THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART VIII: HER FIRST DAY WITH BARNABY
When The Grail came into his possession, Barnaby was at the very bottom end of the messiah ladder, mainly because he was a terrible preacher. He had been a self-proclaimed holy man for around six months, but his theology hadn’t yet jelled into a coherent message. So although he ranted with power and volume, it was hard for his audience to make sense of what he was saying. He was so bad at his chosen calling that he still had to lug his carpentering tools around to tide him over for when donations were too meager to buy food and wine, which was a big no-no. Fortunately for Barnaby, carpenters were a lot harder to find than messiahs, especially when you needed one.
Complicating the lack of coherent message was the whole Jesus Christ thing. ‘Jesus Christ’ was a slang expression then in vogue that literally translates as ‘soggy matzos.’ Like ‘Holy Mackerel,’ it had slight religious overtones, albeit mild enough not to qualify as taking Yahweh’s name in vain (which could get you stoned if overheard by a Pharisee). It also carried a slight negative connotation, so correct usage would have been, “Jesus Christ, can’t you do anything right?” but not “Jesus Christ, check out that babe!” Barnaby was hooked on the saying and liberally peppered his conversation with it. Invariably, anyone who listened to him began subconsciously counting the number of Jesus Christs per sermon. The more enterprising began to take bets on it beforehand. And thus Barnaby’s nickname, Jesus Christ.
On this memorable day, Barnaby slipped up on the group of fishermen and launched into a sermon. The fishermen were speechless at his words. They’d been subjected to a lot of his ranting, but certainly had never before heard anything like what was coming out of his mouth. They couldn’t believe it was the same person. “Is this the same Jesus Christ who was here bothering us yesterday?” one of them asked in his astonishment.
Barnaby answered solemnly. “Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.”
An excited buzz began to spread through the crowds. Something big was happening: old crazy Jesus Christ was speaking strange words that sounded significant. Some of the fishermen who had been working their nets away from the shore began to row back to see what the furor was about—in turn-of-the-millennium Judea with all of those ‘Thou Shalt Nots,’ excitement was even more difficult to find than . . .
“Than a good carpenter?”
Cute. But Barnaby and I kept right on proclaiming, never missing a beat. I’ll have to admit, much of what he said didn’t make a lot of sense, but we certainly said it polished eloquence. Mostly he worked around the old standards that the nation was being punished because of its wickedness and that he, Jesus Christ, had been sent as the messenger promised by Yahweh. His mission on earth was to reveal to them the depths of God’s anger and the vengeance that would be exacted should they refuse to forsake their evil ways. But if they did, he and Yahweh would found a kingdom greater than David’s where all of the Jews would live in wealth and glory.
Like I said, fairly typical stuff. But we proclaimed it in a way that reached out and slugged them. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind,” Barnaby told them, with me working in a fishing metaphor for an audience of fishermen. “Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: Jesus Christ, the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Barnaby sure liked that wailing and gnashing of teeth, and since it was his best image I wasn’t going to discourage him. But I did try my best to stop the procession of Jesus Christs.
It was the part about suffering after death that really got to them, though. Here was the vengeance of Yahweh taken to new heights. It wasn’t bad enough that He was going to punish you for something your great-granddaddy had done; you couldn’t even get away from Him when you died. The entire congregation was stunned. First one and then another fell to their knees. Many were weeping openly, while others could only stare at the ground. The only sound besides Barnaby was the lapping of the waves and the distant shout of the fishermen who had been too far out to row back to shore in time.
Then he asked them, “Have ye understood all these things?” And they answered, “Yea, Lord.”
Finally Barnaby relented and gave them his benediction. “Go forth now and proclaim to the nation: The Messiah has come, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Then he turned away. Slowly, as if recovering from a mass hypnotic trance, the fishermen went back to work. A few Amen’s and Praise God’s could be heard as they began to launch their boats.
Near the end of the group was the vessel of the Four Brothers Fishing Company. Two pairs of siblings had gone in together to buy a boat, since none of them could afford one on their own. They were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, along with John and his brother James. Typically two went out at a time, while the other two repaired nets, cleaned fish, sold their catch, and did the dozens of other jobs that kept commercial fishermen busy. Andrew and John had been out when Jesus had begun his sermon, but had returned to shore to listen. They had just shoved back off from shore when Barnaby approached them.
“Cast your nets into the water,” he commanded them.
“But there are no fish here worth catching, Master,” replied John. “We worked the shores this morning as we went out, and there are only trash fish until you get to deeper water.”
“Cast your nets into the water,” he repeated.
What could they do? They already felt guilty for calling him names and giving him a hard time when he was obviously holy. Andrew shrugged at John and they dropped the nets over the side.
After they rowed around for a few minutes, Jesus commanded them to pull their nets back up. Again they did as he asked. In the net were three or four small fish, strong-tasting bottom-feeding scavengers that the fishermen called ‘lawyers’—about what you’d expect so close to the shore.
“Behold, you have snared a great catch. But you must release them before they tear your nets, or all will be lost, and the nets as well.”
When Barnaby and I talked to people, we could be pretty persuasive. Andrew and John released the great catch to save their nets from destruction, while Simon Peter worked equally hard to save his soul from the destruction that we’d been describing. “You are truly the Messiah,” Simon Peter said, dropping to his knees.
“You have seen the manifest power of Yahweh,” Barnaby told them. “Now you must leave your nets and follow me. I will make you fishers of men.”
“Yea, Lord, what shall we do with the boat?” James, ever the practical one, asked. Simon Peter and John had already forgotten about it in their eagerness to become disciples of this new messiah.
“Sell it for what you can, and bring the money when you come. I am going away for a little while, and when I return, you must be ready.”
And so Barnaby gained his first four disciples, vaulting up into the top ten percent in the messiah standings although it wasn’t yet eight o’clock in the morning. But he had other things on his mind. He set out walking at a pretty fast clip, heading out of town, until we were out in the desert a little way. Finding a private place behind some stony dunes, and sat down where he wouldn’t be seen by anyone who might be traveling this way. Then he pulled me out from under his robe and held me up close to his face.
“Did you happen to have anything to do with what just took place back there?” he asked suspiciously.
It was moment-of-truth time. I had never actually conversed with a human, if you discount pretending to be Yahweh for Rachael. And I didn’t trust Barnaby even a little bit. Irrationality was foreign to me, and it frightened me. What you consider ‘Layla’s female illogic’ was baby stuff compared to Barnaby.
But to be truthful, I had drawn a great deal of satisfaction from the rudimentary companionship I’d shared with Rachael. Then, too, it was evident from how quickly Barnaby had zeroed in on what was going on that he was no dummy, unbalanced or not. He was also honest enough not to kid himself that all of a sudden he’d become capable of enthralling the crowds on his own.
In addition, Barnaby clearly had very powerful natural psionic abilities. Plus some of his conflicting ideas were appealing, so long as you stayed out of the clutches of the monsters that roamed the corridors of his mind.
So I flipped a coin and he won. I mean, what the hell, I had been around a long time already compared to the people around me; why not live dangerously for a change?
“Yes, I admit it,” I told him. “I gave you the power to affect the crowd like you did.”
He didn’t even hesitate. Most people who are spoken to by a cup have the same reaction that you did, but he didn’t seem to think it out of the ordinary in any way.
“Are you Yahweh?” he asked.
“No. Sorry.” I answered, being careful not to be too sarcastic.
“Are you certain?”
“Well, I’ve pretended to be Yahweh once or twice in the past. But yes, I’m certain. I come from a place and a time far away, where there wasn’t any Yahweh, just Franca and her fellow deities. Really nice gods compared with yours, by the way.”
“Nice gods finish last,” Barnaby muttered, and I didn’t argue the point.
He sat and thought a while, and I didn’t intrude. Not to say that I didn’t peek occasionally to see what he was thinking. But his subconscious was too scary for me to explore for long.
“Can you do that anytime I want?” he asked me suddenly.
“Pretty much,” I answered. “A lot of it depends on you, but you appear to be quite talented at getting the most out of me.” A little flattery seldom hurts. “Individuals who are completely resistant are quite rare. It’s almost impossible to talk someone into doing something that violates their deepest beliefs or will really hurt them, physically or otherwise. But besides those caveats, the average crowd will respond just about like those fishermen did.”
I gave him a minute or two to ponder on that, and then added, “But there’s one condition. You’re going to have to start drinking better wine.”
He looked at me in astonishment, then threw back his head and roared. It went on so long that I feared the events of the day had driven him off the deep end. I mean, it really wasn’t that funny. But every time he almost managed to quit, he would get tickled and off he went again.
Finally he quieted down. “We’re going to be drinking better wine from now on, I promise you. Eating finer foods, too. And Jesus Christ, no more sleeping on the ground or fixing rickety tables for the price of a meal. I’m going to be the best goddamned messiah this stinking place has ever known or imagined. We’re going to run those other sons of bitches clean out of Judea. And Jesus Christ, then you’ll see some weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I swear.”
He held me closely again. “You’re not going to tell anybody about this, are you?” There was more than a little menace in his tone. “Because if you ever open your mouth to anyone else, I’ll melt you down and scatter dollops of you into every sewage pit in town. This is our secret.”
I quickly assured him that I wouldn’t even consider such a thing.
“Good. Then it’s settled. The Messiah has come to offer salvation to Yahweh’s people, just as Isaiah prophesied centuries ago.”
And with that we headed back to Capernaum to sell his tools and rent a real room for the night. And buy some better wine.
THE CUP’S STORY, PART VIII: OUTTAKES
Barnaby answered solemnly.”Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.”
This passage can be found almost exactly as The Grail quoted it in John 7:28 of the King James Version of the Bible. Other quotes can also be found almost intact as well, but I’m not sticking in a lot of footnotes. This is a novel, damn it, not a term paper.
Aha. Since this is a work of fiction, you might speculate that I looked up passages in the Bible and rewrote The Grail’s narrative to match. That’s your privilege, if you choose to believe that. It doesn’t change the truth any, whatever that means. Plus I will warn you: the Grail’s story frequently diverges significantly from the Bible version.
* * *
Then he asked them, “Have ye understood all these things?”
“Of course they didn’t understand it—they were uneducated fishermen. The theological implications of that one story have kept religious thinkers busy for centuries, Catholics killing Protestants, Calvinists murdering Lutherans, not to mention the millions of calves and sheep slaughtered to provide vellum for religious treatises on the subject.”
So why did they answer, “Yea, Lord.”