I’m made of stardust someone said,
of carbon, iron, gold, and lead;
the stuff of fires that dot the night
and bathe the sky in colored light.
In shadowed place I flash and spark,
give birth to starshine in the dark;
embattle night till gloom has fled.
I’m made of stardust Someone said.
As Tom spoke the words of consecration his eyes fixed on the Eucharist. It was the Lord he loved, though he did not see. He didn’t need to see; not anymore. As he held his Jesus, he remembered another day when he had come back from the disappointment that had scattered so many disciples. He sent a messenger ahead to let friends know he was returning to join them. Martha ran out to meet him as he passed through Bethany. “We’ve seen him,” she said. “He’s alive.”
“Sure,” he said thinking ‘heck, she’s always seeing things.’ But she had a light about her and the sorrows of the last days seemed not to weigh on her like they did on him. How resilient the women, he thought, and he was still trying to come to grips with his faith.
He arrived in Jerusalem late in the day. Immediately, he joined the others in the upper room. They couldn’t contain themselves and bubbled, “He was here last week. We saw him!”
“Ya, ok,” answered Tom sitting down at table. “You gonna feed me?” They passed him some bread and fish. Their excitement should have been infectious, but he didn’t share it. Their talk about how Jesus had come through the walls was a bit freaky. Surely they had deluded themselves. He tested them, “That’s why you guys are still locking yourselves in, huh?”
He wasn’t being sarcastic; he just had real trouble stomaching ghostly encounters. Did they even check whether the specter was for real? He downed the bread and fish with alacrity spouting off between bites of food. “Yeah well, unless I see the holes of the nails . . .” the words about his real feelings slipped out more harshly than he intended. The past week had taken too much out of him; first, the death, then grappling with his beliefs about Jesus, and now this talk about a dead man come to life. He knew that if resurrection were possible, Jesus wasn’t just the Messiah. He would have to be God.
“Look guys,” he said not raising his head from his plate of food. “I’d like to believe you.” He finished off the last bite of fish and ranted on, “I need to put my finger into the holes in his hands. I want to feel that gaping wound in his side.”
He was so self-absorbed that he didn’t notice the other men back away to give Jesus room as he stuffed a piece of bread into his mouth. “I just won’t b . . .” he couldn’t finish his sentence. A hand rested on his shoulder and he turned to look up.
“Thomas,” the voice he knew too well said, “Come put your finger into my wounds and believe.”
“My Lord and My God,” Tom answered and fell to his knees.
There was a knock on the door. The men looked at one another fearfully, not knowing if they should answer. “Perhaps it’s Him,” Thomas said?
“No,” answered Peter. “He came through the walls last time.”
“Shall I answer it?” asked James.
“No, please! What if it’s a Roman come to arrest us too,” said Matthew, still terribly frightened from all the events of the past days.
“But He’s risen. We’ve already seen Him,” countered James. “Don’t you think He’d protect us?”
“Listen, God helps those who help themselves,” Matt said, being practical despite the stress.
The knock was repeated, and everyone seemed to want to duck out the back door.
“Open it,” said Peter, “We can’t lock ourselves away forever.”
Gingerly, James opened the door a crack. His face blanched.
“Who is it,” the others asked ready to run.
“It’s, it’s…” he opened the door wider to give the others a look. How could he shut out a Roman Officer who already knew their whereabouts?
Everybody backed off aghast.
“Please, don’t be frightened,” said the Centurion taking a halting step in. “I’m not here to arrest you. I… I want to join your company.”
The men bristled with suspicion. Even Peter was unsure, although all eyes turned to him for directions.
“He’s one of us,” said a youthful voice from the back of the room. Still, they all looked at Peter, and back at the Centurion. The air was electric.
Peter turned around to look at John. “How do you know,” he asked?
John staring past Peter into the hopeful eyes of the soldier answered matter of factly, “He was at the crucifixion.”
“Please,” the soldier knelt down begging, “I’ve brought you something,” he said. He unwound the leather strap wrapped around a purple cloth. Peter nodded assent, and the disciples began to gather closer to see what the soldier held.
In his hand lay the head of a spear. “I thought you’d want it,” the Centurion mumbled, tears in his eyes.
Leasing a property has its drawbacks. You never know if renters will pay up. I know, because I’d rented out my vineyard to a new vintner who, after the crush, didn’t pay up. I took it to court and won.
So the story that the young rabbi was telling rang true, except for its scary outcome. I know it’s just a parable and teaching stories like that need a little melodrama. You know, for the priests and elders who were hanging around. They looked interested and almost agreeable at first, until the rabbi added the part about the son whom the tenant had killed.
That got to me. I have a son, and the possibility of losing him to unscrupulous renters turned my stomach. Maybe I should sell out! Even if the rabbi just meant to make a point, it could happen. People can be evil.
I look up to see the priests nudge each other and whisper. They obviously nursed a similar thought. They got fidgety, as if the rabbi’s words were getting under their skin. I’d joined the group of listeners late and one of the rabbi’s disciples filled me in. Darkly he quipped he’s after the priests. So I listened hard when the rabbi asked the priests directly, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?”
Of course, the priests gave him the only possible outcome. Then the rabbi seemed to change the subject. He asked “Haven’t you read the scripture . . .?” as if they didn’t understand scripture at all. I sure don’t, especially not what he meant by the stone rejected by the builders. I mean I’m not a priest or an engineer, just a farmer.
The priests, teeth on edge, obviously knew what he was driving at. There was fire in their eyes and the muscles in their necks strained hard. It looked like they wanted to kill him. But the folks who had gathered to hear the story prevented any action.
Being a Pharisee has its benefits. I could join Jesus when he sat in the temple among the priests and elders. After all, I was one of them. This time Jesus had come to the temple explain scripture to eager listeners. The Pharisees and elders scrambled to check up on his teaching. They never let up, always questioning his intentions. It pleased me that Jesus could beat them at their game.
And so they asked him, “By what authority do you do these things?”
Jesus mentioned the work of John the Baptist, asking if it was from heaven or men. The priests got angry because an answer either way would nail their bad intentions. To end their dilemma, Jesus asked them to judge a case. It was about a couple of brothers. The father had asked for help. One said he would, the other said he was too busy. In the end the busy brother felt bad and decided to do the work anyway.
The priests and elders were as stumped as me over the first brother who said he would help but did nothing. The answer about who fulfilled the father’s request was too obvious. The story didn’t connect to what Jesus had been teaching earlier. But the elders and priests looked annoyed, fumbling with their scrolls.
I waited for Jesus to explain the meaning of the story. It wasn’t intended for the simple folk standing around. He’d baited the priests. I worried because he was telling them they were like the do nothing brother. What’s worse, with his voice betraying controlled anger Jesus said, “The prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before you . . . because when John came, you didn’t believe.
A Day’s Wage
The kid stuffing himself on grapes at the edge of the vineyard waved ‘Hi’ to his Dad’s friend who was picking.
The man stopped his work and asked, “Where’s Ollie?”
“He’s still asleep. Worked late last night,” said the boy.
“Sleeping at three o’clock?” The boy shrugged.
“Well run to get him. The boss needs the rest of the grapes picked before six. They’re overripe.”
The boy ran off to tell his father, who managed to douse water in his face and race to the square. A couple of other men were joined him to wait for the owner of the vineyard who came by at five. “Why aren’t you working?” the owner asked.
“Nobody hired us,” said Ollie, not willing to say he’d slept in.
“Well, get to the field. My grapes need to go to the crushers right now.”
Ollie worked double hard loading the grapes into the press the last hour of the day. He was splattered so purple his boy, who had come to check on him, laughed out loud. Before Ollie could say, What are you laughing at? the vine-dresser sounded the end of shift.
Ollie took his son by the hand and led him to the pay station. He wanted his boy to know that even an hour of work can pay off. He managed to be first in line. When he opened his leather wallet for the money, the owner dropped a fistful of coins in into it. Ollie’s eyes grew wide. He knew he had received a full day’s wage. He looked up at the owner, wonder on his face and thinking, did he forget I only worked an hour.
The owner just nodded his head to the right for him to get out of line. On the way home, his boy asked a weird question, “Is that what heaven is like?”
The father, a lump in his throat, answered, “I guess so.” But he wasn’t referring to the generous amount of money. Somehow he understood the eternal reward is the same for everyone no matter when they found God.
“Follow me,” said the frantic young Pharisee. “He’s in court.”
“What do you mean, ‘in court’?”
“I’ll explain later. Maybe you can stop the madness.”
It was the middle of the night. Nicodemus didn’t want to get involved with some late night case among his confreres, especially with the Sabbath so close. But John was a friend because he was unafraid of the leaders. It bolstered his lack of courage, so he wrapped his shawl around his head and followed the apostle toward the temple precincts.
They were too late. The case had been turned over to the Romans. By the time the two men picked up mother Mary, dawn had broken and they were forced to shove their way through nosy crowds that had accumulated around the Praetorium. The pulsing mob didn’t give Nick enough room to move. Mary tried to steady his unstable old legs, and he finally rested against a pillar. He took a moment to recall Jesus’ words at their first meeting that had initiated him into truth. Christ was learned as he was, and it was refreshing how he had talked about being born again and about the prophets, but his mind was too tired. John and Mary started to move again. He pushed off the street post and followed. He wasn’t paying attention to the crowds ahead. He just put one foot in front of the other trusting John.
“What’s going on?” he stopped to ask John between his huffing and puffing.
“They’re taking him to Golgotha,” said John. He didn’t mince his words, “They want to crucify him.”
Nick stopped dead in his tracks, “Crucify him? Why?”
“It’s a long story,” answered John. Mary reached out her hand and just said with a wan smile, “Let’s follow him.”
Nick understood the words as indicating his continuing journey to faith. He smiled back remembering Jesus’ words to him about eternal life, something a few of his fellow priests didn’t believe in. But he believed!
When they broke through the crowd, they found themselves on the hill. Mary leaned on John whose face had paled at the preparations of the three criminals. But he isn’t a criminal, thought Nick. He’s a teacher, a healer, a lover. . .
And as the soldier raised the crucifix up and Christ’s body slumped in agony, Nick finally understood what Jesus had tried to tell him when he had said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” He was really saying ‘look at me . . and live’ And Nick, tears in his eyes, looked up at the Savior of the world.