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THEDAY IS COMINGby Shlomo Kalo (the complete text )
A book may excite, shock, move and nevertheless fade away with time and be forgotten.
“The Day Is Coming” will excite, shock, challenge, shake up and will not fade away with time and will not be forgotten. The reader will return to it and read it with ever growing interest and deep satisfaction, with anger perhaps or embarrassment, guilt feelings, shame or thankfulness.
The events that are described in “The Day Is Coming” from an exceptional angle will inevitably leave their imprint on the reader, leading him to conscious soul-searching. The book is taken in, in a single breath.
Published in English, Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Polish, Hungarian and Korean.
Soft cover, 157 pages
God who is love, as it was defined by one of His most gifted disciples: "... if I have true and steadfast faith enough to move mountains and have not love, I am as nothing. And if I give away all my goods to the poor, and if I sacrifice my body upon the altar of martyrdom - and have not love, it shall avail me nothing..." (First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13), God who never chastised, does not chastise and never will chastise any creature, who will surely never be swayed by excess of anger, seeing that "If God were to be angry but for a moment we could not live, endure or be!" (Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Penguin edition, 1966, chapter 49) - when the cry of mankind arose, mankind consumed by the fire of his desires, tormented by the darkness of his instincts - was clad in flesh and came down to those that cried out, and became as one of them, to lighten their burden, to bear their pain and to try, try without ceasing, to guide them to true penitence.
AND THERE WAS LIGHT
God became man and descended among us as one of us, and our eyes beheld Him and many, many knew Him not, and turned their backs on Him. And there were those who pushed Him away from them and expelled Him from their presence, even though He was flesh, like one of them, even though He wore human shape and walked among them and proclaimed in a wondrously clear voice, in simple words that could not be misunderstood: "I am He! Behold me! Come my beloved children, come my tormented brethren, come my people and be healed, give ear to me, attend to me, and be saved!" And they refused to draw near to Him, closed their ears from hearing, were unwilling to listen, and they mocked Him and scorned Him. For they loved the darkness and abhorred the light. But He did not cease to call upon them all the days of His being in the flesh and to try, try and try again, to draw them near to Him. And He sat with them in their solemn assemblies and drank at their festivities and dined in their homes, just like one of them, and listened to the words of vanity issuing from their mouths, and cried again: "Come and be saved!" And they made themselves deaf and took no pleasure in Him. Even when He was clad in flesh. And He was grieved in His spirit but because He was love, He did not force Himself on any man. He performed the miracles that He was called upon to perform, and accomplished the marvels that He was expected to accomplish: He healed the sick, straightened the crooked, opened the eyes of the blind, drove out devils, raised the dead to life... and they saw with their own eyes and felt with their own hands and heard with their own ears, and yet still they refused to believe. He came from the light, He was the living light, the one and the only truth, freedom, love and eternal life. And they hated Him. They persecuted Him in the heat of their wrath, cast Him out and proscribed Him, bound Him in chains and murdered Him in the most degrading fashion that they knew, the most painful that they could devise.
And they were left without Him. Persecuted sorely, proscribed, outcast, tormented, stoned and led to the slaughter like sheep that have trampled to death their good shepherd, the one and the only, their steadfast defender.
"SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS"
(John IV, 22)
He was born among them. He was one of them. He adhered to their Scriptures, and everything that these ancient Scriptures commanded, which to this very day they aspire to uphold, was done to Him: at eight days old He was circumcised and admitted to the covenant of the father of His people (Luke, II, 21); at the age of twelve years He was examined by the priests and scholars of the Law in the Temple (Luke, II, 46-47) and became "Bar-Mitzva" according to their definition.
From the midst of His people and from among members of His earthly family emerged His first disciples, His loyal followers who sacrificed themselves for His sake, fearless messengers who brought His Gospel to the light among His own people and among other peoples, tongues, races and nations. From among His people and from out of His family emerged His most fervent opponents, those who denied Him with the greatest zeal. From then and until this very day.
Members of His people and His family, deniers and affirmers alike, opponents and acolytes, are the bearers of salvation. "Salvation" declares the God-who-is-love, a declaration that cannot be misunderstood, "is from the Jews" (John, IV, 22). From among the members of His people it shall come, it is they who shall bring it into the world. "Their rejection", according to his most faithful envoy, has given "reconciliation to the world"; "their acceptance", on the other hand, shall according to the same source bring resurrection or in his words "life from the dead" (Romans, XI, 15).
THE IRON SINEW
God-who-is-love, who was clad in flesh and became as one of us, God, devoid of name and of form, who for our sake put on a form and called Himself by a name and descended among us - addressed and spoke to His people in their own language, their mother-tongue, the language most accessible to them and the tongue best understood by them. And yet, not all of those who heard Him absorbed his words and understood them. A minority absorbed and a minority within a minority understood, and a minority within a minority within a minority acted upon what they had absorbed and understood. These few He called "disciples" and "apostles", and imposed duties upon them, and bestowed upon them true life, which is everlasting life.
True life issued from Him in a flood, like the abundant waters of an ancient and ever-flowing river. And He offered it to all and demanded nothing in return. And only a minority within a minority within a minority, those who had longed for it always, accepted it. The great, the decisive majority, the majority imprisoned in the desolate and gloomy cells of arrogance and of greed, in the dark and damp dungeons of lies and uncleanness - they rejected the gift of blessing and cast it far from them, preferring darkness to the light, choosing torment, bondage and death above the joy, freedom and eternal life which is in everlasting, all-conquering love.
All His disciples who yearned for true life, all His acolytes who followed Him and clung to Him with endless devotion, and those that He called "apostles", earned what they had desired so long and that to which they had devoted themselves to always: Him. He was their property. They "ate" His "flesh" and "drank" His "blood". Other than Him they cared for nothing in the world, in any world. They were He. He was they. Then as it is now, and for ever and ever, Amen.
Pure were His words, as dawn rising in the springtime; clear was His message, like the waters of a virginal spring in the mountains, in which all is perfectly reflected and no form distorted, and anyone who earns the privilege of drinking of its waters if only once, will be refreshed by the joy of liberating truth, and will no longer desire other waters, or any other spring.
The pure in heart followed Him rejoicing, the faint-hearted and obstinate conspired against Him, yet in the depths of their hearts they feared him.
He addressed his word to them, the word of the living God that was inscribed in their scriptures, "Holy Scriptures" as they were known, so that they would more easily recognise Him. And would draw near to Him and be saved.
All His short days in the flesh, days of His fateful mission, He was raising before them quotations from these texts, which they knew by heart and revered, which they believed held the key to everlasting life. He addressed to them His Gospel of salvation and taught them the way to the truth, and foretold what would befall them if they persisted in their obstinacy, and described in living parable and in legend the reward and the blessing that awaited them, should they consent to open their hearts to the abundance of His redeeming love, the love that brings from bondage into freedom, and from darkness into great light. Such was His custom and such was His way, from the beginning until the bitter end.
It was He who imposed the mission upon Himself, and demanded of Himself that He fulfill it to the last detail, without deviation or compromise, to the end. And He upheld His own demand, and did not deviate from it to right or to left.
In that last moment, which has been minutely described in scroll and in book and on every surface capable of bearing a line of script, His last cry was not intended as a call for the aid of anyone, nor was it blaming anyone for His terrible predicament, into which He had entered willingly.
His final appeal was nothing other than a faithful quotation from those same holy writings, a brief citation, concise and succinct, a prophecy devastating in its simplicity and clarity, of what was to befall those who drove Him with scorn from their presence, tortured Him and murdered Him.
And were left without Him.
According to the Scriptures, before God goes "a voice crying", crying until the very pillars of the universe tremble: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God; every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill laid low and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Isaiah, XL, 3-5).
This "voice", this too is clothed in flesh, living in the desert and, we are told: "His raiment was camel's hair and a leather girdle about his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey" (Matthew, III, 4). His specific name is "John" (Johannan) - meaning "he who is worthy of God's grace" or "valiant servitor of God". And he is ready to encounter God revealed in flesh, to set before him all those who are saintly and good, and worthy, and called, and chosen. The "voice crying" is faithful to the mission enjoined upon him and to the one who sent him, denouncing with vigour anyone who tries to place obstacles in the path of God. These uncompromising tirades lead in the end to the conclusion which is inevitable from the world's point of view: the head of the "paver of the way" of God is struck off and presented on a silver tray to that woman, whose carnal indulgences his words threatened to curtail.
And God goes down to an ancient valley, known as the "Valley of Jordan", and stands before John the Baptist. And he, seeing Him from afar, cries out to the host of his followers in a great voice: "This is the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world" (John, I, 29).
As they stand one before the other and face to face, John the Baptist, who before has been a prophet of anger and of fire, kneels meekly at the feet of God and prostrates himself upon the ground. And hearing the strange request of God, to be baptised by his hand, he refuses to comply and pleads instead that He, God, should consent in His grace to baptise him, and not the reverse.
But God repeats His request with greater vigour and demands of the man kneeling at his feet to rise and do as he is bidden. For this the essence of His mission: that men shall see God as one of themselves, and He shall not raise himself above them but on the contrary, abase himself before them, so they shall draw near to Him and believe in Him, and be saved.
And John the Baptist, his lean body wrapped in camel's hair, stands and obeys the explicit command of his God. His trembling hand is laid on the illumined head, and he blesses, and baptises. From this moment onward, all partition is removed from between God and mankind, between creator and created, and unity of the spirit becomes real and whole: man being an inseparable part of God, God being love.
And John the Baptist proclaims in a voice quivering with emotion: "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove and it rested on him" (John I, 32).
And he heard, and all the host of his followers at his feet heard also, the clear voice emerging from the sky: "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew III, 17), as if to say: "I have put on flesh and accepted upon myself all its limitations, and I have come among you to save you. Listen well to the word of my Gospel, uphold my commandments, and be saved!"
"I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove and it rested on him" - a verse that announces and also confirms that which he prophesied before, before God was revealed to him and stood before him and was baptised by his hand: "I have baptised you with water but He shall baptise with the Holy Spirit" (Mark, I, 8).
Blessed is the man found worthy to be baptised by Him in the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Before His coming among mortals, God who was clothed in flesh confronted the inexorable ruler of all that are clothed in flesh, none other than he, the greatest of tempters.
The solemn figure, with the thin, arrogant and disdainful smile, which humans are so eager to emulate, stands on the summit of a high mountain. Tense, silent, engrossed in himself, desolate in his proud isolation. The God of love is his only opponent upon earth. Him he yearns to dominate, with Him he struggles and contends, though knowing deep in his heart with ever-growing anxiety that this battle is lost from the outset. And yet in spite of this, he does not relent. God, who named him after the great act of temptation in the Garden of Eden "the father of lies", stands before him as is the way of all flesh, to be tested.
A livid light of brooding passion flashes in the eyes that are blacker than the night. The test begins.
From the instant that the flesh is "hungry", that it craves nourishment, it is easy for the Tempter to bend it to his will, to enslave it utterly.
He who endures the ordeal of "hunger", which is the first stage in the test of the spirit, whereby every man willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously is tested - earns, by God's grace, liberation; he becomes absolutely free, lord of himself, his conduct no longer dictated by what is outside and what is within.
God who was clothed in flesh, so the sources reveal, was "hungry", having mortified and starved His flesh forty days and forty nights.
The Tempter begins in a melodious voice, wherein is also a certain challenge, also ostentatious and emphatic willingness to acknowledge the undisputed greatness of his examinee:
"If you are God, command that these stones become bread, and relieve the hunger of your tormented flesh!"
And God replies with a quotation from the Holy Scriptures: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy, VIII, 3).
With wondrous agility the Tempter takes the path to which God clothed in flesh has pointed, and changes his tactics accordingly. If the chosen weapons in this contest are to be citations from the Scriptures, he has in his armoury enough and to spare, and of the very finest quality. After all, his myriad minions, just like him, are considered expert scholars of these sacred texts, and are renowned as their most subtle interpreters, astonishing their hearers with their profound observations, the acuity of their perceptions and their scholarship.
God allows the Tempter to set Him on the edge of a high wall, and he begins with sycophantic wheedling, plucking on those narrow strings, which are not to be severed, of human conceit and presumption.
"If you are God, jump from this wall!" - and at once he provides the quotation from the Scriptures that corroborates his words:
"For He shall give his angels charge over you... in their hands they shall bear you lest you bruise your foot against a stone" (Psalms, XCI, 11-12).
This is the second stage of the spiritual test, which endows the one who endures it with the truth, that is the absolute opposite of arrogance, which arises from lies. He who, by God's grace, passes the second stage of the spiritual test, is the man of true humility, whose faith in God and devotion to Him can be bridled by nothing in this world.
God replies to the challenge, declaring at once:
"You shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy, VI, 16).
The Tempter is running out of options. It is not easy for him to stand before the creator of the universe, God who is love, even when He is clad in flesh and has accepted its limitations, and is being tested, by His own explicit will, at his hand.
Desires of the flesh, the pursuit of wealth, honour and dominion - these are the most lethal weapons in the hands of the Tempter. God who is clothed in flesh has endured the "hunger" of the flesh and has not fallen prey to conceit. There is nothing left in the Tempter's armoury, other than to try the potency of fleshly desires, wealth and dominion.
And this is the concluding phase of the spiritual test, the decisive contest with the lord of the flesh, nothing other than death itself. He who endures it, by God's grace, will live the life of truth, that is - everlasting life.
In the winking of an eye there are revealed, before the fleshly eyes of the God who is tested, all the kingdoms of the great world, with their inexhaustible riches, their dazzling brightness and the carnal delights that are promised to their masters. And the primeval serpent turns to Him with a wondrous offer by which no statesman in the world, however great he may be, nor craftsman of genius nor eminent philosopher nor bold inventor nor man of extreme wealth, could fail to be tempted:
"All this I shall give to you if you bow down and worship me" - and he adds, to make his meaning clear - "For to me these things are given and it is my right to dispose of them as I please!" It is true, "these things" are his indeed.
And God replies:
"The Lord your God shall you worship and Him alone shall you serve" (Matthew, IV, 10).
And seeing the resentment and the bitter defeat revealed in the withered features of the Tempter, those features which once, before his revolt, impressed all who saw them with their beauty, God commands:
"Turn away from me, Satan!"
And Satan turns from Him, fades and disappears as though he never was.
For this is the role allotted to him, with his consent or without his consent, to put to the trial every believer, without prevailing over him, and "to turn away" from him, if he has passed the test and not yielded to temptation. And there is no creature in the world that can endure the trials of the Tempter, without the revealed and explicit grace of God.
THE BEGINNING OF THE WAY
Three years before His persecution and death, at the beginning of His way, God incarnate ascended to the podium in the synagogue of Nazareth, His place of abode, and before the eyes of the congregation, watching Him tensely and in silence, He opened the book of the Prophet Isaiah and read from it the first and second verses from the sixty-first chapter:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek, He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and deliverance to those that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." A reliable eye-witness has briefly described what followed: "And so He closed the book and gave it back to the minister and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were turned to Him, and He opened His mouth and said to them: "Today is this prophecy fulfilled" (Luke, IV, 21-22).
At all times and in all places, synagogues are alike, one to another; facing the Holy Ark, which is covered by a cloth embroidered with gold, and sometimes also around it, in the same ancient order and according to the same pattern, sit venerable men, listening to the words of the minister. Their dour, habitually blank gaze is suddenly animated at hearing a word or a sentence which deviates, even by the tiniest of deviations, from the conventional order of worship.
That distant day, there stood before the regular congregation of worshippers in the synagogue of Nazareth, which no longer exists, a young man of medium height, clad in a simple cloth tunic. His appearance perplexed the members of His audience. It may be that they absorbed something of the pure light that His face radiated. It may be, their hearts quivered, when they heard His voice, utterly devoid of hypocrisy, arrogance and pretence, as they listened to the symmetry of His words. And yet, there was not ignited in their hearts a pure flame of new hope, their spirits were not stirred, their minds were not in ferment. The dry hand of rationalism was in the ascendant, asserting insistently that this young man, for all his exceptional appearance and unsettling words, was none other than the son of an artisan, a carpenter, who had never studied the Torah and knew nothing of the Scriptures, whose assiduous observation of the sacred rites was even in doubt. How does he dare to stand before them and preach to them high-flown and deceitful words, according to which he is none other than the Saviour, the long-awaited Messiah, son of the true God? Are they reckoned ignorant, boorish bumpkins, who cannot distinguish between their right and their left and who are easily led astray?
And those who sat in the synagogue leapt to their feet and shook their fists in fury, crying again and again: "Blasphemy! Blasphemy!" Their voices rose and grew louder, deafening to the ears, their own ears. And they continued to shout, as if mortally injured, as if rising up to defend the holy inheritance of God, an inheritance that they are enjoined to preserve and to cherish, an inheritance of which they are the sole faithful guardians, wherein any man who oversteps the mark will suffer the full weight of the Law - denunciation and expulsion, stoning and death.
No doubt, not all were accomplices in this apparently unstoppable riot, but the decisive majority outweighed the minority, imposing its will upon it and silencing it. This minority was not heard, being timid and hesitant. As it was then, so it is today.
And they set upon the young man and drove Him from their synagogue, a crude and ignominious expulsion that was to mark on their brows a new sign of infamy, many times uglier than that of Cain, passing from generation to generation and never to be erased.
God who became man and descended among men, to bestow His love upon them and to release them from their harsh torments and their bitter pain, to rescue them from oppression - was banished by them. As it was then, so it is now. His own people rejected Him, reviled Him, banished Him and outlawed Him, and would not relent. And still do not relent. His passionate devotees, of all peoples and nations, incomparable experts in His teaching who observe solemn ceremonies with zeal, who see themselves as His only disciples, who belong to Him as He belongs to them, the God of love, who is merciful and who commands compassion, charity and love, saying explicitly: "Love your enemy, do good to those that hate you" (Luke, VI, 27) - with fiery wrath they persecute those who rejected Him, His kinsmen in the flesh, then and to this very day. And they inherit Hell.
But there are others, who in humility, faith and charity have opened the pure sanctuary of their hearts to God, and He has illumined it with His hidden light, which fleshly eyes cannot perceive.
Where are they?
Everywhere you least expect them.
Are there many of them?
A few, and yet too many to count.
A fateful mission is laid upon their shoulders. They are the messengers of God, the faithful performers of His will, His fearless warriors. The heavens above and the earth beneath will speak their praises. They are capable of working miracles, but they do not need them to make themselves a name. There is nothing in the world, in the heavens above nor the earth beneath, that can divert their minds, not even for a moment, from their sacred mission, from their earnest devotion to their Master.
You look out through the window of your house, you notice a man walking in the street, like any other passer-by. He is not distinguished from these others in any way, there is nothing remarkable about him. You glance at the face of the man who is passing, a blank stare without interest, return to within your house. But if, by God's grace, you are endowed with true longings for freedom, and your spirit knows no rest in its searching after the truth - your heart will pound fiercely when your glance rests upon this man, and will be drawn to him by powerful and mysterious bonds. And then will happen the thing least expected, which you never foresaw, never imagined, even though, as will be clear to you afterwards, your spirit has aspired to it always: the man who has agitated your mind with something of which you have not the slightest notion, which it is impossible for you to define in any way - stops suddenly where he is, turns towards you, looks up and meets your gaze and favours you with a smile that floods your heart like a river in spate, a sea of light, an inexhaustible source of joy, peace and grace. Perhaps the man will even raise his hand in greeting before he turns and goes his way, and you will never see him again all the days of your life on this earth. But his wondrous smile, the wave of his hand, that is devoid of any vulgarity, his friendly greeting - these will never be erased from the tablet of your heart; they will encourage you in times of crisis, liberate you from darkness and strengthen you in your way to the truth.
This man, who set your heart pounding, who stood still to look back at you, bestowing upon you his radiant smile and his hand raised in greeting - he is a clear sign that you are called, you have been chosen.
THE SYNAGOGUE IN NAZARETH
The synagogue in Nazareth, the year 31 A.D. The minister about his priestly duties. God who has become man, awarded the honour of mounting the podium, to read from the Torah. The words that He speaks in the ears of the congregation. The tense faces of the listeners, eyes flashing sparks, which will soon pop from their sockets. All the men of Nazareth are here. The gentry in elegant and spacious seats, close to the eastern wall. On their well-fed and complacent faces, an ostentatious look of solemn reverence. They weigh every word emerging from the lips of the almost unknown "carpenter's son", and their astonishment is matched only by their fury. Where did this man learn to read and write? His manner of speech and the tone of his reading are foreign to this place. Never before have manner and tone such as these been heard beneath the roof of the ancient synagogue, and they do not yet know that such will never again be heard. The style of his speech is peculiar. Not the lofty diction of the Pharisees, not the carping and censorious diction of the Sadducees. It has nothing of the convoluted sweetness and false compassion of the teachers of the Torah, it is devoid of the rolling thunder and effulgent lightning of the itinerant preachers and the prophets of doom. Something else entirely emanates from him, from this odd young man and from his flowing speech, which to them is the weirdest thing of all. Something that sets the heart a-quiver in the constricted breast... yes, even the hearts of the nobility, even the hearts of the greatest Torah scholars of Nazareth, the hearts too of the simplest folk, the hearts of the lepers and the outcasts and the despised and the rejected, huddled together in dark corners - all hearts are pounding like hammers in the breast. Something that has no name. Or perhaps, it has a name but it is hidden from them, or rather, they fear to raise it to the surface of their consciousness, to say nothing of their lips. Every one of the hearts compressed in a constricted breast knows well the name of this "something", but they are afraid to admit it. Afraid to express it. The explicit name of God.
And the conclusion according to an eye-witness: "And all that were in the synagogue were filled with wrath at hearing these things; and they rose up and cast Him out of the city and brought Him to the top of the hill on which their city was built in order to throw Him down; but he passed through the midst of them and went His way" (Luke, IV, 28-31).
For three years God walked the earth in flesh, among those enslaved to the flesh and those tormented by it. For three years He called upon those willing to hear Him, to come and receive from Him peace, truth, freedom and eternal life.
Whoever received, never again returned to torment under and by the flesh, and death was no longer his master.
All those who truly longed for Him received and were refreshed and went out from bondage into freedom and from darkness into great light. All, to the very last among them, who had born Him in their hearts even before He was clad in flesh and descended to them, and walked in their midst.
Few, few indeed were those who were His friends and His brothers and served Him with a willing spirit and a loving heart, and walked with Him wherever he went, and cleaved to him forever and for all time, and were an inseparable part of Him, for all eternity. To this they had been destined since the dawn of time, and to this they were called and chosen, and they obeyed the call and justified the choice, and from the called and the chosen they became callers and choosers.
But the remainder cast Him out and rejected Him. Then as it is now. The scholars and men of power and those who trusted in their might. Those who denied His very existence, seeing themselves superior to Him, and scorning Him. And they mocked Him and they judged Him, and passed sentence of death upon Him.
In the synagogue of Nazareth there was not found one man who would rise from his seat and stand by His side. All of them, as one man, rose from their rough benches, by the east and the west wall, by the north and the south, gentry and rabble, scholars and labourers, and they expelled Him from their presence and drove Him out from their city, which was His city too.
Excepting a few brief moments, brief indeed, of grace and peace, He was persecuted cruelly, proscribed, outlawed, humiliated, beaten, throughout those three years. Three years that extend beyond all the dimensions of time. And then they led Him to the scaffold.
There were some who followed Him. Men and women. From all classes, from all strata of society; from the worst of "sinners", tax-gatherers and harlots, to the most saintly of men and the cream of the aristocracy. Among them was a young man, scarcely more than a boy, fair of face and pure in heart, who stood apart from the other disciples and was especially beloved of Him. His name was John, and he was a close kinsman of the High Priest. Another of his disciples, no less beloved but much older, asked of this John that he bring him into the courtyard of his kinsman, the High Priest, when his master was brought before him in chains (John, XVIII, 16-17, 25-27, Luke, XXII, 54-62), and there he denied Him, in utter contravention of his solemn vows, to follow Him and even to die for Him.
This was a turning-point for that Simon Peter, upon whom the Lord had promised to build His church for all time. A point of incomparable degradation, from which he could only rise. Arrogance, pride, unrestrained hot temper - all these were left behind to be replaced by the scorching tears of shame, remorse, the voice of humility in the heart, true humility, sincere self-abasement, which opened before him the broad doorway to the Lord's liberation.
Many of those who walk the face of this earth, trusting absolutely in their fidelity and the vigour of their faith in their Father who is in Heaven and in their God, who is love, are in need of such an acute crisis, both humiliating and tormenting, revealing to their traumatised eyes the full ugliness of their weaknesses and bringing in its wake, like the blessed rain, the purifying transformation, the most coveted of all things. This is love's way of persuading those who are worthy to accept its freedom, which is the humility that conquers all, pure and simple. This is love's way of working an irreversible change, tearing up by the roots every stinking shrub and planting in its place that true hope, that nothing in the Heavens above nor the earth beneath can obstruct. Love, which is God. The love which changed Saul of Tarsus, its most zealous persecutor, the cruel destroyer, into its most devoted and humble servant, filled with compassion, faithful to it unto death, a symbol for every true believer, for every true belief, that nothing can overcome. Both Simon the fisherman, known as Peter, and Saul of Tarsus, the ardent Pharisee, known as Paul, were endowed with the gift of love, to know it and to attain it and to be transformed into an inseparable part of it - because they had aspired to it always, because they were its chosen ones. Of love they were born and came into the world, to it they aspired and it they attained and by it they were gathered in.
HIS EXPLICIT NAME
It was John, the young man whose face shone with the light of truth, of freedom and of love, who revealed to the world that the explicit name of God, who was clothed in flesh and descended to the earth to share the torments of the tormented and to bestow upon them His absolute salvation, is love.
John knew that which God revealed to the one who was worthy, by His grace, to be awakened and to know himself an inseparable part of Him. He knew who God was, and he recorded this in explicit words, in language acceptable to all: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John, I, 1). Flesh and blood has never succeeded to this very day in understanding his precise meaning. John the Divine dared to record in words that which words can never encompass.
Human beings are confused and perplexed, and many, too many, are stirring the pot and juggling with words, devising interpretations, turning back on themselves and returning to their point of departure. They are incapable of touching that which is beyond the reach of flesh and blood. They are incapable of attaining the tiniest particle of the truth, for as long as they are not the truth. And since the message of John, God's chosen disciple, was not understood, John recorded it in language acceptable to all, and it is a reflection of the truth, an allusion to the truth, but is not in itself the truth: "God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God dwells in him" (First Epistle of John, IV, 16), and furthermore: "There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear" (ibid., IV, 18). There is no place for cowards in the community of the faithful. And furthermore: "He who is born of God overcomes the world" (ibid., V, 4). The very finest of human language, opening the door to the truth, that is beyond words.
WORTHY OF FREEDOM
And there was also the aristocratic young man, fresh-faced and handsome, who ran after Him through the fields, and even the thorns that scratched his legs and tore his cloak could not deter him. And he caught up with Him, and fell at His feet and prostrated himself on the ground and begged Him to show him the way to His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
And the Master stopped, and all His companions with Him. And He answered the young man, in a casual fashion: "Keep the Commandments!"
But the other was not satisfied, and persisted in his questioning. He asked: "What are they?"
And the answer came swiftly:
"Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honour your father and your mother, and love your neighbour as yourself!"
The young man hastened to reply:
"These commandments I have kept since my boyhood. What else must I do?"
And God turned to the questioner, assessed him with a penetrating gaze, as if reading his innermost thoughts, and answered him in a tone of voice intended to show him that there was still one last hope:
"Sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor, and follow me!"
The youth was silent and remained on his knees, his fine head slumped forward on his breast, staring, grief-stricken, at the clods of dust at his feet. For he was a very wealthy young man.
And God turned from him and went His way, leaving the young man behind.
To the questioning of his followers He replied: "Truly, I tell you it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God" (Luke, XVIII, 25). Seeing the astonishment expressed in the faces of his questioners, He seeks to clarify: "Rich, meaning - trusting in one's might". This clarification too does not suffice for them, but He does not add to it. On another occasion He declares to them: "He who does not leave fields and home and sons and daughters and wife and parents and brothers and sisters, and follow me, is not worthy of me." He who does not sever the ties of this world is not worthy of freedom, love, life everlasting.
Women also accompanied Him: "Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others" (Luke, VIII, 3). "Many others" - women from all levels of society. And He did not reject them.
Although He did not speak of the respect due to woman, He respected women and they followed Him.
He did not preach celibacy. But He warned those of weak mind and of censorious disposition that they should not approach woman. Not every man is destined to take a wife; nor is every man destined to shun marriage.
If God is within you, you may marry a wife. If God is within you, you may be celibate. If God is not within you, woman will not bring you closer to Him, nor will celibacy guide you to His safe haven.
The more you love the woman and the more she loves you, the more you respect the woman and she respects you, so will lessen the need for carnal indulgence. Perfect love draws out from servitude into freedom and from darkness into great light; it is the absolute opposite of carnal indulgence. "At the resurrection of the dead they will neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Matthew, XXII, 30).
Truly, only he who does not enslave himself to wife, parents, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and is not dependent on them in any way and follows Him - only he is worthy to know Him; he will be acquainted with the God who is love and will be, when his time comes, an inseparable part of Him (Luke, XIV, 26).
And there was also Mary Magdalene. She followed Him wherever He went, and did not depart from Him, and she was with Him at the foot of the Cross after the Crucifixion.
Among the Pharisees whose curiosity was aroused by His words, there was also Simon, nicknamed "the Leper" and he heard Him say: "There is no man born of woman that is greater than John the Baptist, and yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke, VII, 28). And because he had known and respected John the Baptist, and reckoned him a saint, he wondered and was perplexed at these words, "and he turned to Him and invited Him to dine at his house.
"And He came to the house of the Pharisee and sat down to dine, and there was a certain woman in the city who was a sinner, and when she heard He was a guest in the Pharisee's house, she brought a jar of oil of myrrh", and kneeling behind Him, "she wept and with her tears she washed His feet, and dried them with her hair and anointed them with the oil of myrrh. And the host saw and said to himself, if this man were a prophet then he would surely know who this woman is and what sort of woman is touching him, for she is a sinner."
And God turned to him and said to him: "Simon, I have something to say to you!"
And he said:
"There were two men in debt to a creditor. One owed him five hundred dinars and the other fifty. And when they were unable to pay him, he absolved them both of their debts. Now tell me, which of the two will love him more?"
And Simon replied:
"He who owed the greater debt."
And He said to him:
"You have judged correctly" - and turning to the woman kneeling behind His seat, He furthermore said to Simon:
"Do you see this woman? I came to your house and you gave me no water to wash my feet but she has washed my feet with tears and dried them with her hair: you gave me no kiss and since I came here she has not ceased to kiss my feet; you did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with oil of myrrh. Therefore I say to you, her many sins are forgiven her, for she has greatly loved, whereas the one who is forgiven little, has little love to give." And He said to the woman - "your sins are forgiven!" And the other guests were much perturbed, asking themselves: "Who is this who forgives sins?" And He made no reply, but instead turned again to the woman and concluded His speech, saying:
"Your faith has saved you, go in peace!" (Luke, VII, 36-50).
But she did not go and was never again separated from Him, and cleaved to Him for all time. "She greatly loved" and she earned the grace that was bestowed upon her in unstinting plenty. Her faith saved her.
"Who can forgive sin?" the other diners wondered in their hearts, and they dared not answer the question. For He who could forgive sin, wipe away every stain, was among them, sitting with them. God incarnate. The God of love. They feared Him, because He was alien to them. Because they had never loved. And what they had witnessed amazed them.
Martha, the sister of Mary Magdalene, an upright and diligent woman, managing her household and giving hospitality to the poor and the oppressed, invited Him too to her house, with all His companions, and served them dutifully, setting before them a banquet fit for a king, from which nothing was lacking.
Her sister, Mary, sat all the while at His feet, and would not budge from Him, detached utterly from the tumult around her, silent, her eyes never satisfied with looking at Him, her ears thirstily quaffing every word that emerged from His lips. She did not taste the food, or the fine liquor.
And the weary Martha approached the Lord, and turning to Him she said, protesting: "Does my Lord see that my sister has left me to serve alone all this mighty congregation? Let my Lord speak with her, bid her assist me!"
And God replied:
"Martha! Martha! You are busy and concerned about many things. But only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen it, the good part that shall never be taken from her!" (Luke, X, 38-42).
He was kind, and His spirit knew the excited heart of His acolyte, who sacrificed everything for that one and only "thing", "the good part that shall never be taken from her", this "good part" being nothing other than He, Himself.
The mission came to its final conclusion. The tormented mortal body, in which it was God's pleasure to dwell, was brought down from the Cross. A man of noble spirit and generous heart, Joseph of Arimathea, took it reverently, wrapped it in a clean shroud, and buried it in a tomb that he had intended for himself. A wealthy man was Joseph of Arimathea, but his wealth did not corrupt his soul, did not impugn the purity of his faith. And great as were his worldly riches, his spirit was richer still.
Because Sabbath was approaching, the body was hidden in haste in that spacious tomb, sealed with a stone. And the women who had accompanied Him returned to their homes and mixed unguents, to return to the tomb when the Sabbath had passed and to anoint the body, as was customary.
But when the dawn arose, Mary Magdalene was the first of the women to run to the tomb. She found no body there, only the shroud laid in a corner. Two radiant angels stood to right and left of the door and gave Mary solemn tidings: that God was not to be sought in the tomb, that He would return, living, and would be revealed to them as He had promised. His disciples and the other women who ran after Mary and arrived after her, were alarmed by the pure radiance of the angels, the dazzling light of their faces. Mary Magdalene paid no heed to this. She was seeking her Lord and her God and she wept bitter tears "and the angels asked her, woman why do you weep? And she replied: Because they have taken away my Lord" (John, XX, 13).
Mary's plea was answered. He appeared before her, and her grief and resentment were changed at once into irrepressible joy. She ran to Him, but He stopped her. She must not touch Him now. These were His words, as recorded by a reliable witness, His chosen disciple, in the twentieth chapter, verses 14-17 of his Gospel. The day is surely coming, and it is not faraway, when she will be with Him. For all eternity. An inseparable part of Him, of His all-conquering love, which nothing can withstand.
And there was also Zacchaeus son of Zacchaeus (Luke, XIX, 2-9), a tax collector, known as "the little man", who invited Him to his home, and He went with him and dined at his table. "The Rhyme of His Encounter with Zacchaeus Ben Zacchaeus" tells of him:
Small he was of stature,
And jostled by the horde,
So he climbed a sycamore tree,
Desiring to see the Lord.
Scarcely has he looked,
When much to his surprise -
Staring back at him,
Are the Lord's all-gleaming eyes.
"Zacchaeus Ben Zacchaeus,
Come down and come to me!"
"I cannot Lord, I cannot,
Poor sinner that I be!
As mean I am of stature,
So all my deeds are mean,
Enough for me is the glory,
That today my eyes have seen!
Enough that I have known you,
If only from afar,
Enough is the sound of your limpid voice,
Where joy and freedom are!"
The procession now had halted,
For He Himself stood still,
The earth was hushed, all flesh was hushed,
To hear the Master's will.
"Zacchaeus Ben Zacchaeus.
Today I your guest shall be!
Zacchaeus" He commanded,
"Come down and speak with me!
Though your stature be not great enough,
To reach up to the sky,
This day have your deeds exalted you,
To the light that shines on high!"
Zacchaeus then descended,
And silent he bowed there,
As a cooling breeze from the westward,
Ruffled his greying hair.
Many who stood by Him,
Were dazzled by the light,
As Zacchaeus Ben Zacchaeus,
Seemed to grow and grow in height...
In Jericho He met that blind beggar (Luke, XVIII, 35-43) who entreated Him earnestly to open his eyes:
Jesus the Anointed,
Set out upon His way,
And He came to the gates of Jericho,
In the noon-time of the day.
Blind men there surrounded Him,
In a mighty, heaving throng,
And among them there was one,
Who to see did dearly long.
"Son of David" he cried,
"Have mercy on me!
I can no longer bear the darkness,
Open my eyes, that I may see!"
Jesus the Anointed,
Before the man did stand,
And on the beggar's sightless eyes,
He laid His healing hand.
Like a sudden flash of lightning,
That pierces the sky,
The blind man looked, and lo, behold -
Beheld the face of the Most High.
"Son of David!" cried the beggar,
As his voice with awe did quake,
"All my life I have dreamed only,
Now at last I am awake!"
Jesus the Anointed,
Then on His way did go,
As a gentle, balmy evening,
Came down on Jericho.
In the crowds about the city walls,
Some were glad with mirth and glee,
But of those who in their hearts were blind,
Not one desired to see.
ALL FAMILIES AND PEOPLES AND TONGUES
God clothed Himself in flesh and descended among those clothed in flesh, and He bore their suffering, and knew their affliction and the bitterness of their pain, as theirs so was His, and He showed them a way, in the midst of the flesh, to leave behind the shackles of their grief and be released from the poisonous thrall of their dark desires and their fatal passions, entering the realm of His hope and His love. And this way, that God devised for man, of escape from the burden of the flesh and the gloom of death, was nothing other than He Himself. And they spurned Him and rushed headlong into the darkness, preferring carnal delights and wealth and dominion and enslaving themselves to death. They rated life of the flesh above life of the spirit, life of the hour above everlasting life. And God they abused, outlawed, tormented and crucified, in the unspoken hope that He would disappear forever and never again disturb them with His tidings, never again preach in their ears words of devastating power such as "freedom", "truth", "love" and "eternal life". For these were the things most alien to them of all; they did not believe in them and more than this, they recoiled from them and feared them. Because they knew there was no substitute for them, and they were the last hope, their one and their only hope, which was lost.
He did what He had undertaken to do: He offered them His salvation. He called Himself "Jesus", meaning "salvation" - the same salvation that they claimed to be yearning for at all times, morning and evening, and from which they were not to be deflected; they would know neither peace nor rest until they attained it. Yet when He offered it to them on a silver tray, they spurned it. And their anger was kindled against Him, they outlawed Him and rejected Him, denied His very existence and derided His message, His way, His salvation. For His was not the salvation that they desired, although they declared that this was their sole aspiration; what they really sought was nothing other than self-glorification. And as they, so were all families and peoples and tongues, nations and principalities. Then and to this very day. Then and for all eternity.
They despised Him. The God who is love.
They hated and reviled Him, reckoned themselves insulted by Him and accused Him of wounding them sorely. They tried to contradict His message, to prove Him nothing other than a deceiver, leading mortals astray. And they called to witness against Him their Holy Scriptures and their outstanding erudition and their reputations and the renown that they had acquired. And they could not prevail against Him.
He drew a quotation from these sacred texts and set it before them: "The stone that the builders rejected, is become the corner-stone" (Psalm CXVIII, 22). And they knew His meaning and the truth that was not to be gainsaid, that He was the one and the only foundation of all hope, that they were the ones rejecting Him. And their fury was ignited, but they held their tongues. For they could find no answer to give Him. For He had sealed their mouths with their own weapons, with their Holy Scriptures in which they took such pride. For He was love. And truth.
"The stone that the builders rejected, is become the corner-stone".
TOWARDS THE END
The end was approaching. The apposite quotation, uttered by the contorted lips of God, tormented at the hands of man, before He was released from His flesh.
And this is the one and the only quotation which has been incorrectly interpreted and entirely misunderstood, from that time until this very day. This quotation had no purpose other than to foretell, with wondrous and painful clarity, the future in store for His persecutors, His tormentors and His crucifiers, and for those who would rise up in their turn to persecute them with fire and with fury, for His sake or not for His sake. A future extending over two thousand years.
WHOSE IMAGE IS INSCRIBED HERE?
The die is cast. All those in authority, men of status and of power, priests and leaders of sects, the wealthy and the mighty, set out to make war on Him, on God incarnate who has become man, the God of love. A fight to the death. A holy war. Enough of bandying words, of controversies well-intentioned or ill-intentioned. In all these things, without exception, that man has emerged the victor.
Before the resort to frontal attack, other tactics are explored. Such as that deceptively innocent question, put to Him by agents in disguise:
"Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or no?"
If He answers "No" - He will declare Himself a rebel against the state, for which the penalty is death. If He endorses the tax - He will be subject to the fury of the masses, who have seen Him as a sorcerer-king who will bring to an end their foreign domination, and they will slay Him here and now.
With pleasurable anticipation the informers, disguised as simple passers-by, wait for His answer. Can He extricate Himself from the trap that they have set for Him?
He responds to the challenge and without hesitation He commands:
"Show me a coin!"
And when this is brought to Him He asks, with no change in His tone of voice, in the same blend of courtesy and resolution:
"Whose image is inscribed here?"
The disguised informers, who are reckoned more cunning than snakes and are incomparably skilled in foreseeing the end of a thing from the beginning, reply with incredulous anger and impatience, with obvious contempt for this foolish and ignorant fellow who does not even recognise the image inscribed on the coin:
"It is Caesar's!"
And the conclusive answer descends upon them, like a forest ablaze, like thunder on a clear day:
"Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Luke, XX, 25).
The informers stand there paralysed, struck dumb by shame and utter helplessness, by fear and hatred. It may be that the eyes of someone among them are opened, and he abandons the masters who have sent him and follows Him.
Intimidation had not succeeded and had born no fruit. The hired ruffians, sent to give Him a taste of their might and to "teach him a lesson", were at a loss when they confronted Him; unsure of themselves they withdrew and returned the way they had come, without doing Him any harm.
Until that time - no one was found who would raise his hand against Him. Nothing was left but to put an end to all this as quickly as possible. A tangible, physical end. An end to His life in the flesh.
This was a war of survival, the holiest kind of war according to the concept adopted by members of the human race, in their aversion towards the Kingdom of God and their departure from it, in their choosing in preference to it the kingdom of Cain and of the one who stood behind him.
It was He, God or - they.
And He, the God of love, was on their side. And they, for the first time and, as it proved to be, the last time since they knew Him, were in agreement with Him, absolute agreement: it was to be they. Not He.
This capitulation on the part of the God of love has been viewed from different angles by various scholars, including eminent and respected philosophers, men of wide reputation and renown, champions in the wars of pen and paper and honoured veterans of many a learned controversy.
Rene Guenon (1886-1951), a Frenchman, shook himself free from the God of love, from His way and from His teaching, insisting that this way was "spineless" and "sentimental". And since he was born into it and had been dedicated to it, he changed his religion and instead of love took up the curved scimitar of Muhammad.
The German G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), opined, in wondrously lofty and unequivocal language, that the God of love is a pitiable creature. And he did not change his religion.
His compatriot Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), accused the God of love of hypocrisy and dissimulation, and saw behind his love the "will-to-power". His creation and alter ego, Zarathustra, who is at pains to demonstrate a blood-thirsty and exclusive individualism, consumed by belligerent passion, makes his throat hoarse with the constant and repeated bellow "God is dead!". The God of Zarathustra is dead indeed.
And there were, still are and doubtless always will be, spiritual teachers of various kinds, who claim with great fervour that they are He, that they are the reincarnation in flesh of God upon the earth. Of them He saw fit to warn explicitly: "Beware lest you be led astray by any man, for many will come in my name saying 'I am He, the Messiah', and many will be deceived" (Matthew, XXIV, 4-5).
Every man, when he awakens to faith and puts his absolute trust in God, will have the light of God in his heart; every man, who awakens to know himself an inseparable part of Him, will be illumined by His light, but no one was crucified in His stead and no one was He in the flesh. The one who claimed on his death-bed, that in his time he had been crucified one day and now is being crucified every day, unless he speaks allegorically, is misled and misleading, consciously or unconsciously.
The noose grows ever tighter. God incarnate who has become man, God the all-powerful, He, His way and the words of His message, are expelled from the protection of the law and driven, by force of circumstances, underground. He and all His disciples are outcast, banished, persecuted. As it was then, so it is today.
"Do not commit adultery" commands the God of love, and sees fit to expand and to stress - not only in word and deed but also and especially, in the heart. You shall not commit adultery, even in your heart.
Love your bitterest enemies and do not hate those that hate you, not even in thought.
"He who loves riches hates God, and he who loves God, hates riches" (Matthew, VI, 24; Luke, XVI, 13). "And whosoever seeks to strive with you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also; and if anyone compels you to go a mile with him, go with him two" (Matthew, V, 40-42).
Who can testify of himself that he has upheld these commandments, in spirit and in letter, in all respects, that he has cleaved to them always and at all times, with all his heart and might, and acted according to them? He it was who declared: "If a man keep My commandments he shall not see death ever" (John, VIII, 51). Nothing could be plainer, nothing simpler: he who desires to escape from death while he is still in the flesh - "shall keep His commandments".
Thousands and millions of people bow down before Him every day, revere His image, turn to Him with fervent prayers - and they are as far from Him as East is from West. There is no place in their hearts for His truth. Thousands and millions of people are committed to Him, yet they do not uphold His commandments and do not know Him, even in His wearing of flesh and His walking among them. They do not know Him and once again they proscribe Him, persecute Him, torment and murder Him.
The minions of the High Priests are commanded to find "this instigator", to put Him in chains and bring Him before them.
The voice of "this instigator" is a voice raised high, and five thousand people are listening to Him, their hearts unsettled by His words, and He dissembles to no man, is afraid of no man; the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the great scholars of the Torah, bearers of authority and men of power - the central pillars of society - he dubs: "hypocrites" and "offspring of vipers". This "spineless sentimentalist" enters the Temple like a raging tempest, turning over the money-lenders' tables, brandishing whips, driving out the traders and commanding in a voice of thunder: "Go from this place, evil-doers!" They retreat before this swollen river that sweeps away everything in its path, everything that seeks to obstruct it. "You have made my house a den of thieves!" (Matthew, XXI, 13; Luke, XIX, 46).
It is the task of the heroic acolytes of the High Priests to track down "this instigator", to expose His hiding-place, arrest Him and bring Him speedily and at any price before their masters. And they set out, in haste, into the winding alleys of the city. But as it proves to be, they do not need much time, or clever strategems, to find their quarry. He is standing, in full view of all, without fear, in the very heart of the capital, at the foot of the Temple Mount, and there He preaches His message. And the crowd, surrounding Him on all sides, listening to Him in strange and uneasy silence, like one waking from a nightmare and fearing lest he be gripped again by the same dream.
Quickly, and unnoticed, the envoys of the priests join the listening crowd, and lose all sense of time. Their mission is forgotten.
In the evening, the minions return to their masters, empty-handed. The furious priests rage at them with curses and abuse. How is it, they demand to know, that they have not tracked down this vile fellow and not exposed his hiding-place? How has this
man, this wretched preacher, who defies them and all authority - slipped from their grasp?
The answer is unequivocal: he did not elude us. He did not deceive us. We found him. We discovered him. And we did not approach him, did not arrest him, did not bring him with us.
Why? - the High Priests wonder and a distant, but tangible dread, whispering dark forebodings for themselves and for their children in generations to come, steals into their hearts. Their voices get hoarse. They do everything in their power to conquer this dread and to block it, suppress it while there is still time, stifle it while it is still in the bud. And again they rail at their minions: how is it, they demand to know, you found his hiding-place, heard his voice and yet did not arrest him, did not put him in manacles and drag him here and cast him down at our feet, as you have done with every criminal and troublemaker, thief and liar, deceiver of the people. What has that man done to your minds, what is happening to you? - The voices of the priests are steadier now, though their eyes flash poisonous flames of fear and hatred.
These coarse and heavy-handed ruffians, armed from head to foot and accustomed to imposing their will upon all, notorious brutes that they are, reply to their employers with a kind of strange and shameless innocence: "No man ever spoke as this man!" (John, VII, 46). And the response is not slow in coming: "Fools that you are! What do you know of the Torah and the Holy Scriptures? Nothing! This instigator has corrupted you as well, he has laid a trap for your feet!" But the brutish minions insist: "Never did a man speak as he!" - their voices soft and timid and their eyes, the eyes of dreamers.
Indeed, before the men of power and status, before the High Priests and celebrated scholars, yawns a deep chasm of abandonment of hope, of blinding hate and lack of faith. Will the priests stop themselves in time, can they stop themselves? Will they see what lies before them and retreat before it is too late?
For them, so it seems, there exists only one assignment and there is no other - to lay their hands on this dangerous subversive, who is incomparably stubborn and determined, reproving them openly, morning and evening, without fear, castigating tirelessly, and undermining their authority. And to wipe him from the face of the earth. Preferably an hour ago.
He was betrayed and arrested. All this with His full knowledge and by His free consent. He it was who commanded the betrayer: "What you are to do, do quickly" (John, XIII, 27). What was this particular man required to do? Who laid this obligation upon him?
He had twelve chosen disciples, one of them a traitor. From a mathematical perspective, this figure reflects no discredit on the remainder. Eleven out of twelve; in terms of the chronicles of the human race, such a proportion could be seen as an achievement. In the desert all the people railed against Moses, with the exception of Joshua Ben Nun and Caleb Ben Jephunneh: two out of six hundred thousand. Cain murders Abel, his brother: one out of two. Eve falls from grace and drags Adam down with her: nought out of two.
His eleven remaining disciples were faithful to Him. Each in his own way. The oldest of the disciples, who vowed and swore he would never deny Him, even at the cost of his life, did so in spite of himself and his solemn vow, his earnest promise, and he wept bitterly afterwards. Two others, brothers evidently, disputed with each other over which of them was the greater, and their mother went even further, demanding of Him directly that when the time should come for the establishment of His kingdom, her sons would be seated to His right and His left. This was an appeal to which He would not consent. His beloved disciple, the youngest of them all, handsome, profound in wisdom and in sensitivity, fled from those who seized his Master, leaving in their hands the blanket in which he had wrapped himself. Of the others, the Gospels reveal few details. But one and all, all eleven, to the last among them, were steadfast and courageous in their adherence to Him and - after His death - they sanctified Him in their lives and in their own deaths, preceded as they were by sore torments and malicious intrigue. For He loved them and He was love itself, and they yearned for Him earnestly and rejected everything that was not He, and desired nothing other than Him, even before His coming into the world and His manifestation in flesh, even before the world was created and came into existence. They were His, and He theirs. And likewise, His mother in the flesh and those women who accompanied Him, who by His grace and His power, the power of love, were purged forever of all the demons that had oppressed them. And they became pure in body, sanctified in heart and steadfast in spirit, setting an example for the world, then and for all time.
Judas Iscariot, the most wretched of human creatures, hears the command from the lips of his Master: "What you are to do, do quickly!" (John, XIII, 27), and for a moment he is speechless. He is stunned. It had seemed to him, that what he was enjoined to do was his private, well-guarded secret, that no one but himself and those with whom he had spoken had the merest inkling of it. Least of all this man, who proclaims the word of the God of love, of whose teaching he, Judas Iscariot, pretended to be the most eager recipient. In his heart, Judas Iscariot always acknowledged the talents and the exceptional qualities of this peculiar man; he had even supposed that one day he might take the reins of power into his hands, and then he would remember his disciple - loyal and industrious, vigorous and alert - and appoint him a minister in his government.
Judas Iscariot, soon to lay an unbearably heavy stain on the entire human race in general, and on anyone named "Judas" or called "Jewish" in particular, quickly regains his composure.
Without saying a word, without even an affectation of innocence, without addressing the inevitable question, what the Master meant and why he turned to him - Judas Iscariot leaves the room, the secret location, of the Last Supper. Outside, so the Holy Scriptures tell us, the night was dark.
Excited, perturbed, and unlike the man who just now has left them forever, the other diners turn to their Master and ask Him about His strange appeal to him, eager to know what it is that Judas Iscariot is enjoined "to do" and to "do quickly". Are they not worthy to share his secret, and who was it who commanded this deed?
Indeed, they merit a concise answer: it has been enjoined upon him to betray Him, and the one who enjoined this upon the wretched Judas Iscariot is none other than the Devil. Judas Iscariot did not have the strength of mind to resist the Devil and to oppose him as he should, to prevail over him and subdue him, because he was always inclined towards him and the doors of his heart were open to him, and he was he. Just as the doors of the hearts of the others are open to Him, the God of love, and they will be, in the fullness of time, He. And the world cannot prevail against them for they are born of God, and "He that is born of God - overcomes the world" (First Epistle of John, V, 4).
And there is uproar. Is it not possible to elude Judas Iscariot and those that sent him, to leave this place at once and continue the work?..
No. This is not what He wants. This is the time that He has determined for Himself and the hour is approaching; this is the obligation that He has imposed upon Himself and He must uphold it. And the work will not cease, they will continue it after Him, and He will be with them everywhere, at all times and forever, though not in the flesh.
More commotion, followed by tension and confusion, and great unease. And what are they to do? - they demand to know, adding hastily - let Him teach them while is yet time!
He smiles. Three years they have been together and He has never ceased teaching them what is to be done, day and night He has taught them, and now are they turning to Him and asking Him what they are to do? Have His words fallen on deaf ears? Have His deeds been witnessed by men blind from birth? And the tension, the confusion and the petulant demands give way to shame. All heads are lowered, moist eyes staring at the floor.
He asks to be brought a bowl of water and a towel, and when these are given to Him, He declares to them that now He will show them the essence of His teaching, and in the shortest and most tangible way. If they will be true to what He teaches them and adhere to it without deviation all the days of their lives in the flesh - the work will prosper in their hands.
And saying no more God kneels before each one of His disciples, who are stunned with amazement, struck dumb by the sight, and He washes their feet.
The fiery-tempered Simon Peter protests in his typically impetuous manner and struggles to express his objections. Simon Peter, always swept along by his emotions, who saw his Master walking on the water, and in a surge of human excitement, which he could not control, bade Him call to him so that he too, likewise, might walk on the water. And the Master consents and calls to him, and Simon Peter leaves the safe haven of the boat and steps out among the treacherous, eddying waves, one pace and then another... and suddenly he becomes aware of the absurd predicament in which he finds himself, and his faith dissolves as if it had never been, and he sinks deep into the water. And he calls to his Master to save him. And his Master comes to draw him out from the abyss of doubt which is deeper than all the waters in the world, doubt that is so human, and He chides him gently: "How little is your faith, how fickle your heart!" (Matthew XIV, 31). And Simon Peter has no answer to give Him. Grief clouds his babyish eyes, acute grief that in time will be transformed into irrepressible joy.
The emotional Simon Peter vehemently opposes the very notion that his revered Master, his Lord and his God, should degrade Himself by washing his feet; "You shall never wash my feet!" (John, XIII, 8). To which God replies: "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me" (ibid.) Simon Peter, who for all his bluster is a man of tender and generous heart, repents at once of his refusal and beseeches: "Not only my feet but also my hands and my head" (John, XIII, 9). And the Master's smile lights up His face and the faces of His disciples and shines brightly in the void of the supper-room. "You have no need of that, for you are wholly pure" (John, XIII, 10).
He washed the feet of His disciples like a submissive slave. And thus He taught them in the most perfect, most tangible way, the very essence of His teaching, the quality of His way. Abase yourselves before one another. Be humble. Be meek. Be sincere. There is no place for conceit in the service of God.
God became flesh and descended among men to lead them to the truth, serving them as a living example. The relationship between God and man is as that between a loving father and a dutiful son. "Is there a man among you" - God inquires - "who when asked by his son for bread will give him a stone? If he asks for a fish, will you give him a snake? If sinners such as you give good things to your children, will not your Father in Heaven give good things to those who pray to Him?" (Matthew, VII, 9-11).
On at least three occasions there is dialogue between God the Father and God the Son who, according to the explicit words of God, are one (John, XIV, 9-11). At least three times Heaven responds and the voice descends from on high, resounding in the ears of those who accompany God incarnate, proclaiming with clarity that leaves no room for doubt: "This is my beloved Son, who pleases me well" (Matthew, III, 17; Luke, III, 22); "This is my beloved Son, obey his commandments" (Luke, IX, 35; Mark IX, 7), and "I have glorified (my name) and shall glorify it again" (John, XII, 28).
In Gethsemane, a few moments before his delivery into the hands of his executioners, God teaches His companions the way they should turn to Him. His well-known prayer is composed of two parts:
a) Departure from arrogance, utter humility, the appeal to God to have mercy upon Him in His fleshly afflictions; in grace and in love to pity Him and to ease His way: "If it be possible, may this cup pass from me" (Matthew, XXVI, 39).
b) Absolute submission of the one who prays to the holy will of God, and acceptance of all that God commands - even if it is contrary to his personal will - with gratitude, gladness, blessing and love: "Not my will, but yours" (ibid).
The Gethsemane prayer is a condensed version of a previous prayer, given to the disciples in response to their explicit demand and handed down to subsequent generations, to serve all for as long as they are in the flesh:
(i) "Our Father in Heaven, sanctified be your name" - dedicate to God every thought, word and deed and let there be nothing in the world that will distract your mind from Him, even for an instant, at all times and always, in all circumstances, everywhere.
(ii) "May your kingdom come" - if your way is successful and you have sanctified His name in thought, word and deed, and there is nothing in the world that will distract your mind from Him, at all times and always, in all circumstances, everywhere, His "kingdom" shall light up your heart and you shall awaken, by His grace, to see and to know yourself as an inseparable part of Him, while you are still here, in the flesh.
(iii) "Your will be done, on earth as in Heaven" - and you will be worthy to know His will at all times and always, in all circumstances, and to do it with joy and with love, and you shall bring "earth" closer to "Heaven" the one yearning for salvation closer to his salvation.
(iv) "Give us this day our daily bread" - and you shall earn, all the time you are in the flesh, His perpetual guidance which is "your daily bread".
(v) "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" - do as He does, the God of love, and forgive your debtors, and you shall be a living example to every man of goodness and humility who yearns for Him with all his heart and might, and you will be a help to him in his journey to God.
(vi) "Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil" - and you will finally erase from your heart every last trace of pride and conceit and serve the Lord your God in joy and humility and trust in Him and not in your might, despite your awakening to see and know yourself an inseparable part of Him, and you shall seek His aid in holiness, knowing that everything that befalls you comes from Him and is nothing but good.
This concluding phrase is tangibly expressed in the first part of the Gethsemane prayer: "If it be possible, may this cup pass from me". The second part of the Gethsemane prayer arises from section (iii) of the fundamental prayer: "Your will be done" - but with emphasis and with absolute negation of the self - "Not my will, but yours".
The two prayers which are, in fact, two sides of the same prayer, are distinguished by a single shining quality, which turns every appeal to God into a true prayer that will surely be answered: total absence of complaint - in heart, word and deed; this is the unmistakable mark of true humility.
He who has attained true humility is worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, for it he has been called and chosen, he belongs to it and it belongs to him, it is in him and he in it, as it is written: "The Kingdom of God is in your midst" (Luke, XVII, 21), from all time and to eternity, Amen.
A SWORD UNSHEATHED
Judas Iscariot delivers Him into the hands of the Roman legionaries and the High Priests' minions in a grotesque manner, the least expected of all, a manner simultaneously provoking wonder, revulsion and pity, a manner to make body and spirit shudder: by means of a kiss. He tells the soldiers and the priestly acolytes: "The man that I shall kiss is the one you seek! And at once he drew near to Jesus and said to Him: Greetings Master, and he kissed Him" (Matthew, XXVI, 48-49).
Simon Peter reacts in typically impetuous style, drawing his sword and with one blow hacking off the ear of one of the minions, just as the man lays a heavy hand on the shoulder of his Lord. The Lord turns to him at once and commands him solemnly: "Put away your sword!" - adding - "For all who take up the sword shall perish by the sword!" (Matthew, XXVI, 52).
The whole essence of His teaching in one sentence.
Judas Iscariot repents of his deed and gives back to the priests the thirty silver pieces, the price of betrayal. "I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood" he cries in bitter despair - "and he threw down the money in the Temple" (Matthew, XXVII, 4-5). And the priests refuse to touch the money: "It is the price of blood!" they declare, and they resolve that it must be given to charity (Matthew, XXVII, 6-7). So in his last moments Judas Iscariot repents and endeavours to sever the shackles of Satan, but so it turns out, it is too late and he is unsuccessful. The Devil's final act is to induce him to take his life - "and he went away and hanged himself" (Matthew, XXVII, 5).
A survivor of the Auschwitz extermination camp has this story to tell:
I was sent to the camp before I was seventeen years old. I was not in a particularly serene state of mind. I asked myself many questions, and found no answers to them. Not to a single one of them. Perhaps, at the end of the day I did not want answers to my questions. Perhaps, I was afraid of them.
I was, and I remain, the scion of an ancient race that has been cruelly persecuted for more than nineteen hundred years, for no reason that I could ever perceive.
For the first time in my life I witnessed sadistic torture and summary executions, all for the most ludicrous of misdemeanours. A youth of my own age, who was walking in all innocence through the camp and politely saluted the German soldier who confronted him - at the insistence of that soldier, was sentenced to death by hanging for the offence of walking upright.
The youth was my neighbour in the barrack-hut, or rather, he slept on the rotted wooden slats of the bunk opposite mine. He had been in the camp longer than I, was more experienced, and yet he was careless and paid with his young life for the hurt pride of an obese and inarticulate SS trooper, a man obviously devoid of the sensitivity which turns the two-legged beast into a human being. Confronted by this and similar incidents, I resolved not to deliver my life to the hangman without exacting some price, however futile it might be. Even a scratch to the face with a fingernail would be worthwhile.
In place of Saul, the youth who was hanged for the offence of walking upright, an older prisoner was brought into the hut. To my astonishment - he was a monk. Later I discovered that he was a member of my race, who changed his religion. According to the rumour, his conversion took place years before the passing of the racial laws which placed our people in jeopardy.
Before long, Brother Anastasius was providing an easy and remarkably convenient target for all the resentment that had accumulated in my heart against mankind and the world, all those who trampled on my dignity and the dignity of my people with such malicious delight, declaring my life and the lives of my kinsmen worthless. I hated him with a blinding hatred of which I had never imagined myself capable. With all my heart and soul I longed to see him tortured by German soldiers and dying in agony. To most of my questions he furnished an unspoken and unexpected answer, bizarre and yet entirely satisfactory: because of him I was tormented and persecuted, depending for my life or death on the whim of heartless human monsters.
A middle-aged man, found to have a stolen onion concealed under his cap, was handcuffed to the electric fence. Hours after he was dead, his emaciated frame was still twitching on the wire. Anastasius, I decided, he and no other, was the direct and sole cause of this, he was responsible for all the executions. It was he who inflicted derision and humiliation upon his own people, to say nothing of persecution and death. Look at him, the hypocrite, the traitor, sleeping opposite me and his breathing - the insolence of it! - calm and untroubled.
Sometimes I rejoiced at his plight and inwardly commended his tormentors, who treated him as they treated the others, making no distinction between him and me, despite his conversion. Brother Anastasius had no choice but to share the bitterness of my lot. His conversion, in spite of everything, did him no good. He knew it would do him no good and yet - he converted all the same. This being so, I wondered, growing ever more impatient for an answer to my question - why did he do this?
And so one day I could restrain myself no longer, and I asked him directly and with unmistakable aggression: why?
Anastasius, who could not help but be aware of my furious animosity towards him, stood facing me, looked me up and down with his serene expression, and in a marvellously modulated voice, a little slow, without a trace of hostility or fear, he answered me: "So as not to break the chain". And seeing my expression, which combined puzzlement and scorn with a crude demand for clarification, he explained: "For the past nineteen hundred years there has existed among our people a narrow strand, like an unbroken chain, of people who seek to atone for the deeds of our forefathers by changing their religion out of faith. By this means, as by others, they bring closer the salvation of our people and of the world."
His words sounded ridiculous. I laughed in his face, an abrupt and venomous laugh - if, that is, an emaciated skeleton, devoid of strength and hope and consumed by blinding hatred, is capable of producing scratching sounds that are faintly reminiscent of a human laugh.
One evening, as we all ran from the work-place to the barrack-hut, with whips and lashes to encourage us, I caught sight of a strange object on the bare ground. As if by chance, without breaking stride, I stooped and picked it up. The Capo didn't notice my unusual movement, or if he did he paid no attention to it, and the object remained in my clenched fist. It was cool to the touch, reviving my heart and quickening its pace. A penknife! Rusty, not of the finest quality, but a penknife all the same. That plan of mine, not to surrender my life to the hangman without exacting a price, was now given a solid basis. Forget scratches with fingernails, this would be something much more serious! The thought of this swelled my breast, warmed my heart, filled me with new confidence.
And then came the sober realisation. If this object were found in my possession, I would be hanged immediately. I must rid myself of it, at the earliest possible opportunity. Yesterday would not be soon enough! Picking it up had been an act of utter and fatal folly, a childish prank that would bring down on my shaven skull all the troubles in the world, including humiliating death.
In spite of this, I did not get rid of the ominous object. I found a crack in the plank by my head and tucked it in there. At night, alone with myself, I used to draw it from its hiding place and enjoy the feel of it in my cold and bony fingers. A number of searches were conducted at this time, but it wasn't found. The penknife remained in my possession, and I was safe and sound. Luck was on my side. I shall survive! - I resolved to myself with something akin to triumph, adding - if not - the one who dares lay a hand on me will pay dearly for it... if I manage to sever an artery in his throat, he will pay with his life!
But - the narrator sighed - strange are the ways of man and his thoughts are stranger still!
After a brief pause, he continued:
And so it happened, one night there was a sudden and unexpected search. Half asleep, the penknife in my clenched fist, I leapt down from my bunk as ordered, and stood to attention. My thin frame was shaking. There was not a shadow of doubt that my crime would be discovered. The search party, the burly German soldier and the short tubby Capo - would force open my clenched fist, find the penknife, and my body would be hung from a post on one of the parade grounds, in the glare of the search-lights, as an example to the other prisoners; half an hour from now, all that will be left of young Simon will be a corpse swinging gently in the autumn breeze. And then an idea flashed into my mind: a way to rid myself of the knife - and of my mortal enemy!
Without another thought, I tossed the penknife onto the bunk opposite mine, the bed of Brother Anastasius.
A strange sound, both acute and dull, shattered the brooding silence of the hut.
Like wild beasts, sensing their prey behind, the whip-bearing ruffians turned their powerful torches on us, on Brother Anastasius, on the object that had just landed on his bed.
"Is this yours?" - Anastasius was asked, as my penknife was brandished under his nose.
Without so much as the flicker of an eyelid, without a glance at me, Anastasius nodded.
And before he disappeared with his executioners he turned his head, looked at me with eyes full of compassion and said, his voice firm yet affectionate: "Do not let the chain be broken!"
These were his last words. His testament. - Again the narrator sighed, was silent for a while, his eyes, beginning to moisten, fixed on the floor.
In my heart - he continued at last - all was in turmoil. My very existence was repugnant to me. And my decision, to put an end to my life, seemed only natural. I mingled with those being led to the gassing showers. When it was my turn, the heavy door was slammed abruptly in my face; the day's quota had been met. One after the other, I committed infractions any one of which, never mind the total, should have signed my death warrant: I barged into the queue waiting for soup and spilled the rations of other prisoners. At evening parades, instead of standing like a statue, I waved my arms ostentatiously. Confronted by that inarticulate and brutal SS trooper, who had hanged my friend Saul for the crime of walking upright, I stepped out proudly, openly provoking him and making no gesture of obeisance - with the bizarre result that he himself, mechanically it seemed, his mind distracted, raised his hand in salute to me! I responded casually, like an officer condescending to acknowledge the salute of his inferior. And nothing happened. I was ignored completely, as if I did not exist or had become transparent, seeing and unseen.
At the end of the ceiling of the hut was a curved, antiquated hook, the purpose of which was not clear to me. Possibly a lantern had once been hung on it. I decided to hang myself there. From the rotten rags of my bedding, I wove a reasonably sturdy rope. Shortly after midnight, I climbed onto a low stool, used by the Capo, and tied the end of my rope to the hook. I put my head in the noose that I had fashioned at the other end. With a kick I knocked away the stool from under me. For a fraction of a second I felt, with overwhelming relief, a choking sensation in my throat. I lost consciousness and... found myself sitting on the floor. The rusty hook had been torn from its place. To my amazement and my shame, the racket made by the kicking of the stool and by my none too gentle descent had not roused any of my sleeping neighbours, nor drawn the attention of the guards outside. At all events, I perceived no movement. Disappointed, desperate to the roots of my soul, I returned to my bunk.
My heart pounded. I asked myself how I could atone for my detestable sin. And I heard the voice of Brother Anastasius: Do not let the chain be broken!. His voice and these words of his gave me the right and the strength to survive.
When I was finally liberated, I was baptised in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, I committed myself to the monastic life and my new name is none other than Anastasius - meaning "Resurrection" - the name of the monk, my kinsman, who died in my stead. So the chain still exists and is not broken. And hope is not lost that, in the words of Saint Paul, "If their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what then shall be their acceptance, if not life from the dead?". (Epistle to the Romans, XI, 15).
He was arrested and bound, and led to the court of the High Priest, where His interrogation began.
The High Priest's servant slaps His cheek. The cheek of God. And God reacts - not offering the other cheek, but demanding, in a tone of asperity, to know why and on what grounds the servant sees fit to strike Him, when His hands are tied. Were they not tied, He might have repaid His assailant with interest, in apparent contravention of the edict which He Himself ordained: "If a man strikes you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well" (Matthew, V, 39).
The correct interpretation of this divine utterance is surely as follows: do not ever hate a man even if he be your deadliest enemy, never be hurt or offended. Even if your cheek is slapped for no reason and in defiance of all norms of justice. He who takes offence displays arrogance, and confidence in his own resources; his honour is worthless. He is the one who banishes God from his presence. If you are neither hurt nor offended, if you are truly humble and there is no hatred in your heart, nor any trace of fear, then you may, as you please, turn the other cheek to your assailant, not respond or respond in any way that you deem appropriate, including physical retaliation, without your earnest devotion to God being at all impugned. God who is love. Any reaction or non-reaction on the part of the truly humble, who cleaves to God with all his heart and might, at all times and always - will bring blessing to the one who provokes it and to the whole world. For the truly humble, who cleaves to God with all his heart and might, at all times and always, who is liberated utterly from the tyranny of the "self" - such a one does not know what hatred is; he is capable of bestowing love and worthy of receiving it. He is an inseparable part of God.
The High Priest is immediately made aware of the root of the problem. He cannot silence the man. It is beyond him. Son of God or not, he cannot bend him to his will, neither by bribery nor flattery, neither through intimidation nor torture. As long as he remains alive, a threat is posed to his status, the status of the High Priest, and to the future of the entire hieratic apparatus. The essential objective, anyway, is to eliminate him. To be rid of this stubborn and fearless instigator, resolute of mind and formidable in his dignity. But it is not his prerogative to pass sentence of death on any man. The administration of his people is in the hands of foreigners, and they have a system of justice which is generally impartial, as well as scrupulously attentive to all issues, great or small. If the High Priest contrives this man's murder, then he, the High Priest, will bear the consequences. His priesthood and his status will be no protection. This is not an outcome that the High Priest relishes. Nor does he want his name to be sullied for generations to come. One option remains open, one and one only - to bring this eccentric before the tribunal of the colonial power and work there to his undoing, secure his condemnation.
He issues his instructions.
On the throne of judgment sits Pilate, representing a people widely renowned for universal conquest, the construction of bridges and sewers, the imposition of international harmony. Pilate yields nothing to the High Priest in terms of resourcefulness and cunning. The machinations of the High Priest's minions and the popular demonstrations instigated by them make no impression on him. He realises at once that the accused is innocent, and he even feels a strange, illogical unease in His presence. He suggests to the priests that He deserves compassion, this poor deluded man who claims to be a king, king of the Jews. The Roman declares categorically that he finds no fault in Him, that the man has committed no indictable offence and is innocent of wrongdoing. In this instance Pilate shows a courage of conviction that is rare in a man whose political career is precious to him, in fact the most precious thing of all. The High Priests report back to the crowds assembled in readiness outside the building. The priests are cunning and well acquainted with human weakness, and the message that they convey from the orchestrated masses places the foreign judge in a difficult dilemma, sets him a severe test: will he pass it with honour, does he even possess such honour, or will he, as they suppose, change his mind, submit and retreat?
The instigated crowds shout: "If you do not condemn him to death, you are no loyal servant of Caesar, your master, according to whose law anyone declaring himself a king is his enemy!"
A severe test indeed. It is possible that Pilate could suppress some of the harsh words spoken in the course of this public quarrel, before they reach the ears of Caesar. Some, but not all.
If he persists in his opinion that the man is blameless, his political career will collapse here and now, fade and descend into obscurity as if it had never existed. Is he to give it all up for the sake of his honour, of his intuition and above all - for the sake of justice and truth, "so that truth may come to light and justice be seen" - in accordance with the precept of the illustrious jurists of his homeland?
Pilate weighs it all. He is prepared to risk much in the interest of releasing this eccentric, this innocent whose presence he finds so unsettling.
What is included in this "much" that he is prepared to risk? Everything - except Pilate himself. He is unwilling to be harmed in any way or at any price, by any notion however true it may be, however just and exalted it may be. He is a generous and far-sighted man, reckoned a skilful diplomat, well aware of the ways to power which are open before him. Great things are foretold for the future, his future. This future he is not prepared to sacrifice. And so Pilate passes sentence. On himself.
As the trial proceeds the Roman persists, by various means, in his attempt to evade the trap that is set for him. He proposes that they take the prisoner away and do with him as they see fit. But the priests reply with the argument that he fears the most - saying it is not their prerogative to pass sentence of death on any man. They are shrewd these clerics, sharp-witted, more cunning than snakes.
Pilate turns to the crowd, over the heads of the instigators, with a somewhat complicated suggestion, calculated to sow confusion in its midst and split its ranks: he will condemn the man and at the same time pardon him, under the terms of the benevolent law which he himself promulgated, according to which in honour of their festival a prisoner of their choice may be released, no matter how serious his crime. His proposal, as expected, sows confusion and perplexity and vacillation. And while the iron is still hot, the wily Roman judge tries to steer this rabble towards choosing "Jesus", known as "Christ", over the notorious convicted killer, Barabbas. But the High Priests' minions immediately spot the ploy and they set up the cry: "Barabbas!" And the excited crowd is swept along behind them, yelling incessantly: "Barabbas! Barabbas!"
"ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN"
Pilate is weary of the whole business. Eventually he produces an edict, both subtle and evasive, designed principally to soothe his own conscience - declaring that he, personally, has no charges to lay against the prisoner, that he finds no fault in Him; if this man is to die it is by their will and not by his. The onerous sin and the heinous crime will rebound on them and not on him. And the crowd, aroused to fever-pitch and drunk with the transitory sensation of power, utters its fateful cry, declaring before the world, calling to witness all the generations that have been, that are and are yet to come, that it takes on itself and on its responsibility the sin of denunciation and murder, adding explicitly: "On us and on our children!" (Matthew, XXVII, 25) will lie the sin and the crime. The sin of killing God.
Pilate gives instructions to his underlings and they bring him a bowl of water. He washes his hands ostentatiously and declares solemnly in the presence of the crowd: "I am innocent of the blood of this good man!" (Matthew, XXVII, 24). This of course is sheer affectation. He could easily have prevented the shedding of the blood of "this good man", had he acted according to his conscience. His ambition outweighed all the unequivocal considerations of justice and silenced the limpid voice of truth.
One factor was not taken into account by the wily Roman, one factor he ignored completely - God. God who is love, God who reads the hearts of men, God the fair and impartial judge.
More than nineteen hundred years ago, these events happened. The one God, the living God, God the all-powerful, the God of love, was seized by the hands of man and led before the tribunal. And man condemned Him to death. In a staged show-trial.
"Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy, XVI, 20) it is written in the Holy Scriptures of those who accused God and demanded His slaying in the flesh and achieved what they demanded.
And after sentence was passed the ecstatic crowd rushed forward, together with the Roman legionaries, never renowned for their sensitivity, and they abused Him as they pleased. They plaited a crown of thorns for Him and put it on His head, and dressed Him in purple, with cries of "Hail, great King!" and "Your Majesty!", kneeling before Him and then rising to beat Him with sticks and whips and clenched fists, slapping His face and spitting on Him. And He stood silent and unmoving, as if stunned by profound grief, and uttered not a word, as it is written: "He did not open his mouth, He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep that before the shearers is dumb, and He did not open His mouth" (Isaiah, LIII, 7).
The way from the courthouse to the place of execution is short, so it appears, horrifically short. The shortest of ways. That which links life with death. And there is none that is longer, and never has there been a harder one. The way that traverses the meditations of the human heart and extends towards chaos, the end of it invisible to the eye. As it was then, so it is now. The way of last hope, which is finally expiring, the way of the tribulations of the human race which sat in judgment upon God and condemned Him to die: Via Dolorosa.
They loaded the cross on His back. Perhaps they also put into His hands the crude nails that were to fasten His emaciated body to it.
He did not have the strength to bear the weight of that cross.
Could He not, in a wondrous and prodigious fashion, by means of the powers which He had demonstrated so often during His sojourn among mortals, have hefted that heavy cross as though it were a feather, performing one last miracle to astonish His abusers and denigrators and even some of His own followers, thus proving His divinity in unmistakable fashion, diverting the course of history and changing the fate of the entire human race? Could He not put an end to this vile humiliation and emerge from it victorious?
He did not balance the heavy cross on His little finger. He remained steadfast in His mission. God-man. God of love. In godlike fashion He bore all the shame of mankind, the full weight of human pain and oppression and bitter misery. He did not spare Himself.
When He collapsed under the weight of the monstrous cross, His tormentors were perplexed. They failed utterly in their efforts to set Him on his feet again. Whipping was to no avail, lashes and kicks were futile.
The supervisor of the solemn procession, a corpulent centurion resplendent in his armour, proud of his shrewdness and renowned for his resourcefulness, solves the equation there and then:
So, the feeble cross-bearer has fallen, the flogging administered to him has not induced him to rise to his feet; it is as clear as daylight, and confirmed by simple military logic, that he is not going to rise; after all, he has nothing to lose in failing to obey the whip and the lash, death by flagellation being preferable to death on the cross.
The eagle eyes of the centurion scour the crowd that is tightly pressed on both sides of the narrow street, jostling and baying incessantly like savage beasts: "Death to the traitor!" - and soon they find what they seek: a broad pair of shoulders capable of bearing the cross in the prisoner's stead.
The centurion stretches out his heavy hand, draws the man to him and orders him to pick up the cross and carry it.
The man, as it later emerged, took up the burden gladly. He was moved by the prisoner's plight and he even contrived to kiss His hand, so bruised and swollen it barely resembled a hand. His name: Simon of Cyrene. The first cross-bearer, who was to become a true believer and who throughout his life was to see the bearing of the cross of God as his sole achievement upon earth, giving humble and heartfelt thanks for the privilege that had been awarded him.
And there was also Veronica, the valiant maiden, who came by chance to those winding alleys and saw the Lord in His torment. Her compassion was aroused, and she took her life in her hands, as do all who are great of spirit and pure of heart, then and now and forever, and pushing her way through the phalanx of Roman legionaries she approached the prisoner and took the pure white scarf from her head and straightaway, before the armed guards had time to recover from their astonishment at her audacity, she wiped the face that was stained with blood from the crown of thorns and the ceaseless lashing.
She was seized and pushed back into the dense crowd, where she was abused and beaten and spat upon, knocked to the ground, kicked and trampled. She did not utter a sound. All this time, though barely conscious, she did not let go of the scarf, soaked with the blood of the prisoner and her tears.
The procession passed and all around there was silence. Veronica rose, spread out the scarf and to her amazement saw in it the eyes of the prisoner, gazing at her with compassion and with boundless love, and the features of His face imprinted on the white fabric. This cloth was handed down from generation to generation and eventually made its way to Rome; it was deposited in the cathedral dedicated to Saint Peter where it remains, whole and untouched by the ravages of time.
And there were also in the packed crowd women and maidens whose tender hearts were moved at the sight of His suffering, and they mourned for Him aloud and wept bitterly. And He turned to them, saying with the last vestiges of His strength: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children! For in days to come they will say, blessed are the barren, blessed are the wombs that have not given birth and the breasts that have not suckled! Then they shall say to the mountains, fall upon us and to the hills, cover us!" (Luke, XXIII, 28-30).
The truth of these words - the world has witnessed ever since.
The tormented body of God, His fleshly body, beaten incessantly, flogged without mercy, stumbles and stumbles again. Totters and collapses.
Seven times He collapsed, the God clothed in flesh, on the short journey from the courthouse to Golgotha, the place resembling a skull which was designated for His execution. Seven stations. Like the days of Creation, seven including the Sabbath. Creation of the world. Created by Him and imbued with His love and finally, it spurned and denied Him and cast Him aside. And it began to crumble, the old world. Thus far.
And from here onward - the beginning of a new world. In which ephemeral matter shall not prevail. Which will stand beyond the reach of delusion, never again to be dominated, corrupted and plunged into oblivion by base instinct. Where death will no longer be the master.
A new world, in which there will not remain even the tiniest trace of the old, destined from the outset to annihilation.
God incarnate collapses and collapses again under the weight of the hatred of mankind, mankind which delighted in His torment and desired His death. Seven times. And no more.
In the seven places where He fell, the ground burned beneath Him. And the austere chapels erected over the course of time on these sites, dedicated to God, have not extinguished the fire. It still burns. It will never cease until the coming of the great day of God, when the love that conquers all, love long-suffering and forgiving, which releases from servitude into freedom and from darkness into great light, will rule over the face of this earth, which shall never again be as it was. And all the universe, from infinitude to infinitude, will kneel and bow down before it, extolling it for all time.
Unlike the guillotine, to say nothing of the firing-squad, electric chair, gas-chamber, lethal injection, which are considered relatively new-fangled methods of execution, crucifixion has a long and distinguished record in the annals of the human race and its roots run deep.
God was by no means the first to suffer crucifixion, nor was He the last. The Romans even went so far as to crucify lions which had preyed on humans, as an example and a warning to other members of their species.
Different people have responded in different ways to the experience of crucifixion.
Towards the end of the 4th century BC, Hermias, ruler of Atarneus in Asia Minor, devoted disciple of Plato and father-in-law of Aristotle, was tortured by the Persians, interrogating him about his connections with Philip, king of Macedonia, and with members of Plato's Academy in Athens. Hermias maintained his silence and revealed nothing to his inquisitors. The wrath of the Persians, untempered by the slightest hint of patience or respect for scholarship, was ignited and Hermias, a fearless man, was nailed to the cross. Before expiring he addressed the crowd that watched in silence and asked them to convey to "my friends and dear ones", meaning the Macedonians and the Athenians and his eminent master, Plato, the message that "I have done nothing unbecoming to the spirit of philosophy!" - and with that he took leave of his bruised, battered and tormented body. The son-in-law of Hermias, Aristotle, who was at this time a guest at Philip's court and tutor to his son Alexander, later to be known as Alexander the Great, composed a paean in praise of Hermias, celebrating his courage, his nobility and his flawless heroism.
To the right and the left of God a pair of thieves were crucified. The younger of them turned to Him with an endless stream of foul curses and abuse, demanding that He prove himself God or the Son of God and put an end to their suffering, say the magic word that will release them from their crosses. Or if such a miracle is beyond Him, can He not at least do something to relieve this torment, to ease the agony that is driving him insane?... And then, quite unexpectedly, the abuser's older companion spoke up in reply, declaring that "this man" - his gaze, livid with anger, pain and shame, indicating the one crucified between them - "has done nothing wrong and is crucified, unlike us, for no deed he has committed." Is the youngster not ashamed, will he not bridle his tongue and show a little patience and forbearance and abstain from this, the vilest of sins - cursing and abusing an innocent man? And the older thief turned to God, crucified at his side, and asked, humbly, that He remember him after his death. He was rewarded with the explicit promise: "I tell you truly, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke, XXIII, 43).
There are some people before whom pain opens the glorious doors of salvation, and others whom it robs of any hope of salvation. The older thief, who in his last moments was cleansed of all sin, opening his eyes to know God, to know and to acquire the grace of His all-conquering love, is dubbed in ancient Slavic prayers "the wise thief".
The Sufi poet al-Husayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, who wrote:
"You have infused your spirit in mine,
As pure water is mingled with wine,
Whatever touches you - touches me,
For I am you eternally."
was condemned to death by crucifixion in the year 992 AD on charges of heresy.
The sentence was carried out in the central square of Baghdad, which was packed to overflowing with animated crowds. Before he was nailed to the huge cross, al-Hallaj knelt beside it and prayed to God, his last prayer in the flesh:
"These servants of Yours who are gathered here to slay me in their zeal for Your doctrine and for what they believe to be Your will, please, God, forgive and pity them. For if You had revealed to them what You revealed to me, they would not have done what they have done, and if You had concealed from me what You concealed from them, then this suffering would not have befallen me. Be glorified in all Your works and Your will be ever praised!"
The question may be asked - what makes the crucifixion of God so unique? The answer to this question is simple and unequivocal: His isolation. Total isolation, from all angles and perspectives. Absolute isolation. He has no place, no person or thing to turn to. Nowhere, nobody and nothing whither to direct His thoughts, His voice, His eyes. Millions upon millions of human beings have been put to death by members of their own kind, in all manners and in all circumstances - and yet every one of them had some point of reference, an object to which to turn in thought, speech or vision, something on which to depend. There were those who cursed and others who blessed, those who scorned and others who praised, there were some who anaesthetised themselves from pain, even before pain was inflicted. Some in their last moments repented, others persisted in their obstinacy, despising the entire human race with its manifold vanities and follies.
All these things are denied the God who is crucified. He has no one to bless or to curse, despise or commend, turn to with prayer or with protest. He has no one before whom to complain. He cannot even address Himself with grievances or with blessings. For He knew from the outset what was to befall Him and all has been done according to His specific will. This will, that selfsame will, determined that He would have no object to cling to in His time of distress, that He would endure it all without complaint or conceit, and without any diminution of His pain. When the one and the only physician decides to take upon himself the pains of all his patients, there is no one left who can ease his suffering. Self-deliverance was never an option.
There is no chink in the solid wall of His pain, through which the faintest, most illusory ray of hope might penetrate, bringing relief. This is the absolute, the total pain, such as humans have never known, will never experience, pain in which there is nothing other than pain. Descriptions, illustrations, speculations, examples, traditions, analogies - none of these can even come close to it. By self-ordinance, of His own free will and chosen duty, God arrived at the point where He intended to arrive, that His creatures might be saved, and never again know oppression and anguish.
And when this pain reaches its peak, the absolute pain which flesh and blood cannot even conceive, God sees it as His sacred and self-imposed duty to deliver to the human race His final utterance, with which His mission will be completed.
From the bruised and swollen lips the words emerge:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalms, XXII, 2)
And these are the words which, from that time to this very day, have sown such confusion in the minds of people, who for some reason refuse to take them at face-value.
These words, which are a direct quotation from the opening verse of the Twenty-Second Psalm, determine unequivocally the future of all those who participated in the physical slaying of God. They expelled God from their presence and were "forsaken" by Him. They despised Him - and were left without Him.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", was a concluding chapter, terrifying in its heart-breaking, gut-wrenching sincerity, which stamped a visible seal of truth on the hearts of those who heard it there and those who came after them. To the last generation.
They were "forsaken" by God. Their actions, words and thoughts, which were nothing other than outright opposition to all things divine, the rude rejection of God, produced the inevitable outcome.
God does not impose Himself on those who do not desire Him. That is an inexorable rule, the rule of pure love, which bestows freedom, truth and everlasting life.
Three years before this, when He stood up to read from the Torah in the synagogue of Nazareth, God defined His way and the purpose of His sojourn among mortals by quoting well-known verses from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. He did not speak in His own name. It was His practice, His constant practice, to convey His message through the medium of familiar passages drawn from the Scriptures. Later, faced by throngs of impassioned and confused folk, like sheep without a shepherd, He quoted the verse which accurately revealed to them the predicament in which they had immersed themselves: "The stone that the builders rejected, is become the corner-stone". And they raged at Him, instead of wearing sackcloth, fasting and sitting in the ashes, as did the people of Nineveh in their time, and showing true repentance. Their obstinacy, the ancient “iron sinew” was in the ascendant; the last opportunity was missed, receding, fading, finally disappearing. And now, on the cross, last words from which there is no escape:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
With these words from the Holy Scriptures, God takes leave of the flesh, to become again what He was, is and ever shall be: Love, Freedom, the Infinite - as Reality. From whom all emanates, in whose hands is all. All is His and all is in Him.
The rejectors of God, His tormentors, persecutors, banishers, crucifiers - forsook Him.
From within this same people, the people that denied God, were rejected and "forsaken" by Him, emerged His Holy Apostles who preached His word, the word of the living God, among their own people and among all peoples, tongues, states and nations. The celebrated Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul the Apostle, the former zealous Pharisee, whom the God of love chose and to whom He was revealed, whose Epistles are the firm foundation of the redeeming message of God, stresses in one of them: "If their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what then shall be their acceptance, if not life from the dead?" (Romans, XI, 15).
If this world aspires to salvation - it must do everything in its power to bring about the "acceptance" of the kinsmen of God incarnate, the kinsmen of his twelve Holy Apostles, who are being persecuted, beaten and despised and led like lambs to the slaughter, for more than nineteen hundred years.
"Salvation is from the Jews" (John, IV, 22) is the statement of God Himself, in person.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" - until the day when the children return to their land, until the day when those who rejected God will return to Him with joy and with love in their hearts.