Cover Story

On the road with Jesus

"On the road with Jesus" Continued...

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

"Look on all this," he said beside me.

"And why should I?" I asked. "It's not really there."

"No? You don't believe it? You think it's an illusion?"

"You're full of illusions and lies."

"Then fling yourself down, now, from this height. Fling yourself down into that crowd. We'll see if it's an illusion. And what if it is not? Is it not written, 'He will give His angels charge of you, and on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'"

"Oh, you have been a murderer from the beginning," I said. "You would so love to see me tumble, downwards, see my bones break, see this face you so clearly imitate bruised and shattered, but it's more than that you want, isn't it? The body's nothing to you, no matter how mercilessly you torment it. You want my soul."

"No, you are wrong," he said in a low voice, leaning as close to me as he could. "And we are here, yes, I've brought you here, not by illusions and lies, but to show you the very place where you must begin your work. It's you who claim to be the Christ. It's you whom others herald as the Son of David, the prince who will lead his people to victory in battle, it's you and your people who have celebrated your great power and eventual conquest in book after book, and poem after poem. Throw yourself down! I say, Do it, and let the angels sweep you up. Let your battle begin with that pact between you and the Lord you claim to serve!"

"I will not put the Lord to the test here," I said. "And that too is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'"

"Where then will you begin your battle?" he asked as if he sincerely wanted to know. "How will you raise your armies? How will you proclaim your message throughout the Jews of all this land and the next and the next after that? How will you get word to the far-flung communities of Jews throughout the Empire that it's time for them to buckle on sword and shield under your banner and in the name of your God?"

"I knew it when I was a child," I said, regarding him.

"Knew what?"

"You're the Lord of the Flies, but you're at the mercy of Time. You don't know what's to happen in time."

"Well, if that's true, than half the time, you're no better than I because you don't know it, and they are nothing, those vermin down there, those you call your brothers and sisters, because they know nothing moment to moment. At least you have visions, and schemes."

He reached out for me as if he'd take hold of me, and his face was twisted with malevolence.

"What have you known of time these dreary years you've spent in Nazareth? What is time in which you grind your aching muscles to dust, all of you? Why do you bear it? Why does He bear it? You claim to know His Will. Tell me, why doesn't He shut it down?"

-Excerpted from Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice. Copyright © 2008 by Anne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

An explanation by the author

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

WORLD asked Rice why she gave Satan the same physical features as Jesus, and what else entered her thinking in constructing the scene you've just read. She responded, "I can't claim to know how the idea of Satan's appearance (the double of Christ) came to me, except it seemed right at the time, especially since I believed Satan would strongly tempt Our Lord to be the warlike Davidic Messiah that many expected the Messiah to be."

Rice also had the sense that "Satan would want to present Jesus with a lavish image of Himself in fine clothes, and the regalia of power. The Temptation has been done in any variety of ways in mini-series and film, but never to my satisfaction. The conventional film temptation scenes seem too easy. The Devil is always played too simply."

She thought Satan "would make a much more sophisticated approach" to Jesus, showing him "how very handsome and beautiful He might look, were He to 'take power over the whole world, and become a ruler of great wealth. He would offer concrete images to this ragged Galilean holy man. And this is how I played it while remaining strictly within the framework of Holy Scripture."

Rice emphasized, "It's important to note that Satan doesn't really know that Jesus is God. He knows Jesus believes He is God; but Satan doesn't really know the truth of it." She mentioned the debt she owes to historian Jeffrey Burton Russell's work on Satan in the New Testament, and also the opinions of the early Church Fathers: "Satan doesn't really know Who he is dealing with. He's baffled by the signs and wonders surrounding Jesus' birth. He knows he's up against something wholly new. And so he is really going to go all out to try to tempt this mysterious figure of Jesus."

She continued, "The temptation had to be complex, intense, something really challenging from the point of view of the Devil. Maybe that was my guiding principle: What would amount, in Satan's mind, to a real substantive temptation? His being 'the double' would be seen by Satan as a powerful and potentially confusing trick."

Rice concluded that by novel's end it's clear that others expect Jesus to be "the warlike Davidic Messiah. As Scripture tells us, Jesus will face this expectation again and again. John's Gospel tells us later that the people try to make Jesus a king. But Jesus refuses this. He is not the warlike Messiah at all. His Kingdom is not of this world."

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