Saturday, April 26, 2014

I was in that room

A lot of things have gone through my head, both before and after I met Jesus son of Joseph. Sitting in the synagogue and hearing the Torah read, commented upon, for years, and then comparing what was said with what they did, those betters of mine, made me sense a cleavage in my mind, a breach impossible to mend, a wound that could not be stitched together and healed.

With the others, those of us who now understand what no rabbi or teacher of the Torah could ever know, I was attracted to this man whose words seemed to have an authority, a power and grasp of reality, that we had never encountered before. Not only that, but as we came to walk with him more often, we noticed it wasn’t just his words. What he did—sometimes incredible things—shook the very foundations we thought our faith was built on.

We were an odd bunch, those we began to call ‘the brothers’ as if we had the same mother. Before we met Jesus, our hearts hungered for something but we didn’t know what. Other tradesmen thought about their work all day, but we, even before we knew him and one another, were always preoccupied with thinking through questions that seemed to have no answers.

Some of us found ourselves thinking so much, we were bound to become insane, so we thought. All of us felt so close to the solution, yet infinitely unable to grasp it. When he appeared, as he was first pointed out by the baptizer John, a few of that righteous man’s followers began to follow him around, and then very soon they were telling us, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about.’

‘A likely story,’ I thought to myself and laughed out loud. I always laugh when I don’t understand, and why not? It’s better than weeping. It seemed to me then, after all my thinking, I had never gotten any closer to the answer to my question. In fact, I hardly even knew what my question was, but my mind never ceased its revolutions, sifting, straining, funneling, and soaking up what I could.

But I started following him, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth, with the others. He told us things we’d never heard before, opened our minds to fill them with what we never knew existed. In my bright moments, I believed him wholeheartedly, and with the others followed this peculiar rabbi, and went along with whatever he told us. His ideas at least made sense. I felt I was finally making progress.

In my dark moments, ah, well, what can I say? His teachings, even his doings, incredible and miraculous as they were, seemed somehow just talking and tricks. Maybe he was just a charlatan after all, a magician and smooth talker, all in one. As dark as I sometimes felt in those moments of doubt, though, even my doubt turned upon itself, and taunted me like the demon who says, ‘I never tell the truth.’

Towards the end, we all felt we were being dragged along behind him on a journey we’d hoped we’d never have to make, one which we couldn’t believe was happening. After all we had experienced with him, our hopes were held captive in the thought that everything would turn out victorious in the end. Instead, after ignoring his many warnings, we found ourselves driven with him at our head towards, not the kingdom of our people restored, but to the enactment of a hideous crime.

Impossible when it happened, and so quickly that we barely understood what was going on, he was arrested after our mystical passover together as we rested afterwards in an olive grove.

I was already descending from bright to dark in my mind and heart, one part of me believing, ‘He won’t let this happen,’ and the other part despairing, ‘It’s all over. It was never real. What a fool I’ve been.’ Neither my belief nor my doubt was right, as it turned out.

What happened that night launched all of us into isolation, fear and self-pity, even though it was Jesus that was captured, beaten, mocked, stripped, and nailed to a stake. We didn’t really give him a thought at all, though we wouldn’t admit it to ourselves. All we thought about was how our hopes and dreams had been dashed to pieces. We didn’t want to even be around each other at first and, except for the young one John, and his mother and a couple of the women, we didn’t want to watch him die either.

After his body was taken down from that scaffold, I didn’t want to live. I felt so ashamed, of myself, of him, of my dashed hopes, of my foolishness in loving him like I did. Yes, loving him, though when he was alive I didn’t let anyone know. I kept up my reputation of doubting and questioning, right up to my last moments with him and the others.

Later, when I heard that Judas had hanged himself, I couldn’t believe that either. Was that really Judas who led the guards to Jesus with a kiss? Or was it someone that just looked like him? It was so dark. In the even greater darkness that was my mind I thought, ‘It might as well have been me that led the guards to him. Did I ever really believe what he said or did?’

Still oppressed in a dark moment that I thought would never end, I hid myself from the brothers for days. Finally—I don’t know what possessed me—I got up the courage to look for them, going back to that room where we had all had our last supper with him. I almost couldn’t say his name. They told me some fool story about him being alive. I was overcome with doubt. I said words I now wish I’d never spoken.

I opposed Cephas and the others to their faces, my doubt flashing like sharp shards of broken glass to cut their hopes to slivers, as mine had been shredded. ‘You say he’s alive? How’s that? Can I see him too and poke my finger through the holes in his hands and feet and jab my hand into that spear cut slash?’ Little did I know that my scathing words, meant to hurt, would in the end heal.

They let me go, saying nothing, nor defending themselves. I hated them for that. I’d wanted them to oppose me, to counter my barbed accusations so I could feel justified in making them. ‘Hah! So they have faith, and I don’t!’ roared inside my head where no one but I could hear. Why did things always have to end this way? Why can’t anything good ever last? What is the point of it all?

Days passed. I hated the brothers because they seemed to have something that I would not permit myself to have. I hated myself more, I hated how I was, I hated my doubt, I hated my hateful words and the dark thoughts that produced them. That’s what drove me back to where they were hiding out. Hiding, yes, but at least, together. I was envious too of their company, where their first fears seemed to have yielded to a gentle, abiding love.

‘Why are they like that?’ I asked myself. ‘How can they still love one another and seem so peaceful and happy, when everything we lived and hoped for is finished, when it was crucified between thieves? Are they pretending? He can’t really be alive. We all saw his body, limp and dead, being moved somewhere by that rich man, what’s his name.’ Such were my thoughts as I approached the door and knocked.

Cephas let me in. He could tell, he said, that it was me by my knock. ‘What’s so special about it?’ I thought but didn’t ask. I barely had time to walk into the room as I heard the door slam behind me and the thud of the bolt falling. Then I heard my name pronounced from somewhere behind my back. I turned around quickly, almost running into Cephas who was right behind me.

We all turned to face the one who spoke my name. It was Jesus.

‘No! This can’t be happening!’ the words died on my lips as I felt every muscle in my body liquefy. I fell to my knees as though the weight of the world were crushing me down to the floor. Jesus looked at me and was softly asking me something, but my eyes and ears were both overwhelmed by what is beyond sight and hearing. I was blind and deaf for a moment.

‘My Lord and my God! My Lord and my God! My Lord and my God!’

I couldn’t stop babbling these words that didn’t even come close to what my spirit groaned inwardly. He came close to me, laying one arm across my shoulders and lifting me gently with the other. At His touch I felt weightless. I rose effortlessly and my mind was suddenly clear. I could see with my eyes, hear with my ears as He said to me, ‘You believe because you can see Me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

Now, no matter what thoughts assail me inside or out, no matter what wars of words between men sunder the world’s peace for vainglory, I am no longer safe in what I know or merely believe or doubt, for beyond all this is the peace that only He can give, because I was in that room.

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