All Stories, General Fiction

My Brother Jesus by Larry Lefkowitz

Jesus was ever the apple of his mother’s eye. Me – the lemon of her tongue. Was it my fault that I was a clumsy brute, poor with words, while my brother Jesus was skilled of tongue and handsome of face? My father Joseph had more patience for me than did my mother – but then he, like me, was taciturn of character.

I suppose if I had to find a model for each of us, Jesus was David, I was Saul. Sometimes I felt more like Goliath.

Jesus was a dutiful, even willing, synagogue attender. I was fitful in my attendance. While they permitted Jesus to read from the torah scroll, me they gave to hold it while it was tied and covered following the torah reading. And my strength was in demand for the “Joy of Torah” celebration of the yearly completion of its reading when we circled carrying the torah scrolls. Jesus made a symbolic lone circle before handing his scroll to someone else to carry — usually me. Jesus was so skilled in his Hebrew that he was sometimes allowed to give his interpretation of the torah portion read for that week, while I struggled to master the intricacies of the more common Aramaic grammar, Hebrew invariably “exceeded my grasp.”

At the time when Jesus became an increasingly popular synagogue speaker, I was apprenticed to a tent- maker. Well, man (some men, at least) must work by the sweat of his brow due to the original couple ‘s sin in the Garden of Eden. Truth was, I was hired more to erect the tent than to make it. I was good at the backbreaking work of penetrating the ground with tent-poles. “Tent-making is an honored profession,” Jesus said to me. He never tried to erect a tent during a hamsin – the hot, dusty storms that from time to time swept in from the desert. Too bad he refused to produce one of his miracles for me, like casting out the hamsin to, say, Rome. The most he would do was trot out some would-be comforting parable, whose meaning was lost to me in the middle. Well, huffing and puffing with tent-pole and fustian cloth was not helpful in trying to follow the threads of a parable.

While I labored with tents, Jesus became a wandering preacher and miracle worker. Any Pharisee worth his salt could produce a miracle, but they didn’t have the silver tongue that made a miracle memorable. And timing –Jesus had perfect timing.

I have to say that even though Jesus reputation grew, he never turned his back on me. Paternalistic, yes. Rejectionist, no. I have to confess that I didn’t always make it easy for him. If I were present at one of his miracles, I would occasionally make comments. Jesus would ignore me or, sometimes, take what I said and very cleverly make it into a saying of greater merit, or even a parable. At the miracle of the bread and the fishes, for instance, I popped out with “Man does not live by bread alone.” Jesus quickly answered, “The true bread is out of heaven,” if I remember rightly. I  preferred when my brother ignored me, as his erudition only made me feel like a failed tent maker who puts in a peg and someone else is brought in his place to finish erecting the tent.

Jesus knew how to deal with the Romans. He ran rings around them because he was smart and they were stupid. I knew how to deal with them too, but in my case because I had more in common with them. Your average legionnaire is a dolt. Sometimes Jesus’ wisdom and cleverness rankled a Roman soldier and lucky for him that I was around when this happened. I would make a joke — crude to be sure (Roman humor was confined largely to sexual parts, sexual pairing, or bodily functions) — to defuse the tension. Jesus later upbraided me for my crudity. I explained that it was to help him out of a bad situation, but he would say something condescending. On more than one occasion, I had to bloody a Roman nose, risky, but often the soldier, if alone, would prefer the blow to the insult should his comrades found out. I bore some scars from occasional sword-swipes, but I was quicker, despite my bulk, than your average Roman soldier, especially since he wore 20 pounds of armor. The Romans loved to punish – themselves, if not someone else. Only they could come up with a punishment as loathsome as crucifixion.

As time passed and Jesus’ following grew, we saw less of each other. I wasn’t sorry. I began to feel that I, too, was somebody, not just the hulking shadow of a more successful brother. Even my mother seemed to accept me as I was.

I was glad for Jesus, though I didn’t trust some of his associates. They pushed him too fast and too far. It was he who was in danger of being arrested by the Romans, not they. And as if this were not enough, there was this messiah business. I never heard Jesus claim outright that he was the messiah. He said all sorts of things that may have hinted at it – or that hinted at his being a great rabbi. I didn’t want him to be the messiah: he was my brother Jesus. There was enough of a difference between us already – and if he were the messiah, where would that leave me? Some day they would doubt that I ever lived.


Larry Lefkowitz

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