THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XI: IT ALL COMES TOGETHER
After leaving Cana, Jesus and his party, which had grown by one significant if unofficial disciple, traveled back and forth across the country, spreading his newfound message of love. Over the following months, Jesus developed into quite a dynamic speaker. The masses, whose day-to-day lives contained precious little evidence that God and Love had anything to do with each other, flocked to hear him. Even the wealthier classes, who up to that point had never comprised a significant part of his audience, began to trickle in to listen.
Many of the stories that The Grail related from this period of Jesus’ ministry are in the Bible. One was about Zacchaeus, the tax collector in Jericho. In both versions (the Bible and The Grail’s), he was so short that all he could see were the dirty backs of the people in front of him. So he climbed up a tree, where Jesus immediately spotted him.
Noting the man’s fine clothing and jewelry as well as his corpulence, Jesus began aiming his message directly at Zacchaeus. About not only how difficult it was for the rich to avoid the fires of hell, but how a special place was reserved for those who became rich by cheating others. The crowd was boisterous; everybody hated the tax collectors, and they voiced their feelings with shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah,” Hebrew expressions meaning, roughly, ‘right on, brother.’ Zacchaeus became so agitated that he fell out of the tree, upon which Jesus told him, “Make haste, and come forward.” Then he just stood there and stared down without speaking at the little fat man fidgeting in front of him.
Finally Zacchaeus could stand it no longer. Looking up at Jesus, he proclaimed in a voice loud enough for most of the crowd to hear, “Behold, Lord, half of my ill-gotten gains I will give to the poor.”
Jesus smiled benignly at the man. “Good choice.” Then he raised his voice and addressed the crowds. “This day is salvation come to this man, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
As he looked out over the several hundred people who had been there for two or three hours, Jesus realized they must be hungry. “Why don’t you start by feeding these people?”
Zacchaeus snapped his heels together like Jesus was a centurion and answered, “Yes, Lord.” He sent his servants scurrying off, and when they returned they had hundreds of loaves of bread, along with some smoked fish and figs and whatever food was readily at hand. And for that day, at least, the multitudes were well fed. It was almost a miracle.
* * *
The more Jesus preached his new message, the more deeply concerned he became about the plight of the people who were coming out to hear him. So if it wasn’t the “love of a good woman” that changed his life—or the combination of my powers of persuasion and his own natural psionics that were too powerful for his own brain to resist—maybe he was just a good man trapped by his own demons until he discovered the truth that set him free.
First millennium Judea was not an impoverished country by any means. Crops grew well, there were adequate resources, and with the coming of the Romans, trade had picked up dramatically. But as with all human societies, wealth tended to accumulate in the hands of a few, while a lot of people lived in poverty. And among the wealthy, generosity was not a common virtue. Their religious taught that, having tithed to the synagogue as Yahweh demanded, the rest was theirs to use as they saw fit. Jesus attacked that mindset with a vengeance, trying to get them to do more for their fellow man, but they were a tough sell. A few coins, but no societal changes.
“We have to do more for them,” he said to me on more than one occasion. We had long since reached the point where he talked to me like I was just another of his disciples and had mastered the art of not speaking aloud. “What can we do?” I had no suggestions. No matter how convincing I was while he was preaching, after those who could afford to do more went home, the old reality crept back in.
Mary Magdalene finally came up with an idea. “Why don’t you tell them how much better their life will be after they die? They can’t eat it, but at least they’ll have hope.”
“Maggie, that’s it!” Jesus exclaimed. “You’re a genius. A really beautiful and sexy genius,” he added, effectively ending our skull session for the day.
The next day he began telling them about the ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’
The company also picked up a couple more disciples, another James and another Simon. That caused so much confusion that Jesus swore he wasn’t calling any more disciples with the same name, a vow that he broke only once—to his own detriment, as it turns out. As it was, the newcomers got nicknames: James he called Alph because he was the son of Alphaeus; Simon became The Zealot because he had been a member of that forbidden organization before Jesus acquired him.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XI: OUTTAKES
I was enthralled by The Grail’s versions of familiar Bible stories. The woman taken in adultery. The Sermon on the Mount. The story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. The feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. But finally my fascination with the differences built up to the bursting point. So I pulled out my Bible and read her the “official” version of those stories.
A lot of what I’ve told you is described right there in the Bible. But it’s all different.
“There’s a major disconnect somewhere. Where do you suppose that came from?”
The Grail asked me to read some more, so I randomly sampled the gospels for her benefit. She was totally captivated; I got the impression she’d never heard the Bible read before. We got back on track only after I promised I’d read her all the gospels on nights we weren’t working.
Not long after the events in Cana, the priests assigned a full time scribe to record Jesus’ words and actions, especially the miracles. Lucas traveled everywhere with us, and most of the occurrences that happened were faithfully and painstakingly transcribed within hours. But he took it even further. Whenever we went back to a place Jesus had been previously, Lucas found and interviewed dozens of people who had witnessed the earlier events and included detailed accounts of those in his history as well. So you would think that the records forming the basis for the Gospel accounts would be reasonably accurate. Even those that had happened during the first year, before we were considered worthy of a scribe.
“Do you think Lucus distorted the story intentionally?”
Maybe he was so affected by living in close proximity to Jesus every day that he became incapable of impartiality. Or maybe it’s been changed so much since then that you can’t even recognize it. My goodness, I just don’t know what to think.
We pressed on, but she was clearly shaken by the whole conundrum.
* * *
I kept waiting through her days of narration for something concrete about the miracles. Finally I gave up and asked. “You’ve mentioned miracles a couple of times, but given no examples other than the prank of pretending to turn water into wine. Were they all like that?”
Jesus always made time to comfort the sick. Neither of us thought we could do anything to actually make them better, but if we told them they felt better, they really seemed to, at least for a while.
“Hey, that’s as good as doctors can do with the most ordinary affliction, the common cold. Take two aspirin, call me in the morning.”
But then we discovered, quite by accident, a class of disorders that we could sometimes cure: mental illness. Or people ‘possessed by demons,’ as they called it. Then, as now, there were a lot of them, begging for food and sleeping in alleys. One day while Jesus was preaching, a man was walking back and forth in front of the crowd, totally oblivious to us, talking loudly to himself and throwing his hands up in the air. He was a major distraction, and people began to wander away. Finally Jesus lost his temper and spoke to him forcefully.
“Jesus Christ! These people are trying to hear! Will you just sit down and shut up?” The man looked up in surprise, as if he were seeing us for the first time, then meekly took a seat and listened intently to the rest of the sermon.
He was still sitting there after we’d finished and the crowds were heading home. But when Jesus, curious about what had just happened, went over to him, he scrambled to his feet.
“Who were you speaking to when you were shouting and waving your hands?” Jesus asked him.
“The demons, Lord. When they speak, they demand that I answer them.”
“Then why did you stop?”
“They stopped talking when you told them to shut up.”
“Are they still there?”
The man closed his eyes and was silent for a few moments. “Yes, Lord. They are waiting for you to leave so they can speak again.”
Jesus was quiet a minute. Then he asked me, “You know anything about this?” I had to confess that I did not.
He thought another minute; then clutching me tightly, he put his other hand on the man’s shoulder. “Demons! Can you hear me? I command you to answer!”
A harsh, sullen voice filled with gravel, totally unlike the man’s voice, came from his mouth. “Yeah, we can hear you. Go away and leave us alone.”
“Demons! I command you to depart this man, this very instant!”
There was no visible or audible evidence that anything happened. But the man’s eyes opened very wide, and after a moment, he fell to his knees. “They’re gone, Lord,” he sobbed.
It’s hard to say which of the three of us was most surprised. But Jesus was a pro, and he didn’t show any sign of it. “Of course they’re gone. No mere demon can withstand the power that God gives me. Check back with me tomorrow, just to be sure they stay gone.”
And thus we added our first healing to our small but growing list of miracles.
“So how did you cure the man?”
I don’t understand any of the physiological mechanisms by which I affect the human mind. Why do people believe you when you’re holding me? Maybe it was like a thousand hours of intense therapy crammed into a single command. Or are demons a metaphor for something in the brain that can respond to our hypnotic suggestions? I can’t say for sure. And it didn’t work on everybody. But when it did, it was pretty dramatic.
“How many did you cure altogether?”
For the next year and a half or so, Jesus made it a point to seek out the possessed and to do what he could for them. He successfully treated, I don’t know, maybe an average of one a day. How many is that?
I did a quick calculation.”That’s more than 500!”
Sounds about right. Of course, after the first time, he didn’t do it after everyone else had left. Showmanship was a necessary part of our shtick. One time this man came up to Jesus and said, “Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Master, I wa-wa-wa-wa-want t-t-t-t-t-t-to ask y-y-y-y-y-y-y-you a fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-favor.” The more agitated he got, the longer each word stretched out.”I-I-I-I-I-I-I have b-b-b-b-b-b-been h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-here every d-d-d-d-d-d-day. . .”
Patience was never one of Jesus’ strong points. The man was only halfway through his second sentence, when Jesus interrupted, “Will you kindly stop stuttering and get to the point!”
“My daughter is sick, and I want to ask you to bless her so that she will get well soon,” the man continued. Then he looked up in amazement, holding his hand over his mouth.
“Where is she,” Jesus asked. But the man was too astonished to wait for his blessing; he just turned and ran for home.
Jesus turned to what was still left of the crowd and shrugged.”Just a minor demon,” he proclaimed.