Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Through Their Eyes

Looking at familiar Bible stories through the eyes of one of the characters

Samuela and the Captain

‘Samuela nooo!’

My ima’s heartrending screams filled my ears as the tall soldier dragged me away. I stumbled along beside him, unable to see through my tears, until he pushed me to the ground with a stern ‘Wait here.’

My best friend Deborah wailed next to me and I put my arm around her, ‘Surely Yahweh is still with us.’

When the army had finished ransacking our village for valuables, they roped the captives together and forced us to march. We walked for days. Deborah and I stayed together, helping each other as much as the ropes would allow.

The captain looked me over. He had already chosen the best of the male prisoners for himself. I stared at the ground, scared of what might happen. 

‘You’ll do for my wife,’  he said.

His friend liked the look of Deborah and pulled her into his tent that night. I held my hands over my ears to block out the sound of her distress. I was terrified the captain would do the same to me but he left me alone.

The sun was setting when we finally arrived in the big city of Damascus. The soldiers untied the captives, and Deborah was led away by the man who had forced her into his tent each night. Tears made muddy tracks down my dirty cheeks when I saw my only friend being taken away. I knew no one.

‘Come.’

black-horseCaptain Naaman on his majestic black horse led the way to his house, we his slaves trying our best to keep up with him. I shivered with cold and fear, having been captured in my thin dress which was torn and dirty from the long journey.

A well dressed servant came out to greet his master.

Captain Naaman commanded that the male slaves be taken to the outside dwellings. Then he turned to me. ‘And this one is for my wife. You had better clean her up before she comes into the house.’

I was led to a room where I could wash, and a clean tunic was brought for me.

One of the household servants led me into a large and beautiful room. It was the richest place I had ever been in. Reclining couches were laid out here and there on the marble floor, and I could hear water tinkling in the background. I found out later it was a fountain.

‘Come here little girl,’ said a woman’s voice.

I raised my head and saw a dark-haired lady reclining on one of the couches. She held out her hand and I went and stood before her.

‘What is your name?’

‘Samuela.’ I whispered.

It was the first word I had said since comforting Deborah when we were first captured weeks ago.

Odd that my name should be the first word I said in this new, strange place. My abba and ima had given it to me because they thought they could not have children. They pleaded with God for many years. When He answered their prayers, they planned to call the baby Samuel which means ‘God hears’, but when I – a daughter – was born, they changed it to Samuela.

    *     *     *     *     *     *     *

mop

My mistress was kind, and though I had to work hard as her maid, I was never mistreated. Captain Naaman was a fair man and his servants had no need to be afraid of him unless they had done something wrong.

It was awful when the captain noticed the small discoloured patches on his arms. The doctor confirmed leprosy. We thought his army career was over but the king wanted Captain Naaman to stay in charge of his army because the captain was a formidable soldier who had led many victories.

But over time, he began to lose feeling in his limbs. It was dangerous for a soldier to go into battle unable to feel pain when he was wounded. We knew it was a matter of time before he lost a limb or went blind.

One morning, I stood behind his wife brushing out her beautiful long, dark hair. I heard a sniffling noise and quietly stepped across the bed chamber for a piece of linen which I handed to her.

‘Thank you Samuela,’ she said. ‘I am so worried about my husband. We have prayed and made sacrifices to our god Rimmon but his leprosy is getting worse.’

‘My God, Yahweh, could heal him.’

My mistress turned round so quickly I jumped.

‘What did you say, Samuela?’

I cleared my throat. ‘I wish my master would go to Yahweh’s prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of the leprosy.’

My mistress eagerly pressed me for details and I told her all I could remember about the prophet Elisha, and how Yahweh worked miracles through him.

‘Naaman! Naaman!’

I could hear them talking. Then the captain left the house. My mistress told me he had gone to see the king.

The captain returned with a letter from the king and made preparations immediately to travel to Samaria. There was an expectant air in the house. Could he really be cured of this horrible skin condition?

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Less than a month later, Captain Naaman returned home. His skin was as clear as a baby’s.

muddy-riverMy mistress told me the whole story, of how the master had caused panic in the king of Samaria’s palace when he turned up there asking to be healed. Thankfully, Elisha the prophet heard about it and sent a message with the instructions for the captain to wash seven times in the Jordan River.

My master was furious at first because he thought Elisha should chant incantations and wave his hands over the leprosy. But some of his trusted servants who had accompanied him convinced him to give it a try. The Jordan is nothing like the clean rushing waters of the rivers flowing through Damascus. But my master did as he was instructed and was completely healed of leprosy.

Now my master and my mistress worship the one true God. My God: the One who heals.

Celebrate: He’s Alive!

He’s alive! Whoop, whoop, whoop! He’s alive and I’ve seen Him!

Let me calm myself and start at the beginning.

Friday was the worst day ever. I saw Him die and the soldiers man-handling Him off the cross. My friends and I followed and watched at a distance as His body was quickly washed, wrapped and laid in a tomb. It was a race against the setting sun to lay His body to rest; our holy day was about to start which meant we couldn’t do any work.

I planned with my friends to go early Sunday morning to the tomb to prepare His dear body properly for burial. I spent the whole of Saturday grieving and getting the burial spices ready. I couldn’t sleep that night and got up before dawn. The birds were singing and trilling into the darkness; I wiped my wet cheeks with the edge of my head-scarf, the beautiful sound pierced my heart.

I stumbled and fell, almost dropping my jar of spices. There was a rumbling sound. What was going on?

When the ground was still again, I walked forward, heading for the garden where He was buried. I knew soldiers had been put on guard outside, and I’d watched them heave a massive boulder across the mouth of the tomb. Who would move it for me? My heart beat fast and I tried to steady my breathing.

TombI arrived outside the tomb. It was open.

This was freaky. I picked up my dress and ran. I knew where Peter and John were staying. I gave them a shock, banging on their door. ‘Come quick! They’ve moved His body and I don’t know where He is!’

Peter and John didn’t waste time, they rushed past me to the tomb. John looked inside but Peter went right in. They just shook their heads, looking distraught and went home.

I stayed behind, sobbing. I wondered if there were any clues in the tomb that Peter had missed so I poked my head inside.

What I didn’t expect were two angels! They were kind. One said, ‘Why are you crying?’

‘Because they’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where He is.’

There was a look on their faces, and I turned around to see a man standing behind me.

Great, the gardener was starting work for the day. Maybe he could give me some answers. But before I could speak, he said: ‘Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’

‘Oh please tell me where you’ve put Him.’ 

‘Mary!’

It was Jesus! He was alive! I didn’t even recognise Him at first. But oh He’s alive 😀

Jesus really is the Son of God, the only One to conquer death.

Notice

 

Injustice

The word prompt for day four of blogging through Lent is INJUSTICE.

It’s not fair!

My life was a mess. I had a tough childhood, things were done to me, and as I got older, I reacted. I got into stuff I shouldn’t have. Nice people didn’t want anything to do with me. I couldn’t blame them. The presence of evil clung to me wherever I went. I hated being alone, my thoughts would race round in circles until I thought I was going mad. The nights were the worst. Dark presences in the bedroom that made me cower on my bed and wish I was dead. Nightmares that were frighteningly real whenever I did get to sleep. I hated my life.

And then He came.

He saw me, the real me. He was patient. He gave me time. He made me feel safe. And He wanted nothing from me. One scorching afternoon under the vines while His friends were resting, I found the courage to tell Him about my nightmares and my past. He listened. And then He asked what I wanted.

‘I want to be free.’

I wanted peace, to lie on my bed at night and feel safe, to be happy, to be free.

He smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder.

‘Be free.’

Immediately the dark, evil presences left. I felt lighter and oh what was that I felt? Joy. That was it. I broke into delighted laughter and He laughed with me. I’ve never heard a more joyful noise.

Life hasn’t been the same since. Jesus gave me peace in place of tension and joy in place of despair. I’ve had no fear going to bed since then. I’m no longer troubled by evil presences or nightmares.

And now He is being dragged through the streets as the worst type of criminal. They are going to crucify Him. It’s not fair. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s perfect.

That’s it. They’ve killed Him. This man of peace who does good and rescues people from oppression and a life of hell. He’s dead. Why? Oh God, why?

 

 

 

Featured image used with permission courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Stuart Miles.

My Big Brother

I had the perfect big brother. If I fell over and hurt my knee or if any of the neighbourhood kids picked on me, he was there, ready to give me a hug and dry my tears. He always knew what to do and I looked up to him no end. But he could be really annoying. He always did what mum and dad said. The rest of us (I have a big family) got into trouble and once I was grounded for two weeks. But never him. He was the good one. Dad had no trouble teaching him the family trade.

We got a shock when he was older because he gave up the family business to become an evangelist. I suppose, looking back, it shouldn’t have been such a big surprise because he always knew the answers in Sunday school, sometimes even surprising the church leaders with his insights into the scriptures.

He left town and made new friends who happily followed him around the country. It was like he was some kind of celebrity, with huge crowds following him everywhere. There were some spectacular rumours about healings and even demons being cast out of people. I wondered what on earth was happening. I mean, this was my big brother! And the demons were blurting out that he was God’s Son before he silenced them. It was all so confusing for us, his family. We met at mum’s house (dad had died) and had several family discussions. We agreed that the best thing was for us to travel to where he was staying and bring him home. We honestly thought he must be mentally ill, and wanted to protect him. When we got there, he was indoors teaching. The place was packed. People had travelled miles to hear him. Someone went inside and told him we were there. Everyone expected that he would come and greet us, but he didn’t – he said that anyone who did God’s will was his family. How offended and hurt we were!

He came home to Nazareth a couple of times. It was always great to see him, if rather awkward. You see, we knew some people thought he was an amazing miracle-worker but me and my other brothers and sisters didn’t think he was anything very special. He was just our deluded big brother. He did hardly any miracles in Nazareth; he said it was because people here didn’t believe in him. The neighbours were quite insulting actually. I heard them muttering together about him being ‘Mary’s son’, hurtfully resurrecting all those old rumours.

On the last occasion he visited, we all went to church together. He read a favourite passage from Isaiah about the Messiah coming and setting captives free and making blind people see, before electrifying us by announcing that this was being fulfilled right then. The worst bit was when he said that God’s Kingdom is not just for us Jews but for everyone in the world. People got really angry when they heard that, and dragged him outside and up to the cliff top so that they could throw him off. My heart was in my mouth as I ran after them, hoping and praying he’d be okay. Even if he did sound mad, he’s still my big brother! But he just calmly walked back through the crowd. It was as though they couldn’t get hold of him. He didn’t return again.

We continued to get news of him. I think the whole country was talking about him. The authorities were furious, and we were afraid for his life. But I remembered what had happened on the cliff top and told myself he would be safe.

Jerusalem

The family travelled up to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. There were worrying undercurrents in the air. We heard of emergency meetings of the religious leaders, and then the worst news of all: my big brother had been arrested. Mum’s face went white when we heard. And the look in her eyes! I put my arms around her. But what could I say? It was the longest night of my life. One of the Psalms says that joy comes in the morning. But it didn’t for us – as dawn broke we learned that he was sentenced to death by crucifixion.

Of all of his family, only mum and our aunt went to support him as he hung on that wooden cross outside the city. I couldn’t bear to think of it. He had brought shame and dishonour on us, being crucified like a common criminal. And I didn’t believe he had done anything to deserve it. He never did anything wrong! Not even when we were children. I kept thinking of all the miracles we’d heard about: calming the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a fierce storm, healings of all kinds, changing people’s lives, even bringing dead people back to life. None of the rest of us had that kind of power, so where did his come from? He was one of us, but he was also different. I gripped my hair, trying to puzzle it out. Who was he really?

Late in the afternoon his closest friend, John, brought mum back. I could see by the blank looks in their eyes that he was dead. We hugged and cried. How would we ever get through this? John said that Jesus had asked him to look after mum. Even on the brink of death, he was thinking about others.

That awful weekend slowly passed. To say we were in turmoil put it mildly. His disciples kept to themselves, hiding away somewhere. I don’t blame them for being afraid of the authorities. I jumped at every little sound myself. The mum of two of his friends and some other women prepared spices to lay out his body properly for burial. There hadn’t been time on Friday evening.

Sunday brought surprising news that circulated quickly through Jerusalem. He had come back to life! I heard the news and saw the joy on his friends’ faces, their words tumbling over one another in excitement. Suddenly I understood who He is. Jesus isn’t only my big brother, He is the Son of God! Mum and I began meeting with His other followers. Over the next few weeks we saw Him regularly. He was definitely alive and no ghost. One by one, my other brothers and sisters joined us. We all believed in Him now! We began to understand what His death was all about – He had sacrificed Himself once and for all to take God’s wrath for all the wrong things we do. God showed that He accepted His sacrifice by bringing Him back to life.

A short time after He had gone back to heaven (He just rose up straight into the clouds after blessing John and His other close followers and disappeared – amazing), we received the Holy Spirit He’d promised to send. There was a sound like wind rushing into the house and flames of fire appeared on each of our heads, showing that the Spirit had arrived. We spoke in strange languages and such joy filled us! It was fantastic. We just wanted to tell everyone about Jesus.

As I looked round at these dear friends who’d become like brothers and sisters, I finally understood what Jesus meant when He’d said that his family are the people who do God’s will. He wasn’t saying families aren’t important, nor did He mean it as an insult. He meant that the ties of being part of God’s Family – the Church – are even stronger than the blood ties of our own families.

Being Jesus’s blood relative could never make me good enough for God. Only by receiving His salvation through His death, resurrection and ascension could open the way for me to have a relationship with God and be a part of His Family. Jesus isn’t just my big brother – He’s my Saviour and Lord!

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