Hide and seek

The women had worked all day with tight smiles, put on for an illustrious guest, and eyes averted from the stranger. Of course Jesus knew better than to engage other men’s wives directly, and he sat in the courtyard, watching quietly behind lazy lids.
It was Passover – no, not THAT Passover, but the first one that we were together. He sat, relaxed, in the shade, watching, half smiling. In the end, and a little later than the women had wanted, the hard work staggered to a conclusion. It is always like that, Passover. It is exhausting for the women, because it falls to them to ensure the house is cleaned up, spotless, and, especially, any hint of leaven is removed.
Leaven? Sour dough, I understand you call it. A fermentation which makes bread rise. Without it, you get biscuits, or crisp cakes, or maybe a soggy mess, depending on the skill of the cook. It is extraordinarily tenacious of life, leaven. So the house is swept and cleaned and polished so that before the Passover is made, there is none left.
The last ritual is for the children to search the house looking for anything unclean, and, to encourage them, the lady of the house hides a little, little piece of bread, normal bread, risen bread. When the girls find the bread, the search is over. Hiding that bread is the last act of the great clean-up, and then there is a pause before the great cook-up starts.
Jesus watched the little girls pelt around, looking under and over and around, until at last Miriam (my sister’s eldest) called out: ‘Got it!’ and came running in, laughing, with a fragment of crust carefully wrapped in a piece of linen by my wife, just in case it spilled a crumb anywhere and started all the work again.
Then there was a brief pause in the work. Water all round, and a short rest. At that point, Jesus began to teach. We, us lot, the disciples, were all sat at his feet. First he repeated a couple of his usual teachings. We half listened, and the women sat quiet, but not really listening.
Then I saw him look kind of sideways at the women. But it was to the child that he spoke. ‘Tell me, how easy is it to hide the leaven?’
Perhaps a little startled at being spoken directly to, what with her being just a kid, and a girl, Miriam threw up her head suddenly and said: ‘Hiding it is easy, Rabbi, but hiding it well is hard.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘yes, I see. Tell me, if you hid your bit of leaven in a barrel of flour, would you find it easily?’
‘That would make it hard, Rabbi,’ said Miriam, ‘sifting through the flour to find something so like itself.’
‘I wonder why I have never seen it hidden there?’ mused Jesus. Miriam looked at him trying to decide if he was half-witted or not. ‘Nobody wouldn’t never hide it there, sir,’ she said.
‘Why not?’ asked Jesus.
The kid was looking directly at him now and so were all the women. Everybody was trying to make up their minds why he was acting so stupid.
‘Well, sir, if you done that, all the flour would turn – it would all turn into leaven in a little.’
‘Ah, and that would matter?’ he asked.
Miriam was a bossy kind of a girl, and she told him straight, while many of the women hid amused smiles or concerned glances at her outspokenness. ‘Sir, we are trying to get all the leaven OUT of the house. Leaven is unclean, sir. We must have it all done away with for the Passover, to be pure.’
‘And if you put it in a barrel of flour it would turn all the flour?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Two barrels?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Sir, give it a little time, and leaven turns everything into itself. It would make three whole barrels dirty like itself.’
‘Yes sir.’
‘But I kind-of like ordinary bread, especially hot and spongy as it comes from off the oven.’
‘We all love it, sir,’ Miriam assured him.
‘We ALL do?’
‘Oh yes, sir.’
‘So, only dirty in some ways.’ Silence.
‘Then that is what the Kingdom is like,’ said Jesus, ‘It is something which you may be told is really a bit dirty, but it is powerful. Put a bit of it, that you can hardly see, into this big big world, and before you can blink, you will see it work its way through it all. In the end, it will make it all delicious. Like hot spongy bread.’
That night, some of the wives, gathered there, decided they too would follow Jesus. That made some stir I can tell you. It was only afterwards I saw how cleverly he done it. Drawing them in, and not scaring them too much. Not coming over like a mad man, but speaking direct words which made sense to them.

4 thoughts on “Hide and seek

  1. Fabulous. I came late to reading this. I love the image of the children running around looking for bread, and then suddenly caught in the story. (indeed, I suspect you have written the story that is my dominant image of priesthood…)

    • The search for the bread comes from modern Judeaism of course and I cannot be certain how far back it goes, but significantly Jesus speaks of a woman ‘hiding’ leaven – so very evocative of the Passover
      ritual that I think this may be exactly what he is speaking of. It is one of his pretty dirty things parables. He is very very clever and his stories anything but simple.

      • You see, I too tell stories. I know something of how stories work. But if I can surprise you, there may be something in the gospel of Peter, to which these will belong.

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