The Rich Young Man
Luke sadly sat down on the richly embroidered couch. A beautiful Greek nymph, purchased in faraway Corinth, stared at him with blank marble eyes. He picked up a scroll lying on an intricately carved mahogany table and tried to read the latest letter from his cousin Joshua, a banker in Rome, all to no avail. His mind refused to stay focused on the words and kept dragging Luke’s memory to the events of that afternoon.
A gentle knock on the door finally distracted him. He absentmindedly invited the visitor to enter. A stunningly beautiful young lady clad in rich silks sat down on the couch next to him.
“Darling, where were you all afternoon? I came three times, and you didn’t answer!” she scolded him reproachfully.
“I was out. I’m sorry, Rebekah,” he replied, gazing into her lavishly made-up face.
“I wanted to tell you…after we’re married, I want to travel.”
“But of course. Do you think I’d keep you trapped in this place? I intend to go to Greece, to Antioch; I’ve always wanted to live in the place where my father was born.”
Rebekah sighed. “I don’t want to go to Greece; I want to travel far away, to Rome.”
“That’s quite far. Even I haven’t been to Rome…”
“But you’re so rich. I mean, look at this statue,” she gestured at the nymph. “I bet she’s seen more of the world than I have, and you bought three others along with her! Just think of all the lovely fashions there’d be in Rome! I’ve always wanted to see them…”
The mention of Luke’s riches seemed to sober him. “But is that all you want to do? Spend our money?”
“What else is money for but to make us happy?” asked Rebekah. But he ignored her, troubled once again.
“What’s wrong with you today?” Rebekah pouted. “You’re hardly listening. We’re getting married in three weeks, and all you do is frown and mumble. Don’t you love me anymore?”
“Of course I do.” How could anyone not love Rebekah? She was so gorgeous it almost made one forget that her father was a Roman Centurion who had married a Jew way back in the time of Augustus. Although her father had long since gone back to Italy, and they had moved out of Jerusalem to a small village, Rebekah’s mother could never really cover up the double race of her daughter and had been delighted when the richest man in the area had begged for the seventeen-year-old girl’s hand in marriage.
“Then ACT like you love me, darling! The way you’re talking now, it’s as if you had financial problems! Is something wrong? You’re doing well with Xanthias, aren’t you?
Xanthias, a Greek exile, had been instructing Luke in art for almost a year. Luke, a young half-Greek, half-Syrian living amongst the Jews, showed such talent for fresco that his teacher continually urged him to seek his father’s land and show the Greeks what a genius had been buried in boring Judaea.
“Yes, yes, of course, all’s well with Xanthias, honey.”
Rebekah reclined against his arm. “Just think, me married to the finest fresco-painter this part of the world has ever produced!”
Luke laughed. “Don’t count on it. Isaac insists I’d make a wonderful physician. I seem to have a special touch for healing.”
Rebekah scoffed. “Pooh, who’d want to go around curing a bunch of poor whining sick people when you could be famous? But I do hope you won’t worry about work when we have company, I want to impress my guests with your stories. I want to see their eyes pop out when you describe the riot when the Emperor visited Jersusalem…”
“But, Rebekah, painting and storytelling are very well for the rich who can afford to buy fancy works of art for fun and sit at dinner parties eating and chattering and listening, but what about the other people?”
“What do you mean ‘other people’? Rich people don’t go around doctoring the rabble like Isaac does…he’s as poor as a mouse! You’re rich now, and I will be soon…so soon…” She rested her head on his shoulder. However, the idea stuck in his head like a burr, and he continued.
“The other people, the poorer people, those who need help. How much more good I could do if I gave up some things like Isaac did and helped people as he does?”
Rebekah sat up indignantly. “What’s gotten into you? You never talk like this!” she demanded.
“I saw Him today.”
“Who?” queried Rebekah.
“The Teacher. Jesus, that Nazarean everybody talks about. I spoke with Him.”
Rebekah rolled her eyes. “What did you do that for? He Himself says that He’s come to convert the evil; at least that’s what Isaac said last time he was here for dinner. I really wish you wouldn’t invite him at the same time as me; I don’t like poor men, especially quack doctors like him, and, besides, he’s nuts over that Nazarean. Anyway, you’re not evil; you’ve followed every single commandment meticulously since I’ve known you, sometimes to your own loss.”
“He told me I needed to do more. He told me to sell all my possessions and give the money to the poor.”
“WHAT?!?!?!” Rebekah spluttered. “That’s crazy. You—you can’t THINK of doing a stupid thing like this. That’s insanity! You can’t part with all these beautiful things…you need them! How do you think I would feel with a pauper husband? You can’t do this to me…”
Luke tried to calm her down. “I never said I would; it just makes me feel sad. I thought I’d done everything and now He wants me to…”
Rebekah forcefully gripped Luke’s shoulders with her slim hands. “Forget about Him. The Man’s a maniac. Please promise me that as long as you love me, you’ll never talk about Him again.”
Her round eyes captivated Luke. “I promise, for as long as I love you.”
Yet as Rebekah kissed him, Luke felt a tremor of some strange feeling, almost of repulsion.
He pulled his face away. “Relax, honey. I have some work to do now; see you tomorrow.”
But when she had left, he didn’t work. He sat musing and finally found a copy of the Holy Scripture. He perused the laws of Moses and reminded himself how he had followed each one of them, but that sad idea that he should do more still tugged at his heart. He remembered the look of love in His eyes, how he had almost right then and there bowed down and cried “I will do as You say!”, but memories of Rebekah’s beauty had stopped him. How could he forfeit his undeniably prosperous future for this shabby carpenter’s Son? Ridiculous, to say the least. Rebekah was right.
But His eyes! So full of compassion, grace, everything that would mark the Messiah.
Luke shook his head. How could he consider this poor Man, this carpenter, to be the Messiah? The Messiah would be a king who would lead the Jews…
But Isaac said He was the Messiah, and Isaac had never proved false to Luke. He always gave good advice, and his patients trusted him.
But Rebekah didn’t want him to associate with Isaac anymore…
But Rebekah was a little silly sometimes…
And Isaac had promised to show him how to mix a new medicine…
Luke decided to go to Isaac.
Of course, Rebekah was furious. He had expected her to be, but he never really imagined what it would be like. He knew that it was unwise to provoke her, but her reaction still surprised him.
“What do you think you’re doing!?!?!?!” she cried as soon as he opened the door. “Don’t you love me at all? Are you trying to ruin me?”
“Rebekah, what do you mean?” he asked uselessly, knowing the answer.
“It’s all over town that YOU went with the crowd of peasants and listened to that addle-pated Rabbi preach from a mountain-top all day long! And you told everybody you thought it was wonderful! Are you trying to destroy our relationship? Don’t you know what people are saying?”
Luke knew very well what people were saying. He tried to calm her down. “But, Rebekah, you should have heard Him. He told us about His Father in Heaven, about our duties on earth, about the future blessings and rewards for…”
“For people with no backbone, with no talent, with no money, courage, or sense!” she finished.
“Rebekah, you haven’t heard His voice. From anyone else I would have laughed it off, but He speaks the truth. I’m sure of it. Come now; tomorrow come with me to hear Him. You’ll understand then.”
Rebekah shook off his pacifying embrace. “I will NOT accompany you to hear the blather and blasphemy of some idiot! Never! Why did you even go listen to Him in the first place! I thought you said…” she broke off and turned away, wiping her eyes with a silk veil.
“Isaac told me that His words would open my heart, and they did.”
“Isaac!” she whirled around. “He’s almost as bad as the Nazarean! How many times must I tell you not to take his advice? Listen to me, please!”
“I trust Isaac’s word. He always speaks wisely.”
A servant entered and beckoned Luke. “Your friend Isaac is outside with merchants asking to buy your statuary. They offer much gold. Will you listen to them?”
Luke nodded. “Send them in.”
Rebekah’s eyes darkened. “Luke, No! Send them away. You can’t even think…”
“Rebekah, it is my duty. Joy in the next life is more important than the useless pleasures of wealth.”
She coyly pursed her lips. “You must not listen to this Man anymore. Nor Isaac. Send the merchants away and forget these whims. Don’t you love me at all?”
Luke gazed at her painted face, her dyed hair, her elaborate clothes draped around her gorgeous figure. Her seductive eyes, made up to look bigger than in reality, begged him strongly. But the call of the Nazarene Rabbi was stronger. “No. You are just satisfaction for my worldly desires. You cannot give me true joy. Our betrothal is over.”
Her heavy eyelashes fluttered. “Don’t leave me Luke! I cannot remain alone; I’m sure we can compromise…”
“You are not meant to be my wife. I shall sell all my possessions and become a doctor. You could never live with me.”
Her shaking lips parted in horror. “But, Luke, darling–”she began, trying to pull him down onto the couch.
“Leave this house!” he commanded angrily. “You have no business here.”
She left, having lost all hope for a pleasant future. She had refused all her other suitors long ago. There was nothing left.
Isaac entered with the merchants. Luke turned to them with in a businesslike manner. “Everything is for sale,” he declared, gesturing across the room. The merchants excitedly bustled around, examining the sculptures, caressing the marble and bronze. One of them stroked the marble nymph with an exclamation of wonder. “Such perfection of art has never been seen in all of Judea !” he cried. “How much are you asking?”
Luke smiled at Isaac. “However much you can give.”