“A Stable Boy’s Perspective”
Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen
My name is Benjamin bar Jonah, and I was there at the birth of Yeshua bar Joseph, the one you call Jesus. It happened in my mother’s stable at Bethlehem, and I was eleven years old at the time. f’m sixty now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. My memory is sharp as a tack. I can remember things back to when I was only four. And I’ll tell you, I was such a beautiful child back then. (I was!) Bright, too. In fact, I could already speak a little Hebrew by the time I was five – just the prayers, mind you, but I could recite them perfectly. Everyone commented on what a smart kid I was. Do you want to hear what I could say when I was five? You won’t believe this. Kids nowadays don’t learn their prayers like they used to, but I could recite two, maybe three, different prayers in Hebrew when I was five. My mother always said I should have been a rabbi.
Well, anyway…I’m supposed to stop talking so much about myself and tell you about the birth of Yeshua bar Joseph, the one you call Jesus. All right. Such a beautiful baby. Not as beautiful as I was when I was born, but pretty nice. His father and mother had come to Bethlehem for the census that Caesar Augustus ordered. Caesar wanted everyone to go back to the city of their family’s birth, so they could be tabulated for his census, and Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem.
I’ll tell you, Bethlehem was pretty crowded that night. You see, there were a lot of people who grew up there but then moved away. There were even more who didn’t grow up there but liked to claim they did. It is the City of David, after all.
I don’t know which category Joseph and Mary fell into, but I can say that all the rooms in town were already taken by the time they arrived. Even the beds in our house were rented out, and our house is on the outskirts of Bethlehem, in the hills surrounding the city. Actually, our house was pretty much a one-room affair, with the mattresses rolled up during the day, and then put out at night. And our house is connected to a cave, of which there are hundreds around Bethlehem. Basically, we kept our livestock in the cave, and we lived in a sort of lean-to in front of it.
But we had already rented the beds in our little house to other travelers – including my bed – so when Mary and Joseph came looking for a place to stay, all we had to offer was the cave, or stable, where we kept the animals. It was pretty smelly in there, but it was the only place with privacy, which Mary needed if she was going to have a baby. And Mary and Joseph didn’t seem to mind. My mother told me to go in and look after them. That was fine with me since I didn’t have my own bed anymore anyway. And besides, I knew Mary was ready to give birth, and I had never seen such a thing. I was nine years old – or did I say eleven? No, it was nine. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m seventy years old now, but my memory is sharp as a tack.
Anyway, my mother tended to the other guests and told me to let her know when Mary went into labor, so she could come and help out. As it turned out, by the time Mary was ready to give birth, my mother was fast asleep and Joseph said not to wake her. He told me I could help his wife have the baby.
“How?” I asked.
“First,” he said, “cut up long strips of cloth that we can wrap the child in when it arrives.”
Of course, I knew that already. In Palestine we always wrap newborns in long strips of cloth – what we call swaddling cloths – so that the child will grow straight and strong.
“Then,” said cJoseph, “when the time for delivery comes, you can help us by praying.”
“Praying?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“In Hebrew?” I said.
“If you like.”
Well, I was thrilled. Here I was going to help deliver a child – by praying in Hebrew no less! The only problem was, I only knew 3 Hebrew prayers, and they weren’t that long, and I didn’t know how long it took to give birth. I was hoping it would only take about a minute and a half, which was about all the time I could fill with the prayers I knew. But I decided if it took longer than that, I would start repeating them after awhile. I don’t think Joseph and Mary knew much Hebrew, because they didn’t seem to notice that I was saying the same thing over and over again. Of course, I tried to say it each time with a different accent so it would sound a little different. Eventually I even started making up my own words. I’m sure Mary and Joseph were very impressed with the many prayers I seemed to know, because about an hour and a half later Mary told me, “With a mouth like yours, you ought to be a rabbi.” By then she had already had the baby and had laid him in the feeding trough, or manger, that the an.imals usually ate out of.
Did I say I was nine years old at the time? Actually, I think I was seven. Remember it like it was yesterday. I’m eighty now, but my memory is sharp as a tack.
But you know what I remember most about that night? I remember something Mary said to me. After she told me I should be a rabbi, we got to talking about religious things. Like the coming of the messiah. I said I thought the messiah better come soon, because we Jews really needed one. And Mary said the strangest thing to me. She told me, “The messiah is already here.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Here?” I said. “Where, here?”
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Right here in this stable.”
I still couldn’t believe my ears. At first I thought she meant herself. But I thought, no, the messiah could never be a woman. (I’ve since changed my mind about that, but at the time a female messiah was inconceivable to me.)
Then I thought maybe she meant her husband, Joseph. But Joseph was much older than Mary, and I thought to myself, if he hasn’t saved our people yet, he’s sure not going to have much more time to do it in.
So I thought maybe she meant her baby. But if Joseph was too old, the baby was too young; he hadn’t done anything yet to save the world, and how could Mary or anyone even guess what he might do or become?
So I asked Mary; I said, “Who in this room…is the messiah?” And she just smiled and said something that has since been written into what we Jews call the Talmud. It’s a saying of Rabbi Hillel, a great teacher just before my time, who said, “If not me, who?” And, “If not now, when?” That’s what Mary said to me.
I thought about this for a few moments. “Are you telling me that I am the messiah,” I said, “and that this is the time?” But Mary just said, “If not you, who? And if not now, when?”
Not much else happened that night. I do remember that the stars seemed to be shining particularly brightly. And a bunch of people came into my mother’s stable to see the baby, including some shepherds and three traveling dignitaries from some country back east. After all, it seems the birth of a baby – no matter how often it happens – always makes people smile, and feel a sense of wonder, and even dare to hope for the future. Yeshua ben Joseph – the one you call Jesus Messiah – was no exception.
And I have since heard about the wonderful things he said and did, and the claims by some that he is the true messiah.
And I say, with a mother like Mary, I don’t doubt it. I mean, I was only with her one night, and she got me thinking I was a messiah. Imagine having a whole lifetime with a mother like her!
Anyway, something special happened to me that night. I came to believe I was a messiah. And at first I felt vain and conceited about it. But then I realized a messiah would not be vain or conceited, so I’d have to shape up if I wanted to keep my job.
It’s amazing the kind of person you could be if you only realized that you’re the one who’s supposed to save the world.
I became a different person. Oh, I’m still a little vain, and I brag about how many prayers I know – in Hebrew, mind you – but I’m different from who I would have been, because a woman named Mary told me who I was, and I became it, in my own way.
And since she’s not here to tell you herself, I guess I’m going to have to do it for her – that is, tell you what you need to hear whenever you look at the world and wish someone would come along to save it.
If not you, who?
If not now, when?