Cover Story

On the road with Jesus

"On the road with Jesus" Continued...

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

I looked forward, down at the desert floor. How far was it to the river?

"Weeping! Well, look, you are weeping," he said. "I never expected it. I expected you to be properly ashamed that such a righteous man would die in the arms of a well-respected thief, but I didn't expect such tears. After all, you did walk off and leave the old man at the river, did you not?"

I didn't answer.

He whistled to himself, idly, a little song such as one might whistle or hum as one strolled, and stroll he did around me in a circle as I stood there.

"Well," he said, squaring off in front of me. "You are tenderhearted, we know that much. But a prophet? I think not. As for the delusion that you created the entire world, well, let me remind you of what you no doubt already know: a delusion similar to that cost me my place above in the Heavenly Court."

"I think you gloss it over," I said. My voice was thick with tears, but my tears were drying in the hot desert wind.

"Ah, you speak to me, not to quote Scripture, but in actual words," he said. He laughed in a perfect imitation of my earlier laugh, and flashed a warm smile at me that was almost pretty.

"You know, holy men almost never do speak to me at all. They write long sonorous poetry about my speaking to the Lord of Creation and His speaking to me, but they themselves, the scribes? At the mere mention of my name, they run shrieking in dread."

"And you do so love to have your name mentioned, don't you?" I said. "No matter what name it is." I went on slowly. "Ahriman, Mastema, Satanel, Satan, Lucifer . . . you love it, don't you, when you're addressed?"

He was silenced.

"Beelzebub," I said. "Is that your favorite?" I said it in Greek: "Lord of the Flies."

"I loathe that name!" he said with a flare of rage. "I will not answer to any of those names," he said.

"Of course you won't. What name could ever rescue you from the chaos that's your very purpose?" I asked. "Demon, devil, adversary." I shook my head. "No, don't answer to them. Don't answer to the name Azazel, either. Names are what you dream of, names and purpose and hope, of which you have none."

I turned and started to walk on.

He caught up with me.

"Why are you talking to me?" he asked in a perfect rage.

"Why are you talking to me!"

"Signs and wonders," he said, the blood flaring in his cheeks-or so he would have it seem. "Too many signs and wonders surround you, my miserable ragged friend. And I've talked to you before. I came to you once in your dreams."

"I remember," I said. "And you took on the raiment of beauty then too. It must be something you want so badly."

"You know nothing of me. You have no idea! I was the firstborn of the Lord you claim as your father, you miserable beggar."

"Careful," I said. "If you become too angry you may dissolve in a puff of smoke."

"This is no jest, you fledgling prophet," he said. "I don't come and go at whim."

"Go at whim," I said. "That will be sufficient."

"Do you know who I really am?" he asked, and his face was broken suddenly with grief. "Well, I will tell you." And in Hebrew, he spoke the words: "Helel ben-Shahar."

"Bright sun of morning," I said. I raised my right hand and snapped my fingers. "I see you falling . . . like that."

A terrific roar went up around me, and the sand went flying as if a storm had come out of the placid sunlight and was about to carry me down the cliff.

I felt myself drawn upwards with spectacular speed and suddenly another roar, more familiar and immense, surrounded me, and I stopped short at the edge of the parapet of the Temple, the Temple in Jerusalem, under the huge sky, and above the enormous crowds of those who wandered in and out of it. I was standing on the pinnacle. I was looking down into the vast lower courts.

The sounds and scents of the crowd rose up in my nostrils. I felt the hunger so deeply it was a pain. And out on all sides lay the rooftops of Jerusalem while the people swarmed below in its tangle of narrow streets.

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