by Luise Rinser
The blind man came without aid and ran without stumbling. Where is the one who healed me?
They brought him to Yeshua. I see, Lord, I see! Who are you, Lord, who can make the blind see?
I said quickly: Heís a doctor, as you must have noticed.
Then make all the blind in the land seers! the beggar cried.
A large crowd had gathered. Isnít that the blind man? Can he see now? Can you really see? What joy for your parents!
Another said: Joy? They lived from his begging.
Yehuda said: See, Rabbi?
But he said no more.
What happened then was told to us several days later: the man who was blind was brought to the temple, and he had to tell the priests exactly what happened, thrice, five times, a real interrogation, back and forth, what did the man do, say, what kind of ointment did he put on your eyes, were your eyes infected, did you ever use curative ointment before, were you really blind from birth, or did your parents just say you were blind, or even blinded you so you would cause pity when begging, did you feed your whole family from begging?
The man who had been blind became angry. And if I tell you a hundred times you wonít believe it.††
So tell us who the man was who, supposedly, healed you.
I was not supposedly blind, nor was I supposedly healed. I donít know who healed me. I do know, however, that before him no one had pity on me. My misery touched his heart. His, no other. Whoever he is, he is righteous, merciful. Which of you has ever shown me compassion?
They threw him out of the temple.
He went around the city telling everyone what happened, including the interrogation in the temple and that ďthose on topĒ simply didnít want to believe what he swore to them. But he didnít know who had healed him. Someone asked him: Did he speak our language or Galilean?
I donít know.
It must have been the miracle rabbi.
Thatís how it went around and came back to us.
ďThose on topĒ was sure to add another stone to the pile. The mountain of guilt rose.
The next day a man from Bethany came to us: Rabbi, accept me as one of your disciples!
Because you think that Iím a miracle worker, or why have you come?
You are the first righteous one Iíve met in my life.
I have to go home first. My father is old and very ill. I must bury him properly and take care of the inheritance. Then I will come.
Yeshua said: Let the dead bury their dead. He who puts his hand to the plow should not look back.
The man left.
He wonít come back, Shimon said. Why were you so hard on him? Didnít he really have duties that he had to perform first?
That was a pretext, unserious talk. Whoever wants to follow me must do it immediately.
Shit or get off the pot, said Yehuda.
Who wants the new but leaves the return way open will go the return way. The bridge must be torn down, the leash cut. One must leave father and mother, house and farm. Only one thing is necessary.
Hard words, I said.
Did you leave the return way open? Yes or no?
As you know Rabbi: No!
The next day another one came who wanted to be Yeshuaís disciple. Wherever you go, Rabbi, I will also go.
That sounded like the oath of allegiance of a conspirator.
Yeshua said: Where do I go that you would follow me? My home is the road, my goal is not yours, my kingdom is not here.
The man left quickly.
One night I heard footsteps outside the house. Footsteps that came from the valley towards the house, and footsteps that left the house. They werenít Yehudaís footsteps, which were always more running than walking. What I heard were composed footsteps, and suddenly they came together, were lost, and returned. Yeshua. But who was the other? It wouldnít have been proper for me to go out or even to look. It wasnít something that made me nervous, but surely Yeshua wasnít outside for nothing so late at night. It was an appointment. No one heard the conversation. But Yochanan found out who the visitor was, and he also found out, in another secret nightly talk, what was said, and I found out, too.
Nicodemus, although an old man and high-ranking among the councilors, greeted Yeshua with a courtesy only shown to elders of high rank. He explained the reason for his coming, and also the choice of such a late hour. He didnít come as an envoy of the High Council, he came on his own and in secret, and as a friend, if he could presume to call himself that. Then he came to the point:
Rabbi, I have often been among the listeners in the synagogue when you were speaking, and I thought about what you said and found it to be living word. As Moshe struck water from the stone in the desert, you touched my spirit and brought what had become congealed to flowing, and I wondered, and I ask: Who is he? What is it that emanates from him? With what authority does he speak? Is he a prophet come in a dark time? What is it that forces me to listen to him? Is what he says new? Or does he say old wisdom anew? I heard you talk about the kingdom of heaven. You said that it is leaven that penetrates the flour so that it becomes bread. You said it is the treasure that one finds in his field and for which he gives up everything else. You said it is the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, which, when it has grown, becomes a tree to which birds from everywhere come to live in its branches. You said it is the acre on which wheat and weeds grow together, and the net in which useful and useless fish are caught. I thought all that over and understood it. But I still have one question: this kingdom of heaven, where is it?
Yeshua answered: You say that you understood my pictures. And yet you ask where this kingdom of heaven is. Do you think one could say: Run here, run there, thatís it? Or one could say to you: Wait a year, wait a hundred years, then it will come? I say to you: it is here, and it is now.
But didnít you speak of place and time? Wheat and weeds need the early summertime in order to grow, the mustard seed needs years to become a tree. Thatís clearly about the future. What will once come isnít already here.
But is the tree not in the seed? Isnít the future also the present? Isnít ďthereĒ also ďhereĒ and inside also outside and everything above also below?
But when the All Mighty promised Canaan to Moshe, the people were in the desert and Canaan was far away in space and time.
If Canaan had not been in Mosheís spirit and the peopleís hope, it would never have been found. Canaan was in the middle of the desert, for it was in the hearts of the desert wanderers. Hope is reality.
Therefore, Nicodemus said, the kingdom of heaven is already here?
It is among you.
But how does one find it?
Whoever has eyes to see will see it.
But who has seeing eyes?
He whose eyes have been opened by the spirit.
And what does he see?
He sees reality.
So unreality would be everything which is not spirit?
Therefore all disputes about earthly things are unreal? Neither power nor property, neither victory nor defeat count?
What counts, Nicodemus, is love alone, for where love reigns, there is the kingdom of heaven. Where there is love, there is peace. Where there is peace, there is the kingdom of heaven. Go and make peace!
That was what was said that night, as Nicodemus told Yochanan and as Yochanan told me.
A dispute arose between Yochanan and me about Yeshuaís words: The kingdom of heaven is already here, it is among you. Yochanan said: The rabbi meant: it is in you all. Inside you.
Stick with his words, Yochanan. How did Nicodemus relate it: in each one of you? or: among you?
Either way, Miryam, is there a difference?
Of course thereís a difference! Was Canaan in the hearts of individuals or was it the hope of the whole people? Was it the dream of individuals, or was it the pillars of fire that led the whole people? Is the kingdom of heaven only inside one? Did Canaan remain a dreamland in which each saved himself in the plight of the desert? Didnít Yisrael finally come to a real land that was called Canaan and is now Erez Yisrael?
Youíre both right and wrong. Is Canaan the fulfillment? Didnít only individuals really find Canaan?
When thatís so, then those enlightened ones among our forefathers could just as well have stayed in the desert, and the desert would have been Canaan for them. Was that what the Almighty† promised to his people? No, Yochanan, no! He promised a visible, touchable, earthly reality.
Do we know what the Almighty meant? Do we know how our fathers distorted it? And even if youíre right: many arrived in the earthly reality of Canaan, and still donít know it. Whoever doesnít have the kingdom within will never find it anywhere.
Why do I have the feeling that you are looking for ways to escape from earthly reality into a non-binding spirituality? Into a Canaan in the clouds where everything is perfectly in order? But nothing is in order! Canít you see that, sleepwalker?
He went sadly away, for he understood that I was playing him against Yehuda. Itís true that when I spoke with Yehuda, I defended Yochanan. I, the seed between the grindstones. But what was reality? And what did Yeshua mean when he said: My kingdom is not of this world?
Hard was the school which I had to go through.†††††††††††††
Nicodemus wasnít the only one to come to Bethany to see Yeshua, to hear him, touch his hand, to absorb some of his strength for a while. Many simple people came, but also scribes, and it was not always clear, as with Nicodemus, what their intentions were.
There were those two old men who asked about the Shabbat.
Rabbi Yeshua, we happened to see, accidentally, while going by, how your disciples plucked ears of wheat, took out the grains and ate them.
So? Yeshua asked.
Yehuda interrupted: They are from our friend Lazarusís field. Do you think he denies us them? Do you take us for thieves?
And Shimon said: It was a handful. Not more then a small flock of pigeons could pick on a single flight.
Thatís not the point.
What is then?
It happened on the Shabbat and you, Rabbi Yeshua, did not interfere.†††††
Shimon said quickly: The rabbi didnít see it.
But Yeshua said: I saw it.
And said nothing?
They were hungry.
But on the Shabbat! It is forbidden to harvest on the Shabbat.
So it is.
Well then: you know that it is forbidden and let your disciples do it?
Do you know what David did when he and his companions were hungry? Well, you are scholars. Do you know or donít you?
They were stubbornly silent.
†Well then, Iíll tell you: David when to the high priest Achemilech in the temple and asked for bread. The priest said: It is wartime, I have no more except the display bread in the sanctuary on which the Almightyís gaze rests. Give it to me, said David, we are hungry. That is not allowed, said Achemilech Ė with one exception: He who has abstained from women and is pure may eat it. If thatís the way it is, it is good, said David. We are soldiers and havenít seen women for a long time. So Achemilech gave him the bread and their hunger was stilled.
Thatís something else. In this case it has to do with the Shabbat.
In both cases the Law is involved, and in both the Law is absolved.
The Law is the Law. Donít you know what the Torah says about the violator of the Shabbat? Listen: When the Yisraelites were on the steppe they met a man who gathered wood on the Shabbat. They grabbed him and took him to Moshe and Aharon and before the whole community. But they couldnít decide what to do with him. So Moshe went to Adonai and asked. Adonai said: Take the man out of the camp and stone him to death. And it was done.
Yeshua said: Do you know what it says about the history of the Maccabees? They were in the middle of a battle with the Syrians. They heard the shofar blowing: the beginning of the Shabbat. They laid down their weapons. They were overcome by the Syrians, who knew no Shabbat, and were killed.
The two old men left silently.
The question hadnít been answered for us either.
Rabbi, you hold the Shabbat, and then you donít. You go to the synagogue and celebrate Pesach, Purim, Yom Kippur and whatever comes. But you let us pick wheat, pluck figs, gather herbs on the Shabbat.
Is that work?
According to the Law, yes.
What is work?
Plowing, digging, harvesting, house building.
Those are jobs. What is work in its essence?
We thought about it.
Yochanan was the first to find the answer: Work is change.
Yeshua said: You are right. But now I ask you where the Shabbat comes from.
We all knew that: The creator of earth and heaven rested on the seventh day.
He rested. He changed nothing. That was his rest. The not-changing was the standstill of time. That was the great Shabbat.
Yochanan said: So the great Shabbat is the stopping of time and therewith all change. If there is no time and therefore no change, then there is no change from life to death. Therefore the great Shabbat is the kingdom of eternal life in peace. Is it so, Rabbi?
But, said Shimon, as the Almighty rested on the Shabbat and changed nothing, then we also may not change anything. When we pick grain we change something. So it was breaking the Shabbat after all.
Shimon, said Yeshua, is man there for the Shabbat or is the Shabbat there for man? Did the Almighty institute the Shabbat to chain people? He did it as a day of joy, a day of freedom, as a foretaste of the eternal Shabbat. How can it be a day of joy and freedom if man is caught in fear in a net of laws and rules?
Yehuda said: Do you want to gradually abolish the Shabbat?
Yeshua answered: I want to extend it to include the whole year, a hundred years, for all time.
Yehuda laughed: That means abolishing work, Rabbi!
Yes, said Yeshua, thatís what it means. Man isnít there for work; work is there for man.
With that he left us once again to our own thoughts.
A short time later the Shabbat question was raised again, and this time it was clearly a trap for Yeshua, and not only I saw it, and I saw not only this one, but another and another. Something was being planned.
Yeshua and a few from our group had been invited to dinner. The owner of the house was a scribe, and among the invitees were those two old men who Yeshua had distressed because of the Shabbat. This time it wasnít mentioned and the meal was pleasant. Yochanan told me later that despite the friendliness, there was tension in the air and the guests were attentive to every step outside the house. Suddenly the apparently expected happened: two men entered with another who was afflicted with dropsy and could hardly breathe, because the water had reached his heart.
Rabbi, you see that I am very ill. You have already healed many sick people. A word from you and I am healthy. Heal me!
Yeshua said: Today is Shabbat. Donít you know that no assistance may be given on the Shabbat?
Rabbi, if you donít help me today, immediately, perhaps I will be dead tomorrow. Save me!
Yeshua looked at the scribes, one after the other, then he asked: Is healing work?
They were silent.
He said: If a child of one of you falls into a well on the Shabbat, or even a donkey, what do you do?
You hypocrites, he said softly, but sharply enough.
Then he stood up and went to the sick man: Do you really believe that I can heal you, or have these men brought you here so you can be a witness to how I break the Shabbat?
The man lowered his head and was silent.
Well, said Yeshua, as you see I am not healing you, for it is Shabbat.
Rabbi, forgive me. Shabbat or no Shabbat, I am deathly ill. I am the child in the well. Pull me out!
So Yeshua stroked his back, his chest, his thighs various times.
Go outside now and release your water.
The people at table acted as though nothing had happened and expected nothing special.†††††
A short time later the man returned: Rabbi, whole ponds of water came out of me. I am light and empty! Look at me, you men!
Yeshua said: From now on take better care of yourself. Keep you soul pure and your body will purify itself, and the water of fear and guilty conscience will never more reach your mouth. Go in peace. And you, what are you thinking of doing to me because I healed on the Shabbat? Will you take me outside the city and stone me to death?
They smiled sourly and changed the subject quickly. In the Sanhedrin another stone had been added to the others.
Rabbi, Itís hot in Yerushalayim in summer. When are we going north?
If you want to go, go.
Rabbi, without you?
We stayed. Why though? Nothing good could come of it. The traps were being set. Yeshua and some of our group, only men of course, were invited to dine with a scholar. Shimon reported:
We went in from the street, and because it was already late we sat right down at the table. If you ask me why we didnít wash our hands and feet, I canít tell you. Perhaps because it was so late. But you know the rabbi Ė maybe it was his intention. Whatever: it wasnít appreciated. I heard the whispering behind the rabbiís back: They didnít clean themselves, thatís against the rules. They didnít say they had forgotten to wash. No: they just didnít wash. So it was intentional and offensive. And I really think that it was intentional, for Yeshua took the bull by the horns. Which is more important: freshly washed feet and hands or a pure heart?
They didnít expect that. He gave them no time to answer, but went on: What makes a person impure: what he takes and puts in his mouth, or what comes out of his mouth as evil, as lies, words of hate, slander, hurtfulness, blasphemy. You have built a tower of six hundred rules and you donít realize that itís a prison.
And while he was on the subject, he said: You are very strict with the minor laws. If you only observed the major ones so strictly!
One of them objected: What are you talking about, which laws donít we observe?
He didnít answer directly. He said: You built pretty tombs for the prophets who were hounded from the land by your fathers, thrown to the lions, pushed into the sea, murdered. Whoever tells you the truth you call a prophet of ill omen and kill him, and now youíre planning another murder. You are prophet killers.
What are you saying? Who are we planning to kill?
He said: As though I canít read your eyes and hearts.
Then they cried: Youíre out of your mind. We want no oneís death!
He said calmly: You are whitewashing gravediggers.
That was strong. Ice-cold silence followed.
The food stuck in my throat. When we were finally outside I said: Rabbi, what good does it do to attack them. Theyíll go to your enemies now.
Then he said, loud enough for those inside the house to hear: Shall I fear those who can only kill my body, and only then when the Almighty allows it?
What Shimon told us was true. The words ďprophet killersĒ had been spoken. That was only the high point. They had already heard much more from this rabbi: wolves in sheepís clothing, blind, dumb, brood of vipers, cups outwardly clean, inwardly full of filth; fools who strain water because a gnat fell into it, but drink camels whole; people who remove splinters from anotherís eye, but have beams in their own; old wine in old skins; dead who bury their dead.
Itís true: he said all that about them. Publicly. It was known everywhere. Exactly what was whispered behind raised hands, from mouth to ear in the taverns, or also what was openly said when no informers were around.††††††††††††††††††††††††
Translated by Frank Thomas Smith
Continued in the next issue of Southern Cross Review†††††††††††