“The boss would like to see you now.”
They pushed Freddie through the empty Italian diner and sat him down in front of Moses Maggio. He was finishing up a plate of Mama’s Meatballs. Freddie sat down staring at the red and white checkered table cloth as Moses picked up his napkin and wiped the red sauce off the corner of his mouth.
Freddie was afraid of Moses. Moses was a hero to his people. He lead them out of Italy to this amazing land of the free. Moses also spoke for the Godfather. No one but Moses saw the Godfather. The Godfather set all the rules for the community. Many doubted the existence of the Godfather, some said Moses was making him up to keep order. Those who spoke against Moses were often taken care of and made as an example.
“I have heard some troubling news about you, Freddie” spoke Moses with a raspy whisper.
Freddie shuffled in his chair waiting to hear the charges laid against him.
Moses reached over and caressed Freddie’s cheek. “Have I not been kind to you? Have I not provided you protection? A place to live? Food to eat? A family to belong to? All I ask is that a few rules be followed.”
Moses pulled his hand away and sat back in his chair, placing his arms folded over his stomach. “What’s this I hear about you picking up sticks? Freddie, you know it’s the Sabbath. Yet, you openly defy me and the Godfather by strutting your ass up and down MY streets and picking up sticks? Freddie, your forcing my hand here.”
Freddie lifted up his hands in defense. “Moses! I didn’t know I couldn’t pick up sticks. I needed a little wood for my oven. My wife is cooking a big meal and we ran out of wood. I meant no disrespect!”
Moses sighed. “Hey, I don’t know what to tell ya. I’m going to go back to the kitchen and talk to the Godfather. I personally would love to let you off with a warning. But, it’s not what I want to do, it’s what the Godfather commands.”
With that Moses leaned on the table and pushed himself up. Moses wheezed as he walked to the kitchen, every step buckling under the weight of his body. Freddie watched every step waiting for one of Moses’ knees to blow out like an overinflated tire.
Five minutes passed as Freddie waited nervously. Moses came lumbering out. The momentum of his body carried him back to his seat in front of Freddie. As Freddie looked at Moses he noticed garlic bread crumbs around his mouth and neck of his shirt.
Moses cleared his throat. “Well, Freddie, the Godfather has spoken. He said we need to stone you.”
“WHAT?” screamed Freddie as he tried to stand up, but immediately two men from behind him grabbed his arms and restrained him. “This is insane! Did you even talk to the Godfather or did you just shove bread into your fat face?!”
As Freddie was yelling the men started to drag him out of the diner, knocking over tables and chairs. Freddie pulled himself out of the men’s arms that were dragging him. “How is it against the Godfathers law to pick up sticks to cook dinner for my family, yet it’s OK to pick up stones to kill a man? How is that fair, Moses?”
The men that were dragging Freddie hesitated to grab him. They wanted to hear Moses answer. The room got silent. Moses looked up from his plate. “I don’t make the rules, I just execute them. The Godfather has spoken. Unless we remain loyal to him, he’ll do to us what he did to the Sicilians.”
“No one has seen or heard the Godfather but you, Moses. Most of the people think your loosing your mind! You want me to believe you saw the Godfather in a burning olive bush? Oh wait… whats this…. I think the Godfather is speaking to me…” Freddie reached over and picked up a glass sitting on a table and put it up to his ear. “Yes, Godfather? He’s giving me a revelation. He’s telling me your full of shit!”
Moses stood up and flipped the table. The teetering fat man now appeared to be a towering behemoth. The room felt darker and heavier every step Moses took closer to Freddie. Moses grabbed Freddie’s shirt collar.
“You are the reason we stone people who pick up sticks. First you pick up sticks, then you question the law, then you question your boss, then you question the Godfather. People like you are an infection. A plague on our community. Getting rid of you is cutting off a gangrenous finger. Better for one to suffer than all die.”
Freddie stared at Moses in the eye. “The only thing your protecting us from is moving forward. You can continue to cut off parts of your body that you think are infectious. Eventually you’ll run out of parts to cut off. All that will be left is a stump on the ground. An abomination of a human being groveling in the dirt. As you lay in the dirt not able to walk or even feed yourself you’ll remember it started with your finger. That seemingly unimportant finger.”
Moses threw Freddie into the arms of his men. “Get him out here… you heard what the Godfather said…”
The two men looked at each other waiting to see what the other would do. Moses turned around and paused for a moment. “I don’t think I need to remind anyone here the penalty for not heeding a command of the Godfather, do I?”
The two men grabbed Freddie and dragged him out the front door.
I saw death once. He wasn’t as scary or intimidating as one would think. He wasn’t wearing black, his face was not a skull, he did not carry a sickle to harvest souls. No, that would be too obvious. He was on his front porch eating Campbell’s Spaghettios.
I was working construction with my dad. I was young at the time, too young to help. It was in the summertime and he took me along to get me out of the house. As I worked with him he told me he wanted me to meet someone. It was a man he made friends with. He lived in a trailer down the road. As my dad worked, he wanted me to sit with this man. He told me the man was blind and he needed company. I never met a blind person and the idea made me uncomfortable.
My dad lead me to the run down trailer and there he sat. I remember looking at his white hair, his stubbled face, and his disheveled flannel shirt. His eyes were blue, but an unnatural blue. He looked forward and ate his bowl of spaghettios. My dad introduced me to him and left to go back to his work.
I don’t remember anything we talked about. All I remember is looking at his face and feeling a fear, discomfort, and even disgust. He would lean in and talk to me and the smell of spaghettios would wash over my face. To this day when I look at a can of spaghettios I think of that man. I wanted to run back to my dad. With every sentence my stomach churned. Thankfully he was unaware of my discomfort. He was happy to have someone there to talk to.
What I saw that day was death and it frightened me. I saw mortality, I saw weakness. My mind that was filled with ideas of super-humans, super-heros, and American strength could not comprehend what I was looking at. Weakness, frailty, age, and poverty. I could deal with death as long as it looked like a spirit from another world. I could not deal with death when it looked human and natural.
Many years of my life I tried to fight my disgust of death. I hated him. I embraced ideas of heaven and hell, an afterlife that was void of all these flaws. Give me resurrection, give me divine health, give me miracles, but please keep me away from the man on the porch.
Then something happened in my heart. I started having compassion towards death. I remember the kindness death showed me on his front porch. Even though I was disgusted with him, he was willing to have a conversation with me. Death had something to say, death had a lesson to teach me. Death confronted me with my own mortality and weakness. Death made me realize how precious today was, and how valuable my heath is.
Death no longer disgusts me. We have become friends. He has taught me how to enjoy my children, how to enjoy my life, and how to embrace those in need. I no longer fear death. When I see him I hug him and spend time with him. I listen to his stories and learn and laugh. I hold a can of spaghettios and remember how fragile and short life is.
Jesus said unto him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.” Immediately the man was cured from his crippled legs and was able to walk.
Jesus left and the man stood there, staring at his legs amazed at the miracle that just took place.
“What the hell?” cried out a voice from his left.
The man looked to his left and saw Jethro sitting there with his arms flung open.
“Seriously Asher, what the hell? How is it you get healed and he walks past me? I’ve been here just as long as you!”
“Hey Jethro, I don’t know how it works. He just asked me if I wanted to get well, then he healed me. Isn’t this amazing?”
Jethro used crawled off his mat towards Asher and grabbed his leg. “I want to get well too! Who was that? What was his name? Can you find him for me?”
Asher looked around but couldn’t see the man. He didn’t recall the man telling him his name, and he couldn’t even recall what the man really looked like. It all happened so fast.
“I don’t see him. I guess I can go look…”
Jethro sighed. “Forget it. I’m happy for you. Maybe this was something God wanted for you. I don’t know. I’ll just wait here. Maybe he’ll come back. Maybe I’ll somehow throw myself into the pool when the waters get troubled…”
Asher unrolled his mat and sat down next to Jethro. Jethro looked confused. “What are you doing?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m doing. When I couldn’t walk, I didn’t have anyone to put me in the water when they were troubled. I had no one. Now I can walk. I can help you get into the water when it’s troubled, I can help you get healed. I’ll be your legs until you get a pair of your own.”
In that moment Jethro found his hope in Asher.
Thaddeus walked into his house and threw himself on his favorite chair. He ran his hands through his hair and gave a heavy sigh.
Sarah called out from the kitchen, “Is that you Thad? You know who I saw today? I saw Mary. You know what she told me…”
Thaddeus wasn’t listening. Her words seemed muted. The weight of the day was just too much for him. Sarah came out of the kitchen carrying on with her conversation. As soon as Sarah laid eyes upon Thaddeus, she knew something was wrong.
“Thad! What’s wrong honey?!?”
Thaddeus rubbed both hands on his face. “Today was the worst day of my life. Complete insanity.”
Sarah sat next to Thaddeus, placing her hand on his. “What happened? Did you not do good at the temple exchange today?”
“I was doing great! A lot of people were in the temple, the money exchanging was going great, then this commotion broke out. The next thing I knew, some preacher was flipping over my table! My money went everywhere. I don’t know what money was mine, what money was Philo’s! It’s a mess.”
Sarah sat there with her mouth open. “Someone flipped your table? Why?”
“Wish to God I knew! To top it off, the guy drove out all the animals. My money is somewhere between my table, the temple entrance, covered in animal shit. So I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
“Did they catch the preacher? What happened to him?”
“I don’t know Sarah. Everyone was scrambling. I should have been a fisherman…”
When Fredrick came back something seemed off. Fredrick warned Christopher not to go. He said that things were not quite as he hoped them to be. Christopher never considered Fredrick to be a man of strong faith. Christopher knew that what he was about to experience would strengthen his faith. He wanted to see the crucifixion of Jesus.
After the time displacement procedure Christopher found himself surrounded by a mob. Bodies were pushing up against him as he struggled to wiggle free for a breath of air. He propelled his body forward and underestimated the force he was using. The crowd gave and he found himself on the ground. As he looked up he found himself looking at a few men that were beat, battered, and bloody.
These men looked the same. Which one was Jesus? Which one of these men would be the sacrifice to save Christopher’s soul? Whose blood was worthy? As Christopher looked at these men grouped together, mob yelling, something strange stirred up inside of him. It was compassion.
His mind went to a video someone sent him in an e-mail once. It was a video of an American soldier that was captured by a terrorist cell group. They stripped him naked and beat him. He looked so helpless and so alone. Christopher remembered the rage that overcame him when he saw that video. He wondered where the justice was when he watched that video. It was the same thing he was feeling at this moment.
No! This wasn’t a moment of injustice. This was a moment of justice! This is the moment when mens sins would be forgiven, when the wrath of God would be satisfied, when union with the father would be possible!
One of the men threw up as the Roman soldiers started to nail him to the cross.
A song started to play in Christopher’s head, “And I’ll cherish the Old Rugged Cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down, And I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.”
He found it hard to say amen to that song in this moment. He found it hard to find anything to cling to or to cherish. This just seemed wrong.
No! He knew that this wasn’t wrong! This was necessary! He needed this to happen. Jesus had to die. Christopher and the rest of the world needed this to take place for the remission of sins.
A woman cried out for Jesus from the crowd. One of the battered men looked up helplessly. This had to be Jesus. He had not been crucified yet. As Christopher looked at him he couldn’t help but to notice the weakness, the helplessness, the heaviness. He looked like someone who needed help. Christopher wanted to help him.
A commotion broke out in the crowd. There was a lot of arguing, pushing, shoving and fighting. Christopher couldn’t see what was going on but he could hear it. The Roman soldiers were distracted as some of them went to investigate this disturbance.
Jesus was unattended. Wild thoughts went through Christopher’s mind. He could help Jesus. He could pull him into the crowd and get lost. He brought some devices from his time that could be used to get out of a tight spot. If he grabbed Jesus he could take him far away from this place. He could even nurse him back to health!
At that moment, Christopher’s faith rose up within him. No. To do so would doom the whole world. Christopher could not let his compassion get in the way of what he knew had to happen. Jesus has to die.
The Roman soldiers subdued the brawl quickly. They started to prepare Jesus for crucifixion. One of the women from the crowd cried out, “Why? Why? This is not right! Someone have mercy upon him!”
A man next to Christopher scoffed at the woman’s pleas. He was wearing what appeared to be priestly robes. Christopher’s blood ran cold. This was one of the men who sentenced Jesus to death. If only he knew who he sentenced to death. Christopher turned to the man and was about to say something when he heard the man respond to the woman, “Jesus has to die.”
A chill ran down Christopher’s spine.
“Your not preaching the bible… your gospel is irresponsible… God is not just love but also justice… Jesus preached more on hell than any other topic…”
All those thoughts ran through his head as he stood before the judgement seat of God. To his left were people weeping, full of sorrow and regret. To his right were those righteous saints who warned Caleb all those years that he was preaching false doctrine. They stared him down with arms crossed, shaking their head with tight lips as if to say, “We told you so.”
An angel open the book of works to which every man would be judged, from the least to the greatest. “Caleb, you have spread lies about God. You have told them of a God too accepting, a God too loving, a God too fatherly. Yes, those are attributes of God but you neglected to warn people of hell. You neglected to preach the necessity of confessing your sin, asking for forgiveness, and believing for salvation. The work of Jesus you preached was too inclusive. You relied on grace and love. Your gospel was too compassionate.”
Caleb threw up his arms in protest. “Are you kidding me?! Where is Jesus? Where is my heavenly father?!”
Jesus approached Caleb with an embarrassed look on his face. Jesus cleared his throat and shuffled around for a moment. “Yeah, Caleb, I’m sorry. You did make us out to be better than we really were. Am I loving? Yes! Accepting? Sure! But only to those who choose me! You followed your heart too much, you relied to much on your own sense of morality. We are good, just a different kind of good. Not your kind of good.”
Caleb rubbed his face in frustration. “I made you out to be too good? I relied on my morality? What the hell is going on here?!”
“Caleb,” announced the angel behind the books with a thundering voice. “You were sincere in what you taught, mistaken but sincere. We have decided to extend you mercy and give you a chance to repent and renounce the gospel you preached.”
A chance to repent. A chance to renounce. Caleb thought over these options. He looked to the people on his left weeping, he looked to the people on his right eagerly waiting for his response.
“If what I spoke about you is untrue, than I would rather spend eternity in hell. I cannot imagine being with a God who would allow all these people to suffer for age upon age. I have to be honest, I was hoping I was wrong about you. I was hoping you would have been better than I preached. I will not renounce my gospel. If its not good news to those people who stand on my left, than its not the gospel.”
The angel behind the books heard this from a few people already. Every time it saddened him. How unfortunate that Gods creation became more compassionate and moral than God himself. How unfortunate that the unchanging God could not keep up with the gospel Caleb was preaching.
The angel slammed his gavel and Caleb was ushered to the left. The angel turned the page of the book of works. “Would Michael approach the judgement seat…”
Fredrick stood before a group of men. He thought it would have been easy to spot Jesus his Lord and Savior but all the men looked the same. He knew that Jesus wasn’t going to have blond hair and blue eyes. He didn’t know how brown these first century Jews were going to be. As he stood there he waited for one of them to stand out, to glow, to start floating, to do something miraculous. Nothing happened.
Fredrick could understand the language they were speaking. It must have had something to do with the time displacement procedure. The group of men were speaking about various topics. A few were speaking about the newest Roman conquests, some were speaking on plans during the next festival, and some were just talking.
As Fredrick looked around he noticed he was standing on a countryside road. It must have been a connecting road between two cities. Fredrick approached the men, they seemed to not notice him standing there. Fredrick cleared his throat to get their attention. One of the men who was more listening to a conversation than engaging in one, turned to Fredrick and raised his eyebrow.
“Excuse me. I’m looking for Jesus.”
“He’s preoccupied right now.”
Of course, Fredrick thought. Jesus must be healing someone, casting out a demon, or deep in prayer. Why were these men not with Jesus during these miraculous events? Fredrick concluded it must be because of their little faith. “I would like to see him now. I’ve come a long way and would like to be involved in what he’s doing at this moment.”
The man stared blankly at Fredrick and replied, “He had some bad fish in the last town and is taking a shit… I think he would like his privacy. He can wipe his own ass!”
A few of the men laughed and Fredrick blushed in embarrassment. These men seemed very rough and crass. These couldn’t be the twelve he read about in the gospels. It had to be a joke. Jesus couldn’t have a stomach flu. God can’t get sick.
A man approached the group. He looked a little under the weather. His forehead was dotted with sweat beads. He was holding his stomach with one of his hands. He patted the back of one of his companions and said, “Alright, let’s move!”
The group continued on with their conversations as they began to walk down the road. Fredrick quickly stepped up to the front and started to examine the man he assumed to be Jesus. He was shorter than most of the other men in the group. His clothing was spotted with dirt around the hem and some food stains could be spotted around the collar. His hair was matted. As he watched Jesus speak to one of his disciples he noticed black dots on Jesus’ teeth. It looked like Jesus had some tooth decay.
There was a larger group down the road that Jesus was approaching with his disciples. Finally, he would see some action. There were two groups of people arguing over something about a temple. Fredrick had no idea what they were arguing about. Jesus then spoke up and started asking questions to both groups. He was talking about mercy over sacrifice, then went into something about forgiveness and loving each other. Both groups seemed to be challenged by what he was saying, but it didn’t move Fredrick the way he thought it would. Fredrick had heard better preaching on Christian Television.
This Jesus then approached a lame man in the crowd. Finally some real action! Fredrick knew that a miracle would soon take place. Jesus sat down next to the lame man and opened up a sack that he carried slung around his shoulder. He pulled out some food and some coins and gave it to the man. Jesus then kissed this man and told everyone how the least is the greatest…
This seemed to hush the crowd. This man whom everyone ignored in the heat of the argument, Jesus noticed. It seemed like everyone was ashamed of themselves in a sense, and yet a healing was happening. Fredrick didn’t see this lame man walk, but he did see everyone notice the lame man instead of pretending he wasn’t there.
Fredrick did witness a miracle. Jesus wasn’t anything he thought he was. Jesus disappointed him in appearance, disappointed him in his wonder working, and disappointed him in his preaching. He showed Fredrick a God that was not very impressive at all. He was dirty, surrounded himself with crude people, and has physical weaknesses. But what this Jesus did with that lame man seemed to transcend the moment.
Jesus was a human. Jesus was a common human. Jesus had flaws in Fredrick eyes. This scared Fredrick, but also gave him hope.