A.D. 33

By: Ted Dekker



During the last month, we had slaughtered more than a hundred of the male camels, each drawn by lot. The owner was awarded the most prized meats—liver and head—and the rest was divided among that family’s clan.

My own she-camel, whom I’d named Zahwah, as white as the brightest sand, would be near my tent, for she loved me and never strayed far. If she was selected for slaughter I would weep, then gratefully give her life to save the children.

The moment the little ones saw me, they ran to me, leaping with arms swinging high. “Maviah, Maviah, Maviah!” There was Sayd and Salim and Mona and others—I knew them well, most younger than my Talya and so perhaps even more trusting of those who cared for them.

“Leave her!” Jalilah cried. The old woman’s stained dress was ragged, made of finely woven camel hair worn thin by years of use. Her feet were bare, soles thickened by a life on the sands. With one hand, she steadied a heavy skin of water on her back; with the other she waved at the children, scolding. “Maviah isn’t a goat to be played with!”

“Let them come, Jalilah.” I smiled and her scowl softened, but I had countered her authority and immediately sought to repair her pride. “Only a moment before you chase them away,” I said, lowering myself to one knee to receive the children.

Mona reached me first and flung herself into my arms. I kissed her dirty cheek, wondering how many days since she’d washed herself.

“How beautiful you are, Mona!” I said, kissing her filthy hair. “You are like the morning sun.”

Then the other children reached me, clambering for as much love and affection.

“Salim is killing his goat tomorrow,” little Mona said, eyes bright. “We’re having a great feast because Salim is slaughtering the goat!”

“Oh?” I grinned at Salim, who wore his age with pride, for he was the eldest here, perhaps seven—already a warrior in the making. “Salim has a goat to slaughter?”

The young boy shrugged, knowing he’d spoken more than he could deliver. “It’s my uncle’s last goat. He says we will eat it soon. And I will kill it with my knife.”

“Well, won’t that be the day! I will feast with you, Salim. We all will.”

“Now leave her!” Jalilah scolded, shooing them with her free arm. “You’re children and know nothing! Leave, leave!”

I gave Salim a nod.

They scampered away, knowing not to test Jalilah. I felt the full weight of so many lives upon my shoulders.

I found Saba alone with Talya beyond the spring amid five staggered boulders, arms crossed, shaded by a date palm stripped of its fruit.

Saba had long ago traded his battle dress for a loose tunic and pants, which looked whiter than they were next to his black skin. His bald head towered over the frame of a small boy with dark curls, dressed nearly identically to his teacher.

My heart leaped at the sight of Talya. The new name I had chosen for him meant both “child” and “lamb” in Aramaic, the language of Yeshua, because he was small, even for an eight-year-old. And precious.

I pulled up short on the slope, realizing they hadn’t yet seen me.

“And what do we call it?” Saba asked in his soft, rumbling tone.

“The kingdom,” Talya said.

How sweet was Talya’s young voice. I slipped between two boulders and watched, unseen, treasuring these gifts of mine to love.

“Which kingdom?” Saba settled back against one of the boulders, arms still folded.

Talya answered without pause, having learned Saba’s teachings well. “The kingdom of heaven. There are two—the realm of heaven and the realm of earth. But only the realm of heaven is eternal, with no beginning or end.”

“And where is this eternal realm called heaven?”

“Everywhere,” Talya answered, using his little arms to demonstrate. “Inside, outside, high and low and wide and deep.”

“Even among the Thamud?”

“Yes, but they cannot see it. They are blind.”

“Why are they blind?”

“Because they see only with the little eyes in their skulls. They are blind like Hamil.”

“Hamil is blinded only by old age and too much sun. Perhaps he sees the kingdom of heaven better than any of us. But blind, yes. Excellent!”

Saba clapped once, straightened, and tossed Talya a date from his pocket.

“And how sweet is this gift of earth, for which we are eternally grateful.”

Talya stuffed the date in his mouth, then clapped as well. “How sweet it is!”

Saba chuckled. “But not nearly as wonderful as Talya, who has opened the eyes of his heart so he may see more than the realm of earth.”

A lump gathered in my throat.

Saba had become a new man in the two years since we’d left Petra to gather the oppressed in Arabia. While I tended my place as mother to all, Saba often retreated to the sands to quiet his mind in prayer and contemplation. In this way he exchanged his own understanding of the world for a deep intimacy with the Father. This was his process of repentance, the way of attaining metanoia, which is a changed mind—a mind transformed and made greater.

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