One day He came to our city. I had heard so much about Him, and I had often wished I could see and hear Him. That was before the catastrophe struck, the illness that carried my husband away. Maybe if He had been here then, He could have saved him. It was too late now.
But, He had come; and the town was in uproar. All the neighbours had packed small loaves and leather bottles of water and gone out for the day to follow Him and hear what He would say. They had not invited me – I was still in mourning, and would not be expected to go.
But if I did not go – what then? I would sit indoors all day with the same thoughts going round in my head, the same old thoughts that had been troubling me for the past week. Thoughts of my three daughters, now almost grown – but where would I get husbands for them without his help? I didn’t go about in the community and meet people as he did in his work as a tradesman. Where would I meet suitable families? For one daughter it would be hard enough – but for three? And my poor girls, consumed with grief as they were for their father – how could I help to steer them through their mourning when I hardly knew how to cope with my own grief? And my mother – he had chopped her firewood every day, and dug her field and planted her vegetables. I would have my work cut out managing my own plot; how could I manage my widowed mother’s too?
And so that was my choice. Stay at home, as I was expected to, with so many anxieties for company, or creep out and see this young Rabbi that all the world was talking about. Seizing one of the loaves I had just baked, and pouring a little water from the jug into my husband’s leather flask, the one he used to take to work, I slipped unseen from my house and made my way to the river’s edge where a crowd had gathered. Not being tall, it was quite easy to sneak unnoticed into the back of the crowd at the top of the slope and look down to the waterside, so that I had a good view of the Rabbi without being conspicuous myself.
He was talking, but He wasn’t addressing the crowd. His eyes were turned to the skies, and the expression in them almost made it seem as if a light was shining out of His face. I had never seen such pure joy, unmixed with any other emotion except perhaps love for the One He was addressing.
“I praise You Father,” He was saying, “Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to little children.” What things, I wondered. What had He been saying before I got here? I strained to catch His words above the shuffling and fidgeting of the people around me.
“Yes, Father, this is the way that You like best, it pleases You.” Then lowering His head, and scanning the crowd before Him as He spoke, he continued, “Everything has been handed over to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”
I thought about His words. The one He called the Father – we had never known Him by that name, but we had worshipped Him all our lives; did we not know Him already? But then again, maybe if we really knew Him, we would call Him Father too. I thought of my three daughters. How badly they needed a father! Suppose God could be that Father to them? Suppose He could be a Father to me, too? Then surely He would look after my mother the way my father had done when he was alive.
But how? God was not here, not in any physical way, was He? How could He fill the role of a Father? If only God could come among us! How different things would be. These thoughts were too much for me, they made my head ache under the hot sun. I uncorked my leather flask and drank some water.
My little movement seemed to attract the Rabbi’s attention. He turned His gaze in my direction and held it there as He began to speak again, so that He seemed to be speaking directly to me.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and weighed down by heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” He smiled at me, a look of great kindness and empathy. I thought of all the burdens I was carrying – how I would feed myself and my daughters now with no breadwinner, as well as all my other concerns for them and for my mother. Imagine having rest from all that! I couldn’t even picture what that would feel like. He continued, first pointing to the field away downstream where a farmer was ploughing with two oxen yoked to the plough.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,” he said. “For I am gentle, and humble in heart, and you will find rest for Your souls.” I followed His gaze over to the oxen. The yoke seemed to be an ill fit because they both walked haltingly, stopping intermittently to jerk their heads from side to side, as though the wood chafed their necks.
He seemed to have noticed it too – and noticed me noticing it, because He turned back, picked me out again at the back of the crowd and looked me full in the eye as He said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
He seemed to be inviting me to yoke myself to Him, to His way of living. There was no doubt, since my husband’s death my burdens were heavy. And the way these worries turned themselves around and around in my head all the while, it was exactly like those poor oxen, with something constantly chafing away. Suppose there was a way to be free from all of it?
I sat down on the grass, out of His view, and thought over His words. “Learn from Me,” He had said. “I am meek and humble in heart.” How? How could I learn that meekness and humility? I thought of the look of joyful trust on His face as He had called God “Father”. Surely that was His secret. But then I thought of what else He had said. “Everything has been handed to Me by My Father.” Those did not sound to me like words of meekness and humility. They sounded like a very grandiose claim.
Unless…. unless… they were actually true. Then they might just be a matter-of-fact statement. But if so – if He could honestly say, in all meekness and humility, “Everything has been handed to Me by My Father” – what did that say about Him – about who He was? Sitting there in the grass, puzzling it over, it gradually began to dawn on me. What had I wished? If only God could come among us! And here, in this meek and humble young speaker, clad in a simple, homespun robe, with the very light of heaven shining from His eyes, looking at me, right into my soul and seeing all the thoughts and anxieties of my heart – if this was not God come among us, then who else could He be? In all my years of life I had never met another such as He.
And so in the only way I knew how, I learned from Him. I lifted my eyes to heaven in an act of loving trust and whispered the word, “Father.” And in that simple act, I felt all the burden of the past days lift from me. The endless chafing of those thoughts stopped, the chatter of the anxieties was silenced. I felt as if I had come home. It was like a child being picked up, wrapped in an embrace and carried to safety. It reminded me of words I had often heard my husband read from the Torah: Underneath are the everlasting arms. I nestled into those arms, and lifted my daughters and my mother to Him, letting go of them into His hands. And as I did so, I was filled with a profound certainty that everything was going to be all right.