“I’d like to speak to the rabbi,” I say, with only a slight tremor in my voice.
By all accounts, this rabbi’s teachings are wise and his miracles, spectacular. Some even say he is our long-awaited Messiah. Perhaps Rabbi Jesus holds the answers to the questions of my heart.
The rabbi’s disciple glances at my rich robes and then deferentially inclines his head. “Of course, sir! An important man like you should not have to wait. Let me just deal with these women.”
I peer around him and see four or five women with a gaggle of toddlers and children, all clinging to their mothers’ robes.
“Simon!” the man I spoke to calls, and a big, bearded Galilean near the centre of the crowd, turns in response. “Get these women and children away. There’s an important young ruler who wishes to speak to the rabbi.”
“Why don’t you do it yourself, Judas?” the Galilean mutters, but he pushes towards the women, telling them to go home, that the rabbi only has time for those who need healing or have important matters to discuss.
The women look crest-fallen and one child begins to cry inconsolably.
A man is making his way towards them. As the crowd parts, I realise it’s the rabbi, and I’m startled to see that he isn’t much older than I am.
“Let the children come to me.” His words are soft, but filled with the natural authority I’ve only ever aspired to. “Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
I watch him drop to his knees in front of the women, opening his arms in an invitation. A few of the bolder children let go of their mothers and step into his embrace. The rabbi’s face breaks into a smile, his eyes conveying such delight in these little ones, that I too find myself grinning. Even the reticent children have now left their mothers’ arms and are all huddled around him, some touching his hair and beard, others throwing chubby arms around him or resting a head on his shoulder.
He says something, and though I strain forward to hear, the words are too soft—intended only for the young ones. A few of the older children giggle, and I have a sudden longing to be that young and sharing a secret with Rabbi Jesus.
He takes his time with the children, blessing each of them by name. When he finally rises to his feet, he looks around at the crowd. His eyes seem to linger on me as he says, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
The disciple called Judas pushes me forward after the mothers and children have left and—without intending to—I find myself kneeling before the rabbi. It feels surprisingly right.
“Good teacher,” I say, rising self-consciously and clearing my throat to better speak the words I’ve prepared. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The rabbi looks at me intently, and my chest burns with the uncomfortable sense that he sees right into my heart.
His first words are not an answer to my question, but rather a question of his own. “Why do you call me good? No-one is good except God alone.”
There is something in his gaze that reminds me of my father testing my boyhood sums, hopeful that I will reach the correct answer. Yet, the question is a strange one, so I quickly dismiss it from my mind.
The rabbi sighs softly. “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother.”
I nod vigorously. “All these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Then why the emptiness? My money, my status, the admiration in people’s eyes, even the knowledge that I am an upstanding Jew abiding by the letter of the law. These things should fill me with contentment and purpose. Yet something is lacking.
“You still lack one thing,” Jesus echoes my thought, his gaze as gentle as it had been with the children. “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” He pauses and adds softly, “Then come, follow me.”
Sell everything? Does he even know how much I have? The land, the houses, the servants, the goats and sheep, the fine clothes, the coins of gold and silver hidden in the chest under the floor? If I have none of that, who will I be? Who will still look at me with admiration? I’d be like—I cast my eyes around and see the bearded fisherman—him. A lowly follower, in a dusty, worn robe. No position. No power. No security. Nothing.
I look back into the rabbi’s eyes, and at the sadness in them, a wave of sorrow floods into me. Come, follow me. With those words Jesus had flung his arms wide open, but unlike the children I could not—would not—let go of what held me so that I could draw into his embrace.
I turn away from him, and push back through the crowd. I still hear his next words, however, like a punch to my midriff. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Who then can be saved?” A voice calls.
I turn back one last time to look at the rabbi and find him still watching me. He smiles tenderly as our eyes meet.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
This story is based on Luke 18: 15-27
It is from a new collection of stories called “Questions: Jesus asked of my heart”. Other stories in this collection: