BETHANY (33 AD) — In a special celebration held in the home of Mary of Bethany, numerous friends and acquaintances of Jesus of Nazareth gathered to celebrate the Galilean's 33rd year as God Incarnate.

But sources close to the so-called “Son of God” say that behind the accolades and well-wishes lies the darker reality of a divided fellowship of disciples, infighting, charges of gluttony and drunkenness, and fears about the future, as well as questions about the Nazarene's own use of resources supposedly allocated to the poor.

“Oh sure, he's done some good things,” said an unnamed official in the Jerusalem Welfare Office. “Multiplying loaves was good. But it seems to have primarily been a publicity stunt since he's done absolutely nothing about the vagrants and beggars in the Jerusalem area since then. Everybody talks about his ‘compassion,’ but how often do you see him or his cronies feed the poor? Talk is cheap. But one miracle of the loaves and fishes, or even two, is not enough. People eat every day.”

Even more critical was Simon the Pharisee, a respected member of the Centrist Party. “We were with him when he was talking about angels and the resurrection. He seemed to strike the right balance between reactionaries like Sadducees and the loony Left, but he lost us when he started hanging around with the wrong crowd.”

Representatives of the United Paganism Council further criticized the so-called “Word Incarnate” for his exclusive attitude toward other spiritual paths. In a joint statement, the Delphic Oracle and the Vestal Virgins both strenuously denounced his failure to affirm the priestly gifts of women and his use of the sexist title “Son of Man.”

Others are critical of the alleged “Lord of Heaven and Earth” for his failure to crack down on sin and evil. “Look,” said one critic who goes by the name Boanerges, “He claims that his Father does whatever he asks and that he sees the fall of every sparrow. Yet the Romans continue to trample basic human rights right under his nose, the Samaritans ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and he does nothing! Sooner or later, we have to face the fact that, however good a teacher and philosopher he may be, however charismatic and personally holy, he gets a big fat ‘F’ in governance. All we get is more liberal talk about ‘free will’ and the same empty warnings about hell. I say ‘Give 'em hell now! Show 'em who's boss!’ It's been almost 40 years since his birth and things are worse now, by far!”

Indeed, the chaos Jesus leaves in his wake has infected even his trusted circle of apostles.

So bitter has the atmosphere become that some of the strongest critiques the reputed “God Incarnate” has received come from an unnamed source in his own circle who complained about financial mismanagement and dropped hints that the Nazarene would soon be under judicial investigation.

He alleged that funds which should have gone to the poor were instead spent on “foot massages” and expensive skin care products. He also reported vicious infighting among Jesus' inner circle as disciples vied for who would be greatest. One of these disputes apparently became so intense that Jesus referred to papabile Simon Peter as “Satan.”

“And yet, for all his lectures to followers about ‘putting my words into practice’ he doesn't seem to hold himself to that standard,” said the unnamed source. “He refuses to discipline Peter, who has publicly acknowledged himself as a sinful man. He talks the talk, but doesn't walk the walk. In fact, even after the ‘Satan’ blowout, he refused to rescind his rash grant of the ‘keys to the Kingdom’ to this problem apostle.”

Some insiders say there's a simple explanation for this: the theatrical Nazarene likes to be flattered. After a recent poll showed an even split between people who could not tell him apart from Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets or even his late cousin, John the Baptist, crony Peter reportedly assuaged the Rabbi's hurt vanity by announcing him to be “Messiah” and “Son of the living God.”

Other disturbing rumors suggest that one of the disciples is imitating the so-called “Master” by stealing from the financial resources of the fledgling sect. Such rumors are undoubtedly known to Christ. Yet he does nothing, preserving the good old boy network of Apostles at the expense of the flock. “But then, what do you expect from one who supposedly ‘sees the heart’ yet gives a tax collector like Matthew Levi, with a long history of shady financial dealings, a prominent place in the apostolic college?” said Simon the Pharisee.

The unnamed apostolic source also noted that other disciples such as Thomas have expressed grave doubts about Jesus — and he is not alone. After one recent bizarre episode, in which Jesus inexplicably began to speak of the need of his followers to “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” the vast majority — all except the most fanatical — of his disciples staged a mass walkout.

However, the so-called Prince of Peace was in no mood for reconciliation and reportedly denounced the “devils” who were infiltrating his circle. Some fear this presages a crackdown from the rigid and intolerant “Messiah.”

In all, the picture that seems to be emerging from the guarded confines of the Apostolic Inner Circle is of a regime in severe crisis, held together solely by the charismatic influence of a single leader who appears to be getting more unstable and erratic.

Christ-watchers are, however, optimistic that voices of reform from within the apostolic circle will prevail eventually. In particular, they pin their hopes on the eventual election of Judas Iscariot to the position currently held by rigid hardliner Simon Peter.

“If that doesn't happen, I despair for the future of the Church,” said one unnamed apostolic insider, “We reformers might as well go hang.”

Mark Shea wrote this from Seattle, while watching news reports of the 25th anniversary of John Paul