Saturday, December 01, 2007

Theophilus' Banquet (The Gospel According to Luke)

Theophilus’ Banquet
By Chris Halverson

Theophilus had thrown many lavish parties in the past. He was a man of impeccable taste, graces, and subtlety. He also had a queer fascination with the exotic. At one party he had exhibited an elephant to his guests, at another a Scandinavian, and at others multitudes of fascinating creatures.
The meal was going well. The rich had gathered. All were well fed, the wine was flowing, the servant girls were submissive. All there at the table were joyous, and none hated one another. It was as close to being “Rome” as the hinterlands they lived in could be. The guests gathered there waited in anticipation for Theophilus to unveil his latest outlandish acquisition. There was a rumor started by the servants that Theophilus had locked himself in his study for the last week after receiving a package from the East.
Could it involve the previous year’s embarrassment with that Jew-Priest? That was the question on everyone’s mind, yet Baccus Uranus, coming back inside after a severe bout at the pukeatorium, was the only one there graceless enough to ask.
“Haaaave you hearddd from your Jeeeew?” he asked, sitting down next to his father, Roman Governor of the province.
The Governor sighed and looked to his host, “Dear Theophilus,” he smiled amicably, “there are rumors…”
Baccus interjected, “What’s next God-lover? Are you going to niP off the tiP of your manhood? Arrre you a citizen of Roman at all?” And with that he crashed back down onto his triclinium with his father.
Theophilus stood up; all eye went to him. He took a sheaf of paper from the arm of his robe and flattened it down upon the table.
“I, I am a good Roman Citizen, and a God fearer. And because of what God has done I rejoice with joy!”
All had known this, the man’s piety had been hidden in his closet for a long time, but not so hidden that others did not know of it.
“I support good rulers, as would any sane man.”
Baccus wriggled at that, his father had hold of him so the room, now swirling in Baccus’ head, would not prove too much for his lack of balance.
“I will not damage myself, for there is no need. God who is dealing with man in this time and place, has dealt with man for a long time, since Adam, the son of God, the foundation of the one who has recently come.”
“Recently come? TRAJAN came rather well, alllllll over that temple.”
Theophilus responded, “The temple, and Jerusalem itself, was the heart of God, yet through its destruction the good news of God was spread from there to Rome, and beyond, even here in this very room.”
Baccus floated in and out of consciousness as Theophilus continued. He wished the man had brought an elephant again. He liked elephants; they seemed an appropriate image for empire.
“God has dealt with humans since that first man. He worked through patriarchs, lawgivers, kings. The history of these Jews who we have scattered was one that always arched toward peace and justice.”
“Rome has peace. Pax Romana,” muttered Baccus.
“No. That is peace on our terms, a peace of arms… This is a peace for its own sake, not for the sake of commercial interest,” he looked back down at his notes, “This history from Adam, to Abraham, to David, and beyond, came up to the 15th year of Tiberius.”
Governor Uranus looked up from his lightly snoozing heir, “I didn’t know their history was so continuous.”
“Yes, in that 15th year God came to Zechari’ah, a temple official, and told him his wife would bear a son. He questioned God, for he and his wife were both old, and God shut up his mouth. And his wife, Elizabeth was her name, gave birth to their son, named John. This John was the greatest of those born of woman.”
“Whattt ‘bout those born a’ man?” Baccus muttered.
Theophilus ignored him, “This John preached the good news of God and preached…”
“To be fair old people do not generally birth,” the Governor said.
“But if you know the history of Israel you may interpret this thing rightly,” his interjected, “for this miraculous birth is like that of Abraham and Sarah, two figures in the Law of the Jews,” again he looked down at his parchment, “This John preached that people should repent, and told tax collectors to collect no more than that which is appointed to them, and that soldiers were not to rob.”
Baccus guhuffed. For even drunk he knew Rome.
“Then John was imprisoned by Herod the Tetriarch. And that was the end of the age.”
“The age of the Jews?” asked the Governor.
“The age of exclusion of us,” replied Theophilus, “Yet there was another, conceived of a virgin.”
“A virgin? Is that another one of your mythical beasts?” asked Baccus, looking at one of Theophilus’ young servant girls. The girl though was intent on hearing her master.
Again our dear Theophilus ignored him, “Yes. A virgin.”
“How can that be? Virgins do not give birth,” said the Governor.
“Yet in Hebrew prophecy they do. And this lowly vessel, Mary, a young woman, birthed he who scatters the proud of heart, and throw rulers down from their thrones. Therefore rejoicing be to her and her breast that fed him. Her son Jesus. And Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to birth him, as the scripture of the Hebrews prophesied. He was hailed by angels and shepherds.”
Baccus was incensed, “Shepherds! Pluto and Libitina take me home. What next? Born in a stable?”
“Yes,” Theophilus replied. His audience shook their head. His servants were cautiously interested. “In him a great reversal was beginning. He was circumcised.” Some murmured at this. “And as he grew he began to manifest who he would be. For do not our own histories tell us of this fact? The childhood of a man makes clear what his life will be like. As for this Jesus he was drawn to Jerusalem, and though a child, debated with the great philosophers of the Jews.” Some smiled at this, nodding; this they understood, “And when he grew up he was immersed in water, prayed, and the heavens opened up, and the spirit of holiness rested upon him. With that his ministry began.”
He paused, and then continued, “Jesus was tempted by the lord of this world.”
“Caesar?” asked Baccus in genuine confusion.
Theophilus shook his head, “There are many bad rulers in this world. The one I refer to is the Lord of them all. The devil.
The Governor wondered at the host’s words.
“He was tempted by him, but refused him, so like a bandit Satan, that is the devil, laid in wait. Then Jesus gave his first discourse, re-affirming the Jew’s prophets. He spoke about how they had healed in gentile lands. And Jesus too would heal people. The blind had sight, the lame walked, lepers became clean, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor heard good news! And this healing caused a crowd to come to him. And he journeyed from place to place preaching.”
“He said blessed are the poor,” Again Baccus guhuffed. “woe to the rich.” The Governor frowned. “Blessed are the hungry, woe to the full, blessed are the weeping, woe to the happy, blessed are the hated; love your enemies.” The servants listened, with small rejoicing and some gladness.
He looked out at his guests, and the servants still listening intently, “You feel that don’t you? You feel… the movement of God in these words. He is built up in you as you hear them, yet this without a proper understanding is lost and dust; a house must have a foundation.”
A few of the multitude in Theophilus’ house nodded at this argument.
“He threw a demon named legion out of a man.”
“Legion?” asked the Governor, “as in a Roman Legion. That seems seditious.”
Baccus shrugged, slumped against his father.
“No. This Jesus is against the crushing strength of military power, against domination not…”
“Rome,” Baccus burped. The servants looked distressed.
“Look, this Jesus loves us gentiles,” Theophilus shuffled his notes, and found what he was looking for, “When the 70 returned… Jesus didn’t allow his disciples to send fire down upon the Samaritans.”
“All right, I just… Go on!” ordered Governor Uranus.
“Okay,” said the host, sweat forming on his brow, worried in his own house, “Jesus continued teaching, in parables, and began his journey to Jerusalem. He spoke of the rich man and Lazarus, he spoke of a poor woman who knocked on an unjust judge’s door until she got what was due her…” he paused, Uranus said nothing, “This man Jesus was able to get a tax collector to give half his goods too the poor. Isn’t that an amazing task in itself?”
Some laughed at this. The two tax collectors in the audience did not.
“And… and… and when he arrived in Jerusalem he predicted that we’d destroy the temple, that it would be trodden down by us gentiles.”
“This is boring,” said Baccus.
“Ah. That’s because the overarching villain has been hidden! Well, that’s where things have changed. In Jerusalem the Satan entered Judas and he betrayed Jesus. At a meal just like this one they ate, Jesus and his disciples did. And Jesus said, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.’ And so… I would like to try something. Everyone get up.”
All, save the Uranuses, obeyed, though reluctantly.
“Let the servants be seated at the table.”
“This is ridiculous Theophilus. Just finish your damn story.”
The guests returned to the table. The servants backed away from the table.
“Satan came and sifted Simon like wheat.”
“What about the taxes to Caesar? Isn’t there something about that,” the Governor asked, recording in his mind those who were slower to lay back down to the table.
“He says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and God what is God’s.”
Baccus felt sick as he lay there.
“Jesus was betrayed after the meal. Judas showed a mob where Jesus was, and they took him. Then Peter denied him three times; they took him to the authorities,” Theophilus said, “And get this, though both Pilate and Herod believed him innocent God saw it fit that he would be crucified…”
“As a criminal,” Uranus said.
“Well yes. In fact he was surrounded by two criminals, and even on the cross he redeemed one of them!”
Baccus groaned. One of the servants brought him a plate with bread on it. He refused it.
“And Jesus was buried. After the Sabbath women went to his tomb with ointment and spice, yet they could not find his body.”
“Women,” Baccus said, with a sneer.
“Yet a man appeared to his disciples and interpreted all the books of the Jews, to show that it was right and necessary for Jesus to die. Then when the man broke bread with the disciples they could see that it was him; it was Jesus returned.”
“A ghost!” asked the Governor.
“No he was there, flesh and blood. He had risen. It is a joyous thing!”
“How do you know?”
He paused, “Well… it says he ate boiled fished.”
“Oh, of course, that settles it,” said the Governor, though his son’s stomach was far from settled.
“And then he taught them the scriptures, so their understanding and experience was one. And all nations should know of this, and repent of their sins and be forgive. From Jerusalem to Rome, to here! And with that Jesus ascended into heaven!”
The servants were enraptured.
“Before we leave this night, let us eat bread, all of us,” he specified, indicating the servants, “and think about this story I told you.”
As the bread was passed out the servants rejoiced at being offered a morsel of food.
The Governor said, “This upside down world of Jesus you speak of is blasphemous, the betters would lessers, and the lessers betters. And it is rumored the peasant said he was king of the Jews. We have no king but Caesar.”
And Baccus opened his mouth and vaguely chewed the bread, and as he swallowed his stomach ruptured, and his intestines came out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Screwtape Emails (In accordance with the Gospel of Matthew) PART 7(end)

Subject: Re: Urgent! We’re undone!
Fire up the hearts of the religious authorities! Spread rumors! Throw Mammon at people! Do whatever it takes to curb this thing!
Then get back here. You have failed me. Prepare for the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Subject: Urgent! We’re undone!
He’s raised. He has come out of his sepulchre. A Shocktroop-Angel stunned the guards; he’s being worshiped! He’s told his people to go out and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Um… Jesus is going to be a permanent problem; he’s here until the end!