Out of Season
By Stanley W. McFarland
Yusuf hated camels. He hated the spitting and the ill-temper. He hated how high you had to sit in order to ride one. Most of all, he hated the smell.
Yet here he was with his wife and son. His was one of only two parties in Antiochus-the-Syrian’s caravan with a donkey, and for the first time in his life, Yusuf considered that he might be better off with a camel.
The donkey was no longer young and Yusuf was asking a lot of the beast. His wife, Mari was pregnant with their second child and young Yeshua was too little to keep up the pace. Then, there were Yusuf’s carpentry tools and camp supplies, and the family’s secret wealth of gold, incense and rich ointment. There was little enough of each, but more than enough to get his throat cut if one of these Syrians, Samaritans, or Ishmaelites knew what he had. They wouldn't care about the treasure being gifts from exotic eastern mystics. Yusuf wouldn’t believe such a story himself if he hadn’t been there to see it.
Last night, the donkey looked to be getting lame. When Yusuf mentioned it, little Yeshua fussed over the beast for a bit. The animal seemed better this morning. Yusuf had no idea what the family would do if the donkey died. Here they were, in the midst of strangers, halfway to Egypt, a place he feared only a little less than this wasteland they were traveling through to get there.
At least Mari wasn’t nearly as pregnant as she was the last time they traveled. They had barely made Bethlehem, when little Yeshua was born two years before. It seemed a miracle that the jostling of the trip hadn’t caused her to give birth on the side of the road.
Many strange things revolved around little Yeshua.
Yeshua was the reason they were taking this trip. Yusuf had dreamed that the king wanted to kill the boy. Why a king should care about a two-year-old child was hard to imagine. Yes, both Yusuf could trace his line back to King David, but so could more than ten thousand others if the census was to be believed. Yusuf wasn’t sure that half that many were of David’s lineage. There are always those who claim a royal ancestor to help cover their own short-comings. Yusuf didn't see why. Here I am, a descendent of the great King David and I’m still just a carpenter with a sharp-tongued wife and a bastard son. Whatever that odd stranger meant about Yeshua being of the spirit of Yahweh, all I know is that the boy isn't mine. Now, because of that boy, he was on the road to Egypt fleeing a king who shouldn’t know Yusuf from a host of other working men in Southern Judea.
He had to admit, he liked the little fellow. No, he loved him. Even if Yeshua wasn’t his by birth, Yusuf couldn’t have asked for a better son. He had a mind of his own and a stubborn streak like other two-year-olds, but at least he didn’t have his mother’s tongue – yet. He hoped the child in Mari’s womb would measure up to his older brother. Of course, the baby might be a girl. Imagine the shame of having some other man father a boy with his wife and Yusuf’s children all be daughters.
Mari had strange, disturbing plans for Yeshua. They could have used a camel, or a second donkey, for this trip, and they had more than enough gold to buy one. But, Mari refused to spend the gold and told Yusuf that it was for the boy’s army when he comes of age. King Herod couldn't have heard about her saying such things, could he? Maybe that’s why they were in the midst of the wilderness with an old donkey and hostile strangers all around. It never pays to stick your head up where the great will notice you. Where did Mari get these notions of exalting the lowly and making the mighty grovel in the dust?
Yusuf didn't trust this Antiochus. In Syria, Antiochus was a fine name but to a Judean it was the desecrator of the temple, the enemy of the Macabees. They were riding with a man named for the evil king, headed for the land of captivity. All they needed was a neighbor named Haman to make the trip complete.
The donkey balked. It wasn’t such a big surprise. If I were he, Yusuf thought, I’d balk too.
“What do you want, old jack-ass?” Yusuf growled.
“He says he’s hot and tired and thirsty and wants to rest,” said little Yeshua. He said the strangest things at times, yet that’s probably what the donkey would say if he could.
“Let me down, Papa. I can walk with you.”
Yusuf guessed it couldn't hurt to let the boy down. The donkey wasn't moving.
“Damn it, jack-ass, move!”
“Are you sure about that dream, Yusuf?” Mari asked. “Maybe we should have stayed in Judea.”
“How can I be sure of anything, Mari? With you speaking sedition at every well, it’s no wonder the king wants to kill us.”
“Did the dream say Herod wants to kill us, or the boy?”
“I told you,” said Yusuf. “The dream said the boy.”
“Then it was a true dream. My son will change the world.”
Her son again. Yusuf wasn't the father but she still could say “our son” just to let him feel included.
The boy let out a bray that sounded for all the world like the donkey. The donkey started walking again. Little Yeshua ran over and grabbed Yusuf’s hand.
“What did you say to the donkey?” Yusuf scowled.
“I told him there is an oasis ahead, and he’ll have figs to eat when we get there.”
“Yeshua, we ran out of figs days ago.” The boy just looked at Yusuf as if the man was a dullard. “I guess it doesn’t matter what you promised a donkey, Yeshua, as long as you got it to move.”
The boy’s legs were short but at least he didn't dawdle like other children his age. The boy walked for two hours without complaint. Maybe, he’ll be a soldier. I hope not. I want him to be a carpenter, have a family, be happy and support me in my old age.
Ahead was an oasis. Three palm trees towered over the little water hole. In front of the water hole was a fig tree. The tree had fruit on it.
Figs weren't due for months yet, and any tree on a caravan route would be constantly picked clean. The leading members of the caravan were already gathering the figs. Ordinarily, Yusuf would expect the tree to be picked bare before he got there, but somehow he knew there would be enough for his family, and even some for the donkey. Little Yeshua patted the donkey and trudged on to the oasis.
What kind of child was this?