Living in God’s Shadow: Part 1 :: By Freddy Burton
**A story about Jesus you will forward enjoy!**
When Freddy Burton let me read his story it immediately resonated in my spirit. This novella is Holy Spirit imparted was my thought. I believe that you, too, will receive the sense of God’s Hand in giving the little story to Freddy. He wanted to share it with you, our Rapture Ready Family. We are more than pleased to do so. I prayerfully hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed it. –Terry James
What you are about to read was not intended to become a book. Early one August morning in 2017 as I was having coffee on our back porch, I began thinking about the years Jesus spent in Nazareth. I started imagining what it would have been like to live there and grow up with Him during the formative years of His life. I had often wondered what it would have been like to hear Him preach and see the miracles He performed, but I hadn’t thought about living near or growing up with Jesus.
Nothing is recorded in the Gospels about Jesus’ early years, except for the account describing when He was 12 and went on an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem with His family for Passover. For most of His life, He was hidden away in a little village to grow up and mature for His three-year ministry that would eventually change the world.
Why hasn’t there been a movie about the years when Jesus grew from a young boy into the 33-year-old man we see being baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River? All the accounts of Jesus that I recall focus on His birth in Bethlehem, His time of ministry, and His passion. Seems like Jesus’ childhood and youth would make a great movie.
As the intro to historical movies these days states: “Based on a True Story” where they take their artistic license with historic events – well, this movie would be “Based on a True Story.”
As this concept began to capture my imagination, I began to write. First, I realized I had to create a central character who could explain what it was like to grow up with Jesus in Nazareth, so I decided on a boy about the same age as Jesus who lived across the street from Him.
Obviously, I needed a name for this person, so I found a website featuring an alphabetical list of male Jewish names and their meanings. I wanted the name of my lead character to be special, and to my surprise, I realized I needed to go no further after going through only the As and a few of the Bs when I came to the name “Bezalel,” which means “In God’s Shadow.” Bezalel was absolutely perfect for the lead character, who would be “Living in God’s Shadow”! This young man would tell his story of living, playing, laughing, maturing, and working in the shadow of the Almighty!
As I continued to write, I began to think more about the humanity of Jesus. I’ve always believed and understood that Christ is all God and all human; but as we read the accounts of His life in the Gospels, which are focused primarily on His divinity, we lose sight of the reality that God in the flesh lived a regular life before He walked on water, raised the dead, healed the sick and demon-possessed, and fed the multitudes with a little boy’s lunch.
My hope is that as you read Bezalels’ story (Based on a True Story), you will get a new awareness of the humanity of Jesus Christ. To do so, we need to leave behind our modern worldview and think about the common daily life of a first-century Jewish boy in Israel. Imagine the aroma of a Jewish village and feel the dust of the ancient roads under our feet. Go with me as we travel back in time to get a glimpse of what it might have been like to grow up “In God’s Shadow.”
My name is Bezalel, which means “In God’s Shadow.” My mother always told me she gave me this name because God’s presence would always protect me. Later in life, I discovered that I had literally lived “In God’s Shadow.”
I worked in Nazareth as a carpenter alongside my partner, Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary. We labored side by side every day making doors, tables, cabinets, yokes, and other furnishings and equipment. One day as we were in our shop, which was connected to Jesus’ home, Benjamin, a young boy from our village, burst in the doorway out of breath. With a shrill voice, he said, “A prophet is preaching at the Jordan River, and people are saying he is the Messiah!”
This was nothing new; for about every other year, a predicted “messiah” was announced. The rabbis and religious leaders had for as long as I could remember said that the Messiah was “standing at the door,” soon to be revealed as the King of Israel who would set His people free from the terrible Roman occupation.
After so many false alarms, I had stopped believing these reports. Sure, I, like everyone else, wanted freedom from the cruel Roman dominance of my country, but “wolf” had been cried so many times that I simply kept about my work sanding a door that we were going to take to Jesus’ and Mary’s new home in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
After Benjamin had settled down, Jesus—not looking up, but continuing to work—asked, “Who is this new prophet?”
The young man didn’t remember the name, so we politely excused him and concentrated on our work. Benjamin rushed out of the shop to find others who might be more excited about his news than we were.
A few days later, Rabbi Abaye came to visit our shop. As he came through the doorway, we could sense that something was troubling him. Normally, he was quiet and calm and his mannerisms were slow and methodical; but that day, he was fidgety and anxious and had an unusual expression on his face.
Mary had been seated in the doorway of her home watching us work on the new doors. The rabbi quickly lowered his head to acknowledge her presence, then stated his business. “Jesus, your cousin John is preaching and baptizing multitudes in Al-Maghtas on the Jordan River, calling for repentance and the soon arrival of the Messiah!”
Jesus abruptly stopped His work and looked up at Mary. Both had a startled look on their faces and in their eyes, but neither spoke a word. It was as if time stood still for a moment, then Mary broke the silence.
“Now is the time,” she said soberly to Jesus.
The rabbi turned around and left the three of us standing there.
Jesus went back to sanding, and I stood there, awkwardly nervous, looking at Jesus and then at Mary. Finally, I blurted, “Do you think John could be the Messiah?”
Jesus didn’t look up or say a word, but stopped sanding and moved His head back and forth to indicate the answer to my question was “no.” Then He resumed sanding.
I didn’t know what to say. I had known John, Jesus’ cousin, and that he had taken a vow of a Nazarene after his parents had died. I also knew that he was living in the desert. John and his family were very close to Jesus and His family, and I had seen John often throughout the years, but not lately. As a matter of fact, Jesus and Mary rarely spoke of him, so the news of that day was a total surprise for me.
Jesus stopped His work and appeared to be in deep thought. Looking over at Mary, He said, “I’m going to the Jordan.”
Mary nodded her head as if to say, “I understand.” As Jesus was taking off His apron, I said, “I will go with you,” and began to remove mine.
“No, Bezalel!” He said abruptly, a manner uncharacteristic of Him. “I’m sorry, but I must go alone. Please stay here and finish the doors for my mother.” I reluctantly agreed.
From that day forward, the town was in an uproar. Everyone was talking excitedly about the prophet John. The air was filled with anticipation like never before. No one could do their work, and many were leaving for the River Jordan to see and hear John.
Determined to finish the doors so I could go see him for myself, I worked day and night. After I completed the project, straightened up, and swept the shop clean, I went out to look for Mary. I found her outside around the corner of her house tending to a rose bush Jesus had planted for her.
“Mary, I’ve finished the doors and will be leaving for the Jordan soon.” As she stood up and turned to face me, Mary began to wipe away the tears from her cheek with the sleeve of her robe.
“Bezalel, tell Jesus to be careful, and tell Him I love Him.” Her words were not unusual, but the way she said them and her expression as she looked at me were rather odd.
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll tell Him.”
I had already told my wife of my plans, so I headed straight to the Jordan River. It seemed as though everyone on the road was going to see John. After my long journey through the hot desert, I came upon the multitudes who had gathered along the bank of the river. I had never seen such a big crowd to hear a man preach! I earnestly looked for Jesus, but it was impossible to find Him in that throng. I got as close as I could to hear John speak, but you really didn’t need to be as close as I was, for John’s voice was like thunder as he called for repentance.
The Spirit of God was so strong that many confessed their sins and were baptized by John in droves. After a lull in the commotion, I finally saw Jesus at a distance, walking toward John. When John recognized Jesus, he pointed toward Him with his long, crooked finger, and shouted for all to hear: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
What was going on? The scenario then got even more bizarre. After John and Jesus exchanged a few words in a conversation I could not hear, John baptized Jesus. Immediately, as He came up out of the water, a voice from Heaven thundered, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Startled members of the crowd looked to the sky to try to get a glimpse of who was behind this voice.
Jesus, my childhood friend, was God’s Son? Jesus, my friend, the boy I had grown up with, was the Son of God? All my life, I had been living next door to God’s Son? Playing with God’s Son? Working with God’s Son?
I had literally been “Living in God’s Shadow.”
It’s difficult to express the emotions and thoughts running through my mind. I wanted to talk to Jesus, but I didn’t know what to say. My mind could not wrap around what I had just witnessed. Then I saw Jesus walking toward the Judean desert—not toward Nazareth, but in the opposite direction. Something inside me told me to let Him go. I continued to watch as He walked out of my sight into the desert.
As I made the long walk back home, I felt numb. When I arrived, I told my wife I needed some time alone. I explained to her what had transpired at the Jordan and left her with the children so I could try to get my thoughts straight. I really didn’t know what to think, say, or do. I just knew that I needed to be alone—didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I went to a secluded place where Jesus and I had often spent hours talking about all sorts of things.
You might be thinking about the days, months, and years that Jesus and I had spent together in our little village when I would have had a chance to see something about Him that was God-like. The truth is, I didn’t see the revelation of His true identity coming; the day at the Jordan River, the truth had hit me like a bolt of lightning!
When we’re young, everything seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. We can’t wait to get old enough to do this or that, but time seems to be moving so slowly. Now, when we’re older, time seems to be going too fast. While we’re going through life’s stages, it’s hard to see ourselves as grown. It’s like planting a tree. The tree seems to be a scrubby piece of nothing for so long, then all of a sudden it has taken on its own form and is as tall as we are. It remains like that for years, then the next time we notice it, it’s a towering shade tree.
Life’s a lot like that. I just didn’t see this one coming. That day, my life was rocked! It didn’t make any sense…but then again, it did. It’s like going on a long journey, and at the end trying to put together all the pieces that got us to our destination. So it seemed the obvious thing for me to do, now that my life is nearing the end, to go back to the very beginning and write about my life “Living in God’s Shadow.”
New Family Moves to Town
It was a hot summer day in Nazareth. I had failed to do my chores that morning and my mother was not happy. I was around 5 years old at the time and was very active. I wasn’t usually disobedient to my parents, but doing my chores was a different thing.
I always had time and energy to play, but I could think of a thousand things I would rather do than my chores. So, on this day, after I had reluctantly finished my tasks, my mother, as usual, disciplined me by making me sit outside by myself. “Bezalel, I want you to go and sit right there,” she said, pointing to the same spot in front of our house. I lowered my head and walked slowly to my familiar confinement.
If my father had been home, I would have gotten a licking, which I would have preferred. Sitting still for as long as Mother ordered was worse than getting two lickings from Father. She said the same thing every time I was in trouble: “Young man, I want you to sit there and think about why I have to continually stay on you to do your chores.”
As always, I answered, “Yes Mother, I will.” As I look back, I am ashamed and embarrassed at how I neglected my chores. At that time in my life, fun was all I was interested in—and chores were not fun. Other boys my age did their chores on time and still had time to play, but no, not me.
It wasn’t as if I was lazy; I was either being stubborn or just plain stupid…and probably a combination of the two. Nevertheless, I’m ashamed of the disrespect I showed my parents.
Sitting there against the house, I would lower my head between my knees and say to myself under my breath, “Here you are again, you idiot. Everyone else is having fun, but no, not you; you’ve got to sit here in the dirt.” Sitting still was torment. I always wanted to be on the go doing something, anything.
My little sister, Alexandria, walked out to console me. She gave me a big hug around my neck. She was always so sweet, not like most of the little sisters of my friends. Most of them cried all the time and got on my nerves. Alexandria looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “BB, are you okay? Please don’t be sad. I love you so much.” And she hugged me again.
“I’m okay, little sis, and I love you, too.”
“BB” was the name she had given me when she first was learning to talk. Soon, everyone in Nazareth had started calling me that. It’s funny how some nicknames stick with you for your entire life! If it had not been for her, I would have resented being called BB, but I loved her so much I can’t imagine being called anything else.
Mother stepped to the door. “Alexandria, it’s time for your bath. Come to Mother.” Alexandria grabbed Mother’s outstretched hand, walking away as she looked over her shoulder at me with her usual sad expression when I was being disciplined. She was such a beautiful little girl, outside and inside, and she eventually grew up to be a gorgeous woman.
Not much was going on in front of our house that day, which meant time would drag on and on. At least watching people could help pass the time, but not on that day. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a commotion coming from around the corner of our street. As I looked up, I saw three wagons being drawn by two oxen and one donkey heading toward our house.
It was a family with all their belongings on these wagons. As they came closer, I could see one man I knew and another I had never seen. A woman was riding in one of the wagons, and a young boy with a stick walked beside the donkey. The dust from the wagons followed the travelers as they approached. Suddenly, the travelers stopped right in front of our house.
The old man I recognized as Nathan, who owned a lot of property in our village. Our culture encourages thriftiness, but Nathan was known in Nazareth as the tightest of all. He pointed to the house across the street from ours and said to the other man, “This is the house, Joseph. It’s been empty for some time, but it’s solid. With a little work, it can be made into a good home for you and your family. The room connected to the side is also mine; you could make it into your carpentry shop.”
Joseph looked at the house with obvious pleasure. “Thanks Nathan,” he said. “I think it will do fine. It will be so good to finally get settled in to our own place. Thanks again for all your help.”
Reaching in his garment, Joseph pulled out a pouch to give Nathan some coins. But Nathan, holding his palm toward Joseph, said, “Keep your money. After you get settled in and get some work, then we will work things out.”
For the old, tight-fisted man to say that was a shock! If I had not heard it with my own two ears, I would not have believed it.
Joseph said, “No, Nathan, I want to pay you.”
Nathan held his ground. “Joseph, your father, Heli, and Mary’s father, Joachim, were like family to me when I was a young man and needing help myself,” he said. “And you, my son—I will treat you as my family. Don’t refuse my generosity.” Joseph said nothing more, but reached to embrace Nathan to show his appreciation and affection.
Then the woman and the boy, who looked to be about my age, came from the other side of one of the carts. I’ll never forget the beautiful expression the woman had on her face as she and the boy approached the men. As she greeted Nathan, the young boy looked directly at me with a smile. As I smiled back, I knew as soon as our eyes met that He and I would become the best of friends.
As Nathan excused himself to leave Joseph and Mary, he reached down with one hand and rubbed the boy on the head. “Jesus, it won’t be long before you will know these streets like the palm of your hand. Welcome to Nazareth, my boy!”
Jesus looked up at the old man’s face. “Thank you, Uncle Nathan. I’m sure I’ll find plenty to do and make a lot of new friends here.”
Walking back in the direction from which he had come, Nathan turned around several times to wave at our new neighbors. Joseph, looking at him with a smile as he waved back, said to Mary and Jesus, “Isn’t it good to be back home? Not much has changed, has it, Mary?”
Mary stood there looking around at Nazareth, nodding her head and smiling. “No Joseph, not much has changed. I think we can finally get settled in, and I hope and pray we never have to move again.”
I sat unnoticed, watching as they embraced.
After that, I shouted to my mother inside. “Mother, come quickly!” She came running out of the house. “What’s wrong?”
“We have new neighbors moving in across the street, and they have a boy about my age!” I said, excitedly pointing in that direction. She began walking toward the wagons and the family.
As Mother got closer to them, she recognized the couple. “Where have you been for so long?”
Mary looked at Mother with a smile. “Elizabeth, it’s so good to see you! It seems like only yesterday that you and I were worrying about the deliveries of our first children.”
“How well do I remember,” my mother said. “We were both so apprehensive and scared about the whole process. Where have you and Joseph been all this time?”
“It’s a long story…I will tell you all about it once we get settled in our new home. It’s been so long, and we are so thankful to God to be home.”
Looking at Jesus, Elizabeth said, “And this must be your son?”
Mary, with a look of pride, answered, “Yes, this is Jesus—and I suppose the young man sitting over there is your son?”
Mother, motioning for me, said, “Yes, this is Bezalel. Son, meet our new neighbors, and a new friend for you.” As she said this, Jesus and I grinned at one another again.
“How is Amir?” Mary asked Mother.
“He is working on a building in a nearby village and should be back anytime,” Mother said. “He can help Joseph get your house ready so you can move in your belongings. Is there anything I can get you? You must be tired after your long journey.”
“We certainly are,” Mary said. “Could we get a drink of water, and then water our donkey and oxen?”
Mother said, “Bezalel, get a jug from the storage room and fill it with fresh water.”
“Yes Mother!” I ran into the house, happy that I was finally free from my confinement, and excited to be meeting a new friend.
Alexandria watched as I came inside the house. “BB, why are you so happy?”
I told her quickly, “We have new neighbors. I’ve got to get a jug of water for them.”
She watched as I filled the jug with fresh water. When I finished, I bent down to her and said, “Come with me and see them.” Alexandria came alongside me, her little legs trying to keep up with me as best they could as I ran back out the doorway. “I so excited BB—new neighbors!”
When I arrived with the water, Mother was helping Mary unload some smaller, empty jugs from one of the wagons. She began pouring water from the large container I had brought into the smaller ones, and the three had a good long drink.
“It still tastes the same,” Joseph said. “I could close my eyes and tell by the taste that this water is from the spring in Nazareth. No other water tastes as sweet as this.”
Mary agreed. “Yes Joseph, it’s so good to be home.”
After they had finished, I started trying to find out more about Jesus. Mother always said that I asked too many questions, and the day they moved in was no different; I asked Him one question after another. It wasn’t that I was nosey, but I was always interested in finding out all the details about everyone I met. You could say that I never met a stranger.
First, I wanted to find out where these new neighbors had come from. Jesus told me that they had lived in Egypt. I had heard of Egypt, but had never met anyone from there.
Being a Jew, I had heard much about how our people had been in bondage as slaves in Egypt, and how God had delivered us from that slavery by the hand of Moses. The teaching about the Passover and our observance of it was integral part of our religion and our way of life.
“What gods did you worship there?” I asked my new friend. I had been taught that the Egyptians worshipped many gods.
“We’re Jewish, Bezalel,” He said.
Overhearing our conversation, my parents scolded me. “Bezalel, stop being so nosey! You will worry Jesus to death with all your questions.” But my curiosity didn’t seem to bother Jesus. He just smiled and answered everything I asked Him.
“Were you born in Egypt?” I asked.
“No,” He said. “I was born in Bethlehem, and we moved to Egypt when I was very small, at the time when Herod was killing all the young boys in our district.”
I remember my mother talking about this terrible part of our history. She had said that we were fortunate to live so far from Jerusalem. This account was told by all the storytellers of our village throughout my childhood. It was a scary and terrible story to hear.
“Now that Herod has died,” Jesus continued, “my mother and father decided to move back to Israel, but not to Bethlehem. They are from Nazareth and wanted to come back home.”
At that point, I stopped asking questions and we went off to play. I wanted to introduce Jesus to the other children in our village. It didn’t take long to find some of my friends playing around the corner in the market square. Seeing a stranger in our village wasn’t anything new, but it wasn’t an everyday occurrence to meet someone from Egypt! When my friends saw Jesus and me walking toward them, they said, “Who’s the new guy BB?”
Jesus looked at me oddly. “BB?” I had to stop for a moment and explain my nickname.
I then went through introductions and told the guys all that I knew about my new friend. They listened as I went through detail after detail about Jesus and His family.
While I was still talking, they looked at each other and began to laugh. “How long have you known this guy?” they asked.
“Oh, about an hour,” I replied.
They shook their heads and looked at Jesus. “You must be patient with our good buddy BB; he is so nosey.”
“No, I am not!” I shouted, then they again began to laugh and Jesus went right along with them. Soon I joined in the laughter and the fun.
From that day forward, Jesus made many friends in our town. Everyone seemed to be drawn to Him except for the town bully, Asriel. The meanest boy in Nazareth, he seemed to be drawn to mischief and meanness. Later I will speak more about Asriel.
At the time, I knew that my new neighbor and I would become friends, but little did I know how close our friendship would be.
How Jesus Was Different
As I look back, I try to remember how Jesus was different than my other friends. Most of the kids in our village were good kids. Jewish children are taught from a young age to respect and honor their elders, to work hard, and to be productive contributors in their community. Jesus didn’t stand out as being any different than the others in that respect.
My first recollection of Jesus being different than most boys my age was when He and I were building an imaginary town out of rocks and wood behind our home—the kind of things boys do to pass the time. We worked on our project for days, building houses, clearing streets, and even constructing a temple. Jesus was very creative, and after several days, we had completed an awesome village. Both of us stood back with pride as we looked at what we had created.
One day, some older boys led by Asriel got the idea of destroying our village while we were not there. When we came back, our village was one big pile of rocks and wood. Nothing was left of all our time and work. I was hurt and angry, but Jesus remained calm and reassured me that the best part of our village was the time we had spent together building it.
“Nothing lasts forever,” He said. “It was just a matter of time before the rain and wind would wash it away anyway. Didn’t we have a wonderful time building it, BB?”
I don’t know why I remember that event and His reaction to it so well. It’s strange, why certain things are impressed on your memory.
The most compelling thing about Jesus, for me, was my desire to be around Him. He always brought the best out in me. I wanted so much to be like Him, and when I was with Him, it was easier for me to be kind, gentle, and compassionate.
Another thing I noticed about Him that was unique was His careful and thoughtful use of words. Even at our age, He said only what was necessary, and every word seemed carefully chosen. I was just the opposite, to my parents’ displeasure. It seemed that I had to say everything that went through my mind. I didn’t like the way I would blurt out words without thinking, but the more I was around Jesus, the more I learned to respond as He would. My parents noticed this difference when I had been with Jesus, so they encouraged me to spend as much time with Him as possible.
Another striking characteristic of Jesus was His eyes. They are hard to describe, but they seemed to change depending on what was going on at the time. Sometimes they sparkled; other times, they appeared to penetrate into my very heart. Often, they appeared sympathetic to those around us who were hurting, and angry at those who were treating people unjustly. Like I said, His eyes were striking.
When we boys played games, Jesus was right in there competing for the win. He was quick and strong, and, even though He came out on top much of the time, He was never cocky or arrogant. When He didn’t come out on top, it never seemed to bother Him. In fact, He would congratulate the winner with as much enthusiasm as if He had won.
All my memories of Jesus are good. He enjoyed life and loved a good joke. He seemed to get a kick out of pulling pranks and having pranks pulled on Him. Don’t get me wrong: He didn’t do anything inappropriate or say anything off-colored, cruel, or wrong. His humor was always upright. When He got tickled, He had a belly laugh that was contagious. No one could laugh like Jesus.
Like I stated earlier, Asriel was the meanest boy in Nazareth. Well, one day, Asriel and a group of his buddies were teasing and pushing around a small boy who was a little odd. He didn’t play with the regular kids, but stayed to himself. His father was the town drunk, and his mother supported the family with a trade that was not becoming of a respected woman in the community, if you know what I mean.
These older guys had gathered in a circle around the little guy, and they were taking turns pushing him back and forth. I stood back and watched, feeling ashamed for not saying or doing anything but also feeling justified because I was scared; they were known to be mean and unmerciful to any challengers. About that time, Jesus came around the corner of a building and saw the situation. Immediately, He stepped up to the circle and shouted loudly, “Stop!” His command was so forceful that it shocked everyone, including me; and immediately, the bullies stood still as if they were statues. Jesus’ eyes flashed like flames burning with anger. The bullies said nothing, and one by one sheepishly walked away.
After they had left, Jesus looked down with His big, dark brown eyes and said, “What’s your name, little guy?”
Trying to hold the tears back as he wiped his nose, the boy answered meekly, “Abdiel.”
“I like that name,” Jesus said. “Do you know that your name means ‘Servant of God?’” The boy shook his head. “No sir, no one ever told me that.”
Jesus then put His arm around the boy. “Abdiel, let’s go for a walk. BB, I’ll see you a little later. Tell Mother I might be late for supper.”
I watched the two walk down the dusty road toward the outskirts of town and sit under a fig tree.
That day, you could see hatred for Jesus in Asriel’s eyes. This was nothing new; Asriel didn’t like anyone or anything. The only thing he took pleasure in was his cruelty and meanness.
On another occasion, Asriel and his fellow bullies were mistreating a stray puppy that often roamed our streets going from house to house looking for food. They had dug a hole and were holding the dog down in it, putting dirt on top of him as he struggled to get free. As they had the dog almost completely covered, except for his mouth, nose, and eyes, I could see the look of fear and panic in the pitiful creature’s eyes as he struggled for his life.
I couldn’t watch this torture another second, so I ran toward Jesus’ house. To my relief, He happened to be walking in my direction. “What’s wrong?” He asked as I approached, seeing the look of panic on my face. Out of breath, I couldn’t talk—but I took Jesus by the hand and pulled Him in the direction I had come from.
“What’s going on? Where are we going?” Soon we were close enough for Him to see what was going on. He immediately went to the little dog’s rescue as He pushed back the others and then got down on His knees to dig the puppy free. He gently pulled the terrified animal out of what might have been its grave and held it in His arms like a mother would hold her infant child.
Asriel and his comrades stood silently as Jesus and I walked towards his house, the pup cradled in His arms. As we walked away, I looked over my shoulder at the others. My eyes could only see Asriel with the same evil look of hatred in his eyes.
“I don’t understand how people can be so cruel to animals,” Jesus said as we walked and as He held the trembling dog. The closer we got to our destination, the calmer the little fellow became.
“Why do you think God made dogs?” I asked Jesus. After a moment of silence, He said; “God might have created dogs to be a reflection of His love for us. Regardless of how selfish or childish or unlovable we may be, dogs will accept us as we are and will love us as God does, in spite of ourselves…. Unconditionally, that’s the way they love us. Just like God loves us.”
As Jesus was speaking, the dog’s eyes were fixed on His face as though the puppy knew Jesus was talking about him. You could see in the dog’s expression that he now felt safe and secure in Jesus’ loving arms.
As we arrived at Jesus’ house, His mother greeted us at the door.
“What have you there, young man?” she asked.
Jesus said, “I have me a new friend.”
“Your new buddy is a pile of bones and needs something to eat—and on top of that, he stinks and needs a good bath.” Mary put some scraps in a dish for the poor fellow, who attacked the meal as if he hadn’t eaten in days. Finally, after several refills, he seemed to be full. Mary said we should take him to the creek and give him a good bath, so off we went with some soap in hand.
At the creek, several of the village women were washing their clothes. Mary said, “We need to go downstream so we don’t interfere with their washing.” So we went about a stone’s throw downstream to bathe the little fellow.
When Jesus put the pup in the water, he was terrified. He had the same look on his face as when the boys had been trying to bury him. Jesus gently picked him up and said, “Little friend, I’m not going to hurt you. You’re going to feel so much better after you get cleaned up. You’re going to be my dog, and I’ll protect you, feed you, and take care of you. Trust me, I’ll not let anything or anyone ever hurt you again.”
It was amazing how the dog’s reaction changed at Jesus’ calming words. It was as if he understood every word. Jesus then began to slowly lower the dog back into the water. “There now, good buddy, that’s not so bad, is it?”
The dog’s demeanor was now the opposite of before while he let Jesus clean him up. As He was bathing His new dog, Mary asked Jesus what His new friend’s name was. He thought for a moment, then said, “Raah, that’s his new name. It means “special friend,” and that’s what he will be—my special friend.”
Mary didn’t hesitate to accept Raah into their family. After that day, wherever Jesus went, Raah would follow. If I was looking for Jesus and couldn’t find Him, I looked for Raah lying outside someone’s home or shop waiting for his master to return. Even when Jesus was working, Raah watched every move of his master.
Jesus talked to Raah as He worked, and on many occasions it seemed as if the little dog understood Him. As Jesus talked, Raah would cock his head to one side and intently look at Jesus. Everyone who witnessed this was amazed, and got a laugh out of watching it. Even Mary would often come into the workshop area and watch Jesus talking to Raah. I can still see her standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips, smiling as Jesus talked to His little friend.
Jesus and I were good buddies, but the bond between He and Raah was special. One day, Mary asked Him, “Son who is your best friend, BB or Raah?”
Thinking for just a moment, He answered, “Well, Mother, you know BB and I are close, but Raah and I are real close.”
With a puzzled look, she said, “What do you mean by ‘real close’?” With a slight grin, He said, “Raah and I are as close as two ticks in a dog’s ear.” Then He burst out laughing. As Mary looked at me shaking her head, she said, “I should have known He was setting us up.”
Town Bully Changed
One beautiful spring day, Jesus came to my house looking for me. “I heard that Benjamin’s sheep have given birth to at least ten new lambs. Let’s go see!”
I was helping Mother clean some olives and cucumbers she had bought at the market. I looked up at her and she said, “Go ahead, BB, I can finish this, but be back before dark.”
That was one good thing I liked about being friends with Jesus: Mother always let me go with Him. She not only liked Him, but she realized I acted better the more I was around Him.
As I dried my hands, Alexandria said, “Mommy, can I go with BB and Jesus to see the baby lambs?” Mother, shaking her head, said, “No sweetheart, you’re too small to walk that far.”
“But Momma, you always say I’m too little to do the things I want to do, and then you say I’m a big girl now. Which is it?”
Picking her up, Mother told her, “You are getting to be a big girl, but there are some things boys can do and little girls can’t.” She motioned to us with her head, telling us to leave as she consoled Alexandria.
Off we went, running to old man Benjamin’s field. After we got there, several of the other kids in town joined us. A few minutes later, Asriel and his buddies showed up. I knew this could mean trouble. Asriel’s friends sat down with the rest of us to watch the new lambs trying to find their legs for the first time. They were awkward as they struggled to get on their feet; it was fun to watch (it didn’t take much to entertain us when we were that age). After a few minutes, Asriel got to his feet and walked behind us. He stood right behind Jesus for several minutes. Then, for no apparent reason, he deliberately kicked Jesus in the back. Immediately, Jesus stood up and turned to face Asriel.
None of us had ever seen Jesus fight, but it was obvious to all that He was strong enough to take care of Himself. I always thought that one day Asriel would try to pick a fight with Jesus, and it looked like this would be the day.
As Jesus faced Asriel, all of us watched silently, waiting to see the next move. The two were nose to nose, looking intently into one another’s eyes. We had all seen the look of evil in Asriel’s eyes. That was not unusual, but Jesus’ expression was the opposite of the dark look in Asriel’s eyes. He had a look of anger and displeasure, but not of evil.
It was obvious that Asriel saw something in Jesus’ expression that none of the rest of us could see. He was looking directly into Jesus’ eyes, which seemed to change from wrath to pity for Asriel.
For a moment, it appeared that Asriel’s heart was being melted by the look on Jesus’ face, but in a flash, his evil look returned and he focused on Jesus’ eyes. Jesus never changed His expression.
With all the hatred we had witnessed many times from Azriel, he spit directly into Jesus’ face. Jesus didn’t flinch as the spit ran down His cheeks. As Azriel stared into Jesus’ eyes, his face gradually began to change, and to everyone’s disbelief, Asriel began to cry.
At that moment, Jesus placed His arm around Asriel and led him away from the group that had gathered. I will never forget the sound of Asriel crying uncontrollably.
We stood, stunned by what we had just witnessed. Finally, one of the guys asked, “What was that all about?” The rest of us shrugged, still staring at Jesus and Asriel walking away.
After we had been hanging around for about a half hour, we saw Jesus and Asriel return; both were smiling and laughing. We had all heard Asriel’s evil laugh many times before when he had hurt someone or tortured an animal, but this time his laugh sounded joyful.
As they approached, Asriel said, “I’m so sorry for hurting any of you guys; please forgive me.” He was actually being nice and normal! We then went on our way, wondering what in the world had taken place between Jesus and Asriel.
When we got home, Alexandria was waiting to hear the news about the baby lambs. She ran toward us, her little arms reaching out, and she jumped into Jesus’ arms. She loved Him so much. You would think it might hurt my feelings—but not on your life. We all loved Jesus; how could we not?
I’ll not tell you that, from that day forward Asriel, was an angel. He wasn’t, but he never again was the evil threat as before. He went on to become a leather craftsman like his uncle Saburo, and later went on to marry Babette, raising a family of three children.
Most good Jewish boys love and respect their parents, but Jesus had a special relationship with His mother. He often went out into the fields to pick wildflowers for her. This was unlike the majority of boys in our village.
Two incidents stand out in my memory about Jesus’ love and respect for His mother. One was the time He made her a birthday present, and the other was the time He planted a rose bush for her.
Mary had a keepsake box where she kept special items her mother and grandmother had handed down to her. Jesus worked for days making her a larger box for her birthday. I wanted Him to get it done quickly so we could go play, but no, that wouldn’t do for Jesus; He wanted to take the time to make it perfect.
“Why does it need to be absolutely perfect?” I asked Him.
“Her birthday’s tomorrow, and it must be perfect because it’s for her.” Judging by the way Jesus looked at me and the way He spoke, you would have thought He was making a birthday gift for the queen. Jesus always did His best on projects He was working on, but this was even more special. He insisted on finding the right pieces of wood, and He sanded and polished until I thought I would scream.
Then there was the time Jesus planted a rose bush for Mary. Nazareth was a poor village, but the women of the village took pride in making their homes attractive by planting a variety of flowers in the gardens, in their courtyards, and outside their homes. My mother’s favorite flowers were tulips and violets; she got much pleasure out of tending them and watching them grow. (When you’re poor, it doesn’t take much to make you happy.)
It seemed as if the women of our village were competing to see who could have the prettiest flowers. I can still remember spring and the fragrance of the different flowers mingling to form this unique aroma.
Mary’s flower garden was an elaborate display of every color: red, white, pink, orange, and coral. I have to admit, Mary’s roses were my favorite; I just didn’t let my mother know.
One year, Jesus planted Mary a single rose bush on the outside corner of their house. As usual, He took His time and wanted to make everything just right for her. He took care of this one bush like a mother hen taking care of her chicks. He pruned, watered, and often would stand back and look at it from different angles. You could see the sparkle in Mary’s eyes as she watched Jesus take care of this special rose bush.
I didn’t pay much attention to this rose bush until the day my mother came in from the market after buying some fresh fish from Galilee. My father was so excited to see what she had purchased; it was his favorite fish. Father liked it because it had very few bones, and Mother had her own special way of preparing and cooking it.
As she began to prepare the fish, Mother said, “You know that rose bush that Jesus planted for Mary?”
“Yes,” my father said, “but what’s that got to do with the fish? I’m hungry!”
Looking disgusted, my mother said, “Amir, you’re always hungry. What’s new?” As she continued to busy herself with the food, she said, “The rose bush has no thorns.”
“That’s impossible; all rose bushes have thorns,” my father said.
As they were talking, I went out the door to see for myself. As I approached the bush, I could smell a strong, sweet scent coming from the blooms; the aroma was so strong that I took a moment just to take in the fragrance.
I bent down to take a closer look, and it was just as my mother had said: There were no thorns!
Immediately, I remembered the story our old rabbi used to tell us children. “In the Garden of Eden, roses had no thorns, but when Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from paradise, thorns appeared on roses.”
Puzzled, I walked back home, thinking to myself, What does this mean?
No one in the community could understand or explain why this rose bush had no thorns—but most didn’t care one way or another. What was most impressive was the beauty of these roses. They were the deepest of red, and the blooms were so thick that you had to look hard to even see the branches. From a distance, the bush looked like one enormous rose. They were breathtaking with their fragrance and beauty.
When strangers or other visitors came to our village, the first thing the women would show off was Nazareth’s prize rose bush. They were so proud of this single rose bush. It gave Mary great pleasure when people admired her rose bush for the first time.
Storytelling was vital in our communities. The village elders told stories almost daily, with the best storytellers always drawing a large crowd, especially of the younger children.
Events from our history were the primary subject of these narratives. I recall sitting for hours listening to the old man Chanoch, who was one of the best. His gestures and expressions are still vivid to my memory. We kids would try to mimic him, but none of us could come up to his delivery and style. It was always comical to see one of the young boys trying to imitate the old man telling a story.
As Jesus got a little older, He, too, began telling stories. His reputation became well known among everyone in our village and even in surrounding areas. It was uncommon for someone as young as Jesus to tell stories—and some would say it would have been a bit disrespectful to do so—but because He was so accurate in His detailed accounts, no one questioned Him.
Chills would run up my spine when Jesus talked about Creation, when the earth had been without form and dark, then the Spirit of God moved over the surface, and God said, “Let there be light!” I would look at others in the crowd, and their eyes would be as large as goose eggs.
When Jesus told about when Moses went up the mountain to receive the commandments of God only to return to find that His people had made a golden calf to worship, His voice resonated with the wrath of God. Then, at the next moment, His delivery of the account made us feel the love of God and understand His jealousy for His people’s affection. No one in our village could tell a story like Jesus, not even old man Chanoch.
Another story I will never forget was the narrative of the rebellion of Korah. As usual, Jesus painted a word picture of the event and had all of us on the edges of our seats.
When He got to the end, to the part about when the earth opened up and swallowed the men who were part of Korah’s rebellion, everyone listening was looking for something to hold on to! As I think about these events and other things I noticed about seeing Jesus grow up in our little village, you might think that, when He began His ministry, the members of our village would have put it all together and understood that He was the long-awaited Messiah. He was so near to us, but yet so far away.
Father Finds Work
My father was a stonemason, and Jesus’ father, Joseph, was a carpenter. Their occupations and families’ close proximity meant that they sometimes worked on the same projects. My father was very good at his craft, but one summer, his usually abundant work supply dried up in Nazareth and the surrounding villages.
Father talked to others in his trade about the situation, and after much deliberation, he decided that we needed to move to Ephesus where others had told him there was plenty of work and much better pay than he could have ever earned in Nazareth.
As he discussed this with my mother one evening at supper, my heart sank. Father had been talking about this for some time, but I had always believed that work would come soon.
Never in my life had I been depressed, but that evening I was so downcast that I didn’t want to live. Leaving Nazareth wasn’t the problem, but leaving my best friend was beyond my thoughts. Moving to Ephesus meant that I would probably never see Jesus again. The distance by boat or by land would make it very difficult for our family to ever return to Nazareth. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without Jesus.
When I told Jesus about our move, He was also concerned. I wasn’t Jesus’ only friend, for everyone liked to be around Him. Everywhere He went, people were drawn to Him, but our closeness was special. We spent many hours, just He and I, talking and sometimes just being together without any conversation. It’s as if we knew what each other was thinking. We didn’t have to say a word for hours. We had a special kind of friendship, and both of us expressed our disappointment about the possibility of our family leaving.
Unlike me, Jesus was positive and optimistic. One day, He said to me, “You’re not gone yet, my dear friend. Some work will come soon for your father. Just wait and see.” I so wanted to believe what He said, but I didn’t have the faith. We had been waiting for months with no work, and there was none in sight.
A few weeks later, three strangers came to the doorway of our home while my family and I were eating lunch. They were well-dressed men, and, to my eyes, they appeared to be rich.
“Is this the home of Amir, the stonemason?” one of the men asked as my father arose to greet them.
Since the occupation of the Romans, everyone had been on edge when strangers showed up at their door—especially when dressed as finely as these men.
“Yes it is,” my father responded bluntly. “I am Amir; what is your business here?”
“We are from Tiberias and are in great need of a good stonemason. Your reputation as a craftsman has come to us, and we were hoping you might help us with a new project that will take many years to complete. The wages will be good and we need you to start as soon as possible.”
Tiberius was a new city that had been built in honor of Tiberius Caesar on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. The city was luxurious, with hot springs and magnificent buildings, and it was only fifteen miles from Nazareth. My family and I had visited several times just to see the buildings and monuments. My father was very interested in the work being done there, but had never been able to get employment there because Caesar only used Roman workers.
“There are more buildings and monuments to be built, and the overseer has died,” one of the men said to my father. “We are looking for a new overseer.”
This puzzled my father. “I thought you didn’t employ Jews on this project,” he said. “I’m not a Roman citizen.”
“You’re right, but we have heard of your reputation. We have talked to our workers, and they also have heard of your work. They have agreed that they would be honored to work for you.”
The first man to speak said, “We have also been in communication with Rome, and they have given us the approval.” My father asked a few more questions and then negotiated his wages.
Imagine the euphoria in our humble home after that exchange! After the men left, my father went across the street to share the good news with Joseph and his family. We all danced for joy, celebrating the wonderful news. After we calmed down, Amir offered God a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
Then an apprehensive look came over Father’s face. He said, “I’ve never been an overseer of a project.” Looking at each of us, he said, “Do you think I can do it?”
Mother quickly said, “Amir, you can do anything you set your mind to!” She was always Father’s greatest fan. Joseph and Mary agreed that he would be a great overseer of this project.
I was so elated that we didn’t need to move from Nazareth, for Tiberius was very near; my father could come home often.
“See, BB,” Jesus said, “God is faithful. His will is for us to be best friends forever.” It was a miracle to me, but to Jesus it was just an everyday event. He had such a simple faith and trust in God.
(Stay tuned for part two)