From The Jesus Chronicles.
The city of Jerusalem was an oddity. It was never a place of commerce because it resided in the hills some distance from the sea and the adjacent land routes. It was a city that evolved for one purpose – to be the center of worship of the one invisible god, a concept every other tribe and nation could not absorb. Their gods had shape and form, whether human or animal. Their gods traveled about with them, whereas the god of the Jews was omnipresent. Yet he received supreme worship in this city.
So the city, under normal circumstances, was a modest municipality of 20 to 30 thousand people. The population would swell periodically to hundreds of thousands because of the few festivals the Jews celebrated. The people who came and went left behind the small remnant, most of whom were the laborers. Neither slave nor serf, they swept the streets, they manned the stalls and cafes, they built and repaired the magnificent structures.
Thus it was that Naomi and Samuel existed amongst the city and the vast majority who labored year to year. They migrated to the city at the time of Herod. Samuel trimmed and fitted the stones that made up a part of the Temple. They had a small apartment which became a home for them and their four children. Two would perish from disease. The other two wanted nothing to do with Jerusalem. The two boys worked hard, earned a meager sum, and purchased fares to distant ports, never to be heard from again.
This left the two aging parents facing the daunting prospect of poverty in their old age. As Samuel aged, he was less able to do the dangerous and hard labor of masonry. Fortunately, due to his familiarity with those in the Temple, he found work as a handyman. But this was usually uncertain work and seasonal. Everyone needed a carpenter for the feasts. But the rest of the year?
Together Samuel and Naomi melted into the sea of anonymity, lost amongst thousands more who labored and suffered as they. In their aging, they would encounter increasing poverty and hunger. Samuel was always too proud to beg. And Naomi and Samuel held this bond that any married couple would have cherished. They were not alone for they had friends who suffered alongside them.
Samuel was the first to die, his heart simply stopped. Naomi was now utterly alone. In the years that followed, she managed to maintain work as a cook for one of the wealthy families in Jerusalem. She went about her duties faithfully, keeping her hand busy and grateful she had the gift of food from her employer’s table. That sustained her for a few years before her employer died. The household management revolved to the son. He as not pleased how his father had squandered his wealth on old servants who appeared to do little. Naomi was escorted out of the house.
Her friends grieved alongside her. She was soon recommended to another. But her work in the kitchen was not as reliable. Her meager collection of coins became fewer still.
With more time on her hands, Naomi went to a place where she could remember Samuel. Samuel was buried outside the city in a grave with a very modest marker. But Naomi did not go there. Samuel was not there. No, he was here! As she entered the Temple gates she beheld the stones on the pavement, the walls, columns and cornices. Here Samuel lived! She enjoyed the shade and would sit in the Court of the Women, worshiping God. Curious thing was though penniless, she never begged. Women would , for some reason, slip a coin into her hand. She would smile and thank them, “May God bless you.”
Naomi spent the last four years of her life in a God-provided routine of odd jobs, worship at the Temple, and recipient of charity. She would sometimes humorlessly quip she was living too long. She was finding it harder to ascend the steps to the Temple gate, whispering to herself the Psalms of Ascension. This particular day, she almost collapsed onto her accustomed bench. She remained there for much of the day, sleeping with her head against a column. She was so hungry when she awoke.
“Where has the day gone?,” she asked herself.
She looked about her. The place was still filled with women because it was the week of Passover. She saw two copper coins in her basket. She placed them in a small leather bag. She arose and made her way to the Court of the Gentiles, alongside of which was a small building called the Treasury. She walked over to the slot in the Treasury wall. Putting her hand about the coins, she closed her eyes, said a prayer, and placed both of them in the door slot. She slipped away through the Temple gate, surrounded in the crowd, returning to the city, to her tiny apartment, one amongst thousands.
© Copyright 2023 to Eric Niewoehner