Jesus the Son of Man
Jesus the Son of Man is a life of Jesus as told in the words of seventy-seven of his closest contemporaries, both friends and enemies: Syrians, Romans, Greeks and Jews; Persians, Priests, Publicans and Poets.
Part 3: Chapters 21 thru 30
SABA OF ANTIOCH: ON SAUL OF TARSUS
THIS DAY I heard Saul of Tarsus preaching the Christ unto the Jews of this city. He calls himself Paul now, the apostle to the Gentiles. I knew him in my youth, and in those days he persecuted the friends of the Nazarene. Well do I remember his satisfaction when his fellows stoned the radiant youth called Stephen. This Paul is indeed a strange man. His souls is not the soul of a free man. At times he seems like an animal in the forest, hunted and wounded, seeking a cave wherein he would hide his pain from the world. He speaks not of Jesus, nor does he repeat His words. He preaches the Messiah whom the prophets of old had foretold. And though he himself is a learned Jew he addresses his fellow Jews in Greek; and his Greek is halting, and he ill chooses his words. But he is a man of hidden powers and his presence is affirmed by those who gather around him. And at times he assures them of what he himself is not assured.
We who knew Jesus and heard his discourses say that He taught man how to break the chains of his bondage that he might be free from his yesterdays. But Paul is forging chains for the man of tomorrow. He would strike with his own hammer upon the anvil in the name of one whom he does not know. The Nazarene would have us live the hour in passion and ecstasy. The man of Tarsus would have us be mindful of laws recorded in the ancient books. Jesus gave His breath to the breathless dead. And in my lone nights I believe and I understand. When He sat at the board, He told stories that gave happiness to the feasters, and spiced with His joy the food and the wine. But Paul would prescribe our loaf and our cup. Suffer me not to turn my eyes the other way.
SALOME TO A WOMAN FRIEND: A DESIRE UNFULFILLED
HE WAS LIKE poplars shimmering in the sun; And like a lake among the lonely hills, Shining in the sun; And like snow upon the mountain heights, White, white in the sun.
Yea, He was like unto all these, And I loved Him. Yet I feared His presence. And my feet would not carry my burden of love That I might girdle His feet with my arms.
I would have said to Him, "I have slain your friend in an hour of passion. Will you forgive me my sin? And will you not in mercy release my youth From its blind deed, That it may walk in your light?"
I know He would have forgiven my dancing For the saintly head of His friend. I know He would have seen in me An object of His own teaching. For there was no valley of hunger He could not bridge, And no desert of thirst He could not cross.
Yea, He was even as the poplars, And as the lakes among the hills, Annd like snow upon Lebanon. And I would have cooled my lips in the folds of His garment.
But He was far from me, And I was ashamed. And my mother held me back When the desire to seek Him was upon me.
Whenever He passed by, my heart ached for his loveliness, But my mother frowned at Him in contempt, And would hasten me from the window To my bedchamber. And she would cry aloud saying, "Who is He but another locust-eater from the desert?
What is He but a scoffer and a renegade, A seditious riot-monger, who would rob us of sceptre and crown, And bid the foxes and the jackals of His accursed land Howl in our halls and sit upon our throne? Go hide your face from this day, And await the day when His head shall fall down, But not upon your platter."
These things my mother said. But my heart would not keep her words. I loved Him in secret, And my sleep was girdled with flames.
He is gone now. And something that was in me is gone also. Perhaps it was my youth That would not tarry here, Since the God of youth was slain.
RACHAEL A WOMAN DISCIPLE: ON JESUS THE VISION AND THE MAN
I OFTEN WONDER whether Jesus was a man of flesh and blood like ourselves, or a thought without a body, in the mind, or an idea that visits the vision of man. Often it seems to me that He was but a dream dreamed by the countless men and women at the same time in a sleep deeper than sleep and a dawn more serene than all dawns. And it seems that in relating the dream, the one to the other, we began to deem it a reality that had indeed come to pass; and in giving it body of our fancy and a voice of our longing we made it a substance of our own substance. But in truth He was not a dream. We knew Him for three years and beheld Him with our open eyes in the high tide of noon. We touched His hands, and we followed Him from one place to another. We heard His discourses and witnessed His deeds. Think you that we were a thought seeking after more thought, or a dream in the region of dreams? Great events always seem alien to our daily lives, though their nature may be rooted in our nature. But though they appear sudden in their coming and sudden in their passing, their true span is for years and for generations. Jesus of Nazareth was Himself the Great Event. That man whose father and mother and brothers we know, was Himself a miracle wrought in Judea. Yea, all His own miracles, if placed at His feet, would not rise to the height of His ankles. And all the rivers of all the years shall not carry away our remembrance of Him. He was a mountain burning in the night, yet He was a soft glow beyond the hills. He was a tempest in the sky, yet He was a murmur in the mist of daybreak. He was a torrent pouring from the heights to the plains to destroy all things in its path. And He was like the laughter of children. Every year I had waited for spring to visit this valley. I had waited for the lilies and the cyclamen, and then every year my soul had been saddened within me; for ever I longed to rejoice with the spring, yet I could not. But when Jesus came to my seasons He was indeed a spring, and in Him was the promise of all the years to come. He filled my heart with joy; and like the violets I grew, a shy thing, in the light of His coming. And now the changing seasons of worlds not yet ours shall not erase His loveliness from this our world. Nay, Jesus was not a phantom, nor a conception of the poets. He was man like yourself and myself. But only to sight and touch and hearing; in all other ways He was unlike us. He was a man of joy; and it was upon the path of joy that He met the sorrows of all men. And it was from the high roofs of His sorrows that He beheld the joy of all men. He saw visions that we did not see, and heard voices that we did not hear; and He spoke as if to invisible multitudes, and ofttimes He spoke through us to races yet unborn. And Jesus was often alone. He was among us yet not one with us. He was upon the earth, yet He was of the sky. And only in our aloneness may we visit the land of His aloneness. He loved us with tender love. His heart was a winepress. You and I could approach with a cup and drink therefrom. One thing I did not use to understand in Jesus: He would make merry with His listeners; He would tell jests and play upon words, and laugh with all the fullness of His heart, even when there were distances in His eyes and sadness in His voice. But I understand now. I often think of the earth as a woman heavy with her first child. When Jesus was born, He was the first child. And when He died, He was the first man to die. For did it not appear to you that the earth was stilled on that dark Friday, and the heavens were at war with the heavens? And felt you not when His face disappeared from our sight as if we were naught but memories in the mist?
CLEOPAS OF BETHROUNE: ON THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
WHEN JESUS SPOKE the whole world was hushed to listen. His words were not for our ears but rather for the elements of which God made this earth. He spoke to the sea, our vast mother, that gave us birth. He spoke to the mountain, our elder brother whose summit is a promise. And He spoke to the angels beyond the sea and the mountain to whom we entrusted our dreams ere the clay in us was made hard in the sun. And still His speech slumbers within our breast like a love-song half forgotten, and sometimes it burns itself through to our memory. His speech was simple and joyous, and the sound of His voice was like cool water in a land of drought. Once He raised His hand against the sky, and His fingers were like the branches of a sycamore tree; and He said with a great voice: "The prophets of old have spoken to you, and your ears are filled with their speech. But I say unto you, empty your ears of what you have heard." And these words of Jesus, "But I say unto you," were not uttered by a man of our race nor of our world; but rather by a host of seraphim marching across the sky of Judea. Again and yet again He would quote the law and the prophets, and then he would say, "But I say unto you." Oh, what burning words, what waves of seas unknown to the shores of our mind, "But I say unto you." What stars seeking the darkness of the soul, and what sleepless souls awaiting the dawn.
To tell of the speech of Jesus one must needs have His speech or the echo thereof. I have neither the speech nor the echo. I beg you to forgive me for beginning a story that I cannot end. But the end is not yet upon my lips. It is still a love song in the wind
NAAMAN OF THE GADARENES, A FRIEND OF STEPHEN: ON THE DEATH OF STEPHEN
HIS DISCIPLES ARE dispersed. He gave them the legacy of pain ere He Himself was put to death. They are hunted like the deer, and the foxes of the fields, and the quiver of the hunter is yet full of arrows. But when they are caught and led to death, they are joyous, and their faces shine like the face of the bridegroom at the wedding-feast. For He gave them also the legacy of joy.
I had a friend from the North Country, and his name was Stephen; and because he proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God, he was led to the market-place and stoned. And when Stephen fell to earth he oustretched his arms as if he would die as his Master had died. His arms were spread like wings ready for flight. And when the last gleam of light was fading in his eyes, with my own eyes I saw a smile upon his lips. It was a smile like the breath that comes before the end of winter for a pledge and a promise of spring. How shall I describe it? It seemed that Stephen was saying, "If I should go to another world, and other men should lead me to another market-place to stone me, even then I would proclaim Him for the truth which was in Him, and for that same truth which is in me now." And I noticed that there was a man standing near, and looking with pleasure upon the stoning of Stephen. His name is Saul of Tarsus, and it was he who had yielded Stephen to the priests and the Romans and the crowd, for stoning. Saul was bald of head and short of stature. His shoulders were crooked and his features ill-sorted; and I liked him not. I have been told that he is now preaching Jesus from the house tops. It is hard to believe. But the grave halts not Jesus' walking to the enemies' camp to tame and take captive those who had opposed Him. Still I do not like that man of Tarsus, though I have been told that after Stephen's death he was tamed and conquered on the road to Damascus. But his head is too large for his heart to be that of a true disciple. And yet perhaps I am mistaken. I am often mistaken.
THOMAS: ON THE FOREFATHERS OF HIS DOUBTS
MY GRANDFATHER WHO was a lawyer once said, "Let us observe truth, but only when truth is made manifest unto us." When Jesus called me I heeded Him, for His command was more potent than my will; yet I kept my counsel. When He spoke and the others were swayed like branches in the wind, I listened immovable. Yet I loved Him. Three years ago He left us, a scattered company to sing His name, and to be His witnesses unto the nations. At that time I was called Thomas the Doubter. The shadow of my grandfather was still upon me, and always I would have truth made manifest. I would even put my hand in my own wound to feel the blood ere I would believe in my pain. Now a man who loves with his heart yet holds a doubt in his mind, is but a slave in a galley who sleeps at his oar and dreams of his freedom, till the lash of the master wakes him. I myself was that slave, and I dreamed of freedom, but the sleep of my grandfather was upon me. My flesh needed the whip of my own day. Even in the presence of the Nazarene I had closed my eyes to see my hands chained to the oar. Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother. Doubt is a foundling unhappy and astray, and though his own mother who gave him birth should find him and enfold him, he would withdraw in caution and in fear. For Doubt will not know truth till his wounds are healed and restored. I doubted Jesus until He made Himself manifest to me, and thrust my own hand into His very wounds. Then indeed I believed, and after that I was rid of my yesterday and the yesterdays of my forefathers. The dead in me buried their dead; and the living shall live for the Anointed King, even for Him who was the Son of Man. Yesterday they told me that I must go and utter His name among the Persians and the Hindus. I shall go. And from this day to my last day, at dawn and at eventide, I shall see my Lord rising in majesty and I shall hear Him speak.
ELMADAM THE LOGICIAN: JESUS THE OUTCAST
YOU BID ME speak of Jesus the Nazarene, and much have I to tell, but the time has not come. Yet whatever I say of Him now is the truth; for all speech is worthless save when it discloses the truth. Behold a man disorderly, against all order; a mendicant, opposed to all possessions; a drunkard who would only make merry with rogues and castaways. He was not the proud son of the State, nor was He the protected citizen of the Empire; therefore He had contempt for both State and Empire. He would live as free and dutiless as the fowls of the air, and for this the hunters brought Him to earth with arrows. No one shall open the flood gates of his ancestors without drowning. It is the law. And because the Nazarene broke the law, He and His witless followers were brought to naught. And there lived many others like Him, men who would change the course of our destiny. They themselves were changed, and they were the losers. There is a grapeless vine that grows by the city walls. It creeps upward and clings to the stones. Should that vine say in her heart, "With my might and my weight I shall destroy these walls," what would other plants say? Surely they would laugh at her foolishness. Now sir, I cannot but laugh at this man and His ill-advised disciples.
ONE OF THE MARYS: ON HIS SADNESS AND HIS SMILE
HIS HEAD WAS always high, and the flame of God was in His eyes. He was often sad, but His sadness was tenderness shown to those in pain, and comradeship given to the lonely. When He smiled His smile was as the hunger of those who long after the unknown. It was like the dust of stars falling upon the eyelids of children. And it was like a morsel of bread in the throat. He was sad, yet it was a sadness that would rise to the lips and become a smile. It was like a golden veil in the forest when autumn is upon the world. And sometimes it seemed like moonlight upon the shores of the lake. He smiled as if His lips would sing at the wedding-feast. Yet He was sad with the sadness of the winged who will not soar above his comrade
RUMANOUS A GREEK POET: JESUS THE POET
HE WAS A poet. He saw for our eyes and heard for our ears, and our silent words were upon His lips; and His fingers touched what we could not feel. Out of His heart there flew countless singing birds to the north and to the south, and the little flowers on the hill-sides stayed His steps towards the heavens. Oftentimes I have seen Him bending down to touch the blades of grass. And in my heart I have heard Him say: "Little green things, you shall be with me in my kingdom, even as the oaks of Besan, and the cedars of Lebanon." He loved all things of loveliness, the shy faces of children, and the myrrh and frankincense from the south. He loved a pomegranate or a cup of wine given Him in kindness; it mattered not whether it was offered by a stranger in the inn or by a rich host. And He loved the almond blossoms. I have seen Him gathering them into His hands and covering His face with the petals, as though He would embrace with His love all the trees in the world. He knew the sea and the heavens; and He spoke of pearls which have light that is not of this light, and of stars that are beyond our night. He knew the mountains as eagles know them, and the valleys as they are known by the brooks and the streams. And there was a desert in His silence and a garden in His speech. Aye, He was a poet whose heart dwelt in a bower beyond the heights, and His songs though sung for our ears, were sung for other ears also, and to men in another land where life is for ever young and time is always dawn. Once I too deemed myself a poet, but when I stood before Him in Bethany, I knew what it is to hold an instrument with but a single string before one who commands all instruments. For in His voice there was the laughter of thunder and the tears of rain, and the joyous dancing of trees in the wind. And since I have known that my lyre has but one string, and that my voice weaves neither the memories of yesterday nor the hopes of tomorrow, I have put aside my lyre and I shall keep silence. But always at twilight I shall hearken, and I shall listen to the Poet who is the sovereign of all poets.
LEVI, A DISCIPLE: ON THOSE WHO WOULD CONFOUND JESUS
UPON AN EVENTIDE He passed by my house, and my soul was quickened within me. He spoke to me and said, "Come, Levi, and follow me." And I followed Him that day. And at eventide of the next day I begged Him to enter my house and be my guest. And He and His friends crossed my threshold and blessed me and my wife and my children. And I had other guests. They were publicans and men of learning, but they were against Him in their hearts. And when we were sitting about the board, one of the publicans questioned Jesus, saying, "Is it true that you and your disciples break the law, and make fire on the sabbath day?" And Jesus answered him saying, "We do indeed make fire on the sabbath day. We would inflame the sabbath day, and we would burn with our touch the dry stubble of all days." And another publican said, "It was brought to us that you drink wine with the unclean at the inn." And Jesus answered, "Aye, these also we would comfort. Came we here except to share the loaf and the cup with the uncrowned and the unshod amongst you? "Few, aye too few are the featherless who dare the wind, and many are the winged and fullfledged yet in the nest. "And we would feed them all with our beak, both the sluggish and the swift." And another publican said, "Have I not been told that you would protect the harlots of Jerusalem?" Then in the face of Jesus I saw, as it were, the rocky heights of Lebanon, and He said, "It is true. "On the day of reckoning these women shall rise before the throne of my Father, and they shall be made pure by their own tears. But you shall be held down by the chains of your own judgment. "Babylon was not put to waste by her prostitutes; Babylon fell to ashes that the eyes of her hypocrites might no longer see the light of day." And other publicans would have questioned Him, but I made a sign and bade them be silent, for I knew He would confound them; and they too were my guests, and I would not have them put to shame. When it was midnight the publicans left my house, and their souls were limping. Then I closed my eyes and I saw, as if in a vision, seven women in white raiment standing about Jesus. Their arms were crossed upon their bosoms, and their heads were bent down, and I looked deep into the mist of my dream and beheld the face of one of the seven women, and it shone in my darkness. It was the face of a harlot who lived in Jerusalem. Then I opened my eyes and looked at Him, and He was smiling at me and at the others who had not left the board. And I closed my eyes again, and I saw in a light seven men in white garments standing around Him. And I beheld the face of one of them. It was the face of the thief who was crucified afterward at His right hand.
And later Jesus and His comrades left my house for the road.
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Jesus the Son of Man by Kahlil Gibran