JESUS: I Had Been Waiting, by Alfred Kazin

From A Walker in the City

But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.  When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face-to-face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:10-12


The man from whom I had accepted the little blue volume on the fifth Avenue steps of the library had said to me in Yiddish, searching my face doubtfully: “You are a Jew?  You will really look into it?”  No, I was not really looking into it; I could not read more than two or three pages at a time without turning away in excitement and shame.  Would the old women across the street ever have believed it?  But how square and hardy the words looked in their even black type.  Each seemed to burn separately in the sun as I nervously flipped the pages and then turned back to where the book most naturally lay flat: For now we see through a glass, darkly.  Each time my eye fell on that square, even, black type, the sentence began to move in the sun.  It rose up, a smoking frame of dark glass above the highest roofs, steadily and joyfully burning, as, reading aloud to myself, I tasted the rightness of each word on my tongue.

It was like heaping my own arms with gifts.  There were images I did not understand, but which fell on my mind with such slow opening grandeur that once I distinctly heard the clean and fundamental cracking of trees.  First the image, then the thing; first the word in its taste and smell and touch, then the thing it meant, when you were calm enough to look.  Images were instantaneous; the meaning alone could be like the unyielding metal taste when you bit on an empty spoon.  The initial shock of that language left no room in my head for anything else.  But now, each day I turned back to that little blue testament, I had the same sense of instant connectedness…

First the image, then the sense.  First those clouds moving blue and white across the nearest roofs; and then the journey into that other land of summer, eternal summer, through which he had walked, wrapped in a blue and white prayer shawl, and looking back at me with the heartbreaking smile of recognition from a fellow Jew, had said: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

Offended in him?  I had known him instantly.  Surely I had been waiting for him all my life – our own Yeshua, misunderstood by his own, like me, but the very embodiment of everything I had waited so long to hear from a Jew – a great contempt for the minute daily business of the world; a deep and joyful turning back into our own spirit.  It was he, I thought, who would resolve for me at last the ambiguity and long ache of being a Jew – Yeshua, our own long-lost Jesus, speaking straight to the mind and heart at once.  For that voice, that exultantly fiery and tender voice, there were no gaps between images and things, for constantly walking before the Lord, he remained all energy and mind, thrust his soul into every corner of the world, and passing gaily under every yoke, remained free to seek our God in his expected place.

How long I had been waiting for him, how long: like metal for a magnet to raise it.  I had recognized him immediately, and all over: that exaltation; those thorny images that cut you with their overriding fervor and gave you the husk of every word along with the kernel; that furious old Jewish impatience with success, with comfort, with eating, with the rich, with the whole shabby superficial fashionable world itself; that fatigue, as of a man having constantly to make his way up and down the world on foot; and then that sternness and love that gushes out of him when he turned to the others and said: For verily I say unto you, till Heaven and Earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Yeshua, my Yeshua!  What had he to do with those who killed his own and worshiped him as God?  Why would they call him only by that smooth Greek name of Jesus?  He was Yeshua, my own Reb Yeshua, of whose terrible death I could never read without bursting into tears – Yeshua, our own Yeshua, the most natural of us all, the most direct, the most enchanted, and as he sprang up from the heart of poor Jews, all the dearer to me because he could now return to his own kind: and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 

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