For years, whenever I walked the streets of Jerusalem, it was like walking through the darkest places in the human heart. Every sorry folly of our history, every temptation of our sorry hearts, was there, written large, for whoever had eyes to see them.
Religious pride and self-righteousness? Have you ever seen a Pharisee strut his way through the crowds, eyes apparently raised or lowered in holy contemplation, but actually darting furtively from side to side in holy contemplation?
The love of power? Well, the priestly caste were doing a good job of that. Not all of them, of course, some were awed to be serving their God, but too many, especially those in the inner cabal of the temple, had politicised the role of the priesthood, wanting to scrabble for whatever power and position they could maintain.
Greed? Well, it was everywhere, from the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the overpricing of the sacrificial lambs, through to the haggling in the marketplace and the blatant lust for gain that shone in the eyes of the tax collectors as they plied their extortionate trade.
And cruelty and violence were everywhere, from the zealots to the Roman soldiers, always seething just below the apparent civility of daily life.
And I do not even speak of the lusts that flourish in the shadows, but I have seen women used and abandoned, children who begged for bread, and many who lived the careful lives of the fearful. There were some who despised the Gentiles without loving the God who had called them to be separate, and others who ran to be accepted by the Gentiles and aped their ways.
And my heart grieved. I walked the streets of Jerusalem, and I prayed that God would have mercy on His wayward people, and I yearned for the coming of the Promised One. Then, one day, God told me a remarkable thing. He told me that I would not die until I had seen, with my own eyes, the Messiah come in the flesh.
I waited. The years passed, and wickedness seemed to abound more and more as my eyes learned wisdom. But I also learned another wisdom: that sin is not confined to those people over there, it lies there, coiled in my own heart too, in every heart, like poison in the bottom of the well that sickens us even while the water keeps us alive. And I wept, and I wondered and I waited, and the long years passed, until I realised that I had outlived the normal span, and my body was growing weary of this mortal world, and still I waited.