By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 16, 2023
An important archeological discovery: A recovered transcript of a meeting, circa 30 AD, in which rabbis engaged in dialogue over martinis.
“What do you make of that fellow who goes by the name of John the Baptist? He’s the son of Zechariah, that eccentric priest who died years ago. It must have been over 30 years ago when the old man lost his marbles during his Temple assignment. I have only a vague recollection of the story. But there was something about Zechariah receiving a vision during his Temple worship and then losing his speech for the months before the birth of John, his son. Very odd, and then his son John dropped out of sight.”
“The son was a pious type in his youth, serious about the Torah and the Prophets. More serious than most rabbis, I’d say.”
“I seem to recall that when Zechariah and his wife died, John drifted off into the desert and disappeared for many years. Now he’s back, a grown man and causing a bit of a stir across the Jordan. I wonder if those reclusive Essenes living by the Dead Sea sent him packing.”
“He’s quite a spectacle. They say he dines on locusts and wild honey and cloaks himself with camel skins! Frankly, if it were up to me, I’d have him committed to one of Herod’s jails, if only for his own safety. He certainly lacks the tact necessary to deal with the people around the synagogues. He will not amuse Pilate’s soldiers. Yet people are coming from all around to hear him preach.”
“They think he’s a prophet—or maybe even the Messiah! Can you imagine that? That’s all we need around here, another messiah to draw the attention of Herod and the Romans. Without Roman circuses, the centurions and the low life lurking about Jerusalem always look for fresh meat for entertainment. Round up the usual suspects and crucify the loudmouths. It looks like John might be their next celebrity.”
“He’s an unwilling celebrity, though. He said that someone will come after him and insisted, ‘He must increase, and I must decrease.’”
“But who ‘must increase’? I want a name. He also said he wasn’t worthy to untie the man’s sandal strap. John or his successor doesn’t sound like one of us. Imagine a flea-infested camel-hair-clad desert-nomad at one of our banquets! I bet he’d refuse to sit at the head table even if we asked!”
“The chief priests in Jerusalem sent a delegation of scribes and Pharisees to check the guy out. I’m sure glad they didn’t send me. They included the usual weasels who find any reason to bilk our Temple pilgrims. Do you know what John did? He gazed at them, I’m told, with fierce and determined eyes and, in front of everyone, called them a ‘brood of vipers’! I would have loved to have seen their faces! Well said, old boy.”
“He sure sized them up correctly. The poor guy said something about ‘the wrath to come.’ He’s right about that one, too, but not in the way he thinks. These fellows have long memories, and I’m afraid John himself will learn something about ‘wrath’ before it’s all over. But it will have nothing to do with the wrath of God. He’ll never know what hit him.”
“Collections? No, I haven’t noticed any change in my collections. They’re holding steady, although more folks are showing up on the Sabbath. Mostly transients and riff-raff. I can’t expect them to pony up donations in any significant way. Even the tax collectors don’t bother them.”
“Yet the newcomers speak warmly of John and are persuaded he’s up to something good and noble. They say he preaches something like, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Nice thought, that.”
“He’s dunking them at the Jordan River and calling it a ‘baptism of repentance.’ John obviously doesn’t know our rituals, how carefully we purify ourselves, and the inside and outside of our drinking cups. He needs to spend some time in formation with the scribes and Pharisees.”
“He actually accused Herod of living in sin with Herodias. That’s divisive!”
“You’ve got to be kidding?! Caiaphas will be furious. He warned us to keep our religion inside our synagogues and within the walls of the Temple. We are not to judge, certainly not Herod and the Romans. At the annual gathering of scribes, if he said it once, he said it a dozen times: we need to be careful and, if necessary, it is ‘better that one man dies than the whole Jewish nation.’ It sounds like John will be matzah bread sooner rather than later.”
“He’s already in jail? When did that happen? Well, the chief priests won’t lift a finger to help. Just as well. Things will calm down now, and we can get on with our lives. Makes me all the more grateful I never satisfied my curiosity by visiting him.”
“Still, there are a few disturbing things he said. What do you suppose he meant by ‘He must increase, and I must decrease?’ Well, decrease he did. That’ll teach him to throw sand at Herod and ignore the wise counsel of Caiaphas. Herodias, Herod’s wife, was furious with John because he called them out on their unlawful marriage. That lapse of discretion will cost him his head.”
“What do you suppose he meant when he told his followers—and this I heard just the other day—to ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’? He said that the mysterious fellow ‘existed before’ him, ‘ranks ahead’ of him and that he, John, baptized with water so that this mysterious stranger ‘might be made known to Israel.’ And most disturbing of all, he called the mystery man the Son of God!”
“The last time there was talk of a messiah around here, Herod’s daddy slaughtered 40 male babies in Bethlehem to make sure none arrived on his watch. Don’t mess with Herod’s son, a chip off the old block.”
“Now that John is in jail, though, with a little luck, nothing will come of any of this. I hope the annual High Priest’s Chislev Appeal meets its goal.”
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Posted by: Gramps -
Jan. 17, 2023 7:19 PM ET USA
I suspect, Father Jerry, that you were a fan of The Screwtape Letters. Well done!
Posted by: miketimmer499385 -
Jan. 17, 2023 10:14 AM ET USA
I suggest that you could be the new Diogenes. Don't let any opportunity to reprise this form of teaching pass by.