It is requested that the reader engage in the popular childhood game of Let’s Pretend. Let’s pretend that Jesus Christ’s first ministry did not occur two thousand years ago, but rather in recent times and centered in the United States of America.
Let us pretend …
* * *
… “You’re an idiot, you know that, a moron! Don’t ever call my talk show again!” Flushed a brighter shade of red, the syndicated talk show host grimaced as he sipped lukewarm coffee.
“Well look at this … here’s a report from a TV station in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Apparently, this Jesus character, who calls himself the Son of God, supposedly healed a bunch of decrepit senior citizens. Good! Get ‘em off Social Security and tell ‘em to go create some wealth. I’m sick of Ma and Pa Kettle stealing my tax dollars. First, he feeds a mob of welfare bums free tuna fish sandwiches and now this (1). He’s giving away my country, I tell you. And anybody who disagrees with me is mentally deranged! … Cue the erectile dysfunction commercial, I need a break!”
* * *
Tommy Tucker had been the typical seven-year old until a hateful prognosis determined that his future had been invaded by a fatal brain disease.
“I can prescribe a new drug that will alleviate much of your son’s pain” the specialist informed the boy’s parents. “It’s called WaxomaxodilTM. It was recently introduced into the marketplace and three out of four physicians recommend it. You must understand, however, that this drug may cause an unfortunate side effect and that is the likelihood that your son’s skin will turn a bright shade of green.”
Stooping to face the boy, the doctor smiled and offered him a lollipop. “Just think, Tommy, you can pretend you’re a Martian.”
Shaken, the boy’s father remembered that he had lost his prescription drug coverage just weeks before.
“Well, it is about seven thousand dollars a tablet, so if you would rather not …”
“No …no,” whispered the father. “He’s my son …”
“I understand, Mr. Tucker. The only other thing I could possibly recommend is allowing your son to smoke as much marijuana as he can handle. It won’t halt the fatal progression of his illness, but at least he’ll be the happiest kid in the neighborhood.”
... Fleeing the hopelessness of the clinic, the grim-faced parents and wheelchair bound boy were held captive by a bustling street corner and an insolent traffic signal.
“Happy New Year, young man”, greeted a cheerful bystander bundled in an ankle-length, dark gray overcoat. “Hope your new year is as special as mine will be.” The bearded man squeezed the wan-faced boy’s shoulder gently and then scurried across the street as the traffic light changed.
“Mom ...mom ... I ...I don’t feel right.”
“Honey, what’s wrong?” the boy’s mother implored as she tucked a thick blanket closer to his neck.
“Nothing, mom, nothing. I feel great. Hey dad, let’s go sled-riding or maybe we can have a snowball fight. I’m hungry!” The boy leapt from his wheelchair, laughing as he slid across the slippery sidewalk.
It was New Year’s Eve in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
* * *
“Gentlemen”, Elbarth Snydely’s harrumph opened the emergency meeting of his board of directors, “we have a critical matter that must be addressed.”
Fifty-five year old Elbarth Snydely was celebrating his tenth anniversary as Chairman of the Board of Pynkpill Pharmaceuticals, one of the nation’s Big Three drug manufacturers that Wall Street had affectionately dubbed “the Big PP”. The porcine-like Snidely had risen through the corporate ranks, an ascent considered less than spectacular since his father had founded and maintained control of the company. Short-tempered, Elbie, a moniker he loathed, bristled whenever the business media offered that he had achieved success the old-fashioned way … by inheriting it.
“Our C.F.O. has informed me that projections for this year indicate a 75% drop in profit. Minimum. We were battered last year, and the analysts can’t stop ridiculing us on those damn cable finance programs. Wall Street has downgraded our stock rating from “sell” to “destroy” and there doesn’t appear to be an end to this. The only money we’re making is from RyzalotTM, our sexual enhancement drug. And we all know what the problem is ... it’s that lunatic, Jesus whatever the hell his name is, that Guy who claims to be the Savior or something. He’s running around the country performing those damn miracles of His. He’s curing everybody, gentlemen. He keeps this up and there won’t be anybody sick to sell drugs to and who will suffer side effects that we can exploit to sell more drugs to. In a word, gentlemen, this Guy is bankrupting us!”
“I know what you mean, Elbie, ahh Elbarth”, piped a board member. “My neighbor’s mother-in-law fell down some steps and broke both her hips. This Jesus fellow was touring the hospital and stopped by her room. He snapped His fingers and … viola`, the old bat was back home with them that evening.”
The board erupted in laughter and even Elbarth’s scowl softened.
* * *
Entering its third year, the contagion of good health that had swept throughout the land had created turmoil well beyond that of the Big PP. Battered by its unexpected losses, the pharmaceutical industry’s first casualty was its advertising budget. Media stocks were in free fall because of the lost ad revenue. Many health insurers had declared bankruptcy since few people needed coverage, and doctors, desperate for customers, were converting their offices into fitness spas. Corporate bonuses and stock options had all but evaporated causing many CEOs to suggest the formulation of an executive labor union.
Membership in The National Association of Undertakers dwindled to a mere handful prompting one mortician to lament that “it seems like nobody croaks anymore”. Pushing Up Daisies, the official publication of the American Cemetery Society predicted that “casket making and headstone engraving are soon to go the way of affordable gasoline”.
Hysteria seized the stock market as profits tumbled and Congress was considering an economic stimulus package consisting of generous tax cuts for the wealthy and a hundred dollar tax rebate for everyone else.
The spate of miraculous healings had engendered wall-to-wall coverage on cable TV, spawning the creation of a short-lived endeavor called the Jesus Channel, which expired quickly when too few were willing, or able, to advertise on a channel that “promoted a Guy who claims that the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Not all was gloom, however. Newspaper reporters were in high demand as the print media offered wall-to-wall coverage of the healings; and the publishing industry garnered record profits from the rash of books detailing the seemingly endless wonders. (2)
And at the center of the maelstrom of profit and loss was a humble Man named Jesus Christ who cured all who asked … for free!
* * *
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Son of working class parents. His father, Joe, a union carpenter and an official in the Local, endured the persistent whispers that he was actually the boy’s stepfather; his mother, Mary, was a devoted homemaker and charitable volunteer. The eldest child, Jesus excelled in the classroom and was a four-time high school state debate champion (3). Offered a full scholarship to Harvard University, He chose to pursue His first love, carpentry.
Renowned for His skill, Jesus was never without employment, but shunning materialism, He often labored for little or no compensation, once constructing an ornate deck for a childhood friend in return for a pair of homemade moccasins.
Well-liked and blessed with an engaging sense of humor, Jesus had many friends, some of whom were destined to walk with Him along a different path.
It was on the day after His thirtieth birthday, the sapphire sky and the sun gleaming on the humanity that toiled in His image, that Jesus forsook the tools of His trade and left His present to set about the peculiar business of saving people’s souls. It would be a time of wonders and forgiveness, controversy and intrigue that would cost Him His life.
* * *
Larry Zarus died before he passed away; his last years blackened by the anguish for a son’s death on a godforsaken battlefield. His outspokenness against the war had made few friends and his only joy came at the lip of a bottle of his local brew.
It was during the wee hours of an icy December darkness, a night so quiet one could hear the snow flakes fall, that he passed away. His final moments were filled with the same haunting dream of a grieving father kneeling at his son’s grave, the headstone crumbling into sand that was swept away by a scornful wind.
… “and so”, ended the minister, “we commend to God the spirit of our brother, Larry. May he rest in eternal peace.”
As the minister walked from the casket, a bespectacled man, short, balding, and of reasonable girth, rose hesitantly from his chair … and sneezed.
“Mrs. Zarus, may I say a few words?” his voice creaked as he dropped his handkerchief.
After the sobbing wife consented, the man shuffled to the front of the viewing room.
“Hel-lo. None of you know me. My name is Elwood Gluckenbill. I graduated from high school with Lawrence. He was always Lawrence to me. I was the kid everybody laughed at. Even the weirdo kids made fun of me. I was voted “Most Likely”. They left the rest blank and the kids picked whatever they wanted to. You should have seen some of the things they wrote”. He sneezed, again … and dropped his handkerchief.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m saying all this. Well, I didn’t have any friends. Just Lawrence. He was different. Oh, he was a football star and all that, but he wasn’t afraid to be seen with the outcast kids.” A torrent of hacking coughs erupted from Gluckenbill. “You’ll have to excuse me, I have allergies. Had ‘em all my life”
“You see, Lawrence made me feel, well, normal. He actually shook my hand after we graduated. All the other kids just ran away from me. I never forgot his kindness. He even tried to fix me up with his cousin one time, but she said something about entering the convent. As a matter of fact, isn’t that you”, Gluckenbill asked, gawking at a dark-haired woman in the back row who immediately fled the room.
“After graduation, I became obsessed with becoming a success. I’d show them. All of them. Well, I ended up in Silicon Valley. Computers. Made a fortune. That’s when I thought of Lawrence. I had to find him. Thank him. Pay him back.” Gluckenbill snorted. “Finally I find him ... and he’s dead.”
Elwood hacked and then cleared his throat. “Mrs. Zarus, I so much wanted to give this to your husband, but now I must give it to you. I know that nothing can ease the heartache you feel, but in your husband’s name I hope that you will accept this check for ten million dollars. It’s my way of saying thanks to Lawrence.”
The stunned widow dropped her handkerchief and catapulted from her chair, hugging Gluckenbill and kissing him passionately. Amidst the silence, the departed’s daughter threw her arms skyward and shrieked: “we’re rich!”
“Hey, everybody,” invited Mrs. Zarus, “let’s go down the street to Kelly’s Bar. The drinks are on me.”
A stampede of thirsty mourners poured from the funeral home, the minister leading the pack and Gluckenbill bringing up the rear … in hot pursuit of Mrs. Zarus.
Narrowly avoiding the frenzied mob, Jesus and His entourage entered the funeral parlor, empty now save for several tee totaling relatives and the cunning mortician, who was anxiously recalculating the funeral bill.
Jesus had partnered with the deceased on many construction jobs and the two had been friends since the time He had rescued Zarus from defective scaffolding that had plummeted from several stories above.
Though He had not seen His friend in more than three years, Zarus’ harsh criticism of the war after his son’s death had caught His attention.
“His son was a fine young man”, Jesus informed His sidekick, Peter, who was munching an Almond Joy candy bar. “Had a little bit of mischief in him in his younger days. I’m here to tell Larry that his son is happy now and his death was not in vain.”
Cracking an almond between his molars, Peter snickered. “Yeah, sure, like as if he’s gonna hear you.”
Jesus smiled. “He will.”
“Huh ...” Before Peter could finish, Jesus approached the casket, brushed away a tear and then commanded “come forth (4).”
The eerie silence that cloaked the room was broken by a slight cough and gurgle.
“Where…where…w-what happened” issued a weak voice from the casket.
… And then Larry Zarus propped himself on his elbows.
A weeping relative seated near the casket fainted. Her husband stood up…and headed for Kelly’s Bar.
Thunderstruck, the mortician cursed and shredded his now defunct itemized bill.
Jesus squeezed Zarus’ hand. “Welcome back, Larry. We have much to talk about.”
Jesus’ followers, apostles He had called them, rejoiced; save one. His name was Judas.
* * *
Judas Iscar had chosen to follow Jesus more from desperation than belief. Once his reelection bid had failed, he yearned for a new gravy train and after watching the One called the Son of God, the sugar plums of dollar signs polluted his mind. Appointed the treasurer, his greed became insatiable as a downpour of contributions arrived from those few who truly believed and the many self-righteous who exalted themselves via the checkbook.
But “enough” had never populated his vocabulary and soon Judas had engaged in what he believed would be a lucrative side-venture…the stock market. Large investments, most of which had been financed via his “oversight” of the contributions, had turned to losses. And now Judas Iscar was losing not only his proverbial shirt, he was losing what little faith he had in the Man he had dubbed “The Master”.
“He wasn’t satisfied with healing a bunch of walking corpses, now He has to rescue that anti-American bastard from the grave”, Judas muttered. “I’m sure the Tribunal will want to hear all about this. I’m sure they’ll want to pay a hefty bounty, too.” Iscar’s cracked lips parted baring his dirty, crooked teeth; yellowish pillars that hid the serpent’s tongue that would soon utter betrayal and fulfill his destiny and that of all mankind.
* * *
The Department of National Security (DNS), or The Tribunal as most people referred to it, was an offshoot of the Interagency Security and Protection Institute (ISPI) and the National Security Administration (NSA) via the Defense Services Agency (DSA), which had recently been reassigned to the Administration for Security and Safety (ASS), an agency connected to the Department of Civil Intelligence (DCI) which reported directly to the Office of National Preparedness (ONP), a ranking bureaucracy under the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), which reported directly to the Department of Defense (DoD) and all of which would soon be layered with additional bureaucracies by a newly minted President of the United States (POTUS) whose campaign pledge was to instill “order and reason to our intelligence community”.
The Dee-fense, as most called it, was staffed by several million employees, most of them politically-connected managers.
It was a dangerous world filled with enemies seen and unseen and the government was determined to surveil whatever was necessary to protect the nation. It was a perilous time for any man to love his enemies or turn any cheek (5).
And it was a fatal time for a Man to bring back to the living one who had been so outspoken over the death of a soldier-son; particularly when the Forces of Mammon wanted Him dead.
So it was that Judas Iscar did his treachery. His bounty was fat, indeed. The patrons at Kelly’s Bar drank well that night. The drinks were free, courtesy of an ugly, little man with dirty teeth who sat in the shadows staring at a flickering television screen with the volume turned low, fingering a lone bullet in his sweaty hands and knowing that tomorrow would never come.
There is no need to relate how Jesus died; only that He did, fulfilling the prophecies of the ancients.
The day after His death, the stock market rose by more than 700 points.
* * *
“Gentlemen”, Elbarth Snydely’s harrumph opened the special session of the Pynkpill Pharmaceuticals board of directors, “I have wonderful news to report. The Big PP is on the rise. Our stock went up $22 a share in just one day. And people are getting sick again! We’re mounting an all out ad blitz for some new drug that will alleviate some problems and cause even more and those cable finance shows love us again.”
“Not bad, Elbie…ahhh Elbarth,” piped a board member. “Just how much did we have to pay that Judas fellow?”
“Only a couple mil, J.D., and we get to stick the taxpayers for it, anyway.”
The board erupted in laughter; Elbarth Snydely’s snort the loudest of them all.
* * *
… “You’re one of His crackpot disciples, aren’t you? You’re a moonbat, you know that! Don’t ever call my show again.”
Winking at his producer, the syndicated talk show host sipped hot coffee and glanced at the latest ratings which showed a 37% increase.
“What did that Jesus character say … ‘Love your enemies … turn the other cheek’. You hate your enemies. You kill them before they kill you. That’s what this world needs … more hate. Kill and ask questions later. In fact, don’t even ask questions, just kill. So He becomes an Enemy of the State saying that crap, so they executed Him. Tortured Him first. Torture can be good, you know that. He cured all those people but He couldn’t cure Himself, and now … what … He’s gonna rise from the dead …hahahahaha. In three days, no less … hahahahaha. He healed all those people but He couldn’t save Himself. And now He’s gonna ... what ...beat the Grim Reaper? You know what I say … physician, heal thyself … hahahahaha. Deranged, I tell you, this guy was a mental case” … Cut to the erectile dysfunction commercial, I need a break …
* * *
"And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you …" (Matthew 28:5-7)
(1) See Luke 9:13-17
(2) John 21:25 … "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
Considering the above verse, one can only imagine the amount of wonders Jesus would have performed in a modern day ministry of 300 million Americans.
(3) See Luke 2:46-47
(4) See John 11:43-44
(5) See Romans 12:10