The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - novelonlinefull.com
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'Lord, if I thought you were listening, I'd pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, "Get out, you don't belong here?" Does the tree say to the hungry man, "This fruit is not for you?" Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?
'This is all I can do now, whisper into the silence. How much longer will I even feel like doing that? You're not there. You've never heard me. I'd do better to talk to a tree, to talk to a dog, an owl, a little gra.s.shopper. They'll always be there. I'm with the fool in the psalm. You thought we could get on without you; no you didn't care whether we got on without you or not. You just got up and left. So that's what we're doing, we're getting on. I'm part of the world, and I love every grain of sand and blade of gra.s.s and drop of blood in it. There might as well not be anything else, because these things are enough to gladden the heart and calm the spirit; and we know they delight the body. Body and spirit . . . is there a difference? Where does one end and the other begin? Aren't they the same thing?
'From time to time we'll remember you, like a grandfather who was loved once, but who has died, and we'll tell stories about you; and we'll feed the lambs and reap the corn and press the wine, and sit under the tree in the cool of the evening, and welcome the stranger and look after the children, and nurse the sick and comfort the dying, and then lie down when our time comes, without a pang, without a fear, and go back to the earth.
'And let the silence talk to itself . . . '
Jesus stopped. There was nothing else he wanted to say.
The Arrest of Jesus.
But a little distance away John was sitting up and rubbing his eyes, and then he kicked Peter awake and pointed down into the valley; and then got to his feet and hurried up to where Jesus was still kneeling by himself.
'Master,' he said, 'I'm sorry, forgive me, I don't want to disturb you, but there are men with torches coming up the path from the city.'
Jesus took John's hand and stood up.
'You could get away, master,' John said. 'Peter's got a sword. We can hold them off tell them we haven't seen you.'
'No,' said Jesus. 'I don't want any fighting.'
And he walked down the path towards the other disciples, and told Peter to put his sword away.
As they came up the path in the torchlight Christ said to the captain of the guards, 'I'll embrace him, and you'll know who it is.'
When they came close to Jesus and the other three, Christ went up to his brother and kissed him.
'You?' said Jesus.
Christ wanted to speak, but he was shoved aside as the guards moved past him. He was soon lost among the crowd of curious onlookers who had heard rumours of what was going to happen, and come along to watch.
Seeing Jesus under arrest, the people thought that he'd betrayed their trust in him; that he was just another religious deceiver, like so many others, and that everything he'd told them had been false. They began to shout and jeer, and they might even have attacked and lynched him there and then, if the guards had not held them off; Peter tried to draw his sword again, but Jesus saw him and shook his head.
Peter said, 'Master! We're with you! We won't leave you! Wherever they take you, I'll come too!'
The guards marched Jesus off down the path, and Peter hastened after them. They took him through the city gate and along to the house of the high priest. Peter had to wait in the courtyard outside, where he joined the servants and the guards around the brazier they'd lit to keep themselves warm, for it was a cold night.
Jesus before the Council.
Inside the house, Caiaphas had called together an emergency council of the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. This was unusual, because Jewish law normally prohibited courts from sitting at night, but the circ.u.mstances were urgent; if they were going to deal with Jesus the priests would have to do it before the festival began.
Jesus was brought before this council, and they began to question him. Some of the priests who had lost to him in argument were eager for a reason to hand him over to the Romans, and they had summoned witnesses in the hope of convicting him. However, they hadn't coached the witnesses well enough, and several of them contradicted one another; for example, one said, 'I heard him say he could destroy the temple, and build another in three days.'
'No! That wasn't him!' said another. 'That was one of his followers.'
'But Jesus didn't deny it!'
'It was him. I heard him say it myself.'
Not all the priests were sure that was reason enough to condemn him.
Finally Caiaphas said, 'Well, Jesus, what have you got to say? What's your answer to these charges?'
Jesus said nothing.
'And what about this other charge of blasphemy? That you claim to be the son of G.o.d? The Messiah?'
'That's what you say,' said Jesus.
'Well, it's what your followers say,' said Caiaphas. 'Don't you bear any responsibility for that?'
'I have asked them not to. But even if I had said that, it would not be blasphemy, as you well know.'
Jesus was right, and Caiaphas and the priests knew it. Strictly speaking, blasphemy consisted of cursing the name of G.o.d, and Jesus had never done that. ' Then what about this claim to be king of the Jews? We see it everywhere daubed on the walls. What have you to say to that?'
Jesus said nothing.
'Silence is no answer,' said Caiaphas.
'Jesus, we're trying very hard to be fair to you,' the high priest went on. 'It seems to us that you've gone out of your way to provoke trouble, not only with us, but with the Romans. And these are difficult times. We have to protect our people. Can't you see that? Don't you understand the danger you're putting everyone in?'
Jesus still said nothing.
Caiaphas turned to the priests and scribes, saying, 'I'm sorry to say that we have very little choice. We shall have to take this man to the governor in the morning. Of course, we shall pray that he is merciful.'
While this was happening inside the high priest's house, the courtyard was crowded with people cl.u.s.tering around the brazier for warmth, and talking with anxious excitement about the arrest of Jesus, and what was likely to happen next. Peter was there among them, and at one point a servant girl looked at him and said, 'You were with that Jesus, weren't you? I saw you with him yesterday.'
'No,' said Peter. 'He's nothing to do with me.'
A little later someone else said to his companions, 'This man was one of Jesus's followers. He was in the temple with him when he upset the money-changers' tables.'
'Not me,' said Peter. 'You must be mistaken.'
And just before dawn a third person, hearing Peter make some remark, said, 'You're one of them, aren't you? I can tell by your accent. You're a Galilean, like him.'
'I don't know what you're talking about,' said Peter.
Just then a c.o.c.k crew. Until that moment the world had seemed to be holding its breath, as if time itself were suspended during the hours of darkness; but soon the daylight would come, and with it the full desolation would break in. Peter felt that, and he went outside and wept bitterly.
Jesus and Pilate.
After Christ had betrayed his brother to the soldiers, he went by himself to pray. He hoped that the angel would come back to him, because he felt he had to talk about what he'd done and what might happen next; and he badly wanted to explain about the money.
He prayed, but he couldn't sleep, so at first light he went to the high priest's house, where he heard about the Galilean who had denied being one of Jesus's followers, and who had wept at the c.o.c.k-crow. Even in the middle of his tension and distress, Christ made a note of that.
But he was restless and agitated still, and joined the crowd that had gathered to see what the verdict on Jesus would be.
Presently a rumour began to spread: they were taking Jesus to the Roman governor. And soon afterwards the doors of the high priest's house opened, and a troop of temple guards came out, bringing Jesus with them, his hands bound behind him. The guards had to protect him from the people, who only a few days ago had welcomed him with cheers and shouts of joy; now they were yelling at him, shaking their fists, and spitting.
Christ followed as they made their way to the governor's palace. The governor at the time was Pontius Pilate, a brutal man much given to handing out cruel punishments. There was another prisoner awaiting sentence, a political terrorist and murderer called Barabbas, and it was almost certain that he was going to be crucified.
Christ remembered the ram caught in the thicket.
When the guards reached the governor's palace, they dragged Jesus inside and flung him down at Pilate's feet. Caiaphas had come to press the charges against Jesus, and Pilate listened while he spoke.
'You will have seen, sir, the daubings on the walls "King Jesus". This is the man responsible. He has caused chaos in the temple, he has excited the mob, and we are conscious of the danger of civil disorder, so-'
'You hear that?' said Pilate to Jesus. 'I've seen those filthy daubings. So that was you, was it? You claim to be the king of the Jews?'
'You say that,' said Jesus.
'Did he speak to you in this insolent way?' Pilate asked Caiaphas.
Pilate told the guards to set Jesus on his feet.
'I'll ask you again,' he said, 'and I expect some politeness this time. Do you claim to be the king of the Jews?'
Jesus said nothing.
Pilate knocked him down, and said, 'You hear all these charges they lay against you? You think we're going to put up with this kind of thing? You think we're stupid, to allow agitators to go around causing trouble and urging the people to riot, or worse? We're responsible for keeping the peace here, if you hadn't noticed. And I will not put up with political disturbance from any direction. I'll stamp that out at once, make no mistake. Well? What have you got to say, King Jesus?'
Again Jesus said nothing, so Pilate told the guards to beat him. By this time they could hear the shouts of the crowd outside, and both the priests and the Romans feared a riot.
'What are they shouting about?' demanded Pilate. 'Do they want this man released?'
Now there was a custom that at the time of Pa.s.sover, one prisoner of the people's choice would be given his freedom; and some of the priests, in order to agitate the crowd and make sure Jesus didn't escape with his life, had gone among the people urging them to plead for the life of Barabbas.
One of Pilate's officers said, 'Not this man, sir. They want you to free Barabbas.'
'That murderer? Why?'
'He is popular, sir. You would please them greatly by letting him go.'
Pilate went out on to his balcony and spoke to the crowd.
'You want Barabbas?' he said.
They all cried, 'Yes! Barabbas!'
'Very well, he can go free. Now clear the courtyard. Go about your business.
He came back into the room, and said, 'That means there's a spare cross. You hear that, Jesus?'
'Sir,' said Caiaphas, 'if it would be possible to consider, for example, a sentence of exile-'
'Take him away and crucify him,' said Pilate. 'Put a sign on the cross saying who he claims to be the king of the Jews. That'll teach you people to think about rebellion and rioting.'
'Sir, could the sign read "He says he is king of the Jews?" Just in case, you know-' he is king of the Jews?" Just in case, you know-'
'I've said what I've said. Don't push your luck, Caiaphas.'
'No, of course not, sir. Thank you, sir.'
'Take him away then. Flog him first, and then nail him up.'
Christ, among the crowd, had wanted to shout 'No!' when Pilate asked if they wanted Barabbas freed, but he hadn't dared; and he felt his failure to do so like yet another blow at his heart. There was not much time now. He searched up and down among the people, looking for the angel, but saw him nowhere, and finally, on seeing a stir by the gates of the governor's mansion, followed the crowd to see the Roman guards take Jesus to the place of execution.
He didn't see any of the disciples among the crowd, but there were some women there whom he recognised. One of them was the wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John, another was the woman from Magdala, of whom Jesus was particularly fond, and the third, to his great surprise, was his own mother. He hung back; he wanted nothing less, at that moment, than for her to see him. He watched from a little way off as they went with the crowd through the city to the place called Golgotha, where criminals were usually crucified.
Two men were already hanging on crosses there, having been convicted of theft. The Roman soldiers knew their business; it was not long before Jesus was hanging in place beside them. Christ remained with the crowd until it began to thin, which it did before very long: once the victim was nailed to the cross there was not much to see until the soldiers broke his legs to hasten his death, which might not happen for many hours.
The disciples had vanished altogether. Christ went in search of the man who was his informant, in order to find out what they intended to do next, but he found that the man had left the house where he was staying, and the host had no idea where he had gone. Of course, there was no sign of the angel, the stranger, and Christ couldn't ask after him, because he still had no name to call him by.
From time to time, and always reluctantly, he went back to the place of execution, but found no change there. The three women were sitting close by the crosses. Christ took great care not to be seen by any of them.
Late in the afternoon, word got around that the Roman soldiers had decided to hasten the deaths of the three men. Christ hurried to the scene, sick and fearful, to find the crowd so thick he couldn't see what was happening, but he heard the blows as the last man's legs were smashed, and the satisfied sigh of the crowd, and a high gasping cry from the victim. Some women began to wail. Christ walked away very carefully, as lightly as he could, trying to make no impression on the earth.
One of the members of the Sanhedrin was a man from the town of Arimathea, whose name was Joseph. Despite his membership of the council, he was not one of those who'd condemned Jesus; on the contrary, he admired him and was greatly interested in what he'd had to say about the coming Kingdom. Knowing that the Pa.s.sover was imminent, he went to Pilate and asked for the body.
'Why? What's the hurry?'
'We would like to bury Jesus decently before the sabbath, sir. It's our custom.'
'I'm surprised you bother. The man was nothing but a rabble-rouser. I hope you've all learned a lesson. Take him, if you want him.'
Joseph and a colleague from the Sanhedrin called Nicodemus, another sympathiser, took the body down from the cross with some help from the grieving women. They had it carried to a garden nearby, where Joseph had had a tomb made for himself. The tomb was formed like a cave, and the entrance was closed by a stone that rolled in a groove. Joseph and the others wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen cloth, with spices to keep it from corruption, and closed the tomb in time for the sabbath.