A Serpent

Jesus guided me gently by the elbow until we reached the Garden. I was old and blind, and he was such a fine young boy! He showed me an enormous vine clustered with luscious grapes.

"The tree of life?" I asked.

"This grew here before that tree," he said. Plucking a single grape, he commanded, "Eat this!"

I knew that when I crushed it on my tongue, its sweetness would transport me to another world! But I was wrong.

I tasted, I marveled, I awakened to this world, just as it is. At last I understood: there is nowhere else to go. Then I noticed the Serpent wound at the root of the vine, lounging in the warm sun, scratching its belly with its tail.

"Where do you go when you die?" the serpent asked me.

I looked to Jesus for the answer, but Jesus commanded me, saying: "Tell him! You know."

"Well I suppose," said I, "You don't go anywhere."

Hearing this, the serpent rose up on its tail, dancing like an an elegant many-colored flame. Then he spread his golden wings and flew heavenward, transformed into an angel of glory.

A Disobedient Woman

After the prosecutor concluded his case against her, the woman stood in the hushed court and began her defense. During her speech, the Judge's face grew increasingly red and fierce. Sweat poured from his temples: his crown continually slipped over his forehead and fell off.

"I can accept death, your honor, and hardship, and the pain of childbirth, and endless labor. But what I will not accept is guilt. My actions have a consequence, it's true: but I will not allow you to besmirch my good name. I have not done wrong. I have only done an act that results in suffering. I accept my suffering, but I do not accept the condemnation you would attach to it, and to my children."

"But," spluttered the judge, "I clearly told you, as your magistrate and king, that you must not eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. You ate it. Therefor you disobeyed. Disobediance is an evil. Thus you are condemned as a sinner forever!"

"You are mistaken, O Judge and King. For when you told me not to eat of the fruit, you did not tell me that disobedience was an evil. And because I had not yet eaten of the fruit of knowledge, I knew not what evil was. Therefor I ate in innocence."

The sweaty crown began to slip. The veins pulsed on the Judge's neck. "Insolent woman!" he shouted. "Naturally you knew that you must obey my commandment, for I created you, and that which is a creature is a natural born slave to its creator! Therefor you should have known, you should have known!"

"Quite the contrary, sir," said the mild woman with a small sad smile, a smile that nevertheless grew as she spoke until it flashed from her eyes and her brow, and her whole being shined with a light brighter than the tinsel on the crown of her accuser. "You did not create me to be a slave. For you declared, 'Let us create humanity in our own image and likeness.' Did you not say that I was to be the queen of this earth and have dominion over it? Did you not make me as your earthly reflection, to be your likeness on a lovely world? What does it mean to be your image if not to reflect your freedom, your power of choice? Therefor, I ate of the fruit as a noble act of freedom. I was not disobedient: I was simply being true to my nature, the nature you gave me when you created me in the image of your own free-will."

The judge rose, flecks of saliva shaken from his lips by the words he proclaimed: "You are condemned to exile, sorrow, pain and death!"

"I know," she replied gently, "I know. But I will wear my suffering as a crown more noble than yours. My suffering will not be punishment for sin. My suffering will be the birth pang of a human soul, who is conceived in innocence, but not born until she feels the pain of experience. Yet, while I may have lost my innocence, I have not lost my virtue. In fact, it is you who have done evil!"

Everyone in the court gasped at this impertinence.

"Yes," she continued, "It is you who have sinned. For when you condemn me, you condemn me unjustly, since I acted out of innocence, not yet having any knowledge of good and evil. Sin for me had no meaning. To accuse me of sin, then, was both a falsehood and injustice. Since falsehood and injustice are ungodly, then you, by condemning me, denied your own godly nature, while I was true to mine. You, my God, are the sinner, not I!"

From the back of the courtroom, a young man moved from the shadows to the light and stood beside her.

"You again!" said the Judge. "I sent you away, away, yet you always come back when I condemn one of these sinners! What do you want this time?"

"I have come for her sake," the man said, "not for your's." Then he smiled to the woman, taking her hand. "Come, I will accompany you through the valley of the shadow of death. I cannot remove your pain. But friendship can heal the blight of judgment. You will go forth as a sufferer, but not a sinner. All that you endure, I will endure: not to take it from you, but to give you the assurance that you have a friend."

"What is a friend?" asked the woman, warily.

He answered, "A friend is someone who shares your sorrow, and walks beside you, and leads you back to your beauty."

Together they turned to the jury. The judge demanded, "Have you reached a verdict?'"

"We have, your honor?"

"How do you find the defendant, guilty or not guilty?"

"Your honor, we sentence the defendant to suffering and death, but we find her not guilty."

The judge stared at the young man, his eyes smoldering. "Your Mother is behind this, isn’t she? Ever since I divorced the woman, she has used you to confound my judgment! Can’t you and that woman just leave me to my work? Can’t you see its all a simple matter of right and wrong, heaven and hell? Why must you always ruin justice with your God-forsaken mercy?"

The defendant held the young man's hand and walked out of the courtroom. Writhing like a wounded serpent, the Judge turned to the officers of the court, hissing, "Bring another slave for me to judge. There must be someone here who is guilty!"

A Tavern

Four friends were carousing at a Tavern: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammad. They were having a grand time sampling every vineyard on the wine list; best of friends until the end of the evening, when each started to worry, "Who will pick up the tab for all this wine?"

One of them finally said, "Lord! Each of us has tasted from every dish and drunk from every bottle. There's no way to divide the bill!"

Jesus pointed to the Buddha and suggested, "He has no attachments: let him pay."

Krishna pointed to Jesus and said, "He carries the debts of others: let him pay."

Buddha pointed at Krishna and said, "He claims to be ever full, beyond loss or gain: let him pay!"

Then they all turned to Mohammad to see if he might be generous. The Prophet replied, "I just tasted the wine, but I never swallowed any."

Then the Tavern Keeper, having overheard their penurious squabble, approached them deeply offended and shouting, "I gave you the best wine from my cellar. You should all be drunk with love! Let the debt be paid by him who is still sober."

Hearing that, they slapped each others backs and hugged like babies, rolling on the floor. The Tavern Keeper cried: "That's right! Let the one who is drunk with love empty his pockets like a fool!" So that is what they all did.

The Tavern Keeper got a magnificent tip and the four men staggered from the tavern arm in arm, singing a song so wild and sweet that, to this day, no one understands the words.

A Smile

The ocean liner hit an ice berg off the Cape of Good Hope. As the ship sank, four people managed to escape in a life boat designed for three: a doctor, a carpenter, a soldier, and a comedian. If they were going to survive in that boat, one of them had to drown!

The comedian was quickly thrown overboard. The others made it to a desert island, where the carpenter built shelter, the doctor treated wounds, and the soldier protected their camp. But they quarreled constantly and grew hopeless. Because they never smiled, they sickened and died. When an expedition reached the island, all they found were bones.

The doctor, the carpenter and the soldier arrived at the gates of paradise, convinced that they had done all they could to survive and would surely be rewarded for their hard work.

"Where are your smiles?" asked the Gate Keeper.

This question offended them mightily. "Why should we smile?" they asked. "Life was hard!"

"I didn't ask if your lives were easy," said the Gate Keeper, "I asked, what happened to your smiles? Each of you received a precious smile at your birth, to help you through the hard times."

All three of them frowned.

"You need your smile to get in here," said the Gate Keeper. "Go back and get it."

The doctor stammered, "But, all those hours of training!"

The carpenter fumed, "But, all that hard work!"

The soldier complained, "I thought I'd finally smile when I got to heaven, as as reward for my courage!"

The Gate Keeper said, "If you don't have the courage to smile on earth, you'll never smile here."

So the three turned back to retrieve their smiles in another life. Just then, they heard uproarious belly-laughter from within the gates of heaven.

"Who's that?" they asked.

"That's God," said the Gate Keeper.

"What's God laughing at?"

"Just some clown we found in the water off the Cape of Good Hope."

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