A Love Story Before We Conclude
“Are you going to sleep all day?”
You love the voice you hear. You open your eyes and you see the smile that goes with it. Susanna is sitting cross legged beside you, her face looking down on your’s, tickling your nose with a feathery reed. A band of children crowd around her, squatting and staring at you; holding back laughter to the point that it starts to come out of their noses. You slowly sit up and rub your eyes. Then, in a flash, you raise your arms menacingly and growl like a bear at the children crowded together. They gleefully run, shrieking and giggling towards their next victim; an elderly brother, the only other person still asleep in the impromptu camp. You sit alone with Susanna, trying to act like you’re engrossed in the children who lay siege to the slumbering old disciple, but you’re really struggling to prevent this beautiful, smiling woman from knowing just how mesmerized you are by her. She isn’t fooled.
Pella is barely two more days journey. This group of pilgrims number almost fifty including the children. Winter is half-way finished but cool air prevails even in the daytime out here in the desert. Jarrod plans to go as far as all of you can walk today and then set up a nomad’s camp again tonight. You will all build fires and huddle together and wait for the sun to come up and maybe by tomorrow’s sunset you will find rest with disciples already waiting there in the southern part of the Decapolis. You’re group is just the first of over one hundred such bands of disciples who will flee Jerusalem and cross this plain to Pella over the next two years.
Susanna is still smiling at you.
“Exad said that it’s time to start walking again,” while she informs you of this you can’t help but notice how beautiful she is, even after the hasty march out of Jerusalem and spending the cold night exposed to the elements in the wilderness.
“That old man read the letter to Jarrod all night,” you say this as a complaint, tugging at your garments in as discreet and manly a fashion as you can, “I thought I’d never get any sleep.”
“Really? I heard you snoring all the way over there,” she points to the other side of the fire from where Exad and Jarrod sat last night under the stars.
Pretending to ignore her, you say, “I think they were really close friends a long time ago.” She stifles a big laugh and you respond with, “What?”
She walks away from you, still holding back laughter.
“What did I say?” you call after her. She continues to walk away from you, playfully, and joins the circle forming around Exad.
“Let us pray,” Exad says to his little flock and all of you quickly kneel. After the prayer he says a few words about the grace of the Lord bringing you all through the night and compares your flight with that of the Israelites. In the brief moment he speaks, someone from each family is taking bread, along with figs or dates, from hurriedly packed baggage and passes the morsels around. Everyone shares so that no one goes without and when everybody has at least a piece of bread, Exad says, “The body of our Lord,” and takes a huge bite of bread himself as does the whole group. Exad finishes a brief speech while you all continue eating bread and figs or dates or whatever was hastily thrown together before running from your homes. And as is your custom when finishing any meal or assembly together, you pass several flasks of wine around the circle and in unison say, “The blood of Jesus,” and drink together. Exad holds out his wineskin to Jarrod, who can’t bring himself to take it from the old man’s hands.
Exad nods with gentle understanding and says, “Not until you’re ready, my friend.” And with that, he then needs do no more than point to the north and start walking to get the whole flock moving. Just like that the day’s trip begins.
Susanna walks beside you. You know that you are blessed. You almost lost your faith in these past few months, but you didn’t. You thought you would be killed by the zealot two nights ago, but you weren’t. You don’t know it now, but you’re walking with the woman you will soon marry. You’ll live the next forty years with her, surviving the rest of the century and die peacefully as an old disciple who kept the faith to your last breath.
“So, you think they used to be close friends?” Susanna is keeping pace with you and what you really love about her is how she isn’t afraid to look you in the eyes for the longest time while talking to you. Her eyes dart from one eye to the other as she looks directly at you, asking you this question, “You think Exad and Jarrod knew each other well?”
“Yes. It seems obvious. Why?” and from the look on her face you realize she knows something that you don’t know, and what you really hate about her…well, you really don’t hate anything about her…but what is bothering you more than anything has bothered you…since that knife was at your throat anyway…what you have to resolve is… WHAT DOES SHE KNOW?!?
“What do you think you know?” you say like you really don’t care.
“I heard them talking long after you started snoring,” she says, but won’t offer anything else..
“Tell me what you heard,” she’s quickened her pace and you’re nearly out of breath keeping up with her and shouting at the same time, “What do you know? Tell me, Susanna. Tell me…”
This goes on for what seems like hours to you, but really, within no more than the time it took you two to walk a mile, she’s telling you everything. Every last detail of the conversation that began the sincere reunion of Exad and Jarrod. She tells you with vivid recall and the skills of a dramatic story teller. This begins the pattern that will keep your friendship alive and your marriage interesting for the rest of your life. First comes the playful teasing and then comes the banter. But after that comes the most thoroughly honest sharing of thoughts that you’ve ever had with anyone. You realize long before you take her as your wife that this woman was especially made for you; and you for her.
“They both were preachers once,” she says abruptly, “before the church even began.”
“So Jarrod was a follower, ” you confirm out loud, and she continues, almost breathless, her words right on top of your’s, ” but before that he was chained to the tombs in the Gerasenes.” She looks at him waiting for this to sink in.
“He was Legion? The demon possessed man? From the story? ” You feel a sense of discovery and understanding. She smiles and nods agreeing. You get pulled into her smile and you are grinning and nodding in unison with her, looking more than a little silly; and she keeps nodding and smiling…but then changes her smile into a serious face and shakes her head, “uh…no.”
It takes a moment for you to realize she’s just teased you again.
“What do you mean, ‘uh…no’ ?”
“Jarrod wasn’t Legion. Jarrod was Jarrod.”
Jarrod was Jarrod? Now you’re confused. She goes on…
“Jarrod was with Legion. They were both left in the tombs. Both wild and crazed with demons. Both healed by Jesus. For a while, after he was healed he preached to people about what Jesus did for him, too. Just like Legion did. Only he left the Lord and went the way of the Ka-na-im. But Legion stayed faithful forever,” she’s nodding and smiling at you, looking to see if you understand the least bit of what she’s saying. You still look puzzled and she adds, “We are so blessed that he stayed faithful, don’t you agree?”
You still don’t get it. She points to the two men leading the way.
“We are so fortunate that Legion stayed faithful and now his friend Jarrod has returned and leads us to safety.”
And at last you realize what she is saying. You look at the old man in a different way than ever before. No wonder he is always so thankful. No wonder he is always so happy to talk about the Lord. No wonder they were laughing so hard the other night when Jarrod asked his name.
Legion had become Exad. The Many had become One.