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To Live Forever
(A short story based on Matthew 9:18-26.)
Silas hurried to shovel out the barn stall where the ewes had been brought to birth. Five ewes would soon have lambs. They were restless, pacing and bleating. He grabbed a handful of grass outside the barn and drew them away from the stall he needed to clean.

He had already heard the whistle, the sign from Nina that she was waiting to play in the garden. He scooped the last of the sheep’s dung onto his shovel before dumping it in a cart he would take out later. He tossed the shovel toward the corner where it belonged.

It clattered against the other tools as he ran out the door and toward the garden.

He paused to look over the gate, making sure Nina had come, before he entered.

She waited on a bench beside a pool. When she tapped the water, fish would turn somersaults and blow bubbles for her to give them treats.

He slowed his steps, smiling. “Shalom.”

She looked up from watching the fish and smiled. “Be at peace. What shall we do today?” She always deferred to him.

He was older, by two years, but those years seemed greater, as he was her father’s servant and she the beloved, only daughter.

He felt important that she asked him. He thought only a moment. His favorite game was “Imagine.” He suggested it now.

She smiled and lay back on the bench and sighed.

He flopped on the grass at her feet. The clouds were white and fluffy above the fig tree branches. He saw the sky through her long, curly hair cascading from the bench. He wrapped it around his finger, studying how it sparkled and shone in the morning sunshine. “You start.”

She rolled over to look at him, her eyes sparkling, her lips curving into a smile. Her carefree laugh showed that she was immersed in the game. “I wish I could fly.”

He laughed. Her expression almost made him believe they could. Without thinking, he said, “We could be free.”

She laughed. “But I am.”

His face lost the smile. His eyes intent on her. He had ruined the game. The gulf that lay between servant and master was too great. His parents were servants to her father, and so was he. Nothing could change that.

She sensed his change of mood and tried to cheer him. “But if we could fly, we could fly away from here and be what we want to be.”

When that didn’t change his expression, she asked, “What would you be?”

“If I could be anything?”

She nodded, her curls rising and falling around her face, her eyes sparkling with anticipation of his answer.

He took a deep breath, resolving not to ruin her smile again. “I’d be a soldier.”

He saw her brows crinkle with the question. “Why a soldier?”

 “I would protect you from all harm.”

Her smile returned, and it encouraged him to continue, “Then I’d be a sailer.”

“And go across the Great Sea?”

He wanted to hear her laugh. “I could provide you with wealth and riches.”

Her laughter made his heart soar. “What else?”

It was really her turn, but she seemed absorbed in hearing his dreams. He could think of nothing greater than a sailer until he saw her cat slink toward her in the shadows of the herbs. “I’d be a great hunter and bring you a lion pelt.”

He was rewarded by her laughter, not of disbelief, but of pleasure.

She leaned over the bench and put her face close to his. “I would walk on it in the winter months when my feet were cold.

He had never shared all his thoughts, but she was so receptive to his dreams. Before he could think, he blurted out, “And I’d marry you.”

Her eyes widened and her lips formed an “O” of surprise.

He wanted to catch his words back as if he’d never said them. She could never be his wife. He was a servant. She was an important official ruler of the synagogue’s daughter. The dream was beyond all the other dreams combined. Why had he spoken?

But even as he doubted, she broke into a smile.

To him it was as radiant as the sun. Almost as if that very dream could come true.

Then before his eyes, her eyes dimmed and she shook her head. “You have to live a long time to do all those things.”

He dropped his gaze from her face. It wasn’t being the soldier, the sailer, or the hunter that was impossible for her to believe. It was only marrying her.

The gulf between servant and master had never seemed so great as at that moment.

He had spoken with seriousness and she had lost her smile. He wanted to see it again. “What if we could live forever?”

Her smile retuned and she rolled over and looked at the clouds as she twirled her own hair around her finger. “I would go to the lands you conquered as a soldier and see the gardens and people of other places. I would sail with you to other places far from here. I would stand by your side as you protected me from the lion that threatened to attack. And I would be your wife.” As she finished her story, she turned to him and smiled.

He could do nothing but smile back.

She painted a picture of a world that could be, if only they could live forever.

The spell was broken when his mother called from the back door.

He answered.

“I need more water.”

He stood, dropping his hand from the curl around his finger. The dream of soldier, sailor, hunter gone. But the glow of being her husband remained as he hauled water.

They often played the game again, though Silas was careful not to share too much of his heart. But  inside, the seed of his dreams grew.

And he wished to live forever.

***

His mother seemed always to call him when he watched for Nina in the garden, or played with her. It was as if she wanted to keep him away from Nina.

One day his mother called him aside. While he stood in the kitchen for her to speak, she wrung a cloth in her hands and looked around the kitchen. Why was she nervous? It seemed out of character for her. She belonged here. Didn’t she create great meals for Nina’s family? But as she dropped her voice and whispered, he felt a sense of doom descend. He didn’t want to hear what she said, yet he knew he would. “Silas, do not grow fond of Nina. It can bring no good.”

He denied his feelings with a shake of his head. But knew her words were true.

She squeezed his shoulder. “It’s best to stay away from her.”

But Silas couldn’t stay away from Nina any more than he could stop the sun from sheding light on him. He looked for Nina’s smile of approval. He listened for her laughter. He longed for her love.

As the years advanced, his mother’s admonition seemed to come true. He found it harder to imagine Nina by his side, but his wishes still hoped it could be. Thoughts of being a soldier, a sailor, or a great hunter were lost in caring for the sheep, or cleaning out the barn. But he did hang onto the wish that life could go on forever. Given enough time, couldn’t that one dream come true?

He had escorted her to the market to carry her purchases.

She selected grapes, bartering expertly with the farmer, for a good exchange. They had walked away from his blanket filled with grapes and wine before she gave Silas a smile that showed the success of her purchase. She selected a grape, pushing it into his mouth.

Surprised, he gulped, then chewed it slowly, allowing the sweet juice to fill his mouth.

Her eyes still sparkled, this time with mischief. “Remember when we wished…” Her face colored at their childhood imaginings. She finished with “to live forever?” Her eyes expressed what she was to self-conscious to say.

He could only nod as he studied her face. They were in a crowded market street with people jostling them to keep walking. Their long ago game had been a private moment, thoughts he had since wished he had not shared. Would she laugh now at his boyhood dreams of marriage, especially to a daughter of an important synagogue official?

But she had not laughed then, and her smiled reassured him that she wouldn’t mock his dreams now. Her words broke into his doubts. “I wish we could live forever.” She studied his face, as if searching for the unspoken message, to see if it were true for him too.

He smiled, but it was a sad smile, for he know it could never be. “My wish will never change.”

Her eyes told him that if she could voice her dreams, they would agreed with his. But they both knew it was only dreams of children.

***

Silas went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He listened to the Torah read from the scribes and leaders. He stood on the outskirts of the congregation. He was a Jew, but a servant, who couldn’t benefit from the Law. Not in the way he wished. He stood with the men and heard the words of the Law. He had started to sway as he stood, growing tired from the many scrolls read for their worship.

Their people had their history recorded since Creation by Moses. Sometimes the Rabbi would read their history rather than the laws they were to obey. Their people had lived hundreds of years.

Silas remembered his discussion with Nina and wondered about living that long. Would it make a difference? He shifted, refocusing his attention to the front.

But on this Sabbath, the Man Whom others had whispered about was here. He approached the pedestal where the scrolls lay. He seemed to have a particular place he wanted to read. He glanced across the parchment until he found what he wanted and began to read.

Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years. He who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” (Isaiah 65:20)

The man looked from his reading and directly at Silas, as if the words were just for him. They were as close to living forever as he could imagine. He thought about the Prophet Isaiah’s words as he followed the men out of the synagogue. What would it be like not to imagine, but to actually living long? He almost wished he could play the imagine game again with Nina, to see what she thought of the text.

Would she think they had any hope?

He shook his head. His mother’s warning of no good came to his mind again.

But he could not ignore the words of the prophet, nor the wishes of his heart.

***

It was many days after the Sabbath. He had finished cleaning the stalls, leading the sheep to the fenced pasture and water them, and then on to the pasture. When he returned to house, he, out of habit, listened for Nina’s singing, but knew now it wasn’t for him. The gulf between them had widened with age. He had servant’s tasks that kept him busy most of the day, and she must learn from her mother what she needed for an important ruler’s house. He looked toward the open window where she sat before retiring for the night.

He would wait for her smile.

He loitered long after the sun set and the stars took over the night sky. Usually the stars would shine, highlighting her hair with an angelic glow as she looked out the window before being called to bed.

Yet she didn’t appear.

He rose early, before it was time for him to clean the stalls, and waited for her, anxious that he had missed her the night before.

But still he didn’t see her.

Several days went by and still he didn’t see her.

His concern increased when her father remained at the house instead of going to the synagogue. What was wrong?

Later the same day, he watched as the master left and hurried down the street, not in the direction of the synagogue but toward the gate of the city.

Silas went to the kitchen where his mother stirred a broth over the fire.

He stood awkwardly, not knowing what to say, or how to ask what he felt.

She must have felt his presence, because she spoke without turning around. “Nina is ill. The master goes to the Healer.”

“Healer?”

She finally turned and looked him in the eye. “The Healer Who has made cripples walk, Who give sight to the blind.”

“She is sick?” He could hardly spit out the words.

She nodded.

Silas didn’t remain but ran through the house toward Nina’s room. He had never been inside the house, except the kitchen where his mother worked, but found the room by knowing where her window was. He pushed his way past servants who scurried back and forth to her room. At her doorway, he paused.

She lay on the bed, unmoving. Her cheeks pale. Her lips, normally so red, now appeared almost blue. Her eyes were closed.

He hesitated only a moment, before stepping to her bedside. He brushed her damp hair from her face. As was his habit, he wrapped it around his finger, and gazed at its curls. He didn’t know what to do.

All the other servants around him seemed to know what to do to help.

He could do nothing.

She had been so alive, so vibrant the last time they had talked in the market. Today, she looked so small, fragile. Heat radiated from her like the hot broth sitting on the table by her bed. Her hand on top of the sheep skin was limp and lifeless.

He hesitated only a moment before stepping to her bedside. He brushed her damp hair from her face. As was his habit, he wrapped it around his finger and gazed at its curls. He didn’t know what else to do.

Her stillness frightened him.

He touched her hand, but withdrew it quickly as if he’d touched fire. He could still feel the heat as he rubbed his fingers against his tunic. He could only whisper, “I wish at least you could live forever.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when he felt a dread that his only wish, for her presence, would never come true. He didn’t care about becoming a solider, a sailor, or a great hunter if Nina wasn’t by his side. He knew with finality he would never marry Nina. He knew with a hopeless dread that she would not live forever. And something died within him.

“What are you doing here?” An angry voice intruded into his grief. A servant stepped into the room and caught him.

Silas backed away from the bed, but couldn’t find an answer. Instead he darted from the room and rushed out of the house.

He ran blindly, not thinking where he was going until he stopped the garden bench. He dropped to the ground beside the bench, and rested his head on his arms. There would be no wishes or dreams today, only the vast blue sky that went on and on, with no promises even of tomorrow.

***

Silas didn’t know how long he had lain there. But when his mother touched his shoulder, he jerked.

“Silas. The master’s wife requests you take a message to the master.”

He rose to his knees and nodded, waiting for the message. It would give him something away from the house to keep his thoughts from Nina.

She squeezed his shoulder. “Nina is dead.”

The intact of breath couldn’t give him enough air. Silas felt like he was choking.

His mother shook his shoulder. “Silas, go quickly. The master mustn’t bother the Healer.”

Silas broke away from her hold and stood. He couldn’t find his voice, but nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. Before his mother saw his tears, he turned and left the garden to the street. The gated yard meant to keep its occupants safe and protected. But they hadn’t.

When he reached the road, he ran, retracing his master’s hurried steps to where people had gathered outside of town to see the Healer.

Why had it not been he who had gotten sick?

The road narrowed at the end of town. His feet took him without thinking to the hill where he climbed over boulders and jumped over gullies formed when the rains came and filled the rivulets with water. He paused under one lone sycamore tree. Its limbs reached high into the clouds.

He averted his eyes from the sky. The clouds reminded him of dreams never to come true. He blinked back tears, wiping those already shed, and swallowed again as he looked over the scene on the other side of the hill.

Crowds had gathered. Many with sicknesses and disease were making their way down the road to where the Healer was surrounded. So many people, with dreams of their own, wishing the Healer would give them hope.

Silas ran down the hill, pushing his way through the crowds to where the Healer stood. His master stood beside him. Had he gotten there in time to spare his master from bothering the Healer?

He stepped toward his master to relay the news. He hadn’t paid attention to all the talk of Who the Healer was. But now, as he stood beside his master, Jairus, he realized that the Healer was the same man who had read the Law at the synagogue many weeks ago. Silas hesitated, remembering the prophecy of life forever. It seemed empty now. What difference would it make if he lived to be a hundred, if Nina didn’t live?

He remembered the message he was sent to tell his master.

Before he could relay it to him, Jairus fell to his knees before the Healer. “I beg you, come to my house. Heal my only daughter.”

Silas grabbed his elbow and raised him up. “Master, shhh.”

But his master wouldn’t be silenced. His begging was pitiful to see, especially as Silas knew it would do no good. His words only struck Silas more because it was too late.

The Healer didn’t seem to be listening. He looked around at the crowd, ignoring Jairus as he knelt before him. He turned, “Who touched Me?”

Silas was jostled by everyone as they crowded around the Healer. How could he not be touched?

One of the Healer’s disciples whispered, though loud enough for Silas to hear, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.”

But the Healer repeated, “Someone touched Me, for power has gone from Me.”

A woman fell down before Him, touching the fringe of his cloak and weeping. “I touched you. I’ve bled for twelve years. My husband has spent all his money to cure me, But no one could.”

Silas remembered the glance he had received at the Sabbath from this Man. It hadn’t been of condemnation that he dared to dream. It had been of hope. He remembered that look and saw that same expression in the Healer’s face now. He held his breath at what the Healer would do.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

She cried tears of thankfulness.

Silas remembered why he had been sent. He touched the elbow of his master, even as he still knelt by the Healer. “Nina died. Don’t bother the Healer now.”

He wished his master had made it to the Healer in time. Even the woman who had suffered for twelve years had been helped. But now there was no help.

But the Healer turned from the woman and spoke to Silas’s master, “Don’t be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.”

The words, spoken to his master, seemed to penetrate the grief of Silas’s heart. How could the prophet promise anyone could live forever, without a God Who could make it happen? After watching the woman healed after her anguish for twelve years, Silas began to hope that even his dream could come true.

He followed the master as he walked with the Healer to his house. The crowds followed, drawn by what they would see, but also drawn by the thread that held Silas to want to believe this Man. He held a presence that his life would be whole.

Even as he retraced his steps back to the house of death, he didn’t feel as he had felt when he left. He felt that if anyone could do something, the Healer could.

Before they reached the house, he could see the crowds had already started to gather to mourn.

As they reached the master’s house, the master pushed his way through the crowds, not even acknowledging their presence.

Silas followed in the wake of the opening made for the Healer. He told the people to wait outside. Only the master and his wife and His three disciples entered with Him.

Even as He waited for them to leave, He admonished, “Stop weeping, for she hasn’t died, but is asleep.”

Silas wanted to believe that. She had lain so still and white. She belonged bouncing and alive.

But the people scorned and laughed at Him.

One angry woman corrected the Healer. “She is dead.”

Her words pierced Silas’s heart with its finality.

She was dead.

What could the Healer do? But he wanted to believe the Healer. He remembered the words spoken at the synagogue. They had brought hope to his dreams. He heard His words now. That she was not dead. He wanted to believe.

But the image of her still body would not go away.

He paced outside the door of her room and concentrated on whatever they were doing behind the closed door. He told himself not to believe too much. Hadn’t his own mother told him no good would come from his childhood dreams? But nor could he put them away.

Through the thin door, he could hear laughter. Not in the mocking laughter of the people who had scorned the Healer, but joyous ecstasy. He couldn’t wait behind the closed door any longer. He burst through the door and found her standing by her bed.

Silas caught her eye and saw the sparkle had returned.

Her lips formed a smile when she saw him, and he could do nothing but laugh and run to hug her.

The Healer touched Silas’s shoulder as he embraced her. “Get her something to eat.”

Silas dropped his arms, realizing what he had done. He looked at his master for reproof, but he found none.

He seemed not to have noticed what he had done.

Instead Jairus said, “Tell your mother to bring some food.”

Silas seemed to regain his thoughts. “Of course.” He turned and ran from the room.

If the Healer could bring life to one that is dead, then any dream could be made to come true.

He burst into the kitchen. His mother sat in the corner, crying. “Mother, bring something for Nina to eat. She lives.”

She gasped and searched his eyes, testing whether to believe him. What she saw must have convinced her, for she hurried to cut bread and pour soup.

Silas’s heart sang as he watched his mother gather food on a tray.

He could still hear the people mourning outside. What a difference the Healer made! Where once his heart had felt no hope, had even died within himself, now he hoped again, because of the Healer. The prophets spoke of living long. Maybe that was for another time, but Silas knew that it would come. Not because they were just the imaginings of a child, but because they were the words of his God. And he had learned that what God said, He would do. They were not wishful hopes, but statements of what would come.

Silas could wait.

And hope too.

http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t94/e1645

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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I write about what matters...to you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what matters...to Him.
               Sonya Contreras

Other Short Stories
Christmas Stories:
When Hope Was Lost
The Battle in the Heavens
Stories Behind the Songs

Easter Stories:
What Love Is This?

Remember: The Symbols of Passover Explained

Other Christmas and Easter Stories are compiled in Expecting Jesus.

To Live Forever

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