While I was writing The Camerado Chronicles in the summer of 2009, I picked up The Last Temptation of Christ at a used book store, not knowing how deeply it would influence the rest of that project, nor the short story that would emerge directly from it. Here is the scene that inspired the writing of The Continuing Story of Ananias and Sapphira, with some commentary of the Chronicles following it:
“An old village notable, very rich, cruel and dishonest, stood on his doorway, his hands against the jambs, and stared with curiosity at the approaching multitude. The mass of children, running in front and waving their palm leaves and olive branches in the air, knocked on the doors and shouted, “He’s coming, he’s coming, the Son of David is coming!” They were followed by a man dressed in white, with hair which spilled down into his shoulders. Tranquil and smiling, he extended his hands to the left and the right as though blessing the houses…
The old notable felt uneasy. “Now who is this?” he asked, grasping the door jambs securely lest the mob rush inside and plunder his wealth.
Someone stopped and answered him. “It’s the new prophet, Ananias. This man in white you see before you holds life in one hand, death in the other, and portions them just as he pleases. A word to the wise, Ananias: flatter him, treat him well.”
When old Ananias heard this, he became terrified. He had many troubles weighing on his soul, and at night he often woke up with a start to find himself struck dumb with fear. In his nightmares he seemed to be roasting, plunged up to the neck in the flames of hell. Perhaps this man could save him. Everything in this world is sorcery, he reflected, and this man is a sorcerer. So, let’s set the table for him, let’s invest a little money to feed him, and perhaps he’ll perform a miracle.
Having made the decision, he stepped out into the middle of the road and placed his palm over his heart. “Son of David,” he said, “I am old Ananias, a sinner, and you are a saint. When I learned that you deigned to set foot in our village, I had tables set so that you could dine. Come in, please, if you’ll be so kind. As we all know, it’s for us sinners that saints come into the world, and my home is thirsting for sanctity.”
Jesus stopped. “What you say pleases me, Ananias. I’m glad to meet you!”
He entered the rich village house. The slaves arranged the tables in the courtyard and brought pillows. Jesus reclined, and on either side of him reclined John, Andrew, Judas and also sly Thomas, who pretended to be a disciple in order to eat. The old proprietor enthroned himself opposite them, searching in his mind for a subtle way in which to direct the conversation to the subject of dreams and get the exorcist to exorcize his nightmares. The food was brought, and also two pitchers of wine. The people stood outside and watched them eat and talk about God, the weather and the vineyards. When they had finished their food and drink the slaves brought kettles and basins. The guests washed their hands and prepared to rise. At this point old Ananias’ endurance gave out. I went to the expense of giving him a meal, he said to himself. He ate and drank –he and his suite. Now it is only right that he should pay.
“Teacher, I have nightmares,” he said. “I learned that you are considered to be a great exorcist. I did all that I could for you; now, let your Holiness do something for me: take pity on me and exorcize my dreams. They say that you speak and exorcize with parables. Tell me a parable, therefore I shall understand its hidden meaning and be cured. Everything in the world is sorcery, isn’t it? Well, then, perform your sorcery.”
Jesus smiled and looked into the old man’s eyes. This was not the first time he had seen the rapacious jaws, the fat napes and quick-moving eyes of the glutted. They made him shudder. These people ate and drank and laughed, thought the whole world belonged to them; they stole, danced, whored –and had not the slightest idea that they were burning in the fires of hell. It was only at rare times, in sleep, that they opened their eyes and saw….Jesus looked at the old glutton, looked at his flesh, his eyes, his fear –and once more, the truth inside him became a tale.
“Open your ears, Ananias,” he said, “and open your heart, for I shall speak.”
“I have opened my ears and I have opened my heart, praise be God.”
“Once, Ananias, there was a rich man who was unjust and dishonest. He ate and drank, dressed himself in silks and purple, and never gave as much as a green leaf to his neighbor Lazarus, who was hungry and cold. Lazarus crawled under the tables to gather up the crumbs and lick the bare bones, but the slaves threw him out. He sat on the threshold, and the dogs came and licked his wounds. Then came the appointed day and both of them died. One went to the eternal fire, the other to the bosom of Abraham. One day the rich man lifted his eyes and saw his neighbor Lazarus laughing and rejoicing in Abraham’s bosom. ‘Father Abraham, Father Abraham,’ he cried, ‘send Lazarus down; let him moisten the tip of his finger in order to cool my mouth –I am roasting!’ But Abraham answered him: ‘Think back to the days when you ate and drank and enjoyed the fat of the land while he was hungry and cold. Did you ever give him as much as a green leaf? Now it is his turn to enjoy himself, and yours to burn forever and ever.’”
Jesus sighed and was quiet. Old Ananias stood with opened mouth, waiting to hear more. His lips had become dry, his throat parched. He looked at Jesus, imploring him with his eyes.
“Is that all?” he asked, his voice trembling. “Is that all; is there nothing more?”
“Served him right!” Judas said with a laugh. “Whoever overeats and overdrinks on earth will vomit everything up in Hades.”
But Zebedee’s younger son leaned over to Jesus’ chest. “Rabbi,” he said softly, “your words have not unburdened my heart. How many times have you instructed us to forgive our enemies! You must love your enemy, you told us, and if he wrongs you seven and seventy-seven times, you must do good to him seven and seventy-seven times. This, you said, is the only way hatred can be discharged from the world. But is God unable to forgive?”
“God is just,” interrupted the redbeard [Judas] , throwing a sarcastic glance at Ananias.
“God is perfect goodness,” John objected.
“Does this mean there is no hope?” stammered the old proprietor. “Is the parable finished?”
Thomas got up, took a stride toward the street door, and stopped. “No, milord, it is not finished,” he scoffed. “There is more.”
“Speak, my child, and you shall have my blessing.”
“The rich man’s name is Ananias!” said Thomas. He grabbed his bundle of wares and was suddenly outside in the middle of the street, where he stood and guffawed with the neighbors.
The blood rose to the old notable’s large head, and his eyes grew dim, like the setting sun.
Jesus put out his hand and stroked his beloved companion’s curly hair. “John,” he said, “all have ears, and heard; all have minds, and judged. God is just, they said, and they were unable to go beyond. But you have a heart as well, and you said, Yes, God is just, but that is not enough. He is also perfect goodness. The parable cannot stand as it is; it must have a different ending.”
“Pardon me, Rabbi,” said the youth, “but that was exactly what my heart felt. Man forgives, I said to myself. Is it possible that God does not? No, it is impossible. The parable is a great blasphemy and cannot stand as it is. It must have a different ending.”
“It does have a different ending, John beloved,” said Jesus, smiling. “Listen, Ananias, and you will be reassured; listen you who are in the yard, and you, neighbors, who laugh in the street. God is not only just, he is good; and he is not only good, he is also the Father. When Lazarus heard Abraham’s words he sighed and addressed God in his mind: ‘God, how can anyone be happy in Paradise when he knows that there is a man –a soul– roasting for all eternity? Refresh him, Lord, that I may be refreshed. Deliver him, Lord, that I may be delivered. Otherwise I too shall begin to feel the flames.’ God heard his thought and was glad. ‘Lazarus, beloved,’ he said, ‘go down; take the thirster by the hand. My fountains are inexhaustible. Bring him here so that he may drink and refresh himself, and you refresh yourself with him.’…’For all eternity?’ asked Lazarus. ‘Yes, for all eternity,’ God replied.
Jesus got up without a further word. Night had overwhelmed the earth. The people dispersed; men and women returned to their wretched huts, whispering to one another. Their hearts had been filled. Can the word give nourishment? they asked themselves. Yes, it can –when it is the good word!
Jesus held out his hand to take leave of the old proprietor, but Ananias fell at his feet.
“Rabbi,” he murmured, “forgive me!” and he burst into tears.
This is one of several places where this most beautiful book has brought joyful tears to my eyes! Fear does not heal the broken heart –only love does! The Jesus of the Gospels knows this, because He is God’s love personified, and He wants us to choose to share in that love over the more petty whims and demands of the ego, including the desire for vengeance. In the parable, he lets Lazarus decide to bring God’s forgiveness to the tormented rich man, and God is clearly pleased by his decision; in telling the parable, Jesus lets John decide that God’s infinite forgiveness is missing and there must be more to the story, and Jesus is clearly pleased by his decision. This suggests to me that we can be instrumental in bringing God’s mercy and forgiveness to those on earth who fear it does not exist or apply to them.
So why do so many of His followers insist on tainting His love with fear-based teachings?
I’m not very much like a Rabbi, as I’m sure we’ve well established in these pages. But I can be a John to the world. I can be one who stands up and says fear-based teachings are a blasphemy to our God who is Love, and I can beg the Teacher for a story with a different ending than the one given by men –though I know by faith that this story has already been written, and is being transcribed into our hearts through the Word of God. [which translates in modern Avant-Godspeak as “the experience of Sruti”]
Kazantzakis wrote this scene and all the others in ‘The Last Temptation’ as a work of fiction –historical fiction, yes, but fiction nonetheless. He does not claim any authority to say that this is exactly how it all went down; he wrote to portray the heart of Christ as he had received it as a devout believer, not to tell His biography.
The New Testament of the Christian Bible, which does claim authority and historical authenticity, does not include the second part of Jesus’ parable, only the first (Luke 16:19-26). Right after Abraham tells the rich man to get lost (Lazarus presumably not paying attention, or perhaps giving the rich man a Bronx cheer), Abraham even denies the man’s compassionate request for a visitation of testimony to his five brothers who still live, “lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham says, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:28-31)
Yet these words are supposedly being spoken by the very One who was sent to reach those who had not heard Moses and the prophets! One who (somewhat ironically, no?) will later be said to rise from the dead Himself! Are we to assume that Jesus is denying his own power to save? Why would He do such an insane, self-contradictory thing as that??? Not to mention the contradiction of instructing us to seek the heart of God by practicing His infinite forgiveness with each other, while telling tales that deny this same forgiveness of God himself. Why would our Lord and Savior have such drastic mood swings?
Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous baseball player, Yogi Berra, who was a great catcher for many years with the Yankees, but is probably more famous for his peculiar statements of fact (“it ain’t over til it’s over”) and other anecdotes which display his own quirky personal brand of logic. (One that comes to mind: Yogi was asked if he would like his pizza cut into four or eight slices, and he said, “Better make it four, I don’t think I could eat eight.”) However, one of his better quotes also sheds some light on the fact that his legend, so to speak, probably proceeded him, and that some of the more famous Yogiisms are probably other people’s ideas of this he would have said. The quote: “I didn’t say everything I said.”
In that spirit, and in the age-old Biblian* tradition, I’ll list your possible answers for you:
1) Jesus was a madman.
2) Jesus was a liar.
3) Jesus didn’t say everything he said.
*I had earlier coined the term “Biblian” to describe Christians whose primary source of faith and object of reverence is the words of the Bible, as opposed to Christ itself, which I equate to the non-dual reality that in other traditions is known as the Tao, or Atman, or Al-Haqq etc.