Caiaphas, High Priest of the Roman province of Judea, AD 18 – 36
Lazarus of Bethany, restored to life by Jesus four days after his death
Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the early disciples of Jesus, later revered as St Paul
Jesus of Nazareth
They were in the garden, under the cypress tree. Its shade helped against the Sun, but did nothing to cool their heads.
‘We can’t let him live. We just can’t,’ said Caiaphas. Passover was coming. Jerusalem was about to welcome nearly a million pilgrims. I can’t have my authority challenged.
‘There are ways,’ said Saul. Blasphemy. Must be dealt with.
‘Find him, and bring him to me,’ said Caiaphas.
He was sitting on a wooden bench. The Sun was warm to his cold pale face. There was a piece of napkin hanging from his cheek. The skin hadn’t healed completely.
‘I still can’t believe it,’ said Lazarus. His hand was still wrapped in linen. It was holding a cup, and it was shaking almost imperceptibly.
‘Tell me again,’ said Saul. He was fighting a memory. The smell of the balm of Gilead was strong.
‘He had promised me. I didn’t listen,’ said Lazarus.
‘It wasn’t what you’d hoped for, was it?’ Saul said. Women would wear the perfume. But it wasn’t seducing him, it was suffocating him.
‘I did try to do right,’ said Lazarus. ‘Followed the word of...
’Saul was thinking about aunt Martha. He’d been a little boy. One evening he came back home. He was hot and tired. Found his mother and some old women from the nearby village fussing around her. Why were they putting cloths on her? Why wasn’t she moving? And what was that smell? He would never forget it. And Lazarus smelled just like aunt Martha that day. The balm of Gilead. The smell of death. Had he really come back?
‘You must tell him. He has to know,’ said Saul.
Lazarus said nothing. All this talk had exhausted him.
‘Why isn’t he with you?’ Caiaphas said.
‘I thought I should first tell you,’ said Saul.
‘Tell me what? Your instruction was clear,’ said Caiaphas.‘
Jesus is not the messiah. Lazarus is a living proof he’s a false prophet.’ Saul said.
Caiaphas said nothing. He just stared at him with unblinking eyes.
‘Lazarus may be more useful to us alive,’ said Saul.
‘And why is that?’ Caiaphas asked.
‘Because he is not happy.’ Saul said.
‘Because he is not happy?’ Caiaphas said.
Saul was eager not to disappoint. He kept silent for a minute to collect his thoughts. And then started retelling the High Priest what he’d heard.
‘A few days ago Lazarus got very sick. His sisters sent word to Jesus. He ignored them. If he had been his true friend, he would have hurried back. He might have tried to save him, claiming to be the Savior himself. Instead he lingered. Two whole days. Then he started his journey back to Bethany. But when he finally arrived, Lazarus had been four days dead. And then, over the righteous objections of his sisters, Jesus desecrated the tomb. He had the mourners remove the stone from the entrance. And then he raised him from the dead. But Lazarus is not happy. Why? Where is that happy place his prophet promised?’
A long moment of silence.
‘Now you really must bring him to me,’ said Caiaphas.
‘This is the man,’ said Saul.
‘Leave us,’ said Caiaphas. And before Saul could object, he added: ‘This is now a matter for the elders. You are yet to fully see the light of truth.
’Saul left. Ambitious, yet obedient, Caiaphas thought. He has a future.
‘So, Lazarus, how was the afterlife?’ Caiaphas said.
‘I couldn’t really tell the difference,’ said Lazarus.
‘How so?’ Caiaphas said.
‘In this life, we are slaves. But then I saw the souls of men. They were slaves too. Forever entrapped in their own wickedness.’
‘Were you not saved? By him who calls himself the Son of God?’
‘Yes, I was. He warned us. He told us we had been fooled to believe that silver would let us into the Temple of His Father and that our sins will be cleansed. But I saw the truth. I was meant to. Because no-one dared to believe him. But he showed me and brought me back. Now I know. Now I am his message. And everyone will listen.’
Now I really can’t let him live, Caiaphas thought.
‘I tell you the truth. Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children,
you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.’
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This was Teodor Tsekov’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.