by Luise Rinser
Yehuda found me. He pushed me with his foot as if I was a cadaver, but there was fear in his eyes. He did it with clumsy care, almost gentleness. But he immediately regretted having shown emotion and he said roughly: Come on! We’ve been waiting for you for hours with supper. Then early to bed and up early. We’re going to Yerushalayim. Aren’t you glad?
O Yehuda: Yerushalayim’s ground is hot.
All the better: grapes ripen sooner on hot earth.
Grapes, yes. But we’ll burn our feet.
Come, you dark prophetess!
Rabbi, I said that evening, do you really want to go to Yerushalayim. People are waiting for your words in many other places.
Spoken to the wind.
We went carefully though, in small groups. Yeshua took me with him, Yochanan, Shimon, Thomas and Philippos. Peaceful people. Inconspicuous. We thought. Why then those sidelong glances here, joyful greetings there? I would have much preferred that no one notice us. Why then did something have to happen that attracted the glances to us? And whose glances, what glances!
A beggar sat at the city’s gate. He was blind. I said: Yehuda, give him something.
But Yeshua held us back: Patchwork!
The he asked the beggar, whose hand was stretched out to him: How long have you been blind, friend?
Since birth. Why do you ask?
Yeshua pulled his eyelids up and turned his face to the sun.
He’s really blind, Yeshua said.
Of course I’m blind. Are you a physician?
I am one who can heal.
I pulled Yeshua’s arm: Rabbi, no, not here on this hot ground! Nothing that looks like a miracle, I beg of you.
He shook off my hand: Don’t you want me to help where I can?
He said to the blind man: Keep still. I’m going to rub something on your eyes, it doesn’t hurt. Do you want me to cure you? Do you believe that I can?
Cure me, Lord, whoever you are.
So Yeshua took some earth, mixed it with spittle and applied it to the blind eyes.
That feels cool, the blind man said.
And now, Yeshua said to Shimon, take him to the pool and wash his eyes out.
Rabbi, I said, what should I wish for: that he sees or that the healing fails?
Who asked for your wishes? Be silent and wait.
How strict he could be. He wasn’t so strict with anyone else.
So I kept silent and waited. We all sat there silently and waited.
What a scream came from the pool!
I see! I see!
The blind man came without aid and ran without stumbling. Where is the one who healed me?
They brought him to Yeshua. I see, Lord, I see! Who are you, Lord, who can make the blind see?
I said quickly: He’s a doctor, as you must have noticed.
Then make all the blind in the land seers! the beggar cried.
A large crowd had gathered. Isn’t that the blind man? Can he see now? Can you really see? What joy for your parents!
Another said: Joy? They lived from his begging.
Yehuda said: See, Rabbi?
But he said no more.
What happened then was told to us several days later: the man who was blind was brought to the temple, and he had to tell the priests exactly what happened, thrice, five times, a real interrogation, back and forth, what did the man do, say, what kind of ointment did he put on your eyes, were your eyes infected, did you ever use curative ointment before, were you really blind from birth, or did your parents just say you were blind, or even blinded you so you would cause pity when begging, did you feed your whole family from begging?
The man who had been blind became angry. And if I tell you a hundred times you won’t believe it.
So tell us who the man was who, supposedly, healed you.
I was not supposedly blind, nor was I supposedly healed. I don’t know who healed me. I do know, however, that before him no one had pity on me. My misery touched his heart. His, no other. Whoever he is, he is righteous, merciful. Which of you has ever shown me compassion?
They threw him out of the temple.
He went around the city telling everyone what happened, including the interrogation in the temple and that “those on top” simply didn’t want to believe what he swore to them. But he didn’t know who had healed him. Someone asked him: Did he speak our language or Galilean?
I don’t know.
It must have been the miracle rabbi.
That’s how it went around and came back to us.
“Those on top” was sure to add another stone to the pile. The mountain of guilt rose.
The next day a man from Bethany came to us: Rabbi, accept me as one of your disciples!
Because you think that I’m a miracle worker, or why have you come?
You are the first righteous one I’ve met in my life.
I have to go home first. My father is old and very ill. I must bury him properly and take care of the inheritance. Then I will come.
Yeshua said: Let the dead bury their dead. He who puts his hand to the plow should not look back.
The man left.
He won’t come back, Shimon said. Why were you so hard on him? Didn’t he really have duties that he had to perform first?
That was a pretext, unserious talk. Whoever wants to follow me must do it immediately.
Shit or get off the pot, said Yehuda.
Who wants the new but leaves the return way open will go the return way. The bridge must be torn down, the leash cut. One must leave father and mother, house and farm. Only one thing is necessary.
Hard words, I said.
Did you leave the return way open? Yes or no?
As you know Rabbi: No!
The next day another one came who wanted to be Yeshua’s disciple. Wherever you go, Rabbi, I will also go.
That sounded like the oath of allegiance of a conspirator.
Yeshua said: Where do I go that you would follow me? My home is the road, my goal is not yours, my realm is not here.
The man left quickly.
One night I heard footsteps outside the house. Footsteps that came from the valley towards the house, and footsteps that left the house. They weren’t Yehuda’s footsteps, which were always more running than walking. What I heard were composed footsteps, and suddenly they came together, were lost, and returned. Yeshua. But who was the other? It wouldn’t have been proper for me to go out or even to look. It wasn’t something that made me nervous, but surely Yeshua wasn’t outside for nothing so late at night. It was an appointment. No one heard the conversation. But Yochanan found out who the visitor was, and he also found out, in another secret nightly talk, what was said, and I found out, too.
Nicodemus, although an old man and high-ranking among the councilors, greeted Yeshua with a courtesy only shown to elders of high rank. He explained the reason for his coming, and also the choice of such a late hour. He didn’t come as an envoy of the High Council, he came on his own and in secret, and as a friend, if he could presume to call himself that. Then he came to the point:
Rabbi, I have often been among the listeners in the synagogue when you were speaking, and I thought about what you said and found it to be living word. As Moshe struck water from the stone in the desert, you touched my spirit and brought what had become congealed to flowing, and I wondered, and I ask: Who is he? What is it that emanates from him? With what authority does he speak? Is he a prophet come in a dark time? What is it that forces me to listen to him? Is what he says new? Or does he say old wisdom anew? I heard you talk about the realm of heaven. You said that it is leaven that penetrates the flour so that it becomes bread. You said it is the treasure that one finds in his field and for which he gives up everything else. You said it is the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, which, when it has grown, becomes a tree to which birds from everywhere come to live in its branches. You said it is the acre on which wheat and weeds grow together, and the net in which useful and useless fish are caught. I thought all that over and understood it. But I still have one question: this realm of heaven, where is it?
Yeshua answered: You say that you understood my pictures. And yet you ask where this realm of heaven is. Do you think one could say: Run here, run there, that’s it? Or one could say to you: Wait a year, wait a hundred years, then it will come? I say to you: it is here, and it is now.
But didn’t you speak of place and time?
Wheat and weeds need the early summertime in order to grow, the mustard seed needs years to become a tree. That’s clearly about the future. What will once come isn’t already here.
But is the tree not in the seed? Isn’t the future also the present? Isn’t “there” also “here” and inside also outside and everything above also below?
But when the All Mighty promised Canaan to Moshe, the people were in the desert and Canaan was far away in space and time.
If Canaan had not been in Moshe’s spirit and the people’s hope, it would never have been found. Canaan was in the middle of the desert, for it was in the hearts of the desert wanderers. Hope is reality.
Therefore, Nicodemus said, the realm of heaven is already here?
It is among you.
But how does one find it?
Whoever has eyes to see will see it.
But who has seeing eyes?
He whose eyes have been opened by the spirit.
And what does he see?
He sees reality.
So unreality would be everything which is not spirit?
Therefore all disputes about earthly things are unreal? Neither power nor property, neither victory nor defeat count?
What counts, Nicodemus, is love alone, for where love reigns, there is the realm of heaven. Where there is love, there is peace. Where there is peace, there is the realm of heaven. Go and make peace!
That was what was said that night, as Nicodemus told Yochanan and as Yochanan told me.
A dispute arose between Yochanan and me about Yeshua’s words: The realm of heaven is already here, it is among you. Yochanan said: The rabbi meant: it is in you all. Inside you.
Stick with his words, Yochanan. How did Nicodemus relate it: in each one of you? or: among you?
Either way, Miryam, is there a difference?
Of course there’s a difference! Was Canaan in the hearts of individuals or was it the hope of the whole people? Was it the dream of individuals, or was it the pillars of fire that led the whole people? Is the realm of heaven only inside one? Did Canaan remain a dreamland in which each saved himself in the plight of the desert? Didn’t Yisrael finally come to a real land that was called Canaan and is now Erez Yisrael?
You’re both right and wrong. Is Canaan the fulfillment? Didn’t only individuals really find Canaan?
When that’s so, then those enlightened ones among our forefathers could just as well have stayed in the desert, and the desert would have been Canaan for them. Was that what the Almighty promised to his people? No, Yochanan, no! He promised a visible, touchable, earthly reality.
Do we know what the Almighty meant? Do we know how our fathers distorted it? And even if you’re right: many arrived in the earthly reality of Canaan, and still don’t know it. Whoever doesn’t have the realm within will never find it anywhere.
Why do I have the feeling that you are looking for ways to escape from earthly reality into a non-binding spirituality? Into a Canaan in the clouds where everything is perfectly in order? But nothing is in order! Can’t you see that, sleepwalker?
He went sadly away, for he understood that I was playing him against Yehuda. It’s true that when I spoke with Yehuda, I defended Yochanan. I, the seed between the grindstones. But what was reality? And what did Yeshua mean when he said: My realm is not of this world?
Hard was the school which I had to go through.
Nicodemus wasn’t the only one to come to Bethany to see Yeshua, to hear him, touch his hand, to absorb some of his strength for a while. Many simple people came, but also scribes, and it was not always clear, as with Nicodemus, what their intentions were.
There were those two old men who asked about the Shabbat.
Rabbi Yeshua, we happened to see, accidentally, while going by, how your disciples plucked ears of wheat, took out the grains and ate them.
So? Yeshua asked.
Yehuda interrupted: They are from our friend Lazarus’s field. Do you think he denies us them? Do you take us for thieves?
And Shimon said: It was a handful. Not more than a small flock of pigeons could pick on a single flight.
That’s not the point.
What is then?
It happened on the Shabbat and you, Rabbi Yeshua, did not interfere.
Shimon said quickly: The rabbi didn’t see it.
But Yeshua said: I saw it.
And said nothing?
They were hungry.
But on the Shabbat! It is forbidden to harvest on the Shabbat.
So it is.
Well then: you know that it is forbidden and let your disciples do it?
Do you know what David did when he and his companions were hungry? Well, you are scholars. Do you know or don’t you?
They were stubbornly silent.
Well then, I’ll tell you: David when to the high priest Achemilech in the temple and asked for bread. The priest said: It is wartime, I have no more except the display bread in the sanctuary on which the Almighty’s gaze rests. Give it to me, said David, we are hungry. That is not allowed, said Achemilech – with one exception: He who has abstained from women and is pure may eat it. If that’s the way it is, it is good, said David. We are soldiers and haven’t seen women for a long time. So Achemilech gave him the bread and their hunger was stilled.
That’s something else. In this case it has to do with the Shabbat.
In both cases the Law is involved, and in both the Law is absolved.
The Law is the Law. Don’t you know what the Torah says about the violator of the Shabbat? Listen: When the Yisraelites were on the steppe they met a man who gathered wood on the Shabbat. They grabbed him and took him to Moshe and Aharon and before the whole community. But they couldn’t decide what to do with him. So Moshe went to Adonai and asked. Adonai said: Take the man out of the camp and stone him to death. And it was done.
Yeshua said: Do you know what it says about the history of the Maccabees? They were in the middle of a battle with the Syrians. They heard the shofar blowing: the beginning of the Shabbat. They laid down their weapons. They were overcome by the Syrians, who knew no Shabbat, and were killed.
The two old men left silently.
The question hadn’t been answered for us either.
Rabbi, you hold the Shabbat, and then you don’t. You go to the synagogue and celebrate Pesach, Purim, Yom Kippur and whatever comes. But you let us pick wheat, pluck figs, gather herbs on the Shabbat.
Is that work?
According to the Law, yes.
What is work?
Plowing, digging, harvesting, house building.
Those are jobs. What is work in its essence?
We thought about it.
Yochanan was the first to find the answer: Work is change.
Yeshua said: You are right. But now I ask you where the Shabbat comes from.
We all knew that: The creator of earth and heaven rested on the seventh day.
He rested. He changed nothing. That was his rest. The not-changing was the standstill of time. That was the great Shabbat.
Yochanan said: So the great Shabbat is the stopping of time and therewith all change. If there is no time and therefore no change, then there is no change from life to death. Therefore the great Shabbat is the realm of eternal life in peace. Is it so, Rabbi?
But, said Shimon, as the Almighty rested on the Shabbat and changed nothing, then we also may not change anything. When we pick grain we change something. So it was breaking the Shabbat after all.
Shimon, said Yeshua, is man there for the Shabbat or is the Shabbat there for man? Did the Almighty institute the Shabbat to chain people? He did it as a day of joy, a day of freedom, as a foretaste of the eternal Shabbat. How can it be a day of joy and freedom if man is caught in fear in a net of laws and rules?
Yehuda said: Do you want to gradually abolish the Shabbat?
Yeshua answered: I want to extend it to include the whole year, a hundred years, for all time.
Yehuda laughed: That means abolishing work, Rabbi!
Yes, said Yeshua, that’s what it means. Man isn’t there for work; work is there for man.
With that he left us once again to our own thoughts.
A short time later the Shabbat question was raised again, and this time it was clearly a trap for Yeshua, and not only I saw it, and I saw not only this one, but another and another. Something was being planned.
Yeshua and a few from our group had been invited to dinner. The owner of the house was a scribe, and among the invitees were those two old men who Yeshua had distressed because of the Shabbat. This time it wasn’t mentioned and the meal was pleasant. Yochanan told me later that despite the friendliness, there was tension in the air and the guests were attentive to every step outside the house. Suddenly the apparently expected happened: two men entered with another who was afflicted with dropsy and could hardly breathe, because the water had reached his heart.
Rabbi, you see that I am very ill. You have already healed many sick people. A word from you and I am healthy. Heal me!
Yeshua said: Today is Shabbat. Don’t you know that no assistance may be given on the Shabbat?
Rabbi, if you don’t help me today, immediately, perhaps I will be dead tomorrow. Save me!
Yeshua looked at the scribes, one after the other, then he asked: Is healing work?
They were silent.
He said: If a child of one of you falls into a well on the Shabbat, or even a donkey, what do you do?
You hypocrites, he said softly, but sharply enough.
Then he stood up and went to the sick man: Do you really believe that I can heal you, or have these men brought you here so you can be a witness to how I break the Shabbat?
The man lowered his head and was silent.
Well, said Yeshua, as you see I am not healing you, for it is Shabbat.
Rabbi, forgive me. Shabbat or no Shabbat, I am deathly ill. I am the child in the well. Pull me out!
So Yeshua stroked his back, his chest, his thighs various times.
Go outside now and release your water.
The people at table acted as though nothing had happened and expected nothing special.
A short time later the man returned: Rabbi, whole ponds of water came out of me. I am light and empty! Look at me, you men!
Yeshua said: From now on take better care of yourself. Keep your soul pure and your body will purify itself, and the water of fear and guilty conscience will never more reach your mouth. Go in peace. And you, what are you thinking of doing to me because I healed on the Shabbat? Will you take me outside the city and stone me to death?
They smiled sourly and changed the subject quickly. In the Sanhedrin another stone had been added to the others.
Rabbi, It’s hot in Yerushalayim in summer. When are we going north?
If you want to go, go.
Rabbi, without you?
We stayed. Why though? Nothing good could come of it. The traps were being set. Yeshua and some of our group, only men of course, were invited to dine with a scholar. Shimon reported:
We went in from the street, and because it was already late we sat right down at the table. If you ask me why we didn’t wash our hands and feet, I can’t tell you. Perhaps because it was so late. But you know the rabbi – maybe it was his intention. Whatever: it wasn’t appreciated. I heard the whispering behind the rabbi’s back: They didn’t clean themselves, that’s against the rules. They didn’t say they had forgotten to wash. No: they just didn’t wash. So it was intentional and offensive. And I really think that it was intentional, for Yeshua took the bull by the horns. Which is more important: freshly washed feet and hands or a pure heart?
They didn’t expect that. He gave them no time to answer, but went on: What makes a person impure: what he takes and puts in his mouth, or what comes out of his mouth as evil, as lies, words of hate, slander, hurtfulness, blasphemy. You have built a tower of six hundred rules and you don’t realize that it’s a prison.
And while he was on the subject, he said: You are very strict with the minor laws. If you only observed the major ones so strictly!
One of them objected: What are you talking about, which laws don’t we observe?
He didn’t answer directly. He said: You built pretty tombs for the prophets who were hounded from the land by your fathers, thrown to the lions, pushed into the sea, murdered. Whoever tells you the truth you call a prophet of ill omen and kill him, and now you’re planning another murder. You are prophet killers.
What are you saying? Who are we planning to kill?
He said: As though I can’t read your eyes and hearts.
Then they cried: You’re out of your mind. We want no one’s death!
He said calmly: You are whitewashing gravediggers.
That was strong. Ice-cold silence followed.
The food stuck in my throat. When we were finally outside I said: Rabbi, what good does it do to attack them. They’ll go to your enemies now.
Then he said, loud enough for those inside the house to hear: Shall I fear those who can only kill my body, and only then when the Almighty allows it?
What Shimon told us was true. The words “prophet killers” had been spoken. That was only the high point. They had already heard much more from this rabbi: wolves in sheep’s clothing, blind, dumb, brood of vipers, cups outwardly clean, inwardly full of filth; fools who strain water because a gnat fell into it, but drink camels whole; people who remove splinters from another’s eye, but have beams in their own; old wine in old skins; dead who bury their dead.
It’s true: he said all that about them. Publicly. It was known everywhere. Exactly what was whispered behind raised hands, from mouth to ear in the taverns, or also what was openly said when no informers were around.
In the circles of scribes and priests they began to wonder where this man, this carpenter’s son from the provincial town of Nazareth, got such confidence, such sharp understanding, knowledge of the scripture and cleverness in speaking. He talks as though he has a mandate and authority. Who stands behind him? Who protects him? Or: who instigates him? Which party? Or even the Romans? Or the Essenes? Or does he really imagine himself to be a prophet like Yeshayahu or Jeremiah? Or (the Pharisees said) who knows, perhaps he really is the Baptist returned, as Herod fears and screams in his insanity. Maybe he wasn’t really murdered. But the Baptist baptized, this Yeshua doesn’t baptize, and he doesn’t fast like the other one; he is, one could say, a glutton and drinker, and he has women as disciples, something the Baptist would never have tolerated. However: he and his followers don’t marry and don’t procreate, and they have no property. And they talk, like the Baptist, of the nearness of the end of time. Is this Nazarene harmless or is he dangerous? And dangerous for whom: the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Herod and the other rulers, the property owners, the rich merchants? He has many followers, too many, they come from far and wide to hear his sermons and, it must be admitted, he preaches well. Very well. Often shadowy and with double meanings, to be sure. Or not. Sometimes he is very clear and aims sharply at the palpable.
Yehuda, who had his eyes and ears everywhere, brought us all this. And where he didn’t have them, his scouts did.
When are we finally leaving, Rabbi?
We’ll leave right after the Feast of the Tabernacles. When we saw Yerushalayim for the last time, Yeshua stood still.
Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, it won’t be long before your walls fall down, your temple will become a sheep pen, your courts rubble.
What are you saying, Rabbi?
You heard me. Let’s go!
Our wandering was pleasant, and Yeshua seemed cheerful, many people listened to his sermons, and more than twenty joined us, and that our life was rough, that we often had only bread, water and a piece of dried fish and wild berries, that we never knew where we would be sleeping and it was mostly in caves and sheep-pens, that Yeshua often ordered us to be silent for long periods, that we wandered in rain as well as sunshine, in short: that life with Yeshua was very strenuous, didn’t put them off.
A few weeks later we came again to Galilee, near Mount Tabor.
We all remembered this mount: it rose up from the plain high and naked and lonely and rounded as though formed by human hands. Here the great battle between our forefathers and the Canaanites took place. Equipped with battlewagons, they pressed Yisrael hard for twenty years. It was the time when a woman, Deborah, was judge in Yisrael. The men took her advice, for she was clever. She decided that the Yisraelites, instead of staying on the defensive, should finally go on the attack. She accompanied the army to Mount Tabor, where the enemy was camped. At the foot of the mount the armies clashed, the enemy was destroyed. A woman named Jael killed their fleeing leaders. A terrible story, true and real. A sinister mountain, even though it proclaimed Yisrael’s victory. It never occurred to us to climb it. But Yeshua now said: I want to climb up.
We were astonished.
Yeshua said: Don’t you know Deborah’s victory song? Listen then: “In the days of Shamgar and Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The free people disappeared, before you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Yisrael. My heart goes out to the commanders of Yisrael who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord. Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, to the sound of musicians at the watering places. There they praise the victory of the Lord, the free people of Yisrael. Awake, awake, then, Deborah! Sing thy song!”
He bent over and picked up a handful of earth. Blood-soaked earth, he said. We walk over fields of cadavers and buried weapons, and rejoice over illicit victories.
But Rabbi, we had to defend ourselves, and we suffered defeat often enough.
Victory and defeat, equally illicit. You shall not kill. Not in defense, not in attack. Moshe has the commandment engraved in stone. In vain! You murderers! He covered his face with the hem of his cloak. We were deeply distressed.
Rabbi, why do you lay the sins of our forefathers on us? Are we scapegoats?
Do you except yourselves? Are you not sons and daughters of Yisrael? Are you not heirs? Does the heir inherit only the gold and not the debts? You are in destiny until it is played out.
When will that be?
At the end of this time.
And when will the end come?
When destiny has played itself out.
But you, Rabbi, you are also an heir of Yisrael.
I am the scapegoat.
Another riddle. The solution wasn’t given. We went on.
Up there, Rabbi?
If it’s too far for you, stay here.
We were tired.
I said: But we can’t leave the rabbi alone. Come Shimon, and you, Yochanan, let’s go with him.
Yeshua climbed very fast.
When we got to just under the summit, we saw a white light above us, that blinded us, and upon getting nearer we saw that it had a form and that form was Yeshua.
He had become light.
I had seen that previously, but Shimon and Yochanan fell on their knees from fright, and I also trembled.
Today I know what happened then: the transformation of his earthly body into spirit. It was the anticipation. The anticipation of his and our transformation into what we all are: Children of the Light, Children of the eternal Spirit.
We couldn’t go a step farther, as though a fence had been built there. So we waited and watched, until the light finally went out. At the end it stayed a while on the top of his head. It could have been taken for a white bird or a large blossom. Then it was over and Yeshua came down. I saw that the light was still in his eyes.
Rabbi! I called. I could say no more.
But he said: Who allowed you to follow me?
Shimon said: Miryam was worried about leaving you alone. So she took us with her.
Yeshua said: Be silent about what you have seen. Be silent until the hour of fulfillment.
Yochanan said: When Moshe came down from Mount Sinai, after he had been with Adonai for forty days and received the Commandments, his face shined, as it is written, and the people were afraid.
I thought: The Almighty was a flaming fire then, as is written. But we saw no such fire, we saw a white light, and it caused no fear.
Shimon said: Rabbi, let us stay here and build huts. This is holy ground.
Yeshua said: Holy ground is everywhere. This ground here, where you want to stay, is no place; and the Now, that you want to preserve, is no time.
We were silent about what we had seen and heard until after Yeshua’s death and transformation. To tell the truth: we forgot it, as though its memory were forbidden. What I didn’t forget was the story about that Deborah.
Rabbi, it is forbidden to kill. But Deborah called for a bloody battle, Jael killed, Yehudit killed and she did it for Yisrael, and she did it with a prayer on her lips: “All powerful Lord! Look now down at the deeds of my hands for Yisrael’s exaltation.” And then she cut off Holoferne the Assyrian’s head while he slept, drunk, and brought it in a sack to Betyla and cried: Open the gate, the Almighty is with us! And she showed them the bloody head. She was praised and honored for it. Rabbi, was she guilty before the Almighty?
The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was also valid for her.
Rabbi, the Almighty himself kills! When he led our fathers out of Egypt, he created a ford through the sea for them. When the Egyptians followed he let the flood kill them. Then a woman stood up, Miryam by name, Aharon’s sister, and she called all the women together and led them with kettledrums, and they danced, and Miryam sang: “Sing to the Almighty, for he threw them all, horse and rider, into the sea.” Miryam sang for the enemies’ death, she sang the Almighty’s act of murder.
Wouldn’t you cry in triumph if the Romans were defeated?
I lowered my head.
He said: Be the other Miryam, the one who weeps over the death of every other. Far is the path which Yisrael traveled, and still farther the one it has yet to travel. It used violence and it suffered violence. It will use violence and will atone terribly for it. Many will be killed, if they kill. The survivors will be hunted down and scattered over the earth. You, Miryam, will experience it. But the victors will not enjoy their victory either. They also will be conquered and nothing will remain of their empire and their power. No victory lasts, no war brings freedom.
But how shall Yisrael be free without fighting, Rabbi?
He wrapped his cloak tightly around him and walked away. When he returned late that night he looked like someone who had fallen victim to robbers. He also limped.
What happened to you, Rabbi?
He didn’t answer.
A few days later I found out what had happened.
Rabbi, I dared to say, you are suffering.
Yes, I am suffering.
You suffer in a special way. When you came back late recently you looked as though you had been in a fight.
You saw rightly.
And who was your opponent?
One never has another opponent than one’s self.
Explain that, please.
I dream hard dreams, Miryam. It is always the same dream. It’s the one I dreamed that time in the desert, after my long fast.
Tell it to me.
I looked over the desert and saw Yisrael’s dire situation in many forms, and I began to quarrel with the Almighty: Why don’t you intervene, don’t you see how your people are up to their necks in misery, how long will you wait, or have you deserted your people, broken the testament, cast out your son? As I lay there in the sand I heard a voice. Why do you wail like a child for his father? Why don’t you do what the Father denies? Are you not the heir to power? Try out your power: throw yourself into the air, it will carry you. Produce a sign: make bread from these stones, so that no child of Yisrael will be hungry again. Strike water from these rocks, so that none is thirsty on the dusty roads. Get up! Up! And then make daggers from the vintage knives and swords from the plowshares and rise up against Yisrael’s enemies, you will win for you are strong. Then you will enter Yerushalayim mounted on horseback, and they will make you king and you will make the land rich and the people happy.
Why are you trembling, Rabbi? Isn’t your dream good?
You don’t understand! It is evil, completely false! You don’t know who spoke to me.
Yourself. Didn’t you say so?
Myself. One against one. When two of equal strength fight against each other, who will win?
With that he left me.
As his footsteps were lost in the night, I heard others. Someone had been listening: Yehuda.
Miryam, there is hope after all. Will he do what Yisrael expects of him?
Leave me alone. As you were an uninvited listener you must have heard what the Rabbi said: the dream is false and evil. Why don’t you stop tempting him?
I am the voice of Yisrael, its cry for help. Don’t you understand that? Don’t you understand who he is?
Who is he?
He who can liberate Yisrael.
Now I think that Yehuda was the only one of us who considered Yeshua to be the Messiah and himself to be destiny’s messenger, who could not be silent until the message was heard. How he was consumed by his faith, how he was absorbed in his burning hope, and how he misunderstood everything and became the tempter and unknowingly sought to thwart the world-plan!
Yeshua never mentioned his dream again. Not only didn’t he speak of it, it seemed that it didn’t return. When we wandered on he seemed cheerful, but I couldn’t guess what went on inside him.
Once we say a dead dog on our way, decomposing and stinking. Yochanan walked around it holding his nose. But Yeshua leaned over the dog and said. What beautiful teeth he has.
Yehuda said. They are no use to him anymore. Teeth without a dog are as superfluous as a dog without teeth.
The remark was puzzling, but none of us asked what he meant. But Yeshua said, and he said it to us all: Why are you disgusted. There must be transformation. What is earthly returns home to earth. What is spiritual returns home to spirit
I had it on my tongue to ask: Is a dog only earthly? What is it that makes it alive? Isn’t it the breath of the Almighty? What I said, though, was this: When I was small I had a dog, I loved him very much and he loved me.
Yeshua said, and very seriously, as though he had been waiting for the opportunity: Where love is, there is the mark of the spirit.
Shimon said: Rabbi, you and Yochanan and Miryam talk so much of the spirit. What is it anyway: the spirit?
Yeshua answered: Noting else but the primal energy, the infinite sympathy. You can call it love.
As always, Yeshua took this conversation as occasion for the basis of a sermon. It began like a question and answer session in the synagogue school.
Do you know the ten commandments?
Of course. What Jew doesn’t know them? We called them out all in a jumble: You shall have no god except me. You shall not take my name in vain with false oaths. You shall observe the Shabbat. You shall not lie, steal, kill, commit adultery, bear false witness…
He let us talk until we were talked out. Then he said: You have forgotten one commandment. Which is the most important?
When we started to talk again, he told us to be silent, and when all was still he said:
So spoke Moshe: “Hear Yisrael! You shall love the Almighty, your Lord, love him with your whole heart and soul and strength. Keep these words in your heart. Teach them to your children. Speak of them when you sit in your homes and when you are on your way, when you go to bed and when you get up. Tie them on your wrists and bind them between your eyes. Write them on the gates of your houses.” Thus spoke Moshe, thus the Almighty spoke to him. But how does one love the Almighty? Moshe also said: One loves the Almighty when one follows his rules. Yisrael has been given six hundred and thirteen rules over the centuries. It must keep six hundred and thirteen rules. I say to you: to keep six hundred and thirteen rules is loyalty to the law and righteousness, but it is not love. How then does one love the Almighty? One loves him in one’s neighbor. But the Almighty said this to Moshe. Who knows what the Almighty told him?
Yochanan said: All the commandments are commandments of love: Thou shalt not steal, not lie, not slander, not kill, because you should love.
It is written that you should not oppress or steal from your neighbor: you should not keep your daily wage until tomorrow.
Yehuda called that out.
It is also written that you should not abuse a deaf person and put no obstacle in the path of a blind person, someone said.
Furthermore it is written: You shall not harvest your whole field and vineyard, but leave something for the poor to glean.
It is written: Commit no injustice in your decisions, favor no party, neither for the rich nor the poor only because they are poor and powerless, but judge only according to righteousness: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, for everyone.
It is written: After seven years free your brother from his debt. You may pressure a foreigner, not a tribal brother. If a tribal brother come to you and asks you for something, give it to him. If a tribal brother sells himself to you as a slave, free him after seven years, for you were also a slave in Egypt until the Almighty bought your freedom.
Is that all you know? Must I hack it from your memories with a pick and shovel? Shimon, is nothing else written?
Do nothing to anyone which you would not have done unto you.
More! Yehuda, you!
Why me? Am I a scholar?
Yehuda, what is written about revengefulness?
Well, what then. Do you mean this: Don’t hate your brother in your heart?
More! Say it loudly so all can hear!
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Now, however, listen Yisrael! I say to you: Even the heathens do that. They do good to those they love. They take in he who is of their own tribe. You though, you should love your enemies! Yes, you heard right. You should love your enemies. To him who strikes you on the left cheek, you should offer him the right one too.
Yehuda sprang up: Rabbi, what are you saying?
Sit down, Yehuda, and listen: You said it is written that one should only judge according to righteousness. But I say to you that you should not judge at all. You should acquit, so that you will also be acquitted. You said it is written: Take in the tribal brother and give to him abundantly. But I say to you: Take in everyone who knocks on your door and is in need, even if he is your enemy, then you will also be taken in when you knock on the door that I can open. You said it is written: Free your slaves when they have served you for seven years. I say to you: Make no person your slave, for all are freeborn children of the Almighty and therefore brothers and sisters.
But that brought about another shout: All fine and good, but what’s that supposed to mean, love our enemies. Yisrael’s enemies are Adonai’s enemies. Are we to love the Almighty’s enemies? Should we love the Romans? Be pals with them, work together with them? Embrace Herod? Let the rich stay rich? Let the oppressed stay oppressed? Patch up old garments? Is that what’s meant?
Even Philippos, the silent, cried out: But the Essenes urge that we hate the Children of Darkness. Don’t you allow that either?
No, Yeshua said, I don’t allow that either.
An old man came forward and said:
Rabbi, your teaching sounds fine. But to follow it means: continue to be still and await the Messiah, and we have lived that way since the great unrest under the Maccabees. We have become cowards under the knife. Should the sheep also love the butcher?
He turned to the people: Have our hearts taken on rust? Have our teeth become stumps? Love our enemies, that means: leave Yisrael to the Romans forever without a struggle, deliver Adonai’s people to the heathens. Shame for Yisrael!
Someone cried out: This Rabbi Yeshua, the Galilean, is a traitor. He speaks for the Romans!
Yehuda jumped up and ran at him: Slanderer! You will pay for that.
A scuffle almost started.
But the old man said: Rabbi, he is one of your own. Look how far your disciples have come with loving their enemies.
Another called out: So we are to live forever under Roman rule? Or do you think they will go away on their own? Or do you think a military power like the Romans can be convinced to leave through prayers or like clucking chickens from the garden? Get off it. Nonsense!
Another: This rabbi is like one who wants to roast and eat a lamb without killing it. He’s a dreamer and his teaching is only good for weaklings and women.
That got me. Now it was I who sprang forward and yelled: Liar! As if Yisrael hasn’t been saved by a woman more than once when the men failed. Forgotten, lied away!
Talk, quarreling, yelling, tumult.
Yeshua stood there, looked at the crowd and was silent. Suddenly though, his silence was heard by all, as though he had screamed. Shimon said afterwards that it was like that time at sea, when wind and waves lay still when the rabbi silently stretched his hand out over the water.
When it was completely quiet, Yeshua said: You’re right. Yisrael has slept too long. I have come to awaken it and blow into the smoldering fire in order that it flame high and consume everything superfluous, dried out and dead, and all the peoples of the earth should gather round this fire, and the lamb will lie down with the lion, and man will no longer be a wolf to other men, but a friend and brother.
Yes, yes, some said, but that’s a long way off and has nothing to do with us. Talk to us about what’s here and now and what peace means here an now and how it’s to be accomplished as long as Rome hovers over Yisrael like a lion over its prey.
Yeshua answered: I told you, but you are deaf. I’ll tell you again with different words. Question: Which is stronger, rock or water? Water, for it undermines the rock and crushes it to sand.
Yes, Yehuda said, but for that the water needs thousands and thousands of years.
Yeshua answered: Who attacks, he who is sure of himself or he who is afraid to be attacked? Which is stronger, he who is afraid and attacks, or the fearless one who doesn’t even consider an attack to be an attack? Not attacking and not hitting back: that is true strength. To strike back means feeling weak and being afraid of the opponent. Not to use weapons means disarming the opponent.
The old man came forward again. We want peace, but before peace can come we must be a free people. We will be a free people when the Romans leave our country. The Romans will leave only when we force them to. To force them to leave means fighting them, and fighting means using weapons. Or do you know another way?
Listen friend: Rome is strong as a military power, Yisrael is strong as a spiritual power. Which has permanence: worldly or spiritual power? Water can defeat rock, not the other way around. It is up to you, Yisrael, to survive or destroy yourself. But you don’t listen to me. You have never listened to your prophets.
He drew his cloak around him and walked away. We followed him. It was quiet behind him for a while, then the tumult broke out anew. We heard it for a long while, until finally it sounded more like sea spray in our ears.
That evening we talked about it.
I dared to challenge the rabbi.
Rabbi, you say that you bring peace. Well, you see what you really bring: conflict. You have made many enemies.
Yes, Yehuda said, too many and unnecessarily. Your words, Rabbi, are salt in Yisrael’s wounds. Don’t you see how ashamed we are of our cowardice? How our pride rebels? And you say: be patient like the sheep, persevering like the water. You can’t reach the people that way.
I said: Yehuda is right. One year is a long time for those who are hungry and serve as slaves. Rabbi, to be blunt: When will the water topple the rocks?
What do you mean: now?
When our fathers suffered in the desert because of the snake plague, Moshe bent a bar of iron into the form of a snake and tied it to a beam of wood. Whoever looked up at that snake was cured of snakebite. Immediately cured. Immediately!
Rabbi, Yehuda said, what you say is unintelligible. On one hand you demand waiting for a distant future, and then you talk of here and now. Which is it? Speak plainly!
Instead of him, Yochanan answered: How you take the world in which we live to be the whole world, Yehuda! How you take the short time in which we live to be time itself! It depends on us to make the future into the present. The realm of peace is in us, here and now.
Knock it off, Yehuda screamed, don’t give us that talk again about the realm of spirit. Come down and put you feet on the ground, you half-Greek, you philosopher. Can you free a slave of debt with your pretty words? One must do, not talk! Rabbi, speak! Undo the knot you’ve tied in our brains.
Yeshua had listened silently. Then he said: Whoever is not born again from the spirit will always do the wrong thing, even when he thinks it is right. Whoever makes contact with the enemy is attacked by the enemy. Whoever loves lives already here and now in the realm of peace. That is the solution to all questions.
Then he fell silent, and as he sat there and looked at us, one after the other, something emitted from him that untied the knots in us.
Shimon said: Rabbi, you have the words of life.
But Yehuda mumbled: He unties the knot, yes, but then you have the threads in your hand and he entangles you in them and you fall into a spider web. I’m going to bed.
I said: Rabbi, your strides are too big. Have patience with us. You expect too much of us.
Yeshua said: You are tormenting your own brains. Tomorrow is today, the distant is here. Love, and you are already living in the new Aion.
It happened that I was alone with him for a few moments.
Rabbi, I think that I’ve learned something new.
And what is that, my clever pupil?
I learned what you didn’t say. You said that we must love our enemies as friends, but you didn’t say how that is done.
Do you know?
It’s not a matter of will. It’ has to do with the great knowledge.
How should I say it. I don’t have the right words. It’s as if I had to tell an important message in a foreign language, but didn’t know the language well.
You say love thine enemy. But do enemies even exist? I mean that one is not an enemy from the start. You become one. But why? From fear, greed, envy, jealousy. From all these things one makes oneself into an enemy, just as our fathers in the desert made idols even though they knew there is only one Eternal One.
Now it gets difficult. There is only one Eternal One, that much is clear. But when I say there is only one humanity, that isn’t so clear.
Miryam, it is extraordinarily clear.
Not to me though, Rabbi; I say something that occurred to me like a flash, then went away in a flash. Tell me what I said means.
How did the Almighty create man? He let the image of man which he carried inside come out and become reality in the world, and he breathed life into him. Which life? There is only one: His. That’s what man became and what every human being becomes, and everyone is equally divine spirit in earthly form; the Almighty lives in each individual. How can you spit in the Almighty’s face, how can you strike the Almighty, how can you want to kill the Almighty? That, Miryam, is what you call high knowledge. In fact, it is not the Law which can rule human community. It’s not fear of punishment which prevents the killing of life and the soul. Only the knowledge of the unity of everything that lives creates the realm of peace. Tell the others! Tell it to all! Say it a thousand times a thousand times. This is the mission I give to you: Teach the unity of all life, teach love.
While he had said this he placed both his hands on the top of my head.
Rabbi, I said: “Put me like a seal on your arm, press me like seal on your heart. A flood of water cannot extinguish love, and storms don’t wash it away. For love is as strong as death.”
He recognized the words from the Song of Songs. Of course he knew them. Therefore he answered: “Who is this who climbs up from the plain, supported by the lover?” Go on, Miryam.
“My lover was gone, I looked for him, but I didn’t find him. The watchmen found me on their rounds of the city, they struck and wounded me, the watchmen of the wall took away my cloak.”
Yeshua continued: “Then they will ask you: Where has your lover gone? We will look for him with you.” Where did they find him, Miryam? Keep these words in your heart. Listen: “They found the lover in the garden” You don’t understand. How could you understand that. One day you will remember this moment and this conversation. Go to sleep now.
It was all very strange and confusing to me. Too much new knowledge, too much joy, too much mission, too much dark prophesying.
As I walked away I said: You expect too much. I would have liked to turn back and say to him: You don’t know how much I love you. But such words forbade themselves, and they were too weak.
Before we set out the next morning a visitor came: the old man who had contradicted Yeshua. I didn’t sleep all night, he said. Rabbi, even if you’re not the Messiah, you are still very great. Allow me to love you like a son. And perhaps one day you can count me among your disciples.
Yeshua embraced him.
And this for the journey. Take it as if it had been given to you by your father. It is all from my small farm.
He left us, wrapped in a bundle, flat bread, a skin of wine, olives and little sweet cakes. So we had food for a few days, and we ate it almost ceremonially.
We had planned to be at home for Yom Kippur, or rather (for which of us still had a real home?) at the Sea of Kineret. But Yeshua was stopped too often and he patiently answered all the questions, and willingly preached, and happily spoke with the children, so our progress was slow. We celebrated Yom Kippur underway, and it was already the middle of December when we finally arrived in Kerfarnachum. Shimon’s wife ran up to Yeshua, to him, not to Shimon, and said something more important than a greeting: Rabbi, my mother is dying, the fever is consuming her. Come and help!
So Yeshua, tired from the trip, went in to the sick woman’s bed. What does she have?
We don’t know. She talks nonsense in her fever. She’s been like this for days.
He sat on the bed and felt her pulse. Feel it, Miryam!
Her pulse rushed and came in jumps like her breathing.
I said: If we put cold wet compresses on her legs the fever will go down.
Sit there in the corner and be quiet. Don’t let anyone in. If I can get her over the crisis…
Suddenly the gasping ceased. She died, I thought, and felt neither disappointment nor relief. But she wasn’t at all dead. She began to cough and spit out phlegm, to wherever it landed. As soon as she could speak, she said: Where are Shimon and Andrew? Where are they wandering about while their old mother is dying?
Yeshua said: You’re not dying, you’re cured.
Oh, it’s you! she said, you who my sons follow. Bring them back to me! They left me alone, abandoned the work. They don’t even produce grandchildren for me. Shimon has been married a whole year and nothing happens. Shame on our house! And you don’t have a wife and child yourself. What kind of men are you? And why is she with you?
She pointed at me.
Yeshua told us later that he told her: When you are abusive your lungs fill with phlegm and you must die.
We all laughed.
I went outside, The family was in the courtyard, also the professional mourners were already there and ready to cry as soon as the signal was given.
Is she dead?
On the contrary: The rabbi has cured her. Bring her something to drink. Then I went to look for Shimon and Andrew. They were squatting against the garden wall asleep.
Hey, Shimon, Andrew!
They jumped to their feet. Is she dead?
The rabbi cured her.
So, Shimon said, cured. Well…
You should go in to her.
Did the rabbi say that?
No, she did.
Then say you couldn’t find us.
You don’t know her. Whenever she opens her mouth, she nags.
That’s true, I said, but go in anyway. She belongs to your family after all.
Yeah, yeah, Shimon said. That’s just it.
They went slowly into the house with their heads down, like children expecting to be punished. I had to laugh, I couldn’t help it. When I saw Yeshua later I said: This healing hasn’t brought much joy to anyone, perhaps not even the old lady.
She has never had much joy in her life; fishermen’s wives have it hard, their daily bread is fear for their loved ones who are at sea.
Yes, I said, and you have taken both sons from her.
I couldn’t have called them if they hadn’t been called long ago. It’s not I who acts, but he who called me from the lap of eternity.
Word of the healing got around fast; the mourners talked about it.
And if he keeps this up!
There were no more peaceful days for Yeshua. Invitation followed invitation. The Captain even threw a party and the scribes asked him to debates. This time everything was friendly. However, we didn’t want to stay in Kefarnachum. Now that we had spent so much time in the great city or around it, Kefarnachum seem like a
village to us.
Rabbi, how long will we stay here?
Where do you want to go? Isn’t this your home?
When he said this we realized that neither here nor anywhere else was our home.
But Shimon, who often found the right words, said: Wherever you are Rabbi, that is our home.
We will be in Yerushalayim for Pesach.
A simple sentence. Why then were my hands cold?
Why the fear?
Yochanan, I asked, did I hear right: did the rabbi say we’re going to Yerushalayim?
You heard right.
And did he also say: it is the last time?
He didn’t say that. What are you talking about?
But I heard it: the last time.
The days in Kefarnachum were peaceful. Too peaceful. The disturbance came the day before departure. It came from Nazareth: Yeshua’s family. His mother and three brothers.
Aren’t you coming to Nazareth? Why not? Doesn’t your family mean anything to you? Are you angry with the city? Are you afraid of your enemies there? When will you give up wandering around?
They also tried it this way: You’re thirty years old, more. Others your age have a house, a family, a place in the community. You have nothing, absolutely nothing. What is this: an itinerant preacher!? And what do you live from? From alms. And from this woman’s money. Shame.
Yeshua signaled us to be silent. So they went on talking: You preach that we should hold to the Commandments. But you don’t even know the fifth: Honor your father and mother. Do you care for your mother? And not only that: you also take away the sons from other families and make wanderers out of honest fishermen and tradesmen and prevent them from founding families and from becoming useful and respected citizens.
And finally: What will all this lead to? They say that you are with the rebels and hang around in dives and preach against the state and the priests. That will turn out bad for you, you’ll see. Come now with us. Give up this wandering and the dangerous talk. Be reasonable. What you’re doing is crazy.
As they received no answer, neither yes nor no, they became confused and they couldn’t think of anything more. So they tried screaming: Say something! Don’t we even deserve an answer from you! We come especially this long way, and you won’t say even a word to us? Not even to your mother?
We still remained silent, so they gave up and left.
Yeshua gave his mother a sign that she should remain. He put his arm around her and said: “Listen daughter, incline your ear. Forget your people and your fatherland. The king desires your beauty, he is your lord. Come in, princess, come into the palace. The king and his entourage receive you with joy and rejoicing. I proclaim glory for you through all the generations.” Do you know the Psalm? Think of these words when you despair. We will see each other again in Yerushalayim during the Pesach celebration. Farewell!
She walked away with her head high. Her face was expressionless. Yeshua watched her for a long time as she left with the other three. Then he said: She understands and yet she doesn’t. A sword pierces her heart, and I am not allowed to spare her from it sinking even deeper.
Thus the peaceful week ended without peace.
It was mid-February when we started out, and we did so very quietly. We avoided all the towns by the sea.
Don’t you want to go to Magdala, Miryam? Yeshua asked me. And I asked: Don’t you want to go to Nazareth? We didn’t walk on the roads, but on narrow paths, around the towns. But the secret didn’t last three days. As we were going along a goat-path near Nain, the word was already out and by midday several hundred people were there waiting for us.
Among them was a young man who dragged another with him like a stubborn donkey in front of Yeshua. Rabbi, this is my older brother. Our father died recently and left him all his land and belongings. I got nothing of it, only some money. But I want my share of land. This one here denies me it. He says he is the heir and all the land belongs to him, legally. Tell him now, Rabbi, that he should share it with me.
Yeshua said: Am I a judge? What has your conflict to do with me? You argue about wind and clouds. You think the land belongs to you, and you think a part of it belongs to you. It belongs to him who created it. You two have only borrowed it.
The older one cried: If loaned, then loaned to me, not to him.
Yeshua said: Sit down with the others and listen to what I say, then we will discuss it further. A farmer brought in a harvest so large that his granary couldn’t hold it. So he built a much larger one and put the whole harvest in it. Then he walked around his house, farm and granary, smiled and said: Now that I am rich, I will enjoy it, for I need not worry about shortages for a long time. That night he died.
Yes, said the older brother, but one doesn’t die right away. There is still time for possession and enjoyment.
Yeshua said: Life, as long as it is, passes like one day. Who is so foolish that he tries to catch the wind in a sieve and the clouds in a fishnet? Who trades gold for pebbles, transient for intransient? What will you take with you over the threshold? What do you have to show as the fruit of your lives? One person will say to the judge: Look, I have ten thousand denars. But the judge will say: You come with empty hands; what you considered money is gone like smoke, you are a beggar. I say to you: gather that which is indestructible, which moths and mice do not eat, which rust does not destroy, which thieves do not steal, which no tax collector can demand and seize. And now, you two, what will you bring over the threshold? Will you drag your land behind you like a shadow? And you, what chains do you drag on your feet? It is greed and envy. Where will you land once over the threshold?
The older one said: All right. We’ll negotiate. If my brother is satisfied with one third of my land, he may have it.
I am satisfied, the younger one said.
Then go in peace, Yeshua said. But to us he said: Patchwork!
I said: Overtaxing, Rabbi.
He said loudly: The road is wide and comfortable, but leads nowhere. The path is narrow and stony, but it leads abruptly upwards. Choose!
Much was spoken about it, and it got late, and the February darkness came suddenly. Many who lived nearby hurried home. Those who had come from far away remained in caves and shepherds’ huts. They made small fires in the open and warmed themselves and ate what they had brought with them. It was a very peaceful picture.
The peace was abruptly shattered. It was Yeshua who did it. At first we didn’t notice what he was driving at, and considered it harmless.
You are eating, he said, and don’t know that you are eating transient food and are adding transient to transient.
Did he mean perishable food? Food that shouldn’t be kept from one day to the next?
He continued, but as though he were talking to himself: Manna fell from heaven from the sky to your forefathers, and they ate it as common food, and afterwards they were again hungry.
Of course, Shimon said, you can’t be full forever.
But there is a food which is permanent and fills you for all time.
What do you mean, Rabbi?
I am speaking of the bread of life.
But bread is always the bread of life.
I spoke of permanent food.
Now we were all attentive. What did he mean?
Rabbi, Shimon said, explain it better to us. You know that we limp along while you fly.
I will say it clearly, but the clearer I make it, the less you will understand.
What are you talking about, Rabbi?
About me and about you. I give you bread, but it is my flesh and my blood.
We stood there with our mouths hanging open. He went on: Bread from heaven fell for your forefathers. For you I am the bread that comes from heaven. I am the permanent food. Who eats me will not know death.
Someone said: But why should we want to eat you? We’re not cannibals.
A few laughed. But Yeshua said; Who does not eat me has no participation in me and the future realm of the spirit.
A murmuring went through the crowd, and someone said: He’s gone mad, don’t you see, we always said he’s crazy.
And one after the other they left.
Yehuda said: Now you’ve lost a lot by making a big mistake, Rabbi. What reasonable person can understand you? What’s that supposed to mean: eat you and bread is your flesh? With all respect for your imagery, you shouldn’t push it so far that no one understands you anymore. Your manner of speaking was always your strength, the people could understand you. But that today…
Yeshua said: It’s no less clear than much of what I said earlier.
Then he looked around: we were alone. He looked at us one after the other and said: Well, don’t you want to go, too?
Shimon, who so often spoke the redeeming words, said: Rabbi, if we were to leave where would we go? Who except you has the words of life? Whatever you say, even though we don’t understand it, is certainly true, for there is nothing but truth in you. Open our eyes, Rabbi!
Yehuda left, shaking his head. In going he whispered to me: Now he has beaten the people on their heads. This will cost us many followers. He’ll have to make up for it with some wonderful miracle.
Yochanan, I said, did you understand that? Surely you have an explanation. You absorbed understanding for such murky sayings with your Greek wet-nurse’s milk.
What are you talking about? I had no Greek wet-nurse.
I mean your teacher. Do you have an explanation or not?
My explanation is: there are truths which you can’t reach with explanations. They must be accepted until they explain themselves.
But one may think about them.
I have already thought about it, and this is what came out: other peoples have cultic celebrations, during which they dismember living animals, drink their blood and eat their flesh. And why? Because they believe that they absorb the animals’ life forces with their blood and flesh.
That is paganism.
Nothing exists that is only paganism.
Yes, but they really eat the animals. Are we to consume the rabbi’s living body? Or what? It can only be a picture, a symbol.
I don’t know. The way he said it, it sounded like more than a picture or symbol. Call it a mystery. That’s what the Greeks call what is true yet not conceivable, unless one is an initiate.
So what the rabbi means is only accessible for initiates? I don’t think so. He never makes secrets of his teaching. He says it openly and for all.
Yes, but only the initiates understand it.
Oh, Yochanan, you consider yourself one of the initiates, the chosen ones.
No, I don’t. I am like everyone else.
I thought and thought about it for two days and found no explanation, then I gave it up, and when I had given it up Yeshua spoke to me.
Come here and hold my arm. What is it that you are touching?
Say it exactly.
Is it I?
Of course. Or rather no. It is the form in which you appear.
My clever one! And now think harder. When I say: eat my flesh, drink my blood, can I mean this flesh and the blood which runs in my veins?
No, not that.
Assuming that I could eat your flesh, Rabbi, then your flesh would become mine.
Then you would be in me. Or rather: you and I, we would be one. Yes, but Rabbi, how is it that I could incorporate you? Is your teaching the food I should eat?
What is my teaching, Miryam? My word is THE word – my word AM I.
So it’s all a parable?
I am no parable, Miryam! I am THE reality. Eat me, Miryam! That is what I long for: to become earthly matter in each of you, so that you become spirit. Do you understand?
In that moment I fell into a sea of fire, and in falling I called out: Rabbi, I KNOW.
What did I know?
On the way to Yerushalayim Yochanan came back to Yeshua’s words. I told him nothing about Yeshua’s instructions to me. But Yochanan had reached knowledge in his own way.
It’s about becoming one, he said. The Word was with the Almighty, and the Almighty was the Word, and the Word has become flesh, and will always be flesh anew, and the history of humanity is the history of the Eternal Word becoming man.
When we were two days journey from Yerushalayim a rider came, a messenger from Bethany. Rabbi, your friend Lazarus is dying. Come quickly! Take my horse!
Yeshua said: Ride back and say that the rabbi will come at the right time. Did you hear?
Yes, I will say that the rabbi will come in time.
You’re not listening: you should say that the rabbi will come at the right time.
We started to go quickly, but Yeshua said: There’s no hurry.
But rabbi, if he’s dying!
I say to you: I will go at the right time.
We didn’t dare to push him. When we arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had died. At least that’s what they said.
Rabbi, Martha said, if you had only come sooner!
Yeshua said: When did he die?
Exactly three days ago, to the hour.
Did he seem sick to you?
He wasn’t sick at all. He stood there looking up, then he fell over. We thought he had what they call tetanus, or some other fit from which he could die. Then we sent the messenger to you. But he never regained consciousness. He lies in the tomb just as he was when he fell. We wanted to wait for you, Rabbi. But we thought maybe the putrefaction had already begun.
Yeshua approached the tomb, and then he went inside.
Yochanan and I followed him to the entrance, for we also wanted a last look at Lazarus. Yeshua turned to us and said: What did Elijah and Elisha do when they called the dead back to life?
Rabbi, I screamed, no, not that, above all not that!
But he had already done it. He reached out to the dead one as Elijah did, as Elisha did, took the cloth from his face and breathed into his mouth.
Yochanan and I were lamed from shock. Then Yeshua straightened up and said: He is not dead. He was only away, far away. Look, he has returned from the long journey.
And Lazarus sat up, sneezed several times and said: Who am I?
That’s what he said. Yochanan also heard it. Not where am I, but who am I.
Yeshua answered him: He who you should be and who you shall be from now on.
Then he led Lazarus out into the open.
All who saw him screamed, hid their faces and fled. Yochanan and I also wanted to flee, but Yeshua said: Stay! What you have seen is a sign for you. Try to interpret it! And now bring Lazarus into the house so that we may wash and feed him. The journey was long and strenuous.
We were horrified at touching Lazarus, we hardly dared to look at him. But he said: It’s you two! I met you on my journey.
I thought: He’s talking nonsense. And no wonder after three days in the grave. He stared at us, as though it took a great effort to recognize us. Then he said: It is so. The shroud burst open.
Then he called out: Rabbi, I see! I see! I see everything as it is!
We understood nothing of all this except one thing: Lazarus lived really and truly. Perhaps also this: he wasn’t really and truly dead, just as the girl in Nain wasn’t dead. But there was a difference: the girl died only one hour previously, the silver cord wasn’t yet broken. But Lazarus! Three days in the grave! And what did he mean about a journey?
I dared to ask Yeshua: Was he in the realm of the dead?
There is no realm of the dead, Miryam, for there are no dead. Can you answer my question: Where is the butterfly before it is a butterfly? Now don’t ask any more. Accept it as it is. One day you will understand it like a shock.
It took days before we could overcome our fear. But we still avoided Lazarus. He was as he had always been, yet somehow different. I had never noticed before that he looked like Yeshua. The others noticed it, too.
Yehuda, who had not come with us to Bethany, but had gone his own secret way, said when we told him about it: If the Rabbi wanted to do the same for Yisrael, it would rise from the dead.
He hadn’t the slightest doubt that Lazarus had really been dead and that the Rabbi could awaken the dead. The story fit perfectly into his vision.
It also fit into the vision “those on top” had of Rabbi Yeshua. It fit this way and that. It fit into a white and into a black vision. In the white one: isn’t it written that the Lord’s anointed one will be recognized because he makes the blind see, the lame walk, cures the sick, and wakes the dead to life? Whether it’s to be taken literally or not: this Rabbi Yeshua is one of the great prophets. According to the dark vision: True or not, the people believe that he can wake the dead, the people believe what they want to believe, the people go to him, the flock of his followers grows, and what people: the unsatisfied, the rebellious who don’t need much to start an uprising that would spread not only against the Romans, but against all whom they consider friends of the Romans, everything will be undermined, and collapse. And then the Romans will intervene, and what then? We still control the situation. But we must act, now! First: the thing with Lazarus must be erased. He must be removed, taken somewhere where he can’t be found. The rumour must be spread that there was never any resurrection, that it was a swindle. That will make the people unsure. It will divide this rabbi’s followers. It will make enemies for him. We must make that clear to him. But how? How? He isn’t one of those little harmless prophets who claim to be the Messiah. He never claims to be anything. He goes around and the people cluster to him. But doesn’t he claim to be something? Not the Messiah. Not what? Unforgettable words: Destroy this temple and in three days, if I want…you already know: Before Abraham was, I AM. He knows what he is saying and why. If that isn’t blasphemy!
That’s what was being said, and every day our people brought new bad news from the city, but what was being said where the decisions were made, we didn’t hear.
We heard: Lazarus must be taken away, but we have to anticipate them: Lazarus must flee.
Yes, but then they could say that there was no resurrection, and how would the rabbi look then?
Whatever, the situation looked bad. A black thundercloud rose over us.
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
For the whole book free of charge in pdf format, see the SCR eBook library
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
About the author: Luise Rinser was born in Germany in 1911. In 1944 she was imprisoned by the Nazis for “high treason”. She was liberated by the Americans in 1945. The liberators were quicker than the hangman. She wrote over thirty books – novels, essays and diaries. She lived the last three years of her life near Rome – and died in March 2002. Upon her death Johannes Rau, President of Germany, acclaimed her as one of the great literary voices of post-war Germany. She didn’t allow herself to be influenced by temporary fashions and was always a courageous defender of freedom, democracy and human cooperation. “She will be missed by many, because in her books and essays she always sought the fundamental questions of life”.