Jesus the Son of Man is a life of Jesus as told in the words of seventy-seven of his closest contemporaries, both friends and enemies: Syrians, Romans, Greeks and Jews; Persians, Priests, Publicans and Poets.
|Part 8: Chapters 71 thru 79|
AHAZ THE PORTLY: THE KEEPER OF THE INN
WELL DO I remember the last time I saw Jesus the Nazarene. Judas had come to me at the noon hour of that Thursday, and bidden me prepare supper for Jesus and His friends. He gave me two silver pieces and said, “Buy all that you deem needful for the meal.” And after He was gone my wife said to me, “This is indeed a distinction.” For Jesus had become a prophet and He had wrought many miracles. At twilight He came and His followers, and they sat in the upper chamber around the board, but they were silent and quiet. Last year also and the year before they had come and then they had been joyous. They broke the bread and drank the wine and sang our ancient strains; and Jesus would talk to them till midnight. After that they would leave Him alone in the upper chamber and go to sleep in other rooms; for after midnight it was His desire to be alone. And He would remain awake; I would hear His steps as I lay upon my bed. But this last time He and His friends were not happy. My wife had prepared fishes from the Lake of Galilee, and pheasants from Houran stuffed with rice and pomegranate seeds, and I had carried them a jug of my cypress wine. And then I had left them for I felt that they wished to be alone. They stayed until it was full dark, and then they all descended together from the upper chamber, but at the foot of the stairs Jesus tarried awhile. And He looked at me and my wife, and He placed His hand upon the head of my daughter and He said, “Good night to you all. We shall come back again to your upper chamber, but we shall not leave you at this early hour. We shall stay until the sun rises above the horizon. “In a little while we shall return and ask for more bread and more wine. You and your wife have been good hosts to us, and we shall remember you when we come to our mansion and sit at our own board.” And I said, “Sir, it was an honor to serve you. The other innkeepers envy me because of your visits, and in my pride I smile at them in the market-place. Sometimes I even make a grimace.” And He said, “All innkeepers should be proud in serving. For he who gives bread and wine is the brother of him who reaps and gathers the sheaves for the threshing-floor, and of him who crushes the grapes at the winepress. And you are all kindly. You give of your bounty even to those who come with naught but hunger and thirst.” Then He turned to Judas Iscariot who kept the purse of the company, and He said, “Give me two shekels.” And Judas gave Him two shekels saying: “These are the last silver pieces in my purse.” Jesus looked at him and said, “Soon, oversoon, your purse shall be filled with silver.” Then He put the two pieces into my hand and said, “With these buy a silken girdle for your daughter, and bid her wear it on the day of the passover, in remembrance of me.” And looking again into the face of my daughter, He leaned down and kissed her brow. And then He said once more, “Good-night to you all.” And He walked away. I have been told that what He said to us has been recorded upon a parchment by one of His friends, but I repeat it to you even as I heard it from His own lips. Never shall I forget the sound of His voice as He said those words, “Good night to you all.” If you would know more of Him, ask my daughter. She is a woman now, but she cherishes the memory of her girlhood. And her words are more ready than mine.
BARABBAS: THE LAST WORDS OF JESUS
THEY RELEASED ME and chose Him. Then He rose and I fell down. And they held Him a victim and a sacrifice for the passover. I was freed from my chains, and walked with the throng behind Him, but I was a living man going to my own grave. I should have fled to the desert where shame is burned out by the sun. Yet I walked with those who had chosen Him to bear my crime. When they nailed Him on His cross I stood there. I saw and I heard but I seemed outside of my body. The thief who was crucified on His right said to Him, “Are you bleeding with me, even you, Jesus of Nazareth?” And Jesus answered and said, “Were it not for this nail that stays my hand I would reach forth and clasp your hand. “We are crucified together. Would they had raised your cross nearer to mine.” Then He looked down and gazed upon His mother and a young man who stood beside her. He said, “Mother, behold your son standing beside you. “Woman, behold a man who shall carry these drops of my blood to the North Country.” And when he heard the wailing of the women of Galilee He said, “Behold, they weep and I thirst. “I amm held too high to reach their tears. “I will not take vinegar and gall to quench this thirst.” Then His eyes opened wide to the sky, and He said, “Father, why hast Thou foresaken us?” And then He said in compassion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” When He uttered those words methought I saw all men prostrated before God beseeching forgiveness for the crucifixion of this one man. Then again He said with a great voice: “Father, into Thy hand I yield back my spirit.” And at last He lifted up His head and said, “Now it is finished, but only upon this hill.” And He closed His eyes. Then lightning cracked the dark skies, and there was a great thunder.
I know now that those who slew Him in my stead achieved my endless torment. His crucifixion endured but for an hour. But I shall be crucified unto the end of my years.
CLAUDIUS, A ROMAN SENTINEL: JESUS THE STOIC
AFTER HE WAS taken, they entrusted Him to me. And I was ordered by Pontius Pilatus to keep Him in custody until the following morning. My soldiers led Him prisoner, and He was obedient to them. At midnight I left my wife and children and visited the arsenal. It was my habit to go about and see all that was well with my battalions in Jerusalem; and that night I visited the arsenal where He was held. My soldiers and some of the young Jews were making sport of Him. They had stripped Him of His garment, and they had put a crown of last year’s brier-thorns upon His head. They had seated Him against a pillar, and they were dancing and shouting before Him. And they had given Him a reed to hold in His hand. As I entered someone shouted, “Behold, O Captain, the King of the Jews.” I stood before Him and looked at Him, and I was ashamed. I knew not why. I had fought in Gallia and in Spain, and with my men I had faced death. Yet never had I been in fear, nor been a coward. But when I stood before that man and He looked at me I lost heart. It seemed as though my lips were sealed, and I could not utter no word. And straightway I left the arsenal. This chanced thirty years ago. My sons who were babes then are men now. And they are serving Caesar and Rome. But often in counselling them I have spoken of Him, a man facing death with the sap of life upon His lips, and with compassion for His slayers in His eyes. And now I am old. I have lived the years fully. And I think truly that neither Pompey nor Caesar was so great a commander as that Man of Galilee. For since His unresisting death an army has risen out of the earth to fight for Him. . . . And He is better served by them, though dead, than ever Pompey or Caesar was served, though living.
JAMES THE BROTHER OF THE LORD: THE LAST SUPPER
A THOUSAND TIMES I have been visited by the memory of that night. And I know now that I shall be visited a thousand times again. The earth shall forget the furrows ploughed upon her breast, and a woman the pain and joy of childbirth, ere I shall forget that night. In the afternoon we had been outside the walls of Jerusalem, and Jesus had said, “Let us go into the city now and take supper at the inn.” It was dark when we reached the inn, and we were hungry. The innkeeper greeted us and led us to an upper chamber. And Jesus bade us sit around the board, but He himself remained standing, and His eyes rested upon us. And He spoke to the keeper of the inn and said, “Bring me a basin and a pitcher full of water, and a towel.” And He looked at us again and said gently, “Cast off your sandals.” We did not understand, but at His command we cast them off. Then the keeper of the inn brought the basin and the pitcher; and Jesus said, “Now I will wash your feet. For I must needs free your feet from the dust of the ancient road, and give them the freedom of the new way.” And we were all abashed and shy. Then Simon Peter stood up and said: “How shall I suffer my Master and my Lord to wash my feet?” And Jesus answered, “I will wash your feet that you may remember that he who serves men shall be the greatest among men.” Then He looked at each one of us and He said: “The Son of Man who has chosen you for His brethren, He whose feet were anointed yesterday with myrrh of Arabia and dried with a women’s hair, desires now to wash your feet.” And He took the basin and the pitcher and kneeled down and washed our feet, beginning with Judas Iscariot. Then He sat down with us at the board; and His face was like the dawn rising upon a battlefield after a night of strife and blood-shedding. And the keeper of the inn came with his wife, bringing food and wine. And though I had been hungry before Jesus knelt at my feet, now I had no stomach for food. And there was a flame in my throat which I would not quench with wine. Then Jesus took a loaf of bread and gave to us, saying, “Perhaps we shall not break bread again. Let us eat this morsel in remembrance of our days in Galilee.” And He poured wine from the jug into a cup and He drank, and gave to us, and He said, “Drink this in remembrance of a thirst we have known together. And drink it also in hope for the new vintage. When I am enfolded and am no more among you, and when you meet here or elsewhere, break the bread and pour the wine, and eat and drink even as you are doing now. Then look about you; and perchance you may see me sitting with you at the board.” After saying this He began to distribute among us morsels of fish and pheasant, like a bird feeding its fledglings. We ate little yet we were filled; and we drank but a drop, for we felt that the cup was like a space between this land and another land. Then Jesus said, “Ere we leave this board let us rise and sing the joyous hymns of Galilee.” And we rose and sang together, and His voice was above our voices, and there was a ringing in every word of His words. And He looked at our faces, each and every one, and He said, “Now I bid you farewell. Let us go beyond these walls. Let us go unto Gethsemane.” And John the Son of Zebedee said, “Master, why do you say farewell to us this night?” And Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled. I only leave you to prepare a place for you in my Father’s house. But if you shall be in need of me, I will come back to you. Where you call me, there I shall hear you, and wherever your spirit shall seek me, there I will be. “Forget not that thirst leads to the winepress, and hunger to the wedding-feast. “It is in your longing that you shall find the Son of Man. For longing is the fountain-head of ecstasy, and it is the path to the Father.” And John spoke again and said, “If you would indeed leave us, how shall we be of good cheer? And why speak you of separation?” And Jesus said, “The hunted stag knows the arrow of the hunter before it feels it in his breast; and the river is aware of the sea ere it comes to her shore. And the Son of Man has travelled the ways of men. Before another almond tree renders her blossoms to the sun, my roots shall be reaching into the heart of another field.” Then Simon Peter said: “Master, leave us not now, and deny us not the joy of your presence. Where you go we too will go; and wherever you abide there we will be also.” And Jesus put His hand upon Simon Peter’s shoulder, and smiled upon him, and He said, “Who knows but that you may deny me before this night is over, and leave me before I leave you?” Then of a sudden He said, “Now let us go hence.” And He left the inn and we followed Him. But when we reached the gate of the city, Judas of Iscariot was no longer with us. And we crossed the Valley of Jahannam. Jesus walked far ahead of us, and we walked close to one another. When He reached an olive grove he stopped and turned towards us saying, “Rest here for an hour.” The evening was cool, though it was full spring with the mulberries unfolding their shoots and the apple trees in bloom. And the gardens were sweet. Each one of us sought the trunk of a tree, and we lay down. I myself gathered my cloak around me and lay under a pine tree. But Jesus left us and walked by Himself in the olive grove. And I watched Him while the others slept. He would suddenly stand still, and again He would walk up and down. This He did many times. Then I saw Him lift His face towards the sky and outstretch His arms to east and west. Once He had said, “Heaven and earth, and hell too, are of man.” And now I remembered His saying, and I knew that He who was pacing the olive grove was heaven made man; and I bethought me that the womb of the earth is not a beginning nor an end, but rather a chariot, a pause; and a moment of wonder and surprise; and hell I saw also, in the valley called Jahannam, which lay between Him and the Holy City. And as He stood there and I lay wrapped in my garment, I heard His voice speaking. But He was not speaking to us. Thrice I heard Him pronounce the word Father . And that was all I heard. After a while His arms dropped down, and He stood still like a cypress tree between my eyes and the sky. At last He came over among us again, and He said to us, “Wake and rise. My hour has come. The world is already upon us, armed for battle.” And then He said, “A moment ago I heard the voice of my Father. If I see you not again, remember that the conqueror shall not have peace until he is conquered.” And when we had risen and come close to Him, His face was like the starry heaven above the desert. Then He kissed each one of us upon the cheek. And when His lips touched my cheek, they were hot, like the hand of a child in fever. Suddenly we heard a great noise in the distance, as of numbers, and when it came near it was a company of men approaching with lanterns and slaves. And they came in haste. As they reached the hedge of the grove Jesus left us and went forth and met them. And Judas of Iscariot was leading them. There were Roman soldiers with swords and spears, and men of Jerusalem with clubs and pickaxes. And Judas came up to Jesus and kissed Him. And then he said to the armed men, “This is the Man.” And Jesus said to Judas, “Judas, you were patient with me. This could have been yesterday.” Then He turned to the armed men and said: “Take me now. But see that your cage is large enough for these wings.” Then they fell upon Him and held Him, and they were all shouting. But we in our fear ran away and sought to escape. I ran alone through the olive groves, nor had I power to be mindful, nor did any voice speak in me except my fear. Through the two or three hours that remained of that night I was fleeing and hiding, and at dawn I found myself in a village near Jericho. Why had I left Him? I do not know. But to my sorrow I did leave Him. I was a coward and I fled from the face of His enemies. Then I was sick and ashamed at heart, and I returned to Jerusalem, but He was a prisoner, and no friend could have speech with Him. He was crucified, and His blood has made new clay of the earth. And I am living still; I am living upon the honeycomb of His sweet life.
SIMON THE CYRENE: HE WHO CARRIED THE CROSS
I WAS ON my way to the fields when I saw Him carrying His cross; and multitudes were following Him. Then I too walked beside Him. His burden stopped Him many a time, for His body was exhausted. Then a Roman soldier approached me, saying, “Come, you are strong and firm built; carry the cross of this man.” When I heard these words my heart swelled within me and I was grateful. And I carried His cross. It was heavy, for it was made of poplar soaked through with the rains of winter. And Jesus looked at me. And the sweat of His forehead was running down upon His beard. Again He looked at me and He said, “Do you too drink this cup? You shall indeed sip its rim with me to the end of time.” So saying He placed His hand upon my free shoulder. And we walked together towards the Hill of the Skull. But now I felt not the weight of the cross. I felt only His hand. And it was like the wing of a bird upon my shoulder. Then we reached the hill top, and there they were to crucify Him. And then I felt the weight of the tree. He uttered no word when they drove the nails into His hands and feet, nor made He any sound. And His limbs did not quiver under the hammer. It seemed as if His hands and feet had died and would only live again when bathed in blood. Yet it seemed also as if He sought the nails as the prince would seek the sceptre; and that He craved to be raised to the heights. And my heart did not think to pity Him, for I was too filled to wonder. Now, the man whose cross I carried has become my cross. Should they say to me again, “Carry the cross of this man,” I would carry it till my road ended at the grave. But I would beg Him to place His hand upon my shoulder. This happened many years ago; and still whenever I follow the furrow in the field, and in that drowsy moment before sleep, I think always of that Beloved Man. And I feel His winged hand, here, on my left shoulder.
CYBOREA: THE MOTHER OF JUDAS
MY SON WAS a good man and upright. He was tender and kind to me, and he loved his kin and his countrymen. And he hated our enemies, the cursed Romans, who wear purple cloth though they spin no thread nor sit at any loom; and who reap and gather where they have not ploughed nor sowed the seed. My son was but seventeen when he was caught shooting arrows at the Roman legion passing through our vineyard. Even at that age he would speak to the other youths of the glory of Israel, and he would utter many strange things that I did not understand. He was my son, my only son. He drank life from these breasts now dry, and he took his first steps in this garden, grasping these fingers that are now like trembling reeds. With these selfsame hands, young and fresh then like the grapes of Lebanon, I put away his first sandals in a linen kerchief that my mother had given me. I still keep them there in that chest, beside the window. He was my first-born, and when he took his first step, I too took my first step. For women travel not save when led by their children. And now they tell me he is dead by his own hand; that he flung himself from the High Rock in remorse because he had betrayed his friend Jesus of Nazareth. I know my son is dead. But I know he betrayed no one; for he loved his kin and hated none but the Romans. My son sought the glory of Israel, and naught but that glory was upon his lips and in his deeds. When he met Jesus on the highway he left me to follow Him. And in my heart I knew that he was wrong to follow any man. When he bade me farewell I told him that he was wrong, but he listened not. Our children do not heed us; like the high tide of today, they take no counsel with the high tide of yesterday. I beg you question me no further about my son. I loved him and I shall love him forevermore. If love were in the flesh I would burn it out with hot irons and be at peace. But it is in the soul, unreachable. And now I would speak no more. Go question another woman more honored than the mother of Judas. Go to the mother of Jesus. The sword is in her heart also; she will tell you of me, and you will understand.
THE WOMAN OF BYBLOS: A LAMENTATION
WEEP WITH ME, ye daughters of Ashtarte, and all ye lovers of Tamouz, Bid your heart melt and rise and run blood-tears, For He who was made of gold and ivory is no more. In the dark forest the boar overcame Him, And the tusks of the boar pierced His flesh. Now He lies stained with the leaves of yesteryear, And no longer shall His footsteps wake the seeds that sleep in the bosom of the spring. His voice will not come with the dawn to my window, And I shall be forever alone.
Weep with me, ye daughters of Ashtarte, and all ye lovers of Tamouz, For my Beloved has escaped me; He who spoke as the rivers speak; He whose voice and time were twins; He whose mouth was a red pain made sweet; He on whose lips gall would turn to honey.
Weep with me, daughters of Ashtarte, and ye lovers of Tamouz. Weep with me around His bier as the stars weep, And as the moon-petals fall upon His wounded body. Wet with your tears the silken covers of my bed, Where my Beloved once lay in my dream, And was gone away in my awakening.
I charge ye, daughters od Ashtarte, and all ye lovers of Tamouz, Bare your breasts and weep and comfort me, For Jesus of Nazareth is dead.
MARY MAGDALEN, THIRTY YEARS LATER: ON THE RESURRECTION OF THE SOUL
ONCE AGAIN I say that with death Jesus conquered death, and rose from the grave a spirit and a power. And He walked in our solitude and visited the gardens of our passion. He lies not there in that cleft rock behind the stone. We who love Him beheld Him with these our eyes which He made to see; and we touched Him with these our hands which He taught to reach forth. I know you who believe not in Him. I was one of you, and you are many; but your number shall be diminished. Must your break your harp and your lyre to find the music therein? Or must you fell a tree ere you can believe ot bears fruit? You hate Jesus because someone from the North Country said He was the Son of God. But you hate one another because each of you deems himself too great to be the brother of the next man. You hate Him because someone said He was born of a virgin, and not of man’s seed. But you know not the mothers who go to the tomb in virginity, nor the men who go down to the grave choked with their own thirst. You know not that the earth was given in marriage to the sun, and that earth it is who sends us forth to the mountain and the desert. There is a gulf that yawns between those who love Him and those who hate Him, between those who believe and those who do not believe. But when the years have bridged that gulf you shall know that He who lived in us is deathless, that He was the Son of God even as we are the children of God; that He was born of a virgin even as we are born of the husbandless earth. It is passing strange that the earth gives not to the unbelievers the roots that would suck at her breast, nor the wings wherewith to fly high and drink, and be filled with the dews of her space. But I know what I know, and it is enough.
A MAN FROM LEBANON: NINETEEN CENTURIES AFTERWARD
MASTER, MASTER SINGER, Master of words unspoken, Seven times was I born, and seven times have I died Since your last hasty visit and our brief welcome. And behold I live again, Remembering a day and a night among the hills, When your tide lifted us up. Thereafter many lands and many seas did I cross, And wherever I was led by saddle or sail Your name was prayer or argument. Men would bless you or curse you; The curse, a protest against failure, The blessing, a hymn of the hunter Who comes back from the hills With provision for his mate.
Your friends are yet with us for comfort and support, And your enemies also, for strength and assurance. Your mother is with us; I have beheld the sheen of her face in the countenance of all mothers; Her hand rocks cradles with gentleness, Her hand folds shrouds with tenderness. And Mary Magdalen is yet in our midst, She who drank the vinegar of life, and then its wine. And Judas, the man of pain and small ambitions, He too walks the earth; Even now he preys upon himself when his hunger find naught else, And seeks his larger self in self-destruction.
And John, he whose youth loved beauty, is here, And he sings though unheeded. And Simon Peter the impetuous, who denied you that he might live longer for you, He too sits by our fire. He may deny you again ere the dawn of another day, Yet he would be crucified for your purpose, and deem himself unworthy of the honor. And Caiaphas and Annas still live their day, And judge the guilty and the innocent. They sleep upon their feathered bed Whilst he whom they have judged is whipped with the rods.
And the woman who was taken in adultery, She too walks the streets of our cities, And hungers for bread not yet baked, And she is alone in an empty house. And Pontius Pilatus is here also: He stands in awe before you, And still questions you, But he dares not risk his station or defy an alien race; And he is still washing his hands. Even now Jerusalem holds the basin and Rome the ewer, And betwixt the two thousand thousand hands would be washed to whiteness.
Master, Master Poet, Master of words sung and spoken, They have builded temples to house your name, And upon every height they have raised your cross, A sign and a symbol to guide their wayward feet, But not unto your joy. Your joy is a hill beyond their vision, And it does not comfort them. They would honor the man unknown to them. And what consolation is there in a man like themselves, a man whose kindliness is like their own kindliness, A god whose love is like their own love, And whose mercy is in their own mercy? They honor not the man, the living man, The first man who opened His eyes and gazed at the sun With eyelids unquivering. Nay, they do not know Him, and they would not be like Him.
They would be unknown, walking in the procession of the unknown. They would bear sorrow, their sorrow, And they would not find comfort in your joy. Their aching heart seeks not consolation in your words and the song thereof. And their pain, silent and unshapen, Makes them creatures lonely and unvisited. Though hemmed about my kin and kind, They live in fear, uncomraded; Yet they would not be alone. They would bend eastward when the west wind blows.
They call you king, And they would be in your court. They pronounce you the Messiah, And they would themselves be anointed with the holy oil. Yea, they would live upon your life.
Master, Master Singer, Your tears were like the showers of May, And your laughter like the waves of the white sea. When you spoke your words were the far-off whisper of their lips when those lips should be kindled with fire; You laughed for the marrow in their bones that was not yet ready for laughter; And you wept for their eyes that yet were dry. Your voice fathered their thoughts and their understanding. Your voice mothered their words and their breath.
Seven times was I born and seven times have I died, And now I live again, and I behold you, The fighter among fighters, The poet of poets King above all kings, A man half-naked with your road-fellows. Every day the bishop bends down his head When he pronounces your name. And every day the beggars say: “For Jesus’ sake Give us a penny to buy bread.” We call upon each other, But in truth we call upon you, Like the flood tide in the spring of our want and desire, And when our autumn comes, like the ebb tide. High or low, your name is upon our lips, The Master of infinite compassion.
Master, Master of our lonely hours, Here and there, betwixt the cradle and the coffin, I meet your silent brothers, The free men, unshackled, Sons of your mother earth and space. They are like the birds of the sky, And like the lilies of the field. They live your life and think your thoughts, And they echo your song. But they are empty-handed, And they are not crucified with the great crucifixion, And therein is their pain. The world crucifies them every day, But only in little ways. The sky is not shaken, And the earth travails not with her dead. They are crucified and there is none to witness their agony. They turn their face to right and left And find not one to promise them a station in his kingdom. Yet they would be crucified again and yet again, That your God may be their God, And your Father their Father.
Master, Master Lover, The Princess awaits your coming in her fragrant chamber, And the married unmarried woman in her cage; The harlot who seeks bread in the streets of her shame, And the nun in her cloister who has no husband; The childless woman too at her window, Where frost designs the forest on the pane, She finds you in that symmetry, And she would mother you, and be comforted.
Master, Master Poet, Master of our silent desires, The heart of the world quivers with the throbbing of your heart, But it burns not with your song. The world sits listening to your voice in tranquil delight, But it rises not from its seat To scale the ridges of your hills. Man would dream your dream but he would not wake to your dawn Which is his greater dream. He would see with your vision, But he would not drag his heavy feet to your throne. Yet many have been enthroned in your name And mitred with your power, And have turned your golden visit Into crowns for their head and sceptres for their hand.
Master, Master of Light, Whose eye dwells in the seeking fingers of the blind, You are still despised and mocked, A man too weak and infirm to be God, A God too much man to call forth adoration. Their mass and their hymn, Their sacrament and their rosary, are for their imprisoned self. You are their yet distant self, their far-off cry, and their passion.
But Master, Sky-heart, Knight of our fairer dream, You do still tread this day; Nor bows nor spears shall stay your steps. You walk through all our arrows. You smile down upon us, And though you are the youngest of us all You father us all.
Poet, Singer, Great Heart, May our God bless your name, And the womb that held you, and the breasts that gave you milk. And may God forgive us all.