The Time of Miracles (Book Recommendation)

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Jan 31, 2008

Borislav Pekic spent six years in jail as a political prisoner, his only reading material the Bible. In 1965, ten years after his pardon, his first novel, The Time of Miracles, was published and became an overnight sensation. A set of parables based on the miracles of the New Testament, the book rewrites the story of Jesus from the perspective of Judas (who is obsessed with the idea prophecy must be fulfilled) and from that of the individuals upon whom miracles were performed--without their consent and, in most cases, to their eventual dissatisfaction. Filled with humor and poignancy, The Time of Miracles is a trenchant commentary on the power of ideology in one's life, upon what it means to hold beliefs, and upon the nature of faith.

Excerpt from Chapter 1- Miracle At Cana

For Jesus Christ, our Lord and Teacher, was begotten by Jehovah in a short angelic annunciation even before Mary was espoused by Joseph, so that the person of the Savior might be considered half-divine and half-human, divine in the half begotten by God, human in the half conceived in a woman. That dual origin had produced an ambiguous offspring, neither God nor man but something between the two, which certainly looked like a man and was God, and which sometimes had the qualities of God though he was only a man.

When we set out we still didn't know that Cana in Galilee would be the beginning of the miracles which the Savior would perform in the service of his adopted Father, for it wasn't until after Cana that he began to visit uninvited, to reply unbidden, to teach unasked and to save without being entreated.

And all because, dear brethren in Christ, he realized, saddened and angry, that the world he had to save had no idea of its awesome pains and felt no need of healing. For the yoke of Rome was heavier than the intangible yoke of sin. It was grievous for Israel to welcome the arrogant pagan might to pay tribute to insatiable Caesar and carry out forced labor on his all-conquering roads, which crisscrossed the kingdom of David in search of new provinces and fresh human quarries of slaves. But it was still harder for Israel to perceive those secret ills of the spirit which gnawed at individuals and tribes, and only sporadically took the ugly forms of paralysis, leprosy and madness.
Could our Savior wait to begin his mission from God till those by whose transformation his mission should be accomplished invited him? Did he dare knock gently when he should have broken down the door, beg humbly and only command when served? For God had ordained that the world be cleansed of sin, and had given the world to the Savior for his lifetime so that what he bound on earth would be bound in heaven, and what he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven.

With the assurance of the higher summons we could disregard the lower one; uninvited by the host Halil but guided by the Lord, we came to Cana of Galilee and found ourselves outside the rich man's house. No one invited us in, but among so many guests it was hard to tell who'd been invited and who hadn't. Since it was God's command that we go there, we considered that we'd been invited. I, Simon, son of Jona, first gatekeeper of the Church, confirm that the noble Halil summoned us and that every other interpretation of our presence at Cana is the work of Satan!
We spent a considerable time eating the meat of young kids and drinking wine, for we were very hungry since not one of the seven of us had worked for gain, but had lives as the birds of heaven, which neither sow nor reap but even so manage to live. So we ate and drank heartily, since God had set the table for us.

Then Mary came, the mother of our Jesus, and he showed no respect for her but pretended not to see her. By this indifference he showed us that he saw in her only the bodily intermediary of the higher intention of his Heavenly Father, some kind of chance cauldron in which his mighty seed had been boiling. In his far-reaching wisdom didn't he wish to set a standard for all those who should be chosen for great deeds, that each one so transformed might say without shame or regret even as he'd said to us: "Forsake your father and your mother and come with me, even as I have left my father and my mother and have followed the Lord"?
Pretending not to notice his ill will, his mother approached him to blame him for the shame he was bringing on the house of David by drinking.
And Jesus said: "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come, but pour wine for me and my friends for we have come in the name of the Lord."
And the confirmed drunkard Nathaniel added: "Who is ruler over the whole world and therefore, I hope, is ruler also of the grape."
Then his mother, not without the malice of the sober, told him that there was no wine left, though it was only the second day that we had honored the house of Halil by our presence, and only the fourth day of the marriage at Cana.

And Judas was angry--at the start he was still virtuous, though unbearable in his virtue--because he didn't like anything begun in the name of God and the Scriptures to be interrupted, and he pronounced a curse: "May it go hard for you, O Galilee, of the brood of vipers! May it go hard for you, unbelieving Cana, which dries the throat of the Son of God! From your vineyards, O harlot among the lands of Canaan, may only water flow!"
Then, as if recalling something, he stopped grumbling-- for he'd been grumbling more out of respect for the faith than from any access of anger--and he whispered something in the ear of the Teacher, pointing to six stone jars which served for the custom of ablution. The Teacher commanded the servants to fill them to the brim with water. Each jar held up to three buckets of rainwater for the cattle.
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Jan 31, 2008
When the servants had done as ordered, the Messiah sent the first jar to the best man to taste it, and the best man, to the consternation of all of us who knew the origin of the liquid, praised the bridegroom because, contrary to custom, he'd left the best wine to the end of the feast. Then, when the wine had been served to the guests, they drank it and it went to their heads as if it had been the best Samarian wine. And they gave great thanks to the Lord, bowed before his son and believed in him.
Of all the wedding guests, he who bowed the most deeply and humbly was a man of Cyrene, by the name of Simon, son of Eliezer, who'd ridden to Cana from Jerusalem with Rufus, his first-born son, and who, unwavering in the faith, was to bear the Savior's cross to Golgotha and thus be the first among us to reach paradise. You'll see.
That was before all those present collapsed on the floor.
Then John the son of Zebedee was surprised and asked: "Rabbi, did you make wine of this water, so that all men have become drunk?"
Jesus said to him: "Taste and say!"
Then the sons of Zebedee, accustomed to doing everything together, tasted that miraculous wine, became drunk at once and like all the men of Cana, have remained drunk ever since. As for Nathaniel, or Bartholomew, he remarked maliciously that he thought the wine was a trifle watered, as if a bit of rainwater had remained at the bottom of each jar which the miracle hadn't reached.
Judas got angry and said to the meek Teacher: "If the heavenly wine is too weak for him , ask him what other wine will be strong enough? And is there any wine that will topple him?"
When asked, Nathaniel said: "There isn't, Lord!"
Then Judas said that this man Nathaniel must be cursed if the miracle which had been wrought was to survive, for if this first one were denied then no other would be acknowledged, nor would all that was written in the Scriptures concerning the miracles of the Son of God be fulfilled.
So Jesus placed a curse on him: "So be it. You'll be granted the haven of paradise but you'll live in filth; they'll bring you sweetmeats and it'll seem to you you're eating carrion; they'll array you in velvet and you'll think you're wearing rags; they'll shower love on you and you'll feel you're being beaten!"
"I tell you," Judas said again, "he who doesn't get drunk on this water will never see paradise!"
And I tell you, dear brothers in Christ, such a man will never see God face to face. For he'll never bathe in the mists of unconditional faith as in the wine of Cana, nor rejoice in God's shadow when it passes across pitiful everyday faces and darkening them, lights up the horizon with incredible visions of a sinless and eternally beautiful future.
I say this to you so you may know who Nathaniel was and see if there are any such men among you, so you may weed them out from the garden of the true faith. For they'll cause scandal among you, tempt you and give you false signs, leading you into the service of the devil, just as they themselves have served him from the beginning of the world.
Intoxicated by the devil's wine, they don't know God's but believe it to be water.
Jan 31, 2008
After the wedding guests had drunk their fill and fallen under the tables, glorifying the new kingdom which, if no more, assured them first-class drinks, Judas decided it was time for the two of us to taste some. Until then we'd been anxious that all should be according to the Scriptures, paying no attention to ourselves.
So they brought him a mug of the miraculous water; without thinking, he sucked up a mouthful, then spat it out, cursing: "What is this, Simon, you withered fig tree, you rock of rocks?"
"Wine, brother in Christ," I said humbly.
And Judas asked: "What sort of devilish wine?"
I replied that it was the wine which, at his command a little earlier, the Messiah had created from water, and from which the whole world had become drunk.
He placed me before him and said: "Well, Simon, my barren wine, this is just dirty water. But for the chosen and the upright, what's wine to sinners can be nothing more than water. And what's wine to the chosen and the upright, let it be as unattainable to sinners as the Book of Life at the time of the last reading."
I asked him: "What should I do?"
And he said: "Go to the first wineshop and buy some real wine, but see that they don't draw it from the bottom of the barrel. And hurry, Simon, so I can refresh myself, for tomorrow the miracle continues which the Most Blessed began today, changing the water into wine."
When I returned with the wine, he tasted it and said: "This is wine and that was water."
So we drank till the third day after our arrival, and to the seventh day of the Marriage at Cana in Galilee.
Simon, son of Jona of Bethsaida of Gennesaret, whom the Savior called Peter or Cephas, whom he turned to the rock upon which he built his magnificent Church, bears witness to this, and leaves it to the Christian elders as a first testament of the faith and a heritage.
To the glory of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.