Originally written as a Christmas gift for my beautiful friend Sarah.
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:4
His third morning in Albuquerque was Sunday, and a small church on the outskirt had caught his eye when PJ first drove him into town, so he decided to go and see what went on in there.
It was a several mile walk, and the service had already commenced when he entered, so he quietly took a seat in a pew near the back. There was a congregation of about thirty, and to his great delight the preacher was just beginning one of his favorite Bible tales, the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The preacher was a short man with a full flower of white hair atop his head and he gesticulated and spoke with great animation. It was as much a theatrical performance as a telling from the pulpit.
"In the days of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image, which he ordered all people to fall before and worship; and decreed that whosoever would not was to be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. Now there were three Jews set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who regarded not King Nebuchadnezzar's gods, and refused to worship the golden image which he had erected. When this was told to the king, he ordered the three men brought before him, and said: ‘if you will not serve my gods, nor worship the golden image I have set up, who is that God who shall deliver you when I have cast you into a burning fiery furnace?’ And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with one voice answered: ‘our God will deliver us from the fiery furnace, and out of thy hand. And be it known, O king, that we will not worship thy gods nor the golden image which thou hast set up.’
"At this King Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and commanded that the furnace be heated seven times more than it was wont. He then commanded the mightiest men in the army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and to cast them into the furnace, which was so hot that the flames therein flew out and slew the men. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished, and said, ‘did we not cast three men bound into the furnace? For lo, I see four men walking loose in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’
"Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, you servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king's counselors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Blessed by the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him.’"
"That the prophet Daniel wrote this six hundred years before the Son of God was given to the earth shows that life is eternal. And as are we tried by the fires of life, so by faith are we delivered into life everlasting."
Following the benediction, the pastor bid them all to take a moment of fellowship with their neighbor, and then to go on and have a splendid afternoon. There was a young woman beside Father Jeremy in the pew, who he had noticed quietly weeping; and so he went to her and said: "Why so sad, young lady?"
"My heart is broken," she softly replied.
"And who broke your heart?" he asked.
"Everyone in my life," she answered. She paused, and he patiently waited. "I came in here to pray for help in understanding why those who say they love me would do this to me."
"I've never been here in my life and don't know a soul," he said, "so maybe your prayer brought me to your side. I can shut up and turn into an ear if you'd like."
"Maybe talking would help...."
"It's a beautiful afternoon, we could go for a stroll," he suggested.
So they did, and as they went along she told him her story. Her name was Sarah Brosephina, she was twenty two and had been raised a Jehovah's Witness. (Jehovah's Witnesses consider themselves the right church of Jesus Christ, while others regard them as a religious cult.) Two years before, in accordance with church law, she had been shunned by her family and the entire congregation because she broke off an engagement that her family had arranged with a boy in the church and took up with a different lad. Shrugging off the shackles of years of repression, and curious about the world she had been sheltered from, she dabbled with drugs, alcohol and sex, and had gotten a couple of tattoos. She had also celebrated her birthdays and Christmas, which was a serious violation of church doctrine. She was now sober, married and pregnant. She dearly missed her nieces, and all her family, and wanted them to be part of her coming baby's life, but refused to return to the church, and on their harsh terms.
The course of their walk happened to bring them by the Kingdom Hall, where the Jehovah's Witnesses worship; and at the very moment that an older man locked the side door and started walking directly toward them.
"Shunning loved ones isn't very Christ-like at all," Father Jeremy observed.
"I agree," she said. "Uh, oh...here comes Elder Josephus."
Their crossing paths was unavoidable, and when they did, the man said, "Good afternoon, Miss Brosephina. Are you come to return to the fold?”
"Return to the fold?" she repeated. "If I remain with Jesus, who is with me always, how could I have ever left?"
"Very well, Miss Brosephina," the man curtly said.
"Know you not the parable of the prodigal son which Jesus Christ taught?" Father Jeremy said. "How when the wastrel son returned home the father rejoiced and celebrated, and went out weeping to meet him? Knowing that Christ would await her with open arms at any moment she chose to leave and return, why do you coldly fold yours and turn your backs? For you know that there is more joy among the angels in heaven over one repentant sinner than ninety nine just persons who never strayed."
"Miss Brosephina has violated church law," Elder Josephus coldly explained. "If rules are not abided, they cease to exist; and without rules there can be only chaos. Miss Brosephina knows what she must do to return to our good graces."
"Except that the law of the Jehovah's Witnesses is false, and that they believe in things that are simply untrue," Father Jeremy said.
"How dare you!" Elder Josphus snorted. "If you knew what I know, you would know that what you just uttered is blasphemy."
"And if you knew what I know, you would know that much of what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe is in direct contradiction to what Christ taught, which is the truth. To start with, your church's founder, Charles Taze Russell, called himself 'God's mouthpiece.' Of such men did Christ prophesy in the twenty fourth chapter of Matthew: many false prophets shall rise, and many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Of these people he warned to believe them not, and to go not after them. Let me ask you this: of the death of Jesus, what do Jehovah's Witnesses believe was the manner?"
"We don't believe that he died on a cross, but on a single stake," Elder Josephus timidly answered.
"So let me get this straight," Father Jeremy responded. "God sent his only begotten son to be a light in the world, and to redeem mankind from his sin by dying on the cross, in front of many witnesses who bore it with written record, then let that light go dark through nineteen centuries of saints and faithful, only to spark it anew in a middle aged businessman from Pennsylvannia named Charles Taze Russell—a man who hid his worldly wealth from his wife (and therefore from God) before divorcing her—and who revealed to us, among other things, that Jesus did not die on a cross, but a stake."
"Um, yes, that's correct."
Jeremy continued: "That is just as wrong as the four dates the Jehovah's Witnesses set for Armageddon that came and passed and yet we are here. For notwithstanding that it is written in Mark chapter thirteen, verse thirty two, when Christ foretold of the end of the world and his Second Coming, of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only, the Jehovah's Witnesses went ahead not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times, in 1914, 1925, 1945, and 1975, and set specific dates for that hour which no man knoweth. So despite what the Bible says, God changed his mind and told these things to Charles Taze Russell."
Flustered, Elder Josephus said: "Stop saying Charles Taze Russell."
"Why? Who founded the Jehovah's Witnesses?" Jeremy asked.
"Charles Taze Russell," Elder Josephus answered.
"There, you said it,” Jeremy responded. “If I were to say to you that it were going to rain on Tuesday, and that day came and went without a drop; and I said a second time, it was definitely going to rain the following Tuesday, and that day came and went without a drop. How many times would you listen to me say it before you stopped believing that I knew about the rainfall? And if I proved myself repeatedly wrong about Tuesdays, would you believe what I predicted for Thursday, Friday and Saturday?"
Elder Josephus was speechless, and after a pause, Father Jeremy continued. "As a fellow Christian, please tell me about the one hundred and forty four thousand mentioned in Revelation. Surely you know what I’m talking about, and you are, after all, duty bound by Christ to shed that light on me."
Elder Josephus explained the church's belief. "One hundred and forty four thousand Christians will receive immortal life in heaven as co-rulers with Christ, ruling over mankind during the millennial reign. God's kingdom was established in heaven with Jesus Christ as King in 1914. The wicked will be destroyed in the war of Armageddon, and the survivors will form a new earthly paradise ruled over by a heavenly government."
"And Charles Taze Russell died in 1916, just in time to ascend and prepare for the one hundred forty three thousand nine hundred ninety nine to follow him,” Jeremy finished. “I assume you refer to the one hundred forty four thousand described in chapters seven and fourteen of Revelation." Jeremy removed the tiny New Testament from his pocket and read aloud. "And he cried unto the angels, hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. And he said unto me, these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
"We believe that parts of the Bible are intended to be interpreted symbolically," Elder Josephus explained. “The hundred and forty four thousand mentioned in Revelation are spiritual Israelites."
"Spiritual Israelites?” Jeremy remarked with disbelief. “Indeed they are not. They are very real, and of Hebrew blood. I will read the rest of the Scripture, from Revelation fourteen, then I will explain it, for I think I somewhat understand the truth of that mystery."
Father Jeremy found his page in the Bible and continued. "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their forehead. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb."
"Why would you interpret the writing symbolically when there is a literal explanation?” Jeremy asked. “Some of those are the Jewish children who were slaughtered in the great World wars. They are the firstfruits from God's firstborn Israel. For who suffered like Christ, and was as innocent, and of the same blood, but the children of the Holocaust? They were marked in the forehead, and as they were starved unto death by their murderers, neither shall they hunger nor thirst any more. As they were children, they are virgins. And what is the greatest sound the earth can make in God's ear? A choir of children. That is where you will find the hundred forty four thousand virgins who were redeemed from the earth into heaven to serve Christ, and to sing to him a new song, not in your secret society of elders running Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Halls. And just as Christ taught that they who exalt themselves will be humbled, so will it go with you when you die and find that you self-anointed chosen ones are not among the one hundred forty four thousand singers in that choir. That is what is written in my Bible," Father Jeremy said. "I can't speak to that strange translation of the Scriptures that the Jehovah's Witnesses wrote for themselves based on the actual Bible, which is more a loose adaptation than a translation, and which expurgates all references to Hell and includes hundreds of mentions to Jehovah that simply are not the words of the original writers, and therefore not true Scripture."
Then Father Jeremy turned to Sarah and said: "My dear Sarah, you are beloved of Christ, and the parable of the prodigal son indeed pertains here. For if you dwell in the love of the Lord Jesus, then they who dampen their love for you dampen their love for Jesus, for if you dwell therein those two loves are one, and to darken either light darkens both. Therefore wait with open arms, and if those loved ones who are lost to you return, embrace them with rejoicing, make a feast and celebrate Christmas, for how can it be wrong to joy that our Lord and Savior is born, God's gift to the world? And if not, they can never deny you the greatest love of all; for with Christ at your side, verily, you can dance in fire like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego."
She looked at Elder Josephus, and then at Jeremy, and smiled.
"Very well, Miss Brosephina,” Elder Josephus said. “Good afternoon, sir."
Elder Josephus went back inside the Kingdom Hall, and Sarah walked away with Jeremy.