Friday, December 21, 2007

Puer Jesus in Templo

One day, a boy came into the temple and asked, as you are asking, about its place in our understanding.

– Do the fires of Israel burn as the fires of a son should? Do the gentiles see and rejoice?

My own teacher, Hillel, kept silent to see what we would say. What could we have said? The conflict in our own ranks was as plain to us then as now. Even among ourselves, we questioned each other’s doctrine. If we were raised in Judah, we did not accept peers from the Diaspora. Babylon rejects Hellas. Judean hears a Galilean dialect with disdain. And though we sacrificed daily for the emperor, we knew Rome considered us strange, troublesome, and even pernicious. We were silent.

So after a few minutes, the boy answered his own question by reminding us of our calling.

– Does not the Scripture say, I called my son out of Egypt, and this not for the son’s sake but for the Egyptians? What will I do with you, O Jacob, if your fires serve only yourselves?

We loved his answer, proud of such a son in Israel as we are proud of you. And then we asked him, as if he were our shepherd (and we saw that he was pleased), ‘What is the teaching about the Vine?’ And he answered,

– The Vine will bear its fruit through the winepress of affliction. So it is written of the servant. (How will we console him?)

This last he said almost to himself. And we continued our questions: ‘Are the Romans our affliction?’ And he paused and looked at us, and said,

– The Romans are the inheritors of Egypt. We will be a light to them also. The song of the vineyard prepares the servant to know his security in any empire. They think to teach us the humanity they learned from Hellas, but they will drink a greater wine than that. The servant will create new wine.

Just a twelve year old boy, and not even from Jerusalem. He stayed with us for three days.

– What do we learn from this, master?

We learn all that I have taught you, son. Please tell us your answer.

– The adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises. We learn these in our history from our ancestors. All these things are ours through the Scriptures that were written for our learning.

– The boy will complete the bridal chamber with his questions. He has named the purpose of the fires of Israel as a sign to the nations. He is also right to question whether it is enough for there to be a perpetual fire only in the temple. The fire must be kindled in each one of us. In the mercy that burns without consuming, we will find our consumation. Such tenderness invites our faithfulness. This we must seek for the fires to be effective, for the mercy to be known. So I think the boy’s hope for a new wine is not necessary. The old is sufficient.

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