Cover Story

On the road with Jesus

"On the road with Jesus" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

His hair was long and lustrous, a deep rich brown. And so were his soft eyes.

"My little joke does not amuse you," he said gently with a graceful bow.

"Your joke?"

"You don't ever look into a mirror. Don't you recognize the image of yourself?"

A shock spread over my face, and then all of my skin. He was my duplicate, except I'd never seen myself in such attire.

He made a small circle in the sand so that I might better see the picture he made. I was fascinated at the expression-or lack of it-in his large puckering eyes.

"You might say," he began, "that I feel some obligation to remind you of what you are? You see, I'm aware of your particular delusion. You don't hold yourself to be a mere prophet or a holy man, like your cousin John. You think you're the Lord Himself."

I didn't reply.

"Oh, I know. You wanted to keep it a secret, and you do indeed often veil your mind quite well, or so it seems to me, but out here in this wilderness? Well, too often, you've murmured aloud."

He drew closer, lifting the edge of his sleeve so that he himself might admire the embroidery, the sharply pointed leaves, the flowers exploding in crimson thread.

"Of course you're not going to talk to me, are you?" he said with a faint sneer. I looked like that when I sneered. If I ever had.

"But I know you're hungry, dreadfully hungry. So hungry you'd do almost anything to have something to eat. You're devouring your own flesh and blood."

I turned and started to walk away.

"Now, if you are a holy man of God," he said, catching up with me, and walking alongside me, staring at me eye to eye when I glanced at him, "and we'll forget the delusion for the moment that you're the Creator of the Universe, then you can surely turn these stones, any of them here, into warm bread."

I stopped. I was overcome with the scent of it, warm bread. I could feel it in my mouth.

"This would be no problem for Elijah," he said, "or for Moses for that matter. And you do claim to be a holy one of God, don't you? Son of God? Beloved Son? Do it. Make the stones bread."

I stared down at the stones, and then I started walking again.

"Very well then," he said, keeping pace with me, the bells jingling softly as he walked. "Let's return to your delusion. You are God. Now according to your cousin, God can raise up sons of Abraham from these stones, or those stones, or any stones, no? Well, then make these stones into bread. You need it badly enough, don't you?"

I turned and laughed at him. "'Man doesn't live by bread alone,'" I answered him, "'but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"

"What a wretchedly literal translation," he said, shaking his head, "and may I point out to you, my pious and deluded one, that your clothes have hardly been preserved during these mere forty days, like those of your ancestors in the forty years they wandered, but that you are a ragged beggar who will very soon be barefoot as well?"

I laughed again. "Nevertheless," I said, "I'm going on my way."

"Well," he said before I started, "it's too late for you to bury your father. That's been done."

I stopped.

"Oh, what, don't tell me the prophet whose birth was accompanied with so many signs and wonders doesn't know that his father, Joseph, is dead?"

I didn't answer. I felt my heart grow big and begin to throb in my ears. I looked out over the sandy wastes.

"Since you seem at best to be a sometime prophet," he went on in the same calm voice, my voice, "let me give you the picture. It was in a toll collector's tent that he breathed his last, and in a toll collector's arms, can you imagine, though his son sat nearby and your mother wept. And do you know how he spent his last few hours? Recounting to the toll collector and anyone else who happened to hear all he could remember of your birth-oh, you know the old song about the angel coming to your poor terrified mother, and the long trek to Bethlehem so that you might come howling into the world in the midst of the worst weather, and then the visit of angels on high to shepherds, of all people, and those men. The Magi. He told the toll collector about their coming as well. And then he died, raving, you might say, only softly so."

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