Trouble-maker. That was my impression when I first heard of Rabbi Jesus. He swept into Capernaum as if he owned it. His presence drew the sick and downtrodden from as far as Tyre and Sidon into our once peaceful town. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the fervent Pharisees came too, their somber, superior presence sowing nothing but disquiet.
I’m an upright and reserved woman and I tell you honestly that I didn’t like the sound of this rabbi and the rabble following him. Had Simon brought him home on any other day, I would have given my son-in-law a good tongue-lashing and suggested the rabbi finds another town to disrupt.
But I was not myself on the day Simon brought Jesus to our home. In fact, something was very wrong. A day earlier my head had started throbbing, as if a falling log had crashed down on it and split it open. Unable to do anything other than rest, I reluctantly relinquished control of the house to my daughter. Yet, true rest eluded me. Over the course of time, the pain only grew worse and my whole body ached. No matter how many blankets were piled on me, my teeth chattered with cold. I slept and woke and slept again, aching and thrashing in the blankets, unable to discern how many hours had passed or whether it was morning or afternoon. Time warped strangely around me, and my surroundings with it. Sometimes I sensed a worried face peering down at me, and although people spoke, I could no longer follow the trail of their words.
Then one man’s voice, strong and steady, broke through the dark dream that held me in its grip. His words blew through me like a cool breeze off the lake, soothing away the throbbing in my head and unclenching the ache in my limbs. I lay still for a while after he stopped speaking, breathing deeply and savouring the sense of well-being. When I opened my eyes I was staring into the face of a young man. His eyes held such deep kindness that I felt an inkling of fear for him. Gentleness like that would never survive in this harsh world—a world that only respected tough strength.
“Mama! You are back.” My weeping daughter flung herself onto me.
“Of course, Miriam. I didn’t leave, did I?”
Simon beamed at me. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously, wondering why he seemed so pleased. “Mama, this is Rabbi Jesus,” he said, pointing at the young man with the kind eyes. “He healed you.”
My eyes snapped back to the young man. This was the trouble-maker Jesus? Had it been his voice that drew me out of my illness? Unease prickled through me. What kind of man could rebuke a fever and restore a body to health? I pushed myself up, and the uncomfortable thought aside. “Let us feed our guests, Miriam,” I said briskly, avoiding the rabbi’s gaze.
But I watched him that day, noting how tenderly he looked at people when he spoke and how he laughed in a way that brought lightness to the whole room. I caught myself craning forward to catch every one of his soft-spoken words. I sensed his stories were more than just stories; they stirred something to life inside me. He spoke of God as if he knew him, and with such sure love that I yearned for a faith like his.
The sun was setting when people began to arrive at our door. I would have chased them away but the rabbi was so welcoming that I didn’t dare. Instead, I watched in amazement as he touched them and spoke away their illnesses, as earlier he had spoken away mine.
As we said our farewells much later, the rabbi looked at me again. Something surprising coursed through me at that moment—more than simple gratitude, perhaps it was closer to devotion. What I suddenly knew for sure was that this rabbi was not a mere man. He could only be sent by God. I gripped his hands in my own. “Lord, Lord.” I struggled to contain my tears. “Thank you.”
A few days later, Simon told us that he had decided to leave his nets and become a follower of Jesus. His eyes widened in surprise when I nodded approvingly and told him he had much to learn from the rabbi. I could count on one hand the times Simon and I had agreed on anything over the years, but in this decision I knew he was right. Jesus was someone worth following.
From then on I took every opportunity I could to hear the rabbi speak, often packing bread and goat’s cheese in cloth, to bring to him. It was difficult pushing through the people constantly milling around him, but at my sharp tongue and sharper looks, people usually gave way. One thing life had taught me from an early age was that unyielding toughness was the only way to get what you wanted.
But today it has been particularly difficult to push closer to Jesus. The crowd must have started gathering well before dawn, while the rabbi was still on the mountain praying. Even under my withering stares, people are reluctant to give way. I’m finally forced to call loudly for Simon and only when he comes to fetch me, do the people grudgingly let me pass.
I sit down with the rabbi’s close followers, some of who I know. Simon and Andrew are there, as are Zebedee’s two boys. Good sons they are. I stiffen when I see the well-dressed tax collector from the booth just outside Capernaum. He’s not the sort you want your son-in-law mixing too closely with. I’ll have to have a word with Simon.
I turn my attention to Jesus. He’s sitting on a rock, his body leaning forward in a way that suggests that what he is saying is particularly important. His eyes burn with the same zeal I hear in his words.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The words stir uncomfortably inside me. Love your enemies? Is he suggesting we love people like that tax collector over there? And that we should just let people steal from us? Ridiculous! Such a soft attitude gets you nowhere.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Now these are good words. I hope Simon is listening well to this. He’s so quick to judge others, that one. Yes, he has much to learn from this rabbi.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The rabbi’s words of rebuke slam into me with the force of a fist. Is that what I’m doing? Judging Simon for a speck, when all the time I’ve got a plank?
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
I think of my sharp tongue always lashing out at everyone who doesn’t do what I want. Does my mouth speak from a heart filled with bitterness? As if he senses the turmoil inside me, the rabbi’s eyes alight on me and it feels strangely as if I am the only one sitting at his feet. The vast crowd is no longer there. The question he asks next is just for me.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Like a knife to the heart, his words remind me of the day he healed me, and I knew he came from God. The day I had called him Lord.
Now, held in his intense gaze, I see that there is not just tenderness in his eyes, but something steely too.
When I can’t bear his regard any longer, I drop my face into my hands. My heart pounds wildly, my breathing is ragged with sorrow and shame. Jesus looked right into my cold, stony heart and—for a moment—opened my eyes to see it too.
When the crowd begins to thin, I slip away with them, thinking not just of my shame, but also of the last words Jesus spoke—a story of two men building houses. One built shoddily, close to the shore, while the other built on a foundation of solid rock.
As I draw closer to home, I start to understand that the story shows me a way to change. If all I do is thrust my way through the crowd and listen to Jesus’ words, but go home with my heart as cold as before, I am no less foolish than the shore-builder. But if I dig down deeper into his words and make them the foundation of my life in a way that changes my heart, my thoughts, my speech, then I will be building the kind of life Jesus urges me to.
Impossible, a voice whispers inside me. For as long as I can remember I’ve been the tough one, the woman with the sharp tongue that everyone withers under. How can you change the core of who you are?
Then I hear another voice—soft words rebuking the fever from my body. And in that moment I know that the one I call Lord, with his steely tenderness, has the power to heal this broken part of me too.
This story is based on Luke 4:38-40 and Luke 6:27-49 (selected verses).
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
Read other stories in the Questions Jesus Asked collection: