Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"He Was Just One Person"


And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the [asshole Roman] centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”


********************

The shaded man walked into the bar with a face withdrawn from the sun. Around him stood an invisible barrier between him and every living creature; he was on the earth, but not of it. His heart pumped cold, disinterested blood and his manic mind was that of two hands slipping from the edge of reality, the weight of even his own body too much to bear. Through forlorn prison bars from within peered the man's eyes, marooned as one on a far distant planet unknown in the cosmos. In his soul a bleeding blackness consuming the hope of seeking hope.

The bartender felt the shiver of the man in his bones. "I swear this has got to be the spookiest day of my life." It ran through everyone this dreaded blackness, but so gripping was its fear few were those with innocence to name it. A cruel breach of faith, a connection lost to living life, a feeling of being hurled into a dark pit with only one's own strength to ever escape. Many darting eyes had staggered into the room this day looking for a drugged release.

But the shaded man, he was something different. His punctured sorrow ran deeper and stronger, his intelligence more tragic in its knowing, his iron cage of despair indestructible. Any other day the bartender might have challenged him, maybe even attacked a wretched soul such as this but today he merely watched in silenced trance as the man motioned for a decanter - a full one.


Still in the trance the barkeep handed it over and a noisy coin was flipped in return. Instinctively the bar man knew not to touch it, that the price of accepting it was higher than the price of refusing it. He backed away from the bar and sat on his stool mulling the vast curious guilt sweeping him into a lesser future he had not dreamed might become him.

The shaded man took his carafe but sipped it not. What was the point? He had nowhere left to run, the clock of doom ticking in his head. He knew this day was the worst in human history, marking every soul from then until the end of time. He'd exchanged flowers of love for weeds of anger. Too late he breathed his fate.

I must die, he told himself. I'll have them kill me in righteous anger like the pig that I am. He swayed in rhythmic rocking as the thought swirled within his soul. How can I ever escape? There's not enough time in eternity...


"I killed a man," he spoke for all to hear.

The man hoped a swift and furious beating would send him to his grave with the wrath of those who knew his sin. But on this day, even if one were so inclined, none lifted a finger or even an arched brow. Instead, a burly man replied while staring into his drink.

"I killed a man too in '68. A Roman I had to bury in the desert. Knifing that animal was a satisfaction I cannot describe. There's worse things to do than killing a man."

"Not when he's innocent," confessed the shaded man.

"That's a different matter," agreed the burly man, relieved for this sliver of distraction. "But how do you know he was innocent."

"I know, I know. I knew this man as a brother. We dreamed together of a world that can be. A world lost to me now forever."

The conversation sucked the air out of the room. A viral panic attacked the shaded man. How could he make them understand? Pleeeease help!

"How did you kill him?" inquired a murderer in the room.

"I betrayed him," came the grateful reply. "I pointed him out to the butchers. I told myself they were good men. Maybe not the best men but never killers. I told myself I could later claim 'I thought them good' and make the argument I'd been an honest soul who'd been swindled and still retain acceptance. What I didn't count on was that I knew. I know the truth. I knew those men were men of dead hearts."


"But if you didn't touch him you didn't kill him. Those bad men did."

"The priests didn't know what they were doing. If there's one thing I can tell you though I know it will be lost on your ears is that these men will be killing you for centuries to come. They'll hide behind holy relics and call it the wrath of God but if you believe that they will butcher you in the worst ways possible. Do not fall into the same trap I did. Do not believe honoring them is honoring life."

But the guilty in the room felt beholden to the men who claimed holiness - even upon pain of death. And the liars in the room knew they could never betray mutual liars without revealing themselves. And those seeking approval could never tear down idols of the world they knew they could be bought with a coin. So like the shaded man said, his words were lost on their ears. But a particularly wicked man retorted in kind.

"Maybe a rat like you shouldn't be so quick to judge. Maybe those men knew what they were doing with an understanding beyond your own. Who are you to speak of the temple priests who go all the way back to the times of Moses?"

Even drowning in pain a smirk forced itself on the shaded man's face. He'd seen this trick a thousand times: call the other man a dog then accuse him of your own sins. He could ask his accuser who was he to speak ill of him. He could mock the shaky ground upon which he stood and tell him no man who can satisfy a woman who speaks as he does. Or he could ask him of his tithing, knowing a bitter soul does not share.


Suddenly he understood the silence of Jesus before Pilate. The accuser knows he lies, it's his job to admit it. No one else can do it for him. But this too was a bitter root, having found truth and peace too late.

"Well!" fumed the wicked accuser. "What do you say? I'm talking to you!" His heart on fire, he slung back his chair, stormed over and raised his hand to strike the head of the shaded man with a stroke of death. But failing to see his victim move or defend himself in any way his arm remained paralyzed in mid air. In his raging heart he screamed for the shaded man to fight back, to justify the stroke of death. Suddenly he became self-conscious, feeling the eyes watching him in guileless wonder.

The shaded man sat in a hurricane's eye of peace within the storm of his soul. The man with his arm above him had not really spoken to him. He had spoken to himself - argued with himself, wrestled with himself. He was beyond reason.

Desperate to save face, the accusing man declared, "Eh, you're not worth the effort!" and scurried out of the room.


Now all eyes moved to the shaded man. Who was he? There was something special about him. This man had walked down paths unknown to their lives. He had news of the "other side" of life. Perhaps even news that could save them. Dare they believe such a thing or was that mere fantasy?

Seeing him in this new light, a younger soul spoke up. "So why did you betray him?" Seeing he'd gotten the man's attention the man-child added as way of explanation: "You said he was your brother."

A brother, yes. But I too clever by half. "I thought he was going to get us killed! The way he was talking - you have to understand no one was going to accept his words in the end."

A thirsty man butted in. "His words were that powerful?"

Oh God, how do I make them understand? If only he'd been a nobody or an untrue person. "Yes, words that walked on water. Words without preconception or malice. But words that reflected the ugliness of man - even if spoken so that man may drink from the pure well and not the poisoned."

"Who would want to drink from a poisoned well??" rebuked the young man, guilty in the reflection.

"Men who see profit in it."

"That's just nuts."

"Ever lie to a girl to get sex?"

"But that's different!" Then the boy spoke no more, stung by his admission.


The wine reached through the shaded man's veil. "It's over for me. I thought since his love would destroy me I might live by destroying him. Only after the betrayal did I realize his love could never harm me, he was innocent in all ways. My future is gone, I punctured the life boat of survival. You see, I knew everything, but understood nothing. It's obvious to me now I intended to betray him all along."

No one in the room knew what the shaded man spoke of, but each felt an understanding - a terrifying understanding. It was like their inner souls had been split wide open and the man had taken them into dark caves they hoped never to face. Wandering those caves, not knowing the way out or even if a way out existed, draws in ancient horror to the soul, as if one is looking up to the surface of water but cannot reach it, drowning in panic.

Though he knew his words inadequate and false even before he spoke them, the grip of choking silence had to be broken. A sensitive soul walked over to the shaded man, putting his hand on the shady man's shoulder, speaking in supplication. "He was just one person."


Hearing this, the shaded man almost fell out of his chair, repelled by the man's words. As if a thousand angry wolves had spotted him and chosen him as their meal, the shaded man fled the bar and all human contact, holing up in a cave outside of town. "Nobody understands what has happened or what I did. It could take a hundred lifetimes for them to realize the gravity of the situation. I'm alone. I'm all alone and can tell no one of my crime. 'Just one person'! What madness!" In this moment, the shaded soul was too afraid even to cry, lest his tears betray him.

***

Three very long days later the cave dweller dared the light. Left adrift in the ocean he begged for a lifeline, any lifeline. Then he seemingly found one as he reached the edge of town: a soul who could understand.

"Peter!"

"Judas!"

"What happened? You look so lost and confused."

"I've done a terrible thing right before the eyes who loved me most. Three times in the night I denied Jesus to save my life. How can I ever live with myself? The test came and I failed! He said for us to hate our lives, but I failed. I stand before you an incomplete man. You have no idea how I ache to redeem myself. Of this pain I fear I'll never be free. Some disciple I am."

Judas took his first breaths since news of Jesus' death. He was not alone in the world after all. Was hope to be had after all? "Peter, I must tell you something. If you wish never to see me again I understand. But even that is better than no one knowing."

"What? What is it?"

"It was I who betrayed our master. I feared we'd all meet his fate. You know my gift is to see into the hearts of men. I blamed Jesus for the malice I saw and in my madness betrayed him. Like you, what I did cannot be undone. Oh, what I would not give to have the unburdened soul of those around me! I search and search but can find not even a speck of forgiveness."


"But you must! You must find a way to forgive yourself!"

"Jesus would never want that. Not now. It's Nature's justice I suffer and no one can help with that, not even him. You know that!"

"Jesus wants only life. You know that too."

A small doubtful flickering shone deep in the eyes of Judas. He saw himself embraced by Jesus, tears flowing at last. He'd give himself up, turn over his life, never questioning love again. A rising peace calmed Judas and as his dawning eyes reached up to look into the smile of Peter, he found a sliver of hope between the waves of pain. In this moment he wished to reside forever.

Then a buzzing crowd, excited and frenetic burst onto the two men with news that could not be contained. "He's back! Miracle of miracles! He's back! I've never felt so alive in my life. Do you hear me? He's back!!"

"Who, man? Who is back?" Peter asked with equal intrigue.

"Jesus! He rose from the dead! Can you believe it!" Then the crier ran off to find the next uninformed soul.

Peter and Judas instantly understood and in that moment even felt a little foolish for not seeing this coming. Their reactions, however, were quite polar.

"Yes! Yes!" exclaimed Peter.

"No! No!" exclaimed Judas.

As Peter started off in the direction of the excitement, he noticed Judas taking the opposite direction. "Judas, come! We're saved. Thank the heavens! Come make your peace."

But the mute Judas could not speak. His fantasy of repentance and love he believed to be just that: a fantasy. He wished to give in, to go run with Peter to once again feel the light of the world, a feeling of grace and eternity no man can deny. But the pride of Judas made him his own judge, still thinking himself smarter, picturing Jesus rebuking him for all to see, making him a forever outcast in this life and the next. The angry, hungry wolves had returned and their victim ran for his life.

When Peter returned, three times Jesus asked him if Peter loved him and three times Peter replied yes. This healed Peter, committing himself to a love beyond his life, freeing him from the bondage of his denial. But with the absent Judas - and his look of absolute fear - still on his mind, Peter asked of Judas' fate.

Jesus replied: "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"

***


Judas never heard those words. In a vacant field he lifted his arms to the sky, then fell to his knees. Were he ever to see this field again he'd not forget it, knowing these his last few moments on precious earth. Suddenly, the infinity of a flower blossomed in his mind. He wished to run back to town to discover the miracle laying hidden right before the daily eyes of man. Trust nature, he wished to say. Trust nature and all will be fine and inviolate - the dream we all dream. But in the eyes of man that's just a fantasy.

"Love is not meant for me! This is a far, far better thing I do. Jesus should not have to suffer my presence. I'm doing him a favor. I'm doing the world a favor. I hope my name is forever mocked and scorned. 'He was a man without courage or faith.' Oh, dear God!"

Judas released his grip, falling into his self fury and the strangling noose. But of the Twelve it was he who was the greatest dreamer, who knew of the day when the lion and lamb would lay together. This made the heart of Judas sing like no other's, but this song he did not share.

No comments: