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Wednesday 17 August 2011

SCORPION~EAGLE - Excerpt from Fifth Gospel - a Novel


HEY came into Bethany and Judas followed last of all, his mind full of strange thoughts. The sun began to drop its bruised body into the godforsaken hills as they neared the township, and the men were weary, having travelled since yesterday.
It was now more than three days since word had reached them of Lazarus’ worsening sickness, and all feared that he was by now dead. But Judas was not concerned for it, something else made his brow dark and his eyes aflame. That spirit, which had plagued him these many months, had begun to make a way into his head and he could feel it, rearranging the rooms of his mind. It wrapped around his heart to combine his disappointments, his hate and his lust, into a poisoned leaven for his limbs.
For months now, he had waited for Jesus to bring back the glory days of the Maccabees, but benevolence and kindness, patience and love were all that he had offered. In Judas’ mind, all the deeds of salvation, enacted so inconspicuously by Jesus, whatever they might be, were worthless. Words of compassion and tolerance were not enough to change the world; only the sword could change it. Blood for soil! It had taken him time to see it, but finally Judas had realised that Jesus was not the Messiah. For revolution and war were not accomplished by a man deliberate in his desire to change nothing, but to leave all men free.
The other disciples spoke of Jesus as the Son of Man. They spoke of how he had fed thousands, how he had quietened storms, and produced otherworldly transfigurations of his being. For his part, Judas had seen nothing of it, and yet he had been with them always. How could they have seen what he had not? He supposed that they had seen dreams…only dreams…and even now none of them could see what he could see: that even in his body, once so youthful and strong, Jesus was less vigorous and obviously headed for decay, like a wasted old man.
But something more had stirred his hate, and made his rebellious spirit rip at his soul: a fire-laden desire had grown in Judas for the woman whom Jesus had named Magdalena.
From the first, he had disliked her brother, the Hellenistic youth, Lazarus, whose life was lived in luxury and privilege and whose soul was the opposite of his. However, in Magdalena, Judas had sensed something akin to his own restlessness, a soul full of dammed up passions. But it was not only her soul which drew him. The woman’s unparalleled beauty had stirred his loins–a beauty which time, and again, betrayed her attempts to mortify it, or to conceal it. For no matter how many veils the woman wore, or how coarse was the garment draped over her shoulders, a fundamental note of allure was plucked from the instruments of his manhood each time he saw her, and he would have the song played in full!
Each night, his daily thoughts rose up into the ecstasy of dreams full of the consummation of their mutual passion. In his dreams, she wanted him with a near crazed desperation, which fired his virility and turned the seed inside him and churned the waters of his soul.
During those long months apart from her, when the women were sent to Bethany for their safety, and the disciples were sent out, two by two, into the villages to announce the coming of the Kingdom, Judas’ lust had matured and curdled in the darkness of his soul, so that by the time he returned to the rich youth’s house, with the other disciples, it sought, by any means, to find its satisfaction. What dread force of hate had he felt then, on finding that in his absence, a love had grown between Magdalena and Jesus? A love that others said was warm, and calm of heart, full of wide spheres, and generous pastures, which cared nothing for itself but sought only the welfare of another.
A love he did not understand!
He suffered when he saw how Magdalena’s eyes were full of devotion, for a man who would never take her in his arms and ignite her womanly passions.
Even Simon-Peter had seen it, and had asked Jesus,
‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’
‘Think of it like this, Peter: I am the light of the world and your soul receives my light, my love, according to its capacity to see and to receive it. Magdalena’s soul has more capacity than yours, and for this reason she receives more love than you.’
Judas, blinded by anger, schemed and schemed.
Many of the disciples were simple fishermen and they did not know that Jesus had in the past months revealed secrets of initiation to ordinary people. The betrayal of these secrets was punishable by death and it was for this reason that the Pharisees and Sadducees sought vehemently to find witness of it. Judas would use this to his advantage, an advantage that became clearer at Perea, where Jesus finally unveiled his reason for leaving his ailing favourite, Lazarus, behind.
When Jesus told his worried disciples that Lazarus’ sickness was not unto death, but only a sleep, that his sleep was for the glory of God, Judas put two and two together: Lazarus was not dying, but undergoing an initiation, and this was the reason why Jesus waited a day before returning to Bethany, since the initiation must last three days.
Jesus wanted to make a show of his power near to Jerusalem; not those powers that had made possible the raising of the dead boy at Nain, but something more. Jesus would show to all men what lived only in the deepest recesses of the mystery temples:  the raising of an initiate from the tomb, from the underworld of the dead!
Everything now made sense. Throughout their time in Perea, when Jesus spoke of the good shepherd who gives life to his sheep, he was pointing to himself, as the priest, who is the awakener of initiates; when he had spoken of other sheep which were not of the fold, but which the shepherd must bring forth with a call, he had been speaking of Lazarus. But when Jesus had said that he and the Father were one, Judas recognised these as mystery words. Words that meant a priest was ready to use the forces of the Father, that is, to awaken the body of an initiate, and to raise him from his Temple Sleep.
No man came to the Father, that is, no man returned to the physical body from the three-day initiation sleep, except through a priest! 
Jesus was not a priest! This would be enough to destroy him.
When they came now near Bethany, some furlongs from the township, they passed that desolate place of burial, the tombs that were set into the walls of the hills. Here, near what they called the house of rest, many men stood mourning, without their women, as was the custom. The sun was near gone over the land, and made long shadows of those dry hills. The mourners turned to see Jesus, and rushed to tell him of Lazarus. Soon, Andrew was sent to fetch Martha. The woman came in her drab attire of lament and with her face the colour of ashes. She fell at Jesus’ feet and told him that Lazarus was dead. She said that had Jesus had been here he could have prevented his death by performing a miracle. She said her sister Magdalena was full of grief and was sat as still as death in the house, waiting for him to come.
Judas watched Jesus carefully, in his face was written pain for her sorrow and something other, which he did not discern. Jesus told Martha that Lazarus was not dead, for he was the resurrection and the life, and all who believed in him, though they were dead, would live. After that she fell on her knees and affirmed that he was Christ, the Son of God.
He said to her, ‘Tell Magdalena I call her. That she must arise, for I need her by my side.’ 
She took herself away then, and many came to gather around. Judas heard them mumbling, that if this was the man who had cured a blind man and lepers, and had cast out demons why had he not prevented Lazarus from dying? As they speculated on what he might do, from out of the sun’s vanishing luminance there emerged the figure of Magdalena.
Judas saw only her face, gazing out from that mourning veil, streaked with tears. What a face it was! Did her tears seem to him to be tears of joy or mourning? He could not tell. She was inscrutable. His blood made skips in his veins. He was restless. He waited for her to glance his way. He beckoned her to look just once.
The women of the town, who had followed Magdalena’s steps, now came upon the place where Jesus stood with his disciples. They wept and pulled at their clothes, while Magdalena fell at Jesus’ feet – without so much as a fidget of glance in Judas’ direction.
He waited. Quiet fell over the day, save the groaning and moaning of the mourners.
‘Had you been here, my brother would not have died!’ she said to him. But her words were spoken differently, for in them, Judas noted a tone of thankfulness that Jesus had not come sooner! Tears fell from her eyes. Were these tears of joy?
When Jesus saw it, he raised Magdalena’s chin with his hand and Judas saw then what passed between them, and this awakened in him a realisation. Rage and discontent surged through him, and he could taste gall in his spit. He wanted to howl like an animal for the anguish of it – not only for its intimacy, which must be clear to all, but also for its complicity, since he now understood that Magdalena was in some way entangled in Lazarus’ initiation.  
His bowels were full of thorns, and his spit was sour.
‘Where have you laid him?’
Jesus’ voice was soft and tender. His eyes were full with tears and Judas knew that he was harnessing a force of love in his heart, a force that would raise his pupil from his death trance.
Even those who were not his disciples sensed it, and said, ‘Look how Jesus loves Lazarus!’
Magdalena showed him the grave, covered with a great round stone.
Would he do it now? Judas leaned his mind in his direction, daring him to do it.
Jesus walked to the grave and paused before it, looking troubled. He turned and his eyes fell on Judas. Judas felt a gasp come, for it was as if Jesus had seen in that moment all of his thoughts.
Jesus turned around again, and said, ‘Take away the stone.’
Martha was alarmed, ‘But Lord! By this time there will be a smell, for he has been dead near four days.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Martha, did I not just say to you, that if you believed, you would see God glorified in Lazarus?’
Martha lowered her eyes, ‘Yes, Lord.’
When the men rolled away the heavy stone, and returned to the crowds, the people immediately put the corners of their garments about their faces to fend off the smell.
But there was no smell.
Jesus raised his eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank you. That my word is one with you in spirit, and that you hear me always, but because of the people who stand by, I will say it out loud, that they too might hear how the Word, your Son, is in me, so that they might believe, that you have sent Him to me, and that through Him you and I are one!’
Judas knew, that by saying this, Jesus wished to reveal how in himself lived the Word, the Son of the Father, which he would make enter into Lazarus’ soul, to awaken him.
‘Lazarus come forth!’ resounded the forbidden words.
Nature drew a breath. Above, came the sound of a great eagle, making its noises as it rose upwards over the mountains, circling the skies, and falling away into the melting sun of day’s end.  The world followed it, and Judas also followed it as it soared aloft and died away. A thought came then, foreign to his experience: why could he not be like that bird, basking in the light of the sun with hopeful abandon? Must he live always like a scorpion, fearing the sun?
But this self-understanding was short-lived, for upon hearing a round of gasps, his concentration was now returned to see the beloved of Jesus, the initiate, coming from out of the black mouth of the cave, bound with graveclothes.
‘Loosen him, and let him go!’ Jesus told the women.
Martha, shocked, remained behind. Only Magdalena went to Lazarus to help. After that, Jesus, thronged by all those who had come to the burial place, was swept away to Bethany, but not before turning once more to look upon Judas.
That glance made a path clear from Judas’ head to his heart. He was standing upon the soil of freedom, between his hope and his fear. Here, it seemed to him, was his last occasion to love this man; to love him despite his urge to betray him; to recognise his greatness, despite his impulse to follow his destiny.
But he could not.
The eyes, multicoloured and endless-deep, held and held him, until they held no more. Gasping, with his head turning in circles, Judas was let go, and he sat upon a rock to get his breath back. After a moment he rose to make his way to Bethany, his eyes tethered to the ground.   
High above him, the eagle scooped wind with its wings and circled him, its eye ranged the sky…its gaze was upon him, unblinking, open, shut, perfect...
But Judas did not see it. He told himself,
‘The time for pruning has come!’

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