Book Excerpt: John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened

“‘Without wine there is no joy,’” Matthew quoted a rabbinic saying. He still stared over the wall. “Your tale speaks truly, if it is meant as a parable of today’s age. Remember what Isaiah prophesied? ‘The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan.’ And do you know why, John? You know why, Ruth?” When neither spoke, Matthew answered his own question. “‘The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.’”

“But Matthew …” John lifted a hand, palm outward.

“‘The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred,’” Matthew’s voice fell to a sad whisper as he continued to quote the prophet Isaiah. “I have seen the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled, John! I have been to Jerusalem and seen the desolation! There is no messiah coming!” A bug scurried along the rock wall, and Matthew squished it with his thumb, as efficiently as God squished his Holy City.

“You’re right about Jerusalem, Matthew, but—”

Turning around, Matthew rumbled over the weaker man’s voice, his peacekeeping objective already faltering. “‘In the streets they cry out for wine; all joy turns to gloom, all gaiety is banished from the earth. The city is left in ruins, its gate is battered to pieces.’”

“And so did Israel feel while yet Jesus walked the earth, Matthew! Even before the war! We have been pinned under Roman oppression for a hundred years! We have suffered under self-serving and irreverent priests even longer! Yes, the Great War was terrible, but our people felt the desperation of Israel for a long time before that.”

Matthew shut up, his point made. But John would not let the matter drop. “Do you remember what Isaiah promised immediately after that prophecy, Matthew?”

Matthew pursed his lips. Ruth could sense him holding back, trying to rein in his crankiness, so she spoke for him: “‘The Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine.’”

“Right,” John agreed, impressed by Ruth’s command of the Jewish scriptures. “And that’s the story I have to tell. Now, may I continue?”

–John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened, 2013, by Lee Harmon

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