June 28, 2005

The Preacher's Comeback

Once there was a wonderful preacher. He came from a poor family and no one knew much about his early life, so he must have had some kind of special gift to do the things he did. Some people said he’d spent his young manhood in the desert with the holy men, learning their visions and their healing arts.

He had a cousin who was a preacher too. This cousin was loud and flashy. He went around shouting to crowds about how they had to change their ways before the end of the world came. He told them they’d better get ready. Meanwhile he himself was looking around for the thing he was ready for.

The cousin talked to the young man. Told him, You’ve got something special. Come on the road with me. But they must have had some kind of fight or something, or else the cousin got jealous, because the young man decided to go on the road by himself.

Right away he found that he was good at it. It wasn’t like he’d never had any practice – speaking to the elders and the holy men and their students – but this was something new. He would come into a town and start talking quietly to anyone who was there. No flashy style like his cousin. And people started following him. Not many, but those who did follow him thought he was the greatest. They couldn’t bear to be out of his sight.

It was like he was picking up strays: tramps male and female, loafers in bars, tax collectors. They all of a sudden started acting good.

He would talk to people and lay his hands on them and they would feel better. They would feed him and his followers. Man, did those guys like to eat and drink, and then they were off to the next town.

There were lots of preachers and healers wandering around in those days. It was a regular industry. Everyone was expecting something really special to happen, something to shake things up. This guy healed too: someone even said he’d brought a guy back from the dead. But that wasn’t the main thing.

There was something about his voice and his looks and the way he acted, always so calm and with a little smile, but distant, like he really belonged somewhere else. And he said things that went right into you. Some of them were things you’d never heard before, so you’d turn to your neighbor and say, “Where’d he get this stuff?” Even the things that had been said before, he said better than anyone else, so simply that you could remember it. When he spoke, it was like you’d cupped your hands and pure, clean, sunlit water was poured into them.

When he went into the big town with his little group of followers, no one much noticed at first. Then he started making trouble at the temple and getting wise with the authorities. They checked him out, put him through the usual questioning, and he just shrugged them off, gave them doubletalk. It was bound to raise their suspicions. It was like he was asking for trouble.

A rumor went around that they wanted to arrest him, so he and his group melted into the populace for a little while. But a guy like that can’t hide forever. It’s like trying to hide a box that’s got the sun inside it.

Finally one of his own followers turned him in for a little cash. Who knows, maybe this creep had been looking for some other kind of leader. Just goes to show, the preacher didn’t choose his followers all that well.

The poor guy. Here he was, going around preaching goodness, and the next thing he knows he’s whisked up by soldiers, jailed, scourged – you don’t want to know the details. Got more than he bargained for.

The government back then was stringing up anyone they didn’t like the looks of. This guy got the full treatment, nails and all. The word must have come down from somewhere.

His followers were in shock. They couldn’t believe it. Hung up there with common criminals, and helpless -- they’d expected him to fly off the cross or something, to save himself. Afterwards, they scattered so the same thing wouldn’t happen to them. It was dicey: people pointing them out along the way, and they having to deny it.

They went back to their safe house and just sat their stunned. They didn’t know what to say, what to do. It was all over. All that preaching for nothing. He wasn’t the real thing after all. They felt deceived -- betrayed not only by that little creep they thought was their friend, but by their leader. They’d given up their old lives for him, and now he was gone, thrown away like a dirty rag by authorities who didn’t even waste a second thought on him.

Utter despair. They started making their separate private plans to go back to their old lives, their taverns and doorways.

Then one of them came in from outside and said that the preacher’s body was gone from the tomb. Later, another one came in and said that people had been seeing the preacher. That’s right, seeing him like he was alive. Like he’d brought himself back from the dead.

The stories spread like wildfire. Soon, people who’d never seen or heard the preacher were talking about how he’d come back from the dead and was going to come back still another time to make everything perfect. There are lots of stories around -- people love rumors -- but this one didn’t die, it kept spreading, and people kept adding to it. People who’d never heard of the guy while he was alive started become his most devoted followers. They were so convinced of it, they convinced others and it never stopped.

They talked about his resurrection. But what really got resurrected was their movement. His teachings could have died with him on the cross, but they came back to life stronger than ever. No one would ever have expected it. One of the strangest things that ever happened. A real rebirth, as plain as day. The church they made around him: that was his real resurrection.