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If Jesus came today

19 April 2009

Having just completed Holy Week, I was intrigued by this interesting and thoughtful post by Calacirian: How would we know?

If Jesus had been incarnate today, where are circumstances similar to Jerusalem in AD 33?

If Washington DC is latter day Rome, I asked him, “then where would latter day Israel be?” We talked through what some of the qualifications would need to be. It needs to be a place that is under military occupation, where the local religion is suspect and maybe quelled for rebellion/terrorism, where the local culture is also viewed with suspicion. The obvious answer was either Iraq or Afghanistan. A runner up might be Mexico or Columbia … however, they are not under military occupation.

An interesting thought, which leads to another

So my question today as we reflect on Dark Friday and the Cross, is if it were happening now, how would we know? How would we hear the news? How would we members of the empire hear of and respond to the news of a Jesus in a rebellious colony?

Reflecting on that reminds me of a book I read several years ago,The Davidson affair by Stuart Jackman. In that the events of Good Friday are seen through the eyes of a TV reporter, sent from the Imperial Broadcasting Corporation to investigate reports of strange events in a hick provincial outpost of empire. The narrator is a worldly-wise TV reporter, Cass Tennel, who has seen it all, and yet gets intrigued by the story, and suspects that there has been a cover-up. The setting is the biblical one, but assuming that modern communications technology was available then. Oe of my favourite scenes is the interview with Pontius Pilate

The secretary brought him in and made the introductions. Pilate shook hands and gave us what was obviously his number one Public Relations smile. In his middle fiities, bulky and upright in a dark lounge suit and a white shirt with the coveted blue and gold tie of the Praetorian Guard, he looked the epitome of authority, his silver-grey hair brushed back in wings, the straight Roman nose supporting a broad forehead. Seen in a long shot on some state occasion, or briefly at a Summit Conference, he had sufficient physical presence to appear impressive. But face to face and in close-up his eyes betrayed him. They were brown and a little too small for his face, and sly. It was not the slyness of the shrewd negotiator accustomed to taking the jackpot whatever his hand, but a slyness born of bewilderment and failure, as though a thirteen-year-old boy, trapped in the uncertainly of adolescence, lived inside that distinguished body and peered out at the world from his prison of fear. Here was a man who would ask questions not to discover the truth, but simply to gain time to wriggle out of a dilemma; a man who would fumble in a crisis and then put his foot down hard on some trivial issue.We settled him behind the table with the crowded bookshelves as a backdrop, did a biref voice-level test; switched on the ligths and began.

“Lord Pilate,” I said, “would you care to comment on this new crisis?”

He responded immediately to the title. Relaxed and smiling, he radiated confidence. “Certainly, Mr Tennel. But it’s not a crisis, you know. Nothing like one. Everything is under control. There’s absolutely no cause for alarm. None whatever.”

“That’s good to know sir. But there is this rumour about Jesus Davidson…”

He came down quickly on that. “Davidson’s dead. Dead and buried. I can see no point in discussing it now.”

But I was not to be warned off quite so easily. “The rumour is, sir, that he’s alive again.”

His smile altered subtly, beciomeing one of amused tolerance. “Alive again? O come now, Mr Tennel, reallly you know…”

“Still alive, put it that way.”

He leaned forward, clasping his hands on the table, his face suddenly grave. “Mr Tennel, he was executed by soldiers of the Tenth Legion. They’re not amateurs, you know. They’re some of the toughest troops in the Roman Army. When they kill a man, he’s dead and he stays dead.”

“I quite agree. On the other hand, the rumour is very persistent.”

“But of course,” — and back came the smile, dead on schedule — “this is Jerusalem, my dear chap. The Middle East. We thrive on rumour here. We’re in the middle of a great religious festival. The Jews are an emotional people. Work it out for yourself, Mr Tennel. Of course there are rumours — and very splendid some of them are too. But when you’ve lived here as long as i have you’ll not worry your head about bazaar gossip.”

I nodded encouragingly. Not that he needed encouraging. He he’d been half the statesman he was actor he would never have been thrown on the scrap heap of Jerusalem.

“And what is your view of the incident at the tomb this morning, sir?”

Predictably he raised his eyebrows. “I’m afraid I don’t quite ofllow you, Mr Tennel.”

“The earthquake and so on.”

“Oh that.” There was the smile again, tinted now with polite disinterest. “I believe there was a slight tremor just before dawn. It’s the season for them of course. Nothing remarkable about that.”

“They say it was quite a big one.”

“Do they indeed? I didn’t feel it myself.”

“Sleeping the sleap of the just, I’m sure, sir.”

It was the first prick of the knife and he didn’t like it. The bored smile vanished and the eyes were wary. I hoped Greg had him in close-up.

“Er — quite so,” he said, and his voice was far from happy.

I decided to press a little harder. “Still, it was big enough to burst open the tomb I believe.”

“Oh really? How very unpleasant.”

It was beautifully done, with exactly the right inflection. If I pursued this line the viewers would think of me as a ghoul. I switched quickly. “Would you care to comment on the behaviour of the guard?”

He shrugged. “It was — unfortuante.”

He looked at me hopefully, but I refused to help him. I knew that if I kept quiet he would feel obliged to add to his answer. It is the first rule of interviewing. Almost anyone can give a brief answer. It takes a great deal of self-confidence to sit quietly and refrain from adding anything. More self-confidence than Pilate had. After a moment or two he said, “Not our chaps, of course. Jewish Army. Good lads, all of them. But a little — well, inexperienced.”

I said, “You mean they panicked?”

“Panic’s a strong word. Too strong, I think. Shall we say there was some — confusion?”

“Lord Pilate, why was it necessary to mount a guard over a dead man?”

He leaned back, giving himself time. “That’s a good question.”

“And the answer?”

“I’m afraid the answer’s rather complicated. A matter of religion, largely.”

“Oh?”

He nodded. “Jewish religion. They take it very seriously, you know.”

“But how does religion come into it? I thought Davidson was a political prisoner, executed for high treason?”

“Indeed he was. He claimed to be the king of the Jews. That was his big mistake. It made him a direct threat to the security of the State. I gave him all the help I could. Bent over backwards to give him a chance to clear himself. But it was no use. He claimed to be a king and there was no getting around that. In the end I had no choice but to sign the execution order.”

I understood now why he agreed to be interviewed. Watching him leaning forward, gazing earnestly into the camera. I saw him as he saw himself — the conscientious humane administrator struggling, in a difficult situation, to give every man a fair hearing and dispense justice with mercy. And then I looked at his eyes, and the splendid vision blurred.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Malik permalink
    19 April 2009 4:11 pm

    Another good re-imagining of Jesus’ ministry in a modern setting is “The Cotton Patch Gospel”, in which Jesus returns to modern-day Alabama, and the Pharisees and Saducees are represented by televangelists.

  2. Malik permalink
    19 April 2009 5:07 pm

    Correction, the setting was Georgia, USA, not Alabama. Jesus’ character was named Jesus Davidson in that story as well. I guess both authors had the same inspiration about “the root of David.”

  3. 21 April 2009 2:45 am

    Христос Васкрсе!
    Christ is Risen!

  4. 4 December 2009 6:02 pm

    You forget that Palestine is currently under israeli occupation.

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