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 4: Chapters 31 thru 40
A WIDOW IN GALILEE: JESUS THE CRUEL
MY SON WAS my first and my only born. He labored in our field and he was contented until he heard the man called Jesus speaking to the multitude. Then my son suddenly became different, as if a new spirit, foreign and unwholesome, had embraced his spirit. He abandoned the field and the garden; and he abandoned me also. He became worthless, a creature of the highways. That man Jesus of Nazareth was evil, for what good man would separate a son from his mother? The last thing my child said to me was this: "I am going with one of His disciples to the North Country. My life is established upon the Nazarene. You have given me birth, and for that I am grateful to you. But I needs must go. Am I not leaving with you our rich land, and all our silver and gold? I shall take naught but this garment and this staff." Thus my son spoke, and departed. And now the Romans and the priests have laid hold upon Jesus and crucified Him; and they have done well. A man who would part mother and son could not be godly. The man who sends our children to the cities of the Gentiles cannot be our friend. I know my son will not return to me. I saw it in his eyes. And for this I hate Jesus of Nazareth who caused me to be alone in this unploughed field and this withered garden. And I hate all those who praise Him. Not many days ago they told me that Jesus once said, "My father and my mother and my brethren are those who hear my word and follow me." But why should sons leave their mothers to follow His footsteps? And why should the milk of my breast be forgotten for a fountain not yet tasted? And the warmth of my arms be forsaken for the Northland, cold and unfriendly? Aye, I hate the Nazarene, and I shall hate Him to the end of my days, for He has robbed me of my first-born, my only son.
JUDAS THE COUSIN OF JESUS: ON THE DEATH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
UPON A NIGHT in the month of August we were with the Master on a heath not far from the lake. The heath was called by the ancients the Meadow of Skulls. And Jesus was reclining on the grass and gazing at the stars. And of a sudden two men came rushing towards us breathless. They were as if in agony, and they fell prostrate at the feet of Jesus. And Jesus stood up and He said, "Whence came you?" And one of the men answered, "From Machaereus." And Jesus looked upon him and was troubled, and He said, "What of John?" And the man said, "He was slain this day. He was beheaded in his prison cell." Then Jesus lifted up His head. And then He walked a little way from us. After a while He stood again in our midst. And He said, "The king could have slain the prophet ere this day. Verily the king has tried the pleasure of His subjects. Kings of yore were not so slow in giving the head of a prophet to the head-hunters. "I grieve not for John, but rather for Herod, who let fall the sword. Poor king, like an animal caught and led with a ring and a rope. "Poor petty tetrarchs lost in their own darkness, they stumble and fall down. And what could you of the stagnant sea but dead fishes?" "I hate not kings. Let them rule men, but only when they are wiser than men." And the Master looked at the two sorrowful faces and then He looked at us, and He spoke again and said, "John was born wounded, and the blood of his wounds streamed forth with his words. He was freedom not yet free from itself, and patient only with the straight and the just. "In truth he was a voice crying in the land of the deaf; and I loved him in his pain and his aloneness. "And I loved his pride that would give its head to the sword ere it would yield it to the dust. "Verily I say unto you that John, the son of Zachariah, was the last of his race, and like his forefathers he was slain between the threshold of the temple and the altar." And again Jesus walked away from us. Then He returned and He said, "Forever it has been that those who rule for an hour would slay the rulers of years. And forever they would hold a trial and pronounce condemnation upon a man not yet born, and decree his death ere he commits the crime. "The son of Zachariah shall live with me in my kingdom and his day shall be long." Then He turned to the disciples of John and said, "Every deed has its morrow. I myself may be the morrow of this deed. Go back to my friend's friends, and tell them I shall be with them." And the two men walked away from us, and they seemed less heavy-hearted. Then Jesus laid Himself down again upon the grass and outstretched His arms, and again He gazed at the stars. Now it was late. And I lay not far from Him, and I would fain have rested, but there was a hand knocking upon the gate of my sleep, and I lay awake until Jesus and the dawn called me again to the road.
THE MAN FROM THE DESERT: ON THE MONEY-CHANGERS
I WAS A stranger in Jerusalem. I had come to the Holy City to behold the great temple, and to sacrifice upon the altar, for my wife had given twin sons to my tribe. And after I had made my offering, I stood in the portico of the temple looking down upon the money-changers and those who sold doves for sacrifice, and listening to the great noise in the court. And as I stood there came of a sudden a man into the midst of the money-changers and those who sold doves. He was a man of majesty, and He came swiftly. In His hand He held a rope of goat's hide; and He began to overturn the tables of the money-changers and to beat the pedlars of birds with the rope. And I heard Him saying with a loud voice, "Render these birds unto the sky which is their nest." Men and women fled from before His face, and He moved amongst them as the whirling wind moves on the sad-hills. All this came to pass in but a moment, and then the court of the Temple was emptied of the money-changers. Only the man stood there alone, and His followers stood at a distance. Then I turned my face and I saw another man in the portico of the temple. And I walked towards him and said, "Sir, who is this man who stands alone, even like another temple?" And he answered me, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet who has appeared of late in Galilee. Here in Jerusalem all men hate Him." And I said, "My heart was strong enough to be with His whip, and yielding enough to be at His feet." And Jesus turned towards His followers who were awaiting Him. But before He reached them, three of the temple doves flew back, and one alighted upon His left shoulder and the other two at His feet. And he touched each one tenderly. Then He walked on, and there were leagues in every step of His steps. Now tell me, what power had He to attack and disperse hundreds of men and women without opposition? I was told that they all hate Him, yet no one stood before Him on that day. Had He plucked out the fangs of hate on His way to the court of the temple?
PETER: ON THE MORROW OF HIS FOLLOWERS
ONCE AT SUNDOWN Jesus led us into the village of Beithsaida. We were a tired company, and the dust of the road was upon us. And we came to a great house in the midst of a garden, and the owner stood at the gate. And Jesus said to him, "These men are weary and footsore. Let them sleep in your house. The night is cold and they are in need of warmth and rest." And the rich man said, "They shall not sleep in my house." And Jesus said, "Suffer them then to sleep in your garden." And the man answered, "Nay, they shall not sleep in my garden." Then Jesus turned to us and said, "This is what your tomorrow will be, and this present is like your future. All doors shall be closed in your face, and not even the gardens that lie under the stars may be your couch. "Should your feet indeed be patient with the road and follow me, it may be you will find a basin and a bed, and perhaps bread and wine also. But if it should be that you find none of those things, forget not then that you have crossed one of my deserts. "Come, let us go forth." And the rich man was disturbed, and his face was changed, and he muttered to himself words that I did not hear; and he shrank away from us and turned into his garden. And we followed Jesus upon the road.
MELACHI OF BABYLON, AN ASTRONOMER: THE MIRACLES OF JESUS
YOU QUESTION ME concerning the miracles of Jesus. Every thousand thousand years the sun and the moon and this earth and all her sister planets meet in a straight line, and they confer for a moment together. Then they slowly disperse and await the passing of another thousand thousand years. There are no miracles beyond the seasons, yet you and I do not know all the seasons. And what if a season shall be made manifest in the shape of a man? In Jesus the elements of our bodies and our dreams came together according to law. All that was timeless before Him became timeful in Him. They say He gave sight to the blind and walking to the paralysed, and that He drove devils out of madmen. Perchance blindness is but a dark thought that can be overcome by a burning thought. Perchance a withered limb is but idleness that can be quickened by energy. And perhaps the devils, these restless elements in our life, are driven out by the angels of peace and serenity. They say He raised the dead to life. If you can tell me what is death, then I will tell you what is life. In a field I have watched an acorn, a thing so still and seemingly useless. And in the spring I have seen that acorn take roots and rise, the beginning of an oak tree, towards the sun. Surely you would deem this a miracle, yet that miracle is wrought a thousand thousand times in the drowsiness of every autumn and the passion of every spring. Why shall it not be wrought in the heart of man? Shall not the seasons meet in the hand or upon the lips of a Man Anointed? If our God hsa given to earth the art to nestle seed whilst the seed is seemingly dead, why shall He not give to the heart of man to breathe life into another heart, even a heart seemingly dead?
I have spoken of these miracles which I deem but little beside the greater miracle, which is the man Himself, the Wayfarer, the man who turned my dross into gold, who taught me how to love those who hate me, and in so doing brought me comfort and gave sweet dreams to my sleep. This is the miracle in my own life. My soul was blind, my soul was lame. I was possessed by restless spirits, and I was dead. But now I see clearly, and I walk erect. I am at peace, and I live to witmess and proclaim my own being every hour of the day. And I am not one of His followers. I am but an old astronomer who visits the fields of space once a season, and who would be heedful of the law and the miracles thereof. And I am at the twilight of my time, but whenever I would seek its dawning, I seek the youth of Jesus. And for ever shall age seek youth. In me now it is knowledge that is seeking vision.
A PHILOSOPHER: ON WONDER AND BEAUTY
WHEN HE WAS with us He gazed at us and at our world with eyes of wonder, for His eyes were not veiled with the veil of years, and all that He saw was clear in the light of His youth. Though He knew the depth of beauty, He was for ever surprised by its peace and its majesty; and He stood before the earth as the first man had stood before the first day. We whose senses have been dulled, we gaze in full daylight and yet we do not see. We would cup our ears, but we do not hear; and stretch forth our hands, but we do not touch. And though all the incense of Arabia is burned, we go our way and do not smell. We see not the ploughman returning from his field at eventide; nor hear the shepherd's flute when he leads his flock to the fold, nor do we stretch our arms to touch the sunset; and our nostrils hunger no longer for the roses of Sharon. Nay, we honor no kings without kingdoms; nor hear the sound of harps save when the strings are plucked by hands; nor do we see a child playing in our olive grove as if he were a young olive tree. And all words must needs rise from lips of flesh, or else we deem each other dumb and deaf. In truth we gaze but do not see, and hearken but do not hear; we eat and drink but do not taste. And there lies the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and ourselves. His senses were all continually made new, and the world to Him was always a new world. To Him the lisping of a babe was not less than the cry of all mankind, while to us it is only lisping. To Him the root of a buttercup was a longing towards God, while to us it is naught but a root.
URIAH AN OLD MAN OF NAZARETH: HE WAS A STRANGER IN OUR MIDST
HE WAS A stranger in our midst, and His life was hidden with dark veils. He walked not the path of our God, but followed the course of the foul and the infamous. His childhood revolted, and rejected the sweet milk of our nature. His youth was inflamed like dry grass that burns in the night. And when He became a man, He took arms against us all. Such men are conceived in the ebb tide of human kindness, and born in unholy tempests. And in tempests they live a day and the perish forever. Do you not remember Him, a boy overweening, who would argue with our learned elders, and laugh at their dignity? And remember you not His youth, when He lived by the saw and the chisel? He would not accompany our sons and daughters on their holidays. He would walk alone. And He would not return the salutation of those who hailed Him, as though He were above us. I myself met Him once in the field and greeted Him, and He only smiled, and in His smile I beheld arrogance and insult. Not long afterward my daughter went with her companions to the vineyards to gather the grapes, and she spoke to Him and He did not answer her. He spoke only to the whole company of grape-gatherers, as if my daughter had not been among them. When He abandoned His people and turned vagabond He became naught but a babbler. His voice was like a claw in our flesh, and the sound of His voice is still a pain in our memory. He would utter only evil of us and of our fathers and forefathers. And His tongue sought our bosoms like a poisoned arrow. Such was Jesus. If He had been my son, I would have committed Him with the Roman legions to Arabia, and I would have begged the captain to place Him in the forefront of the battle, so that the archer of the foe mmight mark Him, and free me of His insolence. But I have no son. And mayhap I should be grateful. For what if my son had been an enemy of his own people, and my gray hairs were now seeking the dust with shame, my white beard humbled?
NICODEMUS THE POET, THE YOUNGEST OF THE ELDERS IN THE SANHEDRIM: ON FOOLS AND JUGGLERS
MANY ARE THE fools who say that Jesus stood in His own path and opposed Himself; that He knew not His own mind, and in the absence of that knowledge confounded Himself. Many indeed are the owls who know no song unlike their own hooting. You and I know the jugglers of words who would honor only a greater juggler, men who carry their heads in baskets to the market-place and sell them to the first bidder. We know the pygmies who abuse the sky-man. And we know what the weed would say of the oak tree and the cedar. I pity them that they cannot rise to the heights. I pity the shrivelling thorn envying the elm that dares the seasons. But pity, though enfolded by the regret of all the angels, can bring them no light. I know the scarecrow whose rotting garments flutter in the corn, yet he himself is dead to the corn and to the singing wind. I know the wingless spider that weaves a net for all who fly. I know the crafty, the blowers of horns and the beaters of drums, who in the abundance of their own noise cannot hear the skylark nor the east wind in the forest. I know him who paddles against all streams, but never finds the source, who runs with all rivers, but never dares to the sea. I know him who offers his unskilled hands to the builder of the temple, and when his unskilled hands are rejected, says in the darkness of his heart, "I will destroy all that shall be builded." I know all these. They are the men who object that Jesus said on a certain day, "I bring peace unto you," and on another day, "I bring a sword." They cannot understand that in truth He said, "I bring peace unto men of goodwill, and I lay a sword between him who would peace and him who would a sword." They wonder that He who said, "My kingdom is not of this earth," said also, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"; and know not that if they would indeed be free to enter the kingdom of their passion, they must not resist the gate-keeper of their necessities. It behooves them gladly to pay that dole to enter into that city. There are the men who say, "He preached tenderness and kindliness and filial love, yet He would not heed His mother and His brothers when they sought Him in the streets of Jerusalem." They do not know that His mother and brothers in their loving fear would have had Him return to the bench of the carpenter, whereas He was opening our eyes to the dawn of a new day. His mother and His brothers would have had Him live in the shadow of death, but He Himself was challenging death upon yonder hill that He might live in our sleepless memory. I know these moles that dig paths to nowhere. Are they not the ones who accuse Jesus of glorifying Himself in that He said to the multitude, "I am the path and the gate to salvation," and even called Himself the life and the resurrection. But Jesus was not claiming more than the month of May claims in her high tide. Was He not to tell the shining truth because it was so shining? He indeed said that He was the way and the life and the resurrection of the heart; and I myself as a testimony to His truth. Do you not remember me, Nicodemus, who believed in naught but the laws and decrees and was in continual subjection to observances? And behold me now, a man who walks with life and laughs with the sun from the first moment it smiles upon the mountain until it yields itself to bed behind the hills. Why do you halt before the word salvation? I myself through Him have attained my salvation. I care not for what shall befall me tomorrow, for I know that Jesus quickened my sleep and made my distant dreams my companions and my road-fellows. Am I less man because I believe in a greater man? The barriers of flesh and bone fell down when the Poet of Galilee spoke to me; and I was held by a spirit, and was lifted to the heights, and in midair my wings gathered the song of passion. And when I dismounted from the wind and in the Sanhedrim my pinions were shorn, even then my ribs, my featherless wings, kept and guarded the song. And all the poverties of the lowlands cannot rob me of my treasure. I have said enough. Let the deaf bury the humming of life in their dead ears. I am content with the sound of His lyre, which He held and struck while the hands of His body were nailed and bleeding.
JOSEPH OF ARIMETHEA TEN YEARS LATER: THE TWO STREAMS IN JESUS' HEART
THERE WERE TWO streams running in the heart of the Nazarene: the stream of kinship to God whom He called Father, and the stream of rapture which He called the kingdom of the Above-world. And in my solitude I thought of Him and I followed these two streams in His heart. Upon the banks of the one I met my own soul; and sometimes my soul was a beggar and a wanderer, and sometimes it was a princess in her garden. Then I followed the other stream in His heart, and on my way I met one who had been beaten and robbed of his gold, and he was smiling. And farther on I saw the robber who had robbed him, and there were unshed tears upon his face. Then I heard the murmur of these two streams in my own bosom also, and I was gladened. When I visited Jesus the day before Pontius Pilatus and the elders laid hands on Him, we talked long, and I asked Him many questions, and He answered my questionings with graciousness; and when I left Him I knew He was the Lord and Master of this our earth. It is long since our cedar tree has fallen, but its fragrance endures, and will forever seek the four corners of the earth.
GEORGUS OF BEIRUT: ON STRANGERS
HE AND HIS friends were in the grove of pines beyond my hedge, and He was talking to them. I stood near the hedge and listened. And I knew who He was, for His fame had reached these shores ere He Himself visited them. When He ceased speaking I approached Him, and I said, "Sir, come with these men and honor me and my roof." And He smiled upon me and said, "Not this day, my friend. Not this day." And there was a blessing in His words, and His voice enfolded me like a garment on a cold night. Then He turned to His friends and said, "Behold a man who deems us not strangers, and though He has not seen us ere this day, he bids us to His threshold. "Verily in my kingdom there are no strangers. Our life is but the life of all other men, given us that we may know all men, and in that knowledge love them. "The deeds of all men are but our deeds, both the hidden and the revealed. "I charge you not to be one self but rather many selves, the householder and the homeless, the ploughman and the sparrow that picks the grain ere it slumber in the earth, the giver who gives in gratitude, and the receiver who receives in pride and recognition. "The beauty of the day is not only in what you see, but in what other men see. "For this I have chosen you from among the many who have chosen me." Then He turned to me again and smiled and said, "I say these things to you also, and you also shall remember them." Then I entreated Him and said, "Master, will you not visit in my house?" And He answered, "I know your heart, and I have visited your larger house." And as He walked away with His disciples He said, "Good-night, and may your house be large enough to shelter all the wanderers of the land."
MARY MAGDALEN: HIS MOUTH WAS LIKE THE HEART OF A POMEGRANATE
HIS MOUTH WAS like the heart of a pomegranate, and the shadows in His eyes were deep. And He was gentle, like a man mindful of his own strength. In my dreams I beheld the kings of the earth standing in awe in His presence. I would speak of His face, but how shall I? It was like night without darkness, and like day without the noise of day. It was a sad face, and it was a joyous face. And well I remember how once He raised His hand towards the sky, and His parted fingers were like the branches of an elm. And I remember Him pacing the evening. He was not walking. He Himself was a road above the road; even as a cloud above the earth that would descend to refresh the earth. But when I stood before Him and spoke to him, He was a man, and His face was powerful to behold. And He said to me, "What would you, Miriam?" I would not answer Him, but my wings enfolded my secret, and I was made warm. And because I could bear His light no more, I turned and walked away, but not in shame. I was only shy, and I would be alone, with His fingers upon the strings of my heart.
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Jesus the Son of Man by Kahlil Gibran