Zacher dashed out of the house, tugging his coat into place. "Sorry. I couldn't get away."
Amol rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Never mind. Let's get a move on."
Zacher fell into step beside his friend and quietly waited for his irritation to abate.
The streets of Jerusalem were empty as they wove their way through the houses and alleys.
"Where is everyone today?" Zacher ventured after awhile.
Amol waved a hand toward the west. "All listening to that teacher."
Zacher swung his gaze in the direction his friend had indicated. Away across several streets he could see the edge of a crowd, all crowded in close together. He could hear a soft murmur of voices, but not nearly as loud as he would have expected from such a large group of people. He couldn't glimpse who had their attention captured, and the mob disappeared behind the houses as he kept walking.
"What teacher?" He said when it was all completely out of sight.
Amol shrugged and quickened his stride. Zacher matched it, and kept his gaze fixed on him, not at all dissuaded by Amol's aversion to questions. "That Jesus fellow everyone's been talking about."
Zacher tipped his head, a frown tugging at his mouth. "Jesus...Where have I heard that name before? Where's he from?"
"I just said everyone is talking about him. How should I know where you heard it?" Amol snapped.
Zacher shook his head. "No, I've heard it somewhere else. I haven't even heard about any teachers."
"You live with your head in the sand."
Zacher raised a shoulder. "I suppose I do. I just try to keep things fair between us."
Amol snorted and pushed him away. Zacher chuckled and kept his distance. "Where did you say he is from?"
"Nazareth." Amol sighed.
Zacher shook his head. "I know I've heard of him before. When I was young. How long has he been teaching?"
"I'm a thief, not an expert on rabbis. I don't know. Maybe two years now."
Zacher cast a glance back toward where the crowd had been. "Lets go over there. I want to see him."
"I thought we were going to steal things." Amol hissed as he turned onto a different street.
"We can see what we can find there. That many people, their bound to set things down. Sounds like they're captivated. No one will notice." Zacher called over his shoulder, not waiting to see if Amol would follow. Muttered curses and footsteps told him he was.
Zacher wove through the buildings to the fringe of where the crowd was gathered. People sat and stood wherever there was room, bags and bundles scattered around as they listened. Zacher cast a knowing look at Amol, who just scowled and lost himself in the crowd. Zacher slid in between the onlookers, being careful not to bump anyone and draw attention to himself. He glanced around for any easy prey and moved deeper into the mass.
Toward the middle he could finally see the man who had everyone so captivated. He paused to study him a moment and frowned. There was nothing out of the ordinary about him to look at him. He dressed the same as the men around him. His features were soft and caring, and there was an urgency in his voice as he spoke, like he was imparting a great gift. The people seemed to think they were receiving one. Zacher could hear soft sounds of aw and every once in a while someone would whisper excitedly at something he had said. Zacher tilted his head to catch Jesus' words. Loving neighbors, and feeding the hungry.
A snicker escaped him and he glanced at the man next to him, then at the people around before slowly moving his hand toward his coin purse. Luckily for him someone wanted to listen to such teaching, otherwise he would never be able to get this close. A sudden silence made him freeze and he glanced up to see Jesus' gaze directed at him. His breath caught in his throat and he snatched his hand back, straightening and trying to look like a casual listener. The teacher's gaze never wavered and Zacher wanted nothing more than to shrink down into the dust and disappear.
As calmly as he could he turned and started weaving his way out to the open. He didn't see Amol anywhere, and wasn't about to wait for him. His breath rattled in his chest and sweat tickled the back of his neck. When he was out of sight he broke into a run and didn't stop until he made it back to his home.
He leaned against the door post, and waited for his chest to stop heaving then picked his way through the house and out to the back. His father and younger brother sat working on tents and looked up as he approached.
"You're back soon." His father offered.
Zacher nodded, trying to find his voice. "I was with Amol. We saw the teacher all the people want to see." He sat and picked up a corner of the tent and absently started to work. "His name is Jesus. Of Nazareth. I told Amol I've heard of him before." He glanced at his father to see if there was any clue to the nagging memory in the back of his head.
His father's brow furrowed deeply. "He is here in the city?"
"Yes." Zacher nodded. "He was teaching near where we were."
A smile tugged at his father's lips. "I told you the story. Don't you remember?"
Zacher shook his head, casting in his mind for what story he might mean. "No, I don't."
His father set his work aside and brushed himself off. "Then I had better tell it again."
His brother scooted in closer to his father and Zacher couldn't help but do the same.
"It was quite some time ago." His father began. "Before either of you were born. Upwards of thirty years now, I think. I was a young man, about your age Zacher."
Zacher tilted his head, trying to remember the story.
"At the time I was living near Bethlehem. I was a shepherd, and it was the time of year to be out in the fields with the sheep."
"You were a shepherd?" Zacher's brother quizzed.
Zacher cast him a hushing look and turned to his father to continue.
"Yes." His father nodded to his brother before continuing. "A tax had been issued and there were many people traveling. It was late. The sheep were quiet and my companions and I were resting, when all of the sudden the whole sky lit up like daylight." He leaned forward and his hands spread. "Above us was...well, a man, but not. It was an angel."
"You saw an angel?" His brother cut in. "What was he like?"
"Beautiful," His father said slowly. "Like nothing I've ever seen before. But terrifying. I thought we were all going to die. But he told us not to be afraid. That he had good news. He told us that just a little distance off in Bethlehem that the savior had been born. God's promised deliverer, come to save us." He shook his head and Zacher could see a distant look in his father's eye and he wished he could see what he was remembering right then.
"I could hardly believe it. I had heard about the promised savior all my life. I believed it but...it always seemed distant. Like it wouldn't happen in my lifetime. But here it was, right in front of me. The angel told us we would find him wrapped up in a manger. That would be our sign." His face lit up suddenly. "And all at once the whole sky was full of angels. Everywhere, too many to count. And they were all singing. It was the most magnificent sound I've ever heard. Powerful and strong, but so full of adoration. Then they were gone as quickly as they had come."
"What did you do?" Zacher asked when his father paused.
"We hurried as fast as we could to see for ourselves what the angel had told us."
"And?" Zacher urged.
"We saw Jesus." His father said slowly, reverently. "A star had moved over the stable where he was. Bigger than I've ever seen. His mother was there with him, along with her husband. She was just a young thing, I remember. Mary was her name. And her husband was watching over her so carefully. It was just like the angel said. There was a tiny little baby all cuddled in the manger. Sleeping just a peacefully as could be."
He shook his head, rubbing a hand across his cheek. "I can't believe I forgot...I didn't forget really. It's just been so long ago, I don't think about it often anymore."
"Well why would you? Nothing has happened since then." Zacher shrugged.
"But it was real." His father said firmly, eyes roaming between his sons. "He opened his eyes when we got there, and I just new. The angel had told the truth. This was the savior. And someday he will save us."