Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 21

I felt myself drawn upwards with spectacular speed and suddenly another roar, more familiar and immense, surrounded me, and I stopped short at the edge of the parapet of the Temple, the Temple in Jerusalem, under the huge sky, and above the enormous crowds of those who wandered in and out of it. I was standing on the pinnacle. I was looking down into the vast lower courts.

The sounds and scents of the crowd rose up in my nostrils. I felt the hunger so deeply it was a pain. And out on all sides lay the rooftops of Jerusalem while the people swarmed below in its tangle of narrow streets.

"Look on all this," he said beside me.

"And why should I?" I asked. "It's not really there."

"No? You don't believe it? You think it's an illusion?"

"You're full of illusions and lies."

"Then fling yourself down, now, from this height. Fling yourself down into that crowd. We'll see if it's an illusion. And what if it is not? Is it not written, 'He will give His angels charge of you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.' "

"Oh, you have been a murderer from the beginning," I said. "You would so love to see me tumble, downwards, see my bones break, see this face you so clearly imitate bruised and shattered, but it's more than that you want, isn't it? The body's nothing to you, no matter how mercilessly you torment it. You want my soul."

"No, you are wrong," he said in a low voice, leaning as close to me as he could. "And we are here, yes, I've brought you here, not by illusions and lies, but to show you the very place where you must begin your work. It's you who claim to be the Christ. It's you whom others herald as the Son of David, the prince who will lead his people to victory in battle, it's you and your people who have celebrated your great power and eventual conquest in book after book, and poem after poem. Throw yourself down! I say, Do it, and let the angels sweep you up. Let your battle begin with that pact between you and the Lord you claim to serve!"

"I will not put the Lord to the test here," I said. "And that too is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.' "

"Where then will you begin your battle?" he asked as if he sincerely wanted to know. "How will you raise your armies? How will you proclaim your message throughout the Jews of all this land and the next and the next after that? How will you get word to the far-flung communities of Jews throughout the Empire that it's time for them to buckle on sword and shield under your banner and in the name of your God?"

"I knew it when I was a child," I said, regarding him.

"Knew what?"

"You're the Lord of the Flies, but you're at the mercy of Time. You don't know what's to happen in time."

"Well, if that's true, than half the time, you're no better than I because you don't know it, and they are nothing, those vermin down there, those you call your brothers and sisters, because they know nothing moment to moment. At least you have visions, and schemes."

He reached out for me as if he'd take hold of me, and his face was twisted with malevolence.

"What have you known of time these dreary years you've spent in Nazareth? What is time in which you grind your aching muscles to dust, all of you? Why do you bear it? Why does He bear it? You claim to know His Will. Tell me, why doesn't He shut it down?"

"Shut down Time?" I asked in a small voice. "The gift of Time?"

"The gift? It's a gift to be lost in this miserable world of His, lost to the pitiless ignorance of others, in Time?"

"Ah, you do know one thing and that is misery," I said.

"I? I know misery? What misery do they know, day in and day out, and what misery have you known with them? Do you think this life and time was a gift to that boy Yitra, whom your villagers stoned? You know he was innocent, don't you? Oh, he was tempted, but he was innocent. And the Orphan? That child didn't even know why he died. Do you know what was in their hearts when they saw the stones coming at them? What do you think is in the heart of Yitra's mother, where she weeps, at this very time?"

"I would ask you where hope comes from, if not out of time? I would ask you that and give you that answer, but you've made your decision, whole and complete and forever, and for you there is no time."

"I should throw you down from here!" he whispered. He held up his hands to clutch at me, but they didn't close on my throat. "I should smash you on those stones. I have no qualms about tempting the Lord your God. I never have."

He stepped back, too furious for a moment to speak. Then he took a breath.

"Maybe you are some phantasm, made up out of His impassable and merciless Mind. How else could you not feel for Avigail when she stood terrified among those children, awaiting the very same death the village had given Yitra and the Orphan? Do you have mercy on any of them anywhere ever?"

The light changed. Then the air began to move.

The entire vision of the Temple and its daily multitude shifted, crumpled, as if it were pictures painted on silk.

I was in the whirlwind, and I reached out.

Suddenly we were standing together, the beautifully garbed one and me, on the crest of a mountain, perhaps the highest mountain in the land. Only it was in no certain land.

Beneath us stretched what appeared to be a map but was no map - rather the patterns of mountains and rivers and valleys and oceans that made up the entire world.

"That's right," he said over the faint wind. "The world. You see it as I see it. Beautiful to behold."

He stood for a moment as though earnestly contemplating this majestic perspective, and indeed I did look out on what he claimed to reveal, and then I looked at him.

He was in profile, my profile, his dark hair blown back away from his cheekbones, and his eyes were softened as mine often were, and he held his mantle rather gracefully and easily at his sides.

"Do you really want to help them?" he asked me. He lifted his finger. "I say truly - do you want to help them? Truly? Or do you really mean to frighten them and leave them far for the worse that another prophet has come cursing and denouncing and proclaiming what will never come to pass?"

He turned to me and his eyes filled with tears. No doubt too very like the tears he'd seen me shed only a while before. He pressed his hands together before his face and then he looked up at me through this dramatic and glittering mist.

"You have indeed come amid signs and wonders," he said thoughtfully, as though the words were pulled out of a soul. "And these are remarkable times. There are Jews in every city of the Empire. The Scripture of your God is in Greek for them to read no matter where they live or what their schooling. The name of your nameless God is spoken perhaps in the farthest reaches of the north. Who knows? And you, a filthy carpenter, yes, but you are the Son of David and you are very clever and you do speak well."

"Thank you," I said.

"The Scriptures speak of one who'll lead them to independence and to triumph. And you know these Scriptures. You knew what it meant when you were a child - the words - Christ the Lord."

"I did," I said.

"You can help them. You can lead the armies. You can draw on all those far-flung cells of the devout waiting to come to your support. Why, there are Jews in Rome who would bring you and your army into the city; with you at the lead, they'd storm the Emperor's Palace, they'd put an end to every last man in the Senate, and the Praetorian Guard. Can you see this? Can you imagine what I'm trying to explain to you?"

"I do see it," I said. "But it won't happen."

"But don't you understand, I'm trying to make plain to you that it can! You can gather them all from the cities to which they've wandered; you can bring these out of the Holy Land like a great whirlwind that can sweep the coasts of the entire sea."

"I follow you. I have from the start. It won't happen."

"But why won't it happen? Will you disappoint them? Will you utter prayers and make speeches like your cousin in the water of the river up to his knees performing empty gestures, and let them fall back into hating you because you've broken their hearts?"

I didn't answer.

"I'm offering you a victory your people haven't had for four hundred years," he said softly. "And if you do not do this thing, your people are finished. The world is swallowing them, Yeshua bar Joseph, the way that old man in Cana, that fool Hananel, said the world was swallowing you."

I didn't answer.

"It was finished for your people long ago," he went on intently, as if truly lost in his own thoughts. "It was finished when Alexander marched through this land and brought the Greek language with him and the Greek ways. It was smashed when the Romans overran this land, and they went into your very Temple, proving with a brutal fist that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, inside! If you don't give them this last chance, to come together around a mighty leader, your people will not die of hunger or thirst or by the sword or by the spear. They'll simply fade away. They're doing it already and they will go on doing it, forgetting their sacred language, mingling through wives and ambitious youths with Romans and Greeks and Egyptians until no one any longer remembers the Tongue of the Angels, until no one even remembers the name Jew. I give it what? A hundred years? Without a victory, it won't take that long. It will be finished. It will be as if it never was."

"Ah, cursed and designing Spirit," I said. "Do you remember nothing of Heaven? Surely you know that there are things unfolding in the womb of Time that are beyond your dreams, and sometimes beyond mine."

"What, what is unfolding?" he said. "The world gets bigger with every passing year and you become smaller, you people of the One True God, you people of the Nameless God who would have no gods before Him. You haven't converted them to your ways, and they eat you alive. I'm holding out to you the one thing that can save them, don't you see? And once this map the Romans have drawn for you is under your control, then you can teach them all the Laws He gave you on the Holy Mountain. I'm willing to put this into your hands!"

"You? You want to help me? And help us? Why?"

"Pay heed to me, fool. I'm running out of patience. Nothing is done here without me. Nothing. Not the simplest victory is accomplished unless I'm part of it. And this is my world, and these are all my nations. Will you not get down on your knees and worship me?"

His face crumpled. His tears flowed.

Was this how I looked when I was sad? When I wept?

He shivered as if this wind of his own creating was making him cold. And he stared out over the whole world of his own envisioning with a desperate, sorrowful gaze.

For a moment I forgot him.

I forgot completely that he was there. I looked out, and I saw something, something I'd glimpsed before, in the study of Hananel in Cana, and something I saw vividly now. Altars falling, thousands upon thousands of altars tumbling down as if the quaking of the earth itself were dislodging them, and on top of them fell their idols, marble and bronze and gold shattering, the dust rising as the fragments scattered. And it seemed the sound rolled on and on over the world he'd laid out before me, over the map he'd quickened for my benefit, but as I saw it, it was the world. All the altars going down.

Christ the Lord.

"What is it?" he demanded. "What did you say?"

I turned and looked at him, awakening from this terrible vision, this great sweep of destruction. I saw him again, vividly, in his finery, his skin no less fine than his costly robes.

"Those aren't your nations," I said. "The kingdoms of this world aren't yours. They never were."

"Of course they're mine," he said. It was almost a hiss. "I am the ruler of this world and I always have been. I am its Prince."

"No," I said. "None of it belongs to you. It never has."

"Worship me," he said gently, beguilingly, "and I will show you what is mine. I will give you the victory of which your prophets sang."

"The Lord on High is the One whom I worship, and no one else," I said. "You know this, you know it with every lie you speak. And you, you rule nothing and you never have." I pointed. "Look down, yourself, on this perspective that is so dear to you. Think of the thousands upon thousands who rise each day and go to sleep without ever thinking evil or doing evil, whose hearts are set upon their wives, their husbands, their fathers and mothers, their children, upon the harvest and the spring rain and the new wine and the new moon. Think of them in every land and every language, think of them as they hunger for the Word of God even where there is no one to give it to them, how they reach out for it, and how they turn from pain and misery and injustice, no matter what you would have them do!"

"Liar!" he said. He spit the word at me.

"Look at them, use your powerful eyes to see them everywhere around you," I said. "Use your powerful ears to hear their cheerful laughter, their natural songs. Look far and wide to find them coming together to celebrate the simple feasts of life from the deepest jungle to the great snowbound heights. What makes you think you rule these people! What, that one may falter, and another stumble, and someone in confusion fail to love as he has striven to do, or that some evil minion of yours can convulse the masses for a month of riot and ruin? Prince of this world!

"I'd laugh at you if you weren't unspeakable. You're the Prince of the Lie. And this is the lie: that you and the Lord God are equal, locked in combat with one another. That has never been so!"

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