The old man leaned against a crumbling boulder, surveying the valley below. Fine clothes on bent shoulders, smooth hands and a short-sighted squint betrayed an affluent man of learning. Yet today he felt poverty-stricken and dull. The bleakness of the desert before him reflected the state of his heart.
Beneath an overcast sky, an icy wind blew eddies of dust along the barren spaces. Far below, herdsmen, oblivious to his pain, called to a scattering of sheep, enticing them to a path between the rocky outcrops. They couldn't see the ache, the regrets at not being more firm, more insistent on a different course of action. God forgive me. A gross injustice was perpetrated and he did nothing to stop it. Yet how could he, without facing their derision? Just the mention of the man's name ignited such fury in his colleagues that, like enraged bulls, they lost all reason.
It was all very civilised, of course. There were no violent outbursts. No snorting, pawing the ground and charging; everything was discussed politely, with political correctness. Yet there was no hiding the raging acrimony that burned in their souls. He was a threat. He must be removed.
With fearful eyes and growing alarm, the old man had watched a tactic as well-worn as the institution itself: Discredit the person in the eyes of their constituency, tarnish his reputation and persuade the authorities he is a threat. It had never failed.
It was much harder this time, however. Their "opponent" was quick witted; a man of impeccable integrity. Yet they had won in the end and, though he knew they were making a terrible mistake, he had done nothing. He watched as they had their way, as always, manipulating the people like a merciless juggernaut devouring the masses for its own ends.
Now that it was over, he realised how much he cared. He felt he'd lost a son -- nay, a father -- though he, himself, was twice his age. As they buried him, his timidity -- his fear of their rage at the mention of his name --seemed so trivial in light of the enormity of the injustice.
This was the third day he had come to his place of meditation. He could not bear to be with his grimly gloating colleagues. Here, in the desert, he could think.
And, perhaps, still pray.
God, are You merciful enough to hear me, though I am such a poor servant? Did You hear Your Son's pleas for You to forgive?
As though the sky mourned with him, dark rainless clouds brooded over the landscape each day, making it an eerie, chilly wasteland.
Yet even as he watched, the clouds were breaking and shafts of sunlight threw beams from heaven into the valley, highlighting the shepherds, as if showering down favour. Inexplicably, his spirit started lifting. Yet I am still guilty. Why, then, do I feel this release? Not understanding, he sank to his knees, head bowed.
Then, like an arrow through the air, he heard his name. Someone was calling him; someone who knew where to find him.
"Nicodemus. Nicodemus. Come down. Come back to Jerusalem."
It's Joseph! He's running. With shining eyes Joseph grasped Nicodemus by both shoulders. "My friend, I have wonderful news! You must come back at once. Jesus is alive. He has appeared to His disciples. He's alive!"
Nicodemus shook his head to clear it. "But Joseph, we buried him together. We both know he was dead. There must be some mista..."
Joseph interrupted. "It's no mistake, Nicodemus. He has power over death. It's as you suspected all along. He's more than a man. He's the Lord.
Hurry. He will want to see you. You see, we were in the right place at the right time. It was all in God's hands."
Realisation dawned. Everything was orchestrated by God. The self-elevating religious system was not a juggernaut riding roughshod over the Son of God. It was a pawn in God's hands carrying out His perfect will. Even Joseph, his friend, was perfectly placed for his part.
He hurried down the hill, kicking the sand with joy and dancing. The sun broke through the clouds, resting on two elderly men skipping down the mountainside like young calves.
And God smiled. It is indeed finished. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
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