‘What are you doing here?’

Raphael watched as the coins fell into Judas’ hand.

Judas bowed to the priest, but there was no response. Judas flinched and looked afraid. Had he really expected more?

Raphael sat in a pile of feathers. They’d been at the temple all morning, and one by one, Raphael had plucked a fair patch of wing. He was angry — at Judas. At the priests. At the crowds as they prepared for the passover. Even at the lambs — poor things — who were everywhere, and causing chaos.

But mostly, he was angry with himself. How had it come to this?

As Raphael tidied the lost feathers into straight rows, seeking comfort. He barely rose his head when Michael appeared.

‘What are you doing here, Raphael?’
‘You saw, didn’t you? He went to the priests. We cannot stop this now.’
Michael looked unperturbed. ‘What made you think we could?’

Raphael scowled at him, and stood to walk away. Michael stopped him, holding his hand on his shoulder.

‘Raphael, what are you doing here?’

‘I tried to stop him. Someone had to! Ever since he saw that Centurion — saw power, and looked there for salvation — I’ve been pleading with him. “Judas, please. This is not who you are. You want Justice. You want Salvation. Stay with us. Jesus is the one you need.” He just kept shaking me off, and told me to go back to Peter.’

Michael laughed, ‘He wasn’t wrong — in that at least.’

Raphael was furious. He was not prepared to concede that Judas was right about anything — after what he’d just done?

Michael spoke again, ‘Just out of curiosity: when did you stop hearing the hissing?’

Raphael looked confused. ‘The hissing? It began when Judas met the Centurion. It lasted for a few days, and then it stopped.’

‘No, Raphael. It never stops.’

Raphael shook his head, trying to dismiss Michael’s words. But he knew he was right. It never stops. So when had he stopped hearing it?

‘What did Judas want, Raphael. Think: why are we here?’

‘Judas wanted his own way. He wanted to be the one to fix everything. He couldn’t bear it that Jesus chose Peter — that he trusted Mary. He couldn’t bear that he was not the one.’

‘And so?’

‘And so: that is why we are here.’

‘No. That is why Judas is here. Why are you here?’

Raphael opened his mouth, but found no words. Before he could speak, the truth hit him.

‘I am like him…’ he whispered, facing more fear than he had ever known.

‘No, you’re not. But finish the thought.’

‘I wanted to be the one. I wanted to stop him.’

‘Yes. But why were you sent?’

‘I was sent to work with Jesus, to learn from him, to befriend Peter.’

‘And Judas — did he seek healing?’

‘No — but he needed it. Someone needed to try. He had to be stopped.’

‘Maybe not.’

Raphael’s anger flared again. ‘Of course he did. Look what he’s done! If you had helped me, maybe we could have stopped him.’

Suddenly, the sound of hissing returned. Raphael heard it swirling around him — there in his blame. He began to sob.

Michael came to him, and held him in his wings. ‘Raphael: no one asked you to save him. Let it go.’

‘But to fail now! How could I have failed now — when it matters so much?’

‘You failed because you failed. We do sometimes. It’s what happens when the world won’t conform to our will.’

Raphael looked up, and saw that Michael was smiling. Raphael was cross — but he began to see his own folly. Finally he laughed, and the hissing faltered.

‘My timing was bad, wasn’t it?’ Raphael asked, chagrin.

‘How can we know? The failure isn’t the point, really. It’s what you do with it. What happens next?’

Raphael had calmed down, and they were walking together around the square.

‘I was sent to help Jesus, to learn from him, and to befriend Peter…’

Michael nodded. ‘So, shall we find them, then? The passover is near.’

bad dreams

Ramiel was working franticly. The page was filled with sketches: a woman, standing by a well, talking easily with her neighbours. A little girl, skipping after a butterfly; her mother hanging the bedding and whispering her joy. A man, carrying a mat. Healing after healing. Meals shared. Laughter. No pattern to the drawings, no coherence: just whatever came first to mind.

Raphael was surprised. This was not how Ramiel usually worked.

‘You called for me?’

That too was surprising. They often worked together, Ramiel and Raphael — but it usually just happened. They each knew their task. There was no need to plan.

‘You need to see this.’ Ramiel said, as he looked up from his drawing.

And sure enough, as soon as his pen stopped, the images began to change. Not healing, but grudges. Not shared meals and laughter, but bickering and anger. Judas shouted in his sleep, and Ramiel’s pen flailed.

Raphael didn’t like what he was seeing. Ramiel was afraid.

‘Keep drawing. Let me see the earlier dreams.’

Ramiel went back to work, as Raphael turned through the notebooks.

The first years were filled with wonder: Judas and Jesus walking by the lake side, keeping passover, studying scripture late into the night. For years Judas had waited for this —  friendship. Purpose.

Then, there were more confusing dreams. Judas’ first meeting with Peter. Mary Magdalene. The people whom Jesus loved, whom Judas was trying to love too, but who stirred his jealousy. Ramiel had worked hard then, weaving garlands of friendship around people who eyed each other warily. For a time, it had worked.

But then there was a dark dream: Judas smashing rocks, and screaming, as Peter jangled a new set of keys. Anger. Quarrelling. ‘Surely, Lord: not him?’

The recent notebooks were confusing. There was a lovely dream of a hillside — people stretched out as far as the eyes could see. Bread for all, and fish salting the air. The next night, it began again, but this time it was gold, not bread, that was in infinite supply as Judas reached into their store chests.

Raphael was confused. ‘Gold?’

Ramiel looked over. ‘You see?  That’s how it began.’

As Raphael flicked the pages, he saw the dreams shimmer and change. At first the gold wove with dreams of justice.  Judas had been given the purse — more important than the keys, surely? He would use it for the healing of the nations.

Raphael saw page after page of conversation with Jesus, Judas setting out his plans. Here and there the paper was rubbed raw where Ramiel had tried to erase certain paths, re-direct Judas’ dreaming.

Then, there was the night of Jesus’ anointing. Judas saw the woman with her jar of nard, and imagined welcoming her. At last: a gift that would release their potential.  He knew just how to use it; just what they would do. Raphael saw the gentleness with which Ramiel drew the woman, as she bent down and broke the jar so that the fragrance filled the room.

And then he saw the violence of Judas’ response. The dreams that Ramiel couldn’t stop, of Judas throwing the woman out, feeling satisfied as she ripped her clothes, and felt blood mix with dust.

Raphael turned back to tonight’s drawings.

Judas was dreaming of revolution. He and Jesus were riding into Jerusalem with all the world following him, as the people of Jerusalem lay down their cloaks and branches to welcome the king.  Ramiel quickly rubbed out the war-horse, and set Jesus on a donkey. He scaled down the crowd.

And then, Ramiel saw him: the one he had been dreading. The Roman soldier. The dream shifted and Judas’ breath quickened. As Ramiel paused, Judas’ own visions filled the page. Judas walked towards the soldier unafraid, carrying the purse, the vast treasure he had raised for Jesus. Now there would be revolution. Now, Judas would change the world.

Ramiel quickly scrubbed out the gold chests. He scaled down the purse. Judas tossed and turned: one dream fighting with another. Just as he drew near to the soldier, Ramiel seemed to win: Judas looked down and the purse was empty.

The Roman Soldier was amused. ‘What is it?  What do you want me to do for you?’

Judas stared down at the empty purse, and Raphael flinched as the dream filled with hissing.

a task given

It was always easier when they looked like they needed to be healed…

Raphael sat on the roof beam, watching. Peter had already overturned the washing basket and torn all the straw from the bed. He was now lying prone on the floor, padding his hand along the shadows behind the bed frame.

Nothing. Peter arose, dusty and annoyed.

‘Loose something?’ Raphael said, as he hopped down from the beam.

Peter spun round, and looked to the door. Surely, he had closed the door? But apparently not.

He wasn’t sure he liked this Raphael. He’d appeared a few days ago, and now wouldn’t leave him alone. Yet, Jesus welcomed him, so…

‘No, no. I’m fine. Just sorting a few things.’
Raphael laughed, and said, ‘here, let me help you.’

Together they began re-laying the straw and tidying the clothes. Peter’s eyes kept straining along every shelf, every door frame.

‘What were you looking for?’ Raphael asked again, once Peter had settled down.

‘Keys.’ Peter said, in defeat.
‘But you have no locks…’ Raphael said, almost innocently.

‘No — never any need.  Not here.  But… ‘ Peter went digging through his pockets again.

‘But you found some?  Offered to keep them safe, maybe?’
Peter got defensive, then saw the mischievous glint in the man’s eyes.

‘You know, don’t you?’ Peter said, as he slumped on the bench.

Raphael nodded and quoted, ‘You are Peter, and on this Rock…  So, has he given you the keys, then?’

‘No, not yet. But it’s a big responsibility, and I’ve… well, I’ve been practising.’  Peter walked out into the yard, and pulled out his tools. There, half-whittled, was a wooden key.

‘This is the fifth one I’ve made. I keep loosing them…’
Raphael nodded. ‘Tricky things, keys…’
Peter scowled, and turned away from him again.

‘But that not all, is it? What are you doing here today? Why are you whittling keys instead of going with the others.’

‘You heard him! “Get behind me, Satan!” I’m a stumbling block. I get in the way.’

‘You know he didn’t mean it.’
‘But he did. I act too fast. I make a fool of myself. I get in the way.’

‘True enough– but he didn’t mean it. What he has to do is hard. He needs you to understand that — not try to talk him out of it. And that day — well, that day you said the very thing he was trying not to allow himself to think. You said he should go a different way.’

‘No fear of that. I could never influence him.’
‘Oh, Peter, don’t you see? You can. You do. He needs all of us around him — but sometimes he sees things you don’t, and you misunderstand.’

Peter had never thought of it this way — and he wasn’t sure if he trusted this Raphael yet. But it was true:  Jesus chose to stay with them. Maybe he did need them…  Peter began to feel better.

Raphael let Peter relax into the silence. He still wasn’t quite sure what his task was with Peter… but he trusted it would become clear in time.

‘Do you remember the day you walked on water?’
Peter looked up, swiftly.  How did Raphael know that?
‘They day I learned to drown, you mean. Another bit of folly.’

‘Well, yes. But there was a moment, wasn’t there, when the water held?’

Peter remembered it. Jesus, calm as could be on the waves, and Peter stepping out — crazy, wild, trusting. The first step held and he walked on water, and then his nerve broke, and he forgot even that he could swim.

‘Yes.  There was a moment.’

‘Right then. Hold onto that. You are Peter…’

‘I am Peter… and perhaps … maybe Andrew is good with keys?’

The angel smiled and led Peter out of the village.   His first job was done.  Now, it was time to climb a mountain.

 

a sacred duty


Crowds.  Typical.

Zacchaeus hated days like this.  He’d have a plan and a place to be — he might even be enjoying himself — and then, he’d see them. The men he’d grown up with. The women who laughed at him and scorned his advances. The neighbours’  children who had been taught to hate him and mistrust him him and call him names. The crowds that hated him, and filled him with hate in return. There was no coming back from it now: the day was ruined.

Zacchaeus scurried on and tried to decide what to do.

Option 1: Push through. Satisfyingly hostile. Some would run from him to avoid their debts. But most would jeer and shove and dirty his clothes.

Option 2: Go around. Try to avoid it. Just move on. That was probably the better way.

Zacchaeus was on the edge of the crowd now and felt something brush his arm. ‘Or you could go see him,’ a voice said. Zaccaeus looked up, and saw no one. Bits of other people’s conversation tugged at his ears.

Option 3: go see him. Why should he do that?

He decided to take the hostile option and began to force his way through the crowd.

‘Look, there’s Zaccheus!’
‘Coming to get us, tax man?’
They mocked and they scorned and they shoved him aside.

The tax man. Perfect excuse to be hated. But they forgot: he wasn’t always a tax man. And they’d hated him then too. Rome didn’t care what he looked liked, didn’t care if he wouldn’t conform. So long as he did his job…

Zacchaes tried to comfort himself by rubbing the gold in his pocket. By imagining the Roman armies, marching by his side.  It didn’t work.

‘You must be lonely,’ a voice said. He turned quickly to see who it was. No one. Just other people’s conversations again. All day this had been happening. Words hooking his attention, with no clear source.

Lonely? It was not a thought he allowed himself to entertain.

‘Damn this,’ he thought, as he fought his way out of the crowd. He would try another way.

Once he escaped them, his defences lowered. Lonely? Yes. He was lonely. What of it?  He looked at the people who should be his companions. ‘A motley lot anyway…’ he said to no one in particular.

All the while, Raphael was waiting. ‘Come on you grumpy little man. Come to me!’  Raphael sat in the sycamore and laced his wings through its leaves.

Finally, Raphael saw him: short stocky legs, working quickly to overtake the crowd.  Raphael flicked his wings, and the tree shimmered with bright green gold.

Zacchaeus sensed movement and looked up. On the path ahead, there was a most glorious tree…  For a moment, he forgot his anger.

Zacchaeus liked trees. As a boy, he would climb them: a good task when you are all alone. He was small, and could go high, and then no one could look down on him.

The tree stood proud ahead, and he heard the echo of the strangers words: you could go see him.  It was tempting.  He’d heard things about this Jesus… things he didn’t understand, that confused him and gave him… hope?

But it had been years.

Zacchaeus touched the familiar bark of the tree and looked up into its branches. The limbs were good: solid and strong and not too far apart. He looked back at the crowd and thought about the stranger in its midst.

Really, what had he to loose? He began to climb.

As Jesus moved through the crowd, Zadkiel brushed his arm with his wing.

‘What is it?’ Jesus asked.
‘Look,’ Zadkiel said, pointing to the tree ahead.

Jesus saw Raphael first, leaning against the tree trunk, looking quite satisfied. Raphael bowed to Jesus and smiled.

Then, Jesus looked up. There, in a most undignified position, was a little man in fine robes, trying to get to a branch he couldn’t quite reach.

Jesus’ eyes sparkled, and his laughter filled the hillsides. ‘Zacchaes, come down!’

Zacchaeus startled and slipped in his fright. Once he was safely on the branch again, he looked down. The crowd had caught up with him, and his neighbours were pointing and laughing.

He tugged at his tunic.

But there, coming towards him, was Jesus: his face full of warmth and delight.

‘Zacchaeus, come down. I must stay with you tonight.’

Zacchaeus looked all around, to see if there was another Zacchaeus, if Jesus was talking to him

The the truth of it hit him: a guest. A sacred duty. This was scarier than a tree, certainly, but what choice was there? He was a Jew. Here was a guest. He let himself slip through the branches and drop to the ground.

‘Yes, Lord. Yes.’  Zacchaeus said, dusting himself off. ‘You shall stay with me.’

The crowd grumbled and cried out against him, but now he didn’t care. Let them say what they wanted. Here was a guest. And he was a Jew. At last.

 

always a choice

Bethsaida.

As Raphael appeared, the waters were dark — still sleeping against a night sky. The people were sleeping too: some slumped in the doorways, others stretched out on the stones, one — more peaceful– trailing her hand in the waters and dreaming dreams.

‘Who will it be today, Ramiel?’ Raphael asked, already sure of the answer. Ramiel turned from his drawings, and waved his wing towards the girl. ‘She is ready: look.’

Raphael came to see the sketch pad. A girl, standing tall in the market square. A girl, radiant and laughing with her friends. All around them were rainbows — ribbons of light that seemed to dance on the wind. Raphael leaned in and strained his eyes against the dark.

‘Oh, Ramiel. You have done well.’

The ribbons were formed by words of friendship, words of kindness, the language of joy and hope and connection. And there, in tatters at her feet, were the words she had set down. Words of cruelty of wounding. Words that silenced her and drove her to Bethsaida: mute, afraid, alone.

The first rays of light were reaching the pool, and it was almost time for Raphael to stir the waters. But as the shadows lifted, he knew he was being watched.

‘What about him?’ Raphael asked, nodding to the old man who was staring at him. He didn’t like being watched. Mostly he was invisible. But at some point over the 38 years, the man had learned to see, and had been scowling at him ever since.

‘Still, no.’ Ramiel said sadly. ‘He won’t sleep. He won’t dream. When he does doze off, he blocks me as soon as I lift my pen: restless and angry. It gets harder every year.’

Raphael sighed and dropped his head. He would like to help the man — but not today.

Instead, he turned to the girl. ‘So be it. She is ready: it will be her turn.’

Raphael stepped down into the pool as the last of the sleepers woke. Some of the companions sensed him, and began hurrying their loved ones to the water’s edge. The girl sat up: wide eyed and expectant. The old man did nothing but glower, defying the rest to be healed.

As Raphael stepped into the water, the light changed. He rose his wings, and a thousand golden feathers reflected on the pool. The waters danced as he trailed his wing and turned: stirring the waters, stirring their dreams.

The girl barely needed to move to be in the pool, but as she saw him she rose. She walked deliberately into the waters, holding the angel’s eyes. At once she was surrounded with light and transformed by it. She waded out to meet him and let her head slip down beneath the water’s surface. As she rose, he took her hand, brushed the water from her face, and sheltered her in his wings.

‘Thank you.’ she said. ‘Thank you,’ as tears and laughter mingled.

Raphael released her and set her free. ‘Go in peace. When you need me, I will be with you.’ The girl nodded, and walked form the pool. All eyes were on her, and those who could ran to touch her. A healing. Hope for them all.

Except for one. Raphael saw the old man shift and turn away from the girl.

Raphael felt his own emotions stir — not compassion, exactly. Frustration? Anger? Nothing he liked, certainly. He fought it, and began walking to the man. There was nothing to stop him. He could stir the waters again if he wished. He sent out a beacon of gold, and begged the man: ‘Look, I can help you. Please, won’t you come?’

The man set himself in stubbornness and turned his face to the stones.

And then, suddenly: Jesus was there. He had come as the girl rose from the water. He had stood and shared her joy. But now, his face had changed. He waked swiftly to the man and forced his attention.

Jesus’ voice rose: ‘Do you want to be well?’

It was not harsh, exactly — but it was close. Raphael was bewildered. Here was this man, who had suffered for so many years, and Jesus was…

Challenging him.

The man looked up, too shocked not to respond. ‘There is no one to help me. Someone always gets there first.’

It was true: he had no one. And once — a terrible day — he had tried to get to the pool, and someone pushed past and threw him to the ground. Raphael had snapped his wings shut, and no one was healed that day. But was that what this was about, all those years ago? Was he still harbouring blame?

Jesus stood firm against the man’s excuses. He looked at him without judgement, but without collusion.

‘Stand up. Take your mat, and walk.’

It was a command. And the man heard it as such. But he knew too that he must choose.

He hesitated only a second, and then got to his feet. He walked — stumbled — towards the pool, and washed his face. Then, he rose quickly, took his mat, and left.

Raphael stood, open mouthed, in the middle of the pool
Confrontation?’ he asked Jesus, utterly bewildered.

‘Sometimes.’ Jesus said calmly. ‘Sometimes, it is necessary.’