The Continuing Story of Ananias and Sapphira
by Waldo Noesta
The Continuing Story of Ananias and Sapphira
Copyright: Waldo Noesta
Published: 5 Dec 2018
Publisher: ND Media
Cover photo: Giancarlo Ligouri
The right of Waldo Noesta to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. I am all in favor of circulating this story to as wide an audience as possible, and I don’t mind at all if you help with the effort, just please do not pretend it is yours. Because it isn’t, and that would be wrong.
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common…. But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto man, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and a great fear came on all them that heard these things. And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. And it was about the space of three hours later, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in. And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much. Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out. Then she fell down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and carrying her forth, buried her by her husband. And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
–Acts 4:32, 5:1-11
When Ananias awoke, he found himself sitting in a chair– the kind that rolls around and leans back ergonomically– in an office that was not much larger than a decent walk-in closet. A large slate-gray metal desk occupied much of the space. Aside from the blood-red, fire resistant carpet that covered the floor, most of the room was the same monochromatic gray as the desk, and one of those annoying florescent lights with the barely perceptible flicker hung from the ceiling.
Looking around the room, he noticed such odd items as a clock with no hands, and what looked like a calendar without numbers. Next to the calendar was a framed needlepoint stitching, red letters on an off-white background. The letters were actually symbolic glyphs from an alphabet he did not recognize. Had he been able to translate it, Ananias would have read, “Blessed be the Name of His Kingdom’s Glory forever and ever.”
The dead man was too confused to be frightened. A tall, lean fellow with the dusty air of a man whose hands had labored for every penny he’d ever had, Ananias was right around the late September of his life– or so he thought at the time. He breathed deep and exhaled slowly, running his fingers through the tight salt-and-pepper curls of his hair (more pepper than salt, but the balance had been growing more saline of late).
As he assessed his new and strange surroundings, a great wave of fear suddenly came over Ananias, and he thought, Where is Sapphira?
A door opened behind him, and in walked a person wearing typical Monday morning office garb, except that it was all white. A large pair of wings, fully plumed and elegant, protruded from the back of his starched collared shirt. He had a little paunch in his midsection and a comb over on his half-bald plate, and the halo that hovered a few inches above him had seen brighter days. He did not smile as he sat down across the desk, staring at a file folder he was carrying.
“Ohhhh-K, who do we have here….A-nanny-ass? Did I say that correctly?” His voice matched the room’s decor.
“Uh, well, it’s actually, um, Ana-NYE-us.”
“Mmm, my apologies. Ananias. OK. Well my name is Gabriel, and I’m with the Middle Realm division of Pearly Gates Incorporated. I’m going to be your case worker.”
Ananias fidgeted nervously in his chair, slouched over like a kid in the principal’s office. “Um, Pearly Gates Incorporated?”
“World population was growing much too fast, and the lines at the actual gates were getting horrendously long, so God decided to outsource.”
“Oh, I see….and um, wh-what’s the uh, Middle Realm?”
“It’s a place called Purgatory. Or I believe your people call it Gehenom. This is where souls are sent after death to be purged of the impurities that would prevent them from experiencing heaven.”
Ananias’ already pale face turned a shade or two whiter.
“You mean….I-I’m dead?
“As a doorknob, yes sir.” Gabriel scanned the file on the desk before him. “I have you down at…3:45 in the afternoon on Sunday, in the city of Jerusalem. Ring a bell?”
Ananias slumped even further down in his chair. He did not regard the case worker’s question; too many thoughts were spinning his mind already. He struggled to catch hold of one in order to form a question.
“But I….how….what did you call this place where I am? Purgatory? I’ve never heard of it before in the Church of the Way.”
“No, the earthbound Yahshuites have not found revelation of it yet, but it’s been the SOP for SILs since the very beginning. Adam was my first client in fact. Stubborn old goat he was, blamed his wife for everything. But even he made it eventually.”
“What was that…SOP? SILs?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s department talk. What I mean is Purgatory is the standard operating procedure for Souls In Limbo. These are people who sought after the heart of God, who desire the Kingdom of Heaven –basically anyone who has loved and wanted to be loved back– but have unresolved attachments to particular things of the world that they never learned to submit to God. If there is anything that you love more than God –in other words, if you revere any part more than the Whole— then you are not ready to experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Until you are ready to let go of everything that you have gathered unto you and consider a part of yourself, you cannot become whole, and you will remain in limbo.”
An alarm sounded inside the dead man’s mind, and his slouch turned into a rigid uprisen stance on the edge of his chair. Indignation suddenly flooded the voice that had been meekened by confusion.
“Wait a minute….are you trying to tell me I haven’t been saved?”
The caseworker was unmoved. “I’m not trying to tell you anything, Ananias. That is exactly what I did say. Your soul is in limbo. Whatever path of liberation you started on earth is not yet complete.”
“But I can’t be in limbo. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! I’m supposed to go straight to heaven to be with him when I die!”
“Yes, that is noted here in your file,” said Gabriel, scanning the papers on the desk again. “And your Spiritual Coroner’s report indicates that this belief helped you sever most of your earthly attachments, but evidently not all of them. That is what we’re here to find out: what is keeping you from following your Savior to heaven.”
Ananias tried to object, but his mind fell back into confusion. The short-lived resistance crumbled, and he slumped even further down in his chair as a declaration of his reluctant surrender.
“OK but….how long will I be in limbo?”
“Honestly, Ananias, that’s mostly up to you. And it isn’t an easy question to assess since we are not operating on any system of time. The most accurate way to say it is that you will spend eternity here, and when we have finished what we need to accomplish, you will go to heaven and spend eternity there. The workload in Purgatory varies tremendously. It depends upon how many different attachments you have, how strong they are, and how easily you will yield them. With some people” –the case worker snapped his fingers– “just like that. Others –not many, but some– these poor souls have to have their attachments literally burned off. This is what your Master meant when he said, “If a man abideth not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Most people hear that and think the fire is punishment, but it is the same refining, baptismal fire that he spoke of going through while alive, only now it is not voluntary.
“This department tries to deal with attachments through voluntary submission,” Gabriel continued, rubbing the side of his nose occasionally with the eraser end of a pencil. “And like I said, most of the time we are successful. The biggest challenge we face here is attachment to one’s self –or, should I say, the self-image, the ego. Overcoming it is the easiest way to heaven, in the sense that all other attachments usually fall away along with it, but it is the hardest nut to crack for most people. Jesus Christ was supposed to deliver the coup de grace to the egos of His followers, but this office is already seeing an alarming number of disciples of the Way come through just as anchored to their ego as ever. All they care about is their salvation. ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Please let me sit beside You in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m saved because I found Jesus, or Jesus chose me.’ All the same I-Me crap we hear from everybody else. But your coroner’s report is favorable; I don’t see any of the typical signs of egocentrism or egomania. So if you are ready, we could jump right into our first session and–”
“Wait, please,” interrupted the dead man. “Before we go any further, I need to know about Sapphira. Where is my dear wife? Is she OK?”
Gabriel shuffled through the papers intently. “Let’s see….Sapphira, Sapphira….yes, we got her too. She kicked it a couple hours later in the same location.”
Ananias’ head dropped into his hands and he burst into tears. “Oh my Sapphira, my sweet sweet Sapphira…what could have happened to you? No, oh no, oh no!!!”
The case worker, who had never been an earthbound human himself, always felt a sort of measured sympathy for those who had not yet learned that death is a door that opens rather than closes. But knowing that the only way his clients would learn this inscrutable truth would be to press on with the purging process, he was not one to sit idly while the frivolous human drama plays itself out on the other side of the desk.
“Well now, um, Ananias, don’t worry. Don’t worry about Sapphira, she’ll go through the same process and I’m sure she’ll come out fine.”
Ananias lifted his blubbering face and choked back his tears so he could speak.
“Is she here? Please, I beg you, I need to see her, I need to know she is all right.”
“I’m sorry, but that is strictly against department policy. We cannot let you contact anyone, living or dead, until we’ve resolved your limbo status. And trust me, that is for your own good, you might be–”
“Oh I don’t care about policy! Or for my own good! My wife is dead, and I don’t even know how or why. I need to see her. Please make an exception!”
“The only thing you need to do right now, Ananias, is sit down with me and figure out what’s keeping you out of heaven. It just might be an attachment to your wife, and I can’t risk letting you indulge that by going to see her. You are no good to her or anyone else with one foot in purgatory and the other dangling toward earth. You need to focus and–”
“But you don’t understand!! I can’t live without her!!”
“WELL THAT’S NOT AN ISSUE ANYMORE NOW, IS IT?!”
Both combatants stopped in their tracks after that. Gabriel leaned forward with his elbows on the desk and his fingertips supporting his head near the temples. Neither of them spoke for several seconds. Then the case worker exhaled deeply.
“Look….I’m sorry. I know your heart is with her right now, and I know why it is there too. But we need you here, now, more fully than you ever were during your life. Your wife is in God’s hands right now, just as you are. You have to trust in that. Your Master promised God that He would not lose a single one of his sheep, and I don’t intend to let you or Sapphira become the exception that proves the rule. Are you with me on this Ananias? Can we pull it together and get you booked on that Great White Train to points up?”
Ananias picked himself up from what suddenly seemed like an undignified slouch, and swallowed hard. Without making any effort to remove the more tangible signs of grief from his face, but without adding to them as well, he spoke. “Yes….yes, I am with you. For her, I will do whatever you ask of me.”
“Good. And that is a very constructive way to see it too, by the way. Those who want salvation for their own sake are the ones who have the hardest time finding it. Why don’t we get right down to brass tacks as they say and jump right into the search for these attachments.”
Ananias nodded his agreement.
“OK. Now, some case workers want to hear your very first memory –right up to your parents’ copulation if you can recall it– and work forward from there. I, on the other hand, prefer to start by exploring the circumstances surrounding the death– I find that they generally reveal the best clues. This is not easy, I understand. You just crossed over the threshold between your earthbound life and the life that follows it. You are disoriented, a little scared perhaps. You want to cling to what is comforting and familiar. The last thing you want to dwell on right now is the final days or hours or moments of your earthbound life. That is why, for the newly dead, these circumstances exist in the murkiest parts of the memory. But we need you to try. What we are looking to do is create a very rough outline of the reasons why your earthbound life was terminated, for this often corresponds directly with the attachments that are keeping you in limbo.
“Keep in mind,” he continued, “that we will never be able to pinpoint the precise reasons why the Boss decided to punch your ticket –not because they are a big secret or anything, but because they are way, way, way too large for the capacity of the earthbound human mind. I’m not even equipped to handle that kind of information, and it’s not the type of thing that could be put on paper and stored in your files either. This whole office would not have enough space to contain the files documenting the trail of causes and effects that a single earthbound life creates along its path from birth to death!
“But, we can use that rough outline to make some reasonable deductions that will be helpful for us. What this department has learned through trial-and-error is that God often seems to pull the plug on people when the circumstances created by life choices and cause-and-effect sequences have brought them to what you could call a spiritual cul-de-sac. They cannot go any further forward, and all there is to do is settle down –invariably into the spiritual equivalent of tract housing– or turn around. Belief-based paths like the Way, as taught by your Master’s apostles, often present this scenario: the belief helps you release most of your earthly attachments, but it also gives you a complacency, a false sense of security that they are all gone and there is no more work to do. Ninety percent of the time in these cases, we find it to be that attachment to the ego I mentioned before. But you don’t show the classic signs of ego attachment, in fact I see the evidence of someone who was very eager to deny himself before God. Can you relate to any of this Ananias? Tell me your thoughts.”
The dead man gazed pensively at a spot near the junction of the back wall and the ceiling. Everything connected to the event of his death was lost in a thick haze in his mind, just as his case worker had suggested.
“Well…I know that Sapphira and I were always very happy together. We weren’t rich or anything, but I worked hard and we owned some land and a modest house. She and I were so close, it seemed like each year brought us closer, made us enjoy each other more. We raised four good children together, watched them grow into happy and healthy adults, and we loved them just as well. I mean, in a lot of ways I guess we were the envy of the neighborhood. Everyone seemed to think that Sapphira and I had the perfect family –the perfect life.”
Ananias paused. He knew this answer was not going to suffice, and it didn’t. The case worker stared intently, waiting for the inevitable “but.” (It was a running joke in the department that no matter how happy the earthbound humans seemed to be during their lives, every one of them still had a “but.”)
“….But time also showed us that it wasn’t enough to love one other person like that, or even one’s own family. We were missing something in our lives. We were too closed around each other, keeping the world out of our happy little home. There was no deeper meaning to our lives. I mean the Hebrew law is very righteous, and we followed it as best we could, don’t get me wrong. But it still kept us focused on ourselves. It wasn’t powerful enough to break those bonds….I think we knew there was supposed to be something more than just living for each other.”
“Mmm, yes, so you feel there was some attachment to the relationship perhaps?”
Ananias pondered that thought for a moment. “Yeah, I suppose you could say there was, yes.”
“And how did you seek to remedy that?”
“I guess that was our motivation for following Christ. We never saw Him or heard Him speak. We’d just heard all the hubbub around town and about the son of David coming, and some people were going around saying that He was the Messiah, and other people were saying that those people were crazy….quite a whirlwind it was, let me tell you. The next thing I knew, we heard he was captured by the Romans and crucified, and I thought, Oh well, that’s that.
“Of course, I’m sure you know what happened a little while later, when His disciples started spreading the word around Jerusalem that Jesus’ body was no longer entombed, that He had been resurrected and ascended to heaven. One day Sapphira and I were walking among the olive groves along the edge of the city –that was one of our very favorite things to do together– when we were approached by a young man named Matthew. You could tell right away that he was a man of the Spirit –his eyes were lit up like there were candles inside. He told us that he had once been a lecherous tax collector, that he loathed all of humanity and hated himself for it. Then he told us that the new Prophet had changed his heart and turned his life completely around, and all he wanted to do now was to share God’s love with his brothers and sisters.” Ananias chuckled as he remembered the apostle’s animated gestures and manner of speech. “He’d say things like, ‘Ah, you shoulda seen this guy, man! So gentle, and yet he had so much faith in the goodness of God that he could move mountains!” We talked with Matthew in the olive grove for hours. He invited us to come observe the next Sabbath with the apostles and the new community that was rising up in Jerusalem, and we accepted.”
“OK,” said the case worker, leaning back in his chair, hands clasped together with interlocking fingers just below his chin. “Everything sounds pretty kosher so far. What was your experience like at the community of the Way?”
“Oh wow, like being transported to another world! Everybody there was just like Matthew, just on fire with love for God and each other. We went to our first gathering early in the morning. All the apostles were there, plus a few dozen new followers, men, women and children. They all sang and danced together so joyfully. Then one by one people would speak as God moved them. They talked about the things Jesus had done, and how He had left the world in body but remained as the Holy Spirit who dwelt within those who accepted His call to follow Him in the way of love and self-sacrifice. The new disciples would talk about how they were lost before coming to the community, but they felt the truth in the words that were being spoken and they knew He was our Messiah. They described how His Holy Spirit came upon them when they were baptized, and that He had been their great comforter and counselor ever since. It was such a heartwarming experience listening to these tales of redemption. They were so kind and inviting to newcomers like Sapphira and me, always talking about a ‘great commission’ that Jesus had given them through the Holy Spirit to welcome all into the family. After the gathering, they shared a meal together –I mean everyone all together; no one was left out or short-changed because they couldn’t work as much. I had never seen anything quite like this! So many people of this world will say they love their brother, until it is time to divide up the food –then it is every man for himself! But not among the disciples of Jesus Christ! I think that impressed me more than anything else, because it was more than just talk. This was the kind of love I wanted to experience.”
“And when did you decide to be baptized into the community?”
“Not immediately. The people in the community emphasized that Jesus told us to ‘count the cost’ before following Him, that we must consider everything of the world we must leave behind to be His disciple.”
“Yes,” said Gabriel, beginning to swivel. “It is the same principle that we use here in the Middle Realm. A life of austerity is meant to release you from what binds you to your ego, enabling you to ‘die while yet you live.’ In this case, it is a voluntary death, and it is meant to release you from the ego during your earthbound life. This is why we say that the Way of Christ is supposed to bring about the death of the ego, not its eternal preservation. And after ‘counting the cost’” –he made the little bobbing quotation signs with his fingers– “what did you and your wife decide?”
“Well, after going to a few more meetings and praying about it as much as we could, I woke up one morning and I was having this vision of Sapphira and me together in the community. We were out on the streets of Jerusalem sharing our testimony with people just as Matthew had with us. And there were angels just above us, watching us, guiding our tongues as we spoke, leading us to the right people.
“Then the vision changed: we were out roaming the countryside with other disciples, singing joyful psalms to the Lord, talking with anyone who would listen about Jesus. Again the angels were with us, leading us to people who were seeking the truth, or who just needed to hear a kind word.
“Then we were on a ship –I think we were crossing the Mediterranean– and there was a wild, ferocious man with us who had recently been converted and now he was a missionary to far-off communities all over the world. He was preaching to us on the ship about the joy of being part of the body of Christ, and how those who walk in faith will feel this joy even through the most horrendous persecutions and most intense physical pain. He told us this is what maintained our Lord through the crucifixion. And all the while the angels were there too, watching over us and protecting the ship.
“Then came the interesting part of the vision. Suddenly the community was gone. Sapphira and I were alone, surrounded by Roman soldiers. They were making us carry huge wooden crosses up this hill. I mean, we were staggering under the weight of these things, and the soldiers were lashing us with their whips and mocking our Lord and God. Our blood was spilling out from our bodies and our flesh was ripped and shredded. When we finally reached the top of the hill, we put the crosses down, and they forced us to lie upon them. Then they drove nails through our hands and feet as they spat upon us. They hoisted the crosses up and planted them in the ground. And there we were, Sapphira and I, side by side. hanging and waiting to die. I looked and saw that the angels were there too, watching, but they did not intervene or offer any comfort. And the amazing part is…I didn’t need them to. In the vision I knew exactly what was happening, and there was no fear. I looked over at Sapphira, and I saw the same look of contentment on her face. In fact, we stared at each other, and sent each other a silent message of peace as our eyes closed.
“Then I could see myself from above, and I saw the angels come down and lift us right off the crosses –well, not our bodies, it was a weird thing to explain; our bodies were still crucified, but it was like, we were not our bodies anymore. They carried us up into the sky, through the clouds to where I couldn’t see the earth. We kept soaring upward, until I could see the figure of Jesus Himself in the sky. He was enormous, sitting there on a cloud with such a look of peace, the same expression I saw on Sapphira. As the angels brought us near to Him, he reached out and pulled us in, and He held us close, like we were babies. There were no words spoken in this part of the vision, but I knew, more clearly than I’ve ever known anything in my life, that Sapphira and I were home. That’s all I can say about it really. We were home.
“The last thing I remember is He was holding us up to his bosom, and slowly brought us closer and closer, until we were surrounded by Him. Then I was back in our bedroom in our house in Jerusalem. I knew what I had just seen was a vision, that it hadn’t really happened….but in another way, I also knew it did happen, and I knew because it changed me. I don’t know how to explain….but I was back there in our room, a familiar place I had known for most of my life, but it was totally different, because suddenly I knew I was still surrounded by Him. Christ was no longer just a person who lived and died and was gossiped about on the streets –He was presence that was inside me and I inside Him.
“Sapphira was lying next to me, still asleep. I couldn’t wait to tell her what I’d seen, so I gave her a gentle nudge. Her eyes opened, and she looked up at me without any sense of being startled. She smiled and she said, “Ananias, is that you?” I started to tell her about my vision, and she jumped up, staring with her hand over her mouth as I told her about the different scenes. Then she said, ‘I was just having the exact same dream.’
“So that was when we knew. We decided right then and there to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and we prayed to Him. Later that day we found Matthew and told him, and he rejoiced with us! He and Peter brought us to the baptismal pool, and we became disciples of Christ. All because of our shared vision…
“But none of that happened, did it?”
Ananias had been staring wistfully off into a vast and invisible distance, as if his memories had been projected onto the sky outside the office. But then it stopped, and he lowered his gaze intently upon Gabriel. His question was so abrupt that it startled even the veteran case worker, though not noticeably.
“None of what? Your vision? I can’t really say, Ananias, that’s what we need to explore together. We still haven’t talked about the event of your death. That was a fairly typical vision to be honest. Much more vivid than most, but nothing so outlandish that I doubt it happened.”
Ananias looked down and shook his head. “No…I already know that much. I haven’t disappeared into Christ’s bosom, for Pete’s sake. I’m sitting in an office in a place called Purgatory talking to a case worker! This is more like the world than the world is!”
“Alright, alright, I see your point, but please, Ananias, keep your cool and don’t jump to any quick conclusions. Salvation is not an exact science, and two plus two doesn’t always equal four if you know what I mean.”
Ananias sighed heavily and slapped both palms on his thighs. “I don’t know. I’m just….I didn’t think it was supposed to be this confusing. I mean, did something go wrong? Does one actually have to be martyred to go straight to heaven?” He paused for a few seconds, and a grave expression came over his face. “Or was the vision false?”
“What if it was?”
The case worker did not interrupt him, but Ananias’ question had barely landed when his took off. This time it was the dead man’s turn to be startled.
“W-what do you mean?”
“What if your vision was a fantasy? What if you had no true assurance whatsoever about what would happen to you after you die? What if those angels are watching over you just as much as they watch over Joe Schmoe down the street? What if you and those Roman soldiers face the exact same fate –one that none of you can predict nor understand? What if you are nothing special to your Lord just because you acknowledge him?….would you still be a Christian?”
Now Ananias understood the question. He raised his head and cast his most serious glare at the case worker.
The dead man, staring still, took his two clenched fists and held them to his chest, theatrically, as if they represented his heart.
“He died for me.”
“And the Roman soldiers?”
“And the Roman soldiers.”
“And the Egyptians, and the Philistines, and the Babylonians, all of your people’s worst enemies of the past, present and future?”
“Everyone. The only difference is that they don’t know the truth of God’s love for us and I do. Those who are given the blessing of faith are also given the responsibility to share that faith, to reach out to those who are living as though they are alone and unforgiven and show them the whole of God’s love, so that they may know the same peace and feel the same joy.”
“And nothing that happens here in this office or anywhere after you leave could alter your faith in Christ?”
Ananias paused again. This time he pulled his glare inward. “The only thing that could make me doubt the gospel of Jesus Christ….would be for He Himself to tell me that His enemies are unforgiven….that would be saying that He died for nothing.”
Gabriel picked up his pen and began writing notes in the dead man’s files. “Your vision was authentic,” he said, without looking up, and hesitated ever so slightly. It was not his preferred tactic to play this card so early in the game with a religious devotee, but he proceeded. “It was what we would term a Standard Live Ascension into the Eigth Chakra, or the ‘Ultraviolet Halo’ in department speak. The easiest way to explain this and be approximately true is that you had a temporary release from the burden of thinking of yourself as a mortal human named Ananias and, for perhaps the first time in your life, had a conscious experience of what you truly are. Essentially you followed the advice of many earthbound sages and were able to ‘die while yet you live,’ even if only for a few moments. Fervent prayer is one of the ways for human beings to achieve this; also fasting, meditation and situations of extreme bodily peril. The first few scenes are what is euphemistically called ‘wishful thinking,’ but in many cases this is also the projection of your deepest desire for liberation from the ego through the filter of the conscious mind, which leads you to seek the place where your individual self finds a portal to the universal Mind –in this case, through the person of Jesus Christ. Had you not become a Christian, you might have entered the formless, imageless presence of Ein Sof that your people’s mystics will speak about in a later era. If you had been born a little ways east, or in the pagan lands to the north and west, or on the other side of the world, you would probably have seen something completely different in shape but exactly the same in substance. Almost every human being attributes this experience to the symbol that draws them to it, and that is why they lose the experience. They forget that it is available to anyone at any moment by any means. You’ve convinced me that –despite some inherent provincialism– you have not forgotten, that you are not so greedy for this experience that you would deny it to others who find it through other means….so yes, what you saw was true.”
The case worker tapped his pen on the desk a few times, pensively, then he dropped it and faced Ananias again. “But you didn’t see the whole truth. Now listen close Ananias, because I’m going to tell you something that you need to remember throughout this whole process: no matter how much of the truth that you feel you have within your grasp as a human being, God’s truth is bigger. There are no visions or images or concepts you can ever have that are anything more than a crude representation of God. Your master for instance: yes, He is the Son of God, but so am I and so are you, so what does that tell us? On another layer of truth, we understand that Jesus is a representation of the Son of God; He accepted the burden of acting as the body double for all of creation, and he literally lay down His life for it too so that you, Ananias, could assume His identity and use His name to ascend while yet you live…but don’t start thinking that layer is the whole truth either. You are just barely scratching the surface. The truth of the Son of God would blow your mind, and that is why you cannot know the truth on this side of the pearly gates. In fact, you will not be able to experience anything of what you caught as a sliver of a symbolic glimpse of the truth in your vision until you have dealt with whatever earthly attachments you have and clear your soul to leave this office, capice? Again, as your case worker and as someone who has dealt with a gazillion of these cases before, I advise you not to strain your mustard seed by trying to figure this all out. Let the same faith that you found in life be with you in death, OK?”
Ananias nodded softly, very slowly, more as a kind of fidget than a gesture of approval. His angst was more or less gone, but it wasn’t replaced with the calm understanding he wanted to project. The truth was that most of what Gabriel had just said went well over his head. The part that did not, furthermore, hit a slightly sour note, as if somewhere in there, hidden among the obscurity, had been something vaguely insulting about his mother.
“I…I’m not sure I follow. I want to understand you, but you seem to be telling me two different things. You tell me the vision was true, then you talk about salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ like it is all smoke and mirrors.”
“On the contrary. Your whole life was a trick of smoke and mirrors. Salvation is what clears the smoke and shatters the mirror. You were one of the fortunate who allowed this to happen in your lifetime, but now you sit here in death with a handful of broken glass and cry ‘Why, why, why?’ Let it go, Ananias. Indeed, I am telling you two different things that you need to accept together. Your gospel is true; God’s truth is bigger.”
Ananias pondered that, leaning back in his seat. He still didn’t know why to accept that, but somehow his guard came down a bit, and the defensive posture he had assumed came down with it. Gabriel sighed with relief, albeit inwardly. Most religious humans would have fought him tooth and nail over that point, and the fact that Ananias surrendered it so easily was a positive sign. He jotted this down in the dead man’s file.
“OK. Now let’s get back to your involvement with the community in Jerusalem. I recall you saying that you and your wife owned some property, correct?”
“Yes, a small cottage on the outskirts of the city and some land.”
“And I understand that the community of the Way in Jerusalem practices a kind of economic collectivism that goes far beyond sharing meals, is that right?”
“None of us thought of anything as his own; and no one among us lacked. Those among us who owned property sold it and brought the proceeds to the apostles to distribute among those who had need. As we had singleness of heart and soul, so we had all things in common.”
“So I assume then that you sold your property and brought the money you earned to the apostles.”
“Yes, we did, we brought….”
The memory came back to Ananias like a mule kick to the head. His face fell into his hands again. The case workers’ eyebrows peaked in the middle of his forehead.
No response. The dead man only muttered to himself.
“Ananias, are you OK? What’s the matter?”
“I kef’ fumma da bubby.”
“What? I can’t –”
“I KEPT SOME OF THE MONEY!” the dead man shouted, his hands flailing out in exclamation. “The money from the sale of the property! I kept some of it! I didn’t give it all to the community!”
“You didn’t? Why? How much did you keep, a few bucks?”
“Half of it.”
“HALF?! Ananias, how did you expect to get away with that? Didn’t you realize that people would know the value of your property? And even if you did fool your brothers –did you think that you could put one over on God?”
“Listen…I’m just a simple man. I’ve never been able to talk really well like the apostles do, and I’ve never been real sharp with finances, and I just…I was planning to explain to Peter why I…I just wanted to do something nice for Sapphira. That’s all.”
“Oh, so you’re going to play the Adam card on me, eh? Blame it all on your–”
“No no no, it’s not like that. I’m responsible…it’s my fault this all happened.”
A few moments of silence ensued in which Ananias was unsure whose turn it was to speak, and he hoped it wasn’t his.
“I’m listening,” said Gabriel.
The dead man breathed deeply and closed his eyes. “As I said, Sapphira and I were i simple people. We never asked for much out of life, and we were happy with our humble existence together. But there was one dream that we always talked about, one vision that we both shared: we had always hoped that one day when we’d grown old, and our children were raised and had children of their own, that if we were smart and saved enough money that we could sell our property in Jerusalem and move to a spot by the sea. Some little villa out on the Mediterranean shore. Again, nothing fancy, just a place where you can smell the salt air and watch the sun set over the water every day. That’s how we wanted to spend our last days. And man, if you could have seen how my wife’s eyes lit up when we talked about it –almost as much as Matthew’s!
“She’d never have acknowledged it,” he continued. “I don’t think she wanted to come across as greedy or anything…but I could always tell that she wanted this dream to come true from the bottom of her heart, and all I wanted was to give it to her….is it true that angels don’t get married?”
Gabriel nodded. “What your monks and priests have always tried to become through their devotion and chastity, we already are.”
“Well…I don’t know if I can explain to you then what I mean by that. When a man has a wife, it’s not enough to want to give her your whole life. You want to give her things that will outlive you, that’s how big your love is for her. You want to give her the stars or the moon, something that will shine forever, long after you are gone. I knew I couldn’t do that, but I wanted her to have her place by the sea for her to enjoy her last days, the best thing my humble self could give.”
“Mmm, yes. That is a God-given impulse for you humans, to love someone that much. I may not be able to relate to it personally, but I recognize it in you, and I admire it. Most married men who come through this door never understood that as well as you do. What you describe about your wife is how we feel about God, and what your Master was trying to teach you to feel about God too. And that is why the community demands that you give everything, holding back nothing. You cannot afford the sentimentality of valuing a mere thing more than That which inhabits and transcends and gives life to all things.”
“I know…I know. When we first started accompanying Matthew to the community, and we knew we were falling in love with our Lord and Savior, there was this one place in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t let me rest, just a nagging sort of question: what if they ask you to sell the property and give it all to the community? The dream will die. You’ll never be able to give your wife that place by the sea. Whenever people talked about ‘counting the cost’ of becoming a disciple, I was so ready to give it all up….all except that one little dream. I could not let go. It started to feel like the one single pillar that held up everything I ever was in the world, everything I ever wanted to be for my most beloved.
“But then the vision came, and it overwhelmed everything. There was nothing more that could hold us back from being baptized in the name of He who brought us that much peace. The question of what to do with our property didn’t come up again until after the baptism when Peter sat down with us and discussed God’s expectations of his disciples and responsibility to the community. I couldn’t remember any of this before, but now I distinctly recall the conversation I had with Sapphira after that. We were very quiet, like neither of us wanted to be the first to talk openly about losing our dream. Then finally I had an idea for a compromise: let’s give half of the money, which would be a pretty fair sum in itself –property values have gone way up in Jerusalem since Jesus hit town– and put the rest into saving for our Mediterranean villa –only now it wouldn’t just be for us, but for all of our brothers and sisters in the community! What a wonderful place that would be for folks to go and get out of the city for a while, just relax and reflect, and meditate on their relationship with Christ! For the first time I felt like our dream wasn’t at odds with our Christian calling, that maybe they could go hand-in-hand. I was just about to explain that to Peter too, but he went ballistic when he saw how much money I lay at his feet.”
“Yes,” said Gabriel, “by all accounts the man is still pretty high strung.”
“He didn’t even give me a chance to talk!” He just started screaming all this stuff about how the property was under my own power and how I’m lying to the Holy Ghost and not to men, blah blah blah, and then it all just went blank, before waking up in this chair.”
“Ah yes, that is as close to a clear-cut, open-and-shut case as we’re ever going to get.”
“Absolutely. God most certainly took your earthbound life at that moment, and it is crystal clear why: You felt justified in making your own decision about the money, not trusting God nor your brethren. And yet you felt you had reached the pinnacle of your spiritual path by electing to follow Jesus. This is a classic cul-de-sac scenario. That dream may seem innocent enough to you, but it was actually putting a stranglehold on your spiritual path. God called you back in order to save you from it.”
The expression on Ananias’ face leaped from contrition all the way over to indignation in one fell swoop.
“What?? God took my life over THAT? Over money? That’s ridiculous! Was that a sin worthy of death?”
“Oh now, wait a minute here. I didn’t say He was punishing you for it, I said He was saving you from it. One problem with humanity is you always assume death is some kind of punishment, and it almost never is. Death is a door opening to larger opportunities than you could ever experience in your earthbound existence.”
“Opportunities? Like what, the opportunity to sit in some dumb office and apologize to a paper-pusher for wanting to do something nice for my wife?!”
“Ananias, please, you’re getting way off track now! You were saved from a life of dogmatically self-satisfied smugness, because you were created for so much more than that! You can’t even imagine what awaits you outside these doors if you’ll just cooperate with–”
“LOOK! I’ve had about enough of cooperating with you! If you are telling me that our God is so merciless that He would snuff out two people’s earthly existence over something so small and correctable as a misunderstanding of the importance of giving all your money to a stupid church…then I don’t even know if I want to follow this ‘God’ of yours. Jesus talked about a God of mercy and forgiveness, and if you’re going to come to me with this crap about your God holding a vendetta against me because I held onto some money to fulfill a dream of someone I love more than life itself, then I’m starting to think I’m better off without Him. At least that way I know that somebody loves me in this universe.”
More silence. The dead man’s vitriol was spent, and he had nothing more to say, yet he had no quick impulse to get up and leave either. Gabriel leaned forward with both elbows on the desk, his left forearm lying prone and his right index finger and thumb supporting his forehead. He felt like burying himself under the blood-red, fire-resistant carpet. All the progress they had made through their conversation had just vanished before his eyes, and they were now at a worse state than where they began. It was times like these that Gabriel felt his angelic limitations most acutely, and he wished that God had given his kind a greater scope of wisdom in being able to understand the human race.
It was not ordained to be so. But there was always prayer.
Prayer was as natural to Gabriel as breathing to his clients. He simply closed his eyes, shut off his mind like a light switch, and let a very personal sort of spiritual signal fire commence in his heart. Since his mind was temporarily unavailable to process the signals, he did not think anything in words, but these particular signals would have translated as something very similar to this:
“Oh Highest Power, I know that you will prevail in the end over all circumstances by whatever means you need to use, but as your humble servant I ask you: please, don’t make me send another Christian to the Lower Realm. That would make three on this shift alone since the Yahshuite church was formed. I can tell this man’s heart is so near to you and so desirous to be at one with you. Can’t you just give him a little nudge….please?”
No sooner had Gabriel put out his fire, opened his eyes and began taking in sensory input again did he see Ananias shaking his head and looking utterly forlorn.
“Oooh, Lord, please forgive my outburst,” he cried. “I know You are sovereign over all, and You are only trying to help me know You better. Please, please forgive me for getting in Your way, but my eyes see nothing but confusion now, and I need You to show me the way. I trust you to work through my case worker and guide me to the place where I can meet You. Amen.”
Gabriel exhaled softly and slowly through his nostrils, and leaned back in his chair, looking up.
Then something seemed to startle him. He turned abruptly toward the wall to his right, as if he were trying to look through to the other side. A small grin started to grow on his face, starting with his lips, then spreading outward until it filled his eyes. He turned and faced Ananias. The dead man looked up and saw his glare.
“I’m sorry to you too, sir. That was way out of line. I know you just want to help me. I hope you weren’t insulted.”
“No, it’s quite alright Ananias. I never take anything personally in this line of work. Even if I did, God would rebuke me before I have a chance to punch back.” He winked at his client, which made Ananias smile.
“However,” he continued, in a more official tone,” I do think that you have revealed something that we need to consider, and I’m going to give it to you straight, no chaser. Is that OK with you?”
“Yes, I’m ready.”
“OK. The problem is not the money or the property or the dream of a place by the sea….the problem is your wife.”
Ananias felt another cold shiver, the same kind that stopped him in his tracks when his memory was restored.
“Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s a textbook case really. I’m surprised it took me this long to realize it. She’s no good for you, sport. I think you are going to have to let her go.”
“But –but…but, why? What do you mean, let her go??? Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. I would never do this to you if I weren’t sure. I once had a case a lot like this one. Samson and Delilah. I’m sure you’ve read about it. And believe me, Samuel did not even record the half of that story. Man, that girl was all up in his head something horrible. Just about had to give that guy electric shock therapy before he swore off of her for eternity. I’m afraid that is what I am going to recommend for you too.”
“But….why? How do you know???” Ananias was almost too numb with worry to cry, but tears were building in his eyes.
“It’s pretty obvious that you love her more than God, and I don’t think there is anything we can do about that without severing your relationship. I mean, I could recommend a little time in the Lower Realm, but you are so darn close to being a free man, well, it just seems like an awful waste. I don’t know what she did that got you so wrapped around her finger like this. But you said it yourself: you love her more than life itself. She’s the reason why you kept half the money. It’s not your fault: it’s hers! She’s the one who is so attached to material things that she could convince you to defy God, and without even saying a word. That is way more control than one human being should have over another, and God just cannot stand for that in his Kingdom. I’m sorry about this Ananias, I really am, but if we are going to get you clearance to leave Purgatory and go to Heaven, I’m afraid I will need to ask you to renounce your love for Sapphira so you can give it all to God. She kept you from doing that on earth, but we are going to have to put it to an end if you want to see the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“But, what would happen next?”
“Well, I don’t have the authority to say for sure, but without your wife in the picture, I see a very clean slate for you, my friend. I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t get you a final approval for Heaven right away. You could be flying out of here in no time. I am pretty certain they will hook you up with some shorefront property up there too. The possibilities are always boundless of course.”
“And Sapphira –what about Sapphira?”
“Hmmm. That is hard to say without looking at her file and listening in on her sessions. But I have to be honest and tell you from experience: In cases of spousal attachment like this, it is usually twice as bad for the captor as it is for the captive. In other words, her dependence on you to be the self-sacrificing provider of her needs is much stronger than your dependence on her to love you in return. It will be much harder for her to let go of you and this dream of material comfort that has imprisoned you both. She will be fine in the long run of course, nothing that happens on earth is irreversible, but my guess is that Sapphira is going to do some hard time first.”
“You mean, in hell???”
“I’m afraid so, Ananias.” Gabriel leaned back in his chair, with his fingers interlocked behind his head, which spread his wings a bit wider. “I’m afraid so.”
The dead man slumped even closer to the ground. “But…..wha –would I ever see her again?”
“Very unlikely,” said the case worker. “I can’t think of any case off hand where a couple that needed a post-mortem severance to find salvation was reunited in Heaven. Probably the dangers of a potential relapse, as you might well imagine. If you consider the fate of Lucifer, you will understand why Heaven is a place you don’t want to be falling from.”
Neither man nor angel spoke for a while. Ananias’ head was buried in his chest, both hands gripping tightly on top as if holding on for dear life. He felt hollowed out, like there was very little left that he could call himself besides this empty space.
Gabriel tilted his head. “What do you think, Ananias?”
“I mean, I understand your predicament, but there is really nothing else we can do. You can’t intervene for her –it would only increase her dependency on you. Sometimes in this purging process the best thing you can do is cut your losses and start over with–”
“No.” The dead man lifted his head. The whites of his eyes were almost a solid bloodshot red, and he quivered noticeably as he spoke, but there was a new resolve in his voice.
“Ananias –are you saying you don’t want to go to heaven?”
“Wherever Sapphira must go, I am going there with her. I may not be able to save her, but I could be a comfort to her. How could I ever rest in Heaven knowing she is alone somewhere else?”
“But you will be burning in hell together! The devil will be tormenting you specifically to break you of your addiction to each other –what then? The fires of hell will do what you could have done painlessly here!”
“Fire would mean nothing to me,” said Ananias, sounding more and more defiant. “I burn for her already. If God or the devil want to break me of that, they will have to use something much stronger.”
“But Ananias, what about the beachfront lot in Heaven that we–”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT THAT!!!” The walls did not actually shake, but they seemed to. “Haven’t you even been listening to me?!? Why would I want to spend eternity without my wife in a home I only wanted to give to her? Seeing her dream fulfilled was where all the value of my dream lay. Can you goddamned angels not understand something like this?!”
Gabriel thought for a brief moment, then abruptly leaned forward with both elbows on the desk. “So you’re telling me that nothing Heaven has to offer you would persuade you to take my advice?”
“Not without Sapphira, no.”
“And you are certain about this? There is no convincing you otherwise? The Mediterranean villa means nothing to you?”
Ananias simply shook his head. Gabriel nodded a couple times, then picked up his pen and began writing in the files. The dead man’s gaze found that spot outside the office again, beyond the far wall.
“Nothing in Heaven could be more beautiful than what God has already shown me in her eyes,” he said softly, almost to himself. “I could just look into those eyes and all my troubles and fears would disappear. If we could all see in everyone what I saw within my wife, there would be no need for Heaven….”
His voice trailed off into an inaudible whisper. Gabriel stared at the dead man for a few seconds, or hours, then resumed writing.
“That’s a very beautiful sentiment, Ananias. I’ve made a note of it in your file.” He finished what he was writing, then picked up the papers and dropped the bottom of the stack on the desk to even them out. “Tell you what. I’m going to go punch a few keys and try to get a word with some of the higher-ups. Maybe we can get a decent sense of where we need to go next. Sound good to you?”
Ananias did not respond. Speechless and motionless, he sat in his chair and stared into the beyond as the case worker picked himself up and hustled out the door with his files. And there the dead man stayed, lost in his sad, mortal reveries.
After what would have seemed like a very long time on Earth, Ananias was slightly startled as Gabriel came back through the door he had left open. The case worker made a playful trumpet sound as he crossed the threshold. By his general demeanor, one would guess that either a major breakthrough had been made on his case, or the Boss had just thrown a surprise pizza party for all Middle Realm employees.
“OK Ananias,” he chirped as he dropped himself into his chair, rolling it back a few inches in the process. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want first?”
Ananias, not surprisingly, was unprepared for such a question. “Uh…well, bad, I guess.”
“Yes, of course. The bad news is: You’re still dead.” Gabriel delivered this news in the mock-serious tone a good doctor might have used, but the dead man did not seem to get the joke. “Sorry, just a little department humor. Are you ready for the good news?”
“Yes, what is it?”
Now, for the first time, a broad, joyful, this-is-why-the-Big-Guy-put-me-here smile came to Gabriel’s face.
“It’s in a room down the hall.”
Ananias dropped his gaze toward the case worker, his brow knit with confusion. Suddenly it exploded like a party favor, and his eyes lit up like Roman candles. He did not get up from his chair right away, so Gabriel, his hands stuffed in his pockets and leaning all the way back in his chair in a pose of perfect professional satisfaction, tossed his head in the direction of the near wall, as if to say, “Go get ‘er.”
Only then did Ananias have the presence of mind to leap from his chair and bolt through the doorway, his heart pounding as if he had suddenly come back to life.
A few earthly minutes passed in which Gabriel only heard the periodic bursts of laughter ringing through the hallway, then Ananias and Sapphira came bounding into the office arm-in-arm, giggling like newlyweds.
“Hey, there’s the happy couple!” he said as he got up to hug them both. Ananias gave him a couple robust slaps on the back, right between the wings.
“Wow, man, I….I don’t know what to say! Did you know it was going to turn out like this?”
“I had strong hunch. Everything you told me and everything in your files suggested that your love for each other was absolute and based in the Spirit, not in the self. God looks for that kind of love in humans, because he knows what will happen when it gets to heaven and all earthly barriers fall away. There will be no limit to your love, no end to your ecstasies! You were just getting your minds hung up on one little human ambition like so many people do, but I could tell your heart was in the right place.”
“Well I never knew that Sapphira thought I wanted the home by the sea. She only wanted to do it for me!”
“And all you ever really wanted was each other.” Gabriel’s voice suddenly had that “proud parent” pitch that, for him, could only have been vicarious, but genuinely so.
“Did you hear that we’re going to a Mediterranean villa anyway? I mean, we’re thrilled about it! But I hope we didn’t get any special treatment.”
“No, it’s pretty standard for the folks in the Upper Realm to try to fulfill all earthly dreams once they’ve been surrendered. And actually, I put in for it too. I think you two deserve it.”
“Aw man, thanks!” Ananias gave Gabriel another pat on the back.
“Thank you, Gabriel,” said Sapphira. Her voice was soft and sweet, the kind that melts in your ears, almost angelic in its own right. Gabriel turned to her and caught the full radiant beam of her deep blue eyes. They sparkled like gemstones.
“You’re welcome,” he said, then addressed them both again. “Now you kids know that you will be going to this villa to serve others, right?”
“Oh yes, definitely,” said Ananias, with deep conviction in his voice, “we wouldn’t have it any other way!”
“I thought so. But I wanted to be sure. Some people think heaven is going to be all sitting by the pool and drinking martinis all day. In a lot of ways, heaven is very much like the life you knew on earth, but you will have a state of mind and a state of the heart that is totally new. Everything you do will be a spontaneous act of love, for God and for everyone, and you will feel all the love pouring back into you from all around. Every moment you will feel newly born again, not just once. You will change forms many times, but you will never lose sight of your Beloved, and you will never again fear that who you truly are can die. This is the eternal life that Jesus promised you. And now that you’ve crucified the false lives you were leading before” –the case worker clapped his hands and rubbed them together– “it’s all yours.”
“Wow, we can’t wait!” said Ananias, looking like a little kid about to leave school for the ultimate field trip.
“Well you don’t have to anymore, do ya? So let’s get you two going! Sapphira, I see you have your files already, so Ananias, I need you to take these, and take a left turn out of here, and your next three lefts after that, and both of you drop your files off at the Incinerator window. Someone will meet you there to run you over to the Liberation department where you will be fitted for wings, and you kids will be good to go. You’ll be getting that airlift you dreamed about after all –only you’ll be doing the flying yourselves! So, anything else I can do for you guys?”
Ananias leaned forward to hug his case worker again. “Just keep up the good work, Gabriel. This would never have been possible without you. Thank you.”
“Hey, Godspeed you two,” said Gabriel as they turned to head out the door. “And send me a postcard!”
The new angels left the room just as they had come in: arms around each other and laughing for joy. Gabriel returned to his desk, stretching both arms and wings as if an athlete preparing for the next contest. Soon another bewildered, newly dead human being would appear in the chair across from him, wondering what went wrong and panicking that he would never see So-and-So again, and Gabriel would have to gently steer another soul back into the presence of God. The “higher-ups” in the Middle Realm would be clamoring in his one ear to speed up the purging process and increase productivity, while agents of the Lower Realm would be whispering in his other, hoping to trick him into putting up roadblocks for his clients so they could meet their quotas. A tough job, not a popular one among his kind at all –to lower oneself into the human realm and be subject to their daily dramas takes a unique kind of angel. The Middle Realm also lacks the glamour of guardianship and dream visitation, and even the “angels of death” carry a certain kind of street cred that appeals to some. Professional purging means dealing in muck and filth, and God knows how many times Gabriel picked up the forms to request a transfer and tried to start writing…but to serve His most fragile creatures at the pivotal point in their existence when they could either continue their self-denial or accept their inherent holiness…when all was said and done, Gabriel knew, there was nothing in all of eternity he would rather do.
A haloed head appeared in the doorway.
“The Adam and Eve Misdirect, works every time!”
Gabriel looked up and saw the brightly lit face of his friend and colleague. “Metatron! I knew that was you, you ol’ dawg. C’mon in here.”
Metatron was wearing the same all-white office attire –but with several blue pens inside a black pocket protector in his shirt. His wings were quite a bit smaller and not as fully plumed. In every other way he looked completely miscast as a rookie office worker, and much more like a surfer or Scandanavian movie star. They high-fived as he approached the desk, then leaned forward for a hearty embrace. Metatron plunked down in the chair and put his feet up.
“Does that ever happen to you,” asked Gabriel, “where you feel The Voice coming in and you can’t quite pinpoint who was behind it, but you just know?”
“All the time. I don’t think I would break half my cases as quickly as I do without intervention from The Voice, and I almost never find out for sure where it came from ‘til later. Of course, I’m no master egobreaker like yourself.”
Gabriel smiled to show that he knew the compliment was genuine. Then, because he was not feeling very masterful that day, he arched his eyebrows and exhaled deeply.
“Man, I really thought I was going to lose this guy. And over something so trivial! Until you told me what was going on in the other room, I thought we were headed for a stalemate for sure. The A&E Misdirect was the perfect tactic.”
“Oh, we’ll never get a better case than that. They were tailor-made for the Misdirect. It seems pretty rare to find a couple where both spouses are so determined to protect each other at their own expense. But when I started telling Sapphira it was all his fault, hoo boy, she just about hit the ceiling. She wanted to strangle me! I actually said to her, ‘Sapphira, you could stab me in the eye with this pen and it would not hurt me one bit, so let’s focus that anger on your case, OK?’ It seemed to help.”
Gabriel laughed. “Nothing so dramatic over here, but it had the same effect. I told him Sapphira was probably going to need some time in the Lower Realm, and he actually said he wanted to go there with her.”
“Really?….Whoa. That’s intense.”
“Tell me about it. I didn’t even need to ask him about the place by the sea after that, but I did anyway, just to see his reaction. He must have thought he was dealing with the biggest idiot!”
The veteran and the novice case workers shared a good hearty laugh. “All part of the job, eh Gabriel? Just like they said in training: ‘Bring ‘em in, chop ‘em down, send ‘em up.”
“Yeah, right, right.” Then Gabriel turned to a more reflective posture, gazing down toward the desk. “So they both had the same dream, but each only wanted to fulfill the other’s dream…and were willing to sacrifice themselves to see it happen.”
“Pretty amazing, huh?”
“I just….I think of all the self-centered bastards that come through this office, and how hard it can be to break them of the simplest, silliest little attachments –all the stuff that gives humanity such a bad name– and then I see people like Ananias and Sapphira, and I see all the love they have for each other….and I can almost understand why God made them that way.”
“I know what you mean. I’ve noticed the same thing. There is so much dysfunction in the way that they think and the way they see each other, but in a strange way it makes them need each other for fulfillment…and sometimes that actually seems to bring them closer to God. Like they’re created broken so they have to reach beyond themselves to fix each other.”
“Exactly. It seems crazy, but that is just what happens. It’s like, God gives them this enormous capacity for suffering, and we see so many of them who don’t know God from a grapefruit when they get here because they only suffer within themselves. But there are always a few who somehow manage to learn in that madhouse that the God-given purpose of suffering is to draw them out of themselves, and they learn to suffer for others and not for themselves at all. That Jesus fellow they keep talking about, he sounds like the perfect example, and maybe someday everyone will catch on and live like he did. Because man, you take a human being who has learned that on earth –even if they learn to reach out to just one other person in their earthbound life– and I swear, you have a person who sees God as clearly as any angel I know. Ananias said something toward the end that really struck me.” Gabriel looked upward and rubbed his chin as he sought the exact words in his mind. “He said, ‘If we could all see in everyone what I saw within my wife, there would be no need for Heaven.’”
“Amen to that. May Godspeed the arrival of that day on earth. No more Middle and Lower Realms, that’s for sure.”
“Absolutely. I mean, there’s your ‘Messiah’ right there! That is the Golden Age they are all waiting for in a nutshell. But I think what struck me about it –what I’ll always remember about it– is how he said it. It came from a place I don’t have. No angel could have spoken those words. You know what I mean? Those words came from a place of love…but also from a place of suffering. Human love and suffering are inseparable, because everything they love is impermanent, and they believe that everything impermanent dies. They don’t understand change. They don’t see God in the world, and they don’t see God in each other. Humans always have to use the word ‘if’ when they talk about God, unspoken or not –that must be like a jagged shard of glass in their souls!
“But let me tell you something else I’ve noticed about these humans,” Gabriel continued, pointing toward the door and moving his pointer back and forth. “When they do ‘find their way back’ after feeling that loss, they love God with a passion that you and I will never know, my friend. I don’t know, but sometimes I actually feel a little jealous of them.”
“Yeah, I think that’s the word they use. I mean, haven’t you ever thought about what it would be like to be the Prodigal Son in that story, instead of the uppity brother who knows and loves the Father all along? Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to have the human experience?”
Metatron gave his friend a twisted, smirking smile. “You mean to spend my entire life feeling lost and confused while the truth is right under my nose? Living in constant fear of the fake death of an artificial self?”
“Well, no, not your whole life. That is the message of the Prodigal Son: at some point there is the moment of discovery, and the scales fall from the eyes, and they come back home –only in this case they realize that they never really left. And just consider the celebration that there is in Heaven when the human comes to know God. For us, intimate knowledge of God is like punching one of their time clocks. But for them, oh man, if you’ve never been in the Upper Realm to witness a living Ascension, like Elijah or Gautama Buddha, I tell you my friend, you gotta check it out some time. I cannot even begin to describe how joyous it is. I almost feel a little sad that I’ll never experience that first-hand.”
“Hmmm. That would definitely be something to ponder if I had that capacity. When did you get so philosophical? You’re starting to sound like one of them!”
Gabriel chuckled. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe they’re starting to rub off on me…I just wonder if there isn’t something truly beautiful in all those crazy things they do, all the things we are supposed to make them stop doing when they come here. You know, what would it be like to battle with a disease? Or defend a piece of territory that you call home? Or lament all day and night because someone you love appears to be dying, or went halfway around the world to preach their version of the gospel? Or just to love someone so much that you would willingly send yourself to the Lower Realm to comfort her….I don’t know, I know it sounds crazy coming from an angel, but sometimes I wish I could sit on the other side of the desk.”
Gabriel and Metatron stared at each other a few moments with searching and straight faces. Then a seed of laughter sprung open in both simultaneously, and it sprouted and blossomed all at once. Metatron slapped his thighs with both hands as he lifted them and dropped his feet to the blood-red, fire resistant carpet.
“Ah Gabriel, you’re a real hoot, you know that? Hey man, I’m starving. What say we take an early lunch and make a cafeteria run?”
“Mmmm, yes, sounds good. I could go for a nice cappuccino. We should have a pretty light workload today, no plagues or major battles on the docket….and hey, lunch is on me, OK? I owe you one.”
Metatron flashed his playful crooked smile again. “Gee Gabriel, that is awful generous of you, considering that everything’s free!”
“Yeah…well, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
Gabriel got up and stretched his wings, and followed his friend into the hallway –turning first as he closed the door to scan his office with renewed affection, thinking he really ought to add another splash of color somewhere.