Jesus’ manservant has an encounter with jazz musician Miles Davis and his band.
Though it’s been many years since I helped my Master with the cooking and cleaning on the shores of Galilee, sleeping by the fire each night, making food for others and for ourselves, my sweetest memory was awaking each morning and seeing him go about his work with great attention and calm. At night the light of the fire was always on his face, a gold light, the color of kings.
My name is Adino, and at the time of my assistance I was a boy of fourteen years. I had wandered the northern shore for over a week searching for my parents who had left a month earlier to hear the Nazarene in Jerusalem. They had taken a boat from our home on the southwestern shore having me watch over my brothers and sister and guard our flocks of sheep and goats. I went in search of my parents when they had not returned as planned and had my older cousin take my place.
It was along the western shore of Galilee that my Master spotted me one morning and asked if I was hungry and fed me bread and olives. I enjoyed myself immensely over the next three days, though I was unaware of my host’s true identity.
The first night the sky was rich with stars and a crescent moon and we watched fisherman–their boat barely a hundred yards from shore–struggling with their nets, yelling back and forth, unable to catch a single fish. My Master called to them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and they did and their catch was enormous. When they landed he told them to come and have breakfast. We already had bread, so he and I proceeded to clean several large fish from their catch. It was a feast.
They called him master or teacher and treated him with the graciousness and respect of a great philosopher-king. I knew him as a kind, very competent man making breakfast, enjoying each hour of the day or night talking with the many strangers who passed by. He especially enjoyed the long hours talking with the fishermen he called disciples.
The men had come ashore full of love and fear for this man. One talked more, argued more than the others, even though his love for his Master was immense. Odd, but his stubbornness added to his strength. Another listened to his every word clear-eyed, asking a question or two, looking to the others for affirmation as the quiet wisdom gained hold in everyone’s mind.
After breakfast and taking the basket to the sea to be rinsed, I curled by the fire listening to the men, especially the stubborn man. When he received an answer he didn’t like he made more arguments. The others quietly listened. Some were frightened of the Master’s presence which only confused me, since gentleness marked his every word and gesture. Only one disciple looked on without fear and a heart full of love.
The second night we were alone, no other fishermen or families passed along the shore, yet my Master quietly prepared more fish, smoking them slowly above the fire, as if expecting his disciples to return.
He began cleaning one, but before fileting it he set the heavy-bladed knife on the stone and rose, staring inland into the darkness that hid the hills and olive orchards. And then I heard a howl, an animal buried in its own pain.
A form approached, the size of a wolf, but it moved without a wolf’s sleekness. It was close enough for the fire to illuminate its features but its shadowy form resisted illumination. This thing moved without rhythm, bending its legs in ways that sickened me, and then raced ahead crashing head first into the sand, howling and kicking.
I told the Master that it had been terribly injured. He agreed and walked toward the creature that had fallen on its side. The fire no longer warmed me.
He was close to the thing when it jumped onto all fours, rigid, facing away from the fire, like it would again rejoin the night. It twisted its head backwards eyeing the Master’s approach and roared. Its teeth flashed.
I rose, and my Master, without turning towards me, cautioned me with an outstretched arm, palm down. I watched the animal swing its head from side to side, its long mane sweeping the sand and small rocks. Afflicted by a deeper pain, its growl made me shiver.
I was fearful that my Master would be attacked as he extended both hands toward the creature talking quietly. And the monster did attack, leaping at him, crashing into his hands. Yet my Master never moved, never stumbled, and the beast collapsed into a heap becoming a young girl, exhausted, yet wild-eyed with despair.
The terrible sounds were replaced with the soft cry of someone lost. The girl was close to my age and my Master kneeled in the sand and stroked her head and spoke tenderly to her.
It was still dark when he and the girl arose and came over to the fire.
"I’m Chawwah called Eva," she said, staring at the ground, taking a seat on a smooth rock, close to where I sat.
My Master asked me to finish cleaning the fish he had started and cook it for our guest. She still looked wild, but sad, and very much a girl, slender and lovely in her long tunic. She was without sandals and he took water from a jug and washed her dirty, bloody feet. After she ate, he instructed me to fashion sandals from his supplies. I cut the hard leather to fit her delicate feet and two long strips for the straps.
The Master and I built up the fire and then he gave her his cloak for sleeping. I lay down across the fire from her and watched the light on her face for a long time before falling asleep.
Time passed.
Early morning both the girl and I awoke and found our Master standing near the water, looking out to sea. In full contentment, he said:
"All night the sea and wind has carried music to this very spot. Even now, not far from us, a group of men are playing instruments with the greatness of King David."
Both the girl and I listened and could hear only the waves and the wind.
He said, "After breakfast, follow the shore to the west and you’ll find a group of men playing strange and beautiful music. Only approach them when they are finished making their song. The Holy Spirit guides them. Invite them to have dinner with us."
"Where are they from?" I asked.
"A distant time and place. Their music carried them here faster than lightning." He turned to us, smiling. "Do not be afraid."
We set out and my heart hammered its own song. Tall mustard plants in bloom powdered the hills and spring flowers lined the cliffs. Eva smiled at the beauty surrounding us and said her mother would sing when they worked in the fields, especially at harvest, and that she had a strong voice like her mother’s. I asked about her parents and she said she didn’t know if she could go back after the demons in her had so terrified her family. "The devil drove me from myself. I said terrible things to my mother and father. I dishonored them."
I didn’t want her to be sad again and told her that our Master would heal her family like he had healed her. She said she would need much courage to return home.
We were absorbed in our talk when the first sounds surprised us. A horn that the Romans used in battle startled me and I thought we would be attacked, especially with rebellion in the air. The melody was sweet yet foreign to me. I heard drums and something much deeper than a lyre being plucked.
Both Eva and I ran.
On long flat rocks the men were perched. I counted seven. They were darker than us except one man was lighter. Their arms, legs and chest appeared bound by their clothes, a shiny material, like silken armor. But they moved as freely as we did.
Eva and I looked to each other, acknowledging the strangeness of the music, the instruments, and the men who were focused yet free, melodies of tempest and still waters. The man striking the drums with sticks spotted us first and smiled.
The most unusual instrument was a wide, shiny black box atop short legs. The man lightly drummed on it with all his fingers and sounds emerged that made our hearts quicken. They all took great effort in creating the music. Some sounds crashed like waves. Others spun apart like birds scattering only to rejoin and shoot across the sky. The hair on my arms rose and Eva wouldn’t let go of my hand.
The sea gulls overhead seemed also to be listening, watching as well, though they were probably just hungry.
Two men played curved, gold horns and they seemed to be aiming their notes at the sun that was now high above us.
Filled by the music, both of us witnessed the hours of the day collapse and the suddenness of twilight. Our excitement for the mysterious men and their music was just as strong and fresh now as it was in the morning.
The man playing a delicate golden horn signaled a break and began talking to the other musicians. He finally turned to us and asked us if we enjoyed the music. I was surprised to hear him speak in Aramaic, but very pleased. Eva talked excitedly and told them so much so quickly that the man laughed and asked her to slow down.
I said, "Our Master has invited you to dinner."
The man looked to the other musicians for approval and received smiles. They laid their instruments on the rock and we led the way and they followed, discussing their songs almost as intently as they had played them. The leader was the only man to bring along his delicate-looking horn. He called it a trumpet.
Our Master was busy cooking a new catch directly on the hot charcoals when we arrived. He asked the men to be seated and said he was ready to serve. The smoked fish and bread were piled in a basket and I was asked to pour the wine. As the Master served a large piece of bread and a big piece of roasted fish to each man, he told them about standing on the shore for hours listening to the beauty of their sounds, finishing with, "Your music will live through the ages." He then blessed the food.
He and the men talked about many things and one of the horn players said it was a mystery how he heard the music so well at a distance.
"No mystery," my Master said. "This area, with the help of the hills, the cliffs, attracts sounds from around the lake."
"But still…" the man said, stopping before completing his thought.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear," the Master said, lifting more fish from the coals for those still hungry. The light-skinned man asked for another serving and thanked him.
Eva and I sat alongside the man who struck the drums, laughed the easiest, and the most often. He even tapped rhythms on his leg listening to everyone speak. Finally, he said, "We are all gone from our world."
The talking ceased and he eyed his fellow musicians. "All of us know it. Though no one’s saying a thing."
The leader agreed, nodding thoughtfully. "But we have each other, our music." He looked to the heavens. "I’ve never been more at peace. I want to play to the end of time."
The drummer said, "Well, sure, but let’s take a rest once in a while … like this … wonderful meal, wonderful company."
The Master laughed at this, saying, "This is the start of your journey. Further inland there are forest and mountains and cities where you’ll find people whose hearts stir in great ways, though different from your own. As you adventure you’ll add to the wealth of the spirit. Goodness will increase."
The drummer shook his head. "Seems like too big a blessing, for shall I say, less than perfect men."
The Master leaned forward, saying, "Here, now, in this time, you’ve gained perfection." He gazed at all the men before returning to the drummer. "You said something that day you first played and finished these songs."
The man sighed. "I said it must have been made in heaven. I meant all of it… the day, the music, these men here."
A few of the musicians remained deep in thought, looking down or staring at the fire. Others had a look of wonder or passed a quick smile to a fellow musician, starting to grasp the new world they had been born into. The leader picked up his horn and thanked us for supper, adding, "We’ve got a lot work to do." He nodded toward my Master and turned toward the west. The others rose and stretched and thanked us also.
They were just beyond the light of the fire, a river of stars overhead, moonlight silvering the Sea of Galilee, when the man with the trumpet turned and asked, "Any requests?"
"Today, the sea slowly changed from blue to green," my Master said.
I’ll never forget the man’s smile, the broadest yet, bringing the instrument to his lips. His gold trumpet picked up the flickering light and each change in color followed the wistful melody. The man’s breath was at the center of each note and at one point it seemed I witnessed the melody shoot past the moon and then dive slowly into the sea.
Everyone was quiet when the peerless musician finished. He bowed to us and set off down the shore. Our Master told Eva and I to escort them. On the way there Eva sang and hummed her own melodies and at one point ran around me in a large circle. The drummer man turned, saying, "I think she likes you."
When the men reached that rocky place, they first started a small fire that cast light upon them as they again took up their instruments and began playing. The spirit guided them and their expressions told me they had traveled far in a short time. Soon, only their shadows moved over the rocks and only a glimmer of their instruments remained. A breath later, the small fire shone weakly upon an empty place of rock and sand.
Eva and I said nothing. The night felt different, even though the moon and stars occupied their same places for that hour.
Eva took my hand in hers and we walked slowly. Neither of us wanted to talk. When loneliness got hold of us we started running. We made it to the fire our Master had kept alive for days and found it nearly extinguished. He had departed. Eva started crying and I ran up and down the shore calling for him.
I helped her up from the ground and she said, "He brought me back to life." She cried into my shoulder. "I just want to see his face again."
He had left everything: the basket with bread and smoked fish, the skin bottle for wine, a few cups, scraps of leather and the heavy-bladed knife. I collected everything and placed them in my traveling sack, except the basket of food Eva held with both arms.
"I’m taking you to your parents," I said. "All of us have much to talk about."
"What of your family?" she asked.
"They’re traveling to hear the Nazarene."
I wouldn’t know until weeks later that my parents had been caught in a fast-moving storm on the Sea of Galilee and drowned when their boat capsized.
I took Eva back to her parents and the following year we married. We raised six children, all of whom lived except one. All our daily struggles and blessings were that of any husband and wife. More than once we were comforted and supported in our faith by the words of the Apostle Paul before he was arrested in Jerusalem and later taken to Rome.
Eva never let a day pass without praying to our Lord who rescued her from the darkness. She recently passed on in her seventh decade, still longing to see his face.
By the time of our marriage, we realized that we had been in the company of the Risen Lord who had made his disciples breakfast on the Sea of Galilee. I remember the apostles’ great love for him, and their arguments with the man who had returned from death, from hell itself, fully alive.
I remembered my days with Christ the Lord so well, so clearly. On quiet nights, standing beneath the stars, I also think of the supper we prepared for those peerless musicians. Sometimes I find myself listening for their music, wondering about their new journey, and always, wishing them well.
If you haven’t yet, check out the grand prize winner in this contest, Son of the Water by David Churchill Barrow!
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