Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Thunder, Angels and Oracles

by Keith Brenton

We went up to Jerusalem to worship for the Passover feast, my friends and I, and our journey went well until the last few miles. Just outside of Jerusalem, we stopped with everyone else to crowd the sides of the main street into town from the south. We heard the rumor about the One who passed us on a colt, greeted by palm branches and shouts of "Save! Save!"

We heard He had made his dead friend Lazarus alive.

This was a new facet to the faith of Abraham to which my fellow Greek friends and I had proselyted ourselves. Life out of death ... immortality ... the very essence of the legendary old gods our ancestors had foolishly worshiped.

It was difficult to see Him at a distance, and for the crowd; He looked pretty much like any Jewish man. Yet there, in the entourage of the One they called Jesus was Philip, an acquaintance of mine from Bethsaida in Galilee.

When we came into town later, we asked around for Philip and were directed to him. I assumed that he had earned a position of great status with this celebrated One who gave life to His friends. "Sir," I said to him, "...we would like to see Jesus." He had an odd look on his face - I had forgotten that my friends and I were foreign strangers in this strange land - and he went to tell someone who was doubtless of greater status; one called Andrew. Then, together, they in turn went and told Jesus. So we followed them.

He was teaching a crowd when they whispered that we had come. Jesus nodded and went right on teaching: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."

Yes! we thought; this is the One we're looking for! He's talking about life and death as if they were as ordinary as seeds! About loving life too much; about life that does not end! But who was this "Father" He mentioned?

He went on: "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"

Then an extraordinary thing happened; the kind of thing our land's legend said happened only at holy oracles to prophets of old. An indescribable voice came from heaven itself, saying: "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. My friends and I just looked at each other, and I released my grip on Philip's arm, giving him an apologetic look. He just grinned.

Then Jesus said, almost dismissively, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

His words were as mysterious as those of any oracle. We didn't have a notion what he meant by "the prince of this world" or being "lifted up from the earth."

Someone in the crowd spoke up, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?" I turned from looking to see who had spoken to see the One who would answer.

Then Jesus said, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."

It wasn't dark. It wasn't close to dusk. While we wondered what He could have possibly meant, Jesus left and hid himself somehow. More like He vanished ... no amount of searching would turn Him up.

Finally, the sky did start to darken and it became apparent that we would see Him no more that day. The answers we sought would have to wait.

A peculiar instinct hit me as I sent one of my friends to find a place for us to stay and celebrate the paschal meal. "We may not find this Jesus for a long time again. He may have important business; hosting the meal, and so forth. Perhaps they have plans to use a - what do the Romans call our apo mekhanes theos in theatre? Deus ex machina? - to lift Him up and make it easier for people to see Him and hear His teaching about life that does not end. So make reservations for quite a while."

My friend looked at me curiously. "How long?"

I thought about it. "Through Pentecost, at least."


Blogger Raymond Fleming said...

As I read your story (very well done, by the way) I kept wondering how odd Jesus' words must have sounded to people who might have been on the margins of Jewish society. Even to those people close to Him--like the apostles-- misunderstandings abounded. In places like Matthew 13, when Jesus asked the disciples if they understood what he was saying, I wonder what would have happened had they said, "Um, no. Could you please explain just a bit more?" But then again, it took some guts for these Greeks to ask to see Jesus.

6/02/2005 08:39:00 PM  

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