Buenos Aires, Argentina
We attended mass at Our Lady of Pilar in Recoleta, yesterday. It was Easter Sunday. The small church was crowded. Most were dressed casually, the men in open shirts and slacks, the women in dresses. They were middle aged, for the most part, and middle class, but it was hard to tell.
But they knew the plot.
Let us bring you into the picture.
The smart money, in the Year of Our Lord 33, was on the Romans and the Pharisees. They were in the insiders. They controlled the courts. They had the military budget and the 'boots on the ground' that could kick any butt they wanted.
Then, the skinny Jewish guy came into Jerusalem. The crowd loved him. They dropped palm leaves on this path. Here was an underdog...the 'king of the Jews,' they called him.
Jesus knew something was up. He had a last supper with his friends and he turned to Peter.
"I know I can't trust you," he said...or words to that effect. "You're going to betray me three times before the cock crows."
Peter flatly denied it. But it was true. Picked up later by the equivalent of Homeland Security, he denied that he had anything to do with the troublemaker, Jesus.
So, it didn't look good for the maverick Jew. The odds against him rose even higher over the next few days.
But when he was dragged before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, all of a sudden, his stock rose. Pilate saw no reason to prosecute him; he hadn't done anything wrong. For a while, it looked like he was going to walk.
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But noooo. The local elite came in, guns blazing. They wanted Jesus taken away. He was an 'insurgent;' they were sure of it. Did he not claim to be 'king of the Jews?' Wasn't that the same as treason? They put him to the test; they would find out if he was really a law-abiding citizen.
"Shouldn't we all pay our taxes," they asked. They hoped to trap him, like Senators Graham and McCain, trying to get Chuck Hagel to say 'the surge' was a mistake or that the 'Jewish lobby' has too much power.
"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," he told them, tossing a coin, with Caesar's picture on it, in their direction.
Pilate wasn't sure what he meant by that, but he didn't care, either. He just didn't want trouble. So, he gave the locals a chance.
'Okay, I'm going to nail someone to the cross,' he told them. 'You decide who. The thief Barabas...of the pretender Jesus.'
"Give us Barabas," said the mob.
At that point, you could have bought all the Jesus stock you wanted...for pennies. No one ever survived crucifixion. It wasn't possible. Unless this was 'a new era,' Jesus was done for. He was history.
They drove spikes through his hands and feet and hauled up the cross; he wasn't coming down until he was dead. Even Jesus himself figured he was finished. By the 9th hour on the cross, he had given up hope.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani," he cried out.
"Why hast thou forsaken me," is the translation in the King James Bible. Just whom he was speaking to has never been determined. But now, the skies darkened. And Jesus hung his head and breathed his last. If he had been a publically-traded company, trading in his stock would have been suspended. At that point, he had gone 'no bid.' He was out of business.
Then, they took him down from the cross. They pulled out the nails. And they put the corpse into a hole, with a big stone in front of the opening to prevent dogs from getting to it. The whole affair, at that point, seemed to be over. No more 'miracles.' Nor more healing. No more talk of loving thy neighbor or everlasting life. The disciples, who had given up their careers and families to follow him, we're thinking of going back to school...maybe becoming lawyers. A few were going to try to qualify for disability. Others were hoping to return to fishing, farming...or just hanging out in town.
The next day, Mary Magadalen and some other women went to the tomb. They expected to take out the body and wash it properly. But when they arrived, there was no body there. What had happened to it?
An angel, dressed in bright white, appeared. He said 'he has risen.' The angel told them to report these facts to the disciples.
It was about this time that speculation in Christ, Inc. began. The company had seemed broke...and finished. Now, it was back in business. If this 'resurrection' thing had any truth at all to it, the stock could go up as high as Apple or Google. It was one thing to give customers a fancy telephone...or a search engine that helped them find out what the Easter story was all about. Eternal life was something altogether different. Maybe it would work out. Maybe it wouldn't. But it was worth putting in a few shekels to find out. After all, it could be the biggest hit since...well...bread.
The disciples ran to see if it was true. On their way to the tomb, Jesus - in his new, post-real life form - met them. They didn't know what to make of him. He was there...in flesh and blood, sort of...but not quite.
"Don't be afraid," he said to them. "I'll meet you in Galilee."
Jesus did show up at Galilee, as promised. Speculation increased. People could see that the promise of 'everlasting life,' was not just marketing hype. If Jesus could do it, they reasoned, anybody could.
Jesus turned to the same Peter who had betrayed him. "You'll be CEO of my new company," he said. Peter means 'stone' in ancient Greek. Jesus used a little double entendre: 'on this rock I will found my church,' he said.
Shares in the new company rose, off and on, for the next 1,500 years, peaking only when a breakaway unit, led by Martin Luther of Germany, set up competing companies. Today, it still has 1.14 billion members and shareholders and a capitalization (net worth) that is probably in the billions (we found no estimates that appeared authoritative). Not as big as Facebook , but still not bad.
No one could ever prove or disprove the claim - that by joining Christ, Inc. you would have eternal life. But most people decided to take the route suggested by the French philosopher Pascal.
"I don't know if it's true or not,' he said, or words to that effect. 'But why take a chance? If you're wrong, you don't lose much - you just give up a few years of naughty behavior. If it turns out to be true, on the other hand, you gain a lot - an eternity of bliss. You do the math."
Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.
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