Recommended listening: If I Had a Hammer by Peter, Paul & Mary
Mortar had cleared the dishes from the table and finished his waitering chores just as Brick was about to begin. Their timing was exquisite.
“Your Story,” pronounced Brick grandly.
“That sounds interesting,” said Jesus, only to be immediately shushed by Mortar.
“Sorry,” said Jesus in a small way and he sat up attentively and folded his hands in front of himself on the table.
“As I was saying… before I was so rudely interrupted,” continued Brick in a very offended tone, “Your Story.”
“A mere hour ago, you, Carpenter, charged me and my friend Mortar with presenting to you something of our best, both culinary and literary. You’ve just tasted the fruits of Mortar’s labors and now from me you shall hear ‘a good story’.”
“But I ask you,” said Brick placing his forefinger to his temple, “what makes a story good? Hmm?? A good story is one in which we find ourselves. Now how are we going to make this ‘your’ story? How will you find yourself in this story?” He tapped his finger to his temple as if thinking. He looked up as if thinking, but he wasn’t thinking. He was merely pausing dramatically to let his thoughts sink into his listener.
“Let’s do this,” said Brick to Jesus as if he were changing course, “you, give me three words and I will transform them into ‘your’ story.”
The Rabbi, loathe to speak again and gain Brick’s further disapprobation, pointed to himself, tucked in his chin and mouthed the word, “Me?”
“Yes, you,” said Brick after rolling his eyes, “Three words, if… you… please.” He held up three fingers.
The Rabbi, always a fan of word play, looked upward to search for the three best words for Brick to weave into his tale, and he said, “Mercy” without hesitation. Brick held one finger in the air and repeated the word ‘mercy’ in an officious manner.
Jesus then pronounced his second word, “banquet” and Brick held up two fingers and repeated “banquet” as the second word.
Fumbling about for the third word, Jesus hesitated before finally saying “Ah… ah…. How about Hammer?”
Raising three fingers our storyteller repeated the third word, “Hammer. Are you sure you want the word hammer? You were slow in choosing it. Are you certain it’s the word you want?”
Jesus nodded his assent.
Brick raised his eyebrows to portray a dash of dismay at the supposed difficulty of his task. He turned his head partially away from his listener, but then he quickly whirled forward, sat on the edge of his chair and with a confident air he continued.
“Mercy. Banquet. Hammer. In my own country, far away from here, among my own people, this is one way that we tell a story, but wait, my own people, my people, my own… Anyone who loves a good story is my ‘own’ people. Wherever I find those who love a story, I am among my ‘own’ people. And a slave, well, we’ve got fellow slaves everywhere we go…” He clapped his hand over his mouth instantly wishing that he could recall those words.
“Slaves,” said Jesus in surprise, “You didn’t say you were slaves!”
Brick was ashamed to admit that he was a slave and that he had let this slip from his tongue, (this was the second time already that his tongue had caused him trouble) but he was also defiant because he knew that slave or free was no guarantee of a good heart or a good mind and he also knew his history. So he shot back, “Your people were once in slavery, if memory serves; and although you have your own kings, you might still be classified as slaves to Rome, no offence intended. With my own eyes I have seen slaves to money, slaves to pride, slaves to just about everything!”
“Don’t worry. I won’t turn you in,” said Jesus, pleased at this spirited response and he sat back in his chair and gave a slight wave as if to say ‘continue with your story’.
Brick eyed Jesus somewhat suspiciously, not sure whether he could trust him now that Jesus knew he and Mortar were slaves, but he continued. “Now, what meanings from these words can we bring together that will give us a meaningful story, which serves to entertain as well as to inform?”
“Mercy, banquet, hammer. Banquet, hammer, mercy. Hammer, mercy, banquet. Let’s throw them into the air and see where they land and what we can divine from them.” He made a mime of tossing three objects into the air and letting them land on the ground before him.
“Mercy is your first word. Does that make mercy your most important word? But deeper than the words themselves are the untold relationships, the unspoken meanings and the assumptions that each person brings from their backgrounds… For example, take the word ‘circumcision’. Take it and keep it! To a Jew that connotes your covenant with Abraham, but to a gentile like me, I cross my legs and tell you to get away from me with that knife!” Here he mimicked his actions and gave out a little girl’s scream, “Ahhh!”
Jesus emitted a slight chuckle.
“Or take the word ‘mercy’ and pair it with the word ‘god’ and in my lands, mercy does not belong with the word god; you may as well say ‘weakness’ or even ‘character flaw’.”
“Banquet. A formal affair. Dinner. Good food and wine. Hmm… check this out: To the banquet a king has invited the worthy people of his kingdom to celebrate a wedding, but his guests declined his invitation on one or another pretext.”
In a whiny voice he continued, “‘My son has fallen ill and I cannot leave my house.’ And “I have bought a new field and must go inspect it,” and the ever popular “I must wash my hair this night.”
Jesus laughed at Brick’s thin, high mimicking.
“And the word ‘hammer’!” and Brick clapped his hands loudly and forcefully once.
“Your last word, the word that you paused before uttering not sure that you wanted to have it in your story. You Jews associate ‘hammer’ with Judah Maccabee, your liberator, whereas we might hear the word ‘hammer’ only as a blunt instrument which pounds. And then again, it may mean ‘one who hams’ and when I hear the word ‘ham’, I’m already on my way past the pig to the skillet! And to you, ‘bacon’ will mean nothing clean! But, I digress.”
“The king was enraged at these excuses and so he sent his messengers out to the streets and roads with instructions to invite all and sundry that they meet and bring them to the banquet. And his messengers went out and brought back the sick and lame, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the unimportant, the invisible and the sinners!”
“Oh, my goodness, the sinners! A cavalcade of sinners of every stripe and tint! Rogues, scoundrels, cutthroats, rascals, ne’er-do-wells, scamps, scalawags, culprits, malefactors, crooks, cads and miscreants. The greedy, the lust-filled, the cruel, the fornicators, the bitter, the ungrateful, the drunks; don’t even get me starting listing the lawbreakers!! And did I mention that there was going to be wine?! So, it’s like this, if you want to have a fun party, you don’t invite a bunch of religious nuts, right?! In fact, it begs the question. Do you even like religious people?”
“Well, I…,” demurred Jesus cautiously.
“No, no. It’s a rhetorical question. Don’t answer,” said Brick.
“Speaking of religious nuts and hammers, you yourself, Carpenter, are something of a hammer. You crack those nuts on the head! But you’ve also got a streak of mercy a mile wide. You forgive. That’s what you do.”
But all the while he had been speaking, his mind kept stealing back to the thought of being turned in to the Romans as a fugitive slave and that thought would stick in his craw and he decided to weave into his story an appeal to the mercy of this man.
“There have been many uprisings by slaves and I suppose that as long as men are enslaved they will continue to yearn for freedom from their bondage. Your people cried out to a God who took mercy on them and led them to safety. Not many of the gods are willing to do that!”
“About 100 years ago a gladiator slave named Spartacus led a rebellion. Thousands of slaves ran away from their masters and joined him. They won several battles against the Roman legions, but in the end they were defeated and 6666 slaves were captured. It would have been better for them to be killed in battle for these survived to ‘decorate’ 160 miles of the road to Rome with their crucified bodies – 42 men crucified for each mile of the road. Their bodies were left on the crosses for years as a sign, as a deterrent to other slaves.”
Warming to his topic with his vivid imagination fully engaged Brick began a discourse on the horrors of crucifixion detailing especially the nails and how they pierce the hands and feet to hold the wretched victim fast to the cross.
Jesus winced at the description and he noticed something of a change in Brick’s eyes. He was just about to risk commenting on it when Brick suddenly began to speak as if not quite himself, the words simply coming to him and he releasing them from his mouth and he said, “You are Mercy. You are Banquet. No more Hammer. You are the Mercy of God. You are the Banquet of life. As you’ve given up carpentry, you must give up the hammer leaving only mercy and banquet. You will liberate without the hammer.”
Brick shook his head and returned to the moment and proclaimed, “Your Story! Live it and breathe it, Carpenter!” Brick seemed slightly confused as if he himself did not know what had happened to his recitation, but it struck him as confused and disordered and possibly pointless. Maybe his listener had made something of it more than he himself had.
Jesus had been captivated by certain thoughts and he was staring into space when the recital concluded. His head jerked ever so slightly with an illumination which also brought him back to the present moment and with a polite golf clap, he congratulated Brick on his story and Mortar on his meal, and said jokingly, “So, you boys would like to butcher and scribble, food for the body and food for the soul?”
“As you put it, butchering and scribbling is rather a crude characterization, but you’ve got the seminal idea,” said Brick.
“Eat, drink…,” said Mortar. But Brick cut him off and cried out, “…and be literate!”
“I’d be honored for you two gentlemen to be my very first two Para-Apostles,” announced Jesus grandly.
“Wow! Really? D’ya mean it?!” cried the Brick.
“Well, yes, I do indeed,” said Jesus.
“Wow! Really? What’s exactly a para-pustule?” asked Mortar, slightly confused.
“Para-apostle. It’s like an apostle that’s in training,” explained Brick to Mortar’s query.
“Oh. I knew that,” said Mortar unconvincingly.
“And,” Jesus hastened to add, “your former ‘status’ is a thing of the past. We are all about renewal here.”