Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Theudas" by Stephen R. Wilson

We were so foolish.

Theudas bar Judah had left our town almost ten years before. He just up and left his father and brothers to work the fields, even though he was the oldest, and went out and lived in the desert. He said God was calling him. I didn’t know what to think. Everyone else just thought he was crazy and I guess he was. You get that sometimes, you know – someone that just doesn’t think straight or maybe’s had an injury to their head or something. Other people say it’s demons living in a person, but I think it’s just like anything else that goes wrong with you. I can remember thinking about Theudas, though, What if he’s not crazy? What if God really is talking to him? But I was young, still a boy really, and what can a boy know?

Anyway, his parents quarreled with him and his young wife pleaded with him. The elders even talked to him a couple of times, but no one could persuade him to stay. He was so sure that God had chosen him.

Of course, we’d hear reports about someone seeing him from time to time. I even did myself once. It was Passover and I was on my way up to Jerusalem with my parents and there he was, sitting off the road a ways, all serene like, as if the passing crowds didn’t bother him a bit. And other people would say about the same thing. They’d say they saw him walking, but never on the roads and he’d never answer you if you called to him. He wouldn’t pay you any mind at all, like he didn’t even notice you were there.

Well, he went on like that for about ten years. Some people swear it was ten years to the day, but I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really marked the exact day he left. It was close, though. I remember he left in the spring and he came back in the spring. He had about ten men with him when he walked into town. He said they were his disciples and that he had come to invite more people to join him.

He sat down then and began teaching. He talked about God’s kingdom and about how God was going to give Israel the earth and make his followers the rulers of the nations. We would be the masters then, not the Romans.

That night, he left to go on to another town. Like an idiot, I was the only one from our village to follow him. He had just looked so serious and sounded so commanding. There was this gleam in his eye that made me think, He can do it. He’s the one. He’s the Messiah. I didn’t even tell my parents I was leaving. I just followed Theudas and his disciples and never looked back until it was all over.

His message was the same in every town we came to. The Kingdom was coming and we had to be ready for it. We had to make sure we were “sons of the light” so that God could reward and elevate us over the rest of the people.

Soon, there were about four hundred of us following him and we were on our way to the Jordan River. He had promised to make the waters of the Jordan part, just like Joshua and Elishah had done, and like Moses at the Red Sea.

But when we got there, there was a troop of Roman soldiers waiting for us. The governor had apparently had enough of Theudas’ little rebellion. The captain of the troop came up, though, and desperately asked Theudas to come heal his son, who was sick and probably dying at home. “Your life for his,” the captain said. “Heal my son and I will tell the governor that you never came here.”

“You are used to giving orders,” Theudas told the captain. “You tell your soldiers to do something and know that they will do it. I tell you that you may leave. Your son will live.”

The captain, even though he was desperate enough to ask Theudas for his help, did not have enough faith in Theudas to just take him at his word. Instead, he sent one of his men back to his home and told the soldier to come report any change that occurred in his son’s condition. In the meantime, the rest of the troop kept us camped out there and under guard.

A few days later, the soldier the captain had sent came back. He spoke to the captain for a moment and then the captain, tears in his eyes and blind with rage, drew his sword and marched straight up to Theudas. “Fake!” the captain screamed. “You said my boy would live!”

Theudas, suddenly on his feet and backing away from the captain’s sword, sputtered, “He will live. Your son will live in Heaven, with God, forever.”

“That’s not good enough!” the captain roared and lashed out with his sword.

Theudas’ head hit the ground and I just felt sick. How could I have been so wrong? I wondered. How could I have been so stupid? Theudas wasn’t the Messiah. He wasn’t anything. He was just a poor, deluded man…who had also deluded me. I don’t know what he would have done when the Jordan didn’t part at his word, but I suppose I would have found out my mistake that day, either way. 

Some of Theudas’ followers pulled their own swords and attacked the Romans after that, trying to avenge their fallen master, but not me. I just walked away and started for home.

People say there’s a new Messiah now, a man named Jesus coming out of somewhere in Galilee. Well, good luck to ‘em, I say. They’ll find out soon enough.

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