These arguments are, briefly, all balderdash. Yes, the stories are strange and filled with mystery. No, they do not create one consistent picture of that morning and the days that follow. But the doubt and confusion are written into the story from the start. This is not a confidence game or a fraud or a metaphor. The stories would look totally different if they were. The people who were there believed this had happened. What and how, exactly, they couldn’t say. But it was unbearably, unbelievably real to them.

Everything is falling down, but we try to preserve it, to build back, to add our own layer, to add our own wall to the project that is never finished. We pass what we love along, hand to hand, in a great chain whose links all die before the treasure ever reaches safety.

Jesus does not enter this world, or this holy city, as a violent revolutionary or a conquering general. He offers his followers no visible protection and no obvious victory. He enters this world where power alone rules, and where morality, law, and justice are just bedtime stories we tell to hide the truth, as a very different kind of King.

I used to think that human beings were the only creatures—aside from the angels—that worshiped. That we lived in this vast silent dead universe, and only our tiny songs of praise were the only worship that filled it up.

I think I was wrong about that. Now I suspect that we’re the only creatures that don’t worship. That cease from worship.

A congregational meeting should have been called and a budget should have been drawn up. We set aside 25% of the ointment for Jesus and sell the rest. 25% of ointment revenue goes to social ministry, 25% to reimburse Martha for this big dinner, 15% to replace the fridge that we bought with a trash bag full of nickels in 1955, 10% for cash reserves.

And the older son felt the terrible weight of those years of work that he and his father had done, without his younger brother and the property he had taken away, and he knew that all the toil and anger and bitterness and poverty were for the sake of this one moment.

That’s the belly-god for you, though. He says “fill me up,” and you try to do it but he’s never full. He says “empty me out” and yet he’s never empty. He’s an easy god to worship, because he’s always with us and he’s never, ever satisfied.

There I was, an hour early in my new dress shoes and business-casual ensemble, wanting to present every bit of the serious and patient foster dad from the suburbs I wish to be. I am always mindful of the stigma that can attach to foster children and foster parenting, and I would do nothing to legitimate that stigma. This child’s excessive exuberance or vocal exertion will be, to me, merely the rough poetry of childhood; my own role will be sober and affectionate, savoring nothing of mercenary or needy motives.

Would it have really been so bad for one of the Israelites to say, “God, please give me the cash value of my share of the manna and my piece of the promised land, I don’t really want to be part of this any more?”

But the sheer accumulation of vastness joined to the repeated elements of praise and the ever-evolving list of intercessions gave me a humble, grateful perspective on my faith and life that I could not have otherwise known I was missing. As I reached those last few chapters of City, where Augustine talks about the play of light on the sea and the consolations of this life of punishment that merely prefigure the glories to be revealed, I felt something like grief at being parted, at my prayer and hearing going on to a new companion.