"Nicodemus still very much on his mind, Jesus made his way through the Judean countryside.
What would become of the old Pharisee now that he believes? How would the Sanhedrin treat him now? For his sake, Father, let him retain a low profile. Let him not suffer because of me.
He came to a copse of trees and behind them a campfire. Surrounding the flames, his friends gathered warmed by the quiet conversation as well as the conflagration. It was dark. The dancing glow of the fire dimly bathed Jesus in its golden light. "Master?" Peter inquired in greeting.
"Yes, it is me, Peter. Well." He looked around at his sleepy friends. "I see you are all readying for a sleep under the stars. Have you not homes? Have you not wives? How is it you prefer the smell of sheep to the smell of your wife's bed?"
"I think you know that it is not the smell of sheep we prefer, Lord Jesus," from John.
"Have done with the 'Lord' business, my brother. My name will suffice."
Jesus looked at his friend, "Why must you persist in this, John? We are every day together. I prefer you call me Jesus. Just Jesus."
John did not respond at once. Flames danced in his eyes; eyes that would in their ancient days see great visions. He seemed distant, staring into the fire, then into the darkness. At length he looked up at the vast array of heavenly bodies. A cricket chirped nearby. "You came from out there." It was a statement that could stand in its own right. In its own integrity. "You are no ordinary man."
"John . . !" exclaimed Jesus in exasperation.
"I wish to speak, Master," John interrupted abruptly. "Please, let me speak my heart. You say to me, 'just call me Jesus.' I am a man of wealth. Almost everyone I know sees me as someone from whom to get something. But you came to me and reached out to me. Your thoughts were for me, not for yourself. Do you realize that I have lived forty-three years and no one has ever done that? No one has ever seen me as a man who needed to be loved. No one, except for you. For that all that I am, all that I have, is yours.
"You are much my junior in years, yet you are ages my elder. The things you say. The things you do. I have often thought of those who will come after us, who will not be privileged to walk with you, to hear your voice, to feel your physical touch--and there will be others, Lord. Yes, Lord! To me, you will never be 'just Jesus!' I am just a man. You? You are not just a man. You are that, but you are much more. You are my Lord. Never 'just Jesus!'"
Not far from where Jesus slept with his men, another campfire licked the darkness of night. John the Baptist gathered his disciples and spoke softly to them. Unusual for John, for he often thundered when he spoke. But now he wasn't preaching. He spoke from his heart quietly, softly to those who closely followed him. "You have all heard me say, 'I am not the Christ but that I am sent ahead of him?'" John sat, his hands clasped, pensive.
"We have indeed heard you say this but are not sure of the meaning. How is it that you are sent ahead of him? And since you are now here, does that not say that Messiah is also near?"
"It does, but a man can receive only what is given him from heaven. I have received what is to be mine. Now I am done. I must step out of the way. The bride belongs to the bridegroom, not to me. I am the groom's 'best man,' so to speak. A best man attends the bridegroom; he does not take his place. The best man waits and listens for the bridegroom and is very relieved when he finally shows up." John smiled at this. "Now the pleasure of that relief is mine and it is complete." This with satisfaction.
"He will become greater. I am becoming less. He is the one who comes from above and is above all. I come from the earth. I belong to the earth and speak as one from the earth. The one whom God has sent speaks the words of God. He reveals God as he is. All that has ever been spoken or written about God must now be reshaped and understood in the light of his reality. He is the new Lens, the new Prism through which we comprehend and come to know the Father. God gives him the Spirit without limit." John thought about that--he thought of his own limitations. He thought of what it must be like to have the Spirit without limit. The embers of the campfire settled and glowed softer and softer. In time nothing but dwindling smoke remained. John and his men slept beneath the twinkling stars.
Much can be told about John. All who knew him also knew that he was a provocateur, an agitator, often tactless and crude, for he spoke what he thought and gave little credence to protocol or propriety. Some said he reminded them of the prophet Elijah who seemed to fear nothing--except, perhaps--King Ahab's wife, Jezebel.
Like Elijah with Ahab, John was not reticent to stride into the palace of Herod Antipas and embarrass him about having married Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Antipas was Tetrarch of Galilee and son of Herod the Great. Outraged at John's impertinence, Herod locked him up in prison, adding this also to his repertoire of evil, the consequences of which would embarrass him far more than the prophet's preaching. And in prison John stayed, alone without comfort. Alone with the thoughts that he was now useless to God. Alone with doubts. Sometimes in the darkness, he thought of the women in the river; he thought of freedom in the wilderness. Caged men think much of love and freedom.
Gentle light from the stars above retreated from the grey beginnings of dawn. Jesus stirred on his bed of woolen robes and grass. As he had laid his head on a roll of clothing, he heard the faint rustle of small creatures making their way through the grass. He had fallen asleep listening to the sound of his own breathing and feeling each beat of his heart reach his temples. Now his eyes opened to the lightening sky with the feeling of discomfort in his abdomen. And so, the Creator of the universe, the Creator of this body he inhabited, had to pee.
His companions lay in scattered array, their chests rising and falling in early morning slumber. Peter could be heard snoring. Jesus smiled. His eyes searched for a quiet spot among the trees, his heart longing for intimacy with the Father; he sat down, leaned against the trunk of a tree and began to pray. Perhaps it was prayer. Perhaps it was just thought of the richness of his life. He thought of his father, Joseph. "Father," he thought quietly, "be very close to my father this day. Help him remember how much I love him. Help him to know how much I appreciate all he has provided for me." He thought of the influence Joseph had had in molding his own character and values.
He remembered with embarrassed amusement the day when he was discovered in the Temple. "Oh my God, enrich my father Joseph today, and prepare a reward for him in your realm that his dreams cannot imagine." And then his thought shifted to his mother, and to each brother and sister in turn. Then finally, to the men who were with him. "I know who I am, Holy Father, yet I am uncomfortable when Peter and the others call me 'Lord.' I want them to feel that I am one of them, yet I know they must acknowledge your Presence in me. Sometimes it is hard being your Son. How to be the Son of God and the Son of Man is oft perplexing. And so it shall be for all time a mystery, a struggle for holiness in a world of Pain. Oh God, however much I am a part of you, let me be to them a source of your love. Let me be faithful to them, a counselor to them; let me nourish and feed them." His moment of prayer disturbed by the sounds of awakening men coughing and clearing throats.