Sunday, March 23, 2008

Third day: Nathaniel's tale

Cowed, we sat in that upper chamber and considered our options. Some of the women had gone to the grave before daybreak and found it empty. It certainly was empty, Cephas and Jonah had gone to confirm, but was it the right grave? We never saw where they had buried him so we just have the women’s word for it. One of women said she had actually seen him, but who can believe a woman? They’ll see things that aren’t there and say the first thing that comes into their head. Quite rightly the Law regards the testimony of a woman as less than believable.

Then there were those two who were on their way home to Emmaus. They fell in with this travelling preacher who conned his way into a meal at their expense. After they’d had a few they somehow got it into their heads that it was Jesus that they were eating with. I ask you, if they didn’t recognize him when they were sober how are we going to believe what they think they saw when they were sozzled? They burst in on us while we were here in John Mark’s house. To me they didn’t look in control of themselves.

The inner three – Jacob and Jonah Bar-Zebedee and Cephas – then said, “Yes, we know, Cephas has seen him too.”

That was news to me. Why were they keeping it to themselves? Cephas is one for shooting his mouth off, saying the first thing that comes into his head. He said nothing to Andrew, even, and now others come in saying, “We have seen the Lord,” and good old Cephas, not wishing to be beaten, claims, “I saw him first.”

You know me, I’m a straight talker. The Lord himself called me an Israelite in whom there is no guile. Not like our father Israel – there was a real trickster. Well, I grant you that the whole thing is highly suspicious. Nobody in their right mind would believe a hysterical woman and Cephas is an impulsive idiot. But I am someone who doesn’t put his name to something unless I’m sure it’s true. I am not joshing you. This is exactly what happened.

We had the locked the door after Cleopas and his mate gatecrashed the meeting. We were still arguing over what they had told us when suddenly Jesus stood in the midst of us. The door hadn’t opened; it was still locked. He just said, “Shalom,” the way that you do when you greet someone. My goodness, it was a shock. He wasn’t there and then he was there. If it was a trick, I can’t work out how he did it. There was nowhere he could have been concealed.

Of course, some of them thought he was a ghost. But he offered his hands and I felt them. They were real flesh and blood. You could even see the holes in his wrists where the nails went through. Same with his feet. He even ate a fish sandwich.

Then he said it again, “Shalom,” but this time it wasn’t a greeting. He was emphasizing the meaning. “My peace I give to you.” And, do you know, we felt it. After all the worry and turmoil of the last few days this tremendous feeling of calm came over us. I was struck by the enormity of it. It was wonderful to see him, of course, but he had been dead and now he is alive!

All he had been telling us at last made sense. When I first met him I had been contemplating our father Israel’s dream at Bethel. He knew what I was thinking. It was as though he could read my mind. I knew then that he was the son of God. Now he has revealed himself. Great things are going to happen. You see, the peace he offered us was peace with God. Ever since Adam sinned God had dealt with us under sufferance. We had to keep killing lambs and bulls, even pigeons to show that we submitted to his judgement. And on that condition his judgement was held at bay.

I keep thinking of that old servant song, “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him…the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The Rabbis have argued down the ages about who the servant was supposed to be, but it’s all clear now. The servant is the son of God. Even the resurrection is predicted. I never saw it before, but what else can “After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied” mean? So much that he said to us makes sense now. “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” What else could that mean? Why didn’t we realize it at the time? And the best of it is this: because he is alive, the punishment is complete. Death has spat him out. He was too big to swallow.

He blew on us, as if to say take my breath into the whole world. It’s no longer a secret. Death is defeated; the last enemy is conquered. Something great is surely coming.

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