The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Part 10

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There was still no sign of the disciples.

The Stranger in the Garden.

Christ spent the next day alone in the room he had rented, alternately praying and weeping and trying to write down what had happened, or as much of it as he knew. He was afraid of more things than he could count. He didn't feel like eating or drinking, and he couldn't sleep. The money Caiaphas had given him troubled him more and more, until he thought he would go mad from shame, so he paid the landlord what he owed and gave the rest to the first beggar he saw in the street. Still he felt no better.

When evening fell he went to the garden where Joseph had laid Jesus in the tomb, and sat near the grave among the shadows. Presently he became aware that the stranger was sitting next to him.

'I have been busy elsewhere,' said the stranger.

'Yes,' said Christ bitterly, 'going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.'

'I know this is hard for you. But I am not Satan. The first part of our work is nearly accomplished.'

'And where was the ram caught in the thicket? You let me believe that something would happen to prevent the worst. And nothing happened, and the worst came.'

'You let yourself believe it, and your belief let the great oblation run its course. Thanks to what you did, all kinds of good will come.'

'So he will rise from the dead?'

'Undoubtedly.'

'When?'

'Always.'

Christ shook his head in irritated bewilderment.

'Always?' he said. 'What does that mean?'

'It means that the miracle will never be forgotten, its goodness will never be exhausted, its truth will last from generation to generation.'

'Ah, truth again. Would that be the truth that is different from history?'

'The truth that irradiates history, in your own beautiful phrase. The truth that waters history as a gardener waters his plants. The truth that lights history as a lantern banishes the shadows.'

'I don't think Jesus would have recognised that sort of truth.'

'Which is precisely why we need you to embody it. You are the missing part of Jesus. Without you, his death will be no more than one among thousands of other public executions. But with you, the way is opened for that light of truth to strike in on the darkness of history; the blessed rain will fall on the parched earth. Jesus and Christ together will be the miracle. So many holy things will flower from this!'

They were speaking very quietly, and the garden itself was quiet. But then Christ heard a low rumble, as of stone rolling on stone.

'What's happening?' he said.

'The next part of the miracle. Be calm, dear Christ. All shall be well. Jesus wanted a state of things that no human being could have borne for long. People are capable of great things, but only when great circ.u.mstances call on them. They can't live at that pitch all the time, and most circ.u.mstances are not great. In daily life people are tempted by comfort and peace; they are a little lazy, a little greedy, a little cowardly, a little l.u.s.tful, a little vain, a little irritable, a little envious. They are not good for much, but we have to deal with them as they are. Among other things, they're credulous; so they like mysteries, and they adore miracles. But you know this well; you said this to Jesus some time ago. As usual, you were right, and as usual, he didn't listen.'

By the tomb, some figures were moving. It was a cloudy night, and the moon, which was just past the full, was hidden; but there was enough light to see three or four figures carrying something heavy between them away from the tomb.

'What are they doing?' said Christ.

'The work of G.o.d.'

'That is Jesus's body!'

'Whatever you see, it is necessary.'

'Are you going to pretend he is risen?'

'He will be risen.'

'How? By means of a trick? This is contemptible. Oh, that I fell for this! Oh, I am d.a.m.ned! Oh, my brother! What have I done?'

And he fell down and wept. The stranger laid his hands on Christ's head.

'Weep,' he said, 'and comfort will come to you.'

Christ remained where he was, and the stranger continued: 'Now I must tell you about the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will fill the disciples, and in time to come more and more of the faithful, with the conviction of the living Jesus. Jesus could not be with people for ever, but the Holy Spirit can, and will. It was necessary for Jesus to die so that the Spirit could descend to this world, and descend he will, with your help. In the days to come you will see the transforming power of the Spirit. The disciples, those weak and troubled men, will become like lions. What the living Jesus could not do, the dead and risen Jesus will bring about by the power of the Holy Spirit, not only in the disciples but in everyone who hears and believes.'

'Then why do you need me? If the Spirit is so all-powerful, what help can I possibly give?'

'The Spirit is inward and invisible. Men and women need a sign that is outward and visible, and then they will believe. You have been scornful lately when I have spoken of truth, dear Christ; you should not be. It will be truth that strikes into their minds and hearts in the ages to come, the truth of G.o.d, that comes from beyond time. But it needs a window to be opened so it can s.h.i.+ne through into the world of time, and you are that window.'

Christ gathered himself and got to his feet, and said, 'I understand. I shall play my part. But I do so with a bitter conscience and a heavy heart.'

'Of course. It's natural. But you have a great part to play still; when the records of this time and of Jesus's life are written, your account will be of enormous value. You will be able to determine how these events are remembered right up until the ending of the world. You will-'

'Stop, stop. Enough. I want to hear no more for now. I am very tired and unhappy. I shall come back here on the morning after the sabbath, and do whatever I have to do.'

Mary from Magdala at the Tomb.

After the crucifixion Peter, John, James and the other disciples had gathered in a house not far from Joseph's garden, where they sat like men bereft of their senses, stunned and silent. The execution of Jesus had come upon them like a thunderbolt out of a blue sky; of all things, they had not expected that. It was no less a shock than if the foundations of the earth had s.h.i.+fted under their feet.

As for the women who had gathered at the foot of the cross and helped Joseph take down the body, they had wept and prayed until they could weep no more. Mary the mother of Jesus had seen him into the grave, and soon she would return to Nazareth. The woman from Magdala, who was also called Mary, was going to remain in Jerusalem for a little while.

Very early on the morning after the sabbath, Mary the Magdalene went to the garden where the tomb was, taking some spices in case any more were needed to preserve the body. It was still dark. After the burial she had seen Joseph and Nicodemus roll the stone into place over the tomb, and she was surprised to see, in the half-light, the stone rolled back and the tomb yawning open. She wondered if she had come to the right grave, and she looked inside fearfully.

There she saw the linen cloth wrapped up and empty, but no body.

She ran out and hurried to the house where the disciples were staying, and said to Peter and John, 'The master's tomb is empty! I've just been there, and the stone is rolled back, and the body is gone!'

She told them everything she had seen. A woman's testimony being of little value, Peter and John hastened to the garden to see for themselves. John ran faster and got to the grave first, and looked inside to see the linen cloth lying empty; and then Peter pushed past him and went inside, and found the cloth just as Mary had described, with the cloth that had wrapped Jesus's head not lying with the rest, but apart by itself.

John said, 'Have the Romans taken him away?'

'Why would they do that?' said Peter. 'Pilate released his body. They wouldn't be interested.'

'What else can have happened?'

'He might not have been dead when they took him down. Only fainted, like. Then he might have woken up . . . '

'But how could he have rolled the stone away from inside? His legs were broken. He couldn't move.'

They could make no sense of it at all. They left the tomb and hurried back to tell the other disciples.

Mary the Magdalene, who had remained outside, was weeping. But then through her tears she saw a man close by, and took him for the gardener.

'Why are you weeping?' he said.

'They've taken my master's body away, and I don't know where he is. Sir, if you know where they've taken him, please tell me, I beg you, and I'll bring him back here and look after him properly.'

Then the man said, 'Mary.'

She was startled, and she looked at him more closely. It was still not quite light, and her eyes were sore, but surely this was Jesus, alive.

'Master!' she cried, and then moved to embrace him.

But Christ stepped back and said, 'No, don't touch me now. I shan't be here for long. Go to the disciples and tell them what you've seen. Tell them I shall ascend soon and go to my father, to G.o.d. To my G.o.d and your G.o.d.'

Mary ran and told the disciples what she had seen, and what Christ had said to her.

'It was him!' she told them. 'Truly! Jesus was alive, and he spoke to me!'

They were half-sceptical, but Peter and John were more ready than the others to believe her.

'She told us how the cloth was laid out in the tomb, and we went and we saw it, just as she said. If she says he's alive well, that would explain it! It would explain everything!'

They pa.s.sed that day in a state of half-hopeful wonderment. They went again and again to the garden where the tomb was, but saw no more there.

The Road to Emmaus.

Later that day some of the disciples set out to go to a village called Emmaus, about two hours' walk away from Jerusalem, to tell the news to some friends who lived there. Christ's informant had set off back to Galilee, and was not among them. As they walked along the road they fell into conversation with a man who was travelling the same way. This too was Christ.

'You seem agitated,' said the traveller. 'What were you all discussing with such pa.s.sion?'

'You haven't heard what happened in Jerusalem?' said a disciple called Cleopas.

'No. Tell me.'

'You must be the only man in Judea not to have heard about it. We're friends of Jesus of Nazareth, the great prophet, the great teacher. He angered the priests in the temple, and they handed him over to the Romans, and they crucified him. And he was buried. That was three days ago. And then this morning we heard he'd been seen alive!'

Their talk was only of that. They didn't look closely at Christ, because they were too excited and bewildered still; but by the time they came to the village night had fallen, and they invited him to stay and eat with them.

He accepted the invitation, and went into the house of their friend, where he was made welcome. When they were sitting down to eat, the disciple Cleopas, who was sitting directly opposite him, stopped what he was saying, took hold of the lamp and raised it close to Christ's face.

'Master?' he said.

In the flickering lamplight the others stared in amazement. Truly, this man looked so like Jesus, and yet he was not the same; but surely death would change him, so he was bound to be a little different; and yet the resemblance was so close. They were struck almost dumb.

But one man called Thomas said, 'If you're really Jesus, show us the marks in your hands and your feet.'

Christ's hands were unmarked, of course. They could all see them as he held the bread. But before he could speak, another man intervened and said: 'If the master's risen from the dead, of course all his wounds would be healed! We've seen him walk we know his broken legs are mended. He'd be made perfect again, so his other scars are gone as well. Who can doubt that?'

'But his legs weren't broken!' said another. 'I heard it from one of the women! He died when a soldier stuck a spear into his side!'

'I never heard that,' said another. 'I heard they broke his legs first of all, before they did the other two. They always break their legs . . . '

And they turned to Christ, full of doubt and confusion.

Christ said, 'Those who see no evidence, and still have faith, are the blessed ones. I am the word of G.o.d. I existed before time. I was in the beginning with G.o.d, and soon I shall go back to him, but I came down into time and into life so that you should see the light and the truth, and testify to them. I shall leave you a sign, and here it is: just as the bread has to be broken before you can eat it, and the wine has to be poured before you can drink, so I had to die in one life before I rose again in another. Remember me as often as you eat and drink. Now I must return to my father, who is in heaven.'

They all wanted to touch him, but he stood back and blessed them all, and then he left.

After that, Christ took care to keep out of the way. He watched from a distance as the disciples, fired by the energy of their hope and excitement, became transformed just as the stranger had promised: as if a holy spirit had entered them. They travelled and preached, they won converts to this new faith in a risen Jesus, they even managed some healing miracles, or at least things happened that could be reported as miracles. They were full of pa.s.sion and zeal.

And as time pa.s.sed, Christ began to hear the story changing little by little. It began with Jesus's name. At first he was Jesus, simply; but then he began to be called Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus the Christ; and later still it was simply Christ. Christ was the word of G.o.d, the light of the world. Christ had been crucified. Christ had risen from the dead. Somehow, his death would be a great redemption, or a great atonement. People were happy to believe that, even though it was hard to explain.

The story developed in other ways too. The account of the resurrection was greatly enhanced when it began to be reported that after Thomas asked to see the wounds, Jesus (or Christ) had shown them, and let Thomas lay his finger in them to settle his doubts. That was vivid and unforgettable, but if the story said that, it couldn't also say that the Romans had broken his legs, as they did with almost every other victim of crucifixion; for if one kind of wound had remained in his flesh, so would another, and a man with broken legs would not have been able to stand in the garden or walk to Emmaus. So whatever had really happened, the story came to say that he died from the thrust of a Roman spear, his bones remaining unbroken. Thus the stories began to weave themselves together.

Christ himself, of course, had made so little mark on the world that no one confused him with Jesus, because it was so easy to forget that there had been two of them. Christ felt his own self gradually dwindling away as the Christ of speculation began to grow in importance and majesty. Soon the story about Christ began to extend both forwards and backwards in time forwards to the end of the world, and backwards even before that birth in a stable: Christ was the son of Mary, that was undeniable, but he was also the son of G.o.d, an eternal and almighty being, perfect G.o.d and perfect man, begotten before all worlds, reigning at the right hand of his Father in heaven.

The Net-maker.

Then the stranger visited him for the last time. Christ was living under another name in a town on the sea-coast, a place where Jesus had never been. He had married, and he was working as a maker of nets.

As often before, the stranger came at night. He knocked at the door just as Christ and his wife were sitting down to their evening meal.

'Martha, who is that?' said Christ. 'Go and see.' Martha opened the door, and the stranger came in, carrying a heavy bag.

'So,' said Christ. 'What trouble have you brought me this time?'

'Such a welcome! This is your work, all the scrolls you gave to me. I have had them diligently copied, and it is time you had them back and began putting the story in order. And this is your wife?'

'Martha,' said Christ, 'this is the man I told you about. But he has never told me his name.'

'Please sit with us and share our food,' said Martha.

'I shall do that with pleasure. That little ritual you invented,' the stranger said as Christ broke the bread, 'has been a great success. Who would have thought that inviting Jews to eat flesh and drink blood would be so popular?'

Christ pushed the bread away. 'That is not what I told them to do,' he said.

'But it's what the followers of Jesus are doing, Jews and Gentiles both. Your instructions were too subtle, my friend. People will leap to the most lurid meaning they can find, even if it's one the author never intended.'

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Part 10

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