He smelled of hemp and strangled throats, but then again, no one ever imagines him that way.
The First Century was a splendid time to be alive.
A splendid time, indeed.
The Pax Romana, the Roman Age of Peace, held sway over all the living and all the dead.. The Roman legions had trampled the land from what would be Ireland to what would be Libya..
There was nothing wrong in the world and all was right. Until, that is, that shepherd boy came out of the Judean hills.
He was smoking a hash pipe and was completely wasted. He was singing something that sounded suspiciously like “Ave Maria”.
(In fact Schubert’s melody to “Ave Maria” would not be written for another 1,700 years. But let’s leave that detail to the historians. In Christ, all things are possible.)
In any case, his father was looking for him in Jerusalem and found him in the holy Temple preaching to the money changers and those who sold birds for sacrifices.
He bought a single bird, strangled it, and then- like the geek at the circus- he bit its head off. To be completely fair, he didn’t actually eat the bird’s head. He spit it out and maybe that is to his credit.
When his father saw that he delighted in hurting animals he shook his head and shuffled the boy back to Galilee.
He was an only child, had wet his bed frequently, liked to start fires and had terrible night terrors.
One night the father awoke to find the boy holding a large rock above his head. The boy laughed, threw the rock away, and went back to bed.
From that day forward the Father was afraid of the Son.
There were events that happened in and around his home town that could not be explained. There was a prostitute named “Merry Mary”.
The young man had never been to a prostitute before. Nonetheless, he hated them. He hated her. She took him to bed and was found two days later.
She had been sawed, neatly, in half.
The villagers recognized that her body had been sliced open by a common carpenter’s tool.
When the body was discovered the village remained quiet and the two halves of the body were interred together in a shallow grave.
What could they say? She was a whore and she deserved what she got?
Later that spring he left Galilee to go on the road to Jerusalem. While he was walking down the road two young men approached him and asked for his help to cure their relative, Lazarus. He had fallen ill and was lying by the side of the road.
The man laid down on Lazarus, as if to heal him. While the others were distracted the man placed a bag over Lazarus’s mouth and nose.
The body gave a jerk and then Lazarus was gone.
“You came for me too late,” the man said. “There was nothing I could do. Not everyone who’s sick deserves some kind of healing.”
When he entered Jerusalem there were crowds who lined the streets. They had heard of the pillar of cloud and of fire that always preceded his coming.
The Roman soldiers arrested him and brought him to the Governor.
“Who are you?” asked the Governor.
“Who do you think I am?”
“I have heard you called the Son of Man,” said the Governor.
“That is true,” he said. “And in times to come I will be called Man’s son.”
“Crucify him,” chanted the Roman crowds outside.
“He is a killer who brings death with him!”
The Roman soldiers took him to a hill that was shaped like a rotting skull.
On that same day the man was hung with two thieves on either side of him. Before he died the man reached out and strangled both of the thieves who were next to him.
When he took his last breath he said, “Forgive me, Father. I knew what I was doing all along.”
Rabbi Steven Lebow was the first clergyman to perform same sex ceremonies in the Deep South. His life and work in civil rights have been profiled in the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Wall Street Journal, CNN and NPR. He is the Senior Rabbi of Temple Kol Emeth in Marietta, Georgia.