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Commentary

Jesus Rules in the Sequel

Santa, the Eastern Temple Worms and the Dragons of Destruction may make for a good story, but in the end they pale by comparison

December 22, 2003|Paul Park

My son, Lucius, is bored with bedtime stories. He's sick of the sequels, Rumplestiltskin II, etc. So he sketches an alternative: Jesus and his best friend, Santa Claus, travel to Asia to fight their enemy -- the Eastern Temple Worms.

He's already figured out the plot, and there's a lot that's good, especially a scene about halfway through in which Jesus lays down his own life for a tactical advantage. Santa, regaining consciousness after being knocked out, kneels in the snow in his red pants, weeping over the body of his friend. Then he struggles on alone, overweight, out of breath, lugging his huge sack of toys, to confront the worms.

I'm surprised by my son's grasp of Jesus' role in the drama -- something he has not gotten from me. It has been a long time since I have tempted fate by bringing him inside a church.

It is obvious, however, that the character of Santa Claus is larger in his mind, a cult figure to be propitiated at all costs. Santa's got all the accessories: the reindeer, the sleigh, the leather belt, the belly. But as the old elf slogs through burning buildings and over butchered carcasses, you have to be a little worried: Will his celebrated merriness be enough to see him through?

Not to worry; the Dragons of Destruction are wimpier than we've been led to think. They pretty much roll over for Santa Claus, and this is because, I am sure, the prospect of his death or injury in the first weeks of December is just too horrible to imagine.

"What if he rises from the dead," I suggest, "and comes back stronger than ever?" Lucius' mother, Deborah, who went to Catholic schools, rolls her eyes. Nor does Lucius think much of my idea: "He already delivers toys to the whole entire world." Five years old, he prays for Hot Wheels every night.

This Christmas, every Christmas, Santa Claus is everywhere and Jesus is nowhere to be found. I suspect even most Christians are comfortable with that -- which of the two knows whether you've been naughty or nice, after all?

People prefer to think of gods, if at all, as dispensaries of gifts and punishments, eternal Hot Wheels or eternal coals. Worship supplants understanding; as any husband or wife can tell you, there are two ways to justify not listening to what other people say. The first is to hate them, the second is to love them.

At Christmas, what with all the toys, the layers of neglectful praise, it's hard to remember that a man was born this month or some other month, 2,000 years ago. It probably helps not to be a Christian to hear that voice out of the ancient world.

Because I am thinking about my children, I remember the scene in Mark's Gospel where Jesus scolds his students and then tells them: "Let the children come to me. Don't stop them, for God's kingdom belongs to them."

And because I am thinking about husbands and wives, I remember the story of Mary and Martha; Jesus is always in a better mood when he's with women. It's clear he takes pleasure in their company, values them among his students. They stay with him at his death, when all the men have run away. At his rebirth, they are the first to see him.

Unlike Santa Claus, he is a man of introspection, full of doubt. But it is his attitude toward women that makes his voice into a modern voice.

Because tonight I'm thinking about the Dragons of Destruction, I remember the story from John's Gospel about the woman taken in adultery. The men want to stone her. But Jesus doesn't even look up, and the whole time he's writing with his finger in the dust. He tells them to fire away, the sinless first, and still he's writing with his finger. It's not until they all slink out that he says, "Where'd they go?" What style and power in his nonchalance! What strength in his finger, writing on the ground!

"There are Dragons of Destruction worse than temple worms," I tell my son. "There are dragons that eat worms like that for lunch." His eyes are skeptical and wide. And I'm thinking, Jesus might not have a reindeer or a bell on his cap, but in the sequel I'm betting on him to kick some scaly butt ... oh, excuse me: to prevail.

Paul Park is author of the forthcoming "Three Marys" from Wildside Press.

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