1st Royal Jubilee Edition
presented in English by D. Raymond-Wryhte
If someone had asked me early in my ancient life what those words mean, I would have answered, “I don’t know.” Then I would have asked, “Should I care?” After all, the words are Latin, and Latin was spoken by Romans, and Romans were wolves: creatures at the same time magnificent and malevolent. Rome had taken the Jewish nation down nearly six decades prior to my birth. Rome kept my nation down as if it were the runt of a litter of jackals. It did so with a perpetual, relentless stare; a frequent snarl; and an occasional snap. Seven decades after my birth, it bit long and hard, drew a great deal of blood, and shook my nation nearly to death.
I understand that, centuries after my death, Latin became the unifying and even official language of a large portion of the Church, that portion located in the west. I also understand that Latin became the unifying and even official language of science the world over. With regard to taxonomy, for example, things were given names in Latin, or names that at least looked and sounded like Latin.
The thing I wish to describe here never got a Latin name, as I shall explain.
Once upon a time, in the fifth year of our Lord according to the old Latin reckoning….
Yes, I know that such reckoning did not commence until some 534 years after the birth of my brother. It became something of a joke between us that I am the one to have been born in the first year of our Lord, and that Jesus was born a couple of years before Christ: in 2 B.C.
Anyway, once upon a time, I was on my first outing out of sight of my mother. She had agreed with my father to allow me to go with Jesus on one of His excursions, which for Him had commenced as soon as He became able to walk, run, and climb. We had not gone far, just outside the municipal limits of Nazareth. My father worked on a project for the synagogue within shouting distance. Even so, I was on an expedition to explore the wilds of the Galilean hill country.
Jesus selected a section of maquis. Most adults would try to circumnavigate such stands since they presented so many impediments. We were boys, though, so we found it less difficult to stoop and wriggle and even crawl among the scraggly oaks, terebinths, laurels, and myrtles. Indeed, we felt a certain excitement in reconnoitering a place that revealed little evidence of any other human having been there. We did not see so much as a shard of discarded pottery.
We did come upon a crowd of creepy crawlers.
“What are those?” I asked my big brother.
“Let’s have a closer look.” He knelt on the ground, and so I did as He did. “Don’t forget,” He warned. “Watch for scorpions.”
The creatures that had caught our attention moved about a number of vividly green plants growing in a parcel less dense than the thickets surrounding. I watched them move in a multitude of directions, with no pattern evident. I looked away from the ground and into the trees. As I did so, I saw one such creature drop, as if from the sky, onto Jesus’ head. He felt it alight, and He used one hand to sweep it from His hair and into His other hand. After looking at it for quite some time, He held it out for me.
I opened one of my hands, and in it tumbled. I stared at it, too, for a while, and then said, “I wonder what it is.” After further scrutiny, I announced, “I’ll ask Papa.” With that, I turned and scrambled out of the maquis.
In the open, I ran to the place where I knew my father stood at work, calling along the way, “Papa! Papa!”
Once I got within range of a quiet conversation, I heard, “Yes, James.” My father kept his eyes on a draw knife.
“What is this?”
Joseph had to stop trimming the piece of olive he intended to become part of a new door he was making. Without assuming a standing position, he glanced to the side to look at what I held in my little hand. “That’s a caterpillar, son.”
“Yes, but what kind?”
“A gray one.”
I could see that. In fact, I could see that it had many tints and shades ranging from off-white to pitch black that gave it a mottled gray appearance.
“You don’t intend to keep it,” another voice said.
It belonged to a man named Ichabod. He was there to try to sell my father a tool he had imported all the way from Italy, something called a plane.
“No?” I queried.
“No. You’d better squash it.”
“Caterpillars are pests, boy. They eat things we need to eat, or the plants that grow things we need to eat, and we can’t eat them. If enough of them get together, they can make a plague that will result in a famine. They’re no friends of farmers. Since we depend on farmers, such worms are no friends of ours, either. They’re good for nothing except being cursed.”
I closed my hand over the small creature, imprisoning it my fist. I did not execute it, though. Instead, I ran off to return to the place where it had been arrested. There I found my brother, right where I had left Him, lying on the ground, staring into the leaves of one of those plants with the shiny, glossy leaves.
“It’s a caterpillar.”
“We knew that.”
“It’s a gray caterpillar.”
“We knew that, too.”
“We’re supposed to kill it.”
“It’s no good.”
“Really?” Jesus held His hand out.
I returned the caterpillar.
He studied it again for a time and then returned His gaze to the others. “Look. Look at what they’re doing.”
After watching carefully, I asked, “Are they eating?”
“They’re trying to eat. But see there.” He pointed to a small plot of exposed soil, where one of the creatures lay motionless.
“Is it dead?”
“Yes. Now see there.” He pointed at another caterpillar apparently writhing in agony. As we watched, it burst open, spilling what I thought was thick black blood. “I’ve seen that happen time and again. They eat, and then they die.”
“I don’t get it. I thought it’s eat and live, don’t eat and die.”
“They don’t get it, either,” Jesus said. “Do you know the name of these plants?”
My mother called them Baal’s bulbs, as did our friends and neighbors. I understand another name employed in other times was black calla. In Latin, that was Arum palaestinum.
Dozens of other plants grew in the vicinity, but the caterpillars insisted on eating the leaves of the black calla, and always with the same ultimate result. Sooner or later, each would die. Moreover, many caterpillars fought others for leaves, and that resulted in death. Still others, evidently berserk with hunger, attacked fellow caterpillars and tried eating them. The result? Death first for the one being eaten, and death second for the one doing the eating.
In time, enough blackness bled to render the entire scene horrific. “And,” Jesus said, “the stench is just as horrendous as that of the flowers when they bloom.”
Jesus set His caterpillar in a little sward of grass away from the black calla. I decided to watch what it would do. Immediately, it turned and crawled toward the crop of shiny green plants. Movement was slow, but steady. One would have thought the action much too slothful to maintain the interest of two boys, but there was something dramatic about this scenario. We watched and watched as the sun moved the shadows of the maquis over us.
The caterpillar crawled among the black calla, but did not stop at even one leaf to try and take a bite. Instead, it kept moving along a straight line toward the other side of the crop. A few caterpillars evidently took notice somehow, because they fell into line and followed the first one.
The lead caterpillar left the black calla behind. Before it grew a Mediterranean medlar, which in Latin came to be named Crataegus azardolus. The caterpillar headed straight for it and began climbing its trunk. Those following stopped at the base. The leader kept going higher and higher until it got to one of the small tree’s thorny branches, and there it did something amazing: it skewered itself on one of the thorns.
Something red leaked onto the tree. Quickly, it soaked under the bark.
“Let’s go,” I said.
The impaled caterpillar, which no longer moved, was even so somehow covering itself with—or being covered by—a white coating. Eventually, it became a complete chrysalis.
When nothing additional happened, I again said, “Let’s go.”
Jesus did not respond.
I believe He would have stayed to keep watch all night. I insisted, “Papa and Mama will be looking for us. It’s time to go home.” I gave Him a tug.
We did go home, but that was not the end of the matter for Jesus. The next morning, He went back to check the chrysalis. And at noon. And again in the evening. I tagged along each time.
We returned at dawn the following day, just in time to see the most beautiful butterfly ever perched on the outside of the chrysalis. It’s body was snow white. It’s wings, though properly scaled, nevertheless possessed the transparency of ice crystals. Indeed, the veins in the wings made them look like something rare and therefore memorable, even to me at such a young age: the wings looked like snowflakes. And when the morning sun struck them, they lit up with white fire.
“Do you smell that?”
I paused to breath more deeply. “Yes!” The scent in the air was that of roses, rather like that of the medlar’s flowers when they bloom. The medlar is, after all, a rose. According to the old Latin designation, it is within the family Rosaceae.
We were not the only ones to get the drift. The caterpillars at the base of the tree must have sensed the scent, because they immediately began climbing the tree. Once they got up into its branches and among its twigs, they commenced feeding. The tree’s leaves and flowers had not yet emerged for the year, and so the caterpillars targeted the buds. They did not eat them, however. Instead, they tapped into the sap flowing just beneath the surface at the base of the buds. As we watched, we noticed the gray tones of each caterpillar exhibit a mauve blush.
Caterpillars still among the black calla also sensed the scent and moved toward the medlar, traveling the same path blazed by the butterfly.
Not all the caterpillars went that way. Many—most, actually—seemed revolted by the new scent. They went the other way, any way other than the way of the butterfly.
“The aroma of the winged one,” Jesus said, “is to some a stench worse than death and to others a fragrance of life.”
As for the butterfly itself, it took to flight and soared up in the direction from which it had earlier come. We could still see it after it cleared the canopy of the maquis; its light twinkled in the blue sky like that of a day star. Alas, however, we lost sight of it as it flew through a bright white cloud.
The caterpillars in the medlar kept eating. In coming rambles in the woods, we would notice that each gradually became lighter in color. Each eventually formed a chrysalis. But it was not until some many days later, when the time was right, that they emerged en masse as a flurry of crystal white snowflakes swirling, not from sky to earth, but from earth to sky.
We never saw them, or any of their kind, again. No one did. I said that the butterfly never got a Latin name, and this is why. The species disappeared from the ecosphere until all creatures, all of creation, were delivered from enslavement to decay and death and into the glorious emancipation of God’s children. All of creation now knows that Jesus is that deliverer. He came into His own as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and immediately thereafter, the Messiah’s flasher returned to flourish among all roses everywhere.
Back then, however, Jesus preserved all these things, and pondered them in His heart.