When Jesus came back for the second time, it was on a weed-spotted knoll a mile and a half southeast of Jerusalem. If people had known that this was, in fact, the exact same hill that he had ascended from shortly after his resurrection, then there would have been a good deal more appreciation for the nice symmetry of the thing, but seeing as most Christians felt rather jipped that he’d chosen an area with so few of them in it, this spot of logistic poetry did not garner much attention.
Of the return itself, everyone agreed that it was a fine sight. That is, of course, everyone who saw it, which turned out to be several thousand people, who were first attracted by the peculiar rays of light firing down in golden shafts, and then by the clouds rolling back (in a way that turned out to be very much like a scroll) and, sure enough, Jesus himself floating down, nice as you please. People first assumed an attack, then a promotional stunt, and then, naturally, a man on a parachute. As his descent continued, it became clear that he was not wearing a parachute of any kind and was not dressed in military gear, or in any special gear of any sort. He was dressed like any Israeli. This got people talking, and as Jesus got lower and lower (the descent took a good thirty minutes, from first break in the clouds to the Return Proper) people started shouting up at him, asking if he was alright. He did not respond or say anything at all, until he landed, and made his great pronouncement.
“I have come back,” he said. And people’s eyes narrowed in disappointment and confusion.
He was rather short and fairly young. For a man who had just descended from the sky, he seemed unremarkable.
“Who are you?” asked a few in the crowd.
“I am Jesus the Christ.”
This was met badly, and nearly came to violence if Jesus himself had not kept the crowd back by simple virtue of a divine force field. When it became clear that they could not reach him, those who had not left made fun of him although, as it became clear, he had some experience with enduring mockery. They asked him to prove that he was Jesus, and he surprised them all by changing his likeness into that of the long-haired, amply bearded Caucasian familiar to all.
This proved quite effective.
The news media showed, first a few curious vans, and then in international droves. “Why do you think you’re Jesus?” they asked. He told them that it did not matter why he thought it, what mattered was, did they think it? They asked him if it was true, and he said that their own scriptures had prophesied it. They asked him point-blank if he was Jesus, and he told them that they had said themselves that it was.
All of this was generally in keeping with the Jesus of the Gospels, but most global Christian leaders were unconvinced, and many were outright vitriolic. Stories of his descension were written off as hysteria. His miracles seemed more like parlor tricks than divine acts. And the man himself seemed a bit stiff and temperamental. He was prone to bursting into tears for no reason, and when Piers Morgan told him to prove that he was the Messiah, Jesus grew quiet with white-hot rage that was terrifying to behold in person, but looked childish on air. But then, he had a maddening way to turning questions back on themselves, and sometimes deigned to not answer at all. All this led to a televised broadcast of the pronouncement made by the general consensus of ecumenical churches that this Jesus was not the messiah. And, for the few who held out on this sweeping judgment, the agreement was that, if nothing else, the Second Coming was kind of a dud.
According to Jesus, the general assumption that he was just swinging by to pick up the faithful before going back up to Heaven was only partially true. He was coming back to settle things down, clear up some misinformation, and get the world in order. When it was pointed out to him how very out of line this was with ancient prophesies put down in Revelations and Daniel, Jesus would only suggest that perhaps they should try reading those books again.
The news furor withered over the next few weeks. He did not actively seek press and did not reward it when it found him. There was talk of miracles, but none was ever caught on camera. A blind man – a few dozen people attested to his blindness – received his sight and gave credit to Jesus’ hands. An amputee’s arm sprung back, popping the prosthetic right out of place. And a certain girl’s tuberculosis disappeared. Even the doctors attested to the strangeness of that last one. But these events were localized in Israel, and few outside the boarders gave them much thought. When it became clear that this Second Coming was a fairly boring press event, the press moved on. If he was a liar, he wasn’t a very good one. And he was the real deal, well, most reports on him declared, “only time will tell.”
Interest had turned, instead, to the remarkable story of a ten-year old boy by the name of Robert, who had been in a sailboat with his father, a sailing enthusiast who owned his own boat. The two had been taking a day trip near the Great Barrier Reef when the older man fell overboard and was promptly strung by a Manta Ray. Robert, who had no formal training in either boating or poison treatment, kept his head about him and reasoned that soaking his father’s wound in warm water from their tea kettle was the thing to ease the swelling, and then bound the infected area with his own linen shirt. He then piloted the ship back to the coast while his father slipped in and out of consciousness in the rear of the boat. He arrived onshore forty-five minutes after his father’s sting, docked the boat, alerted the coastguard, and his father made a complete recovery. News cameras were waiting at the hospital.
Jesus, in the meantime, stepped off a plane in America. San Francisco actually, where several hundred people greeted him warmly, passionately, and desperately. Those who weren’t sick knew someone who was, and not a few asked if he wasn’t going to take them to Heaven, would he mind very much fixing things on earth?
These people were either unaware or unconcerned with the fate of those who’d met Jesus’ healing touch in Asia. The man who had been given his sight back was being restrained and under surveillance, for he’d been trying to gouge out his eyes, first with a knife and, when those had been confiscated, a spoon, and finally with his thumbs (he loved looking at flowers, but the sight of things moving toward him caused his eyes to roll back in his head and he convulsed violently.) The young girl who’d been healed of tuberculosis was hearing voices. And, as for the lucky fellow who’d gained an arm, there were disturbing reports that his touch could turn your blood to ice in your veins, or else burned like fire.
Jesus took the Americans who came to be healed off to a certain, fervent lawyer’s home and whether or not those people received what they’d asked for, they never rightly said.
Jesus disappointed those who thought he’d condemn the homosexuals, and he disappointed those who thought he’d bless them. Jesus said not a word on that issue, nor abortion, nor war, nor money, nor the homeless, nor the Vatican and any of its scandals. Or, if he did, he didn’t say it any medium in which it could be readily verified. A candidate for the Governor of Iowa, Mr. Rodney Jessup, declared that Jesus, “a great man, a fine teacher, and a good friend of this nation,” had endorsed his candidacy but it seemed unlikely that the two had ever really met. In any case, all sources agreed that Jesus was very firm on one point: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Robert, the boy who had saved his father, was flown to America where he proved uncannily natural on television. He was unassuming, bright, talkative and, eventually, ubiquitous. He was the guest on an evening news show – in between reports of violence in Palestine and an Iowan gubernatorial candidate whose sudden loss of voice was bewildering physicians – where the host asked him to what he attributed his quick-thinking and ingenuity. The boy said he supposed Jesus had helped him, and the woman laughed loudly and darkly. But the producer of the show cut this out of the broadcast.
And because it was late, nobody was around to see Jesus float up into the air. And there was nobody to hear the wind and the stars welcome home their mighty prince with a song that was high and clear, and went: “BEWARE, CHILDREN OF GOD! BEWARE THE TERRIBLE SPEED OF MERCY.”