The story of Achim continues.
Unlike Achim, the crowd moved without fear. Their feet pounding first on the dirt-packed path, then on the cobblestone streets. Their movements echoed from the stone walls as they entered the city. The torchlight lent an eery, orange glow to people ahead of Achim and to the buildings they passed. No one moved in the homes. No one stirred to look outside to see who or what was making the racket in the streets.
Achim almost bumped into the last person in the group when they stopped suddenly. The boy looked around the streets to identify what would be the hold up. The narrow streets gave him no clue, until the people filtered away one by one. Achim then could clearly see the palace of the Asmonaeans with its wide stairs and two tall towers rising to the night sky. The moon shone off its white-washed walls. The final person entered a doorway and the gate closed behind him. Achim watched from the shadows.
“What are they doing?” he wondered out loud. “What are they doing with the teacher?”
The rabbi, that was the key to the whole thing. Achim heard again the kind voice, the voice that brought back memories. The buildings around him faded as he remembered. Those were happy days; the family was whole. He was able to protect Momma and Margalit. The three of them had gone out to see Yeshua. The day had dawned bright and hopeful. Rumors abounded that Yeshua could cure any illness. Maybe Momma would be healed. Although, she never spoke of the pain, Achim often saw it in her eyes as it crushed her spirit.
Once out in the countryside, the crowds swelled. There would be no way to get Momma close to Yeshua. Too many people blocked their way, and Momma would have none of pushing and shoving. Besides it hurt too much for her to meander through the people like that.
“You go ahead, Achim,” Momma said. “You see him. Maybe you will be able to get him to see me later.”
Achim looked deep into Momma’s dark eyes. The pain that always lay hidden showed, but he also saw pride in her son. He stood straighter. He would not fail her. He would bring Yeshua to Momma.
As he squeezed between people, he kept his eyes on the ground and pictured Momma’s eyes. He could make his way to the front for her. He ignored the curses and hands that pushed at him as he moved toward his goal. Finally, there was no one else to squeeze through. He looked up. Twelve men sat around a very ordinary looking man.
“Rabbi, who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” a man, with arms twice the size of any Achim had ever seen, asked.
“Yes, Yeshua,” a younger man agreed, leaning closer to the teacher, “please tell us.”
The other men nodded their heads in agreement. Yeshua looked around at the expectant faces. Achim wondered how he would get the teacher’s attention. Then the unthinkable happened. Yeshua stood and looked around. His brown eyes landed on Achim! This wasn’t like when adults see through a child. No, the rabbi saw him and began walking toward him! Achim wanted to back away, but the crowd stood blocking his escape. Yeshua stopped in front of Achim, and then bent down to his eye level. Achim stared into those dark eyes. They reminded him of Momma’s. Pain hid in the corners, while love marched straight out of them. Fear fled away from those brown eyes. The man reached out and took Achim’s hand in his own large one. Achim felt safe. Everyone else around them faded from his senses. He was alone with this man in a field where spring flowers lent their wondrous scent and clouds flitted across the sky. He wished the moment would last forever. Then he remembered Momma!
“Rabbi,” he began to speak, his voice soft and timid.
“Hush, my son,” the voice, just as his touch and eyes, brought calm, but it held that hint of pain, as if he knew more than anyone else what pain was. “I know. Come with me.”
Achim wondered what was happening but had complete trust in Yeshua. The men sitting on the ground, though, seemed to question what their rabbi was doing. They didn’t voice their concerns, but Achim saw it in their eyes. Distrustful eyes, wary eyes, eyes that were accustomed to protecting their teacher. Achim recognized those last. His eyes often looked like that when he stared at them in the cracked mirror in Momma’s room.
Yeshua came to a stop. He stood with his hands on Achim’s shoulders. Achim stared into twelve faces. He wondered what he was doing, but Yeshua’s hands on his small frame grounded him in peace.
“My friends,” the rabbi spoke from above Achim’s head, “truly, if you do not change your heart to become like the heart of a child, you will not be able to come into the Kingdom of Heaven. Anyone who humbles himself, just like this little child,” Achim felt the hands on his shoulders squeeze gently, “is greatest in the Kingdom.”
Achim saw the looks of disbelief on the men’s faces. They couldn’t understand how a child, a kid, could be the greatest in God’s kingdom. Achim himself didn’t understand it.
“Anyone who welcomes a child such as this one in my name, welcomes me. However,” here the teacher paused.
Achim wondered what was happening above him for the men in front of him squirmed.
The rabbi continued but his voice held pain and almost anger blended together. “However, whoever puts a stumbling block in front of one of these little ones who believes in me,” he paused and Achim could hear a bird sing in a far off tree. He felt the rabbi’s hands tremble on his shoulders. “It would be better for that man if someone put a grind stone from a mill around his neck and throw him into the sea!”
A collective gasp went up from the crowd and the men. Achim felt the fear course through him. Better to drown in the sea than cause a child to stumble? Achim could not understand it. The rabbi turned Achim around and again knelt down to his level.
“I understand your need, my son,” he whispered. “Now is not the time. Later you will have what you need.”
Achim nodded though he did not understand. Yeshua lifted his hands from the boy’s shoulders and stood, he turned to the crowd and continued talking.
The memory faded at a screech from across the street. Achim looked up and saw the gate opening and a man with a torch leading the way. Others followed him, including Yeshua! Those brown eyes from so long ago turned and looked directly at Achim! The boy stood still, unable to move. The pain that hid at the corners of Yeshua’s eyes now came front and center, but the love that had been there before screamed louder than ever.
The moment passed as the men led Yeshua on. Achim’s mind whirled, but he followed at a discrete distance.