The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ Chapter 9
‘If you believe my sins are forgiven,’ she said, ‘please heal me.’
Christ turned his head away, and then looked back at her and said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
‘Must I believe that too?’
‘Yes. I must believe it, and you must believe it.’
‘Tell me again.’
‘Your sins are forgiven. Truly.’
‘How will I know?’
‘You must have faith.’
‘If I have faith, will I be healed?’
‘I will have faith, if you do, sir.’
‘Tell me once more.’
‘I have said it… Very well: your sins are forgiven.’
‘And yet I’m not healed,’ she said.
She closed her robe.
Christ said, ‘And I am not my brother. Didn’t I tell you that? Why did you ask me to heal you, if you knew I was not Jesus? Did I ever claim to be able to heal you? I said to you “Your sins are forgiven.” If you don’t have sufficient faith after you’ve heard that, the fault is yours.’
The woman turned away and faced the wall, and drew her robe over her head.
Christ left her house. He was ashamed, and he went out of the town and climbed to a quiet place among the rocks, and prayed that his own sins might be forgiven. He wept a little. He was afraid the angel might come to him, and he hid all night.
The Wise and Foolish Girls
Now the time of the Passover was getting close, and this prompted the people who listened to Jesus to ask about the Kingdom again: when will it come? How will we know it? What should we do to be ready for it?
‘It’ll be like this,’ he told them. ‘There was a wedding, and ten girls took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom and welcome him to the banquet. Now five of them took their lamps and nothing else, no spare oil, but the other five were a bit cleverer than that, and they brought some flasks of oil with them.
‘Well, the bridegroom was delayed, and time went past, and all of the girls began to feel drowsy and closed their eyes.
‘Then at midnight there was a cry: “He’s coming! The bridegroom is here!”
‘The girls woke up at once and started trimming their lamps. You can see what happened next: the foolish ones discovered that their oil had run out.
‘”Give us some of your oil!” they said to the others. “Look, our lamps are going out!”
‘And two of the far-seeing ones shared their oil with two of the foolish ones, and all four were admitted to the banquet. Two of the clever ones refused, and the bridegroom shut them out, together with two more foolish ones.
‘But the last wise girl said, “Lord, we have come to celebrate your wedding, even the least of us. If you won’t let us all in, I would rather stay outside with my sisters, even when the last of my oil is gone.”
‘And for her sake the bridegroom opened the doors of the banquet and admitted them all. Now, where was the Kingdom of heaven? Inside the bridegroom’s house? Is that what you think? No, it was outside in the dark with the wise girl and her sisters, even when the last of her oil was gone.’
Christ wrote down every word, but he resolved to improve the story later.
The Stranger Talks of Abraham and Issac
Next time the angel came, Christ was in Jericho. He was following Jesus and his disciples as they made their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus was staying in the house of one of his followers, but Christ had taken a room in a tavern not far away. At midnight he went outside to use the privy. When he turned to go back inside he felt a hand on his shoulder, and knew at once that it was the stranger.
‘Events are moving quickly now,’ the stranger said. ‘We must talk about something important. Take me to your room.’
Once inside, Christ lit the lamp and gathered up the scrolls he had filled.
‘Sir, what do you do with these scrolls?’ he said.
‘I take them to a place of great safety.’
‘Will I be able to see them again? I may need to edit and correct the entries, in the light of what I have since learned about truth and history.’
‘There will be an opportunity for that, never fear. Now tell me about your brother. What is his mood as he gets closer to Jerusalem?’
‘He seems serene and confident, sir. I wouldn’t say that has changed at all.’
‘Does he speak of what he expects to happen there?’
‘Only that the Kingdom will come very soon. Perhaps it will come when he is in the temple.’
‘And the disciples? How is your informant? Is he still close to Jesus?’
‘I would say he is in the very best position. He is not the closest or the most favoured ?C Peter and James and John are the men Jesus speaks to most confidentially ?C but my informant is securely among the middle-ranking followers. His reports are full and trustworthy. I have checked them.’
‘We must think about rewarding him at some stage. But now I want to talk to you about something difficult.’
‘I am ready, sir.’
‘You and I know that for the Kingdom to flourish, it needs a body of men, and women too, both Jews and Gentiles, faithful followers under the guidance of men of authority and wisdom. And this church ?C we can call it a church ?C will need men of formidable organisational powers and deep intellectual penetration, both to conceive and develop the structure of the body and to formulate the doctrines that will hold it together. There are such men, and they are ready and waiting. The church will not lack organisation and doctrine.
‘But you will remember, my dear Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac. God sets his people severe tests. How many men of today would be ready to act like Abraham, prepared to sacrifice his son because the Lord had told him to? How many would be like Isaac, ready to do as his father told him and hold out his hands to be bound, and lie down on the altar, and wait peaceably for the knife in the serene confidence of righteousness?’
‘I would,’ said Christ at once. ‘If that is what God wants, I would do that. If it would serve the Kingdom, yes, I would. If it would serve my brother, yes, yes, I would.’
He spoke eagerly, because he knew that this would give him the chance to atone for his failure to heal the woman with the cancer. It was his faith that had been insufficient, not hers; he had spoken harshly to her, and he still felt ashamed.
‘You are devoted to your brother,’ said the stranger.
‘Yes. Everything I do is for him, though he doesn’t know it. I have been shaping the history especially to magnify his name.’
‘Don’t forget what I told you when we first spoke: your name will shine as greatly as his.’
‘I don’t think of that.’
‘No, but it may give you comfort to think that others do, and are working to make sure it comes about.’
‘Others? There are others besides you, sir?’
‘A legion. And it will come to happen, have no fear about that. But before I go, let me ask you again: do you understand how it might be necessary for one man to die so that many can live?’
‘No, I don’t understand it, but I accept it. If it is God’s will, I accept it, even if it’s impossible to understand. The story doesn’t say whether Abraham and Isaac understood what they had to do, but they didn’t hesitate to do it.’
‘Remember your words,’ said the angel. ‘We shall talk again in Jerusalem.’
He kissed Christ on the brow before leaving with the scrolls.
Jesus Rides into Jerusalem
Next day, Jesus and his followers prepared to leave for Jerusalem. Word had spread that he was coming, and many people came to see him and welcome him on his way to the city, because his fame was now so widespread. The priests and the scribes, of course, had been aware of him for some time, and they didn’t know how best to react. It was a difficult matter for them: should they endorse him and hope to share his popularity, at the cost of not knowing what he would do next? Or should they condemn him, and risk offending the people who supported him in such numbers?
They resolved to watch closely, and to test him whenever they saw the chance.
Jesus and his disciples had reached Bethphage, near a place called the Mount of Olives, when he told them to stop and rest. He sent two of the disciples to find a beast for him to ride on, because he was tired. All they could find was the foal of a donkey, and when the owner heard who it was for, he refused any payment.
The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey and Jesus rode it into Jerusalem. The streets were thronged with people curious to see him, or eager to welcome him. Christ was among the crowd, watching everything, and he saw how one or two people had cut palm branches to wave; he was already composing the account of the scene in his mind. Jesus was calm and unaffected by the clamour, and acknowledged all the questions that people called out without answering any of them:
‘Are you going to preach here, master?’
‘Are you going to heal?’
‘What are you going to do, Lord?’
‘Will you go to the temple?’
‘Have you come to speak to the priests?’
‘Are you going to fight the Romans?’
‘Master, will you heal my son?’ The disciples cleared a way to the house where he was going to stay, and presently the crowd dispersed.