The First Fairy Tale Trouble of a subtle sort was brewing at this time in their back water colony of Judea. The Jewish clergy had been waiting forever for the coming of the Messiah. As they read the ancient prophecies, a full sized God was suppose to appear, kick the Romans' butts, establish truth, justice, and the Jewish way of life, and everybody but heretics and Gentiles would live happily ever after. One can imagine their surprise and shocked disbelief when fishermen, tax collectors, and ladies of the evening started claiming, not only to have met him, but actually to have been recruited by him to preach a message of love.
Dale K. Brown
This made little sense to Pharisees; what could he possibly want with fishermen and whores? Besides, they knew what the Son of God was supposed to be like and this friend of solicitors and net tossers just didn't fit the bill. Their God was supposed to be all wise, omnipotent and all powerful, not the humble son of a carpenter.
To start with, his earthly place of origin was against him. Joseph and Mary, his stepfather and mother, lived in Nazareth, and nothing good could possibly come from there! The priests were certain of that. Nazareth was Poland, Middle East in those days. He'd lived a rather unremarkable life until his thirties. There was nothing in his looks or demeanor to set him apart from any other Jewish lad of the day. His troubles began when he started doing good. He was at a wedding feast when the host ran out of wine. Fermented grape juice was a staple of the era and most people preferred it to water which, in those pre-Kaopectate days, was likely to cause a roaring case of Pharisee's Revenge.
His first reported miracle involved the transmutation of wash water into wine. Jewish law required that all personnel, prior to eating, purify themselves by repetitiously washing all exposed areas of the body. To this end, they had six stone basins with a capacity of between twenty to thirty gallons each. Some of the water had already been used for its designated purpose, but the servants were instructed to top up the basins and the miracle was performed. Presumably, all prohibitionists got up at this point and bid their host a rather icy farewell, not because the wine had once been bath water (that they would drink!), but because it was now wine and that was a sin.
For this and other misdemeanors, the Lord of all the earth developed a rather sordid reputation for being a glutton and a wine bibber. Matters were not helped by his habit of speaking in riddles, his strange ideas about love for all people,(regardless of religious or political persuasion) respect for governmental authority, and the low priority he seemed to place on material acquisition. Moreover, he took to visiting the poor, the destitute, and the downtrodden. He went so far as to sit down and eat with these vermin. The righteous were aghast! What kind of savior was this who would come all the way down from heaven, ignore priests, yet have plenty of time to spend eating and drinking with scum?
But ordinary people began flocking to him by the thousands; there was even talk of making him king. Sensing this could cause problems with the Roman hierarchy and, coincidentally, to their own career opportunities, the prelates launched a sting operation against the Lord. They began by asking him questions deep and full of guile in hope of trapping him with his own words. No go. They tried pitting him against the Roman I.R.S. by asking if it was okay with God if you paid income tax. No good. Finally, they dragged in a woman caught, they said, in the very act of adultery and requested permission to show her the error of her ways by throwing rocks at her. They were told to holster their rocks and forced to beat a rather hasty retreat when gently reminded that their own white robes sported more than a few unsightly blemishes.
It is interesting to note that the woman's partner was not summarily hailed before this impromptu inquisition. One presumes she had a partner. If not, the crime of record would, whatever else its label, not have been adultery.
During his brief tenure here at the hind end of the galaxy, Jesus healed the sick, fed the multitudes, and preached the good news; he raised the dead, restored sight to the blind, and walked on water. Those less skeptical might consider these modest exercises proof of his bona fides, but every where he went the clergy kept asking him to perform ...miracles! In retrospect, One may wonder what the ancient criteria for a miracle entailed but, whatever he did, it was never enough.
He continued these subversive activities until the forbearance of the priesthood was taxed beyond all endurance. His good deeds and gentle riddles were judged to be proof of blasphemy, a capital offense in those enlightened times. As God fearing ministers, their duty was clear. They nailed him to a tree and let him hang there till he was dead.
This proved to be a tactical, if not strategic, mistake. "Jesus Lives" signs started going up everywhere, meetings were held, and believers began organizing in earnest. The church was on. Those who had spent the most time with him began to share their experiences with others and soon a new religious hierarchy was established, its leaders anointed.
At first, these neophytes encountered scant opposition and things went well. But as the movement progressed, it came to be viewed by members of the conventional clergy as a threat to the peace and stability of the realm. Something had to be done and fast. They started with the obvious by making it a crime to worship in any manner unapproved by the synagogue, a practice which had stood them in good stead in the past and one which they felt sure would do so far into the future.
But the faithful were not to be dissuaded by such home grown arguments. They politely ignored these hasty edicts, and the clergy was angered. Rebellion against what was, in their view, the duly constituted authority of priests could not be tolerated, so they confiscated the lands and personal possessions of anyone who so much as smiled at the name of Jesus. Still, the "way" grew. Pharisees resorted to flogging and imprisoning the most intractable of the zealots, but such draconian measures met with the limited success one might hope to achieve by attempting to extinguish a bonfire with kerosene. Whatever they did, it just made matters worse.
New converts were cropping up everywhere. Self styled "teachers of the way" were subverting hundreds of people daily, including many Pharisees; priests who were suppose to know better. And once converted, they couldn't be talked to, reasoned with, or threatened into silence. So the Pharisees tried another tack; extreme sanction.
Stephen, anointed a deacon by the original twelve apostles, was the first to go. Accused of the catch-all crime of blasphemy, he was dragged outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned to death by a mob of enraged priests. The first stage of persecution had begun. Emboldened by their actions and perhaps because Stephen, unlike Jesus, stayed dead, they went after everybody who so much as breathed the name of the Lord.
One of the most vociferous and dangerous of these inquisitors was Saul, later known as Paul the apostle. He was a wealthy, respected Pharisee and persecution was not a nine to five job with him. It was a way of life. But, due to circumstances beyond his belief, he too experienced conversion, joined the opposition and what had been, for the ruling elite, merely an ongoing battle against a strange and untenable belief, turned into all out war against heresy in the highest.
At least up to this time, the Jews had been regarded, even by their detractors, as being somehow special in God's eyes; his called and chosen people. But Paul the Pharisee, in cohorts with Peter the Zealot, began preaching that all humans, regardless of race, sex, or national origin, were God's children and heirs according to the promises. This was the last straw! It was bad enough to challenge sacrificial Mosaic law or to question the continued need to slaughter sheep and goats, but to query the sacred premise that all Jews were created special or to openly infer that God the Father was some kind of equal opportunity creator, this didn't track. Followers of Jesus were declared to have forfeited their rights to all due process and religiously tortured to death by the thousands.
Eventually, even the Romans got into the act and, by ninety-nine A.D., none of the original twelve apostles remained alive. Of those twelve, only John escaped martyrdom, dying in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. After John's death, the persecutions continued uninterrupted for a good nine hundred years during which time birth control for Christians was practiced by attrition.
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