The Preexis T en T Chris T
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. —Revelation 21:6
“And the rest of the Christians?” John prompted.
“A few left with us. Most stayed. Believers in Jesus are divided now. When my father died a few days later, only a few friends quietly joined in mourning and left quickly, before being noticed. We had no processional. I myself prepared his body with spices and linens and laid him in a cave, hoping he would be undiscovered.”
John bowed his head. “And so, your father wanted his bones returned here.”
“It matters little what he wanted. Christians may no longer bury their dead in the cemeteries there. Ruth’s mother offered to let me lay his bones here.”
John glanced at Ruth, his suspicion confirmed that she and Matthew were well acquainted. A puzzling relationship, indeed.
“Ruth and her uncle came to Antioch when they heard of my father’s death,” Matthew explained. “Remember, Ruth and her mother settled into this house, once my father’s home, when we left Ephesus so many years ago. Up there”—Matthew pointed at the rooftop—“that’s where I sat with my father until sunset, on my thirteenth birthday, while he told me about your vision. Say, where is your mother, Ruth?”
“Sleeping, I hope, in the house. She has taken ill.” “Oh, I’m sorry. I should visit her before I leave.” “Please do.”
John steered the conversation back on course. “So you came here to Ephesus with Ruth and her uncle, bringing back your father’s bones.” “We just arrived today. Ruth came on home while I went first to settle my donkey into a public stable. Had I known I would find you here …”
John smiled, pretending no offense and hoping to lighten the tension. “Will you now go back to Antioch?”
“I don’t know,” Matthew admitted. “I have nothing to return to. I am a Jew, John! To be severed from our people, from the beliefs of our ancestors, leaves me without social ties—from everything that gives a Jew meaning in life. I am, for the first time, alone.”
“As am I.”
“No, you’re not alone!” Matthew snapped. “You don’t understand at all. They love you here, John.”
“It’s not love, Matthew. It’s a kind of twisted respect. They call me a prophet. Some in awe, others in derision.”
“You call yourself a prophet. You claim to prophesy.”
John shrugged. “I speak to you in a whisper now, Matthew. Fifteen years I have lived here among Gentiles. Fifteen years with the followers of Paul.”
Matthew said nothing and let the old man continue.
“It would not be good for others to hear what I now confess. Here, I have found God again. I have found him and have discovered him to be far greater than I imagined. That is why we write again.”
Still, Matthew said nothing.
“Do you see that cluster of people there?” John pointed with a nod, and Matthew followed his gaze. A handful of men huddled with their wives beside the stone fence at the edge of the courtyard, children playing round their feet. Jews and Gentiles both.
“John …” Ruth cautioned, shaking her head.
He ignored her. “They are watching to see if I will die.” Matthew shot Ruth a puzzled look. She bit her lip and sighed.
“They expected the Messiah to return before I die. Christians, they are, but I have lost their faith.”
“John, our people are disappointed, that’s all,” Ruth offered. “Too many times, now, we have expected the glory of God to arrive, and it hasn’t. Their hope wanes, waiting for the Messiah. Yet they still honor you.”
“Do they?” When an old man sneers, even the vipers haste away. “You!” John called across the courtyard. “And you! Come, carry your prophet to the rooftop, where I may enjoy my conversation without stares.”
“No, Father,” one called back, pointing to the west. “We cannot,
until the sun steps upon the rooftops. We cannot carry you on the Sabbath.”
“They address me as Father, but they consider me senile,” John complained. “Fools!” he called back. “Of course today is the Sabbath! Yesterday was the Sabbath! Tomorrow will be the Sabbath! Carry me now!”
His audience shook their heads together. Women looked ready to cry, children sniffled or sniggered, depending upon their age. “Soon,” one of the men promised.
“Do you see? I am as alone as you. Yet we don’t have to be alone, Matthew, you and I! Not at all. The Christ wishes to dwell in us.”
“Our Christ is dead.” Matthew spat the words as four separate invectives.
“No, Matthew, our Christ lives. How did Paul put it? ‘Christ has existed from the beginning, from before the creation of the world.’”
“Paul said no such thing! My father read to me all the letters of Paul! We know Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary.”
Ruth spoke next, hoping to thwart the tension that seemed to be bubbling up between these two turbulent men. “Another letter from Paul has recently surfaced, Matthew. This time, written to the city of Colossae.”
“And you really think Paul wrote it?” Matthew scoffed. “Paul died thirty years ago.”
“It bears not only his name, but his spirit. ‘He is the visible likeness of the invisible God’, this letter claims.”
“Who is? Paul?”
“No,” Ruth smiled. “Our Lord Jesus. ‘For through Christ, God created everything in heaven and on earth. God created the whole universe through him and for him. Christ existed before all things.’”
Matthew stood dumbfounded. This didn’t sound like Paul at all. “‘For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.’” “Ruth,” John interrupted. “Sing the hymn for Matthew.”
“Sing?” Ruth winced. Mud-plastered stone fenced the courtyard but didn’t do much for privacy, the wall being only about four feet tall. Neighboring homes, their dwellers audibly and visibly present, stood but a few feet beyond the wall in every direction. From an upper window to the south, Ruth could hear a family praying loudly to Zeus. To the west, a man stood to salute someone in the name of Domitian Caesar. A Roman visitor must have wandered by, outside Ruth’s line of vision. “Now? Must I?”
“Please. The hymn I taught you.”
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Genre – Religion / Christianity
Rating – G
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