He loved to sit on the roof of his mud brick house after dinner. He'd carve small wooden shapes and toys with his knife, whenever he had time. His father had let him hang out on the flat roof, ever since Yeshua helped repair it last year. They used sycamore branches and covered them with clay plaster. Their fix was holding up well, so far.
Almost every time he climbed the ladder, Yeshua had to promise his mother not to sit on the roof ledge. For safety, it was 18 inches high and ran along the perimeter of the home. Standing at his favorite perch, he had a bird's-eye view of the surrounding hillsides. The highest point in his hometown, Nazareth, was 1,300 feet above sea level.
There was a nice breeze that skipped along the rooftops. The hot sun would set in an hour or so. Yeshua welcomed the relief. His skin was a deep, dark brown, even under his shirt, which he carefully took off, rolled up, and set on the ledge. He pulled back his dark, curly hair and cinched up his tunic around his hips to cool off. His rich tan made him look even more muscular. The more wood and stonework he did with his father, the more he looked like him, a seasoned carpenter and mason. But his face clearly resembled his mother's.
Facing north, Yeshua sat down and leaned back against the ledge. He could see snow atop Mount Hermon on the horizon. The Sea of Galilee was about 15 miles to the east. Mount Carmel stood due west, stretching to the Mediterranean Sea. When he faced east, there was Mount Tabor to his right. And as Yeshua looked over his shoulder and gazed south, he imagined mighty Yerushlem. It was about five days away on foot, across a sprawling plain.
He often waved to travelers in the distance, as they walked along the caravan route to and from Egypt. Occasionally, someone would spot him on the roof and wave back. The path wound its way through the hillsides of Nazareth. Yeshua could sling a stone and almost hit the trail from his roof. That's where he saw his first horses. Roman soldiers riding them. Rugged. Muscled. Yet, they were gentle and beautiful animals. Horses were his favorite toys to carve.
Yeshua chewed on an olive pit, while he craftily whittled and smoothed a chunk of sycamore wood with his new blade. He had saved the scrap piece from his father's shop. He was getting really good at making toys. His father, Yosef, had sold a couple recently. But this one was special. It was a gift for his friend, Ezra. They were headed to Yerushlem together for the Passover. How amazing it would be to visit the Temple for the first time. Just thinking about it made him laugh and shout for joy from the rooftop, "Ye-ru-shlem!"
Thousands and thousands of people would be traveling to celebrate the festival in the Holy City. He and Ezra would both turn 13 later this year. Each would make his formal dedication to Judaism in front of Nazareth's whole Synagogue community. But the rabbi had said their first trip to Yerushlem would be incomparable. They would join Hebrew pilgrims from across the world, see the Temple High Priest, and perhaps meet some of the greatest thinkers anywhere - brilliant Jewish minds. Awesome.
Yeshua's mom and dad made the Passover pilgrimage every year, but until now, he had been too young to go. It was a little scary and intense at festival time. For every visitor, there was a highwayman, a pickpocket, a professional beggar, or a street hawker. Younger children were vulnerable in big cities. So, every year, Yeshua had stayed behind with his grandmother or one of his great-aunts. They would celebrate the Seder dinner, eat lamb with neighbors, and pray for the safe return of his parents and everyone from the village making the journey.
But this year would be profoundly different. Yeshua would travel to Yerushlem and experience it with his friend. The city would overflow with pilgrims from places like Egypt, Africa