“You know I am right,” Naomi said, sweeping while she talked. The room was spotless as far as James could tell, but for her sitting idle was never an option. Her energy had matched his from the day they were wed. He could call as many meetings in their home as he wished to, yet she would always make sure that the whole house was put back in place before she lay down for the night.
For those who knew them intimately it was no secret that James made few decisions without consulting her first. Now they were alone. The other elders had slipped out into the crowded, narrow streets, leaving the two of them their first chance to talk together since the rooster crowed that morning. And Naomi wanted to talk. Naomi had to talk. She was certain of what James absolutely, without a doubt, definitely was going to have to do.
“You have done harder things,” small beads of sweat painted her face and still her breathing was as easy as when she was a young girl, no matter how fast she worked. “Much harder. Convincing everyone to accept the foreigners is just the next…” she ponders her words, “…the next difficult time you have to see us all through.”
“I’m not as worried that our brethren will accept the gentiles as I am that they will become gentiles.” Now, there it was. She often knew what he was thinking before he did but until he said it out loud the real issue had been clouded in niceties and hours of talk.
The year was 51 A.D. The harvest time was still half a season away and the Judean sun that was making the wheat grow on the northern hillsides was making the house James and Naomi occupied very hot. Sandwiched between a merchant’s shop and a small tannery, their house sat on a narrow, unpaved street in the southern section of the lower city. Sometimes the air was pungent from the tanner’s trade and when giving directions to first time guests James would say, “just walk until the smell makes you stop.” And sometimes the noise was deafening, because the merchant on the other side of them was always engaged in some new building project; putting all of his profits into seeing just how high he could go with his construction. He was adding on to his property in the only direction he could…up.
James’ house was not very large, but it had the advantage of an enormous inner courtyard; a fact that owed itself to the high wall of the tannery on one side and the merchant’s towering edifice on the other. The back of the courtyard was protected by the only olive grove remaining on this side of the Kidron Valley. Naomi’s arrangement with the gardener, and the small olive press she handled as skillfully as a man, provided an unlimited supply of oil, as well as a wonderful place for the small children to play while the adults were busy with the Lord’s work. The courtyard could hold as many as fifty people at a time, which was the size of the group that had met there only two nights before. With lamps aglow, the elders, Peter, and the rest of the apostles… along with that man, Paul… had met for hours, discussing the gentile issue. By the time James had given his decision everyone was certain that unity in the church would be maintained and that God had blessed their meeting. But since then, several of the elders had been talking to several of the believers who always had several concerns about anything that went on in the church.
“The Pharisee party always has some concerns,” Naomi said, trying to comfort her husband.
A word about Pharisees.
Though over the centuries the name “Pharisee” has become virtually synonymous with the word “hypocrite”, in 51 A.D. a large segment of the church of Jesus was composed of Pharisees who continued to wear the name proudly. The line between politics and religion at that time was blurry. The Essenes and the Kana-im, together with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, comprised the four major schools of Jewish thought up until the middle of the first century. At one time the Sadducees were the dominant political party while the Pharisees were most respected by the people. The Pharisees believed in resurrection, so they were sometimes the best candidates to obey the gospel of Christ. But even as converts to the church, they still held strictly to the law of Moses. They would commune with the church and argue persuasively that Jesus the carpenter was indeed the Messiah, yet they continued to strictly adhere to the dietary commands, holy days and laws of Moses. But, by the time the council of elders and apostles met to decide on the gentile question, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Kana-im and Essenes were considered sects. And the Christians had come to be accepted by many Jews as just another sect of Judaism. The Christian Pharisee’s observance of the law only helped to fix that idea in the minds of Jews all over the Roman empire; and especially in Jerusalem.
James, the brother of the Lord, elder of the church, husband of Naomi, father of young Joseph and six daughters, was a Pharisee.
“We alltalked. We all agreed. I made it clear and in the end, not a soul argued with me. I said that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. I said that we should write to them, tell them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times….”
“…and read in the synagogues on every Sabbath,” Naomi said, finishing his sentence for him. He looked at her and realized he was only reciting something Naomi had heard him say repeatedly for the last year. Then she added, “All the churches need to hear what you’ve been saying for months now. You need to write a letter.”
“We’re sending out a letter.”
“You need to write a longer letter.”
She put her broom down and wiped her face with her sleeve. “Ba-bah, I think you are right. Some of us Jews need little excuse to abandon the old ways and become like the pagans. You can not allow that to happen. People listen to you. The whole world needs to hear what you’ve been preaching. You need to write it all down and have it carried to all of the same places that the edict is being sent to. A special message from you needs to be read in all of the churches.”
“I don’t feel up to it.”
“You have done much harder things.” He was tired of talking. He was certainly tired of arguing and reasoning. He was tired of thinking. He wanted…what did he want?
He wanted to play.
Naomi always made a playful side of him come alive. That was not an easy thing to do. From the time he was a child, responsibility was thrust upon him and he resented it. That resentment was usually masked by a seriousness beyond his years. Naomi was the only one who could ever defrock his somber charade and make him laugh. She made him want to make her laugh. He loved her for that and for an infinite number of other dear traits, including the sweat on her brown face and the way her hands always tasted like olives.
“The hardest thing I ever did was live with you,” he said with a stern face.
“Because I’m an upward call.”
He grabbed her suddenly and squeezed her tight. They stood face to face; he barely 50 years old and she five years younger than him.
“I’m tired of talking,” he said and gave her a quick kiss and stared into her mahogany eyes, which looked back at him admiringly for a fleeting second until she said…
“Then start writing.” And she turned playfully away from him.
Suddenly, their youngest son, Joseph, now a thumb taller than his father, ran in from the street, into the room, nearly trampling over Naomi, and shouts as he flies past them, “Don’t tell them that you saw me!” and just that quickly, he was out through the back of the house, across the courtyard and climbing a tree in the olive grove before Naomi yells, “Don’t tell who that we saw you?” The words barely left her mouth before a screaming band of children came racing through the room, in wild pursuit of the older boy. They ran to the olive grove and Joseph pounced out of a tree. He landed in front of them roaring like a wild beast. The children, without the slightest flinch, wrestled a willing, gentle Joseph to the ground, while Naomi and James watched. While the children swarmed over good natured Joseph, James finally said what Naomi had been wanting to hear.
“So be it. I will write. Call in the boy. He can help me.”
“He’s not a boy anymore. He’s the same age as the church. The church is the same age as him. Eighteen years. It’s been eighteen years,” Naomi says, and begins to walk out of the house to the olive grove. As he’s done for almost four decades, James watched her walk. And as she had done for nearly four decades, she looked over her shoulder at her husband, her Ba-bah, her James. From the time she was a child, he could never spy on her without her catching him. Still looking back at James, she reached her hand out to their oldest son as she said his name.
“Joseph. Come see your father.”
Playfully she takes his hand and pulls him up from the ground and the children dance around them as, whispering in his ear, Naomi leads Joseph back across the courtyard. The mother and the son, arms wrapped around one another, children circling them like milkweed floating in the hot summer air. Whatever it was that Naomi was whispering into that boy’s ear, it suddenly made Joseph laugh. And Joseph laughing made James smile. He smiled and remembered the year when Naomi’s belly grew huge, full of child.
That was the same year his life was ruined by the man everyone thought was his brother. That year the carpenter succeeded in destroying almost every dream that James had worked for; every ambition that he had cherished.
That was the year before the cross.