Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The others sat at a distance, chatting quietly, stealing glances at the two of them. The two sat huddled by the breakfast fire, the morning sun warming up to the day.  He glanced upon the face of his friend, who was looking out upon the sea.  Haunting guilt lingered like a shadow in his chest, and when his friend looked him in the eyes, he quickly cast them down at the sand.  His friend’s gaze, however, remained.

The fire cracked, and the waves cast a hush upon the shore.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Jesus said.

Peter’s eyes shifted from the sand to the fire and down again.  It had been a long time since his friend had called him that.  He’d gotten used to his nickname.  He only dared a brief look into his friend’s eyes.  “You mean more than the others?  More than these fish?  More than my old life?”

Jesus was silent, and answered his question.

“Yes, Lord.  Yes,” Peter said.  “You know I love you.”

“Feed my lambs.” said Jesus.  “They’ll need a shepherd.  I want it to be you.”

Peter protested.  “Oh, Jesus.  Thank-you, but, I couldn’t do that.  I think you want someone like John.”

“No, Peter.  I want you.”

Peter kept his eyes everywhere but upon his friend.  “I really couldn’t.  I’m just not equipped.”

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes!  You know I do!  I just...”

“Tend my sheep.”

Simon Peter, the son of John, looked to his friend.  “Jesus... Please.  You don’t want me for this.  I can’t!  Please!”

Jesus spoke again.  “Look at me, Peter.”

Peter felt like gravity itself fought against his gaze, and strained to raise his eyes.

Jesus placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

The surf broke upon the beach as the tears broke from his eyes.  “You know everything!” he cried.  “You know I love you!”

“Do you know you love me?”

Peter was silent, but for his sniffling nose and the stifled grunts of a sob.

“I denied you!  I denied you!” he wept.  “I’m sorry!  I’m no better than him.  I’m so sorry!  I don’t want you to love me like this.  Please!”

Jesus held the weeping man.  “Too late, Peter.  You’ve welcomed me three times.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Betrayed, Abandoned

The weight of his betrayal was crushing him.

He had been the one who had felt abandoned, forced into the background of friendship by the others.  He thought he could force his hand, and somehow return himself to his place of honour at his friend’s side.  He thought his friend would finally rise up, finally fight back and show his strength.  He didn’t.

The moment after he kissed his friend’s cheek, he knew it wasn’t going to go that way.

Despair was now a strangely comforting blanket he wrapped tightly around himself.  He walked out into the night, numb, and cold, the thirty silver coins shaking in the purse held by his trembling hand.


The weight of his friend’s betrayal sunk his heart like ballast. Forgiveness was here, waiting, if he would only come and receive it.  He hung there, high above the gawking crowd who had gathered for the execution, and searched each face for the face of his friend.

If only he would come, I could tell him.


His betrayal might have gone unnoticed, had a rooster not crowed.  He might have justified it to himself, told himself he was only trying to lay low so that he could be near.  The rooster told him otherwise.  Clear and shrill, it sang the coarse and cutting song.  Denial.  Betrayal.  It stole the breath from his throat, and he ran away, and wept bitterly.


If only he would only come, I could tell him.

He looked upon the faces of the ones gathered here before him, like the sheep and the goats awaiting their judgement.  He saw the faces of his friends in his mind’s eye, and loved them.  He saw the faces of his accusers, of the ones who had condemned him.  An ocean of broken people broke upon his heart, each one condemned to death by a billion separate judges.  Peter and Judas stood out.

“Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

If only they would come, I could tell them.


He looked upon the field below him, standing on the branch of the lone tree which he had climbed.  The rope scratched his neck, and his hand played at it without thought.  He stood carefully upon the limb, steadying himself by another branch.  The grass is tall, he thought absently.  It’ll be a long time before anyone finds me.

He pronounced himself Judge of his own soul, and found it guilty, punishable by death.  He stepped out from the limb, and the weight of his guilt doubled gravity.

Friday, July 09, 2010

I Came for the Sick

He could hardly stand the loneliness.  It seemed to come over him like an overwhelming, shadowy hand, death-like in its silence and terrifying in its completeness.  His chest would begin to constrict as his heart raced out of control.  He would try to breathe, until his attack subsided, and then he would pray for sleep to come quickly.  A stiff drink or three helped to answer his prayers.

The morning brought a routine, and a day with enough busyness to keep the loneliness at bay.  Each day he sat at his desk, a morning snifter safely in his hardening belly, and each day he would count.  There was safety in numbers, but each night it was the same.



A sleep-inducing drunk.


For years now, despair had been forming like a parasite, consuming him from within.  Each night, it fed upon him in the moments before sleep came.  It brought someone to his mind for him to hate, or to lament, or both.  He thought of his father, and wept.  He thought of his father, and raged.





His illness began to come upon him in his working hours, and panic would shoot up from the pit of his stomach like a geyser.  To quell it required a quick drink, just enough to keep from throwing up, and he could return to his numbers.

Today he sat at his desk, counting his money in a dull buzz.  He had counted it twice already, but it was an unusually slow day and he needed to keep his hands moving.  He heard the familiar squeak of turning wheels, the bray of an ox, and the shuffle of feet.

He raised his eyes to see a group approaching, mostly on foot.  They looked dirty, but who didn’t around here?  He counted sixteen, eleven men and five women.  Several were laughing together.  They looked happy.  He hated them.

The man in the lead approached his desk.

“How many are in your group?” Levi asked.

“Uh... fifteen?”

“Sixteen,” Levi corrected, and scribbled down the number.

“Sixteen, then,” the man said.

“How many oxen?”

The man looked back.  “Unless you have an extra under your desk, just that one.  Right there.”

“How many axles on the cart?”

“Just one.”


“This lovely town of yours right here, actually.”

Somewhere, a dog barked.

“Reason for your trip?” Levi asked.

“The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Levi looked up from his paper.  “Excuse me?”

“The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Isn’t that great?” he smiled.

Levi paused for a long moment to assess the stranger. He expected to see eyes lit with lunacy, but instead saw something entirely different.  These eyes were unnervingly sane.  If he had seen such things as compassion or ferocity before, he might have called it one of these.  Instead, he had only an unnamed feeling of love and danger.  He felt something rising up within him that felt like hope and fear and longing, and repressed a particularly acidic belch.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Jesus, from Nazareth.” the stranger answered.

The geyser in his stomach lurched upward again, but this time he couldn’t keep it down.  A golden-brown stream erupted from his mouth and onto his desk, covering the money he had recently counted in an acrid breakfast.

Levi looked up at the stranger, Jesus.

“So you’ve heard of me?” Jesus said.

A strange and unexpected sound came out of Levi’s mouth, something between a whimper, a laugh, and a sob.  His vomit ran down his chin and covered his quivering hands. He looked up into the face of this Jesus.  He was smiling, though he was taking no delight in Levi’s humiliation.  His eyebrows formed little ‘u’s of sincerity.  The ‘u’s were too much.  He lost all control, or perhaps unexpectedly let go of it.  Levi began to weep, and snort, and blubber like a child.

“I’m sick!” said Levi.  “I’m... so... sick!!”  And he began to wail.

Jesus’s friends stood at a distance, their sixteen faces a row of stunned silence.  The ox brayed.

Jesus came around the desk, and sat beside him.  He placed one hand upon his shoulder, and the other one into the vomit-covered hand of the weeping toll collector.  Levi looked up at his unexpected consoler.  This Jesus was still smiling, but there were tears in his eyes, too.

“Follow me,” Jesus said.  “I’ll help you get better.”

Levi, shaking, sniffing, dripping, got up, and followed.

Monday, July 05, 2010