Sammy – The Leader
Sammy was our leader. There were six of us growing up together in our village. He was older than me by a year or so, and much more daring. He never expected us to do anything he would not do himself but he was taller and so could manage things we could not. Like the time he clambered up the outside of the synagogue. He was up onto the roof in no time. But those of us who followed were smaller and slower and made more noise about it. So of course old Rabbi Elias discovered us. I will not forget the way he marched each one of us home, nor will I forget the beating my father gave me. Perhaps most of all I will remember the disappointment in Abba’s eyes as he spoke of respect and responsibility and all the things that make a good man good.
But I did not feel like a man yet and neither did Sammy, so we continued to do things that our elders would have frowned upon if they had known about them. It seemed to us that there was time enough to become adults at our Bar Mitzvahs sometime ahead. So when Sammy came racing down the street that morning calling our names, we rushed out to see him.
Gasping for breath he told us that he had heard that the man they called the Healer was close to our village and he wanted to go along to see what all the fuss was about. Would we go as well?
Only Barnabas said no. His mother is a widow and has been sick so he needed to stay, although we could see the longing in his eyes. The rest of us had no hesitation in turning our backs on our chores and running, whooping, down the street. I ran with my friends, following Sammy who was always just ahead of us.
The Healer was further away than we thought and so we were hot and dusty when we found him. There were lots of people surrounding him, some seated on the grass and others milling around the edges of the crowd.
We were too short to see over the heads of those standing so we wriggled our way through them and, stepping over legs and squeezing into small spaces, we edged our way closer to the man. We had heard some spectacular stories and we wanted to see for ourselves what he would do. Stories of miracles – blind men seeing, and lame men dancing – even a girl who was raised from the dead. That would be exciting to see! I did not expect that to happen but looked around the crowd, hoping to see if anyone looked on the verge of death. No such luck. They were all listening to the man, absorbed by what he was saying.
I sighed with disappointment. (It was not that I wanted someone to die, but I would have loved to have seen them brought back to life again. The hair stood up on the back of my neck at the thought of it!) I sat on the hillside with my friends and turned my attention to the man. He was speaking of the kingdom of heaven, telling lots of stories.
In spite of no one dying it was a thrilling day. There was lots of laughter. People came forward and were healed. I saw it with my own eyes! Yes, it was a great day; and it was only as the sun began to sink below the western hills that I realized how very hungry and far away from home I was. And when I got home there was bound to be a beating because of the chores I had left undone – and probably no supper. It was a pretty desperate situation.
It was evident others were feeling the same, and there was a sudden restlessness in the crowd. I could see a couple of Pharisees near the Healer, looking smug and talking to one another. I suspected they thought they looked wise! What were they doing here? I had heard they did not approve of the Healer. Was he so important to them that they followed him everywhere?
The Healer’s friends went up to him. It looked as if they had been arguing and were still doing so. I could not hear what was said but I could hear the Healer’s reply. Somehow I had heard every word he had spoken since we arrived. It was not that he shouted but he just had a calm peaceful voice that penetrated any sound that was going on around you. Sometimes it seemed as if you heard him inside your head. It was strange, but that’s how it was.
Now he said,
‘You give them something to eat.’
I could see the look of amazement and then frustration on the faces of the men who had been talking to him. They looked around and so did I. The crowd was enormous. There must have been five thousand men there, never mind us boys; and then there were the women and children too. Where were they going to find enough food for all these people?
Sammy had been quiet all day. He had listened to every word that the man had spoken, and now, pulling a cloth parcel from his tunic, he began to unwrap it. Food? He had brought food? I was indignant! Why had he not shared it with us earlier? But as I began to speak and the others leaned forward, eager to share the food, he stopped us with a wave of his hand. He did not even look at us. He just stared at the Healer. I glanced across at the man in time to see him look straight at Sammy, nod his head slightly and give a brief smile.
Without a word Sammy got to his feet and walked towards the Healer. We were amazed. The Sammy we knew would have shared his food with us but never have shared it with anyone else. We were his friends! What about us?
One of the Healer’s friends saw him coming. With a chuckle he clapped Sammy on the back and, putting his arm around his shoulders, led him forward.
‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish!’
There was a murmur of laughter from the people close enough to hear. Some of it was amusement that a young boy would think that this small meal would help among so many; but others scoffed as they laughed. It was an awkward moment. But Sammy, with his eyes on the Healer’s face, stretched out his hands and offered his supper.
And the Healer smiled.
Then he took the food and lifted it high above his head. The restless crowd grew still as they watched. The Healer thanked God for the food with a few simple words and blessed it.
He gave some to one of his friends with the quiet instruction to share it out. Then he gave some to another, and another. What size pieces was he giving them? I had seen the loaves and the fish; they were enough for a hungry boy, but not enough for two! But one by one the Healer’s friends went to him and he gave them food.
They began to work the crowd! Time and again they broke bread and gave out fish to one person after another. I gazed, speechless, at the food in my hands when they came to me. It was not a large portion – about one third of the amount I had seen in Sammy’s packet. It was not enough to stave my hunger, but it would help.
I tore off a piece of bread with my teeth, hungry enough to wolf it down; but as soon as it was in my mouth I slowed down. The bread was delicious – like none I had ever tasted. It was even better than bread fresh from the oven, if you can imagine such a thing. And the fish! No words I can think of would describe just how wonderful that fish tasted. My mouth waters at the memory! As I ate, trying to make it last, I realised that it was satisfying my hunger, even though there was so little of it.
People all around me were eating Sammy’s supper with the same delighted enjoyment on their faces as I was feeling. I looked at the Healer in amazement and he looked straight at me and smiled in a way that warmed my heart.
And Sammy? Sammy was talking to the Healer. He never told us what they talked about, but he changed that day. He grew up, I suppose. He was still our leader but he led us in a different way. The very next day he took us to see Barnabas and we all helped him to complete some chores the boy had been struggling with whilst his mother was sick.
Sammy asked us (not told us) to call him Samuel from then on. We continued to follow him, as we had always done, and worked with him to help others, and we too began to change. Oh, there were times when we were still full of mischief, but now it was without any malice. If I’m honest we still played truant, but often it ended up with us being able to help someone, rather than only running wild.
As I grew up I began to realise that the message the Healer had given applied to me as much as to anyone. I could not get his smile out of my mind; I have thought about it often and each time it has melted my heart. I think that smile made me a different person somehow. In fact I am quite sure that no one could have eaten that wonderful bread, or watched what happened on that day and been untouched by the events we witnessed.
That day, when the Healer came. The day when he changed our lives.