Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Do You Say That I Am?

“But you.  Who do you say that I am?”

Simon’s eyes had been studying the ground at his feet.  Until now the conversation had been distant and abstract to him.  He had little care for the masses’ political or religious theories of who this man was.  He could not care less if people thought that Elijah or Jeremiah had risen from their metaphorical graves or that John the Baptist had found his head again.  This man, before anything else, was simply the closest friend he ever had.  He also knew he was much more than a good friend to a boozing fisherman.  He was something more, something distinct, something exceptional.

They played a part, but the miracles hadn’t proven this to him.  It wasn’t the sermons he gave, or the crowds of people who pushed and screamed just to get a handful of his cloak.  It was something much more elemental.  It was how he held the withered hand of a man worth nothing, how he held it as if he’d made the man himself.  It was how he’d looked at that mess of a woman he’d met at the well, and spoken to her as if she were his own daughter.  It was how he had looked into Simon’s own eyes, that first day they met, and said with unnerving simplicity, “Follow me.”

It was written in his eyes.  It was murmured beneath his every action.  It was palpable in an unearthly love, frightening in its boundlessness.  Being near him was like standing at the foot of a mountain, like staring down from the edge of a cliff.

Who do you say that I am?

The question hung in silence in the air around them.  They were sure of who the crowds thought he was, but who was he to them?   A symbol of the coming revolution?  An escape from an average life?  A means to an end?  

Who do you say that I am?

Simon’s gaze kept hold of the ground as he broke the silence, his imposing frame still as a boulder, his voice small and simple.  “You are the Christ,” he said.  “The Son of the Living God.”  When he raised his eyes to meet the Master’s, gravity stole tears from his eyelids.

Jesus held Simon’s eyes with his own, and smiled.  He placed his hands on Simon’s shoulders.

“Bless you, Simon son of Jonah.  Flesh and blood hasn’t revealed this to you.  All these things that you can see and touch haven’t shown you this.  My heavenly Father has.  He’s whispered it in your ear and you’ve heard him speak.”

Water brimmed in the Messiah’s eyes.  He had often spoken of a kingdom.  Here, in the circle of his closest friends, someone finally understood its rule.

There were mutterings arising, whispered thoughts about who would be the right-hand-man when the revolution happened.  Soon there would be open arguing.  Simon never bothered with them.  He never thought himself worthy of such lofty positions anyway.  He was just a man with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mount Sinai, who was letting love carve it into something beautiful.  Somehow this wreck of a working man understood that at the heart of this Kingdom was a King, the heart of that King was Love, and this Love was standing before him.  A man changed as Simon was would remember that, now and forever.

Jesus, standing almost an inch shorter than this human mountain, smiled up at him.

“So I say this to you, my dear, close friend: I’ve been calling you The Boulder...”

Simon smirked abashedly.  Jesus squeezed his shoulder.

“...but this isn’t just a nickname.  It’s your true name.  You are Peter, the Rock, the Boulder, and on this Rock I will build my community of love, my people of the Kingdom.”

Peter did not look away.

“The kingdom of darkness and death shall never be able to withstand it, Peter.  You will storm its gates with love, and those gates will fall beneath your feet.  

“I trust you, Peter.  I trust you as Pharaoh trusted Joseph.  When the time comes, I’ll hand you my signet ring and entrust you with the keys to Heaven’s Kingdom.  Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”

Peter shuddered a little, like a man before a mountain, like a man at the edge of a cliff.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Lift My Eyes to the Hills.

He fell for a third time.  His friend fell with him.

He tasted the dirt upon his blood-stained lips, and used all his strength to try to bring himself to his hands and knees.  But the cross upon his back was too heavy, and he fell to his face and tasted the dirt once again.

It’s lighter than I expected, he had thought when it was first placed upon his shoulders.  But its heaviness had grown with each step, and doubled with each fall.  He felt it crushing the breath out of him, and tears of defeat ran from his eyes.  A voice came to him from somewhere else, but somewhere close.  It seemed to the voice a friend whispering in his ear.

It’s alright, it said.  Just let it end here.  You’ve done enough.

The idea was more tempting than anything he’d yet faced.  But a deeper voice rose up from within him.  No, it said.  This will be worth it.  Keep going.

A prayer moved almost silently upon his lips.  “Father, help me.  Please help me keep walking.”

The weight upon his back shifted, and was lifted from him.  It felt to him as great a miracle as any he had performed.  The man beside him, forced into service as he was, the man who had been walking with him for some time now, had lifted the cross.  Jesus looked to his right at the friend who was a stranger just a short time before.  The man’s eyes met his, and gave him a nod that said, “I have this.  Try again.”

Sand dug into his bloodied elbows and knees as he slowly raised himself up.  In a moment, he was back on his trembling feet.  He set his face like flint upon his destination, gave his friend a nod, and they began, slowly, to walk together.

His legs burned with strain at each step, as though his calves were made of lead.  He paused as his left foot stopped upon a wide, smooth stone.  He felt his heel shake involuntarily as he placed weight upon it to lift his right foot.  His companion sensed his struggle, and strained himself to take more of the weight, his arms trembling with tension.  The weight of the load was lightened.

“Come on,” his friend said.  “We can do this.”

It was the first the man had spoken to him.

“What is… your name?” Jesus asked through gasping breaths.

“Simon,” the man said.

A smile broke through Jesus’s bloodied face.  “I know… a Simon.  At least… he used to be.”  Something close to a laugh escaped his throat.

“I’m sure he’s a good man,” said Simon as he carefully took another step forward.

“He is.  But he doesn’t… know it yet.”  He looked up toward the top of the hill.  “It looks… much higher… from down here,” he said.  

His head pounded with pain.  He felt dizziness descend in spirals from the top of his head.  He willed his leg to move forward, and felt himself on the brink of another tumble.

Simon steadied him, and spoke something familiar.  “I lift my eyes to the hills…  From where will my help come?”

It took a moment to realize he was reciting something.  Jesus met Simon’s steady green eyes for a long moment.  He spoke in response through his pain.  “My help comes from the Lord…  the maker of heaven and earth.”  His voice was as torn as the rest of him.

“God will not allow your foot to slip,” said Simon, again lifting as much as he could of the weight of the wood from his friend’s shoulder.  “Your guardian does not sleep.”  He took another step forward.

Jesus’s left heel again began to shake violently as exhaustion threatened to take him again.  “Truly…” he said, his voice a coarse whisper, “the guardian of Israel… never slumbers nor sleeps.”

Together, they took several more steps in silence.  Simon took one more, and paused.  He laughed.  “I… can never remember… the next verse!” he confessed.

Jesus smiled weakly.  “The Lord  is your guardian.”

“The Lord is your guardian,” Simon recovered.  “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

At this, they both seemed to notice the striking heat of the nearly noonday sun.  It beat upon them in a steady beam, burning itself into their skin like a cattle brand.

“The sun cannot harm you by day,” continued Jesus, through something like a smile.  “nor the moon by night.”

They kept walking, creeping up the crest of the hill, as Simon began to speak the final words of the psalm.  “The Lord will guard you from all evil… will always guard your life.”  They came to the top.  Tears washed tracks through the dust on Simon’s face, as his left hand moved from the beam of wood to his friend’s shoulder.

Jesus set his eyes upon Simon’s.  “The Lord will guard your coming and going…  both now and forever.”  

This, indeed, was a promise.

The cross fell from their shoulders to the sand with a thud, covering them for a moment in a cloud of dust.  Jesus remembered the cloud that had met him not so long ago, on another hilltop, one that had been easier to climb.  His friend, the other Simon, had wanted to stay there.  One day, he would.  But that was later, after this hill, after this climb.

The cloud passed, and he did not fall.  Trembling, he knelt upon his knee, and kissed the cross that lay before him.  He felt again his friend’s hand upon his shoulder.  He lifted a hand to the one resting there.  He looked into the face of his companion.

“Thank-you,” he said.  “Thank-you.”

Simon’s green eyes shone out to him.  

“It is my honour,” he said, “to walk beside you.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


His children were still asleep when he left for work this morning.  He kissed his little boy in the early light, pressed his lips to his little girl’s sandy hair, and said, “I love you” in a whisper no louder than the morning breeze.

His wife, even more beautiful in the faint morning light than she always was, took his hands in hers and kissed him by the front door.

“Have a good day,” she told him.

“As long as I have you to come home to,” he told her.

He kissed her one more time, and opened the front door.  The air that greeted him was crisp and cool, and he took a deep breath.  He began the long walk to work, amid the busyness of the city’s streets.  The front-door shops seemed to rub their eyes and yawn and stretch to welcome the day.  Food sizzled over open fires as the two-table restaurants opened for breakfast.  He breathed deeply of the smell of frying eggs.

A street dog scampered alongside him, and he nodded a hello.  The dog stayed with him for a full block, before finding a more interesting scent in a small pile by the roadside.  He nodded good-bye, and he lifted his eyes to a sight that pleased him every morning.

She stood at the front door of her shop, which was also the front door of her home, sweeping yesterday’s dust from her steps.

“Good morning.”  His voice was pleasant, but the smile in his mouth didn’t quite reach his lips.  It didn’t go with the uniform.

“Good morning.”

She paused as he walked by, resting her hand on the broom handle.  She couldn’t help but let her eyes linger as he walked by.  That uniform looked great.

He arrived at work and let the captive smile go free to greet his coworkers.  He enjoyed his work, stressful as it could be, because he liked the men he worked with.  They could count on each other.  They were a family.  He knew that was a rare gift, and said a prayer of thanks every day.  He and his coworkers always shared a joke and a laugh with each other as they went about the business of their day.  It was one way of coping with “The Element”.

“The Element,” he called them.  As in, “The unseemly element”.  The riffraff.

And he dealt with society’s most unseemly Elements, in a long succession, every day.  Their faces, though many, seemed to take on one, generic face.  Dirty, suspicious, and afraid.  He administered his role to them equitably, though, and even with some pleasure

He approached the stone wall where his tools hung awaiting his able hands.  The handle was cleaned meticulously every night (a thoroughly relaxing experience), and he enjoyed the sheen of the shining leather in the morning sunlight.  He lifted it from the wall and approached the small, open-air, walled area he liked to call “The Workshop.”

A man sat at a desk, pen in hand, ready to give instruction.  The Element stood in the open area, looking as it usually did: tired, dirty, and to him, quite guilty.  This one looked particularly bedraggled, and he chuckled a little to the man at the desk.

“He looks like he’s been through it already!” he said.  “What can we do for him?”

“Forty minus one.” the man at the desk said blandly.

“Forty minus one.” he repeated.  

He smiled, and set about his work.