We’re coming to the end of Epiphany, the celebration of the wise men visiting Mary and Jesus Baptism, but even with the birth of Christ, Bethlehem paid a terrible price. Here I imagine what it might have been like to be a mother who gave birth to her son the same time that Mary gave birth to Jesus.
I gave birth to my son the night the shepherds banged on the door. “The Messiah has come,” they shouted even before they reached our home. They were shouting up and down the street. When Amos opened the door, we were greeted by the smell of his unwashed body. Amos cousin, shouted in his face. “The angels told us he was going to be a blessing for all the people! The Son of David. Our Savior. I saw a beautiful boy, who laughed when I took him in my arms.”
“Where can I see him?” Amos asked.
“Down the street. In the stable under the house,” pointed his cousin. His eyes glittering.
My Amos’ eyes shone with hope. I’ve never seen such happiness. “Do you know what this means?” he shouted. “No more soldiers forcing us to carry their packs. No more crucifixions. The desert will bloom. Wolves won’t bother our sheep.”
I cried out in pain, as my baby started the journey to this world. Instead of looking for the newborn Messiah, Amos ran for the midwife.
What an auspicious thing to have my son born the same day as the Messiah. Maybe Bennie will join his army and conquer Rome. Maybe he will bring joy to the whole world after all the Caesars and proconsuls and centurions are sent to Hades. The Mount of Olives will split in two and a river will water trees for the healing of the nations.The desert will become vineyards. I smiled down at Bennie. He smiled back like he knew he’d join the Lord’s army.
My son and Jesus were circumcised on the same day in the synagogue. Mary glowed with pride. I wished they didn’t have to hurt my son. I held my breath when the words, “Blessed are you, Our Lord our God, King of the Universe” were spoken because Bennie was being cut.
Then Amos recited, ““Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the Covenant of Abraham our father.” And it was done.
Then Jesus was circumcised. He wailed so loudly, it was all I could do not to stop my ears. His cry tore at my heart.
We brought our sons together for the time of the purification. The sun shone brightly. Amos and Joseph talked about the census, and the local gossip. Mary and I didn’t say much, holding our babies as the donkeys carried us. When we came upon Jerusalem, the beauty of the city took my breath away. The temple was so large, so spare. The stones themselves made me wonder about the men who built it. It smelled like blood and roast meat.
We offered our two pigeons for sacrifice. Amos and I heard the holy man say, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to. Your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence for all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2: 29 – 30, ESV).
Amos tugged on my sleeve, said, “It’s not our business, leave them be.” But I ignored my husband’s insistence. I heard him say to Mary, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword shall pierce your own soul also), so the thoughts of many will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34, ESV). I was frightened by the darkness that passed over Mary’s face. Then it passed sunlight shoves a hailstorm out of the way and everything sparkles like fine jewels. A crown of stars. It looked like she was wearing.
Amos tugged my sleeve, said come on, “We need to find our lodgings.”
When we returned to Bethlehem, when I took Bennie to visit Jesus, I saw he had a big nose and the darkest eyes that pierced my soul. But his smile was sublime. If I say so myself, my Bennie was more beautiful. I remembered how the prophet Isaiah said that the messiah would have “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2, ESV)/.
“Could you bless my boy?” I asked.
Mary put her hands on my son’s head and closed her eyes, whispering, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
I bowed, thanking her. We talked for a few minutes about how our breasts were sore from feeding, how our mothers told us to put on the same oils, and the waking in the middle of the night to feed them, when all we wanted was sleep. We talked about our husbands always busy–Joseph working with wood and stone, my Amos pressing olives for the richest oil. She thanked me warmly when I gave her his best oil.
A few months later, Bethlehem was roused by a caravan of richly dressed men coming to visit Jesus. People rushed to accommodate them. We all looked up and saw a star hovering over the house where Mary and Joseph stayed. The star glowed with many colors—red, green, copper, blue. Were we seeing angels for the first time? Amos’ cousin said, the angels he saw, were more strange, with four faces and whirring wings and too many eyes, constantly moving. The star was settled. The whole town gathered to look. The scholars unloaded fine goods from their camels to give to Jesus. It was more wealth than our husbands earned in a lifetime. They said, “Didn’t you know the prophecy, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means last among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt 2:6, ESV).
The star faded. The town watched as the scholars rode their camels north instead of back to Jerusalem. Their camels were more magnificent than anything we’d ever seen, so regal and smooth gaited.
I opened the door to armor. Shields. Flashing swords. War horses stirring dust in our streets. The soldiers pinned my arms. I felt the warmth in their hands, the bruises in my arms. I screamed and sobbed, but that didn’t stop them from killing my boy. The blood. My Bennie’s blood. Like our sacrificed lambs. I screamed, “Why? Why? Why?”
“By decree of Herod, all of Bethlehem’s boys two and under, must die.” I saw the sickness in the soldier’s eyes. I saw a dragon’s jaws wide open.
When Amos ran back from the olive grove, “What’s wrong. What’s wrong?” he slammed through the door. But when he saw, he wailed. Bethlehem wailed, our grief as terrible and violent as wolves howling. He rocked Bennie. I sobbed from the depths of my womb.
God forgive me but I prayed He would raise our babies like Elijah raised the widow’s son, but He did not.
We buried our boys, one laid next to the other. Bennie, my beloved Bennie, wrapped in a shroud, placed in a cave. None of us could comfort the other. We were all crushed. We all chanted, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted because they are no more” (Matt. 2:18, ESV). Everyday I hug the rock blocking Bennie from air and light, my love. Everyday I sob.
Why? Why? Didn’t she warn us? I thought we were friends. We played with our boys together. We drew water together and smacked our clothes on the rock. We traded husband stories, because we all had good men, who bumbled. We rejoiced when the scholars came and made Mary and Joseph rich. They said what the shepherds said, “We come looking for the king of the Jews.” We marveled because shepherds and scholars said, David’s son, the king who welcome the new age, had been born. Imagine being the mother of my Lord, but Mary was the kindest, most thoughtful friend I’d ever had, until she disappeared.
The prophet said a sword would pierce her heart. What about my heart? What about Rachel’s heart? Or Salmone’s? Or Lois’s? What about our hearts? The old man at the temple might have been talking about us. Mary still has her son. Her love and her joy when she held him. We loved being in her presence. She has Joseph.
We don’t know where Mary and Joseph went. Amos’ cousin saw them leave deep at night, a mule pulling their cart east.
Amos died when an olive tree toppled the day he pruned his grove. Amos. Bennie. There’s no end to my tears. “For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs on my head; my heart fails me. Be pleased O Lord to deliver me! O Lord make haste to help me!” (Ps. 40:12, ESV).
I survived my gaping pain by hating Mary and Joseph and her boy. She was the menstrual cloths I slapped against the rock. I stomped on her at the grape press. I don’t know how I kept walking through the years. I prayed Lord make haste to help me. His haste was pretty slow.
I don’t know if her son was the promised Messiah. Amos had been so sure. Before he died, he told me not to give up hope our salvation had come. He whispered, “Keep looking for when he grows up. Be glad he escaped,” he patted my hand and passed.
But I could not make myself hope though I heard stories of a man who said he’d come to heal the blind, make the lame walk. He cast out demons. He fed a crowd of people. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Could this be Mary’s son?
My anger had flamed out. Each step I took was a dull thud. Matthias, Amos’ brother, offered to provide for me. I don’t know how he could live with so much anger, but like I said, it flamed out. I learned to love him.
But years later. I saw that sword pierce her heart. Her son flayed, all blood and raw, stretched on a cross. Her face the utter sorrow I felt when Bennie was slain, when Amos died. I wanted to feel: You got yours. Serves you right. But I had no taste for that. Not anymore.
The sun disappeared. The earth quaked. Suddenly a young man appeared by my side, the spitting image of Amos.
In case you think this last paragraph is a sentimental happy ending, there’s a mysterious sentence that says, “The tombs were also opened. And many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the city and appeared to many” (Matt. 27:52).
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