They had known of his death sentence. And the day and time it was to be carried out. But they, relieved to know of the official condemnation, in their happy vindication, being rid of “that vexatious disturber of our peace”, so a court official had trumpeted, hadn’t felt any desire and less of any need to be present. “Just let me know when it happens,” the one nicknamed Pons (short for Pontius), a portly gentleman, tugging at his too small waistcoat that barely covered his ample belly, chuckled, loudly clinking his glass with his bar mates and downing a third shot of rye. “And when it does, the next round for the house is on me!”
Across town, in a tiny room, another group gathered. The mood somber. The atmosphere, spiritless. No words were spoken. The only sounds, deep, prolonged sighs of melancholia and the occasional sniffle accompanied by the rumble of throats being cleared of the phlegm and spittle of remorse.
The door flew open. All turned, in anticipation staring at the flushed face of their friend who, breathless, fell across the threshold. “It’s done!” he shouted. “The deed’s done! He’s dead!” A smiling Pons cackled, slamming his chubby palm on the counter. “Barkeep, drinks are on me! And keep ‘em comin’!”
“Uh…not…not so fast.” Rising to his feet, the herald of the glad tidings, a small man with stooped shoulders, wizened brow, and heavy-lidded eyes, wringing his hands, bowed solicitously.
“What the hell is it, Kai?” Pons demanded.
“He’s dead. Saw him die myself. But,” he gulped, “word on the street is…”
“Is what? C’mon, man, out with it!”
A rap, soft, barely detectable. One of them, Nat, rose, Bart and Thad trailing a half step back, both slowly, gingerly stepping toward the door, then, having second thoughts, afraid, stopping, freezing in place. Again, a knock. Louder, persistent. Then a hushed voice, “It’s me. I know you’re in there. All of you. Open!” Rocky got up, impatiently brushing past his tentative comrades. With a grunt he dislodged the makeshift barricade, cracking open the door ever so slightly, the dim light from the hall faintly illumining the room. “Maggie!” (Her given name was Mary, but for as long as anyone knew everyone called her Maggie.) He began to reprimand her for coming, possibly being trailed by their enemies, giving away their hiding place, but her countenance, altogether familiar, looked different, strangely, not eerily, but radiantly aglow. The look of awe.
“I have seen him with my own eyes! And he sent me to tell you…to tell you all…”
“Kai, you’d better not be joking!” Pons, reeling from his friend’s strange declaration, having fallen back against the bar, caught himself, pulling himself upright. “This,” his mouth was twisted into half a hopeful grin and half a tentative grimace, “is a joke. Right? You’re pulling my leg,” he leaned forward expectantly. “Right?”
Kai slowly turned his head back and forth. “Nope, Pons, I’m not kidding you. Folk are sayin’ Jesus is alive!”
Cursing, Pons thrust himself to his feet, knocking over his stool, slamming his meaty hands on top of the bar, his attempts to steady himself having no good effect on his roiling, retching bowels.
“Maggie, come in! Hurry!” Barely had she stepped swiftly across the threshold as Rocky, just as quickly, bolted the door; the company of those in the room – Andy, Rocky’s brother, James (who refused to be called “Jimmy”) and Johnny, the usually rambunctious siblings who, at Jesus’ arrest and death, fell into sepulchral quietude, Phil, Matt, and Jimmy, also named James (who, like James, hated to be called “Jimmy”, but it was the simple way to distinguish one from the other) – murmuring, gathering around the two of them. Squinting, Rocky looked down at her. “Now, what are you saying?”
“Never mind!” he glared at her. “I heard you. This better not be…”
“A joke? No, Rocky, I never would joke about something like this. Jesus is alive!”
“No, damn it!”, he sputtered, “I’m not gonna be alright! And get off of me!” With one hand, Pons grabbed Kai’s wrist and with the other, he wrapped cruel fingers around Kai’s neck, squeezing hard.
“C’mon, Pons, don’t kill the messenger!”
“Where?” Rocky, skeptical, almost thought better of asking, but he was more than curious. What if Maggie, ever thoughtful, caring, and loyal, was telling the truth? “Where did he…did Jesus say to meet him?”
“Galilee. That is what he told me to say. ‘Tell my friends I will go ahead of them to Galilee. Tell them to come. There they will see me.”
“Shaddup, Kai!” Pons, though rotund, remarkably agile, both in body, turning on his heel, and in thought, pursing his lips, entertained the dawning of an idea. “Uh, I’m sorry, Kai.” Lowering his voice to a soothing rumble, Pons spun back toward his fallen friend. “Here, let me help you up.”
“Um, thanks, Pons.” Kai reached for the hand that a moment ago sought to strain the life from him that, now, hoisted him from the floor. “Um, you alright?”
“I’m fine. Even better than fine. C’mon to the bar. Have a drink on me. And tell me what you think of my brainstorm. It’s brilliant! I’m brilliant, I tell you!”
And so it was (though it took a while, a good many generations for it to come to pass)…
Jesus’ friends left their hiding place, found Tommy, and went to Galilee. There, they saw Jesus, who breathed on them, imparting his spirit to them, in them, and, with the authority of his love, commanding them to tell abroad the story, his story, which they called “gospel”, “good news.” And to this day, billions are the numbers of those who, over centuries, have heard and believed.
The idea, born in a bar – after, first, an explosion of bitter anger at the hearing of the shocking news of the inability, the cosmic incompetence of death to keep Jesus dead – which came to be known as “Pons’ plan” also has been fulfilled.
“Suppose it’s not a trick and it proves to be true that Jesus is alive.” Pons, with a bit of rueful admiration, shrugged. “OK, I’ll give him that. He won the first round. But listen to me, Kai, and pay attention. So Jesus gets together with his friends, telling them to spread his message. And it really doesn’t matter what it is, because whatever it is, it will be a challenge to what already is. You know, our beloved status quo. Well, at least, beloved by all of us,” he chuckled. “Gracious sakes, there simply must be some benefits of being in the privileged classes! Don’t you agree? Of course, you do! But I digress. Jesus’ message, let’s see, will probably be something ridiculous and unachievable, you know, pie-in-the-sky stuff like love and justice.” Looking into the bewildered face of his friend, Pons grasped Kai around the collar. “I told you to pay attention, man! Stay with me on this! So, a movement gets launched. Ah, let’s give a name. The ‘Jesus-movement’. No, he came across a pretty humble. He wouldn’t put his name on it. Hmmm, how about something striking, attention-grabbing, something having to do with living…no…a way of life. That’s it! The Way! So, Jesus, through his friends, starts a movement. The Way. And like all movements, it moves! Spreads from person to person. Goes places. After a while, it’ll be all over the place. Then, and here’s the genius of my plan. Though, too bad, I probably won’t live to see it happen. But that’s alright. Things always work out this way. You start with a movement. Sure of its truth. Pure in its purpose. Then, mmmm, a few, maybe a couple of generations later, the followers will start arguing about what the truth and purpose are. They, at least some of them, may even begin to worship Jesus, like he’s a god. And you know what happens to…well, I really mean what happens for gods. Worshipers start building things. Buildings, for one. Monuments. Citadels. Even more, they’ll write books and design rites and rituals and call them sacred to the point where they’ll worship them, too, along with the buildings and monuments. And as convinced as they’ll be about what they’re doing, they’ll be confused about who’s who and what’s what. Who and what should be worshiped. When and by whom. And how. And who’s in and who’s out. And that’s when the movement will have become an institution! And all those who are in will be concerned mostly about self-preservation and self-perpetuation. They’ll be just like us!” He roared, his belly shaking with glee at the irony. “And that’s when death and the devil will have won!” Pons sighed. “Like I say, I probably won’t live to see it. But, in my gut, I know it’ll happen. Always does. So, barkeep, pour us another shot of rye!”