sage in bloom
No Cross for Jesus
Three travelers from the future sat on a bench in a courtyard open to the sky. They were there to observe the results of an experiment. On a balcony stood Jesus and Pontius Pilate, who pointed. "Your accusers say you claim to be the king of the Jews. Are you king of the Jews?" A donkey brayed. "I didn't hear you. What did you say?" "You have said it." Pilate looked down on the audience. "I have asked this man other questions regarding his alleged offenses. The answer you have heard is typical. He refuses to defend himself." An old woman in the crowd stood up. "Your honor, that's because he is not in his right mind. I know because I am his mother." Pilate stroked his chin. "My physician has also suggested this man is deranged." A stout man with a full white beard rose from his seat. A prayer shawl with a tassel at each corner draped his head. "I am of the same opinion, your honor." "Who are you?" "I am Nicodemus of Emmaus. He is no threat to anyone but himself." Pilate frowned. "What can I do? I can't let him wander around getting crowds excited. Not with so many of your people gathered in the city. Zealots could start a rebellion." "Ship him to my island of Patmos. He won't return." Pilate nodded. "So ordered. A detachment of my men will see to it." The three travelers exchanged congratulatory smiles. Back in their own century and country, the United States of Commerce, they stood before the raised throne of its president, His Holiness, Monsignor Sanctisimus Franklin. From his neck dangled a gold pendant in the form of the letter "C." He extended his white-gloved hand. The third finger held a ring with a large red stone carved with a dollar sign. The visitors mounted the steps, knelt and kissed it. The great man addressed them. "I understand that with the help of our Computer Goddess Cassandra, you three have changed the course of history." Silas Abel, a priest of the goddess and leader of the reconnaissance mission, smiled. "Not exactly changed, eminence, Just found a different version." The monsignor waved in slow motion. "No matter. I further understand that you must now return to . . . Where were you?"
Abel's dark goatee bobbed. "A first-century node in the space-time continuum tree, holiness."
The monsignor nodded. "Yes, of course. And now you shall return there and travel forward to the present time." He shook a finger at them and grinned. "But not this present time, mind you; another, better present time." He tilted his head to one side. "We are eager to see what glory our Government shall attain there without this annoying competition from the Church." He caressed the gold "C" at his chest. "The triumph of Commercialism is inevitable. Remember, 'Early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.' Bless you, pilgrims." His eyes blurred with tears. His right hand made the sign of the dollar and then dropped to a gilded armrest. "You may now leave us." His head dropped forward. His chin rested on his chest. His eyes closed. He snored. As the three backed down the stairs, Abel whispered, "His blessing is quite appropriate. The place we 'pilgrims' will be going to is much more dangerous than where we've been." Margaret Harrington, the physicist, raised her eyebrows. "Why is that?" Her historian husband, Frank Zharkov, gritted his teeth. "We knew something about first-century Jerusalem. We know nothing about twenty-second century North America."