"When the student is ready, the master appears."
The view from Beth’s apartment was spectacular. Overlooking the Neckar River, at a point where it crossed under die Alte Brücke she could see the twin white towers that served as a gate to the city from the Old Bridge and the hundreds of pedestrians that seemed to constantly flow across the bridge.
Directly across the Neckar River and behind the bridge towers was the Altstadt, with its shops and riverside promenades; all snuggled neatly into the bottom of the hill, on top of which looms the Heidelberger Schloss. The large, 14th century castle, only partially restored, never failed to impress Beth as it dominated Heidelberg’s old town below.
Sitting on her balcony, on good weather days through the early evening, grading papers or simply enjoying a glass of wine, she was ever present of history and how old this country was compared to her own United States.
Beth’s apartment was prime real estate and would have drawn a very high rental fee had it not been owned by the Ruprecht-Karl Universitäts Heidelberg and sub-leased, for a pittance, to Doctor Elizabeth Washburn. She had recently joined the staff at the universities’ Theologische Fakultät in the Wissenschaftlich-Theologisches Seminar.
The University of Heidelberg’s Theology School was renowned for its philosophy of a unified research and teaching faculty and the opportunity to work here had long been one of her goals. After publication and critical acclaim for her book, “The Search for God” Beth had received an invitation to join the History of Religion and Mission Studies Department, which she accepted immediately.
Born and raised in a devout Catholic family Beth knew that she could never become a priest. Nevertheless, that’s what she wanted to be. Becoming a nun, instead, never entered her mind. They were merely servants to the priests as far as she was concerned.
Denied the priesthood, she’d turned to the study of theology and ancient languages. But the years of study – uncovering document after document of contrary and argumentative discussion between the religious and the scientific communities – had a profoundly negative effect on her.
In researching and writing her book, she’d laid it all out – bared her soul. In the process she’d lost her faith. Now, working on her new department’s project, Esotericism and New Religious Movements, she hoped to regain what she’d lost, even if it took a form outside the confines of the Church.
On this Thursday evening before Good Friday, the city was alive with tourists that flocked to the famous city during Easter holidays, but Beth was barely aware of the bustle below her and across the river. She was deep in thought about the strange man who had come to her class earlier in the day.
Beth had only four lectures a week this semester and Thursday, her last before classes closed for the Easter holidays, was entitled, “Resurrection – the Foundation of Christianity.” She had never given this particular lecture before, but as usual, years of experience and intensive preparation allowed her to speak freely, hardly referring to either lesson plan or notes as she spoke. Although listed as a lecture, Dr. Washburn was well known for open, sometimes heated, discussions.
Her classes were popular, even for non-theological majors, and they were always filled to capacity. The lecture hall she currently used contained almost one hundred seats in amphitheater design. All of the seats were filled and scanning the expectant faces of her audience before beginning, Beth’s eyes were immediately drawn to a man, seated in the last row, at the top of the classroom. He’d looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. She’d found it hard to take her eyes off him. Beth had moved closer to the first row of seats to get a better look.
His appearance strongly resembled that of a hippie standing on the corner of San Francisco’s Haight and Ashbury Streets in the late 1960’s. Shoulder length and tangled dark hair framed a thin, aristocratic face. His skin tone was dark – not black or Hispanic – middle eastern, perhaps but, inconsistent with the middle-eastern look, brilliant blue eyes stared out beneath bushy eyebrows.
Instead of proclaiming the signature hippie “Peace” sign, his brown T-shirt carried a neon green circle with the words, “Jesus Lives” inside. Beth couldn’t see, but she was certain he was wearing faded jeans and probably sandals. As she stared at the man, he, too, seemed totally absorbed with her. Her look was one of puzzled concentration – his open, inviting, friendly. She couldn’t explain it, but she was having difficulty looking away from him. Seconds seemed like minutes, but finally, through a sheer force of will, Beth broke eye contact and began her lecture.
“I imagine you are all looking forward to the coming holidays and, because it’s Easter, I thought to talk this morning about the resurrection of Jesus and how that event has shaped Christianity. As you know, the Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified by the Romans and on the third day, he rose again in a remarkable triumph over death. This event forms the foundation of the Catholic Church and, for hundreds of years, the miracle of the resurrection has provided proof positive of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father.
“In recent years, however, the resurrection has come under some very close scrutiny and several studies – some tag them simply conspiracy theories – have revealed information that could severely test what the Church and the Bible have said about the resurrection. If any of these theories are ever proven, they could literally destroy Christianity.”
Beth looked up to see the man she’d notice earlier handing a young women something as he left the lecture hall. She was sad to see him leave and then, surprised at her reaction. Geesh, Beth how hard up are you? She laughed at herself, gathered her thoughts and continued her lecture.
Class went well, Beth thought, as she packed up her books and notes. At least until that young man brought up the “swoon theory”.
He had respectfully raised his hand and said, “I believe that Jesus wasn’t dead when taken from the cross. I mean, the Roman guards and Pilate himself have been recorded as being very surprised that Jesus had died so quickly. I think he was still alive, that there was a conspiracy to…”
“What about the spear thrust into his side; wouldn’t that have killed him?” Beth had interrupted. Immediately, she’d bitten her tongue, wanting to take the question back. She was keenly aware that only the gospel of John mentions the spear thrust. Neither Luke, nor Mathew mentioned it. It was also not included in the Gospel of Mark, who covered the events leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection in far more detail than any of the other gospel writer’s.
Beth had been relieved that he hadn’t called her on the question. Instead he’d simply gone on explaining the theory. “The wound needn’t have been fatal. I think he was still alive, treated for his wounds and a few days later, probably more than three, was seen again before he left the country. Later, his followers claimed that he’d been resurrected by God.”
Beth could not defend against this theory. For one thing, it was a contributing part of her own loss of faith; for another, the Church never produced a viable argument. The Church, in fact, remained silent on the issue – stubbornly believing that the burden of proof was on the conspirators and they would never be able to prove their claims.
Beth hadn’t wanted to pursue this discussion and said, “I agree that this is one of the most plausible theories that cast doubt on the resurrection and one of the theories I mentioned at the beginning of today’s lecture - a theory that, if proven, could destroy Christianity but, I don’t want to take up a lot of time discussing what cannot be solved here.” She’d thanked the young man for his contribution and continued with her lecture; completing it without further interruption or discussion.
She had everything packed and was turning to leave when someone tapped her shoulder. Beth turned to see the same woman that the “hippie” had handed something to as he was leaving.
“Excuse me, Professor. A man asked me to give you this note as he left the lecture.”
Beth took the folded paper, thanked the girl and watched until she was almost out of the room before unfolding the note. It read, “When the student is ready, the master appears.” She looked out the window. Buddha? He sends me a note quoting Buddha? Student – master, where’s the connection? Who is this guy? Shaking her head, she chuckled to herself, people are certainly strange sometimes.
* * * * *
The Theology Department was located on the grounds of the original university in the Altstadt. It was a two block walk from there to the old bridge, across the river and another two blocks to Beth’s apartment. Altogether, she would walk about fifteen minutes to and from work, and she always walked, regardless the weather. When the weather was good, as it was this Thursday afternoon, she would often stop at a cafe, sit outside and “people watch” while enjoying a cup of coffee.
The waiter brought her order just as Beth looked up and saw the same man that had been in her classroom earlier. He was sitting on a bench in the large, cobblestoned Market Square between the Town Hall and the Heilige Geist Church.
Scores of people were either walking through the square, sitting in outdoor cafe’s or simply enjoying the sunshine on one of the many wrought iron benches scattered about the square, but most of the children were crowded around the “Jesus Lives” man as he performed magic tricks for them. Gales of childish laughter and applause drifted across the plaza as the man produced a rose, apparently from thin air. He’s certainly a good magician, Beth thought.
She couldn’t help but smile as she watched. Who was he? She wondered, again. Where does he come from? What was he doing? What was the purpose of the note?
All these questions tumbled through her mind and she decided to approach him and quench her curiosity. Distracted while paying her bill, she was surprised when she looked up to discover that he had left. The children were slowly dispersing among the crowds of people. Beth quickly scanned across the square.
She thought she saw a brown t-shirt topped by shaggy brown hair, but she’d seen him too late and couldn’t be sure it was the right guy. Deciding that she’d missed him, and though disappointed, she also felt relieved. A shy person, normally, it was not in her nature to approach a stranger and especially not a strange man. Maybe he’s stalking me?
No sooner had that thought crossed her mind, than she dismissed it immediately as ridiculous. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that this man was neither dangerous nor a random somebody who had crossed her path.
* * * * *