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Circumstances - 6. Joseph and Jesus

History, reconsidered, and not meant to offend. Just an alternate universe.

It’s a story most people think began with oppression. Actually, it began with corruption. And it helped end some of that.

Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man. He’d worked hard, but he had help. His father and grandfather had also been wealthy. Because of that, Joseph was well educated, and it taught him to thrive. That often meant manipulating the corruption.

And though Joseph hated that, he was good at it. He knew life was hard enough without greed. He knew there was food and land for everyone – if only the men in charge would allow it. Instead, there were too few people with more than their share.

Joseph believed people needed an uncorrupt leader but knew he wasn’t one. He had no charm and frustrated too easily. But he could make things happen, and power and money were his tools.

So he cultivated idealists. When he found John, he didn’t become a follower, but he helped John and made sure he and his believers were fed and protected. Then he met Jesus.

John was good, but John was crazy. He could lead the helpless but not the average man. By contrast, Jesus could start the simplest conversation, with almost anyone, and soon other people would be listening. Jesus knew this, and used it, which made him slightly corrupt. But for Joseph, that was better than being completely good.

Joseph had been watching John baptize people. “Do you know how dirty that river is,” Jesus had asked the friend he was with. They were standing in front of Joseph. “The miracle,” Jesus went on, “isn’t that cousin John can get anyone to follow him. It’s that they’ll let him push their heads under that water.”

The man with Jesus laughed, and so had Joseph – though to himself. Then he spent the afternoon watching Jesus, and listening. Finally, he introduced himself.

“John’s told me about you,” Jesus said. “He’s very grateful.”

“I try to help.”

“We all do. But you more than others.”

“I like John.”

“Almost everyone does. We’d all like to live in his perfect world.”

Though Joseph found Jesus as fervid as his cousin. Jesus hated corruption, and that started Joseph thinking. After that, he listened to Jesus whenever they met. Finally, Joseph had a plan.

He talked to Jesus quietly one afternoon, for a long time. At the end, Jesus said, “That’s crazy.”

Joseph couldn’t deny it.

“You’re asking a man to give up his life.”

“Not exactly.”

“You’re asking me to give up everything I know.”

“You’re the kind of man who could live anywhere. And there are good places, far from here.”

Joseph had traveled for his trade. He’d seen parts of India and Africa, and had heard about the Orient. He knew Jesus could live in any of these lands with his family.

“You really believe in this?” Jesus asked.

“The hardest part is not dying.”

But Joseph had a plan for that, too. “If you can manage that, we can do everything else.” “We” was a small group of wealthy, corrupt men who wanted to make the world better.

Jesus said needed to think, and Joseph said that was natural. Eventually, Jesus agreed.

“Why?” Joseph asked, though he knew he shouldn’t.

“You’re a good man,” Jesus said. “And there’s nothing so important in my life that it can’t be sacrificed.”

So they set out to establish Jesus. Many people knew him, but he’d lived almost entirely in Nazareth. “Though I was born in Bethlehem,” he told Joseph. And they made that part of the story.

John baptized Jesus. That was the first step – Jesus embracing the filthy water. And though John was innocent, Jesus was following a plan he and Joseph had devised. The next six weeks would tell them if it had a chance.

Jesus went into the desert, but not alone. He went to one of Joseph’s distant farms, which Joseph had emptied, along with all the fields around it. And Jesus went with a Roman soldier.

The soldier had some authority in Jerusalem, and Joseph often paid him to use it. The more Joseph paid, the more authority the soldier gained. And he was tough.

Now he was being paid to make Jesus tough. Jesus was an active carpenter and reasonably young, but he wasn’t a gladiator. The soldier trained him to be one and gave him any other strengths he felt might be useful. After a month, they began training on the cross.

The first time, Jesus watched, though he’d seen crucifixions. He and the soldier used the secluded courtyard of the house, well inside the isolated farm. Soon after sunrise, the soldier mounted the cross and said he’d try to stay on it till sunset.

“That’s a long time,” Jesus said.

“And you won’t have nearly as long. But let’s see what I can do.”

They didn’t use nails or rope. They did use a small seat, and the soldier showed Jesus how to use it to support his weight.

“Your hands and feet will be fastened. The most important way you can help yourself is by supporting your body.”

They couldn’t use herbs to dull the pain because Jesus needed to be alert.

“And you’ll be beaten before you reach the cross. But I think you’re ready for that.”

On the cross, the soldier showed Jesus how to breathe. “It’s how we get through the pain when we’re fighting and injured. Or when we’re marching, week after week.”

Jesus and the soldier had eaten before they reached the cross. The soldier showed Jesus what to eat and told him why. Their cross was only a step off the ground, but the soldier was careful not to shift his feet there for support.

“With your ankles pinned, you won’t have that advantage. And as careful as I’ll be when I set the nails, there’ll still be damage.”

That was another part of the plan. Not only would the soldier train Jesus. He’d also lead his beating and the crucifixion. The other soldiers would be well paid to do as much outside damage as they could, without doing any real harm.

The soldier stayed on the cross until late afternoon. Then he simply dropped to the ground, rose without help, and walked quietly around the courtyard. “That’s harder than I thought,” he finally admitted. “I don’t have any new respect for the men I’ve killed that way. But I didn’t think they were in so much pain.”

“You said nothing,” Jesus told him.

“I wouldn’t.”

“How much longer could you last?”

“It wouldn’t matter. They’d break my legs when it started getting dark. That would soon help kill me.”

“But if you lasted the night...”

“I’d die anyway.”

“Could anyone save you?”

“No. It feels like your chest is caving in.”

This was news, and Jesus and the soldier talked about it through the evening. The soldier explained how it felt and how Jesus would probably feel. “It was hard just to breathe,” he finished. Then they readied for sleep.

The next morning, they ate, then Jesus mounted the cross. The beginning seemed easy, and Jesus closed his eyes and tried slowly to breathe. The day was warm, but they’d started early, and it would be hotter in the mid-day sun.

The middle seemed hardest. The soldier was right. Jesus kept forgetting how he’d been taught to breathe. And though sweat seeped out of him, his mouth was dry.

The time before the sun was highest, Jesus almost didn’t know where he was. He wasn’t in pain. He seemed past that. But he couldn’t remember to breathe, and he kept slipping off the seat and letting his feet touch the ground. The soldier finally tied his ankles to the cross, but Jesus soon fell forward, and the soldier caught him.

He poured water over Jesus. He slowly let him drink. He told Jesus to lie in the shade for a time before easing him to his feet. “You need to walk.” the soldier said. “You need to be off the ground.”

“I’m not sure I can do this,” Jesus said.

“It won’t be that long. You stayed almost twice as long as you’ll need.”

“It will be hotter.”

“It will be very hot.”

“I’ll die.”

“You won’t.”

“And the smell... and the flies...”

“The less you add to the smell, the less flies. That’s why it’s important what you eat.”

In the afternoon, they talked about how Jesus felt. But before the sun set, the soldier made Jesus get back on the cross.

“Why?”

“So you won’t fear it in the morning.”

“I will.”

“This will make it easier.”

And maybe it did. Or maybe it was the repetition. By the end of that week, Jesus could stay on the cross from sunrise till noon. Then he continued training with the soldier, mainly in combat. By the end of the second week, Jesus could start on the cross at noon and stay until sunset. After spending the morning being beaten.

“You’re ready,” the soldier said at the end of six weeks.

“You honestly believe I can do this?”

“What do you think?”

“I have to.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” the soldier replied.. “This was to test you. Though if you ask me, your friend Joseph is just as crazy as your cousin John.”

“Maybe we all are.”

“I’m being paid,” the soldier reminded him.

“Good things have happened for worse reasons,” Jesus said. And the soldier laughed. “It will be worth it,” Jesus assured him. “I’d say ask me when we’re finished, if I’m still alive. But even if I am, and Joseph is right, that will just be the beginning.”

“You’re the beginning,” the soldier said.

“Then you do believe?”

“Enough,” the soldier allowed.

And Jesus returned to Nazareth and began to speak. He began to make new friends, and more of them, and to have followers. And when he was tired or unsure of what to say next, Joseph helped, along with several men they used as their guides. But the group was small. “The fewer men who know, the better,” Joseph advised.

The Temptation was a ruse, as was the Sermon on the Mount. Even Matthew’s Gospel admits it never happened as a single event. But the events mentioned in it did, over a period of months. And Jesus began to tell them as a single story. Then there were the miracles.

“Why?” Jesus asked.

“Because people like spectacle,” Joseph replied. “They remember it.”

“But how will you manage?”

“Magicians.”

“They’ll have to be paid.”

“We have the resources. Enough men who want to end corruption.”

“Even though it’s made them wealthy?”

“It’s not a good way to live.”

After a time, Jesus and Joseph chose the Apostles. They were all good men, and like John, they all were innocent. There would be too much corruption otherwise. Though Jesus insisted he needed someone near to him to depend on, and to distract the others when he needed to train. That was Judas, who was as ready to give up his life as Jesus.

“You won’t be the only one who pretends to die,” he told Jesus.

“Why do we need that?”

“Because after I betray you, I have to vanish.”

“Why do you have to betray me?”

“Because we can’t wait for the Romans to decide the time. We have to be ready.”

“And afterward, will you be coming with me?”

“There’s too much risk. I’ll go somewhere far from you. We won’t need to see each other again.”

Though cousin John’s death was unplanned. “And unnecessary!” It made Joseph fierce.

“It’s why we have to do this,” Jesus told him. And Judas agreed. So they started toward Jerusalem.

There, Jesus met the soldier again. Though this time, they weren’t friends, and Jesus tried alone to remember everything he’d been taught. He practiced his breathing and stood in some approximation of the cross every day. But he still felt unprepared.

In Jerusalem, the soldier guided Jesus through the trial and the sentencing. The beating was harsh, but Jesus was ready. But not for the blood, and the nails, and the humiliation. Or the thirst and the spear and the noise. And the unending flies.

In their last days together, the soldier had taught Jesus how to slow his breathing almost to a stop. And how to still his movement, slump off the seat, and let his arms take the weight of his body. But on the cross, Jesus felt he remembered so little. He didn’t anticipate the amount of pain or the rudeness of the crowd. He and Joseph hadn’t planned on the mid-afternoon thunderstorm, though they weren’t uncommon in that season. And the rain gave Jesus just enough strength to remember how to die.

Though he didn’t remember how long it took the soldiers to get him down or his travel to the tomb. “That’s because I gave you herbs during the storm,” the soldier told him later. “In that last sponge. When you started to go crazy.”

“How?” Jesus asked.

“You were saying things you didn’t mean. For a time, I thought we’d lose you.”

“What did I say?”

“My God, why have you forsaken me?

Jesus needed to think. “By then, I think I almost believed that. For so many months, I’d been saying I was the Son of God. The heat and pain convinced me.”

“That’s why I gave you herbs.”

“You could have let me die. By then, it wouldn’t have mattered. What Joseph needed was almost done.”

“I wouldn’t have let that happen.”

“It would have been all right.”

“Maybe for you. But I was paid to save your life, to give it back to you. Your wife and children were waiting.”

Jesus had only a few more responsibilities. He was never in Joseph’s tomb, so his disappearance was further magic. As was the opening of the tomb, the earthquake, and the angel. The earthquake never happened. Nor did the earlier one, when he supposedly died. They were added in the retellings of the story, along with the reappearance of the saints. During the Sabbath, Jesus slept as well as he could, but woke far weaker than anyone had hoped. He barely met with Mary and the women, and only quietly spoke with the Peter and later the disciples. He was strongest on the mountain and when he heard of Judas’ death.

Then he left Jerusalem. He wore strange clothes, with no beard, and his hair colored and short. Few people outside Nazareth knew his family, so they traveled unrecognized. They went to India first, then after some years to the Orient. They ended on an island, their children raising children, and Jesus living to late middle age.

He never said who he was. He lived by a different name and no longer practiced any profession. He studied and walked along the ocean. He never heard from Joseph, as they both knew that any time in their lives would be too soon for change. When he died, his new friends remembered him mainly as kind.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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