By: Catherine Olaso
“Tabitha! You vexing donkey! I’ll trade you for a goat if you don’t push on!” Ephraim yanked the rope with his good hand. The other, crippled since birth, hung limp at his side. The donkey brayed at the rough treatment and dug her hooves into the dirt. Her back arched in defiance.
Amid Ephraim’s cursing, a salty breeze lifted off the sea, stirring the dust and his robes…and something deep inside him. Startled, Ephraim dropped the rope and spun in time to see a small fishing boat touch the shore.
A man stepped from the vessel, but Ephraim saw little more than his tattered robes and worn sandals through the press of the crowd that had gathered to greet him.
Ephraim craned his neck and took a curious step forward. This man was not dressed with the wealth of kings or the dignity of the Sadducees. And yet, he bore a royalty Ephraim couldn’t define. Who was he? This man that caused such a fervor of commotion in the crowd?
Compelled to know, Ephraim left his donkey and tread up the hill after the man. Sweat beaded his forehead as he fought through the crush of people shouting, “Master! Master!”
Ephraim furrowed his brow, unable to comprehend the desperation, hope and joy resounding in their voices.
“Woman,” he said to the scurrying figure beside him, “why do you seek this man?”
She hugged the blind child resting on her hip and replied, “Jesus of Nazareth is a merciful healer.”
“And you?” Ephraim tugged on the sleeve of a scholarly man squeezing past him. “What witness will you give?”
“Jesus… is of God.” The man’s eyes filled with tears and he hastened his stride, leaving Ephraim to ponder his words.
Ephraim lagged further behind the swelling crowd, his heart troubled. What manner of man justified such claims? He felt tempted to turn back. This wasn’t the place for him. He’d stopped believing in God long ago.
But the energy of the crowd swept him up. No, it was more than that. The steady burning in his heart swept him up. He would not turn back until he had the answer he sought. One look at Jesus’s face, he thought. One glimpse… then Ephraim would know if the man be true or false.
Ephraim found his breath and continued the rigorous climb, weaving through the mob until he reached the top of the hill. The perplexing man’s voice hummed through the air, gentle as a song but filled with a power not of this world. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” he said. “For they shall see God.”
Ephraim found a hole near the front of the throng and wedged himself between two elderly women. His gaze searched for the face he’d come to test.
Eyes as blue as the sea met his. The noise of the crowd faded until Ephraim heard nothing but the pounding of his heart and the whisper of the spirit.
As the perceptive eyes pierced through him, Ephraim felt the burden of his unbelief. Of his abandonment of God and the misdeeds his life reflected. A lump throbbed in his throat and he bowed his head in shame.
“Master,” he choked, sinking to his knees. A river of tears stained his cheeks.
Jesus stood and said, “Rise, Ephraim. Believe…and doubt no more.”
The hand crippled from birth tingled with warmth. Ephraim blinked in awe as the swollen knuckles gained strength and his twisted fingers straightened, the plaguing pain at last subsided.
“Come,” Jesus beckoned Ephraim. “Sit with me.”
Ephraim trembled at the depth of love and mercy that flowed from the Master. He shook his head, his eyes still cast down. “I am unworthy.”
Jesus crouched and touched Ephraim’s arms, pulling him to his feet. Slowly, Ephraim lifted his gaze to the Master’s. The compassion brimming in his eyes stole Ephraim’s breath.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus repeated, squeezing Ephraim’s shoulders. “For they shall see God.”
Silence followed as his promise penetrated Ephraim’s soul. Understanding widened Ephraim’s eyes.
“Lord!” A sob of joy replaced his sob of sorrow as he threw his arms around the Master’s neck.
“Peace,” whispered Jesus, embracing Ephraim. “Let not your heart be troubled. Neither be afraid.”
Ephraim pulled away. “Lord, how wilt thou that I should serve thee?”
Jesus cast his gaze over the people, then past the olive trees and across the Sea of Galilee. A sad smile parted his mouth. “Yet a little while shall I be with you.” He looked at Ephraim and entreated, “Go, testify of me…until I receive you in the kingdom of my Father.”