2947

 

Miryam

 

by Luise Rinser

 

 

Part 9

 

 

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 own 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 tight. 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 kingdom 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.

Don’t you?

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?

Your arm.

Say it exactly.

Your flesh.

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.

What then?

Assuming that I could eat your flesh, Rabbi, then your flesh would become mine.

Harder!

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 thought maybe the putrification 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 as 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 he 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 kingdom of the dead?

There is not kingdom 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 anymore. 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 hat he can wake up 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 rumor 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.

Yeshua said nothing and asked nothing, and we didn’t dare to address him. He was there and he wasn’t there. I could hear his footsteps before the house during the night: He walked back and forth until dawn. So passed three days, four, five days, and they were like lead.

Where was Yehuda those days?                

When he finally appeared he was exhaling sparks. He drew me aside. It’s time. Everything is ready.

What’s ready?

What Yisrael is waiting for.

You make me afraid, Yehuda.

Afraid? Afraid now? Now, just before victory? Listen: the moment was never better than now. Ten thousand pilgrims will be in the city for Passover, and half of them are rebels, armed. The Romans haven’t a clue. They only have a few companies here, mostly foreigners, Greeks, Syrians, Samaritans, a bunch of conscripts or green recruits who have little interest in risking their neck for the Romans. In Syria there are five Roman cohorts, no more than two thousand five hundred men. They are eating, drinking and whoring there. Pilate is somewhere. By the time he’s notified and comes and calls the troops we’ll have the city in our hands. Our people will surround the city and no one will be able to enter or leave. And Bar Abba is inside, understand? He organized everything. Brilliant!

We heard footsteps, we recognized them immediately, and Yehuda disappeared

What are you doing here outside, Miryam? Darkness outside, darkness within? Go to sleep! The night is cold.

Sleep? Is it time to sleep?

In eight hours we are going to Yerushalayim.

What are you saying? To Yerushalayim? Rabbi, no! Not that. You can’t. You would be walking into danger with your eyes open. Don’t you know that

I know, I know that nothing will happen to me that shouldn’t happen.

He left me standing there. No sooner did his steps die out when others came.

What did he say? Did you tell him?

I didn’t tell him anything.

But you must tell him. You must! What good is it if everything is ready for him and he doesn’t come, or not as the people expect. Tomorrow he will have to show himself as the one who he is. The people will pick him up here in the morning. They will make a triumphal march for him which could not be better for any king. But he must show himself as king!

As king? Yehuda, you’re talking nonsense. Kings are human and do human things. No prophet ever wanted to be a king. How many kings has Yisrael had and what was the result? Bad!

I’m not saying that he is king. I’m saying that he must act like a king. With royal bearing. Then perhaps no blood will be spilled. Perhaps power will simply fall to him. He only needs to want it.

And if he doesn’t want it, can’t want it and may not want it?

He will want it because he must want it.

Footsteps approached from the other side. Are you still out here in the night? What dark threads are being tied here?

Did you hear what Yehuda wants?

Must I hear his words to know what he wants? Listen, Miryam, I say to you and to him: When Shemuel the prophet was old the people pressured him: Give us a king, we want to be like other peoples. Shemuel brought the matter to the Almighty, and the Almighty said: “Just as they have acted since the days when I led them out of Egypt, rejecting me and making false gods, they are doing now. I am who they reject. I should no longer be king over them.” So spoke the Almighty. When they insisted on their demand, he said: “They shall have their king. Tell them though: When they complain about their king I will not hear them.” Miryam, I am not Yisrael’s king. My kingdom is not of this world. My task is another. To proclaim a kingdom now would mean to lose forever the higher contest. I want neither power nor violence, not for me, not for Yisrael, not for this earth. Why have I come? In order to still the peoples’ thirst for blood with my blood. In order that in some distant day no man will die by human hand, for that will I die.

Rabbi!

Why do you cry out? Haven’t you long known, Maccabee daughter? Your bravery holds no weapon, rather the cup with my blood.

With that he left me. With that! My teeth chattered and I trembled as though the earth was quaking under me.     

Yehuda was already back: Did you tell him?

Before you came, he had already said: Tomorrow we go to Yerushalayim. I can’t tell you more. Not now.

Good. Let’s leave it at that. So he’s going to the city. Good, good. Everything else will turn out well. Bar Abba and I have everything under control. So: until tomorrow, or rather: So long. It’s almost morning. The day will be beautiful!

A couple of hours later Yeshua called us together. Are you read?

No one said: Yes, I am ready. Why this silence?

Then Yehuda called from the garden of olives: They’re coming! They’re coming!

Yeshua said: Bring the she-ass from the stable. I will ride so as not to be crushed in the crowd.

Yehuda came running. What she-ass, they’re bringing you a saddle-horse, Rabbi!

No, Yeshua said. No horse. The she-ass!

Yehuda struck himself on the head: Of course the she-ass!

What do you mean, Yehuda?

Haven’t you ever learned what is written?

What then?

“Fear not, daughter Zion. See, your king comes riding on a young donkey.” 

I couldn’t control myself. I said: So that’s how you want to twist it? If it’s the case with the donkey, it must also be true about the king?

Yehuda mumbled something.

Let it be, Yeshua said. He understands it according to his capability.

Yehuda poked me with his elbow: Must you always be against me? But it doesn’t matter: the people will be pleased that he doesn’t come riding high like a Roman.

Then he took off his coat, folded it carefully and laid it over the donkey as a saddle.

Yeshua mounted, Yehuda led the donkey.

Poor Yehuda. He held fast to his plan and his hopes as a lion to its prey.

We went down the hill, and the people streamed up from the valley, countless, they waved kerchiefs and branches and threw them on the path so that Yeshua would ride over them.

What did they cry? Hoshiana, Hoshiana!

The cry with which a king is greeted.

Yehuda, Yehuda, this is your doing! How you feel triumph and don’t realize that you are leading your Rabbi to his death! I ran along and was deafened by screaming, dust and by fear. What do these people expect? That the man on the donkey calls forth the free kingdom? How then? And the Romans will say: Fine, then we’ll leave the country. Is that how it’s supposed to go? That never happened. Yisrael’s freedom would cost blood. Foolish people. They proclaim their own downfall. Of course it wasn’t so clear to me then, but I was cold with anxiety.

At a curve in the road Yeshua leaned down to me: Over there on the hill they have decided on my death, only they don’t yet know how to bring me to trial.

Then I was pressed back by the crowd and I found myself next to Shimon. So many people, he said, and many more will come for Passover. Pilgrims. And among them the spies, the soldiers and the rebels, and in the middle the rabbi. I’m afraid, Miryam.

Who wasn’t afraid? Each one had his own reason for fear.

Then, through more pushing, I found myself next to Yeshua again and I saw how a man approached him, a scribe, and said: Rabbi, forbid this procession, forbid this Hoshiana-cry, it is a provocation which you will pay dearly for.

Yeshua said: If I forbid it the people, the rocks will shout it.

At Kidron there was congestion: those who had come down from the hill into the valley met those who had come out from the city.

I pushed myself to Yeshua’s side. When he, wedged in, had to stop, he looked up to the city and said: Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, what have I done to you that you wish for my death? I offered you peace, but you point your weapons at me. Now you are condemning yourself: from now on you will never have peace until the end of time.

Besides me, Yochanan, Shimon, Yochana, Shulamit heard these words. We were closest. They were drowned out for the others by the Hoshiana cries.

We arrived in the city and nothing remarkable happened, and it was also not remarkable that a troop of riders came from the north who wore those silly feather-brushes on their helmets and carried the hated Roman eagle standard. Not a very warlike band. Merely the usual governor’s guard. He came from Caesarea, where he resided, and rode up to the Antonia fortress. The shouts of jubilation for Yeshua were lost in the side-streets. Silence spread out around Pontius Pilatus. He didn’t expect a festive greeting. He knew that not only the Romans in general were unloved, but also himself in particular.

The people retreated before him and were dispersed.

As soon as he disappeared in the fort, however, the people returned and followed Yeshua, and it so happened that Yeshua arrived at the temple at the same time as Pilatus entered the fortress. I was carried along by the crowd like a piece of driftwood. Finally I got as far as Shelomo’s Porch, farther wasn’t possible, but it was enough, for from there I could hear Yeshua’s voice, if only parts of his talk. Little by little I pushed ahead until I heard the ending word for word.                    

“When buds grow on the fig tree you know that the summer is near. When signs appear on the sun, moon and stars, then you will know: the end of time is near. The sea will rage, the earth will quake, people will die of fright. When you see this, raise your heads and know: liberation is near.”

The people applauded. It was the word liberation that was applauded. It seemed to me that they heard only that, for it was what they wanted to hear, nothing more. Didn’t he also speak of great affliction, from which you would flee into the hills, and that the catastrophe would come like lightning and that you should be ready? Didn’t they hear that? They heard only that the times of affliction would end suddenly.

What did he really say though? Not a word about the Romans, not a word about violence, not a word about the present situation. He spoke of signs on the sun, moon and stars. He spoke of something far beyond our earthly concerns and about a completely different reality. He spoke as though he himself was already in a different reality. For a moment our earthly concerns also seemed to me as unreal as a cloud of dust within the borderless, silent world of the stars, and I thought: Our reality, good or bad, or both together, is only a dream. Yeshua is also a dream. Our dream of a liberator. Our dream of peace. He came, he leaves. Humanity dreams thus from paradise till the day of destruction. I thought about my conversation with the Greek, a long time back, but unforgettable: our reality is nothing but a shadow- game on the walls of the cave. Close your eyes and it disappears. But how can there be shadows without light?

I left the temple and went down to the city. I needed friends. I went to Veronica’s, one of us for a long time. I found a gathering of women there, and Yeshua’s mother had also come, without the rest of the family. She had come from Kefarnachum with some friends.

Miryam, tell Yeshua that I am ready.

Ready for what?

He will understand.

Should I tell him that he should visit you? Or would you rather go with us to Bethany to see him there?

I will see him at the right time.

These words again: at the right time. There was no comfort to be found there. So I went back up to the temple, but the sermon was over and the people were streaming back to the city. But where was Yeshua? I met some of our people here and there, but none knew where he was. Had what I feared already happened? Had a hired assassin secretly killed him and dragged him away? Had he been arrested? Before it got dark I went to Bethany. And there I found him. Nothing bad had happened to him. He was only tired and his feet ached. I still had two of those alabaster flasks containing the most precious of all oils.

When, if not now.

Rabbi, allow me to wash and anoint your feet. I broke one of the flasks, trickled some on his hair, and emptied the rest over his feet.

Yehuda yelled: What are you doing? You’re spilling out a fortune!

Yeshua said: She is anointing me for my burial.

Didn’t Yehuda hear that? Or else why did he say: We could have given the money to the poor, or better still…

Yeshua said: Whenever people speak of me and of my death, this woman will also be named.  

I went outside so no one would see how I was about to break out in tears. But no tears came. My pain was dry. I accepted the inevitable as though it had already happened, and I thought: If only it was all over. When I saw Yehuda later, I said: Well, do you still regret the use of the oil? It was the oil with which kings are anointed.

He held my arm tightly: So you do believe that he’s Yisrael’s king?

You must be mad, Yehuda, that you don’t understand anything. Three years with him, and you understand nothing, nothing.

The next day was like an leaden mirror. Nothing moved. Martha and her sister Miryam began to clean the house for the feast. The rabbi would pass the Seder evening with us after all.

Veronica also cleaned her house. He would celebrate with us, for his mother was here.

Two families for him who had none. He didn’t say a word about it.

He called a few of us to accompany him to the city.

Rabbi, stay home, I beg you.

He brushed past me. Are you coming or not?

I ran after him. Wherever he went I would follow like a hunting dog on a scent, and like a sheepdog to protect him. Fool that I was.

He went to the temple. Of all places. The lamb handing the butcher the knife.

What would he say that wouldn’t be a provocation to the rulers? Weren’t they waiting to be able to accuse him of some blasphemy?

Nothing like that. He had often spoken of the end of time and of the afflictions which would come. Now he added something new. No one knows when the end will come; it will be as in Noah’s time: everything was normal, the people ate and drank, married and begot children, lied and cheated and fought; they hoarded money and ignored Noah’s warnings. But then the great rain came, from one moment to the other the waters rose. Only Noah was saved, and with him all who followed him into the arch, believing his words. It will happen again like that from one moment to the next, but it will not be water that destroys, but a fire storm. Two would be in a field, one will be taken away, the other will remain; two will lie in a bed, one will be taken, the other left.

Strange words. Anyway, I understood little of it. I wasn’t capable of clearly understanding such words. I only listened to his voice. Each sentence could be his last. I stared at him. How long?

Shimon said: Look there behind him – two scribes. How they listen! Sadducees! Informers!

But he said nothing useful to them.

The day was so calm that I began to wonder if it was all our imagination, our nightmare.

But that night I heard footsteps outside the house. I jumped up. Were they arresting him? They were two men. Yeshua went out to them and they went together to the olive orchard. They walked back and forth, an hour, two hours, and Yeshua returned to the house.

Who were they? What did they talk about?

I didn’t allow myself to ask Yeshua the next morning. The day passed calmly, like lead.

But the evening brought movement.

It was already dark when Yehuda arrived. He took me aside.

Miryam, for once do as I ask. It is my last request of you. Come with me. Now!

Where to?

You will see and hear and understand. Come!

He led me though the olive orchard and then farther. I said nothing. He took my hand and his was hot as with fever. Finally we came to a valley thick with undergrowth. A foot-path led through it. Then he released my hand and pushed branches aside. The moon shown on three bodies. Two men, one woman.

Impaled, Yehuda said, tortured, impaled, murdered. Why? Because they loved Yisrael more than their own lives. Because they helped to free Yisrael from the hands of the heathens. Three more victims. How many more? Should we still wait? Wait like toothless old people for a merciful death? Do we still believe that the situation can change without getting our hands bloody? Does any one of us believe that the Romans will withdraw like a cattle herd? I tell you: if we don’t throw them out not one stalk of wheat will grow again in our land, and on the hill instead of productive trees only more crosses will stand, and the Almighty will turn away from his people, so they will become a people of brainless sheep led by Roman wolves. A people of cowards who lick the enemy’s hands and feet. Shame on us! It won’t be long before they occupy our temple and hang their damned eagle on it, as they once did, and place their thrice damned Caesar on our holy throne of David instead of our lawful Jewish king. Up, you people! Be ready, sharpen your daggers, buy swords, wait for the signal. A few more days and the kingdom of David will be established once more. In the name of these dead ones, in the name of the anointed one: Rise up! He let the branches fall again over the bodies, grabbed my hand and dragged me with him. I broke loose and fled.                             

He’s gone mad, I thought. He, the darkly silent one: only madness could tear such a speech from him. But was it really madness?

He came right up to me when we got to Bethany, I hadn’t gone into the house yet. We were both breathless and gasping.

He fell on his knees before me. Miryam, tell him what you saw! Tell him that he must save Yisrael. He must decide now, during these days, and there’s no going back for him. The people see him as the king. You anointed him!

Stand up, Yehuda, please stand up!

I won’t stand up until you have recognized your role. Isn’t your name Miryam? For whom are you named: for a slave or for Miryam, Aharon’s sister, the prophetess? Did she exhort our fathers to have patience with the Egyptians, or did she dance and sing when the Almighty drowned the Egyptians in the sea of reeds? Miryam! You say nothing? You do nothing? Do you deny Yisrael’s salvation?

Don’t yell, Yehuda. Do you want everyone in the house to hear you?

I’ll yell! I’ll scream until they all hear, until HE hears- You scream too! You won’t? No?

He jumped up.

And I loved you these three long years, you were the only one for me, and I repressed it and left you to him. Everything for him! And he doesn’t even notice!

He sobbed and ran off into the night.

Poor Yehuda. A victim of madness. Where did he run to? He didn’t appear in Bethany the following days. Nobody knew where he was.

Leave him alone, Yeshua said. He does what he must do.

Puzzling words – then.

What must he do? Did you give him a mission, Rabbi?

Not I.

Who then?

You will understand later. What must happen, will happen.

The day was like the previous ones. A sermon in the temple. I didn’t hear a word. At the end of his sermon some men approached him. The demanded that he follow them. Were they kidnappers? But he walked between them as though walking through dry reeds which one pushes aside. They watched him go and were at a loss. I saw that and I wasn’t deceived.

But where did he go? None of us saw him again that day.

Perhaps he went to his mother.

No, he didn’t come here.

Aren’t you worried about him, Veronica? You clean and clean and don’t know if he will come.

What else shall I do except clean. It’s necessary and calming.

Well, keep cleaning then.

Miryam, listen! Maybe it’s completely different. Perhaps…

But I was already outside.

Suddenly I saw Yehuda. Where did he come from? Where was he running to?

I suspected something. Yehuda!

But he had already entered through a gate. Whose gate? Whose house?

Who lives here? I asked the guard.

What’s it to you? Get lost.

I’m looking for a friend who just went in.

What’s his name?

Yehuda.

But you can’t bother them now. He has an important meeting with my master.

Tell me your master’s name.

Caphias.

The high priest?

Now go. No one is allowed to hang around here.

I left. Yehuda with the high priest. My suspicion. Yehuda’s madness. The thunderstorm broke. What was up with Yehuda, what was going on? Whom could I ask? Yes, whom? Whom could I trust?

There was one, if he would let me in.

A watchman stood before the house. His face was familiar. Hadn’t he often been among Yeshua’s listeners? With what object? Had Nicodemus taken an enemy as watchman?

I took courage.

May I see your master?

My master is at a meeting.

Where?

At court. At the Sanhedrin. What do you want, Galilean? I know you. He leaned down to me and said in my ear. Go home, all of you go home to Galilee. If you’re there the Sanhedrin can’t cite you. Yerushalayim isn’t competent there. Go soon! Tonight if possible. It doesn’t look good for you. They’ve been deliberating for three days now. My master dares a lot to save him. But go now. I can’t say anymore. Save yourselves before it’s too late. It is already very late.       

I went, but only around the corner and hid there. I was determined to wait for Nicodemus, even if it took all night. What did I want with him? I wanted clarity, more he could not give me, but he would have to give me that.

Finally he came, but he wasn’t alone. It was dark and the torches that burned in front of the gate gave off a flickering light, so I couldn’t see who came with him. I waited. Long after midnight the gate opened and Nicodemus was seeing his night guest out. Now I saw: it was Yehuda. He hurried away and I could just reach Nicodemus before he closed the gate.

I am Miryam, one of his disciples. I must speak with you.

Come in.

Yehuda was with you. What does he want?

To convince me.

Of what?

To sharpen the discord in the Sanhedrin.

Why?

To gain time.

For what?

Bar Abba was arrested tonight. They say because of a knife fight in a tavern. It’s not true. They want to hush it up. We know what he’s up to.

I understand: the net is broken. But Yehuda isn’t one to give up. He’ll mend it.

And for that he needs time. He wants to stop the wheel, but at the same time he wants to give it a strong push so that it goes forward.

Who can understand that?

Yehuda has lost patience. He wants to force the great decision with violence. We in the High Court are to arrest Yeshua and interrogate him. Pushed in the corner like that he will have to declare himself. In public. Under oath.

As the Messiah. What then?

Once revealed, he would have to accept the role.

That means he would have to be at the head of the revolt and act against the Romans. For that he wants to push the wheel. But stopping the wheel is to gain time to mend the broken net and round up the rebels, who are intimidated by Bar Abba’s arrest. And that time should be gained by you arguing in the Sanhedrin. But there’s conflict between the parties anyway.

He wants to force him into the lead.

How then?

He’s playing a double game, torn, daring and futile.

Futile?

About that later. The game goes thus: to me, that is to the Pharisees, he says: you are blind and don’t see that Yeshua is the Messiah. Don’t all the prophets’ predictions point to him? Doesn’t he heal the sick, free the possessed, resuscitate 

the dead? It is a holy duty to stand by his side, for he is Yisrael’s savior. But to the Sadducees he says that Yeshua is a prophet who confuses the people and causes unrest, that he has powerful friends among the Pharisees.

What is his objective exactly?

Think: who fears a revolt? He who has something to lose. A revolt against the Romans is also a revolt against the Romans’ friends, the rich aristocrats. Where do they sit in the Sanhedrin? At the side of the Sadducees. Who then has a burning interest in eliminating the one who can start the revolt and lead it?

A political game then.

A lost game, Miryam. But the loser will not be Yeshua.

So he will be saved? Say it!

Miryam, Miryam! You have been his student for so long and you still speak so foolishly. Don’t you know that what must happen will happen?

So he will die.

And conquer!

That is merely a hope. But death is a certainty.

Miryam!

Yes. All right. So he will die. But how? Will they ambush him and murder him?

Oh no. He will have a large public trial.

For that a complaint must exist.

It does. What we have been arguing about for days, even before Yehuda intervened, is the wording of the complaint. It must go to the Roman court, because we have no authority to rule for a death sentence and carry it out. The complaint must make sense to the Roman mentality. We can’t go to Pilatus with our Jewish questions of belief. In his ears that’s all fanatical hair-splitting. In order for the case to interest the Romans, it must be political and affect them, and if the death sentence is to be decided on, the complaint must read: inciting the people against the occupying power, which is preparation for high treason.

But you can’t accuse Yeshua of that. He has never attacked the Romans. Pay Caesar taxes, give him what is his. That’s well known. When did he ever say anything against the Romans?

That’s how you see it. But hasn’t he made the people think he is the Messiah?

He never said that. And even if he did, it only concerns the Jewish people.

It also concerns the Romans, for it is said of the Messiah that he will free Yisrael. That’s known in Rome. What does that mean: free Yisrael? Free from whom?

But if he never said that!

No, but too many prophetic words point to him, and he performed too many miracles. The thing with Lazarus, that infuriated them.

But why? There have always been miracles with us. Didn’t Elijah and Elisha wake the dead? Were they punished for it?       

And even if Yeshua had said he is the Messiah and he really believed it, would that be a crime according to Jewish law? In the past few years I have heard more than one Jew say he is the Messiah, and nothing happened to them. And assuming that Yeshua really is the Messiah, and why not, shouldn’t all Yisrael, Pharisees as well as Sadducees, rejoice that he has finally come? It isn’t written that he will liberate Yisrael by violence. Listen, Nicodemus, there’s something else behind all this. What do you really have against Yeshua?

Miryam, we are an old people and very small in numbers. A speck of dust among the great empires. Since our father Avraham brought us to Egypt and since Adonai led us out again, until we reached this land, and since we settled in this land, we have always fought to stay the Jewish people. Understand? No schisms, no mixing with strangers. That’s the reason for the strict laws, which remind us every day that we are different from other peoples. This, and only this, is how we have survived: because there was unity, separation, clever limits. That’s how Yisrael can and wants to continue surviving. And now this: danger for Yisrael’s unity!

But why? Hasn’t he observed all the laws, although some not so strictly, like the Sabbath prohibitions and the adultery law, but interpretations are allowed. Even your teacher of the law hems and haws about what you’re supposed to do. Not one letter of the Law shall be changed, Yeshua said. Well? Or do you think he wants to force a wedge between the people and the priests? Then he wouldn’t have to force anything. The people already know that there are good people among you, but also many bad ones. Didn’t you impose higher taxes on the people than Rome demanded? And applied them recently to spices like dill and mint and caraway seeds? That the people hate you is your own fault. So why do you want Yeshua’s death?

You say that he has observed the Law. But he says: I have come in order to fulfill the Law. Do you hear the difference? To fulfill something means, the way he says it, to bring it to an end. And to bring something to an end means to begin something new. The talk about not pouring new wine into old skins. And the talk of the dead burying their dead. This and more. We have sharp ears. And those words about the unity of the son and the father, their being one. Do you think that we, who do nothing except interpret strange sayings, can’t understand what is meant?

What is meant?

You know what.

And if it really is so?

Then it is just what we fear. For if he is, then the curtain before the altar is rent. Then the earth quakes under our feet. Then the temple collapses. Then the new age begins and brings enormous changes and demands from humanity, and not only from us Jews – the great transformation.

But hasn’t Yisrael always had prophets who demanded this transformation?

Miryam: he is more than a prophet. You know that. Listen: we Jews are an old people with a God whose name we may not speak. But now HE speaks it, and he is called: the son of man. As those words were spoken, the spirit from the inconceivable, from the spaceless, the timeless, entered into our history and became flesh and received the name Yeshua. Now the secret is out. Now the curtain between the two realities is rent. Now the spirit is matter, in order that matter may become spirit. With the temple curtain, however, the curtain between Yisrael and the other peoples is also rent. From now on not only Yisrael is the chosen people, but all men and women are God’s chosen people, the testament between God and Yisrael will become the testament between the spirit of God and all peoples, and the God of Yisrael is no longer a tribal god, but the God of all peoples and for all times. Do you understand what is at stake for Yisrael? Loss, loss! Our unity is in greatest danger! Our survival no longer guaranteed! No longer to know who we are. And it all comes form this One. Do you see why we must kill him before what we fear happens?

But you, Rabbi Nicodemus, who see through the game, why do you say: WE must kill him?

Because it’s my fate to belong to this people. However, your rabbi told me that this fate doesn’t strike back at me because – and he speaks the truth – because I am reborn from the spirit. Miryam: I am Rabbi Yeshua’s disciple. And there are more than one of us scribes who are on your side.

If that’s so, why don’t you save him? Is it because you’re in the minority?

If his death wasn’t to be, it wouldn’t depend on our Yes or our No. He and the one he calls his father are the great majority who have decided this death. How could this majority divide when it is the undividable unity?

Rabbi Nicodemus: Yeshua taught me to think that the son is not the father, but that the father realizes himself in the son. So the unity is a duality after all, and if there are two, one can fall into the arms of the other.

Miryam, you are bargaining with the Almighty! Go home now. It’s way past midnight. But I won’t let you go alone. My watchman will accompany you to Bethany. And be strong. Prove yourself to be who you are, and who you are to him, whom you love.

As it was so late, I didn’t go to Bethany, but to Veronica’s, who lived close by. I met all our women there, and also Yeshua’s mother. They were still awake, because they had decided not to sleep that night. When I knocked they were very frightened.

I’m Miryam, open up!

Has something happened? Do you bring bad news?

Should I tell them about the conversation with Nicodemus, and if so, to what extent?

Before I began, his mother said: Everything has been decided long ago.

How she said that: without doubt and uncomplaining; she declared something which was unchangeable.

The women began to cry. But she said: Why are you crying? What happens must happen. He goes in order to be able to return.

What did she mean? Where did that sudden knowledge come from? Was this the carpenter Joseph’s widow, who went so quietly through life and didn’t understand her son? And now this authority in speech and attitude.

Are you not Yisraelites? Descendents of the Maccabees? Should we have less courage than that Maccabee woman who watched proudly and without complaint as her seven sons were tortured and killed? It was here in this city, at this very place, under King Antiochus, that they wanted to force them to give up their Jewish faith and eat forbidden food. Her eldest said to the king: We are prepared to die before violating our law. For these words the king had his tongue cut out, his scalp removed, his limbs cut off and the still breathing body thrown into the boiling vat – all before his mother’s eyes. Then his brother was led before the king, and he also refused, as did the others, until they came to the youngest. The king pitied him and promised him his life and riches and friendship if he would relent. The mother went up to him and said: My son, I don’t know how you and your brothers were conceived in my womb. It wasn’t I who bestowed you with breath and life. He who bestowed breath and life on you will reawaken you if you sacrifice your life for his laws. I beg you, my child, have no fear of this executioner, show yourself worthy of your brothers, accept death in order that in time I may find you again. The son called to the executioner: What are you waiting for? We suffer because of Yisrael’s sins, and by our deaths we affect reconciliation with the Almighty. May the Almighty’s anger, which broke over our whole race, and rightly so, be stilled through me. With those words he gave himself up to the executioner. After him they tortured and killed the mother.

Veronica cried: They won’t kill you, we will protect you.

Veronica, there is more than one way to die, and there are ways to die for which no one can provide protection.

They all began to cry again. But she said: Are you paid-for mourners? Shame on you. If my son should see you so! Instead of crying and complaining, let us spend the night singing psalms.

And she began: “I lift my eyes to the mountain. From where will help come? My help is from him, who made heaven and earth.”

We spent the night singing psalms, but they were so tired that, despite their decision to stay awake, they fell asleep, one after the other, until only his mother and I were awake. It was almost morning.

Go to Bethany now, Miryam. My son awaits you there.

You say: my son. I never heard you say “my son” until today.

I was never his mother before today.   

Before I left, Veronica woke up: But you’re coming to Seder with us? And the rabbi too, right? Then the family will be together. Tell the rabbi: we’re expecting him.

Despite it being so early, the city was busy. Busy in a way which frightened me: too many mounted amongst the pilgrims. But I got to Bethany unmolested. It was just as his mother said: the rabbi was expecting me, he was walking back and forth in the olive garden.

He greeted me with words I recognized from the Song of Songs: “The winter has passed, the rain is gone. The fig tree bears its early fruit and the vineyards smell sweet. Up, up, my friend, come. My dove in rocky clefts, in the precipice’s hiding-place, Come!”

Rabbi, that’s a song of spring. You say it like a winter song, a song of farewell.

You are right, Miryam. Never again will we be alone on this earth in this earthly state.

Rabbi, I know it. You see: I’m not crying. Strong as death is love.

Stronger, Miryam, stronger. And it must be strong so it won’t become weak with what is to come. You will seek me and run through the city, and when you find me on tomorrow’s day only your heart recognizes me, for I am thrown in the wine-press, and the wine that pours out is my blood. Whatever you see, be not mistaken. I am who I always was and always will be. We will only be separated for a short time. Listen to what I tell you in farewell. Do you know the lines: “You have made me courageous, Sister Bride!” Give me strength also in the coming night and on tomorrow’s day. I will strengthen you on the following three days. You will find me again in the garden.

He clasped me to him and for the first, only, last time he placed his lips on mine. More an inhaling of his breath than a kiss. Then he pushed me gently away: And now give the others strength in their weakness. They need the shepherd that holds the flock together. I’m counting on you, Miryam.

Rabbi, let me follow you!

Where I go, you cannot follow me.

He understood me, and I understood him. No more words were necessary. Before he could send me away I left him, and I went with head held high and didn’t turn around. No tears. Only no tears now.

They scolded me when I returned. We were so worried about you. Where were you?

At Veronica’s with Yeshua’s mother. Veronica wants to know if the rabbi will celebrate Seder with you or if she should expect him.

He won’t be with her or with us. He already told us. They’re looking for a room to rent, a big one. He says that the family will be large. He says there will be twenty guests and he is the host.

Who is invited?

All the disciples of course.

Yehuda also?

Why not? Why do you ask?

No reason. Who else?

His mother and you and Lazarus, and some we don’t know.

Not you two?

He asked us to invite Veronica and all our women and some poor people and children. I have already prepared everything.

Martha, I’m dead tired. I didn’t sleep a wink last night.

Go rest then, we’ll wake you at the right time.

I slept, but before they came to wake me I was up. I washed, put on fresh clothes and prepared for the Seder. Without waiting for the others I left the house.

I say that now: I left the house as though I were going out to visit or to shop. Yes, I left the house. But Yeshua was in that house, and I left. I left him in order to find him. I didn’t walk though, I ran, as if I could find him sooner the farther away from him I got.

It was almost evening.

The ram-horns were already being blown. Announcements that the feast was about to begin. I could hear the death cries of the slaughtered animals from the temple mount, the city already smelled of fresh blood which flowed from the altar down through the gutters to Kidron and the stink of the entrails which had been burnt on the altar lay repulsively in the alleys. The first celebrant passed by holding his lamb in his arms, disemboweled, bled to death. That vile temple slaughtering. Thousands of lambs died that day. Death, everywhere blood and death. How could I eat a lamb that evening? How could I ever again eat the flesh of killed animals? Each animal’s death cry is his, all the blood is his. But then how should I go to the Seder feast without eating lamb? It was the law: the lamb must be eaten, eaten up till the last morsel. In remembrance of that last meal, which our forefathers ate before the removal from Egypt, standing, ready for travel, hurried. And nothing of the meal may be left over. Since then it has been duty, commandment, strict law: every Yisraelite must participate in the Seder feast and must eat of everything on the table. Also the lamb, the usual food. I cannot. But one must. It is a sin not to eat the Seder meal. But why a sin? Didn’t the rabbi say that it isn’t what goes into the mouth that makes one guilty, but what comes out as evil words? Can I rethink the law? Fulfill the law by freeing myself from it? There is only one commandment, the rabbi said.

My decision was: I will go later to the supper, after the lamb has been eaten and the bones cleared away.                               


 

Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith

Continued in the next issue of SCR. Previous chapters may be read in Back Issues.