The Passion


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Prologue
The Man Who Was Legion Testifies

I used to live over there, beyond those hills, in the catacombs, and sleep on the soft earth of fresh graves. I used to throw myself on the ground and eat the dirt, the dirt they buried the dead men in, and then I would go out, into the town, with my mouth full of dirt, and scream and scream. I would scream nonsense. I would scream words that no man understood, that I myself did not understand, until the men of the village came and chased me back to the tombs with sticks.

But now I only have one story that I can tell, the story of my deliverance. From today until the day I die, I must  tell every man who I meet about how I was saved, because that’s what He asked me to do. ‘Go,’ He said, ‘and tell them how much I have done for you.’ He will let me do nothing else.  Even if I wanted to disobey, I could not, because my mind is sterile. I have not had an original thought since the spirits left me.

Some nights I go out and swim in the water off the cliffs, in the same bay where the pigs threw themselves and drowned, and I will open my mouth underwater and swallow as much of the sea as I can. Where else could my demons have gone, after all, but into the water? I do not think they could have drowned.

But it is no use. I am sane now. My mind is quiet, and I would wish to die, but he has also given me the gift of eternal life.

 

Thursday
Gethsemane

A dry and uncomfortably warm spring evening in Jerusalem, soon after dusk. Following a cheap meal, JESUS and his DISCIPLES have gathered in a garden at the base of the Mount of Olives and intend to spend the night there. JESUS has taken SIMON/PETER aside, and is speaking quietly to him alone. The other DISCIPLES are seated on the ground, watching the conversation. They say nothing to each other, and are obviously straining to hear what is being said, but even in the stale, windless air the words are too soft to reach their ears. Eventually, JESUS, visibly distressed, turns away and walks into the trees and out of sight, while SIMON/PETER throws his hands up in an exaggerated display of frustration and returns to the others.

JAMES. What was that about? More prima donna bullshit?

SIMON/PETER. He says I’ve rejected him, or I’m going to reject him. Apparently I’m not loyal, not really. After all this fucking time; all these nights, sleeping on the ground, the lepers, the whores, that shit with the pigs. After all of it, now I’m not trustworthy. I watched him throw that hissyfit in the temple, make an ass of himself (and all of us) at the holiest of all holy places, and I didn’t say a word. You saw me. There he was, ranting and raving, in front of the priests, of the elders, in front of women, in front of children, with that whip, that weapon, in his hands, and I didn’t even gasp. I didn’t say, ‘OK buddy, calm down. You’re making a scene.’ I didn’t do what I should have done, what every ounce of my dignity and good sense was begging me to do, and say, “You know what, screw this,” and just walk off then and there. No, I stood right by his side, like a moron, and now … and, now, fuck me, I’m another traitor I guess.

PHILIP. Yeah, another.

Several of the DISCIPLES laugh at this. ANDREW spits on the ground.

JAMES. Judas had the right idea. Just get up, and walk off. Don’t even say anything. He was so cool about it too. So collected. That bastard would have really been drinking his own blood if he had called me a traitor, right there, at the table, in front of everyone.

THOMAS. What was that all about, anyway? The cannibalism stuff, I mean.

JAMES. Isn’t it obvious? We’re all parasites. We’re literally eating him alive. Hungry ticks hanging off his immaculate body.

ANDREW. Literal fucking ticks. Fleas and bedbugs, every one of us.

While they speak, JOHN lies down. He stares absently at the starless sky, oblivious to the conversation around him, and eventually falls asleep.

THOMAS. I don’t know. I thought maybe he was threatening to kill himself. It wasn’t what he said, exactly, but the tone he used. There was something so, you know, fatalistic about the whole thing. And now he’s off crying somewhere. You saw his face a minute ago. He’s unhinged. And he always seems so, well, not fragile, but insecure. Like he distrusts himself. Like even he is afraid of what he’ll do next.

SIMON/PETER. Manipulative. That’s what he is. You don’t threaten to kill yourself. You do it, or you don’t. When you talk about your own death that way … You’re trying to get something out of someone. It’s conniving. It’s what you do when you want something, but you’re too cowardly or weak to ask, or you know the other person won’t give it willingly.

JAMES. It’s some real faggot shit, is what it is.

MATTHEW has been listening silently but intently to this conversation. His expression, as usual, is serious, but sadder than at dinner. When he does speak, he sounds weary, exhausted.

MATTHEW. I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a sucker. The humiliation of being a tax collector isn’t exactly like they say. Nobody was spitting on me in the street. No one threw any stones. No, It’s more like this sort of quiet condescension that follows you around. This subtle clucking in people’s tones. A constant tsk-tsk-tsk that is never quite vocalized. You’re not an outcast, but you’re isolated. And when you feel that way, to have someone approach you, to have someone choose you and outright say, “Come with me.” … It’s vindicating. It’s thrilling. But now I look back at that, and I think, “Could he see my vulnerability? Did he know how badly I needed to be wanted, and did he take advantage of that?” I wonder if that’s the heart of this con. I used to think I was a smart guy―I’m educated, after all. Sophisticated. Worldly wise. Not a fisherman or a day laborer, no offense. But maybe I’ve been taken for a fool. Like I said, a sucker.

PHILIP. A tool.

JAMES. No, pussies. That’s what we are. Because we’re still sitting here, bitching, like we always do. Just like last night. Tomorrow morning, we’ll get up and follow him into some new fiasco. And tomorrow night, we’ll be sitting here, or somewhere else on the bare, dirty ground, again, bitching.

THOMAS. Maybe.

PHILIP. Oh god, here he comes.

The DISCIPLES quickly lay down and pretend that they’re asleep. Enter JESUS, unkempt, his face stained with tears.

JESUS. Are you asleep? You couldn’t stay awake with me for one hour? Get up! Look!

Enter JUDAS, followed by a crowd.

 

Friday
The Good Thief in Paradise

I didn’t know him before they strung him up next to me. I had never heard his name mentioned. I have no interest in politics or religion. Prophets and revolutionaries are born losers. They are caught in a vicious cycle: they think their bad luck is a result of their righteousness, that indifference is the same as persecution, so every time they get robbed, they take it as proof of character. When the house wins, they assume the game is rigged, not that they are victims of their own poor judgment, and rather than become smarter players, they yearn to flip the tables over. Sometimes, if they can get enough sore losers together, they even do it, but ending the game will never be the same as winning it.

And that was my first thought, when they dropped that pole in the ground and we were face to face for the first time; I looked at him, and I saw the congealed blood running from the thorns in his hair and smelled the vinegar on his breath and I heard the centurions at our feet, casting lots for his dirty shirt, and I thought, “This man is a loser.”

The pain was so bad then, and I am not a man with high pain tolerance, having spent my life taking  judicious risks (or so I thought) and avoiding the unnecessary, silly agony that more ambitious, less sensible men find in love and work. But in that moment, looking at the face of a man more fucked up than I was, the throbbing in my wrists and ankles left me, and the burning hell of slow asphyxiation relaxed long enough for me to appreciate a moment of wonder at this sucker and the undisguised, innocent torture in his eyes. (Here was a man who never had a poker face!)

And that was very nearly the moment of my damnation. But then I heard the mob. They were jeering him, taunting him―”If you are god, save yourself,” “If Elijah is really your pal, see if you can score a ride in his heavenly chariot,” etc. etc., you’ve heard this part before―and it wasn’t what they were saying as much as the unwavering confidence of their tone that gave me pause. They were so sure of themselves. His divinity was an impossibility to them.

And that’s the other great mistake of suckers: they think in terms of the possible and the impossible. Reality for them is concrete; it’s real. But reality’s reality is a lie. Reality is a probably, a probability. Reality is odds. And sometimes, if your potential losses are small enough and the pot is rich enough, it pays to bet on a supposed impossibility. And, hell, in that moment, what could I have lost that was not already being choked from me; the losers had their hands around my throat as it was; no, they had their arms down my throat. Their fingers were tickling the sacks of my lungs.

So I looked at that sign above his head, and I took every derisive, sarcastic word at face value. I turned to that battered, naive face, and I looked in those eyes―the eyes of a patsy as much as of a prophet―and I said, “Forgive me, lord. Forgive me. Save me.” Or something to that effect.

And I won myself the key to the gates of Heaven. Not only that, but I was the first one through the door. Not Moses. Not Jeremiah, who suffered so much for his self-righteousness. Not even Christ himself, who was off bailing some old Jewish saints out of Hell, I guess. Me.

And if you think I don’t deserve to be here, if you think I didn’t earn it, then I urge you to sit across from me at the table there, and I’ll deal. I see they gave you a golden harp on the way in; I’ll take it as collateral.

 

Saturday
Pontius Pilate Sleeps in

Pontius Pilate awoke. He had slept soundly the night before. His wife, who was still asleep beside him, had had no nightmares. He hadn’t woken up to feel her gripping his wrist with both hands. He hadn’t had to roll over on his side and kiss her forehead while she sobbed through tightly closed eyelids and gnashed her teeth.  She didn’t speak to him in gibberish words—not Latin, not Aramaic—while he held her face against his chest; nor had she spit or scratched, as she had on the worst night, Thursday, when all the unconscious tremors and secret terrors of her disturbed sleep had finally climaxed in a fit of prolonged dry heaving that failed to bring up even one morsel of her dinner from that evening.

No, she had not disturbed him at all. His own sleep had been dreamless, and he had no memory of having slept, but he felt calm and refreshed. Outside it rained lightly, a relief after a week that had been oppressively warm. Even when the clouds had finally come the afternoon before, they had brought only darkness with them and no hint of moisture. But now the morning air was cool.

Although he had no real interest in Jewish traditions, he had become fond of the Sabbath. It was a welcome escape from the mix of fanaticism, both religious and political, and banality that had come to dominate his working days. Every zealot was lighting candles. Every messiah was eating braided bread. The cycle of conflict and the anticipation of conflict which many men seemed to be slaves of, more so than of Rome, took a grudging break for one day out of seven, and this morning he did not have to fear for the time when rigor and pragmatism would not be weapons enough to keep barbarism—and worse, idealism—at bay. This morning he could sleep late and listen to the rain.

He wondered how many millions of men throughout history had been comforted by the sound of morning rain. He knew he had heard it talked about, had read about moments like this before, many times before, had himself had this experience on many other mornings, since childhood, maybe since infancy. Maybe all of humanity, every man, had felt that waking calm, had been softened by the sound of falling water. He closed his eyes and saw all those men, thousands and thousands, lying on their backs, and all that rain water, an unending flood, settling in the Dead Sea, falling and evaporating, leaving only salt behind—and his peace was transformed into horror. He reached out and grabbed his wife’s wrist, waking her.

 

Sunday
Jesus Rises from the Dead

There is still pain
in his hands,
in his feet,
in his side.

The shroud is caked
with dried blood, and
clings to his skin.

He checks his wounds
to see if he is still bleeding.
He is.

The tomb is open; morning light
enters where the rock once was,
but standing is difficult.

And all this after just
thirty-three years.
(One third of the trinity of a natural life.)

What a burden it will be,
to walk into that light,
and preach hope.

In the field of clay,
Judas hangs,
desiccated,
and at rest.

 

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