The Woman of Magdala

Grief tore my soul as I stood watching him die. Finally I understood the suffering I saw when we first met, nearly two years ago. Has time really passed so quickly?

They say that just before you die, your life passes before you. I may not be dying, but my life felt at an end. It’s the smell of fish that I remember and of a childhood watching the boats come into port, a brief time of innocence, before my marriage and the hard times that followed. Then the fateful day my husband became a tax collector, a choice between starvation and rejection. Even our families disowned us – to this day.

Death. His breathing grows faint. I have known too much death. My husband took a long time to die. I felt then I was dying with him, followed by the years of loneliness. Nobody would marry a tax collector’s widow, but I did find comfort with a few. Now they call me whore. Maybe they are right, it was an exchange of sorts, just a different coin.

Death. I can see it in his face, it won’t be long now. Poor soul. How did he deserve this? Things were so different when we met. He was the talk of the town. I was helping serve food at that banquet. So many people, all at short notice. All because this prophet from Nazareth said he would come.

I smile as I remember. I doubted if he would want to come, when in he came, as large as life, with a troop of disciples in tow. Some of them looked like scared rabbits! They were clearly not used to our sort of company. Funny, but I don’t remember much, other than how hectic it all was. Such a milestone in my life, yet the details are almost gone. All I recall was turning around and seeing him standing there looking at me. I felt so ashamed that I looked away, but then he called my name. I never did ask him how he knew, it never seemed to matter. It was the way he called it that mattered: no condemnation, just acceptance. I remember looking up and how his eyes held me. A few seconds, maybe, but an eternity in time. I opened my soul to him. No fear, no doubt, but an absolute trust in the love I saw. I did not care who saw the tears, for I knew what he saw, but I also knew it did not matter. I was cleansed.

That was when I saw the suffering in his eyes. The same suffering I see today, my suffering, but not just mine, all those at the banquet, indeed, everyone he probably ever met. I was in a daze as he moved on, but was quickly drawn back into the demands of what I was doing. So many people, so much to do. But, towards the end, just before he left, he looked over to me and said, “Come, follow me.” There was no need for a decision. I just put down my tray and followed. I have never looked back. But that was then.

All is dark now. I feel cold. Even the earth seems to tremble. What have we done?

Becoming Jewish

Ken 02 Jan , 2016 0 comments Imagining

I never meant to become Jewish. I mean, why would I? They won’t eat with us, they won’t worship our Gods and they self mutilate. To be honest, they are quite barbaric. So, I find myself mildly amused at the turn of events which occurred last week, leading to me becoming a Jew.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself and haven’t even done any introductions. My name is Crispus and I am the harbourmaster here at Caesarea. However, the story really begins, not with me, but with my friend, Cornelius. If you come from these parts, you will already know him. To the locals he is known for his good works and his sympathy for Jewish ways. To the Legion, he is one of the centurions, six foot tall, broad shoulders, and not the sort of guy you cross – for all his good nature. So, when he told us last Monday that he’d seen an angel, who told him to send to Joppa for a Jew, we were speechless. A less likely guy to imagine things you could not meet, so, when they arrived back from Joppa last Thursday we all turned out to see what it was about.

I have to admit that my first impressions were, shall we say, disappointing. I’m not sure what I expected, but you would have thought that an angel would want us to send for someone a bit more inspiring than just common working men. He didn’t even speak properly. He had an accent so thick it took a while to work out what he was saying. His name was Peter and he was a fisherman from Galilee, apparently. (Which explains a lot!) However, things changed as we listened, and if only half of what he said is true…

Now, he was no orator, and I certainly could not make out all that he said, but there was power to his words and they shook me. Had we really killed the lord of the world? I was not amongst the Jews who betrayed him, nor party to the trial, but I felt complicit. It was as though it was because of me that he died. All I could do was weep. Others were weeping too, but then things changed as some started laughing, while others fell down and yet others began praising God in a strange language. It was crazy, but it was wonderful too.

Peter, was clearly puzzled by what was happening and I could see him go into conference with his travel companions. After their brief discussion he declared that as God had clearly accepted us into his family, they could not object. So, we were all baptised and welcomed as one of them. Peter stayed a few more days to tell us more about our Messiah and our commission to follow him.

Which is how I got to be Jewish. Mind you, I’ve only been Jewish for a few days and, with all the excitement, there were a few questions I forgot to ask. Like, does it matter that I’m not circumcised? I guess it can’t, now that the Messiah has come. Still, I am not sure if they will see it that way at the Synagogue…

Stepping Out

Our boat was tossed around like a straw in the wind that now raged around us. As the clouds parted, the moon cast its feint light on a shore that was getting no closer and we had nothing to show for our hours of rowing but the blisters on our hands. We were disheartened and one by one, the twelve of us lost hope. It was at this point that Andrew stopped rowing and raised a trembling hand, pointing into the distance, a look of terror on his face.

In the distance, just visible in the pale light, we saw a ghostly figure walking across the water. I wondered if it was a of the shadow of the dead coming to welcome twelve more, yet as the apparition drew closer we realised that it was going to pass us by. I felt an an immense sense of reprieve, as though we had been spared from some disaster when we heard a voice rising over the wind and waves, “Don’t be afraid, it is I”! It was a familiar voice, but it wasn’t possible. I had no time to let any of this sink in before Peter leapt to his feet – nearly overturning us. “Lord, if its you tell me to come”, and the voice said “Come”.

I was in shock. We knew next to nothing about the voice, yet without hesitation Peter was leaping over the side of the boat and into the sea. I did not know what to make of the voice, but I did know that, as scared as I was in the boat, I had absolutely no intention of leaving it. But, Peter, reckless as he is, had leapt out and was walking on the water towards the apparition, which he was trusting. At that point Peter seemed to have become aware of what he had done, and his feelings caught up with ours. There was a moment of panic in his eyes and then we watched him go under. We shouted after him, but he was too far away and we could do nothing. The apparition reached out and pulled him out from the sea and brought him back to the boat and joined us. It was only then that I knew for sure who he was.

Dawn was breaking as Jesus entered the boat and we realised that the wind had also stopped. We at last had hope for reaching the shore, but as I looked around I realised that we were almost there. I do not know how we managed it. Perhaps, we had been mislead by the light of the moon, but none of us really believed that. Either way, we were only too glad to be close to land. Once on shore, Jesus would not let us do anything but insisted we sit down while he made us a fire – he could see we were wet and cold, especially Peter who was wet through!

Peter nearly got drowned that day, but he went up in our estimation. Brash and impetuous he may be, but he taught us something. However secure we may, or may not, feel, the only safe place is with Jesus, and Peter, for all his faults, was less scared of dying than of remaining still while Jesus was walking by and calling him to join him.

Surrounded

I awoke. Restless. Something was wrong. Even our goat was unsettled. I turned on my mat to face the door and could see the early morning light begin to peep through the gaps. I did not yet know what was wrong, but something certainly was.

We are a small village, with our own routines and rhythms. After a while it becomes part of you and you feel it in your bones. A re-assuring rhythm, of everything being right, a sense of ‘shalom’. Today that sense was broken. By now, the women would have started to collect the water from the nearby river. Their friendly chatter of greeting filling the air. Unhurried. Familiar. Comforting. Yet, today the only things penetrating the silence were a few hurried sounds. Sounds of normality in retreat. Doors flung open, only to be quickly closed again. And beyond the silence there was a rustling, the distant murmur of something else.

My master lay fast asleep and everything in me wanted to go back to sleep as well and wait for whatever it was to pass, but my master depended on me and instead I got up. The door opened roughly on its ancient wooden hinges and the dawn light streamed in. As I looked out onto the village it appeared to still be asleep, all of the normal signs of early morning life in hiding. Then I understood. Beyond the village, in the hills surrounding us, was an army equipped with both horse and chariot, an army that could raise our village to the ground.

We are a poor village and there was only one reason why such an army would surround us. Whatever that reason was, it had very little to do with the village, but everything to do with my master. In that moment, I became overwhelmed. I needed to warn my master to flee, but where to? We were surrounded. My master must have woken for he called from within, “Come away from the door. I want to see if they have arrived.” How did he know? I was confused , but moved aside so he could see the army that had surrounded us. “Good. They are here.”

I was confused. Words tumbled from my lips. I do not know how coherent I was, but I let  all my fear and anxiety spill out. I expected at least some concern reflect back. Instead, he just smiled and spoke to his God, “My servant cannot see, now open his eyes.”

Now, I could clearly see the army. If anything it was my master whose lack of concern suggested he did not see, or at least did not understand the trouble we were in. I looked again. The army were mounting up and getting ready to approach. All seemed lost. Then I saw. Beyond the troops I caught a glimpse of another army. A vast army that shone like the sun and with swords of fire. They were like reflected light, shimmering, there one moment, gone the next. Yet, when I saw them they were so utterly real that even when I did not see them, it was not their reality that I doubted, but my own ability to see. It was then that I knew, we were not about to fall into our enemies hands. They had just fallen into ours.

By this time the sun was beginning to rise and I remembered I had jobs to do, so I went over and milked our goat. It was time to prepare breakfast.

Jason’s Choice

As the credits from the film began to scroll across the screen, a message flashed up: ‘It is your time to choose.’ Uhh? Jason had been half dozing, whatever he thought he saw, it was not there now, just the credits. He reached for the remote and the screen went blank and as he did so his eye noticed the heading on the paper he had dropped on his way out that morning. ‘Choose now!’ It was an advert for a car, yet it was strangely co-incidental after the message he just imagined. He was beginning to feel himself trapped inside a film script, with someone trying to reach him.

A few moments later the doorbell rang. It was his neighbour dropping off a small package left while he was at work. It was not an interesting looking package, probably just some marketing gimmick, still it was intriguing. He emptied its contents onto the table. Two small polythene bags and a note spilled out: one bag contained a red pill, the other a blue and the note read, ‘It is now your time to choose.’ Any last sense of being in control left him. Whatever was going on, he was not in control.

He had the oddest sense that the pills were safe and he was free to choose either pill: The blue pill maintaining the comfort of his illusion; or the red pill risking what he might find when his illusion was shattered. However, he also knew that he had to choose. He could not make no choice at all. It was also obvious to him that he would finally take the red pill, but it still took him a while to summon the courage. Finally, he braced himself and swallowed the red pill, which  slid down easily. But, having prepared himself for almost anything, he found himself quite unprepared for nothing and he finally spoke out, ‘Has anything happened?’

A voice from the corner of the room said, “What were you expecting? It was only a Smartie.” To Jason’s surprise there was now a man standing in the room.

“Where did you come from? What’s going on here?”

“To be honest, I’ve been here all along, but until you made your choice I could not show myself. There was nothing special about the pills, they were actually just Smarties. We used them to help you make your choice.”

“So am I still seeing the illusion?” replied Jason.

“You mean like in the film? No, the world around you is real enough.”

“So what was the point of the choice?”

“The point is, that while the world may be real, it is not all there is. Like me. I’ve been here all along, but you have not always seen me. The world you know is only the part that you experience directly. Yet it is but a shadow of the greater reality that lies beyond. Slowly you will begin to see.” Jason looked at the remaining pill, which did indeed look like a Smartie. When he looked up again he was alone.

Jason sat on the sofa pondering what had just happened for a while and he become tired and started to doze off, when he was awoken by the sound of the credits from the film. He had been dreaming and he laughed quietly. As he reached for the remote, he noticed a small plastic bag on the table containing a blue Smartie.