Friday, December 2, 2011

When By His Mercy

They said that men fell in love with him as readily and gladly as women fall in love with Tammuz or Adonis. I thought to myself, ‘Well, this I have to see! What kind of rabbi is this? The kind whose perverse piety considers us outsiders, even dogs, because we don’t follow their every meticulous commandment?’ We are people too. We share the same land, bless the same ancestors, fish the same waters, plant the same fields, are born the same, and die the same, as those zealots, calling themselves ‘God’s people Israel’ as if the Glorious Ones had favorites! Our people may not have wandered rocky deserts, but what raging wilderness of the seas have our ancestors not traversed, what barren islands and distant shores have we not settled with the sons of men?

This is how I used to think. Like my neighbors on the slopes of Lebanon, we’d been subjected to the missions of itinerant rabbis—some Jews, but mostly Galileans who would have liked to be considered Jews, though even their own kind shamed them to a lower place—looking for the worthy of the nations whom they might cleanse of filth and make servants of the God of Israel, giving us the honor of obeying the commandments of Noah. The commandments of Noah! Yes, work hard at them, you not-quite-Jews, and they will make you worthy to eat the crumbs that fall from our table, to drink the water we wash our feet in. I had seen and heard enough of rabbis the likes of these to last me till the end of my days. And who says we don’t believe in the gods, or the God, whatever the difference might be?

Now I am old, and some of those who followed that man, the one who saved my little girl—yes, saved—are living among us, here in our mountains. The words that were told of him, news cascading over the rocky trails before his shadow ever fell upon us, were more than true. Yes, men, but women too—I am one of them—fell in love with this strange rabbi. Other rabbis drew crowds of admiring men—never women! we are too unclean—and those adorers hanging on their fetished tassels learned from them how to be even harsher to their women than they were to begin with. But not this rabbi. Despite his covered head and unshorn sidelocks and beard, he bore no resemblance to those teachers of the Law. Men who loved him went back and loved their women more, not less, than they did before.

He seemed not to notice, sometimes, who it was that approached him, or who sat before him as he preached. Wherever he went, rather than noticing and condemning the unclean, he seemed to purify whatever and whomever he laid his eyes on. ‘It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him,’ I heard him say. It wasn’t as though he and his disciples didn’t wash themselves, but he rendered unto each what belonged to each one. Glory, honor and blessing, he taught, belong to God on high—the one he called ‘Father’—and not by us, he said, is glory deserved, but only love and faithfulness. ‘Love and faithfulness,’ I pondered for days after I first heard him, as he spoke in my village. Love and faithfulness! And how would this Galilean rabbi make good his words? I dared to hope.

My little Anatolé, my beloved dawn-born child, to whom I gave birth that chill autumn morning as the sun passed over the ridge and bathed the valley in golden blessing—may the gods be praised! she was such a lovely child—my little Ana, the delight of her father’s eyes and mine—may he rest in the garden of the just!—our little daughter, what suffering did she not endure as payment to the gods for being born so beautiful. The divine envy—for that is what I believed at the time—the divine jealousy took out its ire upon her, flesh and soul. Not even the little matya that I sewed to her infant dress could avert their evil eyes. For of a day, when we all were happy, something terrible came over her, even entered her, a darkness that flowed out of gods whom we once thought were powers of light, and crushed my hope.

One morning just after the sunrise, I heard the sound of people coming up the road that passes my house: voices conversing, men posing questions and one replying in tones deep and full of joy. My heart could not help dancing inside me, hearing that voice, and my memory hears the sound of flutes and finger cymbals and lightly plucked strings, the ripened sound of the silence that preceded and followed the arrival of the Son of Man. For that’s who it was, treading that steep road, as if he were himself coming to meet me, only me. ‘Is it that rabbi whom men love more than women love Adonis?’ quickly pierced through my defenses, as I hurried to veil myself so I could come out and see. My Anatolé was asleep, finally, in her tiny dugout, after unsleeping the night through, tormented by her terrors.

Not soon enough! ‘O Adonis! O Tammuz! Dying you have revived, but where you lived and died and lived again no man living knows! Help me!’ I weeping cried in a frenzied whisper, seeing the rabbi and his closest followers had already passed my door. I went back inside and took a last look at my little girl. Yes, she was sleeping still, but how hot and troubled she lay, her blanket wet and night-soiled, in her cave inside the wall. Would the demon leave her alone long enough for me to run after the rabbi and ask, only ask, if he would help her? Would he even talk to me, a woman, and an idolater? ‘I can’t help it I am not a daughter of Israel!’ I excused myself in rehearsal for meeting him. ‘I know we’re not worthy of you or your God, but can’t we deserve at least to eat the crumbs that fall from your children’s table?’

I quietly shut my door and bolted it from the outside. I always did that when I had to leave her unattended. There was no one to help me. I looked up the road and saw the disciples of that man clustered around him, but him I did not see. As I had heard, he was not even as tall as most of the men in my village. I lost no time thinking any more about anything. Only Anatolé, only my precious one, whom the gods tormented, only she was what was driving me up the mountain after him. ‘Kyrie! Rabbi! Eleison imas! Chaneynu!’ I cried out as I pursued them, but they were too far ahead. Not watching my path but only his, my foot fell into a pit and, turning onto my side, I fell into the ditch. Now my veil was torn and my dress dirtied. ‘He will not see me like this! He will not let me near him! O, have mercy!’

The rabbi turned in at a house up ahead that I knew well. It was an inn that served merchants, and the owner was a kindly Galilean whose wife was, like me, only a daughter of Tyre. He had, of anyone in the village, offered me the most help in my tragic loss. Agathon, my poor dead husband, had made him welcome in this our village when he first arrived many years ago, and they became fast friends. That’s how I met Mariamne, his wife. Childless, yet they sorrowed with me for my daughter’s affliction. It was Mariamne who first told me the good news about the rabbi from Nazareth. ‘Y’shua,’ she said, ‘is his name, and it means salvation in my husband’s tongue. If only he would come up here in these hinterlands to teach us—what a blessing it would be! especially for my dear husband. He too is from Nazareth.’

The long years since that day have vanished without a trace, and though I am now the oldest woman in the village, I seem to still be standing in the doorway asking the strange rabbi, ‘Please, sir! Please, come, and heal my daughter!’ and then, hearing nothing, falling face downwards at his feet and covering myself completely with my wretched veil. I only remember hearing Mariamne’s words pulsing in my ears, ‘He is a healer. He knows souls. He drives out demons. Our olden gods are afraid of him, or maybe, they just don’t even exist. Ask him. Ask him to heal Anatolé. Ask him. He can do anything. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. If he comes to our village, just ask him. He won’t refuse.’ The room was suddenly charged with emotion. ‘What’s she doing? Who is she? She can’t do that! Only to the house of Israel…’

I did not move. I lay there not as one dead, but as one upon whom the weight of the whole world pressed, a weight that would crush me. I knew what he was likely to say. Like all the other preachers of the Law, he would probably tell me to get back on my feet and go out the same way I came in, unclean, unworthy, unforgiven for not being a daughter of Israel, unsaved. But how little I knew the man. How could I have known? All that I had heard was hearsay. How did I know if it were true or not? Mariamne was insistent, I know, but she was ‘one of us,’ not one of the chosen, unclean, uninstructed. I’d even heard that this rabbi was considered unclean by his own kind. Yet, my grief planted hope in me, and my hope bore the fruit of faith. It was nothing I did, nothing I chose. Someone else had planted it in me.

‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs,’ I heard someone say. Without looking up, the words I felt I had been rehearsing all my life poured out of me moist with a grace that I did not own, ‘Ah yes, sir, but the house dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.’ I cringed like a sinner thinking she is about to be struck by a righteous hand. What rained down on me instead of blows was a scattering of mercy cool and fragrant as the myrrh they asperge on the funeral bier of Tammuz: ‘For saying this, you may go home happy: the devil has gone out of your daughter.’ Without looking up, I gathered my wrap around me, slowly arose and bent down again in front of the man, snatching up the dust at his feet, and throwing it on my head.

An expectant silence crowded the room, so I could hardly breathe. I turned around, and without looking up, ran all the way home, afraid to be seen by any eyes, human or divine. As I approached my house, I heard a child singing. My fingers clumsily undid the knotted cord that secured the bolt from being turned from inside. I could hear singing. My little girl, Anatolé, my sweet child, singing! It was a voice I had never heard before but instantly recognized. It was the singing I heard sometimes in dreams when by the gods’ mercy—I mean, when by His mercy—I was able to sleep a little after soothing my troubled child. She has grown up now, and married, and her daughters sing the same song to me, their old Laylah, for that is my name now, no longer Astarte. By His mercy, I am a daughter of true Israel, and of night.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Return To The Throne

Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One…
O Father, how alone this feels, yet I hold on to these words, comforting the old man in me! O heavenly Father, O Father of us all, may your Name be held holy! May Your kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as in the heavens! I thank You, heavenly, holy, high God and Father of my Lord Jesus, my beloved friend and brother … Y’shua!
Father, Abba! How so much has changed! I am afraid that I am not new enough to follow any longer, not strong enough to fall forward. I am still only a Hebrew of the Hebrews, though like a Gentile of the Greeklands I speak this alien tongue, so that we all can know who You are and why he has come. Y’shua, Jesus!

I thank You, Father, for this Sabbath rest. I give thanks to Your mercy, that I have this bed on which to lie and take selah under Your wings in this long pre-dawn darkness of Shabbat. I am grateful to You and to the kind woman who opened her door to me, to us strangers, as we flee the wrath of antichrist and his unholy city. I have labored there long, Father, who knows my every act, word and thought. I thank You, Father, for counting me worthy to suffer for Your Name. This northern autumn’s days are so dark and becoming darker and the nights longer. Are these signs of the times, Lord? Now the beast’s tenth year is upon us, and my heart flees to You, and to a place of refuge, like a bird flies back to its mountain.

Yet I am troubled as I lie here before You on my bed, meditating on Your mercies and Your mighty works, for nothing and no one comes to us without Your will, without Your knowing. Who was he, that beautiful youth, one of the House of Israel, dark hair of head and beard lush and glistening, bright of eye, and amiable of speech, who greeted me on the road, seeing me, an old man no longer Hebrew-kempt, shorn of sidelocks, white mop of hair cropped as an elder of the Greeks? Who was he who with a smile called out, ‘Pou ypageis, kyrie? Where are you going, sir?’ stopping to greet me, as our opposite paths met on the same road? What could I tell him? I was doubly ashamed, as a Jew a Greek, as a Greek a Jew.

He was obviously a Jew, a lover and keeper of Torah, young and full of bright devotion, overflowing with love for fellow man, even for me. You can always tell when a man’s love asks nothing in return, like the sun he shines, like the rain he falls watering every field. He was a Jew, yes, but why would a Jew like that greet me? Like so many others, why did his tefillin not hide me from his eyes? His sidelocks not shield his ears from me? Why did he not take me for a Gentile, and save his greeting for his brothers? But no, he stopped and took selah with me, the two of us standing in the road, with my companions around us, wondering as was I, who is this man? At that moment, he heading into Rome, and we heading out of it.

‘Pou ypageis, kyrie?’ O Lord my God! What was I to say to him? Should I have told him the truth, that I was running away? That would be new to him, but not to myself. When have I not been running away from You, and much closer, from my Lord, Jesus of Nazareth? When have I not been stopped in my tracks by Your words meeting my fearful ears, yet coming at me just the same? When my brother came jubilantly bringing the good news, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ what did I do? Yes, I ran, but at first the other way. It was Jesus who had to call me to him and rename me ‘Rock’, giving me a heavy weight to carry to keep me from fleeing hastily. Yet rocks make strong foundations too, he said, even knowing me.

What was I to answer? You are always watching, listening. Even I cannot evade that knowledge. I could not lie, but could I counter with a question of my own? Unnerved by but still attracted to his friendly face, I answered, ‘Leaving the city…’ and then, ‘Say, where are you going this fine Sabbath eve? Should you be stopping somewhere soon? It is nearly sundown.’ I wanted him to know, though I do not look like a Hebrew, I am not entirely severed from Your people. Instantly my heart sank, ashamed of my cowardice. Here I was, a follower of Jesus, a witness to his resurrection, again denying him, today as always, when to speak but a word might heal my soul, and share salvation with this young brother.

‘Yes, it will be night soon, when no one can work,’ he responded. I was startled to the depth of my being to hear those words, for who but my Lord once spoke them, etching them forever in my memory? ‘But do not be anxious. Where am I headed? I am going to prepare a place for you.’ I looked at him more closely, my eyes poised in a squint as though peering at the sun. Who was this boy? As I paused to approach the answer that I was afraid might be true, he touched my shoulder quickly and, after giving it a firm squeeze and aiming a serious smile at me sidelong, he released me and continued on his way. The old man in me half-paralyzed stood up, ‘But where should I go?’ He called back, ‘Return to the throne!’

Now I am confused, Lord. O Lord my God, Holy One of Israel, have mercy on me, and reveal to me what I am to do, for dawn is breaking, and the sun of the Sabbath day is about to rise. Enlighten my eyes, or I shall sleep in death, and my enemies will say, ‘we have overcome him!’ Why must I always not understand? Why must I always be too late to grasp the Truth? Yes, I ran to the tomb and was bold to enter therein, weighing my faith against my doubt. Now that I thought it was all over, I was not afraid anymore. But what was ‘all over’? What part of me was ready to die with Jesus on the cross, to say with him, ‘It is finished’? Why not the whole man? No, the old man must run to his death,
not from it.

Who was that youth, whom I met on the road yester eve? Who was that beautiful, handsome boy who wore his Torah-faithfulness so confidently and lovingly? He was suddenly there to meet me on the road. You placed him in my path. No, You placed me in his! Blessed be Your Name, Lord God, our God, Holy One of Israel, Most-High! …
… Lord of life and destroyer of death, Master, anointed One, why did you not tarry with me, as you did once with the brothers on the road to Emmaus, even just long enough to break bread with me? I know who You are now, my Lord and my God, I know who you are, but too late to fall at Your feet and worship You. Yes, Lord, yes, I love You, I love You, I love You and will care for Your sheep.

Get up now, my body, arise from your bed of remembrance, take up your cross and follow Him. Wake up the others. Your path is to follow Him on the road, on the royal road of the cross, no matter what it costs, for He has already paid the price, the ransom has been paid, your accounts are clear, you have been bought and paid for. Now, let us arise and go forth to purchase others by the Blood, the Blood of the Lamb without spot, sacrificed before the world ever was, before all ages, for the Life of the world. Get up now, brothers! No, we are not on the road to Ostia. We are not heading out to safety. There is no safety in this world of mere men, only in the city, the City of God, where we go, to return to the Throne.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beyond Tomorrow

Even while she was still with us, I found myself talking to her, asking her, when alone and needing some comfort, especially when I awoke in the middle of the night, for prayer. It was hard to understand, and to accept, the story she told us, about the angel, but then, we had no trouble hearing and believing the other story, but that was all about her Son. This time it was about her but, unlike the first visit of Gabriel, which brought the word of good news, this visit seemed nothing but the harbinger of sadness.

How could we put up with it? How could I live suddenly alone? She was my mother, more than only mine, for twenty-four long years. She was a mother to all of us, and it was wonderful to be back in the Holy City again with the brothers, all of us returned to where it all began. Like the scripture says, ‘From north and south, east and west, I gather you.’ She was so calm, and her eyes looked so dreamy, almost as if she were going to weep, when she told me, ‘Just think! Only a fortnight, and I will see him again!’

See him again? ‘What do you mean, Mother? Is this why we have all come back to Jerusalem? Is this why you were so insistent that we all find ourselves here, together, as we once stood on the Olive Mount, watching him go? So that as the angels declared, we could watch him come back in exactly the same way we saw him go?’ Words such as these with half-hope and excitement I blurted out, forgetting all else, and spoiling the serene moment that surrounded the lucid jewel of her expectation.

‘No, no, beloved Son, not that! Not even he could tell us that, nor could an angel of the Most-High! Only the Father knows that time, that hour.’ Still perplexed, I waited for her to continue. What she related was difficult to grasp, and to accept. To blunt its sharpness, she reminded me that the same message would one day be vouchsafed to me as well, but not yet. I too would see the day I would go forth to meet him, but that day was yet far off. No, this was her time. Angels always bring good news.

The word had gone out, I don’t know quite how, but all of us, all except Thomas, were now somewhere in the City, or close by. Over the course of a few days, I had chance to meet with them, with Cephas, with my brother Jacob, with all of the brothers, by ones and twos, and I handed over to them the news that our Mother, our beloved Mother, the Mother of our beloved Master, had given me. It was never easy, and there were tense moments, words of astonishment and incomprehension, even of disbelief.

‘Of this we are sure,’ I told them, ‘that on the fourteenth day after the angel’s visit, the Master will welcome his Mother into the Life eternal, carrying her as a babe in his own arms, escorted by the angelic host.’ No, we would not see what she would see, but we were privileged to encircle her bed at that precise moment, and through her eyes, the Light of Light, even the true God of true God—blessed, blessed, blessed be He!—was to shine on us, casting away forever all shadows from her life and ours.

Twenty-four years of living together, her silence as well as her testimonies teaching and strengthening me, crossing lands and seas, preserved by her witness, by her very being, the Mother of my Lord and Master, Jesus, of my Savior… over, forever over! I was disconsolate. But when had I not known it, understood that this time of blessing would also come to an end, that all that is human must, like a book, be finished and closed? Yet the One who writes us and fills the world with our testimony, He lives.

‘Evening came, and morning came, day one,’ I began counting, clinging desperately to the words of scripture, fervently hugging to myself every moment I was able to spend with her, while she continued living as she always had, caring for me, creating the inner world for me to retreat to after laboring so hard to build the outer—but I, while she waited so patiently and with unperturbed certainty for her Son to arrive, I could not keep myself on task, I could not work. It was a very strange kind of fasting.

Little did I think to feed my body, even though with foods from her hand I would never taste again. No, but I fed my eyes with her beauty, yes, her beauty, for though she was my Mother, to see us together, one would think at most she were my sister. But now, my hair grown white, my beard and side locks the same, though still young inside I was, outside those who did not know me took me for an elder of Israel, and she for my young bride. And indeed, a bride she was, whom we knew as ‘the Unwedded.’

Sojourning among the Gentiles in the northlands, in Ephesos of Diana of the hundred breasts, we walked together, meeting the people where they were, her womanly witness the hidden foundation of mine seen and heard, and when we coaxed her to speak, she speaking of her Son, Jesus, enlivened all hearts and minds, unleashing many from the bondage post, and watering their lives as a life-giving fountain. How many miracles followed us wherever we were sent. Yes, she was a water-bearing rock, for me.

And that day we were cast ashore, alive, from the raging sea. Who would imagine that a humble daughter of Israel would be found following her young son, taking ship and sailing to the copper island, to Cyprus, to visit the only man living who was dead and brought back to life after lying four days in the tomb? But the God and Father of us all, who sent His beloved Son to us as her Son, guarded our path wherever we went, toppling idols as He did when we were cast, boatless, on that rocky shore.

‘Zeus and Hera!’ they shouted, the villagers, as they ran to greet us and ask us to preserve them from the wrath of the earth quake. But we were only humans, the mother of Jesus, and his beloved friend. We sat down together on the shore, made fires to warm ourselves, and waited for the rescue that the Lord would decree, meanwhile calming their frightened faces with the story of the only Lover of mankind. How they took to it! how they believed! not from my lips only, but from the Mother of us all.

My mournful thoughts return to that final day. Long since I had stopped counting as the day drew near. The days count themselves when we are afraid of what lies ahead. It happened so peacefully, everything so in order, as if everyone were directed intimately in thought, word and deed. We gathered around where she lay, and waiting, our fast more natural and unconscious than our own heartbeats. Expecting a miracle, she just fell asleep, and we, afraid to awaken her, just looked on. Fragrance filled the room.

What happened next, I cannot remember clearly. It seems I was brushed aside as others more vigorous in intention and plan—it was obvious they knew what to do—took charge. I saw the holy body of my little Mother carried away somewhere and I, still grieving, sat with my back against a wall, wondering what I would do next, what life I would have beyond tomorrow. My brother Jacob came and raised me up and so much as said, ‘Come along,’ and my body sheepishly followed, my mind lodged in my heart.

The next thing I remember was the sealing of the tomb. My eyes saw, but my heart did not believe, and inwardly I wretched to the core of my being. ‘You will not abandon my soul to She’ol,’ I murmured to myself, remembering my Master, who trampled death by death and bestowed Life to everyone in the tombs. Like Thomas who said it aloud when, arriving a few days later and coming to see us, Mother and me, like Thomas I cried inside, ‘I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! She can’t be dead!’ as I looked on.

And Thomas did finally arrive. Why was he allowed to be late? Why was he the only one not there? Just like the last time, he missed the Lord when he came among us, resurrected. Only this time, none of us saw the Lord with our physical eyes, as we did behind that locked door, in that room. But we believed the word that the angel spoke to Mary, as she told us, ‘The God who loves me is coming.’ Sometimes we have nothing to rely on but our faith but, as Jesus said, ‘Your faith has healed you.’ So, faith is enough.

Again, he must see with his own eyes, or he will not believe! ‘Thomas, can’t you let anything alone? Why must we disturb the rest of her body in the tomb, just for you? We told you, she has been taken by her Son, our Lord. Isn’t that enough for you? Isn’t faith enough?’ He regained his calmness and after a moment, ‘No, faith is not enough, not for me. I want to see her one more time. It’s not that I don’t believe what you’ve told me. I just want to see what all of you saw. Can you grant me that?’

Suddenly, we were ashamed of ourselves. How thoughtless, how unfeeling of us. She was his Mother as well as ours. In fact, Mary had a very tender place in her heart for Thomas and always seemed to dote on him more than on the rest of us when he appeared at her door. They seemed to understand each other, the mother of faith and the brother of doubt. So we relented. With a slow, silent pace we walked to the garden where her tomb was. We broke the seal and with difficulty shifted the stone covering.

There was that fragrance again! The same fragrance we smelled in the room when she fell asleep! Like roses, only richer, deeper, like an essential oil. There were roses scattered about the floor just inside the tomb, at least that is what I saw. Cephas went right in, as he did the last time, but I stayed outside, somehow afraid of what I might see. Thomas followed him closely, and Cephas bumped into him as he abruptly turned about and pushed past him to shout, ‘She is not there! Her body has disappeared!’

Now, as I lie here and ponder the darkness of unknowing, how great is the wisdom of God! how profound His mystery! He does not ask our permission before He moves. He just decrees His will and performs it! ‘Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth, as it is in the heavens!’ we pray over and over, yet when He does what we have asked, we are dumbfounded. The Mother of our Master, of our Lord, yes, the Mother of our God—how can we say such things?—but yes, the Truth is dawning on us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No Longer Afraid

We dared break ranks with them, and only at our peril, and only by night. They mocked us, calling us ‘sleep walkers,’ especially after someone told them of my night visit with the Rabbi, and then, as others of our number did the same, we became a muffled byword to them, who called themselves the tzaddiqim, ‘the saints.’ Later, after the Rabbi whom they thought dead was seen by many of us alive again, they called us ‘dreamers’ and even ‘night watchmen.’ Yes, ‘night watchmen,’ because they accused us of drugging the guards who had been sent to watch the blessed tomb, so we could take their place, and watch against witnesses who might see his disciples steal away his body. As for ‘dreamers,’ well, it is they who dream, while calling us what they, not we, are. They dream against the Truth, against him who delivers men from everlasting sleep.

As if the crime enacted at the place of the skull, where the bones of our first forefather Adam are planted, were not enough, the mockers and accusers follow us everywhere, as persistently as we followed the Rabbi, only with the opposite intent: They never cease their hateful reproaches, now calling us despisers of Torah, lovers of darkness instead of light, which is what they claim the Torah to be. Yet again they lie greatly in saying the opposite of the Truth, for in him who is Truth have we seen the true Light, we have found the true Faith, and according to his promise to us, we await with hope the heavenly Spirit, him to be sent by our Rabbi who has been proclaimed Lord by his resurrection from the dead. Yes, Torah is Light, but not what, but who, is Torah? We claim on the strength of his testimony, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Light that they vainly seek, but never see.

First they mocked and reviled our preaching of his resurrection, saying, ‘If that man is alive, show him to us!’ even while he was with us for a full forty days. Yes, he was with us, really, not in spirit only, not in metaphor as the wise among the Hebrews, who want to remain Jews of the old covenant, try to combine a mere idea, a false hope, a poetic lie, that can be fitted into their philosophical system, say. No, he really walked with us for a full forty days, reversing for those who believe in him the forty days of Moses’ absence on the mountain, by sojourning with us forty days here in this valley of the shadow of death which, while he walked with us bodily, was transfigured by the light of life. Not only one or two crazy women, as some of them say, saw him, but men too, and no, none of us, neither women nor men, are crazy.

Not just one or two either. When he was with us in Galilee where he told us to go to meet him, there were over five hundred of us who stood in his presence and heard his earth-watering words. Though here in the holy city, where he told us to return to await the Strengthener, the Spirit that he said he will send us from the heavenly Father, to stay with us forever, we are fewer, perhaps only about six score men and women, not counting the children, of whom there are again another hundred. Even here, no, especially here, his detracters continue to mock, ‘First you steal, then you hide, now you say he’s in the sky!’ because they have heard it told among the people that we see the Rabbi in his resurrected body no more. He was taken up.

‘Taken up where?’ they mock. ‘Did Elijah come and steal him away in his fiery chariot? Or does your Rabbi now have wings like the seraphim, and fly as he pleases, where he pleases?’ Terrible, terrible their ignorance and conceit, far from repenting of their rejection of the one whom the prophet king David called their savior! It stings the ears to have to hear such things. We know he rose from the dead. We did not personally see it happening. No one did because no one could. To see the resurrection as it occurred would be to see the creation of the world, which no man has seen or ever can see. The beginning of all things is always hid from our eyes, but not the ending. Whom they mock will meet them on the last day.

The Rabbi, whom we now call Lord, did rise from the dead, bodily, not in spirit or metaphor, but truly. It has been only a few days since he was taken up, away from us, in glory by the bodiless powers. We do not understand how it happened. We did not grasp what we saw. He was suddenly lifted up. He receded from our sight, yet there is a certainty of his presence now among us that we did not have before. Before our eyes had to look for him, and we saw him only when he was physically before us. Now, it seems we see him wherever we look, approaching us in every man or woman that comes. The joy that we feel is now multiplied because we meet him everywhere we go. Yet, he told us to stay put for the time being. Someone was being sent to us, the Spirit of Truth, the true Torah is soon to be revealed.

The feast of Shavuot is near. The day of the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, the giving of the Law, the commandments of the Eternal, by the prophet Moses. Strangely, it is also the fiftieth day since the resurrection of our Lord. In the Torah we read that when Moses descended the mountain to find the people worshiping a golden calf, he broke the tablets, destroyed the image, and then three thousand of those who followed their fears met death by the sword, lost to life for the sake of law. Kephas has sent me a message, yes, to me and to my cousin Joseph, that we should gather with him and the other disciples and the mother of Jesus for prayer, and to await the One whom our Rabbi promised. We will meet in that same upper room where he ate the Passover with his disciples. Something like twelve then, now ten times more.

No more a night journey, no more by night. As the Rabbi said, ‘Nothing is hidden, that will not be revealed; nor anything secret, that will not be known and come to light.’ I once went stealthily to meet him and exchanged my doubt for faith, my darkness for his light. More than would admit it among us wanted to believe in him, and I spoke for these when I told him, ‘We know you are a teacher sent from God.’ He was more than a rabbi, yes, he was the Anointed One, our Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, but he proved by his resurrection that he was even the Truth, even that the Father and he are One, was, were and will be, One. Deep within me I hear his words singing in my heart and my flesh, deep within I hear his cataracts roar, as his waves, his breakers wash over me. And I am no longer afraid.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Like everything else he said and did, it didn’t make sense at the time, and we began to understand the significance of his words and deeds only much later, only when it was too late.

Yochanan, the youngest of his disciples, the one who gave me the name by which I was to be forever known after that day, Ari, had given me the instruction to do the impossible. On the Master’s orders, to find and buy a large leavened loaf and bring it before sunset to our upper room, where he would eat the Passover with his disciples. His exact words were, ‘The Master says, my time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’ I was standing right there when Yochanan delivered the message to my widowed mother. The Master to share the seder with his talmidim at my house? I was stunned, but not for long. Yochanan took me aside and gave me his astonishing instructions.

‘Where am I to find unleavened bread on a day like this?’ I protested. ‘We just burned every last bit of chametz we had in the house, and no baker will have anything but unleavened matzah on the first day of Unleavened Bread!’

‘Ari Shim’on! Come on, I’ll go with you. If the Master has instructed us to do the impossible, we can do the impossible. He never sets anything before us we can’t handle.’ I always marveled at Yochanan. No matter what Jesus asked of him, he always rose to the task with a confidence I wish were mine. The other disciples, well, they might sometimes doubt, some of them, but never Yochanan, and never me, either. He’d never let me. As the youngest disciple of Jesus, the others wouldn’t listen to him, but I was even younger than he, and scrawny and timid at that. Yochanan had noticed me following them all at a distance whenever they were in my street, and one day he took me by surprise and cornered me. I thought I was in for a beating. That was the story of my life.

My father—may he rest in the peace of Hashem—died before I was old enough for him to teach me how to defend myself, and in my boyhood, brotherless, there were many who mocked and even beat me. One day—may the name of Hashem be forever blessed—I was following after the talmidim of the man from Nazareth, and one of his disciples broke ranks and approached me. ‘Who are you? And why do you keep tagging along behind us? If you want to be with us, just join in!’ Instead of running away, which is what I wanted to do, I stammered, ‘Sh-shim’on, I am called Shim’on.’ Yochanan suddenly laughed. ‘Here it comes,’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s going to mock me for not even being able to say my name.’

‘Ari! Ari’el! God’s little lion, that’s the name for you! Look at that head of hair, like a lion’s mane! I bet you can really roar, and take down a whole gang of elilim that came against you!’ And he grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me squarely in the eye, and said, ‘Brother, I like you! Come on, join us!’ I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears, but here was a boy just a few years older than me, like all the others, energetic, handsome, confident, only he wasn’t shaking me and then knocking me to the ground with a cruel guffaw. It was at that moment, that my constant feeling of dread vanished, and the world suddenly looked new and different to me. I liked him. No, I loved him, even then, and now, years later, even more.

These memories always assail me when the year comes round to the days before Pesach, the Passover. From that first encounter with my new brother, the one I never had, my life began to change. It wasn’t just having Yochanan as my friend, my special friend, but watching how the Master’s love for him, he passed on to me in exactly the same way. My father and mother loved me as best as they could, but the love that Jesus and his disciples had for each other, and for me, was different. It wasn’t a sour kind of love, always judging, always bossy, hateful of the stranger, bullying. No, it wasn’t that kind of love at all. In fact, I never knew what love really was, until I saw how the talmidim of Jesus from Nazareth loved each other, and how he loved them.

But it is getting close to the Passover, and my heart is full of dread. Remembering that day when I was sent on the errand to find the impossible, at the time full of wonder, ‘What’s he going to do with that? It’s the Day of Unleavened Bread!’ I didn’t understand, but I did it, we did it, anyway, we did what Jesus commanded. I can’t even remember where we found that loaf, but Yochanan made me promise to bring it safely home and place it on the seder table that my mother was getting ready. He had to run, no doubt, to fulfill a mitzvah that the Master gave him. Jesus was always full of love for us, but mitzvot, commandments, too.

My heart is full of dread, not remembering that night—what happened after the seder is too awful for the eyes of my mind to look upon. My heart is full of dread, remembering the Master’s eyes and voice, after he raised his friend Lazarus from the tomb. At the supper that Martha prepared to celebrate her brother’s resurrection, Jesus should have been full of joy, but the same look he had when, seeing the tomb of his dear friend, he wept, never quite left him from that moment. I could sense, though I did not understand, that there was some dark cloud advancing towards him, and toward us. Once again, as it was with me before I met Yochanan and Jesus, there was dread.

Yochanan is the only one remaining of the Twelve now, though he left to follow the Lord Jesus to Ephesos in the north, to follow him in a land far from our home in Jerusalem. The world is changed forever after what happened the third day after that strange seder. At least, it changed forever for me. Yochanan did not abandon me. His love for me is as secure and true as Jesus’ love for him. He joked with me that day I saw him off at Joppa, when he took ship with Miryam of Nazareth, to follow her son beyond Galilee of the Gentiles, to the Greeklands.

‘You know, Ari, how the Lord’—yes, now we call him not only Master, but Lord, for that He was proven to be by his rising from the dead—‘you know how the Lord told big Shim’on’—that’s Kephas. With so many named Shim’on among his followers, we all had nicknames—‘you know how he told Shim’on “Feed my lambs”? Well, brother, I will tell you a little secret. He may have told Kephas to feed the little lambs, but he told Yochanan to feed his little lion—and that is you! Remember, brother, that wherever I go, I will always love you and feed you by my prayers, because Jesus said so, and because he loves us, always, and for ever.’ And after sealing me with the love of God, and with his own love, he thus departed.

And remembering that love, the dread that dismayed me
too has departed.