John the Beloved Disciple
Yesterday we headed a triumphal procession into Jerusalem. I am not sure what I expected, but there was no overt evidence of the Temple squads. Roman troops turned out, but since we did not appear to either be armed or intend to disrupt the peace, they stood aside and watched. Jesus took up his post in the Temple courtyard, and people gathered around.
Philip and Andrew walked the donkey back. A mess of palm branches littered the road up toward Bethany, and as I watched, a swirling wind idly tossed some of them about, as if erasing the part they had played in the procession. I determined to look up Jonathon later in the day. I would visit his parents just before dinnertime as I used to do; unless things had changed, he would be there. The occasional reports I had received from Jonathon had not told me much.
I wondered how my business was going. I had heard reports off and on during the year, and as far as I could judge, it was still doing all right. My manager was more than willing to keep it going. No doubt he was doing a little business on the side on his own behalf. I noted my detachment about the store. My future lay elsewhere. I sat with my back against the wall of the portico, half listening to Jesus and keeping note of the crowd.
After an hour, Jesus got up and signaled to his disciples that we were on the move. I hastily got to my feet and began to tag along. I didn’t hear the first comments, but one of our group from Galilee expressed surprise at the size of the stones and the incredible beauty of the Temple itself. I tended to take it for granted. I had lived with it for almost thirty years. I looked at the soaring walls and thought to myself that Herod had done a good thing. The whole place was beautiful and its proportions perfect. I felt pride in the place well up inside me again, and I thought that this was what made us Jews. This building, perched high up above the city, was the one thing we could be proud of. We had so little. There was no king, no royal palace except the Roman fort, and that didn’t count. The Temple was a symbol to all of us in Jerusalem that there still was an Israel, and we still had a center.
[ii]It was then that I heard Jesus say, “All this will be destroyed. All will be thrown down, and there will not be left one stone upon another.”
What had been said? I tried to recapture the conversation, but I realized I had been thinking my own thoughts. I suddenly felt the rush of alarm at the thought of the destruction of this beautiful building, and I made sounds as if in protest.
Jesus, of course, heard me, although I was a good twelve feet away. He shrugged. “No, it is not God’s will, and no, I am not going to contribute to it; but this whole place will be thrown down, and the nation will be no more, at least as we know it today.”
“When will this be?” piped up one of the men from Galilee.
“There are those standing here among you who will see it. It will be in your lifetime. You ask what the cause is for its destruction; the cause is hardness of heart, stiff-necked self-confidence, and stupidity. I’ve said this before: you can’t turn the months and years back to another time long gone. We must carry the new Israel onward through these growing pains. Don’t you see the signs of that day? The work of a few troublemakers keeps the pot boiling now, but when more powerful leaders use the anger of those men to enlarge the conflagration of the crowd’s passion, then war will break out. Can’t you see the signs?
“It’s no different when you look at the sky and see a blazing red sunrise, and you say, ‘There is a storm coming,’ or if you see the changes in the season and you say, ‘Summer is coming.’ Well, in the same way, read the signs of the times. People make their own futures, and this generation is crafting its inevitable demise. I am their last chance, but they will have none of me. What pains me is that the people who will suffer will be those who always suffer: the wives, mothers, and those who are expecting will suffer the most. The poor and those who have no way to escape the chaos will pay the initial price. I tell you, though, that when the fire has consumed all those, it will not stop until the whole nation is consumed; and those belonging to the Temple will be gone, all those who take up the sword will die, and even those Essenes who look for the day of the Lord will be swept away.
“Religious folk, in their folly, will mislead the people with their prognostications, superstitions, and ideologies. None of them speak for the Almighty. People believe them, and they forget what they have heard from me. Only those who reject the violent course of action will survive. So I tell you, when that time comes, leave the city. Don’t think of tidying up or selling off your belongings. Get out. Leave. No second thoughts. Don’t even go back for your coat.”
I had heard similar warnings before, but today, back in Jerusalem after so long, I felt overwhelmed with sadness as I looked at the city through Jesus’ eyes. I felt his frustration, his grim farsightedness that seemed to see and hear the actions of men not yet born. Dread settled over me. Oh God, No!
Jonathon was waiting for me at his parents’ house. I felt relieved to sit in an ordinary house with friendly, ordinary people who were glad to see me. We hugged each other with delight and sat down with a cup of wine and some delicate pastries to nibble on. I began to describe what I had seen in Galilee but decided to just say we had returned for the festival. There was no way I could explain Jesus’ expectation of his death and somehow ushering in the kingdom. If it didn’t make much sense to me, it would only confuse Jonathon. I certainly couldn’t explain it.
Jonathon began to fill me in on developments in Jerusalem. “You may have been buried up there in Galilee, but I assure you old Annas has been following you every step of the way. Be careful. He intends to get rid of Jesus. I know it.
“He thinks Jesus intends to make a move during the festival to be crowned king or high priest. He thinks Jesus will use the crowds to achieve a bloodless coup without the Romans getting involved. He is obsessed with Jesus. There is another thing you should know. He wrote to Herod’s wife to get rid of John the Baptist. That whole episode from John’s arrest to his death came out of Annas’ office. That is not all. He has had Jesus shadowed all the way down from Galilee by at least two siccarii. I dropped their names to Silvanus in Pilate’s office as wanted criminals. They are now out of the way, but I think their orders were to murder Jesus if they got the chance. That is how serious things are. Annas does not intend Jesus to survive the festival.”
Our conversation stopped abruptly when Jonathon’s mother came in from the cooking area and began laying out dishes.
With what Jonathon had said and the expectations Jesus had expressed, my hopes plunged. Jesus was right. The conflict was inevitable. Jesus would not run or fight but stand there like a sacrifice waiting to die.