George & Eileen Anderson
First published July 1992.by Small Cords Press. In this format 1994
Copyright 1992 and 1994 by George and Eileen Anderson
ISBN O 9597816 7 6
You may freely copy this and give it to friends, as long as no changes are made.
------ DEDICATED ------
...now...to all those who love His appearing and later ...very seriously... to those who have accepted the teaching that there is no Rapture; in the hopes that - afterwards - they will be ready for and eagerly awaiting God's next Big Event.
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In this file:
This book doesn't tell you how to prepare for the Tribulation. There's nothing about generating your own power, or paying three-and-a-half year's rates in advance before we go cashless.
As we write, everyone is preparing for the return of the Lord. Those who love him are preparing to welcome him; those who don't are preparing (consciously or not) to repel him. There's no middle way.
So how do we prepare for Jesus the Messiah?
Relationship with him. Personal, everyday relationship with him. A love relationship with him.
Nothing else will do. Everything else must come from it.
Hence the title Beyond Today. If we can paint a word picture that doesn't get you hung up on the Sabbath v. Sunday debate: on the calendar of world history, "today" is Friday; the time is late Friday afternoon. The sixth day, the sixth thousand years since the Fall, draws to an end. As darkness begins to close in, we must prepare for the wonderful holiday/holy day of the Sabbath - while (as Hebrews 3 v 13 says) we are still in "today". Because in a short while we will all go "beyond today" into the Day that scripture both warns us of and promises us.
In a sense, Beyond Today is an antidote to our previous book (now in a thoroughly up-dated fourth edition) Beyond the Mark, which looks at signs pointing to the King's return. A vital book, we claim.
But just as Charismatics can focus on gifts and forget the Giver, so End Timers can see signs aplenty, yet need reminding that signs point to Someone.
That's why, in Beyond Today, there's an absence of "practical" advice. Because as you move close to the King, the Messiah, he's going to direct you along an individual path that pays no respect to the traditions of men - or women. If it leads you into religious situations, it won't be to play footsie with the harlot or her daughters (the Roman Catholic denomination and all Protestant groups) but to yell "Come out of her, my people!" and lead the rush for the exit.
A few of the stories in Beyond Today have already appeared in Enzed's Challenge Weekly, in Aussie's On Being, and in leaflet form.
The first three stories set the scene."The Courts of Heaven" is located where the title suggests, a place of hands-on reality. "Judas" looks at the problems of being a disciple. And "Fair Trial" makes persecution preferable to its alternative.
The middle part of the book is straight teaching. Ok, maybe straight isn't the best word where the Andersons are concerned. Sufficient that we say (yet again) there is no place for man's (or woman's) kingdoms, that Setting Dates may not be automatically wrong.
And finally another clutch of stories. Laodicean believers get to answer back to that letter in Revelation. Two hardbitten CIA agents are bodyguards in the Bottomless Pit. A regular churchgoer misses the Rapture. And"The Search": if you knew (beyond a shadow of doubt) that the Lord Jesus really, truly, undeniably was living and reigning in Jerusalem... What would you do?
Now, the usual disclaimer. We're not trying to start something. No Andersonites, Beyondites or End Time Dropoutites. God's Church (capital C, Ecclesia and all it means) is alive and well, firing on all cylinders. You hear the sound of it but can't always tell where it'll show up next. We wouldn't dare compete or make a plastic copy. Time's too short for dangerous games - and Dad's sense of humour doesn't extend to competition.
And don't believe a word we say. Unless Dad confirms it. If you want infallibility, try William Branham, Ellen G. White or John Paul II, not us. We write what grabs us, saying "Hey, Dad's terrific, and his Son's coming to stay, any minute now". But you need faith for that, and only God hands out faith.
-------THE COURTS OF HEAVEN-------
Finally, she died.
* * *
The Courts of Heaven were indeed beyond all imagining.
Vicki had been in no hurry to leave the garden in which she had found herself once her time on earth had ended. There was much to think about, to at last understand, to now give thanks for.
The sheer reality of her new life continued to astound her. The sights, the sounds, the people were gloriously, matter- of-factly real. Angels and animals and plants were normal and natural and marvellous.
* * *
Eventually, Vicki began to walk towards the music. And eventually she came to where half a world might have fallen away to form the vast amphitheatre of the Outer Court of Heaven. How many millions of people were grouped there was impossible to guess. But in the sweeping, gently falling curves of the land around the very Throne itself were gathered such crowds as might form whole nations many, many times over.
Yet with no less of individual identity. No herding together, Vicki noticed, as she moved towards one group. They were singing a rich, syncopated harmony to the music, and with a thrill of delight Vicki realised she knew the words, knew the music, and had a voice capable of expressing the love such praise was meant to convey.
The light from the Throne was too piercing, the distance too immense, to make out details. No matter! She sang, and so did the myriads from every period of history and from every family that had ever walked upon the earth; while angels watched and rejoiced, archangels and cherubim and other beings for whom Vicki had no name as yet, voiced their own adoration.
* * *
Later, she became aware of an angel standing close by.
"Does the song never end?" Vicki asked.
"Never," said the angel. "For all will sing it in their hearts. But, for those who wish, they may also raise their voices aloud around the Throne. Why do you ask?"
"I - I wondered if I could approach closer to the Lord," said Vicki.
"Closer?" The angel was thoughtful. Frowning not in disapproval, but in an effort of understanding. "Yet we are all in the presence of God. 'Whither shall I go from Thy Presence?' - you must know those words."
Vicki nodded. "I do. Am I asking for something wrong - or is this where angels and people differ? Can - may I meet the Lord?"
The angel stared long and seriously at her. Then: "Come with me."
They walked down the great distances that led to the far bounds of the throng. They moved along avenued paths and curving roads, over tracks spun from the very fabric of space, hard as diamond underfoot. Away, ever away from those who sang, though the deep throbbing chorus still blended with the melody within her.
* * *
And they came to a wall. Before it, a stone table. Seated at the table, a being with book and pen.
"Talk with him," said Vicki's angel. "I shall leave you now."
The one with the pen looked up as she approached.
"I wish to meet the Lord Jesus," she stated. "Is it possible?"
"All things are possible," conceded the scribe. "Have you a reason?"
Vicki paused, momentarily at a loss for words. How do you explain yearning and love so a clerk may note it down? Anyhow, there simply were no words to adequately describe the intensity and the desire welling up within her to meet, actually meet, her Lord.
"Isn't wanting to meet him enough?" she countered.
The one with the pen made no reply. He opened the book. Vicki saw it was a register.
"Your name, then. You may have an appointment. But I must advise you that very many names are already ahead of you. And this is but the latest of scores of such books."
"Will I have to wait a long time?" she asked, disappointed.
"Time? Time! This is the Day that the Lord himself made," replied the one with the pen. "Do you expect us to chop it into pieces and count each fragment as you did on earth? What if there are a billion names before yours! When each has met his or her Lord, you will still be here. Now - your name, please!"
But Vicki had turned on her heel and was already walking away, towards the wall, where she had spotted in the milky whiteness of the stones, a bronze door with a fretted grille inset. She raised her hand and hammered loudly on the grille.
A latch clicked, and the grille slid aside. Vicki found herself facing a group of angels. They stood shoulder to shoulder; they were armed and the weapons were not merely for ornament. The heavenly host, she thought to herself.
"Your name has not been called," said one, and began to close the grille.
To Vicki's surprise she found she was angry. Here? In Heaven? But she had more on her mind than metaphysics.
"Just a moment!" she shouted. The grille was re-opened, but the angelic barrier were still there, unsmiling and unmoving.
"Your turn will come; give your name to the scribe."
On earth, much of Vicki's anger had been little more than a grubby, paltry bad temper. Here - why, that strange, near- contradictory phrase "righteous anger" suddenly blossomed with meaning for her.
"Appointment? Turns? Why are you standing in my way like that? You are ministering spirits. Servants. Whereas I am a child of God. Excuse me!"
Did she notice the slightest flicker of a smile, even a smile of approval as the bronze door was opened and those armed angels stood smartly aside to let her through? No matter. Vicki had passed within the wall and had entered the Inner Court of Heaven, a great building whose floors and walls seemed formed from the purest, even translucent, gold.
* * *
There was no one word in her vocabulary to describe the function of the building. Palace? Temple? Offices? The imagery was paradoxical, even absurd, yet...
Vicki strode down a long, echoing hall, and ran up a broad, spiralling flight of stairs that wound higher and higher to a mezzanine floor far above. She was thankful that she had long since left the frailties of a normal earthly body - these royal surroundings were no place to be puffing and panting with exhaustion.
At the head of the stairs she paused. Double doors, heavily guarded, were immediately before her. Vicki took a deep breath and walked purposefully towards them. Without so much as pausing in her stride, she said quietly to the attendants: "Thank you; you may open them."
They even bowed slightly as the doors were opened for her and smoothly closed as she passed through. Once inside, she felt an instant of utter nervousness, a mixture of her first day at school and the walk down the aisle to where her future husband had been waiting.
* * *
The room she was in seemed to extend for miles. The ceiling pulsed and twinkled with countless points of fire as if... Vicki checked herself. Here was no "as if". Here the stars truly formed a canopy of light over the One who lived within.
Far away, yet reflected a thousand times over in the burnished gold of floor and walls, a group of people were busy in discussion, animated and reverent, friendly and respectful. Listening to them was Someone seated at a broad desk of the palest aquamarine.
Vicki approached. Her heart was beating loud enough for her to hear. The distance gave her countless opportunities to turn back, to wait for that remote and well organised appointment, to rejoin the throng who for ever sang praises. But her steps never once hesitated.
And the One who sat before her then noticed her. Quietly he gave a word of command to those who talked with him. In an instant they bowed and withdrew, leaving him alone.
Irrelevant thoughts chased through her mind. "They bowed - perhaps I should curtsy. I haven't an appointment, so it isn't my turn. And what do I do? I can't just say hello."
But the Lord no longer sat. He had arisen and was already walking to greet her, the great distance between them swallowed up in an instant.
"Vicki," he said. "No song of praise. No appointment?"
"Then...perhaps you have your priorities rightly ordered." While she was still in a turmoil of indecision, wondering whether to kneel or curtsy, he took her hand. "Come with me. I have friends who are waiting. They will be glad to welcome you. But first - I want you to meet my Father."
* * *
Vicki and her Lord moved away. Far away in the Outer Court could be heard the praises of the redeemed. She had already passed into the Inner Court. Now, at last, she was to be received into the Holiest of All.
This isn't - isn't - >about healing.
But healing is where we start.
Or, rather, absence of healing.
Remember the early days of the charismatic move? Healings aplenty. Even if you knock out the doubtful ones there were still abundant healings.
We've seen them. We've experienced them.
Oh, in third world countries, yes. But locally?
Were the Brethren right after all, saying that these things were just "sign gifts" - an advertising technique, a freeby, to get the gospel established? Withdrawn as soon as the customers built up a brand loyalty.
Makes God seem callous, doesn't it? "I could heal - but I only do it to promote business". Where's the love of God in all that?
Yet though scripture clearly teaches healing and health in the atonement, healing is noticeable by its absence.
Aren't there people who desperately need a miracle? Not to rescue them from certain death - which can, after all, simply be an entrance to God's presence - but from a lingering agony of body and mind.
What could be more important than that?
Perhaps that is the right question to ask.
Perhaps there's an answer.
Let's piece together a story. Some six people, more or less familiar to us, but who we think of individually or in little clusters, rather than as a close-knit community.
There's a problem, though.
A problem with the names of some of the characters.
One is Mary. There are six (maybe seven) Marys in scripture. We're not talking about the mother of Jesus, or the wife of Clopas, or Mary Magdalene.
This is about Mary, sister to Lazarus and Martha.
Then there's Simon.
Eleven Simons in scripture. They include a brother of Jesus, a sorcerer, an African who carried the cross and a couple of apostles.
This story is about Simon, the father of Judas.
And we have to make a few assumptions here and there. They can be argued, for and against. But in these cases the circumstantial evidence is strong. The way in which scripture links the six - Jesus, Judas, Simon, Mary, Martha and Lazarus justifies our assumptions. So...
"Pharisee" in our thinking, has come to mean, simplistically, "hypocrite". But hypocrisy was merely the occupational hazard of being a Pharisee. The job description was much richer.
The Pharisees were the present-day Hassidim. The orthodox Jews who wanted the state of Israel to be governed by the Laws of Moses. Then, as now, they rejected gentile worldliness. Then, as now, they could sometimes combine finicky legalism with intense mysticism. If Sadducees were the modernists, then Pharisees were the fundamentalists.
Simon was a Pharisee.
He lived in Bethany, within the prescribed Sabbath day's journey from the Temple and he - and his five brothers - were moderately wealthy. "Comfortably off" is the phrase.
It gave him deep satisfaction to study and teach in the Temple cloisters. To observe Sabbaths and Feasts. To train his family to do the same.
The study of the Torah filled his life.
Until the chilling, appalling day his life became nothing more than a living death. Simon the Pharisee, who could accurately recite the demands of the Law, almost without reference to the orderly rows of letters on the scrolls, knew precisely what he should do.
He made the obligatory visit to the local priest: a brief meeting. Then he shut himself away for seven long and lonely days. Days spent in fasting and in prayer.
And on the seventh day he returned to the priest. Simon knew the Torah as well as any; his very demeanour made the examination a mere formality. The terrible words of Moses rang uncontrolled in his mind: "He is a leprous man, he is unclean; the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him, he shall be defiled. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be."
The word "leprosy" covered a wider range of diseases in those days. But for Simon, any more precise medical label was irrelevant.
He was an outcast.
To be sure his former social standing helped, slightly. He wasn't driven from the village in a flurry of curses and hurled stones. He wasn't forced to join one of the scarce-human bands of lepers that begged and thieved, hated and feared by even the occupying armies of Rome.
His family would have built him a simple one-room hut at a safe distance from Bethany, on the far side of a gully. There would have been a place where his children or brothers could leave food. Or clothes. Perhaps, just perhaps, even a fragment of a discarded scroll from the synagogue.
But he would pass his days in a leaden despair, awaiting the only release he could hope for: death. Which would be a signal for his family to throw branches and brushwood over his corpse, his few pitiful possessions and even his tiny hut and light the bonfire which would reduce everything to fine, sterile ashes.
Simon's family kept in touch, after a fashion. Sometimes they would visit. Awkwardly. Maintain a great gulf between them. Calling from their side of the ravine.
It - it isn't easy to sustain a shouted conversation; to feel relaxed at the sight of someone who must continually cover their mouth and call "Unclean! Unclean!"
But Simon the Leper learned of events in the village and the city beyond. Family gossip. Scurrilous chatter about one of his former neighbours and her many upper-class friends. News from the Temple of yet another claimant to the title of Messiah.
Simon's mind was eager for any scraps of information. He even suggested to his son, Judas, that he went out of his way to meet this latest "Messiah".
"After all," he called across the expanse of rocks that separated them, "One day there's going to be the genuine Messiah standing in that Temple, make no mistake. I've trained you well enough. Go on down - confront this fellow. You'll show him up and make a fool of him in front of the crowd, I'm sure. And if not, well, who knows! This might just be the promised Day of the Lord after all".
And Judas would have agreed, as much to satisfy his own curiosity as to humour his father.
If Simon the Leper had expected his son to be back the next day with an amusing anecdote of his encounter with this candidate for the role of Messiah, he was disappointed.
Time dragged by. Other members of his family came with food. No, Judas hadn't returned home.
Later there were rumours he'd joined up with - who was it? Joshua Ben Joseph, the one we now call Jesus. This Jesus was upsetting many of Simon's old friends with his outspoken criticisms of the Pharisees and his ready acceptance of riff-raff who had only scant regard for the Law.
Simon was puzzled. God's ways were not man's ways, to be sure. Nor would any son of his, Judas in particular, be easily fooled by glib words. But was this man really the Messiah or just a rabble-rouser courting quick popularity by amusing the crowds at the Pharisees' expense?
A shadow fell across where he was sitting. Simon flinched with shock. Nobody, nobody should have come as close to him as that.
"Unclean! Unclean!" he whimpered, scrabbling to his feet and starting to run away.
"Dad - stop!"
Simon froze. The voice was the voice of Judas. Surely the lad had enough sense...? And who was the man standing behind him?
Judas was explaining something. Something about his being one of the special circle of disciples which went around with Jesus. ("Of course he'd be part of the inner group, the way I've brought him up. A valuable addition for anyone", thought Simon.)
And Judas had introduced the friend who kept back uneasily, shifting his weight from one foot to another. He, too, was one of the disciples. Jesus had sent them out in pairs on a teaching exercise.
"You're too close, far too close," scolded Simon. "Even your friend." He noted the man only hung back from deference. He was close enough to see the leprosy. Yet - no fear. No disgust.
"We haven't just been sent to teach," Judas was saying. "There's more to God's Kingdom than mere words. You know Jesus is rumoured to have done miracles?"
His father shrugged. There were always rumours.
"The rumours are true. And Jesus has given us orders to do the same. We're to heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead..."
Simon gave an impatient snort.
"...and cleanse lepers."
Everything went very quiet. Simon held his breath. He felt - almost heard - his heart beating. Judas continued.
"So I insisted, well, we agreed actually, that we came here first of all." His son's voice hesitated only for a moment, then firmly but quietly he said: "Be cleansed, in the Name of Jesus, Messiah and King."
Is it conjecture that Judas Iscariot was used of God to heal Simon the Leper?
Yes, in the sense that scripture doesn't spell it out.
First, though, get used to the idea that Judas - the Son of Perdition, the one who betrayed the Lord - and who was Simon's son - actually healed, exorcised, raised the dead and cleansed lepers in the Name and by the power of Jesus.
All twelve disciples were told: do this. They were sent out in pairs. All came back overjoyed it had happened. Nobody said: "It didn't work for me" or "it didn't work for him". For each it really took place.
So that includes Judas.
And although it is conceivable that Jesus healed Simon personally, the sending out of the twelve happened very early in his ministry.
So where would Judas go first? Knowing his father was an outcast.
But let's take a worst-case scenario, of the kind beloved by Christian sceptics. Let's imagine that Simon the Leper merely woke up one morning to find his leprosy had mysteriously, spontaneously vanished. Remember he was - or had been - a Pharisee.
Never, ever would he have smiled to himself and said: "Hey, that's a stroke of luck!"
Such a thought would have been utter blasphemy.
His immediate and continuing reaction would have been one of thankfulness to God.
And the fact was - Simon the Leper was healed. Later, we find him throwing a magnificent banquet in his home village. Lepers don't give banquets. If they did, nobody would turn up.
Simon was healed. And he had an appointment to make with a priest.
For a while, Bethany would have buzzed with news of the outcast's return, cleansed. But events fade as other happenings take their place. And news of what the Messiah could do through his followers was replaced by visits from Jesus himself.
It wasn't surprising that he stayed with Martha, Lazarus and Mary. Hospitality was second nature to Martha, and even if the first visit was nothing more than a matter of finding convenient lodgings, thereafter Jesus was an eagerly welcomed friend.
The incident where Martha became flustered with the efforts of getting meals for a crowd while Mary attentively listened to Jesus is well known.
Just remember that Martha was gently told off by the Lord. Sure, he was quite capable of getting hungry (...in passing, it's interesting to note the number of times Jesus is associated with meals, both before and after his resurrection...) yet he made the distinction between a service done for him, and someone who wanted to be with him.
Important, maybe? Ponder it.
Martha was doing well. Mary was doing better.
Then came a time when Jesus could have visited Martha, Lazarus and Mary.
And he didn't.
Another familiar story. Yet - because we can think in watertight compartments - important details get forgotten.
Lazarus was seriously ill. So, too, was one of Simon's brothers. Uncle to Judas.
(What an opportunity! Our evangelical, charismatic laying-on-of-hands fingers itch to take on the situation. Two healings, just like that, and revival breaks out in Bethany.)
Jesus hears about Lazarus and does precisely nothing.
It's fair to conjecture that Judas hears about his uncle's condition and is impatient at his Master's inactivity. "What about Uncle, for heaven's sake?"
For heaven's sake nothing happens.
And in two Bethany homes, two men, watched by anxious, tearful relatives, suddenly stop their laboured, pain-ridden breathing, make as if to say something; and their bodies become mere empty shells.
Lazarus, never a strong person in life, and the rich man at whose gate he used to beg, both die.
Which is the point at which many people have problems with unbelief.
You may have heard Jehovah's Witnesses pour scorn on Luke's account of Lazarus and the Rich Man. They ridicule virtually every aspect of the story.
Conventional church teaching scarcely does better. It is gratuitously labelled a parable and treated with the disregard for detail that is the fate of parables.
Jesus never said that his telling of the events which followed Lazarus's death was other than strictly factual. He uses the name of a close friend - and names don't occur in parables - and he gives details of events in Hades that mesh with what is recorded elsewhere about Lazarus.
We hear enough about near-death experiences to have a glimmer of understanding about what happened to Lazarus. Bear in mind one important fact, though: all this took place before the crucifixion.
Lazarus never "went to heaven".
Paradise - Garden of God - was located literally, matter- of-factly, in the heart of the earth. And though pagan Greek writers only had a hazy idea of the netherworld, their term "Hades" is used by New Testament writers some eleven times.
There were two distinct parts there then. Paradise for some. Torment for others. And even in Paradise there was a sense of waiting, lengthy waiting. Waiting until the Messiah conquered two mighty beings (...not states...) known as Death and Hades, and could re-locate Paradise and the righteous dead in the Third Heaven.
When the body of Lazarus died, he suddenly realised all his pain had stopped, just like that. The wailing of those standing there was, well - touching, perhaps. Necessary, even, for them. But irrelevant.
He looked around. Two messengers - we would call them angels - were waiting for him. With a smile of joyous recognition he clasped their outstretched hands.
Together they made the brief journey.
For the rich man, death was a lurch into reality. Freedom from bodily pain went almost unnoticed in the sickening realisation that all the games he had played were over. It was time to add up the score.
He knew, without being told, that he had lost. There are no more illusions in death. No dreams. Only sanity. Inescapable Truth. Where the lies you've repeatedly told yourself until you come to believe them become sour, brittle jokes. Where motives at last are known by their true names.
"The rich man died, and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments."
These are the words of Jesus.
You may favour the idea of soul-sleep.
You may prefer torment to be a figure of speech.
The words of Jesus say differently.
Bear in mind one sobering thought - in the story the rich man calls Abraham "father" and Abraham calls him "son". We're not eavesdropping on the fate of a godless heathen.
We won't condemn the fellow for his first reaction. It's not too selfish to call for water. (Incidentally, lest you fall into the trap of thinking Hades is "spiritual", therefore somewhat unreal... it's real enough for Jesus to claim that some communication is possible. And recognition is possible.)
Water can't be brought.
That...simply...isn't...possible. Note that.
There's a chasm between the two parts of Hades.
So the rich man has a startling, simplistic and totally unselfish idea.
"Send Lazarus back".
"I've five brothers. He could warn them; that'd stop them finishing up in this place of torment."
But they've got the Torah. And the Prophets. They study those scrolls, don't they?
"Yes - but if someone came back from the dead, that would make them repent."
Note carefully the reply to that.
"If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."
That reply only gives the outcome. It doesn't say Lazarus can't be sent back.
It...is...possible. Note that.
It just doesn't achieve much.
(In passing, quite a number of people have come back from the dead for specific purposes. Forget Samuel - the Bible says it was him, but that worries folk. Remember the dead saints that arose at the crucifixion and later came out of the tombs and visited many people in Jerusalem.)
Lazarus is sent back.
And we suspect that Jesus weeps at his tomb because it is a terrible thing to call a friend away from Paradise.
Lazarus returns with a specific job to do. To tell Simon and his brothers the fate that awaits them if they don't repent.
Simon who had been cleansed of leprosy?
Surely there was a man who would have given all glory to God for being healed?
Lazarus comes back. He would be an uncomfortable person to meet. Someone with nothing to lose might not bother to be tactful. Might tell people they're idiots. Might buttonhole you and tell you (...you, a godly believer...) you're heading for a horribly painful future.
The Pharisees have already made Jesus number one on their hit list. Lazarus is a close second.
Neither is unduly upset.
Simon is upset.
Not by the thought of Jesus and Lazarus being killed. He is an expert in the Torah, remember. Some hard laws there. Laws which had caused his banishment. Laws that demanded the death penalty. Regrettable, but necessary.
However, Simon is upset that the powers of Jesus which could cleanse his leprosy and bring a decomposing Lazarus back to wholesome life aren't being used to revive his brother. Instead, there's Lazarus telling all his family they'd better repent, or they'll wind up in torment as well.
Understandable, Simon's attitude.
Yet he is a cultured man. An educated man.
Such people have their own way of handling situations like these. A showdown. A setup. A confrontation at a dinner party with enough of his Pharisee friends to help him if - perish the thought! - he is at a loss for words.
A feast. With Jesus and Lazarus as guests of honour. And all the best people to watch the drama.
Maybe - this is pure speculation - maybe the idea crosses his mind that he could challenge Jesus to raise his brother and prove he was the Messiah. Just maybe.
The meal is served by Martha. Poor, hardworking Martha once again.
Jesus and Lazarus are reclining at the table. The disciples are there. Plus any number of Pharisees and other guests. Quite a party.
But a few things are wrong. Jesus has noted them. He bides his time.
Did she know of the danger that Jesus was in? Quite possibly. The High Priest, in conjunction with the Pharisees, had ordered anyone knowing the Messiah's whereabouts to pass on the information, so he could be arrested. That news was no secret.
And Mary, remember, had sat at the feet of Jesus - listening. What if (...and this is highly probable...) she had actually heard what he said about being God's lamb, about his death? What if she had understood? Realised the Passover, only six days away, was when he would be killed.
He'd said so. Only his disciples were too thick to hear. Perhaps Mary had heard.
Then follows the incident where, with her tears and with a precious ointment, she anoints Jesus for his burial.
Some events trigger strong reactions. This one did.
Judas, with the callous brashness of a son safe on home ground, sums up the situation as one of utter waste.
"A year's wages that must've cost! She could've sold it and given the money to the poor."
He glares round at the other disciples. Browbeaten, they chorus their agreement.
Commendable, Judas. Except that you're after that money yourself. You don't give a damn for the poor. And anyhow, there'll always be poor people to help. Jesus won't always be with you.
The room goes quiet again.
Jesus looks at Simon.
And Simon has a little smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. Almost a sigh of relief.
Relief that this man can't be the Messiah after all. If he were, he'd know what kind of lady our Mary really is.
All the gossip, all the scandal he's ever heard about her surface in his mind; a schedule of sins as long as your arm that has enlivened many a conversation, destroyed many a reputation.
What kind of sinner was Mary? Obviously the answer has to involve a sex scandal, because the way we rate sins on the scale of one to ten puts sexual misadventure high on the list, and scarcely notices such peccadilloes as covetousness and malice, gluttony and pride. And as for the sins of religion...
If only this Messiah had known about Mary.
His reverie is interrupted.
"Simon - I've got a question for you."
Jesus is speaking. Quietly. Almost casually.
"Go on, master." Simon can handle it.
"Imagine a creditor with two debtors. One owes him twenty months' wages, the other owes two months'. They can't pay. So he forgives them. The question is: which of the two will love him more?"
Simon is relaxed. The question is almost a silly one.
"I guess it's the one who was forgiven the most."
"Absolutely right." Jesus nods his approval. Then he half-turns to bring Mary into the conversation.
"Did you happen to notice this woman?" he asks.
That's irony. Not sarcasm. Never confuse the two. It's also known as meiosis - deliberate understatement to make a point. Of course Simon had noticed Mary. Every eye in the room has been watching her with a compound of fascination, shock and embarrassment.
"Simon: when I came to your house, you never offered me water to bathe my feet, did you? Yet her tears have washed my feet and her hair has wiped them dry.
"Simon: you never greeted me with a kiss, did you? Yet she hasn't ceased for one moment to kiss my feet.
"Simon: you never attempted to anoint my head with oil, did you? Yet she has anointed my feet with ointment.
"Let me tell you something, Simon. Her sins - and, yes, they were many - are forgiven, because of her great love for me. But someone who hasn't been forgiven much doesn't love very much."
(It was only leprosy that Simon had been cleansed from. Superficial, in every sense of the word. Only the surface, the outside, had been made clean; the work of God had not reached any deeper. Nor had Simon wished for more. He was well content with what could be seen.)
Jesus speaks directly to Mary.
"Your sins are forgiven."
The expressions on the guests' faces are a study. Just who does he think he is, handing out forgiveness like that? A fair question - but only if asked for the purpose of finding out the answer.
These guests don't want to know.
So Jesus adds: "Your faith has saved you. Shalom!"
What faith had Mary used? And when?
A lot, at that early encounter which had irked Martha. Mary had listened enrapt to Jesus. Not merely to big-name- drop with her friends. Nor merely because of the novelty of his teaching. His words were spirit and life; she wanted to hear. To understand.
And Jesus had confirmed that what she had heard wouldn't to taken from her. It needs faith to hear, properly.
Then there was the anointing. Whether guest or gatecrasher is scarcely important. The action needed courage.
Public frowns, social pressure, are hard to withstand.
But why did she do it?
"She has done what she could," explains Jesus, "coming early to anoint my body for burial."
That takes faith.
The twelve disciples had been unable to admit that their Lord, the Messiah, was capable of death. Other women in the company would be caught unprepared by the crucifixion and would have to hastily buy and prepare spices in the day between the annual Sabbath of Passover and the weekly Sabbath - yet be unable to use them on that intervening day because they would have been unclean and barred from performing their essential pre-Sabbath duties.
Only this Mary believes what Jesus has taught and dares act on it.
But then - only Mary has been forgiven so much.
Don't we wish we had more details of her past?
There are none. We must be content to accept that she had been "forgiven much"; and that was in contrast to someone who had merely - merely! - been restored to health and society after his banishment as a leprous outcast.
The dinner party ends. One by one the guests say their goodbyes. Probably, as Jesus leaves with Lazarus and the disciples, Judas hangs back for a few private words with his father. Both are educated men. Civilised men. Speaking the elliptical, allusive language of hell itself.
"Not a successful evening, Judas. I'm rather - ah - disappointed by your friend."
"He had appeared genuine at the start, father. Perhaps it might be time for me to reconsider my loyalty. After all, family should come first.
"Quite so, my boy. Look - it's only a suggestion - but an old friend of mine has been wanting to meet this Messiah of yours. Doesn't seem to be able to get hold of him. Maybe you could drop a word in the right quarter. Can't do any harm - not to a real Messiah, if you get my meaning. And you might do yourself a bit of good into the bargain."
"This friend... Caiaphas, by any chance?"
"Why, yes. Fancy you guessing. Anyhow, you'd better go now. Your - ah - Master mustn't wonder why we're standing here gossiping, must he!"
And Judas goes out. And it is night.
His destruction is complete. Only a few details remain to be enacted: the notification to the High Priest, the payment received, the Passover meal and the convenient dismissal by Jesus. And, of course, Judas's suicide.
Many moons have passed since Jesus had said "unless you hate your father you cannot be my disciple". If Judas ever heard it, he has long forgotten the words. You can't take everything in, can you? There's just too much.
Only Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, seems to have taken in all she heard.
But then, she loves Jesus.
The disciples followed him. Martha served him. Thousands - including Simon, indirectly - were healed by him.
Mary loved him.
Perhaps - just perhaps, because we're conjecturing again - perhaps there's a lesson there.
A lesson for us.
* * *
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