THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XIV: THE LAST SUPPER
Then came Thursday, the Feast of the Passover. Jesus was moody and spent a quiet day, not returning to the temple but strolling through the city, talking calmly to small groups of people, then moving on before a crowd could form. Twice he was accosted by roving patrols of priests and their retinues, and once a large group of soldiers led by Annas himself actually tried to arrest him. But each time he used the power of The Grail to pass through his enemies unharmed.
That night he slipped away from the growing number of hangers-on that followed him back to the Mount of Olives. Taking just the disciples, Mary Magdalene, and a few of the other women, Jesus retired to a private place to celebrate the Passover.
The party was tense and worried, with wild mood swings. Jesus insisted on washing the feet of his disciples—that being just the sort of mystical thing that top-flight messiahs did—and got pretty irritated when Simon Peter spoiled the mood by first trying to return the favor and then asking for a shampoo as well. Martha and a different Mary lightened things up by pouring about a pound of spikenard on Jesus’ feet and working it in with their hair. But that started Judas-I on a harangue about how little they’d netted since hitting town, maybe they should think about living a little more frugally instead of being so wasteful.
Finally the Passover meal was served. When Jesus told the old story of the killing of all those Egyptian babies, it was a thousand times more magical than when Rachael’s father had done it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I could almost believe that I really had been created as a Passover cup, even if Razuni didn’t know a matzo ball from a gefilte fish.
The meal was followed by more strategy discussions. In the old days Jesus hadn’t involved the disciples in planning, or more accurately, hadn’t done any planning at all. But as his messiah-hood progressed, he had come to rely more and more on the marketing ideas of Matthew, the dispassionate financial analysis of Judas-I, and the devil’s advocacy of Thomas.
“We’ve got to change our approach somehow,” he complained. “Those bloodsucking Pharisees are really pissing me off. They’re eating me alive. You would think my body was a loaf of bread and my blood a skin of cheap wine, the way they chew me up and spit me out every time I give them the tiniest opening.”
The disciples offered a variety of suggestions, but since he’d never shared the secret that I was the force behind his power of persuasion, most of them were useless. Some were in favor of leaving Jerusalem altogether, before the Pharisees managed to get it all together and drive us from the city—or worse—figuring on coming back later when we were better prepared. But Jesus wouldn’t have any part of that, and Matthew, who had masterminded the grand entry, agreed. There would never be a better opportunity to reach the top rung of the messiah ladder than right then, and it was time to cut bait or go back to fishing.
The most interesting idea came from The Zealot, who suggested that we incite a riot against the Pharisees as we had against the temple merchants. The thought was blasphemous enough that most of the disciples were initially shocked. But hot-headed John jumped on the bandwagon and made a good sales pitch for it, and his brother James agreed. After a while, almost everybody had come around to concurring that while it was a bold plan and more than a little dangerous, there was a good chance it would work. Not only that, but the rewards were huge. Millions of shekels went through the coffers of the temples of Jerusalem every year, and if we could skim just a fraction of that, the New Kingdom was funded, with plenty left over for the poor. Even the normally doubtful Thomas agreed that it was worth a shot.
Everybody but Judas-I, that is. He had spent the better part of four days down at the business district and justifiably felt he knew more about the inner workings of the city than all the others put together. His unwavering opinion was that the Romans would never let us succeed. Religion was the key to keeping the unpredictable Jewish nation under control, and Pilate would intervene long before we ever got our revolution off the ground.
Finally Jesus turned to him with a sly smile and said, “Well, maybe it’s time to overthrow the Romans, too. That’s what most Jews believe the Messiah will do when he comes.”
That bombshell brought all conversation to a halt for a long minute. Then the room erupted into a hubbub of excited conversation, everyone trying to talk at once. But Jesus didn’t say a word. He refilled me and went outside to take a leak.
After a couple of minutes, Judas-I followed him out to the garden to talk in private. He caught up with Jesus just as he finished watering the plants and began to plead for sanity. But Jesus was pretty smug about the whole idea, which offered him the chance to strike a real blow to get back at the Pharisees, and he wasn’t in the mood for a lot of criticism. Soon their conversation got heated, their voices becoming louder and louder.
Finally Jesus had enough. Holding me in one hand, he pointed his finger at Judas and said, “Shut up. I’m in charge here. If you think you can, take this cup away from me.”
Big mistake. Jesus was using a metaphor to mean that whoever had the cup was in charge. But holding me full of wine, he’d directed the full force of my persuasive powers directly on Judas. His target was at maximum susceptibility, being within inches and having been drinking. And Jesus had just commanded him to take me away from him. Not only that, since Judas was angry, the first thing that came to mind to fulfill his instructions was violence.
Judas reared back and punched Jesus right in the face. Great drops of blood fell to the ground from his smashed nose and split lip. Jesus stumbled backward, tripping over a low hedge and falling heavily. Judas triumphantly snatched me up and shouted, “OK, asshole, I’ve taken the cup away. Now what?”
About that time a commotion could be heard outside the house where we’d celebrated the Passover feast. Torches flung weird shadows about the garden, but some of those shadows could easily be distinguished as spears, others as the horsehair crests that adorned the helmets of Roman soldiers. Judas slunk into the shadows moments before Annas burst into the garden at the head of a contingent of soldiers and lesser priests—much more force than was necessary to arrest what had suddenly become a weary, deranged vagrant with a bloody nose and a bad attitude.
Judas watched for about five seconds, then dropped me where he stood and ran for his life.
Early the next morning Mary Magdalene found me lying in the dew. She carried me back to the inn on the Mount of Olives, gently wiped me dry, and placed me with Jesus’ other belongings. And there I stayed for the next several days.
* * *
And thus The Grail had no firsthand knowledge of the events that followed. From what we pieced together, most of the major events contained in the biblical accounts probably took place. There is no doubt that Jesus was crucified. After almost three years of having her assistance with every utterance he made, his defense before Pilate must have been undistinguished at best.
The crowning irony is that Barabbas, that old crook who had stolen The Grail from Rachael and thus who was ultimately responsible for launching Jesus’ short career as messiah (if you don’t count his legacy, which has lasted for 2,000 years and is still going strong) had finally been caught and convicted to die for something he couldn’t bribe or wheedle his way out of. But when Pilate offered to free one of his prisoners, as tradition demanded, the crowds selected Barabbas instead of Jesus. In that, the gospels are accurate.
Most of the disciples managed to make their getaway in the excitement although there was reputed to be a short exchange of swordplay in which Bartholomew was killed and a soldier or servant wounded in the ear. Dozens of rumors circulated about Judas; some claimed he escaped with the accumulated treasury, others swore he’d committed suicide and that when his body was found, he’d had only a small handful of silver pieces.
In any case, The Grail shortly found herself with new owners. Joseph of Arimathea, a merchant who had arranged to have Jesus as a house guest during the following week, paid for the body to be picked up for burial from the field where the Romans had dumped it. But that simple act of decency brought him to the attention of the authorities, who were making damned sure that any residual trouble from the ‘Jesus Affair’ got stomped out. Deciding that it was unsafe to remain in the city, Joseph quietly sold his business and liquidated his assets, turning whatever of his fortune that he could salvage into portable wealth (much as Razuni had done before him in somewhat similar circumstances).
Mary Magdalene hung around the inn grieving for a couple of days before her practical side took over. She needed to get of town as well, but with a child to consider, she also needed a new ‘benefactor’ rather quickly. Joseph caught her eye as an attractive prospect.
And so in the dead of night about a week after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea gently placed a heavy bag of shekels on the bed beside his sleeping wife, softly kissed her goodbye, and departed the city with Mary Magdalene and The Grail.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XIV: OUTTAKES
“And you wouldn’t make all this up just to fuck with me, would you?” The twisted parallels between her story and the Bible version were just too bizarre not to ask the question, even if I didn’t think she was capable of such deception. At least with me.
What would be the point?
I couldn’t think of one. But I knew that, having heard it, I’d never think of Jesus the same way.
Curiously—or perhaps perversely is a better word—I found him a lot more likeable in The Grail’s version.