Kingdom of God
They marched the prisoner from his cell down deserted neon-lit corridors, finally stopping at an unmarked door and pushing him through. The room he entered was dark, although it could have been anytime of day; days and nights did not exist in this part of the CIA headquarters. From behind, hands grasped him and shoved him into a chair. A spotlight was switched onto his face, and for the first time the room could be seen. The simple wooden chair he sat in faced a desk behind which four officers were seated. If the prisoner had squinted, he might have made out that they were a major, a colonel, a lieutenant and a general, seated in order of rank. How long those four had sat in the dark waiting for him, it was impossible to tell. No doubt they had arrived only a minute beforehand, yet they gave the impression of having waited impassively forever. Otherwise the room was bare.
It was the colonel who began the interrogation.
"Christ?" he asked.
The prisoner nodded in reply.
It was a businesslike question. Again the prisoner nodded.
"The Jesus Christ?"
For the first time the man in the chair spoke. "Yes my child." He said. He had a soft voice, yet clear and deep.
"Do you have any proof of identity?" the colonel asked.
As Christ did not reply, the Major answered for him; "No driving license or ID cards, but he was picked up crossing Chesapeake Bay. On foot."
"He's the real thing." said the general from the end of the desk in a quiet but firm voice.
The lieutenant gave his superior a quizzical look, to which he responded by switching off the spotlight. When their eyes had adjusted to the dark, the officers saw that the prisoner was in fact glowing faintly. It was impossible to say where it came from, but there was no doubt that an aura of yellow light flowed outwards from the man who called himself Christ. The lieutenant gave a contemptuous snort and the general switched the light back on.
"Place your hand on the bible. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?" said the major. His voice was harsh and tainted with hatred, but professional. The hatred was not for this man, but for every man who didn't outrank him yet hadn't recognised his authority.
"Yes." Jesus Christ the saviour replied from where he was seated, "That is my role."
"What religion are you?" asked the major.
"I am Jewish."
"That's kind of suspicious isn't it? You just swore on the bible but you're not Christian?"
"Ah!" the lieutenant cried, "A non-believer. Are you a Commie as well?"
The major continued with the questions.
"Did you not say 'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth'?"
"Those were and are my words."
The lieutenant interjected aggressively again, "Sounds like Commie bullshit to me."
"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?" the colonel asked.
"Are you a qualified doctor?" was the next question. "I have the power of healing." Jesus replied.
"We didn't ask what powers you have," the lieutenant bellowed, "Within this room you have no powers at all. Understand! We asked whether you are qualified as a doctor."
At this answer, the major rose and opened a door. Light spilled in through the opening. It revealed many things - that the colonel was balding, the lieutenant overweight, the major arrogantly handsome, and that the general had blue eyes. It also revealed the armed soldiers in the corners of the room, faces blank. Christ gave no reaction to seeing his interrogators clearly, but turned to look as a plain clothed man took a step into the room.
"Did this man cure your leprosy?" the major asked the man.
"Yes." he replied, raising an arm and pointing at Jesus, "Yes - that's him."
"Thank you." the major said with a cold smile. He was on his way up and did not intend to remain a major for long. The man stepped out and he shut the door again.
"Do you deny this?" the colonel asked.
The colonel nodded as if this sealed the whole matter. "Add 'practising medicine without a license' to the accused's crimes." he dictated to the major.
The major looked blank, "What are the accused's crimes, sir?"
"That's classified." the colonel gestured towards the prisoner, "He isn't cleared to know that."
"Have we charged him with anything?" asked the lieutenant curiously.
"Good god!" barked the lieutenant, "Don't blurt it out. You just said yourself that he wasn't cleared to know that."
"Sorry sir. What shall we charge him with sir?"
The lieutenant ignored this question for the moment and turned to Jesus. Although only literally.
"Your father's not a senator, is he?" he demanded.
Jesus shook his head.
"Or a staff general? Good. Then who cares what we charge him with? He's clearly guilty as hell. I don't care who your father is. We have you by the balls, you bearded cocksucker, and we're gonna make you squeal."
"Did you not encourage people to 'love thy neighbour', 'turn the other cheek' and forgive our debtors'?" the major jumped back into the questioning, "There was something about not learning war anymore as well, wasn't there?"
"There was quite a lot."
"Well if that isn't a threat to our country I don't know what is." the colonel sneered, "Just think what it would do to the economy."
"Have you thought what it would do to the economy?" the major asked.
This wasn't quite the cowed response the major had wanted. Thinking the prisoner might have missed the point, he pressed it further, "Do you realise how many jobs would be lost?"
"We can all do the lord's work, and there is work enough for all in building the kingdom of god."
"This is America." said the lieutenant firmly, "The lord can do his own goddamnned work. Charge him with Un-American Activities, that should cover it."
Throughout the questioning the prisoner's voice had remained at the same calm level pitch, and it did not change now.
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." was his only response.
The general chose this point to intervene, tapping the lieutenant on the shoulder and whispering "I'll take things from here." to him.
The fat lieutenant complained, but he was outranked. A short discussion ended with him nodding, standing up and saluting. He signalled to the other officers, who rose in turn with crisp salutes and followed him out. When they had left the general paused in thought for a while, then started speaking.
"Your forgiveness is misplaced." he said, "We do know what we are doing. You should not have come back. There is no place for you here; we are running things without you now. Oh, and I know you are the real thing. This is not a mistake."
He rose, and with a measured pace walked round to the front of the desk.
"You should have ruled with an iron hand and 'signs and wonders'. Who would not have followed you? You could have made this world what you wanted, but that wasn't enough for you. You wanted people to think for themselves, to do good because it was the right thing to do. You threw away the crown that was yours to wear."
"Look how it has worked! The crimes that are committed daily. A woman was murdered in New York in broad daylight and no-one stopped. Where were you the? Who wants to believe in a god who won't smite their enemies?"
They were staring at each other's faces now.
"The time is ripe for a new beginning." Jesus replied, "The people feel it in their hearts. The machinery for change has been built. It is ready, it is here. After two millennia it is time for some progress."
"Progress? We have Dial-A-Priest, the 24 hour confession line now, and you talk of us making no progress. And the thousands we have killed in your name! We have not been idle whilst you were away. You should see what they can do with digital watches these days. That's progress. Your miracles pale in comparison with ours. What will you do now you're back? Your own churches will denounce you. You've come in peace again and will fail again."
"But we - we have not ignored your crown. We picked it up. People don't want to think for themselves. They want order and stability. Things to fight for and things to fight against. They want to be told what to do. Look at the left-wing today - they know what they don't like, but when it comes to taking action they can't agree on anything. Nothing gets done unless men are prepared to kill each other if it is not done. Yes, we are ruthless and hard, but the world we have made is nonetheless filled with much that is beautiful. Freedom is not easy, and many people are happier without it. This is what has become of the kingdom of god. And you aren't welcome round here."
"I am ready to die for mankind again. There will come a time when I am not martyred." Christ spoke with understated confidence. If there is such a thing as pure good it is in this room now, the general thought, but the world is too complex for such simple solutions. No, life is not some problem that needs a solution, and absolute good not what we want.
"Oh we're not going to kill you." he said, "No need. They, the people, the good people of America, chose our way over yours. No, we're letting you go."
He smiled ruefully, "We'll even give you your own TV show."
At a gesture from the general, the watching guards came to life. With practised efficiency, they frog-marched Jesus out. The general looked on thoughtfully. An onlooker might have said that, for a moment, his expression collapsed into something sad and infinitely weary. Yet strong, the way buried rocks and tectonic plates are strong, but there were no onlookers in that place with their own opinions. He thought of an old joke from philosophy lessons: 'How do you make god laugh?'- 'Tell him what you're going to do next.'
© Daniel Winterstein 1998-2008
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