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Robber — a short story by Mariya Vlad
Three wise men from the east were on their way, guided by a star, to pay homage to a newly born child, Jesus, Lord of the lords, who they had prophesied would come.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, they began asking around, “Where can we find the new-born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and we hurried here to pay homage to him.”
When Herod, the king of Judea, heard about the arrival of the three wise men from the east and about their quest, he called all the high priests and learned men to gather for council, and asked them what they knew about this Jesus the three wise men from the east were looking for.
He was told that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as had been prophesied by the prophets.
Herod received the three wise men from the east and told them where the child, they had been looking for, was born. “Go and find out as much as you can about that child, and come back to tell me what you have learnt so that I can go and pay homage to him too,” said Herod.
And the three wise men from the east followed the star that led them to a place where they saw a hovel. The star stopped right above that hut and the three wise men from the east entered it, carrying their gifts. They knelt before the child and his mother, Mary, and gave her the gold, incense and myrrh, these valuable things that they had brought with them.
Later, the three wise men from the east were graced by a visit of an Angel when they slept, and the Angel warned them not to go back to Herod, and the next morning they set on their return journey home but they chose a road different from the one they had come.
The family of Mary, her husband David and the child was a poor one. When they had come to Bethlehem to be registered in the census — for David’s ancestors were originally from the town of Bethlehem and the census required that people were registered at the places of their origin — they could not rent a decent room to stay for the night and were lucky to find accommodation in an abandoned shepherd’s hut. It was in that hut that Mary gave birth to a son whom she, for want of any other suitable crib, put into a manger which still had some old straw in it.
The family of David, Mary and Jesus was poor but happy. Joseph looked at Mary in adoration. She was not only divinely beautiful — David believed that she had been blessed with the miracle of the Immaculate Conception, and that she was the mother of a divine child, the true Son of God. David was immensely proud of the task he now faced, and also overwhelmed by the responsibility it implied — he had to take care of the Son of God. His heart was filled with both happiness and anxiety. He was not even sure at times whether he was seeing all this in a dream, or whether it was really happening to him. The Angel that had already paid him a visit in a dream to warn him about Mary, his bride, and the Child she was carrying, came to him again, and said,
“Get up, David, take the child and his mother and run away to the distant land of Egypt, and stay there until I let you know that it is safe to come back. Herod is plotting to kill the child.”
David got up from his bed of straw and woke up Mary who had been sleeping but fitfully with her newborn son by her side. He, trying to speak in such a way so as not to frighten his wife, explained what the Angel urged him to do.
Mary obediently did as she was told, and with their few things quickly packed into a bag, the family was ready to start. She was grateful for the warning — but her heart was nevertheless heavy. She remembered the words the Righteous Semeon said in the Temple —“A sword will pierce your soul.” The three wise men from the east called her son “King of the kings,” “Lord of the lords.”
David and his family left Bethlehem in the middle of the night. David carried the bag with their belongings, and Mary carried the Child. They prayed for God’s help and protection as they went, asking for an angel to be sent to them to guide them on their way.
It was a long way they had to go — over hill and dale, and then across a desert to the land, from which once Moses had led the people of Israel. David was sturdy and enduring, but Mary did not have enough time to fully restore her strength after giving birth, and her son was hardly a day old.
They could expect all kinds of dangers on their way — inclemency of weather, wild beasts, robbers, people hostile to the fugitives, anything. But they would surely do their best to prevent anything bad happening to the Child.
They spent many a day in travel, and many a night sleeping on the ground with no other roof above them than the stars. David did all he could to protect Mary and the Child against cold and heat, wind and rain. At night he often stood guard over Mary and the Child.
Once, after a long day of walking, at the sunset, they came upon a tent in the field they were crossing. At first they were rejoiced — maybe they could stay here for a couple of days, rest, wash the things that needed washing, wash themselves. But their joy was short-lived. As they approached, the flap of the tent was flung aside and a man stepped out. His face was frightening — his mouth was twisted in a threatening manner, his eyes were full of malevolence. The man seemed to be about to start hurling abuse at the travellers and send them on their way. For some moments he eyed David, Mary and the Child in swaddling clothes she was holding in her arms. He saw they were poor and had no possessions of any value and he opened his mouth to chase the beggars away, but at that moment the Child began whimpering, and the man appeared to have been moved by the pitiful sight of an exhausted young mother with a crying infant in her arms.
“Come in if you want,” the man said gruffly.
And they did, though not without some trepidation. In the tent they saw a woman who looked less intimidating. The woman was cooking a supper. The smell of the cooking made the travellers’ mouths water. The woman gestured for the guests to come closer to the fire and partake of the simple repast. Mary also noticed an infant of an age similar to that of her son Jesus, sleeping by the fire. The child’s skin was a mess of scabs.
“Is there a way, oh kind hostess, we could bathe my child first?” said Mary.
The woman nodded in the affirmative, got up and brought a basin in which she poured some warm water.
After Mary washed her son the best way she could, she said to the woman, “Bathe your child, oh kind hostess, in this water, and it will do him a lot of good, believe me.”
There was something in the way that Mary said it and in the way that she looked at the woman that she, not quite knowing why, obeyed.
And as she was taking her son out of the water in which Jesus had been bathed, a miracle happened — all the scabs fell away and the child’s skin looked healthy and the child made cheerful baby sounds. His mother was so amazed and moved by what had happened that she burst into grateful tears. Even her menacingly looking husband, who was a robber, was so impressed with what had happened right before his eyes that he unexpectedly began to show deference and respect for his guests. When David, Mary and her child said they would have to be on their way and thanked the host and hostess for their hospitality, the robber gave them some food.
Many years passed. The son of the robber, Desma by name, though miraculously healed, followed in his father’s footsteps. Once he and his friend, also a robber, were caught in the act of robbery and thrown into jail. For their many crimes they were sentenced to be crucified.
A day before the execution, Desma heard that someone else was brought to the prison. He leaned his ear to the door and listened. He made out the name of the new prisoner, which the guards used pushing the prisoner into the cell next door to that of the robbers. The name brought back some memories.
“Listen,” he said to the other robber, “I just remembered what my mother and father had told me long time in the past. They said that when I had been just an infant I had some incurable decease and my whole body was covered with scabs. I would surely die if not for a strange thing that happened. One day, a man, a woman and her child stopped at my parents’ tent asking for shelter. My father let them stay. After the woman bathed her child in the basin my mother had given her, the woman told my mother to wash me in the same water. She did and I was healed. And on hearing the name ‘Jesus’ I remembered that that woman’s child was also named Jesus…”
“Who cares for your stories now,” grumbled the other robber, “when they are going to be nailed to the crosses! It’s a very cruel death, and you tell me of bathing babies! You’d better shut up!”
On the next day, the two robbers were crucified and someone called Jesus was crucified alongside them too. The cross he was nailed to was erected between the crosses on which the robbers hung. Desma saw that Jesus had been evidently tortured before he had been put on the cross. Above his head a plaque was nailed with some words on them. Some of those who gathered to see the execution jeered, “Hey, Jesus, King of the Jews, that’s what inscription above your head says! You said you could save others — how about saving yourself?” The soldiers joined in the mockery and came forward offering him some sour wine, “How does it feel, King of the Jews, Lord of the lords? Save yourself!”
The pain overwhelmed Desma and he fainted. When he came to his senses, he saw his robber-friend jerking with intolerable pain and screaming abuse at everyone and everything around. Down at the foot of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, he saw several weeping women. He thought that one of them, who was in a particularly great agony, must be Jesus’ mother. And he could not help thinking how distressed his own mother would be if she saw him like this, nailed to the cross.
Meanwhile, his robber-friend began to taunt Jesus, “Hey, I heard the cries from the crowd calling you ‘Saviour’! If you are any saviour, save yourself and us too!”
Desma, hearing this, said, overcoming terrible pain,
“Aren’t you afraid of being punished in the afterlife too? We are paying the price for the misdeeds we have done here on earth. And this Jesus here does not deserve such a punishment because I know he has done nothing wrong!”
And then he addressed himself directly to Jesus,
“I don’t know who you are, but I feel you are not of this world. Remember me when you are in heaven.”
And Jesus said, “In all verity I tell you this — today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
In his dying moments, Desma saw his mother, wearing white garments, and then another woman of unearthly beauty, and the next moment his pain stopped the way it did when his mother had dipped him into the water in which Jesus had been bathed — and Desma left this world.