Scripture can be found here…
It all began because my little Micah began to fuss. But, in all fairness, it had been a long day.
It had begun when my friend Chana hurried up to the well. It was early, even for fetching water, but she and I have found that this is the best time to meet. Each morning we begin our day, at home with our prayers to Ha Shem*, and then at the well, the gathering place of our community, with words of friendship. In this way, we begin our days with strength.
“Today!” She said, without even bothering to say “Shalom.” “Today is the day! He is coming, the rabbi.”
I was in the midst of hauling the dipping pail up from the depths of the well, and didn’t have the breath to respond right away. But I knew who she was talking about. The rabbi was coming, the one we’d been hearing about. The one who’d been healing, and casting out demons, who’d brought Shimon’s mother back from a killing fever, and who’d relieved Sarah of a twelve-year affliction.
But as thrilling and frightening and exciting as the idea of all that healing power was, we’d heard even more about his words. Our friend Rebekah had seen and heard him when she was visiting her mother. She kept trying to describe his words, and, feeling she could not, tried to describe how she felt listening to them. “They made me feel as if he could see me,” she said. And then she began to cry.
That was a singular thing to say, for a woman. Generally, we married women are not supposed to be seen. Most of our time is spent at home, with our children. Most of our days away from home are spent averting our gaze, so as not to appear to be too bold by looking anyone other than our husband straight in the eye. Most of our interactions in public are silent as our husbands speak for us.
But this rabbi, my friend said, saw her. He saw an invisible married woman. Well.
“He’s coming!” hissed Chana, “Rabbi Jesus!”
And so, with that information, the shape of my day changed, and it changed drastically. My plans had involved the market, and laundry, and baking bread, and the garden, and cleaning and preparing the fish my husband, Jacob, would bring home. All while caring for my two small children, my little girl, Miriam, who is three, and my baby, Micah, who is not yet a year, and of course not walking. Now, instead, I was planning as if for a great journey, even though it really was only for a walk of a few miles. That is because, with babies, it is always a great journey when we leave home—all the necessities I must bring, all the food.
When I returned with the water, my husband Jacob listened to my plans quietly. He could tell I was excited about going to hear the rabbi speak. At a pause in my excitement, he asked, “Are you hoping to see him work a miracle?” I turned from adjusting Micah’s kipah.
“No,” I said. “I just want to see him. I want to hear him. Rebekah says…” and then I stopped myself, embarrassed. “She says he speaks very well,” I finally said. Jacob nodded. “And these two?” he asked, picking up Micah and placing him on one knee. “Are they excited to hear the rabbi?”
I laughed. “I imagine they will be excited by the walk, and by the crowds, but I hope they will be drowsy when the rabbi is speaking.” Jacob nodded, smiling at Micah and playing a game with him, hiding his face behind his hands, and then peeking out with a look of surprise. Micah chuckled and gurgled and delighted his father and me, until Jacob stood.
“I’m late,” he said. “Go with Ha Shem. Be blessed by the rabbi.” Then he turned to Micah, who was now crawling over to Miriam, who was humming quietly to herself. “You, too,” he said to his children, and then went out into the early dawn.
An hour later I was wondering whether I had made a foolish decision. The crowds were large and loud, and both my children clung to me, whimpering. Micah was fastened around me with a cloth, so he was secure, but Miriam, who normally enjoyed walking, was terrified by the crush of people eager to see and hear the rabbi.
I could tell this was the right crowd, and it carried us along in a definite direction, which seemed to indicate we were heading towards the rabbi. But I hadn’t been able to find my friends, and the success of a day like this depends on a group of women caring for one another’s children together, and not going it alone. I was just about to turn around for home when a familiar voice rang out.
“Rachel! Rachel, here!” It was Chana, and as I turned towards the voice, a pair of arms reached out and swept Miriam off her feet and into safe and familiar arms.
“Oh, Chana, thank goodness!” I said, “I was ready to give up!”
“Follow me,” she said curtly, and, I did, my arms full of Micah and my basket of provisions.
Before long we were walking through a grove of fig trees, cool and fragrant. Miriam was happy to walk again, now that she wasn’t crowded in by tall people she didn’t know. At the end of our journey, we came to an open area, with another well I didn’t know existed… probably belonging to whomever owned the figs. Sitting near the well was… well, I knew just who it was. It was Jesus, the rabbi. My heart jumped a little at seeing him.
He was just an ordinary man, I told myself, at the same time I recognized that there was something about him that was very out of the ordinary. I tried, hard, to understand what it was. Did he look more holy? More likely to miraculously heal someone? No, that wasn’t it. Did he look more learned? More scholarly? Not really… he was dressed like an ordinary worker, no different than the men who huddled close to him, or moved nervously around him.
Then it hit me. His stillness. Next to him, everyone looked nervous. He looked completely calm, as if it were the most ordinary day, as if nothing could surprise him.
As we drew closer, I saw that some little children had begun to move towards him, pushed gently by their mothers. And he smiled at the children, and bent towards them, and I could hear the murmur of his voice, though not the exact words he was saying. And then I realized he was placing his hand gently on each little one’s head, and I thought, “He’s blessing them!” and at the same moment I could hear the traditional words of blessing. “Blessed are you, Lord our God, our Creator, for through your goodness you bring little children into the world…” And, suddenly my eyes were stinging with tears.
What man blessed children? Children are nobodies. You can’t depend on their growing up. They are tended to by women. And then my heart softened as I remembered that, of course, Jacob had blessed our children that very morning. “Go with Ha Shem,” he’d said. Go with God.
And that is when Micah began to fuss. I felt a jolt of panic. Of course, he would be hungry by now, and finding a place to feed him would be complicated. Not impossible, but complicated. And little Miriam had entered the stream of little ones moving toward Jesus—all of them drawn to him, his quietness, his soft words, in sharp relief to what looked like the increasing agitation of his disciples.
After a build-up, Micah let out a long, piercing scream, and one disciple, an older, grizzled-looking man looked as if he’d been kicked. And then he stepped between Jesus and the next little one, a boy, just in front of Miriam.
“Women, women,” he said, “Take your children home. Take them away. Do not trouble the rabbi with them.” His voice was sharp; he sounded angry. The children either froze or ran back towards their mothers, some being swept up in their arms, and some leaning against their legs.
And I thought: of course. They don’t want children here. The rabbi has more important things to do. People to heal. And I took Miriam by the hand and turned, Micah squalling, and began to go.
And then another voice rang out above all the other sounds and voices, and there was a stillness, so that the words were carried on the breeze.
“Let the little children come to me!”
And I turned again, towards him this time, and I saw.
There we were. All the mothers. A circle of us surrounded the rabbi and his men—dozens of women who, yes, hoped Jesus would touch and bless their children. But in our hearts, I knew, there was another hope. A hope that we might hear and be blessed by this rabbi. A hope that his words were for us, too. A hope, that, like Rebekah, hearing his words would let us know that, in the kingdom he so often mentioned, we, too, were seen, we, too, were valued—even if all we did was to look after little nobodies.
And as Jesus spoke these next words, his eyes were focused, not on the angry grizzled man, and not even on the children. They were focused on us.
“Do not stop them,” Jesus said, and as he said it, he looked into our eyes. The eyes of the women. And we realized that his words were for our children, and they were for us, too.
“Do not stop them,” he continued, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” And he knew, that, wherever our children go, we go. “Do not stop them,” he said, and he knew that, stopping them also meant stopping us, meant keeping us from the rich feast of words he was serving.
“It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs,” he said, and we knew then and there, that we were included. We knew that we had a place at the table in God’s kingdom, that we, too, were welcome to the feast, that he would allow no one to be lost.
Then I brought Micah to him, squalling though he was. And for a moment, Micah was soothed by his quiet voice and gentle touch. He looked at me, and said the words of the psalm.
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants, Ha Shem has ordained strength.”
That night as we sat around our small table I told Jacob of the day’s events. We broke the bread together, and shared our small feast of the day’s catch. As we sat there, I remembered all those other mothers and their families, I knew we had all shared something that connected our tables, separated though we were. Rabbi Jesus had given us all a vision of a table larger than we can imagine, where all are welcome, and where no one is considered a “nobody,” but where everyone… even a crying child, even his mother… is invited to sit, and eat.
Thanks be to god. Amen.
*Ha Shem,” literally, “The Name,” one traditional Jewish way to refer to God so that the holy name of God is not spoken.