. “That,” he said proudly, “is my sister!”
He urged his horse forward. The ram bleated and Judas looked surprised, recovered and spurred his horse after his companion.
Rebecca whirled madly from her tantrum to face the oncoming horses. She was ready to fight anyone who came near her, and stood her ground, holding a large stick defensively in her hands.
Simon leaped from his horse before it stopped completely. “Rebecca!” he called out. She squealed with delight. “Simon!” she called out and rushed excitedly to him.
They met and Simon lifted his sister into the air and whirled her about. She hugged him tightly! “Simon! It is so good to see you! We’ve had no news for weeks! I was getting worried!”
Simon laughed and put her down.
“I brought a guest! Judas! Come! Meet my sister Rebecca!”
Judas stepped forward, holding his hand out in greeting. It was as if the world suddenly stood still. Rebecca’s green eyes locked into the beautiful black eyes of Judas Iscariot. They stepped closer together and held hands and could not let go. She could feel the heat of their very souls passing between them.
“You are gorgeous!” she said passionately, wanting desperately to take him in the dust, under the hot sun.
“And you are the stars and the moon of the night sky!” replied Judas.
“A poet and a warrior!” commented Rebecca coyly, “This is my lucky day!”
“My sister is a virgin!” said Simon good-naturedly, bringing the two down a notch, “And she has no dowry!”
“What need would a woman like you have with a dowry?” asked Judas, his eyes not leaving hers, “I would give all the treasures of Solomon for a woman like you!” Rebecca’s heart beat heavily, and her breasts tingled just being near Judas. She could not believe she could feel about this man so passionately and so quickly. She recovered from her lust momentarily and withdrew her hand.
“Your horses are thirsty,” she said, reaching for the reins of Judas’ horse. He released the reins, but not for a moment did his beautiful smoldering eyes leave hers. “I shall water them for you,” she said breathily. She led the horse toward the well, and Simon held out the reins to his bay for her, but she brushed past him, and he was left holding the reins. He looked at his companion. Judas shrugged and followed after Rebecca, leaving Simon to care for his own horse.
“Simon!” Yeshua called out his brother’s name.
“What? Why are you all at the well?”
“It’s a long story, brother,” panted Yeshua as he put down his jar.
“Simon, this is Miri. Miri, my brother Simon!”
Shimeon hugged Simon. “Greetings!”
“Come, I want you to meet a guest!“ Simon said to Yeshua, “That is if I can pry him away from Becky!”
When the cousins arrived back at the wedding, the kitchen was once more in an uproar. Judith was in tears, Mother Mary stood glaring at her daughter, and Zebedee was beside himself.
“You must see it is the only way! We cannot allow Silas to know we are too poor to provide the wine for the wedding!”
“They will notice!” declared Judith petulantly. “Besides why should only the women go without the wine?”
“What’s going on?” asked Yeshua as he set down his amphora of water heavily and twisted it into the dirt floor.
“Mother and Zebedee have decided that only the men can drink wine at my wedding!” Judith cried. “What about my face? What about my pride?”
“Is this true?” asked Yeshua, staring at both his mother and Zebedee.
“Judith, the women will not complain. They will know it is for the best!” offered Mother Mary.
“How much wine is left?”
“An amphora. And a bit, but there will be dregs in the smaller amounts.”
“Give every guest one goblet of wine. Not everyone will have finished.”
“But-” protested Zebedee, but he was cut short by a roar from the door.
“Zebedee! You old fish monger!” Simon entered the kitchen and filled it with his presence and passion in the way that his namesake Shimeon did, but instead of a simmering dourness he filled the room with all the bravado and beneficence of Zeus on a very good day.
“Would it not be better for us all to give the women the wine?” He laughed. “ Give a woman a flagon of wine and both she and her husband will benefit, but give it to the man, and both will be let down!”
“Simon!” The name came from Mother Mary as an admonition.
His mood changed almost instantly.
“Mother.” He replied tersely.
Yeshua wrapped an arm around Zebedee. “It’s alright Zebedee, I will take care of things.”
Martha bustled into the room and Shimeon swept her up and hugged and kissed her in one great swoop of his arms and spun her about.
She laughed. “I have work to do you great ox!”
Yeshua sought out the last amphora of wine, and slapped his hand upon the smooth clay surface It was cool to his touch. “Martha, take this out!” Ishmael and David the vintner took the amphora from Yeshua, and began to pour the wine into the serving jars Martha and her cohorts were carrying. “And bring the jars back as soon as possible!”
Miri was at his shoulder.
“You are wonderful!” she whispered.
“Will it always be the lot of women to swallow water, so their men may quaff wine?”
“Friends, brothers and sisters, cousins,” announced Yeshua as he entered the room. “Silence please!” The babble of voices slowed to a buzz as Yeshua stood on a table, and the music stopped. Simon, Judas and the others slipped in quietly behind him from the kitchen area.
“On behalf of Yakov, my most beloved brother,” continued Yeshua, “and Judith, most beloved daughter of Yusef and Mariamne, on the day of her marriage to Thaddeus, son of Silas, I bid you all welcome once more. You have seen the hospitality of Yakov, and have partaken of his offerings!”
“This is to be the happiest day of the lives of Thaddeus and Judith, and it is you, their friends and family who bring them the most pleasure! When you take a look beside you at your neighbour, know that the most important part of every celebration is the people around you, brought together in celebration of this wedding blessed by the Lord. No one can desecrate the sacredness of this day!”
A chorus of “Amen” swirled around the partygoers.
“Is it for the food that we gather?”
“Yes!” cried an unidentified voice in the audience, and a wave of laughter swept through the wedding guests.
Yeshua smiled. “The reason, the real reason that we are here, is to witness the marriage of these two people, and to support them in their love.”
The crowd was silent.
“Is there a man here who would wish them ill? Or a woman?” Yeshua scanned the group.
“No there is not,” he said softly.
“We are here, all of us, to make this the happiest day of their lives. Isn’t that why we are here?”
Nods of assent bobbed in the murmuring crowd.
“Then I ask you again, are we here for the food?”
“No!” roared the guests.
“Do we need the food to make us happy?”
“No!” came the resounding reply.
“Do we need music?”
The crowd was with him. Miri stood in the shadows marvelling at the power of her cousin when he had an audience. He was magnificent. At that moment she realized her love for him was deeper than she had imagined.
“Do we need wine?”
“No!” roared the crowd.
“No we do not!” declared Yeshua more quietly. He looked through the crowd and his gaze seemed to rest on each guest. His eyes twinkled mischievously as he looked at Miri.
“Which is good.” he stated flatly. “For there is no more wine.”
There was shocked silence from Yakov’s relatives and a grumbling from Thaddeus’s kin.
Yeshua held up his hands. “I know. I know. I know what you are all thinking. That Yakov, my dear brother Yakov, has brought shame already down on his household. But that is not the case. It is not through his doing that we are short of wine. He ordered enough for us all. David prepared enough for us all. Have you not see him at his wine press? Has he ever failed you before?”
“No.” Yeshua paused. “No, he has not. But the tax collectors, the Kittim, have taken part of the share apportioned to Yakov for tribute.”
A wave of anger swept through the crowd.
“You have all felt the heavy penalty of taxation. Millers have lost their best flour. Farmers, their best wheat; the shepherds their best animals, the pressmen, their best oil and wine, the weavers, their best cloth.
‘And now, they have tried to take away the honour and the happiness of Thaddeus and Judith...”
Yeshua’s gaze pulled the crowd to him.
“It is for us, the kinsmen, friends and neighbours of Thaddeus and Judith to ensure that the yoke of the Kittim is not borne by these two on their wedding day. We are Galileans are we not?”
“Yes!” came the resounding reply of the wedding party.
“And do we bear the yoke of oppression?”
“No!” came a deafening reply.
Yeshua signalled Miri, and she waved to Ishmael, who disappeared back into the house to fetch the other servants.
“And do we allow the tax collectors to spoil our party?”
“No!” shouted the crowd.
“No, we do not. We do not. We shall continue the celebration despite them. We shall drink water, true. But with the blessing of our god, the water shall be as wine. We shall be as merry as we would had we drunk of the wine! I call on the power of Heaven to smile down on us and to Hell with the Kittim!”
The wedding guests cheered as the servants filtered back into the courtyard carrying pitchers filled to the brim with water. “More wine!” shouted Yeshua. “We shall drink to the health, the happiness, and the children of Thaddeus and Judith!” A guest passed a goblet to Yeshua. He raised the glass.
“And their children’s children!” he cried. “May the Lord bless them all!”
The musicians started up with a rousing dance song, and the crowd buzzed with excitement. Several men linked arms and began to dance in a circle in the courtyard, singing to the music. Yeshua pushed through the guests to Miri. He beamed at her.
“How was I?” he asked happily.
“Fabulous!” gushed Miri and hugged him tightly.
Shimeon put his arms around the two. “Everyone else,” he announced, “serves the best wine first, and after the guests have plenty to drink, serves the ordinary wine. But you, Yeshua,” he bellowed over the din of the revels, “You keep the best wine until the last!”