A wise slogan recommends we occasionally “stop and smell the roses.” Likewise, Allen Wright’s excellent new book “Silent Witnesses in the Gospels” (St. Anthony Messenger Press, $11.99, 230 pages) advises us to stop and breathe in the Gospels anew, seeing them from a wholly different perspective.
A Fresh Look at Familiar Stories
But in Silent Witnesses, these servers come to life: “Jesus pauses; His gaze falls upon a server. 'What’s your name?' He asks. 'Eliab,' replies the server. 'Eliab, quickly, grab two of your friends and meet me in the storage room.' Eliab calls his friends and they make their way around the back of the house. 'Fill these six stone jars with water at once.' Jesus’ voice is firm and direct so the servers get right to the task, dragging the heavy vessels to the well.”
Continuing: “The servers take the drink to the headwaiter, fearful that by taking this water during a wedding feast they will be punished. Eliab’s hand shakes as he gives the water to the headwaiter. What will be his reaction? 'Eliab, my friend! Where have you been keeping this?' Eliab straightens up, anxiously searching for Jesus. The headwaiter continues, ‘Most people serve the best wine first but you’ve been holding out, haven’t you? This is the choicest wine I’ve ever tasted!’”
When hearing Gospel stories, it’s easy to lose oneself in Christ’s piercing words, forgetting that all this action happened to real people. Wright’s book enables us to take a fresh look at these familiar stories, almost as if reading them for the first time.
Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary People
Allan Wright, a Scotch Plains, New Jersey religion teacher, combines a profound Biblical knowledge with a novelist’s creative impulse. He draws the indelible outline of invisible characters, providing deep and penetrating meditations into the meaning of the drama in which they unaccountably found themselves.
In Silent Witnesses, Wright gives voice to twenty-six New Testament characters who interacted with and served Jesus. While gospel writers tell of these bystanders’ actions, their thoughts and comments are not recorded. However, in Wright’s skillful and creative hands, words are placed in the mouths of the Good Samaritan, the boy with the fish and bread loaves, Judas, Barrabas, Mary and Martha, the one thankful leper, Simon carrying the cross, and many others. We thus can reflect upon what effect the extraordinary encounters with Christ had on these ordinary people.
For example, at the Cana wedding feast, Jesus told the servers to fill jars with water, draw some out and take it to the headwaiter. Dutifully, they did. In John’s Gospel, that’s all we hear of the silent servers.
New and Invigorating Insights
For example, Wright describes the poor widow “with her old clothes and worn sandals, she headed out the door, shuffling her feet and clutching two small coins in her hand. She walked anonymously into the busy street leading to the temple treasury. Crowds, all in a hurry, passed her by.”
At the clinking of two small copper coins placed in the treasury by the poor widow, Jesus (who had been discussing topics of the day with scribes and elders) “witnessed what he was looking for. Jesus called over his disciples, saying, 'Amen, I say to you this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.'” Her humble and generous giving remains one of the most poignant and beloved gospel tales.
One minor criticism: The book cries out for a concluding chapter summarizing and placing the stories in context, perhaps pointing to the lessons learned. In essence, my complaint is not that Silent Witnesses is too long, but that it is too short. Nevertheless, in an unforgettable way, Silent Witnesses adds new and invigorating insights to Sacred Scripture by bringing to life those who served as character actors in The Greatest Story Ever Told.
(Silent Witnesses can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press, 28 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202, Phone: (800) 488-0488, or from their web site at www.americancatholic.org)
James Bemis is an editorial board member and columnist for California Political Review and a frequent contributor to The Wanderer.