A story written for a group of schoolchildren aged 3-6, whose RE topic was “holidays and holy days”, as told in St Michael’s School.
Benjamin was very excited. Dad had just told him that he was going on his very first foreign holiday!
Banjamin’s family lived in a great city called Alexandria, in Egpyt, where his Dad owned a big stall in the market, but his family came from Israel. Now, Dad needed to make a business trip to Jerusalem to barter for some new stock, and Benjamin – now he was 12 years old – was going to come with him!
They were going to stay with Uncle Isaac and Aunty Rebecca, who lived in a village just outside Jerusalem, called Bethany.
To make the jouney across land was going to take about a week, and Benjamin was given the special job of looking after the camels. Each day, before they set off, it was his job to take them to the nearest well or river so they could drink, ready for the hot dusty walk ahead. Benjamin enjoyed that, but knew he had to be careful not to stand right behind the camels – they had a powerful kick!
On the first day of travelling they soon left behind the green palm trees of Alexandria and found themselves on dusty desert roads. Each night they would set up a tent to sleep in. It was great fun for the first few days, but by day 5, Benjamin was getting rather tired of dust and sand, sand and dust. That evening, the Sabbath began, so they stopped early, cooked their supper before the sun set, and said their Sabbath prayers before supper. The next day they wouldn’t be allowed to cook anything or walk any long distances until the next sunset, so lunch was cold lamb!
On day 8, Benjamin was very pleased to see the little town of Bethany coming into distance on the horizon, and soon they were at Uncle Isaac and Aunty Rebecca’s house. They weren’t expected – after all there was no telephone or postal system to let them know – but it was traditional to receive guests at a moment’s notice. In no time at all, Aunty Rebecca had some beef in the oven, and they feasted well that evening. Benjamin met his cousin for the first time – Miriam was just the same age as him, and they got on really well.
Next morning, Miriam asked Benjamin a question. “Are you going to come with us for the Feast of Weeks?”
“What’s that?” said Benjamin.
“You might have heard it called Pentecost? That’s Greek for ’50 days’… I mean, you keep Passover each year, don’t you?”
“Oh yes!” said Benjamin – Passover was his favourite Jewish holiday, because as the only child in the family it was always his job to ask the questions when they ate the special meal. He had to ask “Why do we do eat this food?” and “What does it remind us of?” – and Dad would tell the story of how the Moses and the Israelites escaped from Egypt over the Red Sea. He was glad that Egypt was a safe place for the Israelites now!
“Well,” said Miriam, “50 days after Passover comes Pentecost. But you don’t keep that in Egypt?”
“My family doesn’t,” said Benjamin.
“Ah, well, perhaps it’s because you live such a long from Jerusalem,” said Miriam. “It says in the Bible that 7 weeks, or 50 days after Passover, all Jewish people should go to Jerusalem and bring some of the food that they have grown, especially the wheat which is ready to be picked at this time of year. They give part of that food to the priests in charge of the Temple as a way to say ‘thank you’ for the good things that God has given.”
Miriam pointed to a tree. “See that fig tree? Yes? That branch with a ribbon tied around it? Dad tied that on as soon as he saw the first fig starting to grow this year. That way we can make sure that we give God the very first fruit which grows in our garden, so that’s the branch we’re going to cut and take to the Temple as our offering. We don’t grow wheat ourselves, but do have figs in the garden, and other fruits too.”
Benajmin decided that he was looking forward to Pentecost. The day before the festival, the family got ready – they had to stay overnight in Jerusalem because a 3-mile walk to Bethany wasn’t allowed on a Holy Day. Uncle Isaac even allowed him to be the one to cut the branch!
After walking for an hour, and well before sunset, they arrived in Jerusalem. The city was so busy! There were pilgrims everywhere! Jews from miles around had come to thank God for their crops, and because it was a long journey they were making a holiday out of it. So the Holy Day really had become a holiday!
Benjamin, his Dad, Uncle Isaac, Aunty Rebecca and Miriam had a wonderful meal at the inn that night, and the following day they went to the Temple. Everyone was queuing to get in. Benjamin found that bit rather boring, but was far too polite to say so. Eventually their turn came, and they gave their fig branch, and other garden fruit, to the priest on duty, who took it, smiled, said a short prayer, and their fruits were passed into the Temple storeroom.
On the way back to the inn, they saw a crowd gathering round a gateway. Benjamin was curious and was glad when Uncle Isaac decided they should go over for a closer look. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Someone from the crowd cried out – “Jesus has just healed a blind man!”
“Who’s Jesus?” asked Benjamin.
“Ah,” said Aunty Rebecca, “we’ve heard of him. Sometimes he stays with our neighbours, Martha, Mary & Lazarus. He is a teacher and healer, and it sounds like he’s just healed someone. Fancy doing that on Pentecost, a day we’re not supposed to work!”
Benjamin was puzzled. He liked having a day off, but he didn’t see why that should stop God from healing someone.
The family spent another two days in Jerusalem, and Benjamin’s dad was able to buy all the things he needed for his market stall, so they loaded up the camels, and began the long journey back to Egypt. It was such a long journey that Benjamin arrived home exhausted from looking after the camels. Now that they were carrying heavy loads they got bad-tempered very easily, kicked out a lot more, and had to be loaded and unloaded every time they had a rest stop. Benjamin was so busy he soon forgot about his adventures in Jerusalem.
A few years later, Benjamin was minding his father’s market stall when a dark-skinned important-looking man came to trade, and they soon got chatting. He was a royal official from Ethiopia, going home after a trip to Jerusalem. He told a strange story about a follower of Jesus who had met him on the road. This man – his name was Philip – explained how Jesus had died on a Cross, and came back to life. Then, on Pentecost Sunday, all of Jesus’s friends had had a powerful experience of God’s presence and started going out preaching.”
It jogged Benjamin’s memory, and it fitted! Would the same Jesus who had healed on Pentecost Sunday do this for his friends on Pentecost? Yes, Jesus WOULD do that kind of thing on a holy day.
Thinking about Pentecost reminded Benjamin how important it was to thank God for all the good gifts he has received. Benjamin knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to Jerusalem for a long, long time, but he decided that he would always remember Pentecost day in future, by doing three things: he would give himself a day off work (a holiday), spend some time thanking God for the good things he’d received (making it a Holy Day)… and since he couldn’t give his garden fruit to the priests hundreds of miles away, he would give them to the poor people in his own town. And next time he met a traveller from Jerusalem, yes, he would ask if they knew any more about what Jesus did, or what happened to his friends after the day of Pentecost. He was sure there’d be more to tell!
Feedback is especially welcome from anyone familiar with Jewish customs or Egyptian living standards contemporary with the life of Jesus; I am not an expert on the conditions I have imagined for the purpose of the story.