Friday with Friends
by David E. Fessenden
|~ by ClipartPal|
Three camels shuffled through the endless sand, with three riders bobbing up and down on their backs. And across the thin air of the black desert night, their voices rose in argument.
“But how do you know we will even be welcome?” the first one said, sending the plume of his turban into a spasm of movement with a shake of his head.
“Just what do you mean, Balthazar?” said the second, whose name was Melchior. “Why should we not be welcome? We bring gifts, do we not?”
“Yes, but you know the Jews. To them we’re the goyim—the dogs—and their holy book condemns us as sorcerers and star-gazers!”
“’Tis all too true,” replied Melchior after a moment’s silence. “Our only hope is for absolution. If it is given, we are of all men most blessed. If not, we cannot say we did not try. We have come far from home with costly gifts for the child. Surely the God of the Jews shall forgive our deeds done in ignorance and superstition.”
I’m not as concerned with forgiveness as I am with survival,” Balthazar said. “I’ll never forget that passage in their Law: ‘You shall not permit a witch to live.’ It sends a shiver down my spine. We could be journeying to our own deaths!”
Gaspar, the third traveler, who had until this time ridden in brooding silence, now let out a sarcastic laugh. “That would be the height of irony! To come this far just for a stoning! I could have stayed home for that!”
“Now, my friends,” Melchior interjected, fearful that this line of reasoning had gone too far, “you cannot believe Yahweh would show us this star if it were not meant for our own good. He is not like the Roman gods, who are said to play tricks on humans. In all of the sacred Jewish writings, is the God of Abraham ever shown to be vindictive?”
“‘He holds His enemies in derision’ is a passage I am familiar with,” Balthazar said.
Melchior looked at him with a mixture of scorn and pity. “You tear the truth from the bowels of that Scripture by applying it to our situation. We could hardly be called His enemies, though I suppose at one time we were. But their Holy Book promises great reward to the Gentiles who seek Him. ‘You will seek Me, and you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.’ May we not trust in that promise, sinners though we be? If you did not believe, why did you come?”
“Oh, I believe, Melchior,” Balthazar sighed. “I just feel so helpless; we know so little of the land to where we are going.”
“Yes, but you knew the risks we took when we began this journey. Our friends and families tried to persuade us not to go, and most of the people laughed at us when we left. But I am sure we will be welcome. That”—and he pointed upward to the glowing orb of light—“that is our calling card. We’ve been invited.”
“You two talk of believing?” Gaspar countered. “How can I believe what my own eyes deny? It was all well and good for us to begin this journey in the hopes of finding this King-Child. But the star we follow leads to no great city; it only hangs like a glittering stone set in the western sky, as if to mock us.”
“You need to brush up on your geography, my friend,” replied Melchior. The star leads us toward Jerusalem, the city of the Jews.”
|~ by ClipartPal|
The trio rode on for a great while in silence, broken only by the persistent slap, slap, slap of saddle leather against camel flesh. It was early morning and the star had just faded from view when they came in sight of the city gate. Gaspar and Balthazar wore the glassy-eyed, apathetic stare of men who had been too long in the saddle, but Melchior’s face lit up with interest and he began to squirm in anticipation. “Oh, I do hope our gifts are costly enough,” he said, half to himself. “Perhaps if we had spent a little less on provisions for the trip, we could have purchased gifts more befitting a king.”
Gaspar responded with his characteristically mirthless laugh. “All we’ve seen so far on this trip has been poverty and filth, and this city gives no indication of being any different. Our gifts, meager though they may be, should be adequate.”
Balthazar jerked up his head in shock. “You can hardly expect to determine how a king will live by looking at the common people!”
“Then this wise and benevolent king of yours lives in luxury while his people suffer,” Gaspar replied with a sneer.
Balthazar began to protest, but Melchior cut him off with a wave of his hand. “You need not debate that point. We’ll know the answer soon enough. Here is the gate to the city. Now let me do the talking; you two would only butcher their language.”
Even at this early hour there was a small crowd, and a bit of a wait to get through the entrance. Melchior leaned over to catch the attention of the gatekeeper—not a difficult thing to do, since the three travelers were drawing puzzled stares from all corners.
Straightening his shoulders, Melchior smiled politely and in his best Aramaic, he spoke the phrase he had been practicing since he left his home in Persia: “Where is He who is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” His pronunciation was impeccable; he was sure there could be no misunderstanding. But for some reason the gatekeeper seemed confused and even a little fearful, and the smile froze on Melchior’s dark and wrinkled face.
|~ by ClipartPal|
The travelers left to begin another evening’s journey, after a day filled with questions, explanations and very little rest. Melchior and Gaspar were a little short-tempered, but Balthazar, now convinced that his life was spared, was in high spirits. “We sure put that city in an uproar,” he said brightly, ignoring the dirty looks of his companions. “And that King Herod was very kind.”
“I don’t trust him,” Gaspar said grumpily. “Most likely he’s leading us on a wild goose chase.”
“That is impossible,” Melchior declared. “I read the passage from their Holy Book with my own eyes: ‘And you, Bethlehem of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ And the position of the star confirms it. Our destination is Bethlehem.”
“How far did he say it was?” Gaspar asked, stifling a yawn.
“He didn’t,” answered Melchior. “But no matter. The birthplace of a king cannot be hard to find. Look, we’re coming to a little village. I’ll go over there and ask directions.”
The word “village” was a generous description of the place, a ramshackle collection of sheep pens and huts. Melchior dismounted and headed toward a man standing near one of the pens. He was wearing the same puzzled expression they had seen on every face they had encountered so far.
After a lengthy discussion with the man, Melchior called the other two over. “He says . . .” Melchior hesitated. “He says that this is Bethlehem. His name is Joseph, and he says he knows the child we are searching for.” He shook his head in disbelief. “There’s got to be some mistake.”
“Have you got a better idea?” Gaspar asked. “What have we got to lose?”
The man Melchior had talked with showed the way to one of the buildings. “I am afraid we cannot accommodate you,” he said apologetically. “We’re just renting the place ourselves.”
“That’s quite all right,” Melchior said absentmindedly. As he approached the house, he noticed the star had positioned itself directly over them.
The three magi stooped to enter the hut, clutching their gifts and gaping in horror at the scene before their eyes: a tired, careworn young mother with a baby dressed in rags.
|~ by ClipartPal|
“This makes no sense at all!” Balthazar snapped. “We came all this way for this?” The poor family stared at him fearfully; they could not, of course, understand his strange tongue, but the anger in his voice was communicated across the language barrier.
Melchior was in a state of shock. “I don’t understand. . . .”
“I think I do,” said Gaspar, with a new light in his eyes. “Oh, I know, I know,” he added sheepishly, as he saw how the other two stared at him. “I’ve been the doubter, the critic, the one who questioned every step of this journey. But I think we’ve been wrong about this all along. We have been trying to reason this out ourselves. But if this Hebrew God is who He says He is, Lord of all heaven and earth, then His ways may not always conform to our little minds. We cannot expect to understand. We can only obey.”
“But Gaspar!” Melchior spat out his words in disgust. “You can’t really mean—”
“Shut up, Melchior,” Gaspar said in an awe-struck whisper, as he dropped stiffly to his knees. “Shut up and bow.”
David E. Fessenden is an independent publishing consultant with 20 years experience in editorial management for Christian publishers. Dave has a B.A. in journalism, an M.A. in religion, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. In previous positions Dave served on the communications staff of Elim Bible Institute and was editor of a regional edition of the largest Protestant weekly newspaper in the country.
Dave has published five books, produced study guides for two titles by A.W. Tozer (published in the back of the books), written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and edited numerous books. He recently completed a 10-year stint as a regular columnist for Cross & Quill, a Christian writers newsletter, and is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. Dave also conducts Sunday school teaching workshops based on his book, Teaching with All Your Heart. His latest book, Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract, was published by SonFire Media in 2011.
Dave’s first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, teams up Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother, Mycroft, with Dr. Watson’s son, Thomas, to solve the murder of a bootlegger and his card-playing cronies in 1920s Philadelphia. It is scheduled to be published next year.
Dave and his wife, Jacque live in Central Pennsylvania and have two adult sons.