Shimon ben Yosef was a porter of Bethany. He owned several donkeys, and on their backs carried to the market in Jerusalem his produce, and the produce of those of his neighbors with whom he was currently on speaking terms.

The strangers approached Shimon at his work. “Our Master needs this donkey. He will ride him to the city.”

Ordinarily Shimon would have responded to this request with obscenities. But it was pilgrimage season, his most lucrative time of year, and he was feeling almost generous.

“Your master doesn’t want this donkey, trust me.”

“Has anyone ever ridden him? We were told to look for a donkey that had never been ridden.”

“Fuckin a, he’s never been ridden! This colt here, he’s mean. I’m the only one who can get near him, and that’s only because he know how hard I’ll beat him if he pulls any shit on me.”

The strangers looked nervous now, to Shimon’s great amusement.

“That is the donkey we need.”

“Suit yourself.”

With obvious fear on their face, the strangers took the donkey colt.

“Bring him back, or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“Don’t worry!”

But come that afternoon, there was no sign of them. When Shimon realized he had given away a free donkey, he flew into a rage rare even for him, and all Bethany knew it.

To his surprise, the strangers actually returned. Late that night, when any decent person was asleep. Which would have been the end of the odd episode, except–

The colt was never the same. When Shimon’s wife went to feed him, he didn’t try to bite her. When the village children got too close, he didn’t try to kick them.

Word went around that Shimon’s donkey was the gentlest in all the region of Benjamin. People began to come from miles around to see him. Just to pet his hide and scratch his ears was somehow comforting. The children rode him around the little town.

As the years went on, everyone had to admit that it even had an effect on Shimon. No one said this out loud, of course. It would be something of an insult to claim a man had been improved by his donkey. But he didn’t yell as he used to, didn’t utter vile words to his family and neighbors anymore, didn’t lash out with his fists.

This continued. As someone once said: Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey. Even outliving Shimon, and all his family, and all that had been present that day when he served as a king’s throne, the donkey was a grace to many, to the end of his life.

Tradition tells us that St. John the Apostle lived to a very old age among the church he founded at Ephesus. In his dotage, he grew so frail that he had to be carried into worship, and lowered gently into a seat of honor. Then the assembled congregation would beg their bishop:

“Please, tell of us of the mighty things you have witnessed, the great deeds of power and glory, stories of the Lord and his apostles you saw with your own eyes.”

And John replied:

“Little children, love one another.”

They persisted, saying:

“Teacher, please, preach the Word to us, transform us and dazzle us, say great things to us.”

And John replied:

“Little children, love one another.”

Just as the years had boiled down the body of this Son of Thunder to pure bone and skin, so had they reduced everything he had seen, everything revealed to him-the Transfiguration, the Resurrection-down to this one thing. It was all he would say. It was all he had to say.

And so the community that looked to John put in a letter:

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

(1 John 4:7-12)

After the third day, they returned to Galilee. They swam, fished, sang, slept on the beach, sat around the fire at night. Their Teacher—now their Lord–was with them, sitting among them, laughing. This was a season of rest between what they had witnessed and what they knew now they would do.

But in this joyous time, something gnawed at Nathanael. He waited until the others were out on the boat. Only the Lord and himself sat on the beach. He had to ask.

“Lord, what is the fate of my cousin, Judas?”

“What should be his fate?”

Nathanael hadn’t expected that. He had dreaded, but expected, to hear that Jude would be condemned on earth and in heaven. He had hoped that, perhaps, the Lord would say Jude was forgiven.

Jude had betrayed the Lord, despaired and encompassed both Jesus’s destruction and his own. Jude had given in, willingly forfeited all the ties that bound them.

But those ties had been real. Jude had walked with them, preached with him, been their friend and brother through it all (until the very end). Surely that must count for something.

Justice or mercy? Was this a test? If he answered wrong, would he also be condemned? Why was the Lord doing this to him?

Then he saw Jesus’s eyes and realized that whatever was in his heart, his Lord already knew it. He might as well say.

“I would see Judas forgiven, Lord. He was my beloved kin, and our beloved brother.”

For a moment he was afraid. Then the Lord spoke.

“Didn’t I say what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven?” He clapped Nathanael on the shoulder. “Fear not. I have not lost one of those the Father gave me.”

Tears filled Nathanael’s eyes. When he cleared them, the Lord was no longer there.

The others rowed back in. They ate of the catch a great plenty.

Nathanael had decided he didn’t like Jerusalem.

Whatever he has expected when they had entered into this city, this wasn’t it. First there had been a burst of adoration, with crowds cheering and hopes flying. Everyone seemed to be waiting for “it.” Even though no one quite knew what “it” was. The Teacher had always been rather cryptic about “it,” but had made it plain that “it” was going to happen, that it would happen in Jerusalem, and that it would be glorious.

By midweek, there was no sign of “it.” No angels. No armies miraculously sweeping away the omnipresent Roman soldiers. No poor being made high. Nothing. The crowds melted away as quickly as they came, replaced by warnings that “Men are looking for you. Important men. You better watch your back.”

The worst change was with the Teacher. No more laughter, no more bold declarations. The failure of “it” to happen weighed on him the worst. At his best now he seemed resigned, at his worst petulant. “This is how it must be,” he kept saying. Nathanael had once thought giving up his family and livelihood to follow the Teacher had been the best move he’d ever made. Now he was reconsidering.

Thank heaven Judas was there. Judas, his cousin, who had brought him to the Teacher and preceded him into the Twelve. Judas, the wisest, most pious person he had ever known.

“What do we do, Jude?” he asked his cousin.

“We stay with him. For as long as he deserves.”

It was Passover. A man they had met on Sunday had then offered them a room for the Seder. Now he seemed distinctly nervous to have them under his roof, but he wasn’t rude enough to rescind the gesture.

The Teacher took his place at their head. He seemed to be in a daze. He stared at the elements of the Seder. He picked up a matzoh.

Snap! The crusty bread fractured in his hands, hard enough to send splinters around the room.

The Teacher looked at them and said “This is my body. As this is broken, I will be broken.”

No one said anything.

He beat on the matzoh with his fist, smashing it. He gave each of them a fragment. “Eat this. This is my flesh. Eat it.”

Peter spoke up, in a soothing tone: “Teacher, do you–”

“Eat!” Jesus screamed. “If you do not eat this, you are not my disciples!”

So they ate.

The Teacher picked up the cup and said “This is blood. This cup is filled with blood. Drink it, or you are not my disciples.”

They passed the cup around in silence.

“The end has come. All of you will abandon me. One of you will encompass my destruction. And it has to be this way. It can be no other way.”

It was clear now: the lovely Teacher had gone mad. The weight of the week had broken him. Nathanael wanted to cry out and tear his clothes, but it might only anger him more. They had sacrificed everything for this madman. Next to him he could see Judas’s face red with unspoken anger.

The teacher stood.

“I am going to pray at Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. Do what you must.”

He left. A few baffled minutes later, the owner of the house appeared. “Why are you still here? I can’t have you found here! Get out!”

So Nathanael and the others stumbled into the lightless street, trying to decide what to do. Peter, James, and John went off to find the Teacher. Phillip wanted to return to Galilee in the morning. Matthew spoke of going to the Essenes.

Nathanael had never felt more unsure in his life. He turned to his oldest friend:

“Judas, what do you think we should do? Jude? Jude?”

Next to him, the street was empty. The darkness had swallowed Judas.

If you every see anyone saying “The Council of Nicaea created the Bible/edited the Bible/censored the Bible,” know right there and then that the person in question does not know what they’re talking about. The Council of Nicaea formulated the Nicene Creed and considered a number of other issues. At no point was the canon of scripture considered.

The actual assembly of the canon of the New Testament was a long and distributed process, to the extent that it is not actually possible to point to any one event and say “This is the creation.”