The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Chapter 12
‘Why do they do that? Who are they?’
‘I don’t know who they are. They do it because… I don’t know why they do it. Maybe they’re just good.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ said another voice in the darkness. ‘No one’s good. It’s not natural to be good. They do it so’s other people will think more highly of them. They wouldn’t do it otherwise.’
‘You don’t know nothing,’ said a third voice from under the colonnade. ‘People can earn high opinions in quicker ways than doing good. They do it because they’re frightened.’
‘Frightened of what?’ said the second voice.
‘Frightened of hell, you blind fool. They think they can buy their way out of it by doing good.’
‘Doesn’t matter why they do it,’ said the lame man, ‘as long as they do it. Anyway, some people are just good.’
‘Some people are just soft, like you, you worm,’ said the third voice. ‘Why’s no one helped you down to the water in twelve years? Eh? Because you’re filthy, that’s why. You stink, like we all do. They’ll throw a bit of bread your way, but they won’t touch you. That’s how good they are. You know what real charity would be? It wouldn’t be bread. They don’t miss bread. They can buy more bread whenever they want. Real charity would be a pretty young whore coming down here and giving us a good time for nothing. Can you imagine a sweet-faced girl with skin like silk coming and laying herself down in my arms, with my sores oozing pus all over her and stinking like a dungheap? If you can imagine that, you can imagine real goodness. I’m damned if I can. I could live a thousand years and never see goodness like that.’
‘Because it wouldn’t be goodness,’ said the blind man. ‘It’d be wickedness and fornication, and she’d be punished and so would you.’
‘There’s old Sarah,’ said the lame man. ‘She come down here last week. She does it for nothing.’
‘Because she’s mad and full of drink,’ said the leper. ‘Mad enough to lie with you, anyway. But even she wouldn’t lie with me.’
‘Even a dead whore wouldn’t lie with you, you filthy leper,’ said the blind man. ‘She’d get out of her grave and crawl away in her bones sooner than that.’
‘You tell me what goodness is, then,’ said the leper.
‘You want to know what goodness is? I’ll tell you what goodness is. Goodness would be to take a sharp knife and go round the city by night and cut the throats of all the rich men, and their wives and their children, and their servants too, and every living thing in their houses. That’d be an act of supreme goodness.’
‘You can’t say that’d be good,’ said the lame man. ‘That’d be murder, rich men or not. That’s forbidden. You know it is.’
‘You’re ignorant. You don’t know the scriptures. When King Sennacherib was besieging Jerusalem the angel of the Lord came down in the night and slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand of his soldiers while they was all asleep. That was a good deed. It’s righteous and holy to slay the oppressor ?C always has been. You tell me if we poor people aren’t oppressed by the rich. If I was a rich man I’d have servants to fetch and carry for me, I’d have a wife to lie with me, I’d have children to honour my name, I’d have harpists and singers to make sweet music for me, I’d have stewards to look after my money and manage my fields and livestock, I’d have every convenient thing to make life easy for a blind man. The high priest would call on me, I’d be praised in the synagogues, I’d be respected all through Judea, blind or not.’
‘And would you give charity to a poor cripple by the pool of Bethesda?’ said the lame man.
‘No, I wouldn’t. Not a penny. And why not? Because I’d still be blind, and I wouldn’t be able to see you, and if anyone tried to tell me about you, I wouldn’t listen. Because I’d be rich. You wouldn’t matter to me.’
‘Well, you’d deserve to have your throat cut, then,’ said the leper.
‘That’s what I’m saying, isn’t it?’
Christ said, ‘There’s a man called Jesus. A holy man, a healer. If he came here-‘
‘Waste of time,’ said the leper. ‘There’s a dozen or more beggars who come here every day, pretending to be cripples, hiring themselves out to the holy men. A couple of drachmas and they’ll swear they’ve been crippled or blind for years and then stage a bloody miraculous recovery. Holy men? Healers? Don’t make me laugh.’
‘But this man is different,’ said Christ.
‘I remember him,’ said the blind man. ‘Jesus. He come here on the sabbath, like a fool. The priests wouldn’t let him heal anyone on the sabbath. He should’ve known that.’
‘But he did heal someone,’ said the lame man. ‘Old Hiram. You remember that. He told him to take up his bed and walk.’
‘Bloody rubbish,’ said the blind man. ‘Hiram went as far as the temple gate, then he lay down and went on begging. Old Sarah told me. He said what was the use of taking his living away? Begging was the only thing he knew how to do. You and your blether about goodness,’ he said, turning to Christ, ‘where’s the goodness in throwing an old man out into the street without a trade, without a home, without a penny? Eh? That Jesus is asking too much of people.’
‘But he was good,’ said the lame man. ‘I don’t care what you say. You could feel it, you could see it in his eyes.’
‘I never saw it,’ said the blind man.
Christ said to the lame man, ‘And what do you think goodness is?’
‘Just a little human companionship, sir. A poor man has got little to enjoy in this life, and a cripple even less. The touch of a kindly hand is worth gold to me, sir. If you was to embrace me, sir, just put your arms around me for a moment and kiss me, I’d treasure that, sir. That would be real goodness.’
The man stank. The smell of faeces, urine, vomit, and years of accumulated filth rose from him in a cloud. Christ leant down and tried to embrace him, and had to turn away, and retched, and tried again. There was a moment of clumsiness as the lame man’s arms tried to embrace him in return, and then the smell became too much, and Christ had to kiss him very quickly and then push him away and stand up.
A short laugh came from the darkness under the colonnade.
Christ hurried outside and away, breathing the cold air deeply, and only when he had passed the great tower at the corner of the temple complex did he discover that during their clumsy embrace the lame man had stolen the purse that hung from his girdle.
He sat down trembling in a corner of the wall and wept for himself, for the money he’d lost, for the three men by the pool of Bethesda, for his brother Jesus, for the prostitute with the cancer, for all the poor people in the world, for his mother and father, for his own childhood, when it had been so easy to be good. Things could not go on like this.
When he had recovered he went to meet the angel at the house of Caiaphas, but he could not stop trembling.
When Christ arrived he found the angel waiting in the courtyard, and the two of them were shown into the high priest’s presence at once. They found him rising from prayer. He had dismissed all his advisers, saying that he needed to ponder their words; but he greeted the angel as if he were a valued counsellor.
‘This is the man,’ said the angel, indicating Christ.
‘It is very good of you to come. May I offer you some refreshment?’ said Caiaphas.
But Christ and the angel refused.
‘Better so, perhaps,’ said Caiaphas. ‘This is an unhappy business. I do not want to know your name. Your friend will have told you what we require. The guards who will arrest Jesus have been drafted in from elsewhere, and don’t know what he looks like, so we need someone who can point him out. You are willing to do this?’
‘Yes,’ said Christ. ‘But why have you had to draft in extra guards?’
‘There is considerable disagreement ?C I am being very frank ?C not only in our council, but among the people in general, and the guards are not immune to this. Those who have seen and heard Jesus are excited, volatile, unstable; some love him and some deplore him. I have to send a squad I can rely on not to argue among themselves. This is a very delicate situation.’
‘Have you yourself seen and heard him?’ said Christ.
‘Unfortunately I haven’t had the opportunity. Naturally, I’ve heard full reports of his words and deeds. If times were easier I would greatly enjoy meeting him and discussing matters of common interest. But I have to maintain a very difficult balance. My overriding concern is to keep the body of the faithful together. There are factions that would like to split away entirely and join with the Zealots; there are others that would like nothing better than for me to rally all the Jews in open defiance of the Romans; there are others that urge me to maintain good relations with the governor, on the grounds that our greatest duty is to preserve the peace and the lives of our people. I have to satisfy as many of these demands as I can, while not alienating those who have to be disappointed, and above all, as I say, keeping some kind of unity. It’s hard to get the balance right. But the Lord has placed this burden on my shoulders, and I must bear it as best I can.’
‘What will the Romans do to Jesus?’
‘I… ‘ Caiaphas spread his hands wide. ‘They will do what they will do. It wouldn’t be long before they picked him up themselves in any case. And that’s another of our problems; if the religious authorities don’t take steps to deal with this man, it will seem as if we’re supporting him, and that will put all the Jews in danger. I must look after my people. The governor, alas, is a brutal man. If I could save this man Jesus, if I could perform a miracle and transport him in a moment to Babylon or to Athens, I would do it at once. But we are constrained by circumstances. There is nothing else I can do.’
Christ bowed his head. He could see that Caiaphas was a good and honest man, and that his position was impossible.
The high priest turned away and picked up a little bag of money.
‘Now you must let me pay you for your trouble,’ he said.
And Christ remembered that his purse had been stolen, and that he owed money for the rent of his room. At the same time, he felt ashamed to take this money from Caiaphas. He knew that the angel saw he was hesitating, and he turned to explain.
‘My purse was-‘
But the angel held up a hand in understanding. ‘No need to explain,’ he said. ‘Take the money. It’s offered in perfect honesty.’
So Christ took it, and felt sick again.
Caiaphas said goodbye to the two of them, and summoned the captain of the guard.
Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane
Now all that evening Jesus had been sitting with his disciples and talking with them, but at midnight he said, ‘I’m going out. Peter, James, John, come with me; the rest of you can stay and sleep.’
They left the others and walked towards the nearest gate in the city wall.
Peter said, ‘Master, be careful tonight. There’s a rumour that they’re reinforcing the temple guards. And the governor’s looking for an excuse to crack down ?C everyone’s talking about it.’
‘Why would they do that?’
‘Things like this,’ said John, pointing to the mud-daubed words KING JESUS on the nearest wall.
‘Did you write that there?’ said Jesus.
‘Of course not.’
‘Well, it doesn’t concern you, then. Ignore it.’
John knew that it concerned them all, but he said nothing. He stayed to brush the words off and then hurried after the others.
Jesus went across the valley to a garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives.
‘Wait here,’ he said. ‘Keep watch. Let me know if anyone comes.’
They sat down under an olive tree and wrapped their cloaks around them, because the night was cold. Jesus went apart a little way and knelt down.
‘You’re not listening,’ he whispered. ‘I’ve been speaking to you all my life and all I’ve heard back is silence. Where are you? Are you out there among the stars? Is that it? Busy making another world, perhaps, because you’re sick of this one? You’ve gone away, haven’t you, you’ve abandoned us.
‘You’re making a liar out of me, you realise that. I don’t want to tell lies. I try to tell the truth. But I tell them you’re a loving father watching over them all, and you’re not; you’re blind as well as deaf, as far as I can tell. You can’t see, or you just don’t want to look? Which is it?