Thursday, July 14, 2011

The San Mateo Gospel

     I don't want to be irreverent.  At my age you start to think about what you will say to God when an account must be rendered for every careless word.  For a writer, every careless word rings with disturbing resonance.  Let's not be careless.  But some stories have to be told.  And some have to be retold, because people haven't been listening to the old version, or maybe they have heard it too many times and they're missing the point of the story.

     If I create a character who lives in these pages, will the man of history be offended, whose life and words I can only paraphrase?  An American vernacular rendering can't be worse than the version that is proffered in every marketplace.  Try to wash your hands of it, and on the edge of the sink is a purple plum of a tract that offers you a choice--an indigestible salvation or Hellfire.  I hope I will be forgiven for offering an alternative to something that can only make you sick.  My fast-food version of the story of Jesus can't be what the fresh original was, but I've lived long enough to know an imitation when I see one.  I call my version of this venerable story, The San Mateo Gospel.  I've written what I have written.

      The genealogy of the man who is called God with us goes back fourteen generations in the old country.  All these people were good Catholics, a fact verifiable by the books of the priests.  There's not a dissenter on the record. 

     Now the birth of Jesus happened this way:  When his mother Maria Gonzales was engaged to marry Joe Lopez, before her mother ever let the two of them out of her sight, Maria went to the doctor and found out she was pregnant.  This was a mystery of the Holy Spirit, but we didn't know that then!  Joseph was a nice boy and didn't want to disgrace her, so he decided to quietly cancel the wedding.  But while he was trying to find a way to tell Maria, he had a dream in which an angel appeared to him and said, "Don't be afraid to marry this girl; her child is a miracle of the Holy Spirit and blessed by the church.  She will have a son, and you will call him Jesus.  He will save his people from their sins."  We had heard this for generations: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel which means 'God with us.'" 

Joe woke up and thought it over.  He decided to go ahead.  After all, he loved her.  She had the baby, and, of course, they called the child Emmanuel Lopez Gonzales.

      Jesus was born in Bethel, a small town in Texas, back in the 1950's.  Astrologers from California came and asked, "Who is this prophet who has been born?"  But governor Harrah heard about it and he thought an Hispanic child having visitors making charts could only mean trouble.  "Just what we need," he said, "Some weirdos coming 'round to get the farm workers stirred up."  The straw bosses were cynical.  These Mexicans, to them, were a bunch of superstitious Catholics who had too many children and lived out of the backs of their pickups. 

      The governor had a conference with the astrologers and found out a little more about them.  They had been troubled for years before they would admit to one another the content of their recurring dreams.  When they did start talking about it, the images and the stars seemed to indicate a child born in Texas was some great personage.  They packed up their apparatus in their VW bus and hit the road.

      Harrah heard all this and made a few phone calls of his own.  He rang up the prophecy experts at Dallas Theological Seminary to find out where the second coming of Christ was supposed to take place.  "The Valley of Jehoshaphat," they said.  "For to you will come the true governor of my people."  Fine.  The true governor of Texas, however, figured he would kabosh this nonsense before it got out of hand.  He told the astrologers to go find the child and then come back and tell him where he, too, could pay his respects.  They heard him out but went their own way.  Their star guided them to the place where the child was (I don't know how, either) .

      Suitably astonished, they went into the house Joe and Maria had rented 'on the cheap' in El Paso and offered gifts and honors in their old tradition.  Their dreams warned them not to go back to the governor.  They headed for Las Vegas. 

      Joseph was also warned in a dream to clear out of Texas.  That red-neck governor had a gang of vigilantes out to destroy the child.  Joe was no fool.  He took Jesus and his mother on a night train and went to California--pronto.  There he enrolled in a community college and studied hard.  It was horrible back in Texas.  The governor's gangsters committed atrocities that the Mexicans still remember.  You may have heard about the great Texas chain-saw massacre.

      The governor eventually died.  Joseph, still in California, dreamed again.  An angel told him they could safely visit their families in El Paso.  They packed up their station wagon and drove for two days in the heat.  But the present governor of Texas was the son of that old bigot, Harrah.  After a few weeks they hit the road again and knocked around for a while.  After some serious travel they settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  Maria remembered the Bible passage: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

      When the time was ripe, and Jesus had grown and was a young man, John the Southern Baptist started preaching out in the plains states, "Repent!  For God's revolution is at hand."  Again, this was in the Bible, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness.  Smooth out the main road for the Boss."  Now John wore only wool and leather like a Hutterite.  He ate whatever he could shoot in the sagebrush country: prairie chickens, pheasants, even jack rabbits or rattlesnakes if he had to.  But urban folks went out to his camp meetings to hear him preach.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by immersion in the Missouri or the Platte.  But when clergymen came out from the theological seminaries, John called them a bunch of snakes!  "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" he raged.  "Repent!  And stop saying to yourselves, 'We are White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.' I tell you, God is able to raise up WASPs from the stones in this Okie riverbank.  Even now, an ax is hacking into George Washington's cherry tree.  Bear fruit or burn!"

      Lots of preachers get wild, but John seemed to be able to control his fast ball.  And he was a team player.  "I immerse you in water," he said, "But he who is coming is the real Rainmaker.  He will immerse you in the Holy Spirit and christen you with lightning.  I'm not worthy to lace up his boots.  He carries a pitchfork to thrash out the grain, and the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

      With this intro you can bet people were watching closely when John pointed out Jesus Lopez coming to be baptized.  John would have prevented him.  He said, "I need to be baptized by you."

      But Jesus answered, "It's only right for us to observe this ritual of willing obedience."  Then John consented.  When Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and the sky over the wide plains opened to eternity.  As softly as a meadow lark gliding down from a telephone wire, the Spirit of God descended and alighted on Jesus.  A voice out of the blue said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am mightily impressed."

      Jesus was led off into New Mexico to be tempted.  After more than a month in the desert without anything to eat, he was so starved he started to hallucinate.  The devil came to him and said, "So you're the Son of God!  Then why are you hungry?  Make bread from these stones.  You know what I mean."

      But Jesus answered, "You have gambling casinos and chorus lines within a two-hour drive, and you tempt me with bread?  The guys pumping the slot machines in 'Vegas' have stomachs full of beef and brew.  So what kind of jackpot are they trying to pull down?  What they're starved for is the word." 

      The devil took him to Salt Lake City and set him on the pinnacle of the Mormon Temple.  "Okay, hotshot.  Fling yourself down.  The Biiiible says, 'The angels won't even let you stub your toe.'"

      Jesus told the old fraud, "It also says... .   Well, something in the spirit of 'you shall not try flamboyant stunts to prove your faith.'  Maybe that's Saint Ignatius, but you get the idea." 

      The devil still had his best material, foolproof with these liberator types.  From the penthouse of a New York high-rise, he showed him the world of political power and big business and said, "You can have your ideal world, but don't think you're going to make it happen without doing a little business for me.  Some of my biggest producers started just like you."

      Jesus answered, "In spite of my fairly normal employment here, I have an insurmountable conflict of interest.  I'm already in business with your principal competitor."

       With a shrug, the devil left him. 

      Angels came and led him to a cool place by a spring.  The sun went down as he sat and watched long strands of grass play in a stream of water that flowed out deep and clear from among the rocks.

      When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested like an prairie squatter, he went back to Pennsylvania.  His time had not yet come.  Even so, he was a bit much for the folks around Nazareth.  What do you say to a fellow who quotes Ignatius, Clement, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Basil, and Jerome, yet seems never to have heard of Bruce Springsteen.  To make it easier for his parents, he left town and traveled up through the Great Lakes Region.  He ended up in Chicago.  This was said to fulfill prophecy: "The land of Zebulon of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordon, Galilee of the immigrants.  The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light."

      From then on Jesus took up the Baptist's cry, "Repent!  God's revolution is a hand."

      As he walked along the waterfront one evening, he saw two brothers loading their trucks.  They were teamsters.  He said to them, "Work with me and you'll move men, not cabbage and potatoes.  My union doesn't work for the mob."  They knew Jesus Lopez and already trusted him.  They must have, to walk away from their trucks.  Two other brothers, Jim and John Zebedee also parked their rigs on a lot owned by their retired father and went along with this migrant with the street-wise eyes.

      Jesus and his new cohorts went all over the state.  His proclamation of the revolution of God really had an impact.  He spoke in civic centers and in churches.  The thing is, he didn't just preach and move on to the next engagement; he healed peoples' diseases miraculously, or so it seemed.  The reporters were there.  He became a big media commodity.  More sick people were brought to him--cripples, people with pains of all sorts, psychotics, epileptics, and paralytics--and he healed them.  He drew enormous crowds everywhere he went, all without promoters or advertising agents.

      Having drawn a big crowd in a park in Cincinnati one day, he stood in an amphitheater, and taught:

      "Blessed are the alienated and depressed.  The revolution of God is theirs.

      "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

      "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  And the aggressive and self-assured?  Trying to bull their way to the front of the herd, they trample one another.

      "Blessed are you who hunger and thirst to be good, for you shall be satisfied.  An appetite only for self-expression is enough to make you vomit.

      "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

      "Blessed are you who do what you do for the pure love of it.

      "Blessed are you who work to end conflict and controversy, for you shall be called the children of God.  Careerist hagglers can go to hell!

      "Blessed are you who are persecuted because you are good.  You are the revolution.

      "Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you, and slander your name on my account.  Celebrate.  Your reward is of astronomical proportions.

      "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how is it to be restored?  Good work done to satisfy a self-conscious sense of virtue touches no one.  It's only friction.

      "You are the light of the world.  A city of good can be built without a lot of witless proselytizing and gives hope without a harangue.  Let the ideologues battle.  You work patiently for results, for your light is the good you do.  From it comes the inspiration to revolutionize culture.

      "Now, somebody is going to say I come to abolish the Bible and our snake-infested church.  I have come, not to abolish but to revitalize them.  I tell you, 'til the sky is rolled up and we come out to take our bows, not a comma, not a dot will be nullified in the Bible or in the church's tradition.  Whoever then teaches bad faith and relaxes word or tradition resists God's new order.  Whoever teaches them shall be a hero of the revolution.  We need all the help we can get!

      "I tell you the truth, unless your goodness exceeds that of our liberal and conservative moralists, you will never see God's universal laws.  You have heard it said by the pro-lifers and by the antiwar activists that you must not kill, and whoever kills is liable to judgment.  I say anyone who is angry with another is liable; whoever insults another should be brought into court; and whoever says, 'You idiot!' could be hanged.  So if you are bowed at the altar, and remember you have offended somebody, forget about the sacrament, and go make amends to your neighbor.  Then approach God in your meditations, your prayers, and your sacraments.

      "Make friends with your accuser while on your way to court lest you incite him to greater severity and he prosecute you to the nth degree of the law.  You could end up in the 'slammer' with the televangelists and Lyndon LaRouche.

      "You hear a lot of preaching against adultery and other sex sins.  I say, if you have a promiscuous imagination, you are already guilty.  Throw out your television set if it offends you.  It won't be as dark without it as it is in Hell.  If your right hand rule produces marvels of electronics while you, the engineer, are led about by the fly of your pants... what a ridiculous case you are.  I wouldn't make divorce easier, but harder.  Serial marriages are a travesty of the institution.

      "Again you have heard, you shall be as good as your word.  A lie is a lie.  But I say, don't make hidebound promises and commitments.  Don't swear by heaven and earth or by the government.  Don't swear by your head; you might lose it.  Anything more than yes or no is an evil sham.

      "You have heard, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Sue the bastards!  But I say, do not resist one who is evil.  Turn the other cheek.  If anyone sues you, settle out of court as generously as you can.  If you are drafted into service by civil authorities, serve above and beyond the call of duty.  Give to the poor, and don't refuse borrowers who impose on you.  It's human nature to love your friends and hate your enemies, but I say, love your enemies, and pray for those who harass you.  In this way you become children of God, who is above all partisanship.  He makes the sun to rise on the good and on the evil alike and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.  If you love those who love you, what is your reward?  Even politicians do that.  And if you greet only your brethren, what more are you doing than is natural?  Any 'yuppy' pagan does as much.    You must be perfect, as God is perfect.

      Beware of public display of piety.  There's no great significance in making a production of your charity.  Politicians love to do this in public meetings and on television.  They have their reward.  Rather, give inconspicuously, and your charity will be noted by God.  When you pray, don't be like the fundamentalists who love to stand and pray in church and in restaurants to be observed by other people.  They have their reward.  But when you pray, go into your study and shut the door.  God will hear you.  And save your breath; long prayers are a pain in the neck.  God knows what you need."

      Here he was moved.  People were listening even though he was being a bit long-winded, himself, on this occasion.  He looked around at faces in the sunlight and eyes that reflected his serenity.  Children ran along the edges of the crowd, their voices clear as the sound of water in the old iron-stained fountain that gushed forth in the shade of the trees.  "Pray," he said, "In this way:

Eternal Transcendent God
Your Name is a Holy Fire
Reform the world
Make it conform to your desire.
Give us a living for our humble toil
Forgive us
As we forgive
Together we have failed
Push us
But not too far
Spare us the confrontation with evil
Greater than we can bear.

      "If you forgive others, God will forgive you.  Otherwise why expect gracious treatment from God?

      "Whatever you do in a sacramental way, let it be between you and God, not a demonstration.  Okay, so you don't smoke and you don't drink.  Can you resist desserts?  All kinds of things can be accomplished through self-control.  The higher power even comes to your aid, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous.  But let's not be heroic about self-denial.  Keep the reasons for your abstinence and the goal in mind, not the appearance of virtue.  Nobody else can help, so why put on a show for them?

      "Don't expend your best efforts making money and seeking recognition.  A certain kind of success is here today and gone tomorrow.  Enrich yourself spiritually.  What you prize will grow to strengthen or consume you.  Your spiritual eye is your guide.  If you discern correctly, you will move with the resolution that comes from knowing the truth.  Anxiety and pain await you at every turn, if your vision is clouded.

      "You can't work for two managers--conflict of interest again.  And you know the worst distraction: you are no good to God--or for anything else--if your real objective is money.  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about earning your living, not even for the shirt on your back.  Isn't life more than the chore of sustaining it?  Look at the birds.  Do they have careers?  Yet they are fed.  Don't we belong in the world as much as they do?  And who can add years to his life by being driven?  As for clothing, think of the wild flowers on the plains.  They weren't manufactured in a sweat shop in the garment district.  Yet the Pope doesn't dress as well.  If God so clothes the prairie grasses which flourish for a single spring then burn, will you not fare as well, oh ye of little faith?  What shall we eat?  What shall we drink?  What shall we wear?  Grinding out your days to secure these things is known as the protestant work ethic.  They didn't get it from me!  "God knows what you need.  Seek his revolutionary goodness, and you will have security as well.  Do not be anxious about tomorrow.  Today's trouble is enough."

      There were a few people with Bibles out in the crowd.  Some of them were hotly pursuing him in the pages of their big books.  The long-haired enthusiasts weren't quite as rigorous, but they added their running commentary in King-James Bibleese.  Jesus seemed to bear down a little here on this group of Christians--as much as he was prone to, during these early laps of his marathon.  He was still able to smile.  "Don't condemn other peoples' lifestyles if you don't want to be condemned as well.  The severity of your judgment with regard to others is the degree of severity that will be applied to you.  And the generosity of your giving will be the measure of what you receive.  Why do you see the grain of sawdust in your neighbor's eye, but ignore the 2x4 in your own?  How is it you see so clearly to correct others?  You bunch of hacks, brace up your own disreputable houses.

      "Now you have learned a few things.  Don't run out to convert everybody you meet.  There are people who don't want to hear the truth.  Don't try to read Milton to a junk-yard dog.  And your pearls of wisdom and tolerance are not likely to be appreciated by chauvinistic pigs.  In either case you could get torn apart.

"Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you; for everyone gets pretty much what they're asking for.  Who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you bastions of selfishness give good things to your children, how much more will God give to those who ask?

      "You have heard this one before, but it still is news: However you want to be treated by other people is how you should treat them.  This is the essence of the Bible, and it's a good rule upon which to create a nurturing fellowship in the church.  The interesting thing about it is that it doesn't ask you to love unconditionally.  Would you want people to let you carry on in a manner that would embarrass Falstaff until you die prematurely of cirrhosis of the liver?  But this requires a kind of thinking we Bible thumpers aren't used to.

      The way you think is nearly as important as what you think.  Authoritarian thinking erects a fence between people of ideologies.  You have to look for the narrow gate in this barbed wire of abstractions between the gun-control lobby and the National Rifle Association; between the environmentalists and the oil drillers; between the social planners and the supply siders; the Republicans and the Democrats; the saved and the damned.  There is a wide gate that leads to destruction.  This is the way of spineless liberalism.  Sartre is being mobbed like a rock star in that concourse by pop-existentialists.  A certain kind of tolerance is similar to intoxication.  But don't think the narrow gate is tended by nice conservative folks who will want to look at the date on your ticket and hear you recite Invictus.  Sorry to say, the difficult gate that few find is the one politely opened by an old mathematics professor when he has examined your work.  Have you gone off in one of the multitudes of erroneous digressions that lead away from the solution to our problem?

      "Beware of preachers who talk to you as sweetly as your grandmother but are mercenary vampires.  You will know them by what they neglect.  Is fruit gathered from a plastic shrub in the lobby of a hotel?  A good tree bears fruit.  A phony tree should be hauled out and thrown into the incinerator.  You don't have to listen to a sermon to see that some jerk is more interested in money and a big following than he is in helping the poor in spirit.

      "Not everyone who says, 'Jesus, you're my boss and best friend' will be accepted in our organization.  Only those who practice what I have been telling you.  Someday many people will say, 'We preached the name of Jesus; we counseled in his name; we healed in his name.'  So what is this name?  A magic word?  Why didn't you do what he told you?  Go to hell.

      "Everyone who understands what I say and does it will be like an engineer who builds from the principles of good design.  A well structured building isn't going to collapse.  If you don't practice what I've been telling you, you're headed for disaster."

      People were astonished at Jesus' teaching.  He spoke with an authority not available to preachers or politicians.  With a few words he was able to silence the great crowds that followed him.

      As he left the park, a man with AIDS came up to him and said, "If you will, you can cure me."

      Jesus seemed not to notice the sores that covered the man's face and hands.  He put an arm around him and said, "I will."

      Immediately, the man's strength returned.  The blotches on his skin faded without scarring.  Jesus said, "Don't talk about this to anyone, but go to the health department and get tested for the record."

      Out of another crowd came an Army colonel who, with a desperation you wouldn't expect from an officer in uniform, said, "My secretary is paralyzed and in terrible pain."

      Jesus said, "I will come and heal him."

      But the colonel answered, "I am unworthy to have you in my quarters.  Give the order, and he will be cured."

      Jesus was amazed.  "I havn't found much of this kind of resolution in the church," he said.  "I tell you, many people who don't know the salvation equation or the slogans will come to celebrate with the saints, while some enthusiastic 'Christians' grind their teeth outside in the dark."  Looking like a leathery-skinned cadet, Jesus stood eye to eye with the soldier.  "It's done just as you have resolved," he said.  The secretary was healed at that instant.

      Entering Peter's house, Jesus saw Peter's mother-in-law lying sick with a fever.  He touched her hand, and the fever left her.  She got up and made "rigatoni al burro" for dinner.

      That evening many people who were mentally ill were brought to him.  He cured them without counseling or drugs.  He also healed peoples' physical ailments in his miraculous fashion--just like in the Bible.

      When the crowds got to be too much, Jesus and his group went by boat to a retreat spa with a prominent minister.  The man said, "I will go with you wherever you wish."

      Jesus answered, "I live like a migrant laborer."

      Another said, "I'll follow you, but let me spend the next year or two with my stricken father."

      But Jesus said, "He doesn't even know you anymore and might as well be in an institution."

      In their small cruiser returning to the city, they ran into a storm so severe the boat was in danger of being swamped by the waves.  Thinking they were all going to have to get into life preservers, they woke Jesus from a sound sleep.  The boat rocked terribly in the wind, but Jesus stood and held up a hand that calmed the storm and the waves.  In the awesome stillness that followed he said, "Why were you afraid?  Have you no faith?"  They looked at him with eyes like tuna just netted and thrown out on the deck to gasp their last.

      Nonetheless, the storm had blown them off course. The shoreline where they landed the boat was a wooded landscape near a cemetery.  Two homeless psychotic men who had been living among the gravestones came out violently to meet them.  They swore and gestured in the way "crazies" do at no one in particular until they saw Jesus.  Then they cried out in unison, "What have you to do with us, GodMan?  Have you come to torment us before the time?"  Now there was a house nearby with wrecked cars in the yard and a few pigs rutting about in the dirt.  The madmen’s demons begged, "If you exorcise us, send us into the pigs."

      "Go," he said.

      The pigs stampeded into the lake and splashed around until they drowned.

      Bewildered, the demons' former hosts sat down on a log.  They talked calmly with one another.  They seemed to be concerned that they had been living on their capital instead of investing prudently.  The poor folk who had been alerted by the squalling pigs came out of their house.  They took off in one old clunker car of several on their property.  Reporters got ahold of their story, and it ended up in all the supermarket tabloids.  After that, Jesus was asked to leave the Chicago area by the Kiwanis Clubs and the JCs.

      He went back to Pennsylvania where his fame had preceded him.  A paralytic was brought to him on a gurney.  When Jesus saw the faith of the people who brought him, he said to the paralytic, "Buck up, boy, your sins are forgiven."  This wasn't what anybody had in mind at this juncture.

      "Blasphemous," The ministers in the crowd concluded.

      "Define your terms," Jesus queried.

      There followed a lot of hemming and hawing and throat clearing.

      Irritated, Jesus asks, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'?"  They just stand there and look at him.  "So you may know that I have the authority to forgive sins... ."  He turns to the man on the gurney.  "Get up, and take your bed, and go home."  The man in his boxer shorts gets up on white bird-like legs and pushes his gurney back to the van in which he was brought here.  He folds the chrome and fabric device into its portable mutation, puts it in the van, gets in, and drives away.

      Lots of people were amazed.  Others said they had seen similar stunts performed by hypnotists in motel conference rooms--just the lead-in for a three-hundred ninety-five-dollar seminar.

      As Jesus left he saw a politician named Matthews who had been watching from behind a plate-glass window at the local IRS office.  He motioned to him through the glass, and when Matthews came out, Jesus said, "This campaign is starting to roll.  Are you coming with us?"

      Matthews dumped his bundle of papers on an aide and came along.  A man with his instincts knew a populist, moving force when he saw one.  They went to a bar and ordered sandwiches and beer.

      There were a lot of questionable people sitting at their table or standing around--other politicians, attorneys, vampish women, entertainers, copy-writers, and their like.  When the ministers saw the company Jesus kept they asked his associates, "Why does your man lunch with politicians and sinners?"

      Somebody nudged him, and Jesus saw the ministers and the moral-majority types looking in at the doorway.  He dropped a couple of quotable remarks loud enough so the reporters could hear him.  "Those who are well have no need of a physician."  Then, looking in the direction of a largeish preacher, he said, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'  For I come not to call the righteous, but sinners."
      The disciples of John the Southern Baptist came to him and asked,   "Why do we and all the fundamentalists deny ourselves, but your associates live like theatre people?"

      Jesus answered, "Can the wedding guests fast at the wedding?  The time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.  No one puts a piece of new cloth on an old garment.  Neither is champagne put into used milk cartons."

      While he was speaking the Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 corporation burst in and cried, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will again live."

      Jesus got up and followed him out onto the sidewalk.  A woman who was living only by blood transfusions came up behind him and touched his sleeve.  She was convinced that she only had to touch him to be healed.

      Jesus turned and seeing her, he said, "Cheer up, sister, your faith has made you well."

      They came to the executive's house.  The man's wife was on the telephone.  She hung up the phone and said, "Funeral directors are already calling.  How did they get our number?"

      "Where is she?"  The man asked.

      His wife started to cry.  Family and friends had gathered in the house.  Uncomfortable, they stood around in the sunlight that sliced through the aluminum blinds on the windows.

      "She's waking up in the hospital morgue," Jesus said.

      Some people laughed, but one brother-in-law didn't think this was the least bit funny.  "Who the hell is this?"  he asked.  Jesus Lopez Gonzales was in a neighborhood where people would call the police if they saw him on the street.  He had gotten past the gate only because the executive had brought him in his limousine.

      The CEO was used to being in control but this was more than he could manage.  He just stood there.  How do you say to your family at a time like this that you have brought a faith healer to do something even the most brazen evangelist would not be so rash as to try?

      It's quiet.  People are in territory inhabited only by the desperately religious and credulous children.  The bereaved mother is so stunned she has stopped crying.  By now a few people recognize this man from photographs they have seen in magazines.

      Finally the brother-in-law and a friend escort Jesus to the door.  The executive watches helplessly.  His wife is starting to realize what he meant bringing this curly-haired Mexican in here.  She lights a cigarette and looks at him with venomous eyes.  At the door, the men handling Jesus push harder.  They don't believe they are part of something so despicably low.  One opens the door to send him headlong into the manicured shrubbery.

      Standing in the doorway is an adolescent girl.  Light brown strands of hair flutter over her radiant forehead.  She looks older than the Mona Lisa.  But she is alive.  She breathes the scented air of a room filled with sympathy flowers.

      Jesus walked out and was picked up right away by security guards who drove him to the gate.  When he told the guards where he had been, they called to verify it and were suddenly deferential.  In an extremely polite manner they said they would take him wherever he wanted to go.

      Now I know what some of you are thinking.  You say there is no way this girl could have gotten home from the hospital in the time it took two able-bodied men to get Jesus to the door to throw him out.  If you are with me this far, you have probably gathered I am not consistent about all the details of this story.  The point of the story is not whether she could have gotten home that fast.  So what is the point of my story?  The time has not yet come for that.  For now, just think what it would mean if she were standing there when they opened the door.  We already know what it means if she wasn't there.  I have to admit, just writing it with her there when the door opened gives me a sense of our need for her to be there.  Tears come to my eyes.  My body revives.  We can say with Chief Broom that it's true even if it didn't happen.  But it's more than that.  It's what we crave to have happen.

      He got out of the car in a suburb where he thought he would not be recognized.  It was the kind of place where farmers still drive their tractors up Main Street.  The cultivated fields adjoining the town have not yet been subdivided for housing developments.  But two blind men from a rural veterans' hospital followed him along the street.

      "Have a heart, GodMan," they yelled.

      He waited for them to catch up to him and asked, "Do you really think I can help you?"

      "Give us back our vision," they pleaded.

      He touched their eyes, and they could see.  He told them to keep quiet about it, but you can imagine.  Everybody in the county heard about it.  These guys had been around town since the Viet Nam War.

      Jesus called John Zebedee and told him where he could be found, if they cared to join him.  More people from the veterans' hospital were being brought to him.  A man came who had an impediment of speech so severe he couldn't utter a sound.  Jesus had a way of clearing up peoples' mental problems, and after a few minutes with this man he had complete freedom of speech.

      The local people were impressed.  They had never seen anything like this at the revival meetings held occasionally in town.  But there were fundamentalists in the area who said, "He casts out demons by some New-Age trick.  The Devil gives him his power."

      Jesus went about his business in all the cities and towns.  He taught in churches where they would receive him and made radical speeches about God's revolutionary goodness.  He healed every disease known to man.  He always had compassion on the crowds of people.  Worse than their pain and their frustration was the way they were led about and harassed by media manipulators and image makers who promote this or that individual for their own gain.

      He said to his associates, "People are ready for the truth, but who is there to lead them to it?  Pray for people with courage."

      He called together his associates, and authorized them to go out and heal the sick and counsel the broken hearted.  The names of his closest confederates were: Peter and Andrew Simonson, James Zebedee and his brother John, Phillips, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Matthews the politician, James Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, (the two known as the Greeks) Simon Cananaen, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.  These twelve he sent out with the instructions: "Go nowhere among the secular humanists, and enter no ashrams of the New-Age movement or the California Buddhists.  Go rather to the misguided Christians in the churches.  Tell them God's revolution is at hand.  If they don't start using their heads, they're going to miss it.  Heal the sick; raise the dead; cure AIDS; help the mentally ill down off their bedposts.  You received without pay; give without pay.  Take no money, credit cards, suitcases, or bags.  The laborer deserves his food.  Stay with respectable people in whatever city or town you enter until you depart.  Then, salute your host.  If he is able to receive it, he will be happy to have served the revolution. 

If people in some places will not listen to you, move on without recrimination.  God will deal with the secular humanists; you leave 'em alone!  I tell you, the church is full of snakes.  Don't be fooled.  You must be smart as wolves but harmless as doves.  Beware of men who will interrogate you and flog you with every kind of defamation.  You will be dragged into court.  Political-action coalitions will be organized against you and the progress of your ideas.  When they get you into debates and press conferences to discredit you, don't worry about what you will say.  It will be given to you by the Spirit of God. 

An inquisition is coming.  Brother will betray brother, a father his children, and children their parents to be tormented by religious fanatics and their so-called church.  You will be hated by their like everywhere.  But whoever endures their monolithic nonsense to the end will be saved.  When these Pharisees accost you in one town, flee to the next.  There are more churches than you can vindicate before the Son of Man comes to release you from this onerous charge.  A disciple is not above his teacher, an employee not above his boss.  It is enough that a follower is like his teacher.  If they have said I am working for Satan, how much more will they malign you who do as I have instructed you.  Have no fear of them.  Their ignorance will come to light along with all the sleazy crimes they have committed.

      "What I tell you in private conferences, declare in public meetings.  What I whisper underground, tell the reporters in press conferences.  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the legacy you leave; rather fear God who can destroy both culture and its human inventors.

      "What creatures are more common than sparrows?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unless God permits it.  So don't be afraid; you are more important to God than the birds.

      "Everyone who acknowledges me, I will also acknowledge before God, but whoever denies me, I will deny before God.

      "Don't think I have come to bring peace.  I come with an assault rifle.  I will set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  A man's foes will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever loves his children more than me is not worthy of me.

      "Whoever will not follow me to the electric chair is not worthy of me.  To find your life is to lose it, and to forfeit your life for my sake is to find it.

      "If you can receive this and people still receive you, they receive me as well.  And whoever receives me receives God who sent me.  Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a good person for the sake of their goodness will receive a good person's reward.  Whoever gives to one of these innocents so much as a cup of cold water, I tell you, will not be forgotten."

      When Jesus finished this difficult monologue with his close associates, he went on to teach publicly in the cities where they had connections.  John the Baptist, in prison, heard about all they were doing and sent word through their underground.  "You, then, are our liberator?  Or shall we look for another?"

      Jesus answered, "Go tell John what you see and hear.  The blind receive their sight; cripples walk; AIDS victims are cured; the deaf hear; the poor have been given hope.  And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

      People overheard them discussing John, so he asked, "What did you go to the desert to see?  Sagebrush and tumbleweeds?  Why bother?  Was it to see a man dressed for success?  The stuffed shirts and three-piece suits are in Washington, DC.  Why then did you go to the desert?  To see a theologian and a prophet?  Yes, more than a prophet!  This is the kind of man you find in the Bible: 'Behold, I send a messenger to prepare the way before you.'  I kid you not, every mother's son should revere John's greatness, yet whoever is least in God's new order is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now God comes like a revolution.  The decadent autocrats in the church must be thrown off their pedestals.  They abuse the Bible and tradition into a misguided missile for their paranoid war.  John is the beginning of the end for them.  If you can receive him, he is Elijah for our time. 

      "And if the church is decadent, to what shall I compare the rest of this culture?  It is like the media-manufactured image of a politician.  People worship a demiurge who promises to entertain them as mindlessly as the pseudointellectuals they read.  They want ideas that allow them to appear earnest and committed without being good.  John came out of the Bible-belt tradition of self-denial and purity.  You say he is sick.  A world-hater.  The Son of Man comes with the lusty worldliness of a Catholic or an Episcopalian, and you say he's just another fat-cat Republican.  He panders to the bourgeois.  If you are so smart, why can't you be good?  Reason is justified by ethics."

      He began to criticize the cities where he had demonstrated God's concern for the world and for people over religious or ideological dogma.  His miraculous healing power did not inspire them to repent.  "Woe to you, Chicago!  Woe to you, Boston!  If the mighty works done in you had been done in Los Angeles or San Francisco, they would have repented and taken to the streets in polyesters and black arm bands.  I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on Judgment Day for the drag-queens on Market street than for you.  And you, Cincinnati, shall you be exalted to heaven?  You shall be flushed down the toilet with Proctor and Gamble.  For if God's sublime beauty had been revealed in New York City, the place might still be fit for human habitation.  I tell you, it will be more tolerable on Judgment Day for the New York book publishers than for you."

      At that time Jesus also exclaimed, "I thank the creator that all this comes through loud as a Navy band to the innocents, though the intellectual giants who shape our culture are deaf to it.  Such is Thy gracious will, O God.

      "All things have been revealed to me by God, for I know God as no other teacher ever has.  No one knows me, except God.  No one knows God as I do, and those to whom I reveal God.

      "Come to me, all you whose work has become drudgery, all you who are beaten down. I will give you rest.  Accept my enfranchisement, and learn from me.  I am kind and negotiable and will listen to reason.  I am not arrogant with those who accept the rationale of my discipline n which you will find rest for your soul.  In reality, my way is the easier path, my discipline invigorating."

      One Sunday when Jesus was waiting at the New York Port Authority for a bus, he went into a sports-bar to eat and to watch the Jets getting steamrollered into the astro-turf by the Washington Redskins.  There were many fundamentalists around the Port Authority for a demonstration--another dogma fight with the humanists.  Some of them pointed at Jesus watching football when he should be in church.  He could see he was in for it, so he said, "Remember, in the Bible, what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry, how they entered the temple and ate the bread and drank the wine which was supposed to be untouchable for anyone but the priests?  Or the way the old rituals required the priests to work like slaughterhouse laborers on the Sabbath yet without censure?  Take it from me, something greater than David or the Temple is here.  If you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned me for a little R&R.  I own and operate your so-called Sabbath."  Still, because Jesus was concerned for these people who seemed trapped, somehow conscripted against their will into a crusade instigated by others, and because he was not about to give up on the church, he tossed his hamburger into the trash receptacle and bummed a ride with one of the demonstrators  back to where the rally was to wind down.

      Lo and behold, there was a man there who had the crumpled hand characteristic of cerebral palsy.  But the clergymen had heard Jesus was coming, and they were ready for him.  "Will your Devil-inspired psychology heal this man?"  They taunted him.

      He said, "You don't want this man healed.  You'd rather he suffer as he is than see God work through me.  But God is not limited by, and I will not cooperate with your revival-era conventions.  If your car breaks down, you find somebody who can fix it.  Health is what matters, not your wrong-headed interpretations of the Bible."

      Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand" and he stretched it out, completely restored and functional.

      But the church heavyweights were enraged.  They conspired against him.  This was all transparently obvious, and Jesus got out of their territory.  Many people with problems followed him.  He did everything he could to help them.  There was a limit to what could be done, even for him, and he told people not to make him too prominent.  Still, he always cared for the helpless and infirm people he encountered.  If they were not so fortunate as to find him, he sought them out.  This fulfilled the suffering-servant image of Isaiah: "Behold, I have chosen one in whom my soul is well pleased, not to play power politics, but to humbly serve in response to human needs.  I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the poor.  He will not wrangle or cry aloud.  Nor will you hear his voice in the street.  He will not condemn an already-broken man or despise a desperate woman.  He will liberate goodness, and in his name will the oppressed find hope."

      A blind and dumb man with all kinds of psychological problems was brought to him, and he healed him so the man could see and speak.  People had never seen anything like this and said, "Can this be God incarnate?"  Of course, the fundamentalists said it was a psychic phenomenon inspired by the Devil.  Knowing their thoughts, he said, "A nation engaged in civil war is ravaged.  A house divided against itself cannot stand."  He was quoting Lincoln.  "If Satan whom we suppose is in the business of destroying people starts saving them, that's a hell of a way to run a railroad!  And if I restore people to physical and psychological health by the Devil's power, by whose power do you restore them?  Let the patient decide.  He will, quite properly, go to any practitioner who can help him get well.  But if people are being restored to health and sanity outside the church, perhaps God is working in spite of you guys, and my revolution is edging you out of power.

      "Or how can anyone enter an armed survivalist's house and plunder his gold hoard unless he first ties this crank to a post?  Even then he might trip a wire someplace.  But if he is careful, then he can plunder the house.  So how about it, 'Christians,' are you with me or against me?

      "I tell you, every sin and sacrilege is forgivable, but the sacrilege that looks at health and happiness that results from some therapy or religion and calls it evil because the practitioners didn't follow the book, is itself beyond therapy.  Whoever speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but somebody who doesn't have the horse sense to accept results won't make it in this world or the next.

      "Either the tree is good and its fruit good, or the tree is bad and the fruit bad.  The doctrine is known by its results.  You bunch of snakes!  How can you preach goodness when you are evil?  Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth overflows.  A good person, out of a good heart, speaks with dignity and strength of character.  A heart bloated with evil throws up half-digested rot.  I tell you, in the judgment, an account must be rendered for every careless word.  By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

      The clergymen and the Moralistic Majority said, "You claim a higher authority than the Bible or the church, then let us see a sign from you."

      But he answered them, "A bunch of sanctimonious, self-serving frauds asks for a sign!  No sign will be given, save the sign of Jonah.  As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the earth.  The Ninevites will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah.  Read my lips: Something greater than Jonah is here!  The Queen of Sheba will condemn you.  She trekked out of Africa to hear the occasionally-rational Solomon.  Do I weary myself trying to live like Donald Trump?  Something greater than Trump is here.

      "The whole trouble is, you thrash the Devil out of someone, and he comes right back.  Peoples' minds are so congenial to demonic plagues that the monsters can't help but dwell there.  The first devil drags in seven others more disgusting than himself and the state of affairs is worse than it was before the first housecleaning.  So it is with these religious fanatics."

      While he was speaking to the people, his mother and brothers stood outside.  They were asking to see him.  People said it was inconsiderate of him to let them stand and wait, but he stretched out his hands to the people who had repudiated the Pharisees to listen to him and said, "Mother Mary!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and my mother."

      World weary, Jesus went out to rest.  He sat down alone on a bench in a waterfront park.  It wasn't long until a few people found him.  He began to talk quietly with them, but a crowd gathered.  Somebody handed him a bullhorn, and he made a speech in the liberal democratic style--inspired but without any real substance.

      "A farmer went out to plant wheat.  A high-technology operation is the only way to stay in business anymore, and he fielded a big John Deere tractor and seeder which enabled him to scatter the seed over a wide range.  Some of the seed fell on the country road along the field and cars ran over it.  Some of it fell on rocky ground where it couldn't take root.  It sprang up, but was only green for one hot afternoon until the sun withered it.  Other seed fell along the barbed wire fence where weeds choked it out.  Only the seed that fell in cultivated soil brought forth grain.  Some places it yielded thirty bushels to the acre.  If you aren't deaf, hear me!"  Anybody standing close to the muzzle of that bullhorn couldn't help but hear him.  They were, in fact, a bit overwhelmed and befuddled.  Jesus was not at his best this afternoon.

      Later, some of those who had been for him from the beginning and who understood him asked why he was being enigmatic.  He answered, "You understand because you are good hearted people.  God's order isn't acceptable to everybody.  Like the Bible says, 'Them that has gets,' or 'Whatever you are today you'll be more of tomorrow.'  Why try to reason with people if they don't want to understand?  With them is Isaiah's lament made plain: 'You shall indeed hear but never understand.  You shall rigorously observe the particles but never perceive any phenomenon in its entirety.'  This culture is dull and decadent.  Its art insults human intelligence, yet it is bought and sold for exorbitant sums.  Critics pretentiously analyze it.  So tedious is this to people of real artistic sensibilities that they grow weary and close their eyes.  Their ears are already deaf; they've endured too much of the cacophony called 'new' music.  Having abandoned reason for several generations now, the creators of this repulsive world now declare that faith in God is not rational.  They repudiate my presence among them because my conversation assumes an elementary understanding of ethics and a dignity as far beyond them as Shakespeare is beyond Berthold Brecht.

      "But you haven't closed your eyes.  You are able to see.  Saints and great humanists alike longed to see as clearly as it is possible to see in these times.  This, then, is the meaning of the story of the farmer: When one accepts the presuppositions of 'scientific' materialism, there is no way God's order can be understood.  Cars on the roadway run over the seed.  As for the seed that fell in rocky soil, this is like the man who enthusiastically 'asks the Lord into his heart' but has no rational equipment to deal with theology.  He endures for a while against a culture in which everything is against him until he caves in.  The seed choked out by weeds represents people who hear and understand, but the world's troubles weary them beyond hope, or possibly others who are successful in worldly terms but accomplish nothing.  They are proud and affluent, but their minds have been abused.  As for the seed that flourishes in good soil, these are the people who understand the process of God's redemption in the world and reap the harvest.  Not tranquilized or waiting for the conflagration, these vigorous souls begin to work to reclaim the earth.  Secure in the faith that holds life to be eternal, they are able to work patiently and give generously, to be both slaves of the poor, and producers who invest to make a profit on both sides of the railroad yards. They are artists who can celebrate life among those who see in the world only what is malignant and profane."

      On another occasion he made this analogy: "The government of God's order is comparable to a farmer who planted wheat, but while he was asleep, radioactive fallout drifted in from a nuclear weapons facility.  When the wheat grew up, gangling mutations of the original grain--unsalable and useless--grew up as well.  The workers came in from the field and asked, 'What kind of 'cock-and-bull' genetic engineering is this?'  The farmer answered, 'We have an enemy we don't yet understand.'  The straw bosses wanted to send the Mexicans out with herbicidal sprayers.  The landowner knew of the hazards to the workers.  He was also a member of a water-conservation organization.  He said, 'Let the field grow.  All these chemicals pollute the groundwater.  After the harvest, we'll sift out the grain and burn the chaff.'"

      Another time Jesus said, "The government in God's order is like the seed of a Douglas Fir.  It's just a tiny flake when it falls into the soil, but it becomes an enormous tree, and eagles nest in its branches. 

      Again, God's order is like the smell of bread baking which diffuses in the air until the aroma fills the whole house.  Soon everyone is hanging around the kitchen and waiting for Daddy's bread to come out of the oven."

      Jesus told these anecdotes that left people wondering why he didn't come to the point.  They wanted him to interpret Biblical prophecies and to confound the secular humanists.  How long do we have to put up with these evolutionists? they wanted to know.  He mumbled something about elementary physics.  The theory of evolution was contradicted by the second law of thermodynamics, but they bluff that too.  If he was enigmatic, it was because what he was saying was both beyond them and at the same time too simple to require a debate with the materialists.  It was just like in the Bible: "I will open my mouth and utter what has been a mystery since the Big Bang."

      Privately, his closest associates came to him and said, "Explain to us the story about the mutant wheat."

      He answered, "He who plants the wheat is the Son of Man.  The field is the world and the good wheat the people of God--the merciful, the helpful.   The mutant plants are the 'Christian' fanatics who parade around with their slogans and condemnations.  The enemy who has changed them is not Friedrich Nietzsche.  He just blew the whistle on the fanatics of his own era who had sold the church for ideological beads and bangles just like our activists and our moralists have today.  The real enemy is the imp of human perversity.  Anyway, the harvest has begun, and the reapers are working.  Just as the chaff burns in the incinerator, so it will be at the end.  The Son of Man will send out his angels to gather and burn the 'Christian' mutations.  Then the good will shine like the sun in the universe of God's order.  If you're not deaf, listen!

      "God's universal order is like a vein of gold running through a plot of land, which is discovered by someone who then goes and sells everything to buy that property.  Or like a jeweler in search of fine pearls who, finding one pearl of great value, sells everything to buy it.  Again it is like a net thrown into the sea from a fishing boat.  The net catches fish of every description.  When it is full, workers pull it in and sort out the catch.  They keep the good fish and dispose of the ones with cancers.  So it will be in the end.  The angels will come and separate the good from the evil and throw out the evil."  He paused and asked, "Have you understood all this?"  They said they had.

      "Then you understand the old saying, 'When you're hot, you're hot!'  Every writer trained under God's discipline has plenty of material, some old and trusty, some flashy and new."

      Jesus went back to his home state and taught in the local churches.  People were astonished at his sagacity and power, but they said, "Isn't this the Mexican civil engineer's son?  Isn't his mother, Mary, the drive-up teller at the Penn Mutual Savings and Loan?  Don't we all know his brothers and sisters?  What business has he got stumping around here as if he was Ronald Reagan.  They were offended at him.  Jesus quoted somebody or other who said a prophet is not without recognition except among people who knew him when... .  Around home he couldn't do much because of their unbelief.

      About this time old governor Harrah's ambitious son, now governor himself, started to get paranoid about Jesus.  From the accounts he had been reading he concluded that Jesus was the reincarnation of John the Baptist.  This Governor Harrah was responsible for John's imprisonment and subsequent death in prison.  Harrah was popular in Texas, but his popularity and his power depended on the respectable image he was able to maintain among the fundamentalists.  Such are the politics of the Bible belt.  But John had the goods on him.  A Dallas hotel manager who frequented John's camp meetings had enough evidence to scandalize Harrah over his liaison with his brother's wife.  Gary Hart looked like a Boy Scout by comparison.  John called him at home and told him to clean up his act or else... .  John was a man who let you know the score.
      But Harrah had cronies in power everywhere.  He got the IRS on John's case about contributions. They nailed him in a fabricated tax-evasion suit.  Even in prison John still posed a threat, and Harrah's  sister-in-law sometime lover was in a blind rage about it.

      She had a little booze up after the opera one night at her place in Houston.  Harrah got loaded, as she knew he would, and she sent him home with one of the girls from a topless joint she bankrolled on the side.  This flamingo gave Harrah the full treatment, but the photographers were planted all around her nest.  Now the society bitch had him.  Get rid of the damned Baptist, or deal with her.  She was a patron of the arts, a prominent woman.  She didn't need any crap from some hick preacher.

      The governor was in up to his neck.  Using people, bribing them, and blackmailing them were all part of his modus operandus, but murdering white people was more than he had bargained for.  Still his brother's wife had him on a hook, and she wanted John permanently out of the picture.  It cost him much more than he could afford and his night's sleep for many years to drive a deal with a prison warden and two guards to silence the prairie preacher.  They made it look like a suicide.  John was found hanging from a bed sheet tied over an electrical conduit in his cell.  That was that. 

      But now this Jesus Christ Lopez is watching him.  No matter where he goes those "spic" eyes find him from a coin-op newspaper vendor or a shelf someplace where magazines are displayed.  A Goddamned superstition!  But it won't go away.

      Jesus learned of John's death.  Trying to find a place to calm himself and pray, he set out by boat for the retreat center operated by his friend the minister.  But when the masses found out where he was going they drove or walked or wheel-chaired along the shoreline road from their respective 'burbs.  As he went ashore he saw the people and had compassion on them.  He healed the sick and spent the day teaching them the way of life he had come to stand for.

      When evening came his disciples came to him and said,  "Enough is enough.  Send them away, and get some rest."

      He said, "They're hungry.  You feed them."

      They looked at one another incredulously.  He had to be kidding.  Somebody said, "We have about five loaves of bread and a couple of pieces of smoked salmon.  We couldn't even feed the children."

      "Bring them here," he said.  Then he got on the bullhorn and told everybody to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the fish, he looked up at the sky and said a prayer like a family might say before a meal.  The disciples started handing out bread and fish.  Everybody ate and was satisfied, and they cleaned up more trash than they had started with food--twelve forty gallon bags full.  There must have been over ten thousand people.  You're finding this a little hard to believe, I know.

      He suggested the disciples take the boat and go back to the other shore while he got the crowd to disband.  Then he went alone into the lodge to pray.

      The men in the boat were long gone, and a wind had arisen which beat the waves against the hull of the boat.  The whitecaps were splashing over the sides about midnight.  This was the time Jesus came walking on the water.  When they saw him coming they were scared out of their wits, and they thought there must have been something funny about that smoked salmon.

      But he said, "Easy now.  It's just me."

      Pete Simonson said, "If it's really you, how about I come out to meet you?"  Sure!

      So Jesus says, "Fine."

      Next thing you know, Pete is getting out of the boat.  He goes over the side and walks on that wild water like another ghost.  But when he saw the chop in the soup, he said... .  Well never mind what he said, but he was real scared, and he called out to Jesus to save him.  Jesus reached out a hand and pulled him up, and in a minute they were both in the boat.  "Why did you doubt?"  Jesus asked.  "It seems crazy, but you have to have faith."  The wind had suddenly ceased.  Those in the boat stood in awe of him.  This had to be God incarnate.

      When they landed, people recognized Jesus and his cohorts.  They sent around all the region and brought to him their sick.  They pleaded with him to do as he was known to do.  He was not a man to refuse when faced with such palpable need.

      After a few days dealing with the poor and the sick, it was hard for Jesus to take the religious fanatics seriously.  Ministers of the Moralistic Majority in Washington, DC came out to the camp where he cared for the poor.  "Doesn't anybody around this dump ever take a shower?"  They asked.  "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."  They found the filth of the poor appalling.  The partially wooded acreage with cars parked randomly on the grass and people camped wherever they could roll out a tarp or pitch a tent looked like a refugee internment camp.

      Jesus answered them with another question, "Why do you transgress the explicit word of God for the sake of your rigmarole?  God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother.'  But you keep people so involved with church activities and the political actions you guilt-trip them into supporting that they scarcely have time for their immediate families, much less old Mom and Dad who scrape by on Social Security.  You say, 'Submit to the 'shepherds' of the flock.  Your contribution is important.  Stay involved and committed.'  Soon you usurp even a man's conscience for the sake of your rigmarole, thus making void the law of God.  Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah say of you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  In vain they worship me, teaching as doctrine a lot of rigmarole.'"

      And he called the people together and said to them, "It may indeed be true that cleanliness is next to Godliness, but it isn't the dirt on your body that ruins you.  It's a gritty pornography makes you really repulsive." He didn't have any respect for the the Supreme Court decisions about fredom of expression.

      His associates took him aside and told him the visitors from Washington were offended by his remarks.

      He answered, "Every plant which God has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.  These guys are blind guides.  If one blind man leads another, they're both going to step in something."

      But Peter said, "Explain the parable to us."

      Jesus' eyes rolled up as he laughed, and he said, "This is not one of my more subtle analogies, Pete.  Now, that bit about cleanliness and Godliness, that's not in the Bible.  We all know where the trouble starts.  Evil schemes, murders, adultery, fornication, theft, lies, slander, and their like, all start with television and the movies.  Right?  Maybe the other way around.  Mass-market entertainment plays to what is most congenial in people's minds, and the garbage-dump of popular culture threatens to overwhelm the whole earth."

The crowd was beginning to disperse.  It often happened this way.  People would slowly realize that what Jesus was saying to them applied back where they lived.  The crowds and the excitement of big demonstrations grew less and less appealing the better they understood him.

      Jesus and his associates flew out to the west coast for a change of scenery.  And lo and behold, a California woman followed him as soon as he deplaned in Monterey.  She cried out,  "Have mercy on me, O Christ-conscious Master.  My daughter is possessed by a demon."  But he didn't answer her.  His companions were embarrassed by her "new-age" vernacular and wanted to send her away. "What a lot of nonsense!" they said.  But she persisted.

      Finally he answered, "I was sent only to the misguided souls in the church."

      But she came and knelt before him and said, "Master, help me."

      He said, "It isn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."

      She said, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table."

      Then Jesus said, "Your faith is strong.  Be it done for you as you desire."  Her daughter had no more hallucinations.

      They spent a few days relaxing on the beach.  Nobody seemed to recognize them out of their usual context.  It was nice to enjoy the sunshine like a bunch of regular guys, even if it was temporary.  They joked about going down to the nude beach, but somebody said there were sharks to fend off in those waters.

      They decided to go from there by bus up into the Sierra Nevada.  On the way somebody recognized them in Sacramento where they had a two-hour layover between buses.  The reporters and video cameras caught them off guard having lunch.  They ran with their tacos and enchiladas back to the bus terminal, but the word was out.  A great crowd met them at Lake Tahoe.  People brought with them any who were crippled, blind, dumb, or sick and waited to see Jesus heal them.  These Californians were amazed when they saw the blind suddenly receive their sight, the formerly dumb speaking, and the crippled and the maimed made whole and able to walk.  They glorified the Judeo-Christian God, even out there in California.

      Then Jesus called together his disciples and said, "I feel great empathy for these people.  I've been able to intuit they're all hungry.  We've been here all afternoon in the heat and they packed only tofu and organic peanuts.  You feed them, brothers."

      The disciples who had the shortest memories in history said, "Where are we going to get enough food in this wilderness."

      "What have we got for starters?" Jesus asked.

      They produced seven loaves of bread and a few cans of sardines.  This was the high season of the omega 3 fatty acids.

      He told the people this was going to be like one of their renaissance festivals.  They all sat down on the grass along the lakeshore while he read to them from the Bible--Revised Standard Version.  Some of them had never heard the familiar passages that he read and were quite taken with this mysterious book.  Everybody ate, and all were satisfied.  They took up seven bags full of sardine cans and bread crusts.  There must have been seven or eight thousand people.  After he had dismissed them he went back to Sacramento and bought plane tickets.  Some vacation.

      As always the fundamentalists were on hand to test him.  They asked for a sign from heaven.  He said, "You look at the sky and say, 'Red sky at morning, sailors warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.'  Very clever of you to ignore meteorological science for this quaint jingle.  You handle theology the same way.  A bunch of people so gullable you make evangelists as rich as oil sheiks and you require a sign from me!  No sign shall be given except the sign of Jonah."   He called a cab and went to the airport.

      The associates met him there, hungry again.  Jesus said, "Beware of the leaven of the fundamentalists and of the stinking liberals."  They discussed this among themselves.  Even in California few people ever bake bread anymore.  Jesus, aware of their befuddlement, said, "O ye of the little brains, why are you talking about bread?  Don't you remember cleaning up after feeding ten thousand people with five loaves of bread?  Or feeding eight thousand, just yesterday, and cleaning up more than you started with?  You get my drift?  Beware of the FUNDAMENTALISTS and of the STINKING LIBERALS."  Then they understood he meant the ideological garbage these reciprocal twins are feeding us.

      Their plane landed in Denver.  As they were walking along one long concourse Jesus asked, "Who do people say that I am?"

      They answered, "Some say you're another John the Baptist, others compare you to one of the Kennedys, or even Malcolm X."

      "But who do you think I am?"

      Pete Simonson declared, "You are God incarnate."

      "You'll soon be ready for a big promotion, Peter," Jesus replied.  "You didn't get that on the six o'clock news.  Sure as your name is Pete Simonson, I will build a revolution on this incendiary proposition.  Death shall no more rule the world.  I give you the keys to the main office.  We're going to run the existentialists out of business." 

      He left it at that, other than warning them to work underground when the time came.  From then on he began to explain how he must go to Washington, DC and suffer abuse from the religious Mafia and from the media moguls they controlled.  He said pointedly that his opposition would come from the religious establishment and that they would kill him, but through his martyrdom he would destroy death.

      On one occasion Peter couldn't handle it.  He took him aside and slammed him against the wall.  "Don't talk crazy!"  He yelled.  "God forbid this should happen to you."

      Jesus said, "Get off my back, you devil.  Again you've missed the point.  Are you working for me or for the culture manufacturers?"  Then he said to all of them, "To come with me now will require self-denial.  You must be willing to follow me to the electric chair.  Whoever would save his life, will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What is the gain if you should control the whole world only to die in power?  Or what is the return on a wasted life?  The Son of Man will come with an army of angels in the power of the living God to repay everyone for what they have done.  I tell you the truth, there are some of you who will see this revolution."

      After six days in Denver Jesus took Peter and James and John his brother and led them up into a mountain wilderness in the Rockies.  There he was transfigured before them.  His face shined like the sun and his clothing gleamed white as lighting.  Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him.  When this was over, Peter with every nerve fiber electrified in his body said, "We should build a memorial here--three saints' shrines, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

      He was going to say something else, but the cloud of light came over them again.  It bloomed like an extravagant flower in their midst, and a voice like a blast furnace said, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am mightily impressed.  Listen to what he says."

      They fell prostrate on the ground, but Jesus came and touched each of them.  He said, "Calm down now.  You can get up."  As each of them got up they saw only Jesus.

      As they were coming down the mountain trail Jesus strictly told them, "Don't make an issue of this until the Son of Man is raised from the dead."

      They asked if this was what the Bible meant where it says Elijah must come?  He explained, "Elijah has come, and his work is part of the restoration of the world, but he came to people who didn't recognize him and he was treated like a criminal."  They understood then that he was talking about John the Baptist.  He added, "The Son of Man will likewise suffer."

      The next crowd produced a man who came up to Jesus and said, "Have mercy on me for the sake of my son who is an epileptic.  He suffers terribly, often falling into burning lamps or into traffic in the street.  I brought him to your friends, but they couldn't help him."

      Jesus said, "The people of this generation are damaged in their hearts and minds--without faith.  How well I know!  Bring the boy to me."  This done and the boy before him, he said, "Don't truck with this demon any longer."  The boy was cured instantly.  The disciples asked why they couldn't cure him?  He said, "With your little faith it would take hundreds of years.  But I tell you the truth, nothing is impossible with faith.  If you have even a tiny seed of faith, you can move mountains."  The Rockies angled steeply toward the sky all around and above them.  Jesus' words seemed to hang in the chilled vaporous air drifting down from the peaks.

      Back in Denver he told them, "The Son of Man will be handed over to the authorities, and they will execute him, but he will rise from the dead after three days."  They were on the verge of panic.  Reluctantly they boarded their plane.  When they landed at the Chicago airport, Internal Revenue Agents were waiting to harass Jesus.  His political enemies were maneuvering him into something.  The Feds told Peter, "Your boss is headed for tax litigation.  If you've been doing his paperwork, you might want to get things in order."

      Peter answered, "I can't blame you for suspecting anybody in this line of work, but this man is no fraud."

      Jesus gave the IRS men the name of a hotel where they could be reached.  There he asked his disciples, "What do you think?  From whom does the government exact revenue, from the working man, or from powerful multinational corporations?"

      Peter's union affiliation was showing when he said, "From the working man.  The corporations find loopholes."

      "So where does that leave us?  We're the outsiders, and we better pay tribute as resident aliens.  Go out and get our luggage.  Your suitcase is full of money, Pete.  Pay the back taxes and their penalties, no matter how exorbitant."

      Peter aghast, stood there as if he was sculpted in stone.

      In the park next day the associates asked,  "Suppose we have no politics; to what ideal would we aspire?  Who is the greatest hero of the revolution?"

      Children were playing along the fence, and Jesus called one of them over to his quadrant of concrete.  He said, "I tell you, unless you become like children you will never see the revolution of God.  Whoever humbles himself like one of these innocents is a hero in the cause of liberty.  Whoever receives such humiliated champions in my name, receives me.  But whoever causes one of these, who practice the spirit of what I teach, to stumble would be better off on the bottom of the river wearing concrete.  This culture is mindless and evil, and I suppose it is necessary that evil enter so people may have the opportunity to overcome evil with good, but woe unto him by whom the door is opened when evil comes in.  Cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, if by them you bring evil into the world.  Even maimed and blind, you are better off than with a burned-out conscience.  So see that you don't despise the innocents who deny themselves rather than sin.  They have an angel who pleads their case continually before God.

      "What do you think?  If a man has a fleet of trucks servicing a warehouse and one of them breaks down on the freeway, doesn't he drop everything else and go get that wreck towed before an accident occurs that will send his insurance rates through the roof?  And when that's done, doesn't he tip the tow-truck driver, while he has many other drivers to whom he hasn't spoken for weeks.  So it is not the will of God that any old wreck having called for help should sit out on the freeway making a bad situation worse.

      "If your brother wrongs you, go and tell him the problem, just the two of you alone.  If he listens, you have gained your brother.  If he won't listen, take one or two co-workers along that everything you say may be witnessed by others.  If he won't listen to reason, even among a group of believers, let him be to you as the politicians and the Hollywood smut-rakers.

      "Whatever on earth you stigmatize as evil will shape civil law, and whatever you idealize is programmed into human culture.

      "If two of you agree in earnest prayer, God is quite likely going to give you what you ask for.  Be careful what you ask.  There is a better chance you will ask rightly if two or three are gathered in my name for then I am present in spirit.  You might get the idea from all these instructions that I am going to be cut off from you... ."

      Peter stood up aggressively and asked, "How many times shall my brother offend me and I still must forgive him?  As many as seven times?"

      "Have you got your calculator?" Jesus asked.  "I'll tell you a story.  The Chief Executive Officer of a large corporation wanted to settle accounts with his regional managers.  He did extensive audits and found out that one man had embezzled half a million dollars in company funds over many years.  There was no way it could be repaid even if the man was to end up in his stocking feet out in the street.  The CEO called in the attorneys, but before he could proceed the man came to him and humiliated himself asking for leniency.  Out of pity for his subordinate the man with the advantage in this exchange sent the investigation into an expensive paper chase, the kind of no-win litigation the company would be better off without.  Out of a sense of noblesse oblige he let the man salvage his career of some thirty years.  The man was no small fish.  You don't get away with the big money unless you have position and influence.  A powerful man, he found himself with the upper hand in an audit sprung on a supplier who had slushed out a few thousand in freight overcharges.  Now this jerk runs the supplier out of business in a long scandal that hits all the local papers.  And what is the CEO with the goods on him going to do?  When he hears about it he'll drag out all the evidence again and run the guy through the document shredder.  And that's what God will do to you if you don't go easy on your neighbors."

      Wherever Jesus went, large crowds followed him.  He healed people in Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Richmond, and Boston.  The fundamentalists came and harangued him all the time.  "Are women allowed to hold positions of authority in your organization?" they asked.

      He said, "Haven't you read in the Bible how God created man and woman in the beginning, one flesh.  Then neither is superior.  If people look to a woman for leadership, let her be compelled as I am to carry the burden of authority."

      But they said, "Man was created first, and God gave him preeminence."
      "By that logic," he replied, "The rodents, frogs, and lop-eared dogs
were created before either of them and therefore have preeminence.  For human hardness of heart God has allowed men to rule by force since the stone age.  If it's important to you to be dominant, get yourself a Labrador Retriever."

      His associates were off balance at that and said, "It's getting so we're afraid to go home after all these road shows; how do you recommend we fit into the households our wives have taken over in our absence?"

      "That's your problem", he answered.  "There are men who live without women for many reasons.  Some because they're impotent, or gay.  Some because they have run that race and are worn out.  Some abstain for the sake of the revolution.  But don't ask one of them how to get along with women!  Some men are able to do it, and some choose not to try."

      Children were brought to him that he might touch them and pray for them, but the associates thought this was a waste of time.  Jesus said, "Let them come.  They immediately respond to my revolution."  He patted them, and went his way.

      A sincere liberal came to him and asked, "Your otherworldly slant bothers me somewhat, but suppose I try to find what you call eternal life. How do I go about it?  What must I do to merit eternal life?"

      Jesus said, "Do you think all I've been saying about purity of intent and self control has been just by way of introduction?  Ask God what is good, but watch out.  He is perfect, and you won't measure up.  You might, for starters, keep the commandments."

      Jesus was surprised when the man asked, "What commandments?"

      "The Ten Commandments?" Jesus queried.

      The man shook his head.  "It's been a long time since my course in comparative religions.  Was that Judaism?"

      Jesus said, "You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal, nor lie; honor your father and your mother... .  Let's see... .  Anyway you're all right if you love your neighbor as yourself.  They should be able, at least, to survey this stuff in school."

      "I've been a drudge all my life.  That stuff isn't too much of a problem," the man said. "I mind my own business and work."

      Jesus could relate to that, and he looked at him sympathetically when he said, "If you would be perfect, go sell your business and work for the poor.  Go out and be one of George Bush's 'thousand points of light.'  You'll find there is engaging work to do, and you'll have everything you really need."

      This was too much for him.  He made big money as a partner in a software company.

      Jesus said to his associates, "How hard it is for rich people to see God's priorities.  It's easier to drive a crane into a parking garage than for one of these high flyers to hook up with radical goodness."

      When they heard this they were astonished.  Everybody with whom they fraternized lived pretty comfortably.  "Who then, other than losers, can be saved?"  They asked.

      "Even successful people have to ask the right questions sooner or later.  Then there is a chance."

      Peter said, "We have left everything to try to cooperate with you and with God.  And lately you have been telling us the game is about over for you.  What about us?"

      Jesus said to all of them, "In the new world when I am recognized for my contributions and for who I am, you will also gain the recognition you deserve.  Everyone who has risked their careers or alienated themselves for my sake and for the radical goodness I propound will receive many times over the progress or property or love they jeopardized and in the end find eternal life.  It will blow your mind when you see many humble people recognized for their inconspicuous persistence in important work.  And how many prominent people will be humiliated!

      "The revolution is like a contractor who went out early in the morning and hired day laborers.  They agreed to fifty dollars for the day's work.  About ten A.M. he went out and hired more because so many people were unemployed.  They were willing to work for whatever he would pay them and went to the construction site.  Again about noon and at two o'clock he went out.  Finally, he filled his affirmative action quotas at about three thirty.

      "At five thirty everybody knocked off and lined up, tired and dirty, outside the boss's mobile office for their paychecks.  He paid the affirmative-action minorities first.  Each got fifty dollars for two hours work.  The others went through the line and got paid, all fifty dollars whether they had started at two o'clock or noon or whatever.  When the guys who had worked since eight o'clock in the morning came away from the pay-window grumbling that they should have received more, and they threatened to get the union in on it, the employer said, "We had an agreement for fifty bucks a day.  I understand why you feel as you do, but that's the way it goes.  Maybe the unemployed and the minorities need a break.  Anyway the government requires it.  Take your money, and be satisfied."  Jesus was sounding like a liberal democrat again.

      Washington, DC was next on their itinerary.  Nobody was looking forward to it.  Jesus called a conference and said, "Behold, I go to 'Jerusalem.'  The Son of man will be at the mercy of the political action coalitions of the priests, and the media experts will flog him and deliver him to the secular humanists to be ridiculed and condemned.  Perjury and fabricated evidence are already on the record against him, and he will be discredited, convicted, and executed in the electric chair.  But he will be raised on the third day."

      James and John couldn't have picked a worse time to come to him with their mother who had big ambitions for her two sons.  She spoke up and said, "Grant that these sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left when you come to power."

      Jesus was clearly angry when he answered, "You don't know what you are asking.  You cast me in Jim Jones' role, and then ask me for a drink.  Don't talk crazy."

      "We are willing to drink your cup," they said.

      "You will drink your share of this vile mixture, but coming into power is a dubious end, and God grants it to whomever he will."

      The rest of them had heard this exchange, and they resented this trio with the politics of Absalom.  Jesus called them together again and said, "You know that political heavyweights run their operations with an iron fist.  It will be different among us.  Whoever would be great must serve others like a loyal assistant manager.  Whoever would be the engineer must work as a technician.  I came, not to be your boss, but to work like any other man or woman.  In the end I will give up my life for you."

      Jesus went out where his work was waiting for him.  Two men called out from a doorway at the bottom of a stairway that led up to their home above a tavern, "Have mercy on us, Son of David."  Most of the people on the busy, city sidewalk just ignored them.  Some of Jesus' followers told them not to bother him, but they called out all the more.

      Jesus stopped and asked them what they wanted him to do for them.

      "Let us receive our sight," they said.

      He touched their eyes, and they could see.

      A huge crowd met their party at the airport in Washington, DC.  Jesus sent two of his associates to a used car lot to pick up a clunker.  He told them not to get tied up haggling with car salesmen.  "Just get back here as fast as you can."  He was going to make his entrance on the Washington scene a parody of the important-personage nonsense that is politicians' stock in trade.  This fulfilled prophecy: "Go tell Barbara Walters, 'Behold, your next president comes to town riding a 'Colt' manufactured by Ford Motor Company, one that doesn't run very well at that.'"

      The associates came back with the car.  It was a hot day in Washington, just right for a parade.  The throng cheered as Jesus and Pete Simonson climbed on top of the Ford Colt and sat down on the roof with their legs over the windshield.  Jim Alpheus got in to drive.  Matthews the politician took off his suit jacket, threw it in the back seat, and walked alongside the car as it started to move.  The others did the same.  They walked along and waved and shook hands with the people crowding to get a glimpse of grandeur.  By the time they left Dulles Airport a motorcade had formed.  Motorcycle cops for whom this sort of thing was all in a day's work cleared the way ahead of them.  Horns blared and crowds cheered from the boulevards and from the tops of buildings.  Washington hadn't seen so many balloons go up since the astronauts came back from the moon.  When those who didn't get the humor of this enormous joke asked who this yahoo thought he was, those of the masses who knew said, "This is God's man, the prophet and counselor from Nazareth, Pennsylvania."  People cheered him past the White House and the littered cobblestone mall across the street known as Peace Park.

      A curious silence came over the crowd as Jesus and his entourage drove right past the White House.  This was a strange anticlimax.  People started to murmur again.  Having neither an invitation or the desire for one from the President, Jesus trod the turf between the spire of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.  Demonstrators for every conceivable cause had shouted their slogans there in recent years.

      The religious hucksters knew a good thing when they saw it coming.  Jesus was dismayed to see them selling everything from bumper stickers to Bibles.  He picked up one of the expensively bound Bibles.  Genuine Morocco leather.  India paper.  When he put it down it was open to the passage, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a shopping mall."  This was a loose modern translation.  He looked around at the circus pennants and displays spread out all around him like some gigantic used car lot.  There were posters and placemats with cutesy sheep quoting passages from Holy Scripture in Romanesque typeface.  Durer's Praying Hands in plastic reproduction were lined up on tables like F-16s on the decks of aircraft carriers.  It was a sentimental explosion of gift-shop 'Christianity'.  Electric guitars and snare drums accompanied singers with ingratiating nasal voices in the musical equivalent of a drug that oozed out over the crowd to soften people up for the sales pitch.

      Religious broadcasters were waiting to deliver it.  They were primping themselves in the wings.  Men sprayed their hair, and women were getting into their wigs.  For a contribution of twenty five dollars or more you would receive a pendant reproduction of the Goodtime-Gospel-Hour microwave antenna.

      Serious looking men with their collars on backwards from the liberal Council of Churches were hanging around trying to figure out how these hicks were able to raise so much money.  It had gotten so they had to steal from Peter to pay Paul in their organizations.  Left wingers are cynical and cheap, and the devoted remnant in the main line denominations were getting leery of church bureaucrats with radical politics who sent money they thought they contributed for missions to 'liberationist' guerillas in Namibia or spent it entertaining Ortega and his like in Washington.

      Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and those who sold doves in silver pendant reproductions.  He pulled out the cables of the electric guitars and silenced the microphones before swooning mouths and heavy-lidded eyes.  Paper brochures and paraphernalia fluttered everywhere.  Promoters scrambled after five and ten dollar bills blown across the grass.  He grabbed a bullhorn from one of the promoters and blared at all the hype-and-hallelujah types with Texas accents, "Remember the Alamo."

      The crippled and the blind came to him on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and he healed them.  A few doctors from the crowd who understood his priorities came and did what they could to help these people.  But when those who pulled the strings among the crowd saw the wonderful things he did and the children of the poor celebrating at the feet of Lincoln, they were indignant and said, "Do you hear how they glorify you?  Who do you think you are?"

      "Ask them," Jesus answered.  "You know what the Bible says: 'Out of the mouths of children has come perfect praise.'"  And leaving them he went out to Wolf Trap Park where a noted concert singer was appearing that evening.

      Returning to the city in the morning with his disciples, he was hungry, and seeing an apple tree, he walked over as if to pluck an apple from its branches.  When there were only leaves he said, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again."  The tree shriveled up like a dried fig.  The disciples were amazed and said, "How does he do these things?"

      Jesus said, "Have faith and never doubt, and you can not only do as I have done to this apple tree, but you can command a mountain to move, and it will be sent per your instructions into the sea.  And whatever you ask of God you will receive, if you have faith."

      When he arrived back at the Lincoln Memorial he continued his ministry to the poor and the infirm.  The media wizards came to him and asked, "By what authority do you do these things?  And who gives you the power?"

      Jesus answered, "I have a question for you for a change, to which, if you will tell me the answer, I will in turn answer your question.  The baptism of John, was it of God or of men?"

      They withdrew to contrive a suitable answer, but they argued among themselves.  If we say John's baptism was of God, he will ask why we called him a crank.  If we say, of men, well... many of our people are convinced John was a prophet.  So they came back and said, "We do not know."

      Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do my work."  Then he told an anecdote in which their sanctimonious piety didn't fare very favorably.  "What do you think?"  He began.  "A couple had two sons, and they advised both of them to study business and prepare to work as their family had for generations as contractors in the construction industry.  In a rebellious phase, one of them said, 'I want no part of this high-technology rip-off of the environment and the third world.'  But he saw things in a different light after a couple of years in sociology and political science, and he not only studied business but engineering as well.  He finished school and became a real professional.  The second son had always been at the head of his class and promised his parents in an ingratiating tone of voice that he would do everything as they suggested.  But he went to a prestigious Ivy League school and socialized with the likes of Barry Obama.  He didn't study much.  Finally he graduated in anthropology, and of course he ended up useless for any earthly good.  Now, which of these sons did the will of their parents?"

      The fundamentalists answered guardedly, "The first."

      "Right," Jesus said, "And the politicians and their bimbos do Gods will before you will.  The truth about John the Baptist is that he was a Godly man.  You wouldn't listen to him, but there were politicians and other low-life who listened, and who appropriately cleaned up their lives.  Charles Colson has done a lot of good since he repented of politics.

      "Here is a parable for you: An industrialist built a high tech plant.  He 'ganged' machine tools with computer aided design and did a big promotion among prospective customers.  Then he left assuming his engineers and MBAs could keep the lid on for a while.  They all had degrees and credentials and were presumably well qualified.  He left town to attend to his other concerns.  At the end of the fiscal year he sent his accountant to do an audit.  The managers stone-walled it.  They had been bleeding out the capital, and the plant was going in the red even though sales were strong.  Other accountants were sent to look at the books, but they were brushed off as well.  After that the industrialist sent the chairman of the board.  That bunch of gangsters took him out in one of their limousines and threw him in the river.  The corporate profits were going into their pockets, and they were crazy enough to think they could continue to get away with it.  So what is the owner going to do with his 'management' team?"

      The fundamentalists answered, "He'll fire those deadbeats, start litigation, and find some people he can trust to run the operation."

      "Right again", Jesus said.  "You people seem to understand the principles, but have you ever read in the Bible, 'The cog which the engineers rejected in the design stage has become the axis of the whole assembly?'  I tell you, God will take away the commission he has given you and give it to people who will produce."

      Then the media experts and the ministers understood he was talking about them.  They tried to get him arrested for holding a demonstration without a permit, but the poor people made it clear there would be a very public racial-issues confrontation if they did.  The police came, but the preachers could see where things were leading, and they backed down.

      "The perpetual revolution of God," Jesus said, "Is comparable to a businesswoman who threw a big reception for her son's marriage.  She sent out engraved invitations RSVP, but nobody responded.  To get their attention she sent follow-up literature that looked like something from Gourmet Magazine.  Still, her secretary said there was no response. 

This was so perplexing to her that she got on the phone herself and started calling around.  People were preoccupied with other things, and they were rude to her.  She was surprised to learn that her parties were considered too formal, staid.  What people were interested in was something along the lines of a bash at Truman Capote's.  She couldn't believe what philistines they were, and in her disgust she ran a full page ad in the newspaper inviting anybody who wanted to come.  The respectable and the disreputable came.  Most of them dressed and deported themselves appropriately, happy to be in attendance at something that would make the society page in tomorrow's newspaper.  But some of those who came apparently had not read the instructions in the advertisement, small but conspicuous at the bottom of the page--no shirt, no shoes, no service.  They were thrown out into the parking lot to scratch gravel with the pigeons.  Many are called but few are chosen."

      The fundamentalists were trying to figure out how they could discredit him in one of these discussions in which they were taking such a continual thrashing.  They came up with this one: "Teacher, we know you tell it like it is; you're no 'chameleon.'  You don't seem to be intimidated by our political clout, and you speak your mind no matter who might be listening.  Tell us then, what do you think?  Do religion and politics mix?  Do you advocate separation of church and state, or not?"     

But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why ask me?  Baron Rothschild's dictum tells you how to manage affairs of state: 'Give me control of the purse strings of government, and I care not who makes it's laws.'  You seem to understand the power of money.  Show me a coin.  Why does it say 'In God we trust' on all of your money?  Is money is your God?   You are thereby reduced to bunch of fund raisers.  But if money is not your God, and you don't trust It to raise people's consciousness, then what is the real motive behind your moralistic crusades?  You demonstrate for unborn babies and against the bomb, but what small fraction of your campaign funds go to care for a single child or for the boatloads of the refugees of war?  Put your money where your mouths are, and don't give me moral arguments to vest you with power.  If your conception of the church is that of a political coalition for bringing about change in governmental affairs by force, we aren't talking about rational government, and it's a seriously flawed Christian morality that would forge a weapon of materials mined in the human conscience."

      The same day the liberals who say there is no resurrection from the dead and therefore work only in the area of social reform came to him and asked one of their smart-ass questions.  "Teacher," they queried, "If a man is a homosexual in this world and then he dies, what will be his sexual preference after the resurrection?  Ha ha ha ha ha... .  Will he then desire women?"

      "Your thinking is tangled, all 'haywire,'" Jesus said, "when you ask this question.  If you had ever read the Bible, you would know that a transformation of nature from its decaying state would be the end of desire.  The angels in heaven are androgynous.  Do they have sexual desire?  Further, you deny God's formal order in the universe by which nature is to be measured and redeemed.  How is it then you can pronounce moral judgments in justification of all your liberal causes?  If you allow form, you let into your humanism the problem of how culture and our way of evaluating culture can both be of human creation.  Conformity or deformity with respect to this formal order is a life-and-death issue.  Take away form, and you are dust.  Is it too great a leap to believe that life that conforms to God's order will endure, and that deformities will flake off like dead skin?  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not God of the dead, but of the living."

      The fundamentalists were positively gleeful when they saw the liberals shut up and quietly go away.  Your ordinary 'man on the fence' was astonished to see Jesus slip through the nooses prepared for him on both sides of the pit dug by the liberals and the conservatives.  A couple of lawyers, one just out of a church-affiliated law school, and the other out of a prestigious Ivy-League school which owned its church affiliation until it was no longer fashionable, were having a discussion on the basis of law in western civilization.  One of them asked Jesus to comment--a perfect lead-in for a respectable discourse in the Aristotelian tradition.  Jesus' reply was not exactly what he had in mind.  "You shall love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On this both law and gospel depend."

      While the fundamentalists were still in a conciliatory mood, Jesus said, "The Bible is full of miracles.  God creates the world out of whatever there was before empty space, then he floods out most of its inhabitants but saves Noah and his POSH passengers.  He makes a nation from the descendants of people too old to have children.  Moses calls down plagues on the Egyptians and leads Israel to freedom through the Red Sea.  Elijah calls down the fire, and so forth... .  Now what has become of God?  Why does the church spend its time allegorizing God's mighty acts into spiritual consolation, interesting material for sermons and for the counselor's office, but not made of the same stuff as when God actually did something?"

      "Because the spiritual is superior to the material," somebody volunteered.

      "Why, then, celebrate a bodily resurrection from the dead?  Of what use is a physical body in an insubstantial spiritual world?"  Since he had started asking the questions nobody felt too much like talking.

      "Where are all our authorities who make pronouncements for popular consumption?"  He asked.  "Speak up!  Our careerists, who appoint themselves leaders of the fundamentalists and, yes, of the liberals, sit in Moses' seat.  So do as they tell you, but don't expect them to live up to their pronouncements.  They never want to put their money where their mouths are.  They run up bills on their followers' credit and expect them to work off their obligations and pay the bills.  The leaders will themselves neither work nor pay.  They are politicians.  Everything they do is for appearance sake, nothing of substance.  They love seeing their names in print and being on the panels of documentary programs on television.  Controversy and ideological stumping are their stock in trade.  The degrees they acquire and the awards they give one to another serve to advance their careers without their having contributed anything toward the solution af any real problems.  They want to be considered intellectuals, and everything they do is advertised with a long litany of their honoraria, but, under a guise of abstractions that sound rational, they merely pontificate.  Ideas can never stand alone with them; they will hear nothing that isn't shored up by the prestige of those who proffer it.

      "Support your ideas with reasonable arguments, not with the authority of your degrees and awards.  Opera singers advertise themselves with such nonsense.  I don't care where they have sung.  Can they sing?  Don't call one another Doctor or Reverend.  What do these degrees prove if what you say doesn't make sense?  Why are your priests called Father?  Aren't you children of God?  Nor should you be called Master.  You have one master.  Whoever would be great must render practical service.  People never make such fools of themselves as when they are trying to be somebody.  Relax, you are somebody.

      "You actors.  Boo!  You strut across the stage and make the script unintelligible.  You obfuscate everything of substance--whether humanistic or divine--in your self-aggrandizing performance.  You fundamentalists will traverse land and sea to make one convert.  Then you make him as much a Pharisee as you are.  And you sophisticated liberals are no less absurd.  You take a vow of celibacy and then interpret it as a ban on marriage, but not on sex.

      "Boo!  You careerists who win yourselves awards, pluck plum employments, and get rich off your rigorous dissertations.  You should have used your rigor to learn morality.  You seem to advance in spite of your neglect of the essentials-- justice, mercy, and faith.  Blind guides!

      "Woe to you, prestigious authorities, extortionists, manipulators of power.  You mince around in a pretense of nonviolence and Christian love while your junk mail mobilizes people by appealing to their prejudices and fears.  Your campaigns use the techniques of riot instigators and bigots to stereotype the opposition into a target for hatred, somebody to blame.  And always your eye is on the bottom line.  Money is power.  Your purge is the cleansing of the cup from which you drink poison.

      "Woe to you, paper faces on the covers of magazines. You whose only work is to rationalize and react.  You liberationists.  You reactionaries.  You are like the graves at Forest Lawn, so decorative they belong in a shopping mall but full of rotting flesh.

      "Woe to you, hypocrites.  You build on the reputations of noteworthy people of the past.  Proud of your tolerance, you claim you wouldn't have been part of the contemptuous mob who opposed scientific, artistic, or moral truth as perceived by people swimming against the tide of opinion of authorities, who drowned in the prestige of people like yourselves.  Thus you sentence yourselves and measure the dimensions of your own prison.  You can crawl around there like the bunch of snakes you are when people come to their senses and repudiate you.

      "Woe to you, Washington DC.  Woe to you, America.  You turn the world upside down in your landslides of popular drivel and neglect your prophets for mass movements and fads.  You call this rabble rousing, democracy.  But your demonstrations are a travesty of real democracy which depends on rational discourse, not the shouting of slogans.  Power mongering thrives on such propagandistic crusades.  I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you wouldn't have me.  You prefer the desolations of passion and relativism.  Trying to communicate anything of substance in your mass media is like taking a flogging.  You prefer cults of personality over reasoned public speechmaking on every occasion.  I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.  He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.  His truth cometh like the whirlwind.'"

      Jesus left the Lincoln Memorial.  He was headed for the bus stop when one of his associates commented on the architecture in Washington.  Grecian Revival buildings crowded the sky at every horizon.  "These noble stones," Jesus said, "embody the ideals of Judeo-Christian and Grecian culture, more than two millennia of western civilization.  Yet there will not be left here one block upon another that will not be thrown down."

      Later, as they sat on the grass on a hillside overlooking the city, they asked him, "What is this age coming to?"

      "Don't be fooled," he said, "by alarmists and messianic experts.  Anybody with the stage presence of a reasonably good actor can get a following these days.  Wars and inflations will be epidemic, but don't let the charlatans tell you this is the apocalypse.  Wars, famines, and earthquakes are but the beginning of the sufferings.  For my sake and for the truth, you will be harassed by perpetrators of every theory and doctrine under the sun.  For my sake you will be hated, and many will fall away.  In landslides of popular opinion people will abandon reason and betray one another.  Monstrous evil grows in the ruins when a high culture lapses into decadence.  Most human goodness will atrophy, and regard for the truth will callous from the abuses of thought rampant in an anarchist culture.  But you will survive if you can endure even when you face martyrdom.  God's revolution will abound in the midst of collapse.

      "But when you see pagan self-indulgence cavorting in the place where you expected to learn religion and morality, this is the abomination of desolation.  Pack a tent, and go live in the mountains.  If you have property in the city, sell it.  Don't traffic many delays.  Your home or your business aren't worth risking your life for.  If you are just an employee in a plant, you can easily escape.  Don't look back as you run.  Pity those who are pregnant or nurse children in those times.  And the children will be at risk.  Their schools will be very dangerous places.  Pray that you will not have to flee during the summer months when the sun worshipers are migrating or the during the Christmas holidays when they buy and sell with abandonment.  In those times there will be trouble the world has never seen before.  People who have everything will still be unsatisfied.  People who are not sick will mob psychiatrists and gurus to make them well.  If this was allowed to go on, nobody with any semblance of humanity could survive.  But for the sake of the rational and the good, God will shorten the times.

      "False messiahs will turn up on every street corner.  Every crank will come out of the underground to publish a book.  Don't buy their trash.  Ignore their magic and their predictions.  God's revelation will come at the appointed time.  As the lightning flashes from the east to the west, so will the new order envelop the world and vindicate my testimony.  The Son of Man will reveal himself amidst a gathering of eagles.  The sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood.  The stars of the heavens will fall.  Worldly powers will be shaken out.  When God's order resonates to the limits of outer space, Christ will return with power and resplendant glory.  Seeing him storm out of the sky, the tribes of the earth will moan.  From among the clouds he will send his reapers with a loud trumpet blast.  They will gather his people from the obscure corners where they do good.  My Lord, what a morning!

      "From the apple tree take warning.  As its branches dry out and become kindling for the fire, so withers the culture nurtured by your media, and it will burn with the intellectuals who manufactured it for the deception of the world.  When you see these things happening, know that degeneration is giving way to the sublime order of God.  Listen to me!  This generation will not pass away until it happens.  Heaven and earth will pass away before my words pass away.  But that day and the hour no one knows, not the angels, not the Son.  But God knows.

      "As it was before Noah went into the ark, so it will be before the revelation of the Son of Man.  In the days before the flood there were drunk drivers and sexy matinee idols as well as hard working yuppies and activist reformers, but they were all swept away.  So it will be with God's revolution.  Two women will be vying for top positions in their professions.  One will be saved, the other left to go on with her mindless competition.  Two men will be grinding away at their desks, and one will be rescued, the other left.  Be vigilant.  You don't know the day or the hour.  If the homeowner had known what time of night the thief was coming, he wouldn't have allowed his place to be broken into.  Be ready.  The Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect.

      "Who then is the manager who minds his own business?  The one God finds doing something that is worth doing.  The one who feeds the body as well as the soul.  I tell you, God will give him more to manage in a similarly responsible fashion.  But the manager who spends his time in drunkeness and excess at the expense of others in his own community or in the third world will be fired.  He will grind his teeth with the transients and the hookers out in the street.

      "How can I help you to appreciate the elegance of God's order.  It is more to be desired than a beautiful woman.  Suppose ten men call day and night to invite her to dinner or to the theatre.  Five of these young lions are cardboard copies of your fast-track ideal.  One is a businessman already well up the corporate totem, another a sports idol, another a smash-up success in advertising, another a photographer, the last a stock broker.  All of them come dressed to kill.  They wine and dine her and take her to their athletic clubs, to fashionable films, and to galleries to view 'significant' works of art.  Yet none of these Joes ever listen to a word she says.  Even when they get glassy eyed and tell her they love her, they have no idea whom it is they say they love.  Of course she gets tired of their flattery and callow devotion.  She starts letting her telephone answering machine take their calls (by now you are starting to recognize this as the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins.) 

Now there are five other guys giving her the rush as well, but they listen to what she has to say.  They aren't so full of compliments and gifts and trying to impress her that they can't get to know her.  She is an engineer and likes to talk shop.  It's no surprise when she marries one of her suitors who 'gives a hang' about what she does, even if he can't understand it most of the time.  Now how was I going to make this come out like the five wise virgins?  Anyway you better pay attention, or when the time comes and you call on God, you might just get a recorded message.  That machine isn't going to be moved by a lot of sappy devotion when you haven't bothered to listen all along to what God--He/She--has been saying.  You'll be lucky if you get the time of day.

      "God will require an accounting of those in whom he has invested life, as if he were a venture capitalist who expected to make a profit.  Suppose we push the analogy and say this investor finances several people in their business proposals.  Now if you borrow money to go into business, you work.  The idea is to produce and make the money grow.  What will a venture capitalist do to some air-head who has his money but doesn't put it to work?  Can you imagine a man with a hundred thousand dollars of borrowed funds who is just sitting on it?

      "The investor comes to settle accounts with those who have been using his money.  The first has five hundred grand.  He has made another five hundred thousand.  The investor is pleased, and he says, 'write your own ticket; your credit is good with me.'  The second who has made two hundred thousand on an equal investment is similarly commended.  'You've done well; I'll back you for as much as you need as soon as you need it.'  Then he comes to this guy who has been sitting on his assets... .  The man simply didn't have the will to drive the first nail and built nothing, so he makes excuses: 'I knew you were a hard man.  I didn't want to risk losing your money.'  The investor is incredulous.  'You didn't do anything with the money?  You could at least have put it in an interest bearing bank note.'  He starts to say that the economy is unstable and bank failures are more and more common, but this is all bull to the big-time venture capitalist, and he leaves the man there talking to himself.  He calls his attorney to crack this nut and collect his funds.

      "To everyone who has, more will be given.  And to him who has not... well, he should have!  Even desert cactus grows a couple of millimeters per year.

      "So what is the legal tender of this government of God?  What is it we're expected to invest and make more of?  There's life.  And quality of life.  Precious little of either unless you have enough money for essentials.  We know some of the essentials, and we know we want this or that.  But what will God want?

      "Like a computer programmer using binary code he will come to record each persons score--zero or one.  Are you turned off or turned on?  To those who have current flowing in one vital circuit, he will say, 'Come, my beloved, inherit the revolutionized world prepared for you from the foundation of the earth, for I was hungry, and you invited me to dinner.  I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me.  I was in prison, and you came to me.'  These good-hearted people will exclaim, 'Good God, when did we see you hungry?  How could you be hungry?  And how could we feed you?  Or quench your thirst?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you, or sick, or in prison, and visit you?  And the Chief Executive Officer will say to them, 'As you did these things for the least of my kindred of this earth, you did them for me.' If you don't know how to help without enabling dysfunctional behavior, go to AA and find out from people who understand these things.

      To the zeros he will say, 'Depart from me into the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.  For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing.  I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing.  I was a stranger, and you said nothing, naked and you did nothing, sick and in prison and you gave, said, and did nothing.'  Nonfunctional in the one circuit that matters, they will ask, 'When?'"

      Jesus made an end.  He told his associates, "You know that in two days I finish my course."     

     The authorities gathered at the palace of the priests of the inquisition.  There they conspired to arrest him by stealth and to kill him.     

     He went to the house of a man named Simon who had AIDS.  As he sat there with his disciples and friends, a man came in carrying a bouquet of flowers.  He gave the bouquet to Jesus then motioned to others waiting in the doorway through which he had just entered.  From some nearby florist's shop, delivery men brought in arrangement after arrangement of flowers.  The room was soon ablaze with color.  A fresh smell drifted up from among the sword-like leaves of gladiolas and from the bunches of long-stemmed roses.  The man who had paid for all this just stood there and smiled at Jesus.     

     Judas broke the silence when he said sarcastically, "Shouldn't he have spent his money on the poor."  Judas had been grinding his teeth against Jesus since it began to look as though this revolution was largely a matter of human kindness and that Judas was not going to be an apostle of some powerful mass movement.     

     Aware of this, Jesus said to him, "As a matter of fact, Judas, you are probably right in principle.  But your heart is wrong.  That you are still with us means something.  You must have stirred up the spirit of love within yourself from time to time in order to have lasted this long.  It is a beautiful thing this man has done.  He doesn't know yet that these flowers are for my funeral.  The next flowers I receive will bloom only in my mind when the electrodes flash on my wrists and ankles.  Care for the poor and for the poor in spirit as long as they are with you.  I will not always be with you."

      Then Judas went to the priests of the inquisition.  He said, "What will you pay if I deliver him to you?  I've had enough."
They paid Judas thirty thousand dollars and promised him power in the organizations they controlled.  From that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

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