Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana Page 22

He was near petrified with fury.

"You stupid, miserable little village prophet!" he said. "They'll laugh you out of Nazareth."

"It is the Lord God who rules," I said, "and He always has. You are nothing, and you have nothing and rule nothing. Not even your minions share with you in your emptiness and in your rage."

He was red faced, and speechless.

"Oh, yes, you have them, your minions. I've seen them. And you have your followers, those poor cursed souls you squeeze in your anxious fist. You even have your shrines. But how paltry are your grudging triumphs in this vast, vital world of blowing wheat and shining sun! How tawdry your attempts to rush into the breach of every petty dissension, to raise your puny standard over every hideous squabble or tenuous web of avarice and deceit - pathetic your one true possession: your lies! Your abominable lies! And always, always you seek to drive men to despair, to convince them in your envy and greed that your archenemy, the Lord God, is their enemy, that He is beyond their reach, beyond their pain, beyond their need. You lie! You have always lied! If you ruled this world you wouldn't offer to share a particle of it. You couldn't. There would be no world for you to share, because you would destroy it. You are yourself The Lie! And you are nothing other than that."

"Stop it, I demand that you stop!" he shouted. He put his hands up over his ears.

"It's I who've come to stop you!" I responded. "It's I who've come to reveal that your despair is a fraud! I'm here to tell one and all that you are no Ruler, and never were, that in the great scheme of things you are no more than a filthy brigand, a thief on the margins, a scavenger circling in impotent envy the camps of men and women! And I will destroy your Fabled Rule, as I destroy you - as I drive you out, stamp you out, blot you out - and not with hulking armies in baths of blood, not with the raging smoke and terror you so crave, not with swords and spears dripping with broken flesh. I will do it as you cannot imagine it - I will do it by family, by camp, by hamlet and village and town. I will do it at the banquet tables in the smallest rooms and greatest mansions of cities. I will do it heart by heart. I will do it soul by soul. Yes, the world is ready. Yes, the map is drawn. Yes, the Scripture goes forth in the common language of the world. Yes. And so I go on my way to do it, and you have struggled here once more - and forever - in vain."

I turned and moved forward, my feet finding the sure ground as I left him, and in a great sweeping wind, I was blinded for an instant, only to see the familiar slope emerge, the slope on which I'd walked when he first approached me, and below, for the first time, I saw in the far distance the misty streaks of green that marked the river's progress.

"You'll curse the day you refused me!" he shouted behind me.

I was sick. The hunger ate my insides. I was dizzy.

I looked back at him. He was still holding the illusion, his lovely garments gathered in graceful folds as he pointed to me.

"You take a good look at these soft clothes!" he shouted, mouth quivering like that of a child. "You'll never see yourself dressed in this manner again." He groaned. He doubled in pain as he groaned. He shook his fist at me.

I laughed and walked on.

He came up suddenly to my shoulder.

"You'll die on a Roman cross if you try to do this without me!" he said.

I stopped and faced him.

He stepped back, and then he fell back a great distance as if pushed by an invisible force. He scrambled for his balance.

"Get behind me, Satan," I said. "Get behind me!"

And in a great gust of wind, and rising sand, I heard him cry out and then the cry became a howling scream.

Now came the sandstorm in earnest. His howls were part of it, part of the relentless wind.

I felt myself fall, truly, and the cliff rose up in front of me, as the sand scraped my legs, my hands, and my face.

I twisted, and tumbled downwards, faster and faster, rolling with it, my arms drawn around my head. Down and down I fell.

My ears were filled with the wind, filled with his distant howls, and then softly there came that sound I'd heard at the river, that soft rush of wings.

I heard the flapping, the fluttering, the muffled beating of wings. All over me came the soft touch as if of hands, countless gentle hands, the even softer brush of lips - lips against my cheeks, my forehead, my parched eyelids. It seemed I was lost in a lovely weightless drift of song that had replaced the wind without true sound. And it carried me gently downwards; it embraced me; it ministered to me.

"No," I said. "No."

It became weeping now, this singing. It was pure and sad, yet irresistibly sweet. It had the immensity of joy. And there came more urgently these tender fingers, brushing my face and my burnt arms.

"No," I said. "I will do this. Leave me now. I will do it, as I've said."

I slipped away from them, or they spread out as soundlessly as they'd come, and rose and moved away in all directions, releasing me.

Alone again.

I was on the floor of the valley.

I was walking. My left sandal came loose. I stared down at it. I almost fell. I stooped to pick up what was left of it, this scrap of leather. On and on I walked, into the heated breeze.

Chapter Twenty-Three

THIS WAY AND THAT I listed and wandered, leaning on the wind, then righting myself, forcing myself to go forward.

Shapes appeared on the wavering horizon.

What seemed a small ship drifted there, and about it beings as if they floated in the heat as if it were the sea.

But this was not a ship and these were men on horseback.

Through the softly driving wind, I heard the horse approaching me. I saw it coming clearer and clearer.

I walked towards it. I heard a dim and terrible sound far off, beyond the horse, in the haze of green palms that marked the distant place that promised water.

The rider bore down on me.

"Holy Man," he cried out. He tried to control his horse. It danced past me, and he came back. He held out the skin of water.

"Holy Man, drink," he said. "Here."

I reached for it, and the skin moved up and down and away, like something bobbing on a string. I kept walking.

He jumped down from his horse, this man. Rich robes. Flash of rings.

"Holy Man," he said. He took my shoulder with one hand, and with the other he brought the skin to my lips. He squeezed the skin. The water poured into my mouth. It spilled cold and delicious onto my tongue; it filled my mouth. It spilled down over my cracked lips and onto my burning chest.

I tried to take it in both hands. He steadied me.

"Not too much, my friend," he said. "Not too much, for you're starving."

He lifted the skin; he poured the water down over my head and I stood with eyes closed, feeling it wash my eyes, and my cheeks, feeling it slip into the itching heat inside my torn garments.

There came a howl - his howl!

I stopped and stared forward. The droplets were clinging to my lashes. That was no ship I had seen, but only the magnificent trappings of a rich tent in the distance.

The howl came again. You dare!

"My friend, forgive it," said the man beside me. "The sound you hear, it's my sister. Forgive her, Holy Man. We take her now to the Temple, one last time, to see if they can help her."

The howl rose again and broke into a huge and hoarse laughter.

A whisper touched my ear. You'll stamp me out? Heart by heart? Soul by soul?

Again came the howl breaking this time into moans so piteous and terrible they seemed the crying of a multitude rather than one.

"Come now, sit with us. Eat and drink," said the young man.

"Let me go to her - your sister."

I staggered ahead, moving beyond his attempts to steady me.

The woman was bound in the litter. Beside the tent, the litter, roofed and veiled, shook as though the ground beneath moved it.

The shrieks and howls cut the very air.

Younger brothers gathered beside the older who'd given me the water.

"I know you," said one of them. "You're Yeshua bar Joseph, the carpenter. You were at the river."

"And I you," I said. "Ravid bar Oded of Magdala." I moved closer to the litter.

It seemed unthinkable a human could make such sounds. I looked past the tasseled and gathered curtains of the litter.

"Holy Man, if only you can help her - ." It was a woman who spoke. She approached with two younger women. Beyond stood the bearers of the litter, muscled slaves with their arms folded, watching, and there too the servants with the horses tethered together.

"My lord," said the woman, "I beg you, she's not clean."

I moved past her. I stood before the giant canopied litter and I opened the curtains.

She lay on a nest of pillows, a woman in her prime, her gaunt body sheathed in linen robes, and her brown hair soaked in sweat and crushed in a great nest beneath her. The stench of urine was overpowering.

Bound from neck to toe in leather thongs, her arms bound out as if to a cross, she strained and seethed in her rage, her teeth cutting deep into her lip. She spit the blood into my face.

I felt it hit my nose and my cheek. Then came her spittle, coughed up from deep within her throat and spewed at me.

"Holy Man," cried the woman beside me. "For seven years, she's been this way. I tell you there was never a more virtuous woman in Magdala."

"I know," I said. "Mary, mother of two, and they were lost with her husband at sea."

The woman gasped and nodded.

"Holy Man," said the brother Ravid. "Can you help our sister!"

The woman on the bed convulsed and her scream ripped through the air, and then the howl, the perfect howl that I'd heard on the mountain. His howl. It cracked again into laughter.

You think you can take her back from me? You think after seven years you can do what no Priest of the Temple has ever been able to do! Fool. They will spit on you for your antics, spit as she spits.

In a sudden spasm of rage, she rose up, breaking the thongs that held her arms. The brothers and the women drew back.

She was bone and sinew and cold fury.

Rising as high as she might, breaking the bond around her neck with a snap, she hissed at me: "Son of David, what have you to do with us? Get away from us. Leave us."

The brothers were aghast. The women crowded together.

"Never, my lord, has she ever spoken in all these years. My lord, the evil one will kill us."

The straps around her br**sts broke. The litter, large as it was, rocked on the level ground, and suddenly, with a violent thrust, she broke the remaining thongs that held her legs together. She rose up, crouched, and sprang, knocking back the frame of the canopy, and she rushed out into the open air, falling into the sand and rising to her feet with the swiftness of a dancer.

She gave forth an exultant cry. She spun round terrifying her brothers and the women.

The older brother, the one who'd come to me with the water, rushed to take hold of her. But the younger shouted, "Micha, let him speak to her."

She swayed, laughing, growling like a beast, and then she almost fell, her legs wobbling, and as she reached for me, her arms revealed themselves, covered in welts and bruises. Her face for one moment was a woman's face and, then again, the visage of an animal.

"Yeshua of Nazareth!" she bellowed. "You seek to destroy us?" She crouched and pitched the sand at me in fistfuls.

"Say nothing to me, unclean spirits," I answered. I bore down on her. "I drive you out, in the name of the Lord on High, I say, Go out of my servant Mary. Go out and away from this place. Leave her."

She arched her back as she rose. But another scream brought her forward as though it were a chain anchored inside her.

Again I declared it, "In the name of Heaven, leave this woman!"

She went down on her knees, her mouth wet and shivering with her panting breaths. She clutched her waist as if holding herself together. Her entire body trembled, and when she shook her fist at me it was as if her hand were being held by another, and she with all her will fought for her own gesture. "Son of God," she bellowed, "I curse you."

"Out of her, I say, all of you. I banish you!"

She twisted this way and that, uttering cry after cry. "Son of God, Son of God," she said over and over. Her body pitched forward and her forehead hit the sand. Her hair fell to reveal the nape of her neck. The sounds coming from her were weakened, anguished, imploring.

"Out of her, all of you, one by one, one through seven!" I declared. I drew in closer, all but standing above her. Her hair covered my feet. She reached out, as if blind, and seeking a hold.

"By the power of the Most High, I say obey me! Leave this child of God as she was before you came into her!"

She looked up. Her hands went out again, but this time so that she might stand, and stand she did, jerked upward suddenly as if pulled by the hair.

"Out I say, one through seven, I drive you out now!"

One more scream rent the air.

And then she stood motionless.

A shudder passed through her, long and natural and filled with pain. And slowly she sank down and lay back on the sand, her head to the side, her eyes half closed.


The women began to cry desperately, and then to beg in frantic prayers. If she was dead, it was the will of God. The will of God. The will of God. They approached fearfully.

As Ravid and Micha drew up at my side, I lifted my hand.

In a soft voice, I said:


Only the quiet - the moaning of the wind, the rattling of the palm branches, the gentle ruffling of the silken curtains of the litter.

"Mary," I said. "Turn to me. Look at me."

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