Click here for my performance of this text.
Copyright Reserved Stephen Charles Lovatt (2010)
here for the small cast version
Click here for the large cast version
They all knew what was the matter - in the end. They also knew that they mustn't tell. Hence the silly rumours that got put about. Better that one man should suffer, than that pristine reputations be sullied. The stories have Kepha's name scrawled all over them; Elazar and Yochanan went along with the lies, though. They could have denied them. They chose not to. That hurt... but I understand.
Reputations, that's what it was it all about. And that's why my story begins with Elazar. Elazar and his “sisters”. Now that was a house with a reputation; famous throughout Judaea it was!
The first time we sampled Elazar’ hospitality was right after Miriam had been rescued from the mob. I think she fell for the Rabbi on first sight; she owed Him her life, after all - and His presence was something else! I can still remember the look of amazement in Elazar’ eyes when we turned up at his doors. Disbelief, fear, shame, defiance - capitulation; they all fled across his face in a moment, as the Rabbi said: “Peace be with you!” Then the house emptied; clients tumbling out onto the street in disarray. Bethany will never forgot the day that Elazar' House was purged! That night the best wine came out, and we partied till the small hours.
After that we were at Bethany every other week, or so it seemed. Martha and Miriam waited on him hand and foot. More, they were involved in the most intimate conversations, along with the two who Joshua really loved: Elazar and Yochanan! Not even Kepha and Yakob had a look in - let alone me! More than once I sobbed myself to sleep.
Then, one day in the middle of a preaching tour Joshua announced that Elazar was dead and we were going back to Bethany once more.
Just outside the village, we were met by Martha. Her eyes were red with tears, her mouth bitter with recriminations. “The One you love is dead!” she told Joshua. “You should have come before!” He made no answer, He didn't defend His negligence.
Then Miriam appeared. Calm like the eye of the storm. Joshua said to her: “Show me... my dear One,” and she took Him by the hand and led Him to the grave. Joshua wept. Then He cried aloud: “Elazar! How could I have allowed this evil thing? Can you forgive me, Elazar? I knew what I was doing - but I didn't realize... I should have hurried to your side; but I let you die. Oh, Elazar, I am so sorry... Elazar, come out to me!”
Time paused. Then Elazar hobbled from the tomb, enfolded in a long white sheet. Joshua took him in His arms. Elazar opened his eyes and yawned; as if waking from a deep sleep. “Stay a while with me, Lord of my Life,” he begged, and Joshua replied: “I will; then in seven days you must come to help raise me up.” The supper we had that night was the second most memorable of my life. For once Yochanan made way at table and Elazar shared the Rabbi's couch. I yearned for Joshua’ arms.
Once the rumours started to circulate, Joshua’ fate was fixed. This story was too big. The priests had put up with him till now. No more. Now, they feared a rebellion and a catastrophic response from the Romans. Things all started to go obviously wrong when the Pharisee Simon Ben Micah invited us to dinner the next day. Elazar and Joshua were guests of honour; and Martha and Miriam were invited to act as hostesses.
At first the dinner went well enough. Then Simon tried to find out what memory Elazar had of death. He was disappointed when Elazar first claimed not to recall a great deal and then declined to say what he did recall. The Rabbi made a pointed remark about how the living should concern themselves with life and let death take care of itself. Then a commotion was to be heard coming from the kitchen and Miriam burst into the room, all in tears. She fell down at the foot of Joshua' couch and began to anoint His feet with fragrant oil. I was filled with jealously: “What are you doing, woman?” I hissed, “That ointment must be worth a prince's ransom!” Miriam started back, like a frightened animal.
The Rabbi looked at me. Such a pained expression I have never seen. He beckoned for Miriam to approach Him, gave her a kiss and sat her down on his couch after indicating that his darling Yochanan should get up to make room for her.
“Oh, Judah!” He sighed. “Are you such a stranger to love? I have freed this child from very much that was wrong in her life, and she loves Me truly because of it. In this loveless world, her act is as great a comfort to Me as it is to her. There will always be good causes for you to be concerned with, but I shall not be with you much longer; so take your opportunities as you may. I tell you that Miriam will be remembered for this act of burning love until the end of the world; and you, Judah, for your cold heart!”
After a few minutes, the Rabbi got up and we all made our excuses and left.
That night I went to Him. I had no perfumed oil, just my love. For once He welcomed me. I asked what He had meant when He’d said He would not be with us much longer. I implored Him not to leave us – to leave me.
He told me that love leads us along strange paths and that His path was set before Him and that He would not turn aside from it. I told Him that I loved Him and would worship Him and He took me in His arms, and held me tight to His breast. I felt his heart beating next to mine, and for a moment I knew peace in my life.
He told me that He longed to spare me the cup that I would have to drink. I replied that I would do anything for Him, even die. He said that He had a harder task for me than that, and that He felt like a naive virgin before me; for he knew that He was to be overcome by me – by His will, but also by mine. I told Him that I had no wish to dominate Him, but only serve Him.
He told me that only someone who loved Him without reservation could play the role which was assigned me: the role of His priest. He said that He must die by my will. He said that it was only because of our love that He could yield quietly to me.
I refused to accept what He said. I asked Him why it was necessary to twist and deny and desecrate our love? He only replied that He would never forsake me even when I forsook Him. He finished up by comforting me; though I had gone to comfort Him. Then, abruptly, He told me to go and never seek His presence again.
From the heights - to the depths. I was shattered. I had thought for a moment that at last I had won His approval and love; but then it seemed as if He'd just been playing with me. He was everything to me and I was nothing to Him! I fled into the night.
From that time my heart was bitter inside me. Every sign of affection for anyone - especially Elazar and Yochanan - twisted the knife that pierced my soul.
I went to see Simon ben Micah. I asked him how he read the situation. Simon said that Joshua had to be taken down a peg or two and that the Council wanted to expose Him for the fool He was; but that the mob had to be presented with a done deal. Then they'd react to the sad spectacle of a humiliated fake Messiah - rather than a wronged hero.
I agreed to help abduct Joshua with as little fuss as possible. I was distraught, you must remember. I wanted the Rabbi to take notice of me – even if hurting Him was the only way to make Him do so.
At our last supper together, Joshua gave thanks over the first chalice of wine and passed it to me and then to Yochanan. Then, out of the blue, He said: “One of you is to pass me over to wicked men.”
His darling, Yochanan, asked Him who it was that would betray Him. Joshua smiled and said: “He who I now honour... my beloved.” Then He tore a strip from the loaf set before him and passed it to me. He said: “Take and eat this living bread, Judah. It is my body broken for you.”
I said: “I don't understand. Do you mean to ridicule me?” Still, I took the bread which He offered and ate it.
Then the Rabbi said: “What you must do, now go and do it quickly!”
Emotions that I cannot name welled up inside me. I loved Him and I hated Him and I couldn’t tell which feeling was which. I ran out into the dark night.
You know how the story continues, that bit of the folk-lore is true. I followed the Rabbi, after supper, as He took His disciples to the Gethsemane olive grove. I overheard Him cry out: “Father! Please take this bitter cup away from me!” Then Elazar appeared, wearing only the sheet which had been tied about him in the grave, a scant seven days ago. He looked like a ghost. He said: “Don’t be afraid; I am here, my love!”
Then I hurried back towards the City. Half way there, I met Simon with his cohort of Temple guards. When we arrived back at Gethsemane, the Rabbi spotted me – I was walking some way ahead of the guards. He cried out: “Enough! He is come for me, and I must be on my way.” Then Joshua called me His friend, and asked my purpose.
I said: “To make you notice me,” and kissed Him. He embraced me and gave me a hug which I thought would break my ribs. Then He released me and pushed me back. By then Simon and his guards were near.
The Rabbi asked Simon whom he sought and Simon said: “Joshua of Nazareth.”
The Rabbi replied by invoking the Name of God. Everyone was dumbfounded. We do not voice that Name. It is too perilous. The Rabbi repeated His answer: “I AM HE who you seek. Let my people go!”
Simon fell back, at first - deterred by the command in Joshua’ voice. Elazar fled naked, dropping his linen sheet in his haste. Then Simon approached the Rabbi and grabbed Him. All of Joshua’ followers ran off, except me. I was rooted to the spot.
I found myself alone in the garden. The soldiers were well on their way back up the valley, the din of their passage fading into the distance. The pascal moon shone still and certain in the sky. The stars were dimmed by its brilliance. I was alone - so alone.
I can't rightly recall what I did those next few hours. All I know is that I eventually found my way back to our lodging house. Elazar found me there late Saturday morning, just before noon I suppose. He took me back home with him to Bethany. We had both loved Joshua, and been beloved by Him. Now we belonged to each other.
At first Martha couldn't understand what had happened. We both seemed quite mad to her. Then the truth gradually forced itself on her and she was beside herself. Miriam took it much better. Her love sustained her, even though her Love was dead.
By the time we decided to make our way back to Jerusalem it was all over. First Thoma, then Andrai and Nathaniel arrived with the news that Joshua was dead and buried. They shunned me, of course.
I was devastated. I wouldn't show my face. I cowered in a dark room at the rear of the house - refusing food and drink. Somehow, Elazar seemed to understand best. He came and sat down beside me. Then he hugged me and I began to wail and cry uncontrollably. I couldn’t sleep that night. Elazar and Miriam kept silent vigil with me. In that silence, heart spoke to heart.
The next morning, He came to us.