Lenten Readings: An introduction to Events Of Holy Week
These readings are from the book “Jesus, The God App”.
There are serious unanswered questions about that week in Jerusalem that ended with the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
- Who wanted Jesus dead?
- Why would anyone want such a nice guy dead?
- There must have been more to it than healing on the Sabbath or dropping a few parables.
- What were the stakes for the authorities?
To carry the story along I invented Annas’ Diary. Annas had been High Priest some 15 years before Caiaphas, but had been deposed by the Romans. He was that bad. He continued to run the Temple Monopoly through his sons which he had appointed High Priest one after another. Finally in Jesus’ day, his son in law was made High Priest.
Annas’ Diary is fictitious. I use it to outline the plot that ensnared Jesus during that last week and ensured his death. There is nothing fictional about that.
The other piece of fiction is Jonathon. He is in the book as a young man and friend of John the Evangelist. He is secretary to Annas, and learns of Annas’ intention of getting rid of Jesus but not in time to prevent the plot succeeding.
Gathering the Threads.
Annas Plans to Get Rid of Jesus
As we were making our way down the Jordan Valley toward Jericho, Annas sat in his palace and mulled over reports, thinking through scenarios and gauging the tempo of Jerusalem.
I have been revisiting the reports on that Nazarene’s friends here in Jerusalem. Even those around the Lazarus family don’t show any activity that I view as suspicious. Given their political leanings and their proclivity for being outspoken critics of Temple administration, I can only view their silence as suspicious.
Another report I have from my agent embedded with the lay [i]Essene group here in Jerusalem has more promise. Their opposition to our administration has never wavered. However, I do see that they are incorporating some of that Nazarene’s teaching in their discussions. They are a small but dedicated community that I know he has strong connections with. They also know many of the players on the list of those who support Jesus. In fact, it was through Jesus’ work they became connected. That is significant.
Most disturbing is their view on sacrifices. They, of course, do not honor our sacrifices at the Temple, but I see here there is discussion about all sacrifice. Otherwise, nothing to be alarmed about. I see they are observing the monastic vows of having everything in common: they observe all the excessive purity requirements. Nothing in any of this that surprises me.
This note at the bottom, though, gives me pause. “There is a suppressed excitement about the imminent arrival of the Messiah. There is no discussion of who, how, or where this will happen.” Now that is enigmatic. Do they know something we don’t know? Why no speculation? It’s this damned silence again. Nobody is saying anything.
My latest report from my agent shadowing the Nazarene in Galilee isn’t much more forthcoming. He speaks of the crowds, the teaching about caring for each other, upholding the law, and fulfilling its intention rather than the letter. Nothing new there. I don’t like the healings. Lepers, blind people, and now epileptics.
Here is something. “His followers, who until now were overflowing with enthusiasm, are now beginning to question Jesus’ leadership and direction.” Now that is interesting. “Since the news of John the Baptizer’s death, Jesus has changed direction and even warns his disciples about his own death.” He doesn’t have to be a prophet to see that coming. I think we can help him there.
“He has stated that in the event of his death, he will return to complete his mission.” Yes, right, that I would like to see. I think our tougher stance with John is paying off. It has quite obviously unsettled those around him. He is clearly trying to buy them back. Do I see disintegration of his movement? Not yet but maybe that is the way this will play out. In which case, we allow things to take their course and let him become another wandering windbag, uttering his pronouncements and being enjoyed for his entertainment value. That I like.
Still, there is more to this than is obvious at first glance. I think it is wishful thinking to believe this will all blow away. He has something else up his sleeve, but I don’t see it. All along, his teaching has been within our accepted norms, but yet, I know—I just know—he is up to something. Why did he run away to Galilee after the Lazarus affair? Maybe he did not run away but went to raise support from among Galileans. Thousands have been turning out, if this report is correct. Those damned Galileans are always ready to revolt against us here.
I remember his words from early on, almost seven years ago now. “Tear down the Temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” I wonder what he meant by that. Whatever it was, I know he has not forgotten; he has it in for us. There is not much to do while he is in Galilee. Herod is likely to become one of his followers if I involve him.
His wife was useful in the case of John, but I don’t want to go to that well twice. I know a couple of siccarii who would quietly murder him while he is up there in Galilee. They come cheap, and with other jobs I have asked them to do they were discreet, so I will get in touch with them. The other thing is to send word to my agents to keep tabs on the other players here in Jerusalem. If there is an upsurge in activity, that will give me warning.
I would prefer all this to blow over, but that is not realistic. I just know he is a serious threat. I wish I knew what he was after. I just don’t get it. Then there are the dreams. Night after night he is there in the background. I know it is him, but I can’t quite see him. He appears closer each time. Even in my dreams he is both a threat and not a threat. I must not let him get under my skin. I must not become obsessed with him. I wish I could get someone else to look after him. Maybe the Romans will. That would be the answer. They could deal with him, and I could wring my hands at Pilate’s persecution of a good Jewish rabbi. Trouble is, he hasn’t done anything that Pilate is interested in.
One thing I might do is check with Pilate’s office. He hasn’t come up from Caesarea yet, so Silvanus might be more forthcoming and give us more details of their surveillance. I know for a fact they have shadowed his work in Galilee. After all, Herod is their surrogate. I will send young Jonathon over there tomorrow. It is too late today.
Since that Lazarus thing, I have not looked forward to sleep. I must admit that Nazarene disturbs me, and when I sleep, I am more vulnerable to his touch. Why did I say touch? Enough of this foolish thinking! I must get rid of him. There is no other way.
Annas’ Diary Next Day
I have another report from my agent up north. They are on the move. They have been sweeping up support from those coming to the festival and even encouraging others to accompany them. So that is his timetable. Let’s see, Passover is in three weeks. Full moon was last week so, yes, three weeks.
There is no indication from this report of which way he is coming. That would be useful. Plenty of time for that. I bet it is the Jordan Valley road. My two siccarii should meet up with him in the next week. I would rather it happen up there. Once he is in our area, an attack on him would set off just the kind of violence I am trying to avoid. Without him, though, we could weather any such storm well enough. I am not sure of the Romans. Would Pilate take advantage of any riots and weigh in with his troops to save us, then turn around and extract more concessions from us? That is a good point. We should do nothing to precipitate violence once he is past Jericho, if he comes that way. I am glad now that I had the forethought to tell those two to do the job north of the Galilean border or not at all.
Do I involve Caiaphas? I think not. I will wait until I hear from my siccarii. If they are successful, then that is an end to it. Caiaphas can’t keep his mouth shut, and in any case, I would not like him to have anything to hang over my head. When I consider how he has recently been less amenable in our discussions and more independent, I have wondered whether he is thinking of making a break with me, maybe even getting rid of me permanently. I would not put it past him. Maybe I should watch my back. That’s my imagination; he doesn’t have the stomach for anything like that. That is why I have had to do everything for him. I just love to see him fluttering his hands when we have to take some dramatic action.
However, I may just have to get rid of him and have somebody else take over as high priest. I can work on that later. If someone has to take the fall for what happens to that Nazarene, then Caiaphas would be my candidate of choice. I like that. Maybe Pilate could be the tool whereby that would happen. What I would really like to do is stick it to Pilate, but there is no way I can get the Romans to do the job. I will have to be satisfied with Caiaphas. I am not sure how I am going to finesse this. There are supporters of the Nazarene in the Sanhedrin, and the majority of its members are Pharisees, so I do not see how we will accomplish what is necessary through the normal legal channels. I have time, though. I think we have at least two, if not three, weeks, so we can do a lot in that time.
I wonder if little Tamara is still available. I haven’t thought of that for months. That is a good sign.
Damn, I’ve just had a note from the siccarii. They were too late. “Met up with target near Alexandriam. There are two hundred plus in the party. We have tagged along but, at your direction, avoided contact. We are now at Archelais. Subject is still gathering support. We will continue with him as far as Jericho.”
Maybe I should have let them deal with him when they first met him. I know that would have been messy but maybe less dangerous than letting him loose in the city. Having those two with him is comforting. Do I tell them to finish the job? It’s too late. No, they will be at Jericho and have broken contact. The message has taken three days to get here; my reply would take another day or so to find them. No, by now the Nazarene will be in Jericho. I will probably hear about his arrival tomorrow, if not late this evening.
I was really hoping those two would finish it. He is coming. Damn, I should have just told them to get rid of him.
I’ve just received another report from my agent in his party. My agent says, “He has as much as admitted he is, indeed, the Messiah.” The report took at least five days to get here. I wish I had gotten it sooner.
Look at this! “So the secret is out. Ten days ago, on our way back from the coast, he asked us who we thought he was. One of us blurted out, ‘You are the Messiah,’ and just like that, he agreed. He definitely said he was. He is no longer talking in vague terms about the Son of Man, not that any of us were taken in by that. I do not know what his intentions are. I think he is telling us one thing and planning another. The sanity of his teaching has given way to disturbing and contradictory statements. I no longer understand what he is about.”
“Since his admission that he is the Messiah, he has been talking about how we must now come to Jerusalem. We should be there for Passover. We are joining pilgrims coming for the festival and persuading many others to join us. We are on the way down toward Tiberius right now. It looks as if we will pick up some more there.
“I’ve had difficulty finding a courier. I will try again tomorrow. There will be someone in Tiberius, I am sure.”
Messiah! There it is in black and white. I definitely don’t want to share that with Caiaphas. He would wet his pants, or worse, he would spread it around, and Jesus would have all the publicity he needed. By the time he got here, everyone would be in the streets waiting to welcome him. They have not forgotten Lazarus and all the other people who claim he healed them.
Is he the Messiah? Could he be? What have I been sensing all along? I knew he was dangerous, but is he, indeed, the Messiah? Do I, deep down, acknowledge or recognize him? Is that why he has alarmed me so for so long? Is that what the dreams are about? No! He can’t be. From Nazareth? He has nothing—he has no power, no program, no timetable. As far as I know, he has only attacked the Temple that once, and that was several years ago. Then there are the miracles. Some of them are probably true. There are other wonder workers, though. None of my advisors are worried about him; why am I so sure he is trouble? Some of them think I am senile. Some of the looks that pass between them when I speak of this issue tell me they think I am obsessed. Too right, I am obsessed.
I wish I had listened to him myself. I could have judged better what was going on. Instead, I relied on these reports from so-called reliable sources. Who is he?
I don’t want to go to sleep tonight.
What is he up to?
I look at those last words and still smile bitterly. I thought, “Annas, you blew it. You never figured it out, did you?” I sat there on Patmos with the pages written by that poisonous person. I groaned aloud at the memories his writings brought back. From what he had written, I saw a profound awareness of the deeper issues at stake. If only he had grasped the moment instead of trying to stamp out the inevitable!
2nd Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
He is in Bethany. I just got word from one of my old friends with a villa there. Now what? The time is short. We are only a week away from Passover. Not even that. Two other reports have just come in. This one is from the Essene group here in Jerusalem. Their leader received a message this afternoon from the Nazarene. They expect him tomorrow. Plans are being made to meet him with a welcoming procession.
This is it. He is going to attack us. I knew it.
How many men are at his disposal? Are they armed? Why does nobody report properly? All I have is that letter from the siccarii, that he had upward of two hundred people, but that was a week ago.
This other report is much the same. “He is planning a triumphant entry and has arranged to rent a donkey for the day.”
[i]A donkey? That was King Solomon’s mount when he rode to his coronation. Let me look it up. Where is that scroll? Here it is. “And Zadok, the high priest, took David’s donkey and put Solomon on it. Solomon rode on David’s donkey to the Temple and his consecration.”
He intends to be proclaimed king! That is his plan. His followers don’t know it, but the mob will do anything he says without thinking of the consequences. Pilate will go ape. Maybe not! What if Jesus has made contact with Pilate, and they are plotting to get rid of me? What if Rome has told him to get rid of me and establish a new priestly regime?
No. I would have heard. They would not do that. I am their best bet, and I give them valuable information about Herod and Philip and other activity around the area. I am too valuable to them. I could have gone over Caiaphas’s head and made a deal with Pilate. Well, it’s too late now. Perhaps it is for the better. It is not good to ask the Romans to do anything for you. You offer them your hand, and the next thing you know, they have swallowed your arm. No, we can handle this.
King? If Pilate does not know anything about this, then he might be interested to know what is going on. Maybe I should go see him tomorrow. No, he would do nothing, just to spite me. Better to leave him out of it for now, but if this Jesus fellow gets proclaimed King, I think we can use Pilate. I did notice a comment in one of the letters that none of the people were armed. So he doesn’t intend a violent rebellion, but he must be hoping for a rising of the general population.
Damn! Here we are on the verge of confrontation, and there is no indication what he plans. We can’t arrest him if the crowd proclaims him king, but if he accepts, then we can move. Pilate would be there ahead of us, probably. However, if the people all proclaim him king and he does not positively accept, then where will we be? He has to say it out loud in front of witnesses. What can I do?
First, I will have at least four people watching him at all times. I will need at least two clear witnesses who have unambiguous memories of what he said or did. There is another possibility. What if he manipulates the crowd to proclaim him high priest to supplant Caiaphas? King is a huge stretch when you think of Roman politics, but would Rome be pleased to supplant Caiaphas, and, by inference, me also with this upstart? He has been careful to not preach against the Romans. Pilate would go for a more moderate leadership in the Temple, for sure. There is no evidence for this. It’s my overheated imagination. Maybe or maybe not, the answer is the same: we must get rid of him.
What is this? A note from my man in Pilate’s office. Damn! Those siccarii have been picked up by the Romans. Apparently they were recognized and wanted for another crime. Will they keep their mouths shut? I wonder what Pilate had on them. Not that other job I asked them to do? No, I am safe there. This is a little unsettling. Pilate will string them up probably.
Caiaphas could look into it legitimately, even talk to Pilate about the case and wring his hands over them. I will just sit back and let everything take its course. I will only have to mention it to Caiaphas; he will jump at the chance to look inside Pilate’s palace. Maybe he should bring it up when he goes to retrieve the vestments for the festival. What am I doing? I am just going to let things take their course.
This Messiah thing has really got me stirred up. Even a little thing like this gets me thinking and planning. I don’t need to do it. I must disengage and let him come to me. Let him show his hand. I must take my time. Nobody else sees it.
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.
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.
[i] 1Kings 1:38 Zadok puts Solomon on David’s mule/donkey and he rides to his coronation.
[ii] Matthew 24:1-3, Mark 13:1-4 and Luke 21:5-7. Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple.
3rd Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
As I read these pages, I at least get some satisfaction from Annas’ frustration. I wondered what would have happened if Caiaphas had told Annas to go back in his hole. Would things have turned out differently?
I’ve had just about enough of Caiaphas. He came in today alarmed and all aflutter over the arrival of Jesus the Nazarene. “What should we do? What if he marches against the Temple? Do you think he is the Messiah?” What does he think I’ve been trying to tell him for twelve months?
Damned fool, we get rid of him if he is! Caiaphas is fine at running the place, but he has no grasp of what we face here or how finely balanced everything is.
The Nazarene came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey as if he were Solomon riding to his coronation. All the crowds went out to cheer him into the city.
I must hand it to him, because he was so careful to have no display of weapons or rebellious rhetoric. There was nothing one could latch onto. Poor Caiaphas is bewildered. Well, I am not. Tomorrow he will be smack in the middle of the Temple, teaching, preaching, and pulling his miracle tricks. He is not going away this time. He has come to stay. He will exert constant pressure, wearing us down by his law-abiding reasonableness. There will be no sign of rebellion or criticism of Rome.
I can just see it now. Week in and week out he will weave a web around us that will be full of sweet reasonableness, but in the end the people will either pull us out of this place and murder us all or, worse still, ignore us. They will refuse our services: no more sacrifices, no more taxes, no more respect, and no more fear of us.
No! We must act fast. Our mistake last time was we let him call the tune. He kept escalating the pressure, both in his teaching and his healings. Finally, he did that raising of Lazarus. I still think he faked that.
He will do the same again until he has the whole of Jerusalem in his hands. He could do it by Passover. I am sure his timing includes using the festival. There is a reason he happens to come back just in time for it. We cannot let him get into his stride. The question is how.
My two siccarii are out of the game. They will be lucky if Pilate doesn’t string them up.
No, I think that a surreptitious accident would not be politic. We have to do it openly and spin the reasons afterward. We’ll need to spread rumors and belabor our regret: wringing of hands, reluctant action, no doubt an impostor, in league with the evil one—easy enough to spread around. I think it important that many different reasons are given so that there is no one thing to be refuted. We should create uncertainty so that there will be a cloud of doubt surrounding him.
If I give it some thought, we can have everything in place by the end of the week. Tomorrow, I will talk with Caiaphas. I will tell him he was right to be concerned, and, having thought things over, I agree we should take action.
I think I will set it up so Caiaphas can take full credit for his quick action and the fall, if things go wrong.
Annas ’Diary: Next Entry
So the Nazarene is following the path I expected. He is doing lots of teaching and healing but making no big political statements. Nothing to upset Pilate, though I bet he’s had full reports by now.
Tomorrow I will go and listen to him. I want to see him with my own eyes and listen to what he’s got to say. I should have done this before. I will go disguised and be a part of the crowd. I’ll take some muscle with me just in case.
I must give him a chance to either utter blasphemy or come out with criticism of Caesar. My preference is to use Pilate, if I can. If we go the blasphemy route, there will be a trial; there will be arguments for the defense, long-drawn-out deliberations, and the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin will never vote to get rid of him. That would all take at least a week, and who knows what the people would do in that time? That could precipitate the kind of disaster we must avoid at all costs. We must not leave anything to chance, or he will wriggle out of our grasp, and the next time will be even harder. This has to be final.
Pilate can get the job done quicker and cleaner. He hates me, suspects me, and will do nothing to help. After the games I’ve played on him over the last seven years and the way I have embarrassed him, I cannot expect him to cooperate.
Rome is too far away. We need this resolved soon. Herod might be useful. He will be here this week.
Is there anything I‘ve missed? I don’t think so. Rumor has it that Herod is still haunted by John the Baptist. I doubt whether he would be willing to do that again. No, Herod has a superstitious streak in him; he could fall for Jesus, and then where would we be?
Murder is still the easiest to set up, but the consequences would be uncontrollable, and in any case, I would be in the power of whoever I got to do it. Even if I were two or three places removed from the actual deed, I know responsibility would be laid on the Temple steps. Caiaphas and others would know who was responsible, and it might give them the weapon they need to hold over my head. However, that might be a risk I will have to take.
My best bet is to listen to the man himself, and I can better gauge what I need to do. Strange, all this time I’ve worried about him, studied his moves, even had reports on his teaching but I’ve never met him. Well, at least not in real life. He has been in my dreams more than once. I wonder if I will recognize him from that.
No! I don’t need to go down that path again.
I held the pages of the diary in my hand and wondered how Annas grew into the twisted person reflected in those pages. I have always wanted to call Annas evil. If ever there was an evil person, it was him, but I remember Jesus’ words: “Even Annas is only a sinner, he still could turn and be forgiven.” As I read these words again, I wonder if stupidity is forgivable. Only the intelligent are capable of such great stupidity and being so wrong.
-  These diary entries are entirely fictitious. They explore the very real question of how the authorities were able to force Pilate to crucify Jesus of Nazareth. Clearly the authorities read Jesus’ triumphant procession into Jerusalem as a political statement, and his opposition to the temple was on going. They had to remove Jesus permanently, but without the crowds getting in the way. The only person who could do that was Pilate, and he would only do so for one reason, namely treason.
4th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
Teaching in the Temple
The second morning we were back in Jerusalem, Jesus led us into the Temple precincts, and we settled in our familiar corner. Within minutes a small crowd had gathered, and a typical interchange began. People asked questions, and Jesus carefully and respectfully taught from these openings. An hour went by, and more stopped to listen, then to sit and take part.
Into this familiar and warm meeting of minds intruded a file of clergy. By their dress they appeared to be Temple Sadducees. I trouble, for they were not there to listen and learn. There was a lull in the conversation as they picked their way through the crowd and halted in front of Jesus. In the silence that followed, looks were exchanged between the clergy, as if to signal their leader to take the planned action.
[i]Their leader stepped forward and began, “Rabbi, we have heard you teach that there is a resurrection of the dead, and we would like to ask you to clarify just how the resurrection works.”
Jesus settled back against the wall and nodded. He looked from one to the other, and I noticed a very faint smile of anticipation flicker across his face. “I am sure you do have questions. What is your particular concern?”
The leader took a deep breath, looked at his compatriots, and began, “There was a man who had seven brothers. He was married but had no children. He died, and as is our custom and law, his brother married the widow to raise up children to his brother. He also died before there were children, and so the next brother married her. Each brother died in turn. Finally, after marrying all seven brothers, the woman also died. Our question is, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”
The young priest looked around at his friends with barely disguised glee. They all smiled in at Jesus’ humiliation. They should have known better.
Jesus said, “At the resurrection, she will be nobody’s wife. There will be no marriages. Women will stand before God on their own account. They will not need husbands or other relatives as mediators before our Heavenly Father.”
There was silence all around as the assertion sank in; then there was a hubbub of conversation as the significance of this became obvious. One of the young Sadducees started to ask a question, but Jesus silenced him with a slow shake of his head, saying, “Women will not need men to intercede for them. Sinners will not need you priests to intercede for them, nor will the people need you to declare them clean. They will all stand before the Almighty in their own right and not need your help.
“Everyone who understands this and takes their freedom in their own hands will be free. If anyone hears my voice and understands what I am saying, and lets it be so for them, that person will appear before our Heavenly Father on their own account, whether they are man or woman, sinner or righteous, rich or poor.” Then turning back to the file of clergy he continued, “Your sacrifices and precious rituals are not needed anymore.”
Incredulity darkened the priests’ faces at the full import of Jesus’ words. One of them strode purposely off toward the Temple offices. The rest, nonplussed, made their way through the crowd to its periphery. Smiles and gibes by people in the crowd grew to general laughter and derision at their discomfort.
[ii]Jesus sat surrounded by people. He said, “There was a man who built a vineyard from scratch—walls, terraces, tower, and wine press—then planted it with vines. He let it out to a company of men who would look after the vines, harvest the grapes, make the wine, and give him a fair return on his investment. Everything went fine until the third year when there was a good harvest. His servant returned empty-handed and reported a bunch of excuses from the company tenants for not making any payment. So the owner sent two others. They came back, having been beaten up. This went on for a while, and so finally he sent his son, thinking they would listen to him.
“The tenants said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him. Then we will inherit the place.’
“Any one of you can predict what the owner of the vineyard would do. He took a squad of his men, cleaned out that nest of dishonest and violent tenants, and found someone else whom he could trust to take over the lease.”
The Sadducees, who had withdrawn to the edge of the crowd, said, “He is talking about us. The Almighty would never take the Temple away from us. He cannot mean us. Surely not!”
Jesus said, “Yes, I am talking about you. You’ve heard the expression, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, that stone on which all else is aligned and leveled.’ Well, you’re looking at the new cornerstone.” With this Jesus spread his arms. The faces of the remaining Sadducees darkened with outrage and anger. The young clergy pulled away from the crowd and walked purposely towards the offices of the Temple. They disappeared one by one into the shadowed doorway of their hostel.
A couple of hours later, a delegation of Pharisees assembled before Jesus. Our friend Nicodemus was among them. I think they had heard about the rout of the Sadducees, and now they came with their own concerns. The senior of them made three attempts to get started and, finally, as if with an apology, asked, [iii]“Rabbi, we have this problem regarding taxes. We have to handle Roman money, and we have to collect the taxes for them. Our people are asked to acknowledge the over lordship of Caesar. The Romans even talk of Caesar as if he is a god, and they would love it if we would sacrifice to him as they do. We cannot and will not do that, but should we even be paying taxes to Caesar, especially with their idolatrous images on the coinage?”
There was silence in the crowd as everyone considered the possibilities and consequences. Jesus finally spoke, “Anyone have a denarius? Thank you. Now tell me, whose head is this on the coin? Yes, that’s right. It’s Caesar’s head. What I tell you and tell everyone, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is his.’”
Nicodemus stood there with a big smile, as if to say, “I told you so.” The rest took a moment to digest the idea, then, one after the other, began to smile. Finally the old Pharisee who had been their spokesman said in relief, “That is very good. You’ve spoken well.”
The people in the crowd turned to each other and exchanged comments. A noisy hubbub arose, and the tension among the people diminished. There were smiles and nods. They understood.
However, noticeable among them were some individuals who were clearly upset at the idea of giving anything to Caesar. A knot of men looked anything but pleased. One of them asked when the Messiah would come and lead everyone in to the war that would bring this age to completion and introduce a new kingdom.
Jesus said, “Listen, you go on looking for that day, and it will come. I told my disciples this yesterday. Look around you, and all that you see will be thrown down because of the stupidity and hardness of heart of religious bigots. There are those among you who will see it. When that day comes, you don’t want to hang around. Leave! There are those among you who long for that day. Give it up. Those who want war will bring it upon themselves. There will be such suffering that it will be worse than when the Babylonians destroyed the city. There will not be a stone left on another.
[iv]“There is no Messiah coming that will lead you in battle. There is no day of reckoning for the other nations. There is only the hardness of heart of those who would lead our nation into temptation, into suffering and destruction. The kingdom of God is not of this world. How many more ways do I have to say it? Violent and dogmatic men will try to wrest the kingdom of God out of your hands. There are people like the Essenes who have already drawn up the battle lines for the wars they fondly imagine will usher in their ideas. There are plenty of other hotheaded young men just waiting for the excuse to pick up stones and begin the violence. It’s no good talking to them, for they hear but will not listen. The Essenes in particular read the prophets and use them to buttress their own desires. They think that if they make a big enough mess, God will justify them and come to their aid. God will not! Listen to the prophet Amos. ‘You want the day of the Lord? Well, you will get it, but it will be a day of darkness, of deep darkness and not light.’ I beg you, put these hopes far from you.”
The knot of men began to withdraw, pushing their way silently through the crowd. Jesus glanced in their direction and sorrowfully shook his head. “How often do you think your Heavenly Father has sought to bring you home to himself? Always some stiff-necked religious zealot leads everyone in the opposite direction. When someone comes claiming he is the Messiah, don’t believe him. If someone says the Messiah is in the house or over there, don’t believe it. Many will come who think they are the Messiah, and they will try to convince everyone else that they are. Don’t follow them!”
Later that night we withdrew to Bethany. I alone accompanied Jesus as he went out onto the dark hillside for his usual meditation time. He said to me, “You know, John, people don’t want war. They don’t want rebellion. Did you see how those crowds reacted today as I responded to the Pharisees’ question? These people have suffered enough. Our people have suffered enough. The people don’t care whether they have to handle Roman coins. I doubt whether many of them would mind taking some oath of loyalty to Caesar. What matters to them is that they have peace and can see their children grow up.
“The real enemies are those who want to ignite the passions of our people and then manipulate them. The crowds are easily frightened, angered, and led to take actions that cannot be undone. The consequences pile on consequences until circumstances crush the people once more.
“Within your lifetime, all that”—and he waved his hand toward the Temple silhouetted on the horizon—“will be swept away. There are ideologues and intemperate people who think they know how everything should be, and they will lead the people into suffering the consequences of their stupidity.
“Oh, John, I am crushed by what I see coming. I am their one chance for peace and a new beginning, but they will not listen. The various leaders and factions will bring upon themselves destruction and suffering worse than anything Israel has seen before.
“As for me, I must be eliminated. I told you my death was necessary. Now you can see how their rejection of me is a demonstration of the blindness that afflicts these people. They will not listen! I cannot be different than I am. Like the waves battering a headland, these various contingents of religious ideologues are going to try to overwhelm me. They will, for a moment; but like the rock emerging from the waves, I will rise once again.”
Silence gathered in the darkness, and I looked out over the Kidron Valley toward Jerusalem, which sprawled over that historic mountain. Beside me Jesus muttered, “I am the cornerstone they will stumble over, the rocky headland that breaks the waves into wild spray. I am the light, I am truth, and I am like the paschal lamb of Passover—my blood marking the gateway to freedom, the doorway out of this perpetual nightmare people are forced to re-live over and over.”
“But—” I began.
“No buts, John! Yes, they will kill me, but I will be back. They will kill many who follow in my footsteps down the years, but all those will be mine too; they will be mine forever. Now I must pray. Sit here and watch for me.”
With that he turned away, found a flat space between some rocks, knelt and began his nightly prayers.
So this was what Annas saw when he met Jesus! In Annas’ diary these encounters that I remember so well were witnessed by Annas. If he had had doubts about Jesus’ intent before, then he could not have any after hanging about on the edges of the crowd around Jesus. I turned the page and read on. I smiled to myself at the memories of Jesus running rings around those sent to argue against him.
[i] Matthew 22:23 -33, Mark 12:18-27 and Luke 20:27-41. The Sadducees ask Jesus about the resurrection.
[ii] Matthew 21:33-46, Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19 Parable of the Vineyard.
[iii] Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-28 Paying taxes to Caesar
[iv] Matthew 24:4-8, Mark 13:5-8 and Luke 21:8-11. Warning about hoping for war and rebellion.
Lay Essene group. There is no mention of the Essenes in the gospels, but there were certainly Essenes in Jerusalem. There was a quarter where they were thought to live and a gate referred to as the Essene gate. They would certainly have heard of Jesus and no doubt supported him in his opposition to the Temple. Future references to them are based on possibility not textual fact.
5th Lenten Reading
The Last Week In Jerusalem
Teaching in the Temple
I met him yesterday. I was just another old man on the edge of the crowd. Nobody seemed to know me. I don’t know whether I am pleased about that or upset that I am now forgotten. What I saw today is alarming and puzzling.
I watched one of our young lawyers take him on. The Nazarene had been expounding on the notion of loving your neighbor. Personally, I think I would have told the impostor that we already had that all laid out for us in the book of Deuteronomy, and we didn’t need help with it, but the lawyer had to go on and on with him about it. Finally he asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
[i]I thought that was a reasonable question because it narrowed the issue down to a specific application or should have done. Instead, that confounded man began to tell the story of some fool who on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho got himself . One of our priests came by and saw the dead man. Quite rightly he avoided any contact with the man and went on his way. A Levite also of the Temple did the same. I could see where this was going. He didn’t mention their need to keep themselves clean for their duties or explain at all why they had to avoid possible contamination by a dead man.
Instead, he introduced a Samaritan who took the victim to an inn, paid for him to be looked after, and even then, said he would be back to check on him. On the face of it, it is a nice story about what the people should do. But no! He has to make it an attack on us. Here we are trying to do our job, and he makes our rules an occasion for ridicule. Worst of all, he all but said out loud that even a Samaritan knew who his neighbor was, and, by inference, we don’t! In other words, even our lawyer didn’t know who his neighbor was and had to ask a question to which even a Samaritan had the answer.
He asked the poor fool of an attorney, “Which of the three saw the man on the ground as his neighbor?” I wanted to scream at the lawyer not to answer, but I couldn’t draw attention to myself.
“The Samaritan,” he mumbled. Could he not see that this Jesus, by inviting his collusion, got him to undermine our authority? Jesus couldn’t have made it worse if he had said that the Samaritans know the law better than we servants of the Temple. Those people all knew what he was saying under cover of that story. At least they laughed as if they understood.
He told the people that the spiritual authority centered on our Temple will be taken away from us. Others will take our place. The intimation is that the Almighty will do all this. Who does he think he is?
My conclusion is that he does not intend to offer us the opportunity of putting down a rebellion. There is nothing that would stand up in court or that would stir the Romans to take action. However, he constantly attacks our credibility and essentially denies our integrity, authority, or function. This can’t go on.
He is building support. All his teaching is down-to-earth so that the riffraff can understand it. I watched the faces of the people. They were not whipped up or angry, rebellious faces but thoughtful. I’ve just put my finger on what is disturbing me. If he was talking civil war, I could handle him; if he was talking civil rebellion, I could deal with that; but teaching the people to think is dangerous indeed. We have to do the thinking for them. What does a crowd in a town square know of the intricacies of our religious duties? I can see that if we don’t put a stop to him, he will indeed destroy our whole edifice. We’ve spent centuries erecting this structure of law, rites, and practices. People will think for themselves and no longer respect our authority. How to stop him?
Some of our people tried to argue with him. He ran rings around them. Worst of all, the people laughed. They dared to laugh at the young priests even though they were dressed so that nobody could have mistaken who they were. This will ruin us. He appeals to common sense, but how can the thoughts of the herd aspire to understand the unknowable mysteries of the divine? He spoke with familiarity of things that should not be mentioned.
Even the Pharisees are eating out of his hand. They don’t understand how he is undermining the whole foundation of our national identity. What center will there be left if the Temple loses the respect of the people and no longer can command their obedience? What would we have if everyone were expected to do what he thought was right?
If I understood him correctly, he also advocated the destruction of the foundations of our culture. “Women will not need a man to stand for them before God.” I even saw women in the crowd listening to him as if they could possibly understand what he was saying! There was a couple of beggars sitting listening and nodding away as if they understood.
This popularization of our belief is treasonable. Gone will be all the commands and customs with all their intricate requirements. Instead we will be faced with a demand to serve the people. Instead of them serving us, we will be expected to pander to their needs. The people are there for the sake of the Temple, which, in its turn, is there to honor the divine.
If we let this happen, we will lose the lynchpin holding our nation together. We don’t have a king nor are we in command of our own existence. We are at the mercy of Gentiles, who deny our existence as a nation. They allow us to worship in our own way because we make too much trouble if we are stopped. If this Jesus has his way, the heart of who we are will be taken away, and the little identity we have left as a nation will be lost. Jerusalem will become one more city and not the city of the Most High God.
Those Samaritans would like to see that.
I am glad I saw him. Now I understand the danger I have sensed all this time. He is not crazy like so many of the doom-and-gloom club; neither is he using the base instincts of the people, but he is calling them forth in a different way. What was the phrase I heard? “Responsible for their own salvation,” was it? At least he called on those who had understood his rigmarole to take responsibility for their actions before the Almighty. That would not last long. You have to have spiritual control over the population, or else everyone is worshipping as they want. Soon you have every weird abomination of the Gentiles sharing the honors with the God of Israel.
When I think of it, he is much worse than John the Baptizer. I should have gotten rid of Jesus and not him. People would have gotten tired of John’s tirades, but I can see people do not get tired of this man. At one point he looked right at me. We have never met, so he could not have recognized me, but I am sure he knew me. He invited me to understand him. He wanted me to go along with him. I think he knew me as his enemy, but he still invited me. Later on in the morning, I noticed he looked for me again and sought my response once more. I am not imagining this.
Why would he invite me to understand him or to hear what he is saying? I would have thought he would try to hide his agendas; but this morning, when he looked at me, it was as if he was inviting me to see everything, showing me he had no secrets, and what he said was what he meant. So what is he hiding? I think he is like one of those Egyptian magicians: they ask you to watch one hand carefully and then do the trick with the other.
Maybe there are other layers to this. He must know we are capable of getting rid of him. Why is he so open? I refuse to accept this wanderer from Galilee is any kind of Messiah. He has been at it for almost six years. He is here to stay unless we get rid of him. That is the bottom line. Tomorrow, I must put in motion plans to look after the Nazarene.
I need evidence of some kind. Pilate is the only one able to carry out a quick sentence, but to accomplish that, I have to come up with evidence of treason. I have to build my case around his admission he is the Messiah. We’ve got the entry into Jerusalem; that would have to be explained in three-letter words to that fool Pilate, but even he cannot ignore the implications of what was being portrayed. I need more evidence of treason and that he is claiming to be king of Israel. Pilate could never allow any such challenge to Caesar to go unpunished, and there is only one sentence for treason. Not only that, but for such a crime, there is no waiting period. The sentence is carried out immediately unless he is a Roman citizen. There is no appeal or excuse for people like this impostor. That’s what we need, for if we arrest him and hold him for a few days before disposing of him under our system, there would be riots. No, we need Pilate to do the job.
The next thing is when and how. It will have to be at night. There must be no hint of what we are planning. Maybe I will not even tell Caiaphas. If he knew, then half of Jerusalem would know. I must look after this myself.
Next, we get him back here; have a hearing that provides us with public accusation by witnesses that he claims to be the Messiah, king of Israel; and I give him to Caiaphas with instructions to march him off to Pilate. We provide Pilate with the witnesses and the accusation; then he will have to do the rest.
I must stay in the background, for if Pilate got wind that I was involved, he would not go along with it. I like this. I get Caiaphas to front the operation and get Pilate to do the final deed. The Nazarene will be gone, and I will wring my hands over the untimely death of a son of Israel. I like it.
All I need is evidence. I will have to work my contacts tomorrow.
[i] Luke 10:29-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan
6th Lenten Reading
The Last Week In Jerusalem
Jesus beckoned me, and again we walked down the slopes of Gethsemane to the olive groves. This evening, Jesus led me to a low walled area containing an olive press that stood still and silent in the shadows cast by the silvery olive foliage. The moon was not yet full, but it gave enough light for me to see Jesus sitting there quite clearly, perched on the low wall. In the quiet, far off sounds carried to us from across the Kidron valley. A door slammed far off, there was the sound of laughter closer in Bethany. Around us, the silence was reassuring. It wrapped around us and gave us a sense of intimacy that we both needed at that moment.
Jesus began, “John, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by what I sense ahead, and then I wonder whether I can go through with this. You heard me today talking about the suffering and pain that would result if the nation continued on its present path. Well, they will continue. I know it. There is no stopping their slide to disaster. Our people are going to be butchered, and everything will be destroyed.
“I have not reached them. There is really no turning back for me, but I have not convinced them. Why did I think I could?
“John, there is a part of me that so desires to save our nation, but the other part of me knows I cannot. All those visions by the Essenes of the Almighty coming and rescuing us and establishing a kingdom centered on Jerusalem are nonsense. Yes, nonsense! There will be no kingdom set up. There will be no Jewish king. That is all vain nostalgia for days long gone.
“My kingdom is not of this world. I don’t know how to describe it to you any better than I have already, but the fools here refuse to understand. There is no hope to be found in the old dreams and visions of an earthly Kingdom. I understand why they want to see Israel vindicated and her enemies punished but that is not what will happen.
“There is a new kingdom all right, but the one I am talking about is for everyone who will surrender their souls, their emotional selves to the spirit of God dwelling in them, so that He might heal their angers, resentments, fears and suffering. Do you remember what I told Nicodemus when he first came to us? He had to be born anew. Now look at him. His priorities are true, his sense of justice and care for others continues to develop, and he has the courage to stand and be counted. He is a force to be reckoned with in the Sanhedrin. Can you feel the difference? A few hundred leaders like him is what we need. It is going to take more than just me teaching to achieve that kind of change in people.
I am out of time. I can feel the moment of confrontation is very close. I have to prepare you all for that moment.
“Tomorrow night I want to eat Passover with everyone. My mother, Mary Magdalene and the other women, Lazarus and his sisters, Simon Peter, and all those from Galilee should be there. I want to have you all with me. I know it isn’t Passover until the next day, but I will not be here. Could you look after the arrangements for the room? Why not ask Tendratus? His group of Essene followers has a good-sized room they assemble in. Don’t tell the others about it. If Tendratus can let us have the room, I will have others put the meal together. My mother and the other women will help, I am sure, but I don’t want Simon Peter and the rest of them to be involved.
“The Essenic brotherhood can be trusted to keep their mouths shut, but others cannot. Don’t ask Judas for the funds. Talk to Lazarus tonight. He can give us what we need, and the women can shop for everything in the morning. In fact, we should be getting back if we want to catch Lazarus before he goes to bed.”
We got up and began the ascent back up through the garden to Bethany. The ancient olive trees hung their feathered silvery branches along the path and caressed us as we passed. The moon was just about full and was rising behind the villages to the east, silhouetting them, but leaving us still in shadow. Our path was a faint ribbon of white in the darkness. Protests and questions swirled around my mind, but I could not contest Jesus’ resolution or defy his will. I went on in silence, climbing behind him and in the darkness followed the faint gleam of his clothed form.
Looking back over the years since that moment, I realize I have been following that same shape going on ahead of me, year in and year out. In my hand I have more pages of Annas’ scribbling. As I read them, I realize with crystal clarity the intricate trap Annas wove not only to ensnare Jesus but to use Pilate and to leave Caiaphas to hold the bag.
It was diabolical.
I think I have my answer. My agent who has shadowed the Nazarene made contact last night. He was definite. Jesus has claimed openly to his disciples that he is the Messiah. In fact, he has described himself as the Holy One of God. Not only that, but he has spoken openly about establishing his kingdom.
My problem is Judas does not want to stand as a witness. I’ve got enough background evidence of the Nazarene’s stated intent to destroy the Temple. We can stretch some accusations to give a little more solidity to our charges but that will not be enough. My only hope is to get him to confess. Maybe if I set him up, he would make the claim in front of everyone. I will have to pressure him to admit that. If he just stays silent, I will have difficulty making our case.
Thinking back to what I saw yesterday, I think he might rise to the bait if I challenge him. If I came right out and asked him if he was the Holy One of God, his Messiah, he would bite. There is that episode in our histories when David is praying, and God replies and promises David that his son would sit on his throne, and he would be God’s son and God would be a father to him. I wonder if I could use that to describe his relationship with the divine. A whiff of that kind of talk would get me to my first objective. I can depend on everyone to condemn him right there.
With our family behind me, I will have him sent on to Caiaphas, who should not be at the trial, I think. Best if I give him a heads-up; I will send Jesus to him, already condemned for blasphemy according to our law. That way I don’t think Caiaphas will have any scruples about taking the next step. If I can get the family to come together behind the condemnation for blasphemy, then he will feel confident about going to Pilate.
Now, the charge Caiaphas has to make against the Nazarene must be that he is claiming to be king of Israel, that he intends to lead a coup against Pilate and to set up his own kingdom here. It is revolt against Caesar and Roman rule, no less. That’s it.
I think I can trust Caiaphas with that. The trouble is, there is little extant evidence that Jesus has made such a claim publicly. My extraction of that confession is going to be key. Armed with evidence obtained publicly, Caiaphas can make the assertion well enough. The whole company of clergy who witness his confession will go with Caiaphas and give evidence if needed.
What happens if Pilate asks Jesus outright? He will. He will have to. He will have to ask whether he pleads guilty or not. This is the crux of the whole exercise. If he believes he is the Messiah and king of Israel, then he will have to say so. If he says no and denies it, we are able to discredit him. In other words, he ducked and lied. Of course, if he wants to go that route, we let him scurry away with his tail between his legs. That would be just as good as having him executed. We could make him a laughing stock to the riffraff and totally destroy his credibility.
There is the probability Pilate will examine Jesus more closely than we would like. If he gives Jesus the opportunity to explain his position, maybe Pilate will throw the whole thing back in our court. There is the danger he will say it is a religious matter, and we should deal with it. If that happens, we are back to square one. There will be a long trial, witnesses for the defense, the Pharisees involved, and his powerful friends will weigh in. There is no certainty we could even get a conviction, let alone a death sentence. No, we cannot allow Pilate to duck out.
Pilate has been declared a “Friend of Caesar.” I know that means a lot to those professional bureaucrats. He has received recognition for his work here in spite of my efforts. Quite clearly, we need to make the point Pilate would be allowing to go free a seditious and dangerous figure who was endeavoring to claim the throne of Israel for himself and supplant Caesar in the area of not only Judah but the other tetrachies. We can make the point that he has preached and raised support in each of the four political areas. Now, that would be regarded as a serious threat to Rome since we lie athwart the trade routes to the east.
I think if I instruct Caiaphas to remind Pilate that if he doesn’t look after Jesus permanently, Caesar will hear about it and that it will be a real blot on his career. Pilate will get the message. So that is the way this whole thing needs to go. Everything will hinge on me getting a confession from him in public. I think with plenty of witnesses we can push this thing through. I was really annoyed when I heard Pilate had been honored with that title “Friend of Caesar,” but now I think it could be the leverage we need. I must tell Caiaphas to keep it in reserve.
This is a good night’s work. That information was well worth thirty talents. Judas’s cooperation will not be needed after tomorrow night. Insisting he lead us to Jesus will tie him to us more tightly. I don’t want him changing his mind once he sees what we propose to do. Telling him we were going to arrest the Nazarene in order to have a series of hearings and a public trial was a good idea. That man has changed these last few years. Five years ago, none of this would have worried him, but now I really think he is concerned about what will happen to Jesus. He just wants Jesus stopped. “He has gone too far” was his way of putting it. Well, whatever his reasons, I think we need to keep him involved and tied to us. We could have one of our people follow Jesus tomorrow night and just beat down the doors wherever he is staying and arrest him. Getting Judas to lead us to him will mean he has taken the first public step in setting all this in motion. A tender conscience in a traitor can be dangerous. If he proves a problem, we can always get rid of him. I wonder if Jesus has got to him. Did he really become a disciple and not just pretend?
I think I have put together a plan that should achieve what we need and leave us with little responsibility for his death. There will be rumors, but they cut two ways. I think a thorough campaign of disinformation about him needs to accompany all this. He was in communication with the powers of darkness; he was a fake. The healings were faked, with people pretending sickness. That kind of rumor will go a long way in mitigating any major public outcry. They don’t have to be true, so long as there are many of them; that way a cloud of suspicion will defuse any attempt for opposition to coalesce around his death. Maybe an official declaration that we acted just in time to thwart serious rioting that would have brought the Romans down on everyone.
That is enough for tonight. The time is set for late night tomorrow after everyone is off the streets. Judas will be here and do his part. Tomorrow all I have to do is make sure Caiaphas is on board and knows his part. That’s it. Now I must get some sleep, but I fear I am too wound up for that. Maybe if I read some of that material the Essene brothers have been writing, I would drop off. What a bunch of nonsense. I wonder what their response will be to us disposing of Jesus. I know some of them are thick with him and his followers. Enough! I must let it go. Who cares what they think? I can deal with that tomorrow.
Annas left nothing to chance. As I read the lines of his scrawl, I realize all our agonizing was pointless. Annas had set a monstrous plan in motion of, and none of us could have done anything even had we known.
7th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
Preparations for the Last Supper
Last night—Wednesday—we spoke to Lazarus, and as usual he quietly and efficiently provided us with the resources to cover the cost of the Passover meal. After everything was settled, I walked back into the city and to my apartment.
The next morning, I could view nothing with pleasure. I was not hungry. I could not face the bread and fruit I had bought the previous day. Neither did I feel inclined to wash or otherwise prepare for the day. I had to talk myself through the ordinary habits of the morning.
My first task was to get the room settled. I felt I was slogging through the mud found down by the Salt Sea. We had told the women with us about the plans for the evening. They would know what to do without any guidance from me or anyone else. Last night, they excitedly concurred when we announced the plans for the Passover feast to be celebrated this evening. I groaned to myself as I realized afresh that they did not know. They had no idea what was coming.
Judas had retreated into himself and was not communicating with anyone. I fancied he understood more about what Jesus had been talking about for the past month, and he now anticipated a disastrous ending to our work together. He had gone off alone last night. He wanted no one’s company. I saw him plunge on down the hill, and I even thought to call out for him to wait for me, as I was also returning to the city. I was too late. He was gone.
Now—fifty years or more later—as I think back to that night and the next day, I still wonder whether it would have made any difference if I had walked with him down across the Kidron Valley and up into the city. Maybe he would not have made those fatal arrangements. I still mourn Judas. Our present followers are all taught to hate him for what he did, but I cannot. I don’t think the Master did either. It was not in Jesus’ nature to hate.
Judas was with us from the start. I had always been aware that he was not like the rest of us. He had a cynical attitude to the world, which was at odds with everything he heard from Jesus. He hung on for over six years as a faithful companion. He tirelessly coordinated all the logistics for our enterprise and took delight in arrangements to look after us.
Yet even now, I refuse to believe that Judas was indifferent to Jesus. I believe he came to love Jesus as did we all. I think he thoroughly enjoyed Jesus’ profound insight into our world and relished the discussions that Jesus stirred up whenever we were together. Maybe Judas was an intellectual at heart and saw clearly the full implications of what Jesus represented. I think Judas saw but could not believe the evidence of who Jesus was. If only he had waited.
Instead, I think he jumped ahead of the moment and got everything wrong. There arose in him such a conflict that he could no longer contain his own suspicions, but he had to report them. Jesus, in Judas’s opinion, had gone over the edge.
But that night and the next day as we prepared for our feast, these worries were not uppermost in my mind. I got on with the job I had been given and forgot about everything else.
I was still operating in a fog, but dealing with mundane issues helped pull my mind into the present. I made arrangements for the room. I met with some of the Essene brothers, and I got from them all the necessary details of where everything was. We got the oven started for the lamb. The utensils for over twenty people had to be borrowed from somewhere. Everyone had a job to do.
So the morning was spent, and I climbed back up to Bethany to report to Jesus. I found him ensconced with Mary and Lazarus, talking in low tones. They fell silent at my approach.
Mary rose to welcome me and made a place for me. I sat between Jesus and Lazarus. After a quick glance at her brother, Mary smiled forlornly at me. “Jesus has told us he has to leave us. He believes we will not take up our own responsibility if he stays.”
Lazarus shook his head slightly. “We will be there tonight. We can all come back here and maybe take our leave in the morning. I realize things can’t go on like this. There is a growing opposition to the Master. Sooner or later we will be attacked, and, of course, Jesus will be the focus of it.
“The last time there was a hunt for Jesus, there was a trial or hearing in his absence, and he was condemned to be stoned. Since then I have heard from at least two sources that there was money on my own head. We have to take this threat of violence seriously.”
I looked back and forth between the others, and I realized Jesus had not told them that he expected to be arrested or worse. He had left the question of his departure wide open to interpretation. He and I had talked about his fear and expectation, but none of the others really understood what was coming.
I was relieved when Martha came in with a tray with lemon water, a bowl of dried apricots, and some cracked walnuts. “I thought I saw you come in, John. The Master has been telling us he must leave us again. I really don’t know why. We have only just got used to him being here. Can’t you persuade him to stay for another week at least? Why go now? Passover will be starting in a couple of days, and we could all have such a nice time together.”
Jesus sat back and allowed us to work through the issue of his leaving. I tried to move the conversation along.
“Maybe it’s time for us all to think about the next step in taking the road the Master has laid out for us. We have to stand on our own feet. If he is here we will be content to bask in his presence and have a nice time but not really change,” I said.
Mary looked up. “But what are we to do differently? The last time the Master left, we kept to ourselves and went about our business. How will this time be different?”
I thought for a while and looked over at Jesus, who gave no indication of helping me out. Instead, he was clearly waiting to see what I would come up with.
“Well,” I began, “we are like every other nation. Most of the people want someone to come along and set up a strong stable kingdom that we can all shelter in. We never think beyond an Alexander who will win battles for us and defend us from outside interference.”
I felt flushed with my own eloquence and plunged on. “Our idea of the kingdom of God has been that his Messiah will come and do just that. Then God will reign here in Jerusalem, and we can all live in the shadow of his throne, secure from the outside world. As I understand the Master, that is not going to happen. The Master has said, ‘We are to be in the world and not of it.’ In other words, we are to become his teaching and allow others to be drawn to us.”
We all looked at Jesus, who nodded but said nothing.
Mary turned to Jesus and said, “I still do not see what we are supposed to do. Everything will be just the way it has always been. There will be those frightful clergy at the Temple, those grumpy old Pharisees, and the place always teetering on the verge of erupting into violence. Are we going to change all that? Don’t you see, you make all those old clergy afraid? They take you seriously. They may well be willing to negotiate with you, but no one is going to negotiate with us.”
Lazarus glanced at Mary with gentle tolerance. “Mary, I think the Master sees it all well enough. I think I understand what is needed. I am not really ready for it, though. Then, I will never be ready to step out. I am like the rest of our people, ever ready to follow, but I am never prepared to be my own authority in the world. We talk endlessly about how the world should be and how people ought to be different, but that is all we think is required of us. I believe the Master is going to make us talk with authority to the world. Until we take upon ourselves the task of being teachers to the world, we will not learn for ourselves what we have already heard and now possess.”
“That reminds me of your parable of the mustard seed,” I said, looking up at Jesus, sitting there with his attention focused on us. “You described how one small seed can grow into a bush, and it provides a place for birds and shade for animals to hide beneath. Once we begin to take upon ourselves the responsibility to act on what you have taught us, everything you have taught us will start to grow in us and, like the mustard seed, provide shade for everyone around us. Your teaching will take on a life of its own, and that will be the kingdom of heaven.”
I was flushed with my sudden insight and looked to Jesus for his confirmation, but he looked back and gave no sign of either approval or the opposite. I realized he wasn’t going to help, and from now on this was what it was going to be like. We were on our own and had to make our own judgments. Like children who always looked to their parents for confirmation, we looked to Jesus. Now, as I sat there hoping for his approval, I knew I was not going to get it and that he wanted me to find in myself my own conviction and truth.
Looking down at my clasped hands, with sudden clarity I saw afresh why Jesus’ death was inevitable. This time it was not just an abstract idea, but with a jolt, I felt the imminence of his death. Tomorrow Jesus would not be sitting here among us.
He nodded very slightly as if he knew what I had just intuited. I could not look at the others and, instead, examined my clenched fingers with interest.
The room in which our Passover supper was being prepared was a space created by ten stone archways. Twelve heavy stone pillars supported the arches and beams, which held up the flat roof above. There were herbs in pots, several plants, and even captive lemon and olive trees. I had come early to check that everything was ready, and now I leaned on the balustrade surrounding the roof.
I gazed out over the city in the gathering dusk. Not more than five hundred yards to the east, the Temple loomed. Smoke rose from the courtyard, and I thought of the sacrifices that had been offered that day. My mind filled with the memories of all the butchered animals I had seen burned to honor our God. I thought of the countless thousands down the centuries that had been herded up that hill, only to be butchered, burned, and eaten by the priests and all their hangers-on. What benefit had all that wasted life conferred on anyone? What good had all that waste served? I thought of all the gullible and simple people trusting their precious offerings to that army of rapacious clergy who assured and authoritatively claimed efficacy of their actions.
This evening was our last hope. A choice would be made—or maybe it had already been made—that would take the nation on the road to destruction. I shouted at the city rooftops before me in my agony of frustration, “Listen to him! He is your last chance!” I pounded the balustrade with my fists and screamed in my anguish, “Listen to him!”
Silence mocked my inner tumult. Dusk gathered the deepening shadows and obscured the Temple’s base. The Temple’s silhouette was now dark against the brightening moonrise. Huge and orange, the top arc of the moon showed itself just to the left of the Temple. It hefted itself above the horizon and swelled to an enormous size as if in its fullness it demanded primacy.
My thought went to a grimmer time, when the ancestors of those men who now fed the fires of the altar actually fed the fires of Moloch, the moon god who demanded human sacrifices. How many firstborns were dropped into the flames? How many people were sacrificed to head off disaster or to save the nation? Why didn’t the priests offer themselves? Why did it always have to be someone else? Why was it—so often—the young?
I looked again at the great globe of a moon and screamed at it, “This is your night, and you’ve come for your last sacrifice, you bloody face of sanctimonious evil. Tonight you will meet him, and he will puff out your dead fires with a blast of his breath.”
Hammering at the balustrade, I pointed my finger at the moon. “He will stand between you and all of us. You will have no more sacrifices from us.”
I sobbed in rage and grief, and I beat the balustrade again.
As my anger ebbed and the tears of grief dried on my face in the cool night air, I felt Jesus’ presence behind me. Wrung out, I spoke quietly, “I can’t believe the pain of so many for so long. Why do we do it, and why do we believe the nonsense we have been fed?”
“John, you were right. There will be no more sacrifices. From now on, if there is to be sacrifice, then I will do it. Nothing else needs to die.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder. “Come. Let us drive this terrible darkness away with the light of the Passover candles.”
8th Lenten Reading
The Last Week In Jerusalem
The Last Supper and Arrest of Jesus
We all lounged around the tables that had been assembled for the crowd and waited for the first moments of the Seder to begin.
Jesus got up and went over to the foot bowls and, taking one of them, approached us. “On this night, we wash our hands before we eat; but for this moment, [i]I desire to wash the feet of each of you. I don’t expect you to understand what I am doing; in fact, I don’t expect you will understand very much of what I will do and say tonight, but you will at least remember my words and actions.”
Jesus looked at all of us sitting aghast at the idea of him demeaning himself in this way and said, “You have all come in here with the dirt of the street clinging to you. Worse, you have come here tonight with the sin of the world inundating you: the violence of others, the fear in which you live, and the dishonesty and corruption that stalk our every institution. I am going to wash all that away. I am going to cleanse you from all of it, and for tonight, you will be clean.”
With that, he began with Lazarus and moved on through the community of his disciples gathered at the table. Peter reacted to Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet, but Jesus was adamant, and none of us was willing to go against his demand. I watched as Judas’s feet were washed. He showed no emotion as Jesus took care, washing the dust from his feet. Did I imagine it, or did Jesus spend a little more time on him? Looking back now after fifty years, I cannot say, but I like to think Jesus did make one last attempt to save him.
The women came in with the platter of matzo, the unleavened bread we especially eat on Passover, and lit the candles. Mary, Jesus’ mother, lit the one in front of her son. Mary Magdalene set the platter of matzo before him and poured him wine. We bowed our heads over our plates, and the blessing over the matzo and the wine were intoned.
[ii]The story of our nation’s beginning unfurled. Time and again, we had heard the story, and each little wrinkle in the telling was noted. For that short time, we were one with those who set out by night to escape from the slavery of Egypt. For a moment, we were there, huddled ’round the table, preparing to leave for the unknown as soon as the word came to our house.
As I listened to that familiar story, I forgot my own fears and dread, and I relaxed into that old bond that this story of our origins invoked in our people everywhere.
The story concluded by the time we poured the second cup of wine. Our host, Tendratus, brought in the roast lamb and others brought in the dishes that always accompanied this special meal. We drank our third cup of wine with our food. I tucked into the lamb and gave myself up to the joviality that ran among us.
Jesus took out the afikomen, the half of a matzo that was placed in a napkin after it had been blessed at the beginning of the meal. It was symbolic food for the journey, as on that first Passover when our ancestors hastily wrapped the unrisen dough in cloth and carried it with them to give them sustenance during their initial flight.
Jesus stood, moved behind the place we had set for the prophet Elijah, and waited for our attention to focus on him. As usual, he took the matzo, raised it, and led us in the blessing. We all joined in.
Seeing him take position behind the place setting of Elijah worried me. I wondered what was coming.
[iii]Looking around the table at us, Jesus took a deep breath. “This night I am giving you bread for your journey. Unlike the bread our ancestors took with them, the bread I offer you is myself. This bread is my body. It is my hopes, my love of our nation, my values, my faith, my vision, and my knowledge of our God. I want you to have all of what I am. Eat it! I want you to do this to remember this moment, and to call to mind the presence of all that I am within you.”
In the silence that followed, he passed the broken pieces of bread around. This was not part of the story, I thought. Where is he going with this? We all looked quizzically at the pieces of bread in our hands. Jesus urged us, “Go on. Eat it.”
Peter nibbled at his piece, and slowly the rest of us followed suit. We looked at each other, but nobody asked what it all meant. Above all, we were paralyzed by the bizarre departure from the customary account of that Passover event long ago.
Jesus was not finished. Our cups had been filled with wine for the fourth time, and we waited for the blessing of this cup. The matzo was hard going by itself. Jesus ignored his own cup and slowly reached for the cup that had been set for Elijah. We were transfixed, for every one of us knew that cup was poured for the Messiah. The old tradition associated with that cup explained that when the Messiah came, he would take that cup and declare his arrival. It was a way of proclaiming our nation’s expectation and keeping hope alive. Every Passover, someone at the feast even opened the door for him to enter.
Jesus, holding Elijah’s cup, quietly but forcibly declared, “Yes, I am here. I have come. I take this cup intentionally. I offer it to you—no, not as you all expected—but as a symbol of what your Messiah has to become.
“This is my blood of a new covenant, a new understanding between you and your God. There will be no more sacrifices; no more animals have to die for you. Your Messiah will do the dying. So this is my blood, and it is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of your sins. Drink it so that you will remember this night.”
I protested, “But your blood? We cannot.”
“Every one of you knows how the blood of the sacrifices is poured out. We believe the life of the animal is in that blood. We surrender the life of the animal by pouring the blood out onto the ground or putting it in the fire so that, in the smoke, the life of that animal will ascend to God. The life returns to its source.
“In this way we Jews have always demonstrated our belief that all life is sacred and that it belongs to our God.” He looked at each of us in that room. “I am saying to you, this is to be for you, my blood, my life. Mine is a life not going back to God, but I am to remain here among you. I want you to take my life, into you. Share this Elijah’s cup between you. You don’t understand this now, but I tell you, just do it. Take bread and wine and bless them. Do it to remember this moment. Remember what blood is to us as Jews, and let this wine be my blood, my life in you. Don’t fail me in this!”
We sat frozen in place. Jesus broke the spell by offering us the cup. As we passed it among us, I was aware how gingerly we all sipped at it. When it was my turn, a thought sprang unbidden to my mind. “If this was a life not going back to God, then who had the authority to determine that?” I had no answer to my own question.
I held the cup and looked into it dubiously. I handed it to Peter. “Drink a little. It still tastes like wine to me. Look, we are all in this together, and I think Jesus is trying to leave us something so that later we will understand what is going on.”
Jesus looked at the cup traveling round the group. When it came back to him, he handed it to me. “Finish it.” To the rest of the people there, he explained, “I will not be drinking wine again until this is all over, and I can drink it fresh in the kingdom of God. Yes, this night is it.”
Later that evening, we walked back toward Bethany. Some of the others slipped away. I guess they had had enough for the day. Peter, James, John, Andrew, and others followed on as we entered the Garden of Gethsemane. The olive press stood in silence. We entered the walled enclosure and sat on the low stone walls in the moonlight. Now the moon rode—high and pristine—in the dark vault of heaven and turned everything to silver. Gone were my rage and despair, and in their place I felt a tired fatalism.
[iv]Jesus motioned to four of us, and we walked off with him deeper into the olive grove. Ancient trees took on fantastic stricken shapes, as if bowed down with sorrows and witness to grim events for centuries. What terrible events had these denizens of Gethsemane seen? Were they waiting in expectation of another chapter in their lives?
Jesus stopped. “Wait here. I badly need to pray tonight. Keep an eye out. You had better pray for yourselves too.” He walked off, making his way to a grass-covered stone he had used on previous evenings. He settled into a quiet stillness that he gathered about himself like a robe. I had been privileged to be with him on many nights like this, and I never tired of seeing this transformation. It was as if he slipped away and left his body there to stand guard.
Tonight, though, as he prayed, I noticed that stillness had deserted him, and he slipped to the ground as if in agony. I rose to help him, but I paused as he cried out in pain. Clearly the terror of what he saw advancing on him had now become real, and he took the assault like a boat in a mountainous sea. He looked submerged by it.
I thought of that moment on the Sea of Galilee when he stilled the storm, and I wondered if he would do that tonight. I got up and moved a little closer, hoping to watch over him. My heart was breaking to see him so inundated by what he now clearly saw approaching. Two hours later, he said aloud but not to me, “It is enough. Not my will but your will, Lord. I am ready to drink that cup I passed around at supper. This is the moment of decision from which there is no turning back. My decision is to embrace this fateful moment and carry through with it.”
More time passed, and I shifted uncomfortably on the hard ground. Jesus stretched, stood up, and sat back down on his rock. Looking around, he noticed me. “Come on, we have to hurry. I must get back to the others.”
He helped me up, and we roused Peter and James where they lay dozing. Jesus walked quickly on ahead of us, back to the olive press.
Up the path from Jerusalem a column of men climbed rapidly. I could hear the clink of metal and knew them to be armed. Among them were Temple police uniforms. I ran to catch up to Jesus, who now stood in the gap between the stone walls of the olive press. He faced those who came.
[v]My heart sank. There, in the front rank, was Judas. The cold moonlight made torches unnecessary; Judas knew exactly where he was going and what he was doing. He strode up the hill to Jesus and embraced him, giving him our customary kiss of greeting. Jesus glanced at him and murmured something in too low of a voice for me to hear.
Three men grabbed Jesus and held him by the arms. “Who are you after?” he called.
The reply came in the form of a question from a haughty young man off to one side. “Jesus of Nazareth?”
“I am he,” Jesus announced as he shook off the hands that held him. Head high, he calmly stepped toward the column.
Many people in the column drew back, and some found shelter behind the ones in front. After all, they knew the rumors of who he was and had at least heard accounts of what he could do.
Jesus gave himself up and told them to let the rest of us go. Peter was, by this time, struggling with two of the guards. All my attention was on what was happening to Jesus, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Peter draw an old rusty sword from under his cloak and hack at one of the men who had now grabbed Jesus.
Jesus whirled around and shouted, “No, Peter. Put away your sword. That is enough!”
At that point we thought Judas had betrayed the location of Jesus. He had assisted in his arrest, but his real betrayal was far more serious. Would it have made any difference if he had not led them to us? Probably not. Annas could easily have had us followed. If we had fought, could we have headed off the disaster? No. Jesus was adamant. Yet even now I regret we did nothing. My recent memories of Ephesus join with that indignity, and I wish I had struck back. Just once!
[i] John 13:3-10. Jesus begins the Passover feast by washing the disciples’ feet.
[ii] This is the Seder, or order in which the origins of the nation are re-stated, re-claimed and taught to the new generations. There is debate over whether this was a Seder or whether it was a sacred meal similar to that of the Essene’s communal meal. There is more evidence supporting the claim it is indeed a Passover dinner, than that it was the other. The greatest objection to it being a Seder is according to John’s gospel, Passover was the next day. The arguments are intricate and cannot be even summarized here, but it was, and still is the Jewish custom to celebrate Passover early if one of the family members was expected to be gone before Passover. That may be reflected in Jesus’ comment, Luke 22:15-20. “How I have so desired to eat this Passover with you.”
[iii]Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:15-20 and 1 Cor. 11:23-25. The following words of institution are to be found in the Synoptic gospels and I Corinthians, but not in John’s gospel. Yet John’s theology abounds with the ideas expressed in the words of institution. See John 5:35-58. John 5:53. ”Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you have no life in you.” John was very much aware of the words of institution, but chose not to include them. He does this with other incidents reported in the synoptic gospels e.g. baptism of Jesus.
[iv] Garden of Gethsemane. Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42 and Luke 22: 40-46.
[v] John 18:1-14, Matthew26:47=59, Mark 14:43-52 and Luke 22:47-53 The betrayal by Judas. In John we have an added detail, the name of the servant whose ear Peter cut off. Malchus.
The 9th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
The Hearing and Trial
[i]They marched him away. We stood by helplessly, allowing them to hustle him down the path toward Jerusalem.
We looked at each other in dismay. Shame covered the faces of some, but it was Peter who galvanized us. “Did you see Judas? He has betrayed us all. He showed them which of us they had come for and that by a kiss. If I get my hands on him, he’ll wish he had not been born.”
He grabbed my shoulder. “John, you know more about this city than the rest of us. Where will they take him? We’ve got to be there. We must speak for him. We have to do something.”
We retraced our steps to the city. I hurried to my apartment, hoping Jonathon would know what was going on and leave me a message like he did before we went off to Galilee.
When I arrived, I found a young boy banging on my door. The time was late for any boy this young to be out, for it was at least midnight. I recognized him as one of the Temple pages. He spun around at my approach and called out to me. Jonathon had sent his messenger.
The message was simple enough. “They took Jesus to Annas’ palace.”
I had expected them to take him to the Temple and keep him in a cell there until they could bring him before a court for a hearing. What did this mean?
I asked the boy if Jonathon was at the palace and got a nod. I sent the child on ahead to ask Jonathon to meet us by the gate to Annas’ palace. Full of urgency and importance, the messenger disappeared down the narrow street.
This was odd. Why Annas’ palace? “Peter, I don’t know what this means. If he isn’t at the Temple and held pending a hearing before the Sanhedrin, I don’t know what they’re going to do with him. They surely won’t murder him. Let’s get over there and see what we can do.”
Jonathon met us by the steps outside Annas’ palatial house and led us around to a rear entrance into the courtyard. Peter stuck out like a sore thumb. He was challenged at least twice before we managed to get into the courtyard.
We stood in the shadows behind all the retainers and servants who littered the place. We waited by a brazier, and Peter was accosted once more, but this time by one of the servant women. His response was a complete denial, It was that moment when the earliest of the cocks heralded the approach of dawn.
We spotted Jesus, who had been led into the inner courtyard. He looked out over the heads of the gathering crowd and found us. For a moment he looked at Peter, who stopped—paralyzed and struck dumb. With a muffled cry of anguish, Peter turned away and pushed through the curious onlookers, heading for the doorway and the street.
Over time, much has been made of this event, insinuating that Peter betrayed Jesus, but I can understand. It was such a small thing—to deflect the curiosity of those in the courtyard—and something any of us could have done if we were in his position. After all, Peter had come with me into the very palace of Annas. He had rushed with me to the city. The rest of the followers were all in hiding. They were not even there to witness what happened.
Unfortunately, Peter could never brush that denial from his mind. When others who knew him heard about it, they dismissed it and rightfully so. But Peter never forgot and would not allow Jesus to forgive him. A long time later, when persecution dropped like a cloak over all the disciples in Rome, Peter stood and confessed to knowing “Christus,” as the Romans called Jesus by then. I think, with that confession, he finally laid to rest the pain of that one thoughtless moment in the inner courtyard of our enemy’s home when he blurted out to one of the serving people, “I don’t know him!”
Once Peter fled from the courtyard, I worked my way through to the front of the crowd. Jesus was restrained between two guards. His hands were tied, and he was disheveled but otherwise unharmed. I breathed a sigh of relief. Obviously things were under control, and there was no intention to murder him or make him disappear secretly like so many had done.
We waited for almost an hour before the officials began to file in. These were all Temple clergy. There were members of Annas’ family: his sons Jonathon and Matthias and the younger Annas were all present. I looked for Caiaphas; as the high priest, I expected him to preside over the hearing.
[ii]Annas finally walked in behind two retainers carrying torches. They sat in a crescent with Annas in the middle. Still I waited for Caiaphas to make his entry, but there was no Caiaphas. What was this? Annas had no official status. He couldn’t hold a hearing.
Annas stood and asked for Jesus to be identified. “This person has been brought here, and we have been called to hear the complaints from people disturbed by his teaching and accusations. Let those who have anything to say stand and tell the rest of us what you have heard.”
Annas sat down and waited. There followed a succession of men who repeated in garbled form some of the things Jesus had said over the course of the years: He had talked about destroying the Temple. He had attacked the priesthood and office of the high priest. He had denied the efficacy of sacrifice and the Temple’s cleansing rituals.
I listened and began to feel easier in my mind, for none of these things were serious reason for concern. The witnesses laid themselves wide open for any defense attorney to drive a loaded camel through their accounts.
Annas was growing impatient. He too saw the futility of entertaining these complaints. I noticed that the old accusations from a year ago when Jesus raised Lazarus were not reiterated. Obviously, no one wanted to remind people of that event.
Finally, Annas stood and asked if there were other witnesses, but there were none. Jesus had said nothing the whole time. He appeared relaxed but alert. He was waiting for something else. All my fears returned. What had just occurred was window dressing. What were they after? None of what we had heard was actionable, so now what?
[iii]Annas spoke to Jesus directly, “You have heard all these accusations. Do you have anything to say?”
Jesus replied, “You know I have taught openly in public. Yes, I have spoken out against the venality of the Temple administration and the misplaced reliance by our people on the usefulness of your sacrifices. Everyone knows that, and you saw no reason to arrest me during the day. People have found healing and relief from my work. For which of these acts have you seized me and brought me bound to this place? Why did you seize me secretly and at night? Are you afraid of the people, or is the night and darkness your natural time?”
The attendant on Jesus’ right swung around and hit Jesus full in the face. “Curb your tongue!”
Jesus did not flinch. “For which of these things I have said do you strike me? Is this the treatment anyone can expect at the hands of the Temple’s staff?” he asked.
Annas advanced a step toward Jesus. “No, we do not treat our people like that, but you must admit you try our patience with your unbending attitude toward all that we do here at the Temple.” Then he addressed those who had attended him and constituted the Temple clergy present in the courtyard. “This hearing is not because this man has spoken out against the Temple, although he has done that constantly over the years, and, in spite of our forbearance, he has continued to undermine our work among the people. There is a far more important question to be answered this night that cannot be aired to the mindless masses but must be attended to by you who are appointed to safeguard the religious interests of the nation.”
Turning dramatically to Jesus, he asked, “Jesus of Nazareth, are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed?”
There was an intake of breath all around the hall, and a deep silence fell as Jesus stood in thought for a long moment. Then said, “Yes, I am, and you would see proof of that all around you if you were not so blinded by your own closed minds. You don’t want to see; but you will because you will look up, and there I will be, at the right hand of the Almighty.”
A gasp was heard throughout the courtyard, and Annas nodded, allowing the significance of the statement to sink in. He seized his light undergarment, visible between folds of the heavy outer vestments and tore it apart, exposing his chest. He cried, “You have heard it with your own ears! How do you describe what you have just witnessed?”
“Blasphemy!” called out two or three people; then a shout went up from all the rest in the room, and a great roar of outrage sounded the cry of “Blasphemy!”
Annas let the noise continue for a full minute, but it felt like half an hour to me. Annas held up his hand to still the uproar, and when it had subsided, dolefully and with feigned regret, he said, “You all heard his words. You are witnesses to what he willingly uttered. You heard from his own lips the claim that he is the Messiah, son of the Blessed.
“Our duty is clear. We must present your evidence to the high priest, and because of the seriousness of this man’s claim, we should do so right away. A full trial and public hearing must ensue at the earliest possible time. Until then we must hold him and not let him slip away as he has done before.”
With that, the whole entourage—with Jesus in the middle of several retainers—headed through the crowd and out of the courtyard in which we were standing. I was left puzzled by what I had just heard. I understood that a brief hearing before Caiaphas was necessary for Jesus to be formerly arrested and held for trial, but why now when there was only a hint of dawn showing in the east?
My first thought was that a trial with proper hearings would be very much in Jesus’ favor. We had a lot of friends on the Sanhedrin, and among the Pharisees there was no love lost for Annas and his malevolent gang.
But why the haste? Why did Annas look flushed with success and anticipation? There was something very wrong here. Annas had his eyewitnesses. They all heard Jesus make a willing and voluntary answer to a legitimate question.
[i] John 18:12 “First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas”
[ii] John’s gospel clearly identifies Annas as the high priest questioning Jesus. The synoptic gospels assume the high priest is Caiaphas, but in John 18:24 Annas, who is also referred to as the High Priest, questions Jesus, then sends him bound to Caiaphas who had not been at the hearing. This had to have been intentional and planned ahead of time. Why the hearing?
[iii] Matthew 26:63, Mark 14:61 and Luke 22:67 The high priest asks Jesus if he were the Messiah. John however does not include this piece of the confrontation. Like the words of institution John intentionally leaves it out, but gives us the next chapter of the plot, he sends Jesus to Caiaphas. How did Annas know to ask Jesus the question? Was this the piece of information Judas had sold for 30 pieces of silver?
10th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
Trial Before Pilate
Jonathon nudged me. “I can’t get us into Caiaphas’s rooms. I think the best thing is for us to go back and find as many of our friends as we can. We must be prepared to pack a public hearing later today. Right now none of them know what is happening. We must find Peter and get him to round up all those from Galilee. Go to Nicodemus, alert him to what is happening, then tell the Jerusalem brothers. We need to get the word out so that right from the start Caiaphas will see what he is up against, and he will tread very carefully. He has no strong stomach for public outrage, and he will want to avoid any rioting. Believe me, if we wanted to, we could bring out the crowds in Jesus’ support. They all love him and have reveled in his miracles.”
“I hope you are right, Jonathon. I think there is something else going on here. Whatever the issue, we need to do as you suggested. We must get the word out. It’s early yet. I know where most of the followers will be, and Nicodemus’s house is not far away. Let us meet there in an hour.”
I headed off to the house of the Jerusalem brotherhood, in whose upper room we had supped the evening before. Was it only last night? Jesus’ words echoed in my head: “This is my blood that is shed for you and for many.” I hoped not, but…
The whole brotherhood community was already roused, for Peter had come with the news an hour ago. I quickly filled them in on the details of the hearing. There was food left over from the evening before, so while we passed bread and some of the meat around, everyone began to talk and ask questions.
Peter said, “We have to think about organizing protests, and we must make sure the authorities know they cannot sweep this under the rug. I think we should call as many of our friends together as we can in, say, two hours and organize ourselves. There are people we know who can tell us how to go about this. Those of us from Galilee have no idea just how we should proceed or what rights we have or who to apply to for help. We need someone who knows the law, for starters.”
I was relieved to see Peter taking charge; in spite of what happened three hours before, he was thinking and acting as a leader. Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus of Bethany, and several others were named as people who needed to be alerted. Peter sent Philip to Bethany to tell Lazarus. I sent Thomas off to find Joseph of Arimathea, and I set out for Nicodemus’s house.
He was hardly up by the time I got to him. As gracious as ever, he invited me in and offered me some breakfast, which I refused. Suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. First I told him of last night in the Garden of Gethsemane and afterward at Annas’ palace. Then I told him of the questioning and the procession to rouse Caiaphas in order to present the facts to him.
Nicodemus listened with a grave expression. “You say Annas was collecting information, and when Jesus made his statement they all agreed he had uttered blasphemy?”
“Yes, at least half a dozen men got up and made complaints about what he had said at various times. Some of the things mentioned had occurred years ago.”
Nicodemus asked, “Was any mention made of that affair of Lazarus and the Sanhedrin’s concern at that time?”
“None,” I said.
Nicodemus paced up and down the room for several minutes. With his hands clasped behind his back, he stopped in front of me and declared, “Annas has another plan up his sleeve. He gave Jesus to Caiaphas, all nicely packaged. Witnesses, agreed testimony, and all in a controlled space. I have never known Annas to give Caiaphas anything for free. I think he is setting Caiaphas up. You have to realize that where most men like and love other people, Annas hates others.
“Would you go to Joseph of Arimathea and ask him to come see me? I think we need to find out just what is happening. I have had no notice of any action of the Sanhedrin, nor have I heard any noise in the streets. Of course, it is early yet, and nobody is up except you folk who never went to bed. You said there is to be a meeting in a couple of hours at the upper room where we met last night?”
I nodded, and he continued, “On second thought, I’ll get dressed and go visit Joseph. My suggestion is that you go back to Jonathon and ask him to find out what is happening.”
With Nicodemus informed, and obviously as concerned as I was, I began to feel better. My anxiety and sickening dread diminished. We parted, and I went to Jonathon’s apartment but found no one there. I thought of his parents’ house, but I knew he would not be there. I retraced my steps to Annas’ palace.
With caution I entered the outer courtyard and proceeded to the offices I had visited long ago. A servant girl went in search of Jonathon, and soon he stood before me. He ignored those around us and took my elbow to lead me out into the gray light of early dawn. “I’ve been expecting you. Annas came back half an hour ago looking pleased with himself. He ordered breakfast and is sitting in his study contentedly chomping away. He hardly ever eats a large breakfast. He usually leaves half of it and then starts roaring for his servants.”
“You mean he is in a good mood?”
“That’s it. He is never pleased with anyone, but right now he seems very pleased with himself. It is as if he thinks he has been especially clever.”
I dismissed the thought of Annas having breakfast and said, “I need to find out what is happening to Jesus and report back to the others. We’re getting together in about an hour to decide what we should do. Is there any way you could get into Caiaphas’s place and find out about any public hearing? If there is one, we need to be there. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are alerted, and they’ll be heading toward Caiaphas’s offices.”
Jonathon nodded. “Let’s go. I can invent some reason to get by the retainers at the door. I also have a couple of friends there; I can ask them without them running and telling their master. They probably have Jesus in the cells underground.”
Jonathon returned after about twenty minutes. He appeared grim shook his head as he approached me. [iv]“He is not there. They brought Jesus over earlier. Caiaphas met with a number of witnesses, conferred with Annas for at least half an hour, then ordered Jesus to be manacled. Caiaphas, the witnesses, and other family members left for Pilate’s offices with Jesus in tow. They threw a cloak over Jesus’ head so nobody would recognize him.”
Jonathon paused. “John, I don’t like it. Pilate has nothing to do with our religious issues. He keeps out of our business, preferring us to beat upon each other. If they have taken Jesus to Pilate, none of us can reach him, not even our friends.”
I was utterly confused by this turn of events and alarmed beyond measure. Under our Jewish law, there would be hearings and even a trial before the Sanhedrin. We would be able to organize and develop a response to Jesus’ arrest. We had friends who would help, and we could count on the support of hundreds of others who knew Jesus and had received help and care from him. All we needed was time.
Now, with Jesus in the hands of Pilate, I was unsure of how we could help. Pilate was not someone to bow to crowd pressure or even backdoor pleading. I thought frantically of bribery but set that aside for now. I realized also that Jonathon was putting himself on the line. Long the servant of Annas, Jonathon was now clearly exposing himself politically.
I said, “Jonathon, this could cost you your job and maybe more. We have not talked about this for years, but maybe this is why you stayed in place all these years. What I am going to suggest may well expose you, and there may be no way back for you.”
Jonathon nodded. “We knew this might happen, and now anything I can do, I will do. I will count it against everything I have had to endure. What do you need?”
I replied carefully, “I think I should get back. We have to tell Nicodemus and the others about this new development right away. I’ll go there, but, Jonathon, do you think you could get in the back door of Pilate’s offices and look up your friend Silvanus? He may be able to tell you what’s happening.”
Jonathon nodded and turned away without a second thought. I ran toward the upper room, hoping that by the time I got there Nicodemus would have arrived.
As I ran down the stone-flagged streets, I dodged the few people who were preparing for their day and elicited strange looks from some as I hurried by. I thought, “You would run too if you knew what was at stake.”
Nicodemus and Joseph both registered alarm at my news. Nicodemus said, “If they have taken him to Pilate, it means they are going to hand Jesus over to him, and the only reason Pilate would be interested in Jesus were if he were accused of treason or a violent threat to social good order. That does not fit Jesus. He has been around, and no doubt he has been watched by the Romans for years. John, tell me again what Annas asked Jesus when he questioned him.”
“Annas asked whether he was the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed. Then everybody got upset and hurled charges of blasphemy at him.”
“Annas—that scurrilous dog. You know what he got Jesus to admit?”
“To being the Messiah; the blasphemy charge will not stand. He clearly claimed to be the Messiah, though. He stood there and responded to Annas’ question with ‘I am.’”
Nicodemus nodded. “We know what we mean when we say Messiah, a holy servant of our God. There is another interpretation that he is the rightful and God-appointed king of our nation. I think Annas really wanted that admission from Jesus’ lips. I doubt he was concerned about the blasphemy business, except to send all the witnesses into an outrage. No, I think he wanted the confession from Jesus’ own lips that he was the Messiah, and he will now interpret that word to Pilate as a pretension to the throne of Israel and therefore treason against Caesar.”
“But Annas is sitting in his offices eating breakfast. He is not involved.”
Nicodemus began his pacing again. The rest of the brothers and followers from Galilee were anxiously waiting for orders and had fallen quiet. All eyes were on Nicodemus as he worked through the details of what he had heard. Nicodemus turned to Joseph. “What do you make of this?”
Joseph stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I think it was you who said Annas is setting up Caiaphas. I wonder whether he was indeed setting him up, not to absorb the ire of the people, but, rather, setting him up as the one who would be the instrument to force Pilate to do what only Pilate can do. Pilate hates Annas and would not do anything if he thought Annas was involved or even in favor of it. I think that is why Annas is eating breakfast, and Caiaphas is keeping Pilate from his.”
Nicodemus let out a loud groan. “Oh, no! If you are right, then you know what the outcome of any well-attested charge has to be.”
Jonathon said soberly, “Summary execution. There would be no real trial, just the witnesses, and the sentence carried out immediately.”
Nicodemus nodded. “That is why Annas is so pleased with himself. He has everything worked out. Caiaphas—the high priest, no less—is making the accusation. There was a room full of witnesses, and the only thing the Romans know about messiahs is that they all aspire to be king of Israel. What is worse, Pilate will ask Jesus if this is true, and no doubt Jesus will say it is.”
As this possibility sank in, despair settled over all of us. Now I felt horribly afraid. We were no longer talking about a long battle, but the death of our friend and rabbi in a matter of hours. Summary execution meant today, immediately, within a few hours. I felt within me a rising tide of horror and despair. I felt my chest tighten, and I could hardly breathe as panic flooded through me. I cried out, “No!”
Joseph and Nicodemus looked at me with sorrow filling their eyes and nodded. “Yes,” said Joseph, “now we can see the whole stinking plot. Everything will be decided before we can marshal any support and before most of the people of the city are awake. In fact, by now they may have Jesus before Pilate. It may already be too late.” He looked back at Nicodemus and said, “We have to act and right now. We don’t have time to think this all the way through. Our only hope is that Pilate will smell a rat. If he at least suspects Annas is behind this, he’ll dig in his heels. We may be too late, but I think I can get an audience with Pilate and lay the whole thing before him. I know he doesn’t care two pence for any of us, nor would he think twice about executing anyone who just might be a problem; but if he thought he was being manipulated by Annas, he might not go through with the execution and may even order a full investigation.”
I looked at Nicodemus and asked him, “Would you be willing to go with Joseph and support what he says?”
“I will do my best. Come, Joseph, we must do it now. There is no time to lose. Caiaphas is at least an hour ahead of us.”
I watched them go and, turning to the others, said, “There is little we can do. If we tell everyone what is going on, word will spread, and hundreds of people will come out in support of us. If the Romans see our efforts as rioting in favor of Jesus and support for any claim as king of Israel, we will do more harm than good. We could confirm the charges Caiaphas is making and goad Pilate into deciding against Jesus. Our only hope lies with Nicodemus and Jonathon. I will go over to the Palace of Antonia and wait for Jonathon. I suggest, Peter, you remain here with everyone and wait for our word on what to do.”
The palace was more like a fortress and housed the Roman garrison. I entered the area reserved for public hearings or announcements, and I found it filled with the clergy and attendants of the Temple. They were clearly waiting, milling around, gesturing, and excitedly talking together. There must have been almost a hundred men there. Excitement and anticipation animated their faces, and you could see humor flare between individuals as comments were exchanged. How I hated all of them for their insensitivity and blindness.
Jonathon was nowhere to be seen. I must have waited half an hour. Finally, there was a stir as attendants ranged themselves on a dais backed against the wall of the inner courtyard.
[v]Pilate, wearing his official toga and the decorations of his office, stepped onto the dais and motioned for silence. He looked around at the raised faces and, as if taking pleasure in disappointing them, said, “I find no substance to the accusations you have laid against this man. He is like many of your race—stubborn and possessed of a religious fanaticism that characterizes so many of your teachers. We have had our eye on him for years, but he has not posed a threat to public order. Therefore, I have had him [vi]flogged for his stubbornness and the obstinacy of his opinions. Bring him in.” These last words were addressed to two attendants who remained by the door leading into the fortress.
They motioned to others inside and made way for a horrific procession. Two leather-armored soldiers half carried, half dragged Jesus between them as they approached the lower steps of the dais. There they turned him around so we could all see him.
They had jammed a crown of thorns on his head, and blood ran from the wounds the thorns had made. His arms, bare chest, and legs were crisscrossed with welts from the scourging; and I could see deep wounds where the knots and pieces of metal tied into the flagellum had torn the flesh. Blood trickled from scores of wounds. He bowed his head as if trying to stay on his feet. His face bore the marks where someone had obviously punched him.
The sun shone on my back. I felt too hot. I began to feel sick. Tears welled up, and I felt I was dissolving inside. I whimpered like a child. I found the wall to lean on. For a moment I thought I was going to pass out, so I bowed my head toward the ground. Someone touched my shoulder; I looked up, and there was Jonathon. I grabbed him and clung to him and began to sob.
He said, “John, it’s going to be okay. It’s a flogging. He will be released now.”
I pulled myself together enough to listen to what was now going on. Pilate advanced to the edge of the dais and waved toward Jesus. “Here is your so-called king. I find no evidence of treason. He has not been heard or seen to conspire against Caesar; neither do I have any evidence of his inciting others to do so. Since today begins your festival, I will release him.”
There was a stunned silence in the courtyard as the meaning of what he had said sunk in. I saw Caiaphas turn and urgently exchange words with two other men beside him. He approached the dais and said, “Your Excellency, you do not understand. This man has not only usurped the name of Messiah, and thereby king of Israel, but he has also claimed to be the son of God. That is blasphemy in our law, and he must die.”
Pilate acted as if he had been slapped and looked with alarm at the battered form of Jesus. He walked down the steps of the dais and warily approached Jesus, stopping a few feet short of where he stood, still supported by the retainers. Pilate lowered his voice, but the sound carried around the walls of the courtyard. “Where do you come from? Who are you? You said your kingdom was not of this world. Then what world?”
In the gathering heat, flies settled on the oozing wounds of Jesus’ head and legs, but he paid them no attention. He tried to raise his head as if to take a breath, but pain etched his face as he tried to move. He finally gave an infinitesimal shake of his head and lapsed once more into immobility.
Pilate said, “Speak to me. Don’t you know I could have you crucified? Tell me, where are you from? Who are you?”
Jesus raised his head and looked up toward heaven and managed to say, “I am not of their world. King is your word. Do what you must. This is between them and our God. You can’t do anything.”
Pilate looked with alarm at Jesus. With a decisive swirl of his toga, he stepped back up on the dais and declared, “I find no fault in this man. I normally let go one prisoner on this day, and so I am going to release him.”
At this a cry of protest rang out. “No,” cried Caiaphas. “We don’t want him released. Release someone else!” He bent over to hear a suggestion from a colleague who stood at his elbow. Straightening, he said, “Give us Barabbas.”
Several men around Caiaphas took up the chant, “We don’t want him. We want Barabbas!”
More joined in the shouting until there was a foot-stomping, dust-throwing crowd shouting for Barabbas to be released. Pilate backed up onto the highest step of the dais. A file of soldiers entered the courtyard to reinforce the retainers already there. Pilate had a word with a retainer who promptly left the dais and entered the fortress door behind them.
Pilate once more advanced toward the front of the dais and waved his arms to command silence. “I have sent for Barabbas. You asked for him, and I will release him to you. This disturbance you have raised must stop. I will not be dictated to by a herd of malcontents who seek the harm of an innocent man. Roman law is often judged as harsh, but it is also fair.”
Barabbas was shoved through the door and had his manacles removed. Silence fell for a moment, and Pilate spoke again. “There he is. Take him away.” Then, to Barabbas, he said, “If we arrest you again, you will be crucified.”
With that he turned away and was in the act of ordering Jesus taken back into the fortress when Caiaphas spoke up, “What will you do with Jesus of Nazareth?”
“Do?” snarled Pilate. “I will keep him until I decide what I will do with him. You don’t want him. You see what a wreck he is. Are you not satisfied?”
Caiaphas glanced at those near him. “You should execute him. You should not let him go. If you let this troublemaker go, we will all be back here in a little while, and we will have to go through this all over again. You need to have him crucified.”
Pilate stalked back to the front of the dais and snarled, “Crucify your king? Is that what you want? Are you telling me that just to support your precious beliefs, you are willing to have someone crucified? Is that why you brought him here, to have me do your dirty work for you? I will not be party to your gross insult to the gods. If you want him dead, do it yourself. I will not have anything to do with his death. You can take him away.”
Caiaphas stood his ground and folded his arms under his vestments. He rocked back and forth on his feet and said, “We can’t put a man to death without a lengthy trial, hearings, and long defense. No, this needs to be done now, and you need to do this.
“Let me put it to you this way. You have received the honor, Friend of Caesar. You are a professional civil servant, and Caesar values your loyalty. We have brought before you this man, who we know to be a pretender to the throne of Israel. He has said as much in front of witnesses who are here to give their evidence again if you wish. If you don’t take action and convict this man, even let him go, what will Caesar think when he hears our account of what transpired today? Here is a man turned over to you, proven to be claiming the throne of Israel, supplanting Caesar and proposing to commit treason—and you did nothing about it. Throughout your empire, there is one law that none of you question: the person guilty of treason must die. Do you believe Caesar will not hear of this? I can assure you he will hear that those of his loyal subjects responsible for the people’s Temple and observance of their religion turned over to you someone who sought to supplant Caesar. We are loyal to Caesar, and we prove it through our actions. We are saying that we have no king but Caesar.”
Pilate looked out over the crowd of assembled Temple clergy and their retainers and asked in a raised voice, which rang around the stone walls of the courtyard, “What shall I do with this man whom you call Jesus of Nazareth?”
Three or four voices rang out, “Crucify him!” Then more joined in until the whole courtyard erupted as men stamped their feet and with raised fists screamed at Pilate, “Crucify him,” and “Away with him. Crucify him!”
Pilate stood there staring at Caiaphas. Finally he understood the net that had been woven round him. He stole a look at Jesus, who stood there quietly, seemingly indifferent to what was being said. Pilate angrily barked orders in Latin.
I was recovered enough to advance to the edge of the crowd of clergy who now pressed around the dais. For a moment I had begun to hope Pilate would prevail, but now I saw clearly the devious plot Annas had concocted. Jesus’ death was intended and sought from the beginning. The hearing in the middle of the night, the establishment of clear evidence heard by multiple witnesses, the enlisting of Caiaphas, the subverting of Pilate—these were not haphazard or fortuitous events, but carefully orchestrated, one built on another. This had not been dreamed up in the middle of the night or even yesterday.
My thoughts went to Judas, who had been our companion for so long. I thought of the question Annas had asked of Jesus that finally set this whole catastrophe in motion: “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed?” How did Annas know to ask that question?
[vii]The final piece fell into place. Judas had talked. He was the only one who could have given Annas that piece of information. I wept, “Oh, Judas, why?”
Jonathon stood beside me, his face like a stone. He looked with hatred at the crowd, then put his arm around my shoulder and held me. Even in the heat of the warming sun, I felt cold. I could hardly breathe, and I felt the crushing weight of what now had to be the final word that would destroy my Lord.
Servants brought a huge lavar and jug of water and held them in front of Pilate. By now there was a crowd of onlookers gathered around the great doors of the fortress. Jesus stood motionless, his eyes closed. Pilate plunged his hands into the bowl and ground out between his shuttered teeth, “You want this man crucified. I wash my hands of his blood. He is innocent. May his blood be on you and on your confounded Temple. You do it; I will have nothing more to do with this matter.”
Pilate stalked away. The rest of the gathering stood in silence, eyeing their victim. Some of them began to express some discomfort. Jesus was finally escorted away, disappearing from my sight.
I seized Jonathon by the shoulder in panic. “We must tell the others.” We pushed through the crowd of onlookers and made our way across the city to the house where most of the brothers were staying.
They gathered around us and waited for me to speak. I could not say the words. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
[iv] Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Jesus being confronted by the Sanhedrin or council, but the Sanhedrin was not permitted to meet during the hours of darkness. John tells us the hearing was at Annas’ house, during the night, from there he is taken to Caiaphas and from there Jesus is taken directly to Pilate. John 18:28. John’s is the more detailed account and most likely that of John as an eye witness.
[v] John 18:28 -19:16, Matthew 27:11-24, Mark 15:2-15, Luke 23:2-25. The Jews were not permitted to put anyone to death. This is not accurate, for they could condemn a person to be stoned, e.g. Stephen, Acts 7:60. What they could not do was execute someone without a lengthy trial in which witnesses for the defense would be called. Then there was a period of 72 hours before a sentence could be carried out.
[vi]Being flogged was a punishment in itself, and thus Pilate hoped to deny the Sadducees their goal of killing Jesus. To punish him further would be a kind of double jeopardy. To overcome this scruple Caiaphas had to use the threat of informing Caesar. Normally crucified victims were not flogged. The idea was for them to last as long as possible on the cross as a warning to others. A flogging would result in a very short time on the cross, which in fact happened to Jesus.
[vii] Judas’ betrayal was more than leading people to where Jesus was. Annas didn’t need to pay someone for that. He could simply of had him followed. When the high priest asked, “Are you the Messiah?” he demonstrated he was in possession of that information and which was tantamount to a claim on the throne of Israel. Hence the payment of 30 pieces of silver to Judas and why it formed the ultimate accusation brought to Pilate.
11th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
Peter cried out in a voice that rumbled round the room, “For God’s sake, what has happened?” My eyes filled with tears, and they erupted down my face. Jonathon spoke, “He is to be crucified.” I nodded my head. I could say nothing. A chorus of denial filled the room as the men looked frantically at each other. “They can’t crucify him just like that. There’s been no trial. We’ve been working on a defense for him. Tell us what has happened!”
[i]Words finally spilled from my lips. “It’s no good. There will be no trial. There was never intended to be any opportunity for his defense. Caiaphas wants this done today before the city is awake. People are out on the streets now, and they’ll be hearing about it, but the decision is made. There’s nothing to be done. Even now, they’re preparing for his crucifixion. We can’t object or have any hope of bringing about a delay. There’s no time left.”
Nicodemus pressed forward. “The Sanhedrin could be called together for an emergency meeting. The majority of us are against capital punishment, and Jesus has a lot of respect among the members.”
I shook my head. “The convener is Caiaphas. He was the one who pushed Pilate into agreeing to Jesus’ conviction. Caiaphas provided the witnesses, and he made the case against Jesus. There’s no time left to argue the merits of what has happened. The execution detail will be getting everything together right now. Caiaphas and the rest of the Temple clergy don’t intend any delay, nor will they allow any opportunity for public demonstration or outcry to develop. Word will have run through the streets, and the markets will all be full by now, but there’s nothing to be gained by rioting, attacking the Roman forces, or pressing Pilate to reconsider. His hand was forced. Believe me, he hates those clergy. Above all he hated being outmaneuvered by them. I don’t think for a moment he cared about Jesus himself, but he knows he was used.” I looked around at the stricken faces. We could only be there at his crucifixion. There was nothing left for us to do.
“Then what now?” asked Thomas.
I said dejectedly, “I don’t think there is anything to be done. This was very carefully planned and choreographed. I must tell his mother. Where is she? Has anyone told her of his arrest?”
“She knows he was arrested last night but nothing else. There has been no news, so we thought it best not to worry her with our own fears,” said Philip.
The next hour was one of the worst hours I ever spent. I went to see Jesus’ mother and found her sitting calmly and ominously quiet in the shadows of a cool inner sitting room. With great reluctance, I told her as much as I knew, as well as my speculations. I continued the explanations until she placed her hand on my arm to stop me.
“John, thank you for telling me. I know you have loved him, and you have been with him for many years now. I can’t cry yet, but my tears will come. I have lived with the knowledge this would happen ever since he began his ministry. We, his family, all knew that to speak as he spoke, and to act as he acted, would eventually bring him to this day. There was a time when his brothers tried to talk him out of it. They called him mad and challenged his emotional balance. How stupid. Jesus was the only sane voice in this whole insane world. Jesus knew this day would come, and although he never said as much to me, he knew I understood.”
I watched as she gathered her strength to finally say all she wanted to say.
“You men! How many other mothers have woken up to hear such news of their sons? All down the ages we bear you, we nurture you, and this is all you know how to do to each other. I know despair right now because there is nothing I can do, but there is a worse despair beneath my own sorrow that is for all mothers. When will this stop? Is there any point to our sacrifice? Would it be better for us not to bear you men and so end the human race? All the good my son did, his teaching, the words of comfort and strength he offered, the healed lives he left behind him wherever he went—is it not all a waste? What has been achieved? Everything is being wiped out, like someone with a sweep of his sandal erases words written in the dust.”
I saw in Mary’s face a dryness like the summer heat. There burned behind those eyes a white-hot anger that surprised me. I sought for words of comfort, but none came. I thought to somehow explain the evil of our world in a phrase or two, but the thought died as I understood the vast sorrow she had tapped into. Mary was not sorrowing for herself only but bore in herself the suffering of so many mothers for so long. Every mother who had lost a son to war, to strife, or to violence was present in that room.
I again had that suffocating feeling that I had experienced in the courtyard. A dim memory stirred of that horrifying image of evil from my dream, threatening to overwhelm me. I felt my breathing paralyzed with the old fear. All around me, I now felt that same image pressing in and surrounding all of us. I had felt it last night in Annas’ house, I felt it in the courtyard, and now here that terrible presence had come to mock and to celebrate its victory.
Mary looked at me as if reading my mind. She nodded. “Despair is all I have left right now. Oh, yes, I know he will rise again at the resurrection, and we will all be united. Spare me any such hollow consolation. I want to feel my anger. I want to shout it to the world so all you men hear it. How many more sacrifices must be offered at the altars to your vanity and search for power? I would suffer this gladly if I knew this was the last sacrifice you demanded, but his sacrifice is not the last. You men will go on, forever killing in God’s name. Do you not realize the evil one would have no power, no presence, without the sacrifices you constantly offer it?”
I stood before her, unable to defend any of us from her indictment. I waited, for she was not finished.
“Last time Jesus spoke to me was in this room, only yesterday afternoon, in fact. He came and took me away from the kitchen where we were all busy preparing food for the evening meal, and he sat me down right there.” Mary pointed to the low divan mounded with cushions. “I now realize he had come to say good-bye. He spoke of the approach of the evil one and talked of a coming struggle. Last night at supper he tried to tell us all over again when he took the bread and later Elijah’s wine. I don’t understand what he meant, but he knew the end was near. Whatever he had planned or whatever he expected was in his words, ‘the will of the Father.’ He said once this was another moment of creation, a next and necessary action.”
Mary suddenly fell silent and then began to crumple. I took a step to her and hugged her to me as she cried, “Why, oh, why does it have to be my son? Is God another male caught up in this macabre dance?”
I felt her tears wet my chest through my shirt. I didn’t know what to say, so I just held her as the horror of what was unfolding came to her. Jesus’ words from a year ago came back to me: “Do you not think the Father knows the suffering of his creation? Do you think he doesn’t feel the agony of all those sacrifices at the Temple?” For a fleeting moment I wondered if the one who Jesus so often called Father would now feel the agony of what was about to happen to his most faithful, obedient, and trusting servant?
With that thought, a great presence filled every cubic inch of the room and, by its presence, expelled that triumphant mocking shadow that had drawn around us. Mary’s sorrow and the sorrow of the many she had spoken of eddied around us, made all the more real by the weeping of a frightened and despairing mother.
My own earlier horror felt as nothing in the face of her despair. What was I losing in comparison with her?
I took a breath. It was as if the presence that had filled the room entered me. Strength flowed back into me. I said, “There is much to be done. I don’t want to distress you more, but by now the soldiers will have everything ready. I must be there. I will stand by him as close as I can, just like he once told me to stand and not let myself run for fear. This is that moment all over again. Do you need to be there? These events are horrible, and I think you should wait here.”
Mary pushed away from me and shook her head. “No, I cannot wait in this stifling room and listen to the distant shouts. I would rather see and know what was being done to him than sit here and imagine everything.”
I left the room and went in search of Mary Magdalene and the other women who had accompanied us from Galilee. I found them in the kitchen area cleaning up after the Passover celebration. I thought for a moment about what had happened since. It was not much more than twelve hours since we had risen from table and took our leave of each other. I met the eyes of the women there and explained what had happened. Mary Magdalene held her stomach as if I had punched her, then turned away, supporting herself with one arm on the wood countertop. The others covered their faces.
I had thought to ask Mary to go in to be with Jesus’ mother, but now I hesitated, for she was in great distress. “Mary, I know you love him. I know what he did for you.”
“No, you don’t know.” She howled, “You have not suffered the indignity and rejection I lived with for years, nor have you lived in fear of arbitrary and unexpected violence. You know why I love this man? He knows. He intervened, and here I am. I owe him everything. He reached down into my hell and drew me out. He gave me my sanity and confirmed me as whole in my own eyes. The world is crazy, not me. Now you bring me the ultimate proof. The world is crazy; the world of men is ruled by something other than our Father, the God Jesus introduced me to. You destroy anything that wants to grow, deface anything that wants to be beautiful in its own right, deny anyone who wants to exist without your permission.”
Mary took a deep breath, then plunged on, “This is the ultimate folly. You don’t know what this means, do you, John?”
I opened my mouth to say something reasonable and calming, but nothing came to mind. There was no reason to be calm. Mary wasn’t finished.
“I know how much he means to you,” she continued, “but you don’t understand what your world of politics and power is about to do. He is my shield, my one fixed point. I cannot live by myself. I will not go back to where I was, but how can I maintain myself? He is always there in my thoughts when I start to descend into the nightmares of where I was. Do you think those memories are gone? No. Hell is just below the surface, and I startle like a frightened animal at every sound I recognize from before. All I have needed is to hear his voice say my name again, and I am inviolate, protected from the demons that lie in wait for me. Do you understand? When I hear him say ‘Mary,’ I cannot be touched: those demons have no substance. They have no power over me. Now what am I to do?” she shouted.
There was nothing I could do or say in response to her tirade.
She continued, “It’s not only me. When he is gone from the world, what happens to the rest of us who have taken shelter in his shade? Do you remember his story of the mustard tree, how birds and other critters found a haven in its branches? They are intending to cut down the mustard bush, John. You don’t know what evil is. I lived with it—tried to crawl away from it, tried to die even, but I was held down, suffocating, until I crumbled into dust, and my mind began to disintegrate. He brought me back. He holds me together. Now I see evil has again reached back into my world just when I have thought myself safe. Evil is out there right now going about its daily business of destruction. Evil has no reason for its actions, no motivation but the desire to destroy anything good, to deface anything that would show its independence, and to kill anything that would grow.”
I looked at the other three women in the room, and they nodded very slightly as if in confirmation of what they had heard. I lowered my head and looked at the cut, scarred surface of the wooden preparation block. In the face of Mary’s experience and the accusations of Jesus’ mother, I felt shame for all of us. I hated the world I inhabited. Memories of Jesus’ ministry over the years came back to me, and I wondered if this was what it had been about from the beginning. I pushed all those thoughts away and appealed to her, “Mary, you are right, but for the moment, we need to set all this aside. There is a lot to be done.”
Mary looked at me with scorn. “My heart is breaking, and you say there is much to be done. Ha! What is there ever to be done when evil does its dance?”
I did not know what to say. There was nothing that would give comfort, no reason to contradict her view, and no way of answering her angry assertions. Finally, I said, “It’s Jesus’ mother. I think she needs you right now. The rest of us can say the right words, but that is not going to be enough. You know better than we what is happening for her right now.”
“Oh, God, Mary!” she cried and dodged past me, heading down the passage toward where Jesus’ mother sat.
I went out into the main room. Nicodemus was no longer there. Peter and Andrew had also left.
One of the brothers from this little community of Essenes who had welcomed us as guests yesterday came in. “John, you have eaten nothing.” He brought bread from last night and some nuts and dried figs. “Today is going to be a long day. Eat something.”
I nodded. I felt suddenly tired and slumped down onto the low divan we had reclined on the previous evening. The brother came in with the food and set it before me. I ate the figs and reached for the nuts. They were almonds, both bitter and sweet. What a message for today.
The bread was from the thick matzo we had used at the table. I took the whole piece in my hands and weighed it and considered whether I wanted to eat it. I put it back on the plate. What ran through my head was Jesus needing my help. He had nothing to give me now. I needed to be there with him.
I looked up and saw Thomas eyeing me. “Peter and Andrew have gone to Palace Antonia to find out as much as they can. They’ll be back as soon as they have any news. Nicodemus has gone to speak to Pilate. They think they might get him to postpone the execution until after the festival. I think their idea is to use the time to gather the Sanhedrin together and have the charges discussed, then voted on by the full body of the Sanhedrin. Pilate might listen to them if they give him an excuse to do so.”
I nodded. “Good. That is our only chance. Listen, I want to go back to the fortress. I want to be there when they bring him out.”
Thomas nodded. “We all want to be there. Right now, Peter is down there, and he’ll tell us as soon as he sees anything happening. I went down there a few minutes ago, and apart from a crowd of clergy standing around with the usual onlookers, nothing was happening. Let’s wait here until we get word.”
We lapsed into silence, listening to the noise of the city that seemed to me comfortingly normal. Half an hour later, Joseph of Arimathea came in. He had told Lazarus and his sisters, who were now on their way. Others came in and asked questions, then left or stayed on, talking quietly. Soon the room was full of anxious, angry, and bewildered men.
Andrew burst into the room. “They are starting!”
The room emptied as men bolted through the door. I was swept with apprehension that some of our people were hotheaded enough to try to intervene. Pointless sacrifice was unthinkable, and I wished I had cautioned them against any rescue attempt or creating a riot. The well-armed contingent that turned out for the execution was large enough to deal with any kind of force they might meet and were accustomed to hostility. They were hard men who had carried out this duty in countries across the world. Executions were part of their job as the occupying force.
I went in to Jesus’ mother and told her the news.
“John, I want to be there but not yet. I don’t want to watch those terrible men do to him the things I have heard of. I could not bear to see others smash what I have so loved and cared for. Would you take me along there in a little while? I want to be with him. Will they let me close enough so he will know I am there?”
“I don’t know. I think they encourage his friends and relatives to be there. The Romans think such a terrible death will deter others. That is the whole point of their cruelty.”
Mary Magdalene stood over the mother of Jesus and rested her hand on her shoulder. “Do you want me to come too?” She looked up at me and said, “John, we three love him in different ways for different reasons. Each of us has to be there. Mary is right. We have to get close enough so he will know we are there. Will you help us?”
“Of course I will. Nicodemus has gone to see Pilate. He wanted to try to buy us time by getting the execution postponed until after the festival and maybe by then raise support to petition Pilate for another hearing. He was obviously too late. Let us wait for him to return. As a Sanhedrin member, his authority will get us through the crowds, and the soldiers will listen to him.”
Simon Peter, Philip, Thaddeus, and several others set out right away for the execution site. I intentionally waited and let time pass. I did not want to expose Mary to the terrible process of crucifixion. Nicodemus came back, having been refused an audience with Pilate, and joined us who were waiting. When I judged we could leave, we made a sad procession through the streets, through the gate, and up the path. Hundreds of others were going to view the crucifixions. Word was out that Jesus was one of the victims, and a long procession of silent people who had encountered him followed us. I was absurdly grateful for their support.
Golgotha was a bald mound of weathered limestone. Years ago it had been a quarry. Jerusalem buildings were, in part, built from its stone. During the last century, the good, consistent rock gave way to softer, fissured, and poorer rock, unfit for building purposes. Grass grew in the rocks’ crevices.
Permanently dug into the limestone at the top of the hill were the sockets into which upright posts were driven for the purpose of executing those who fell afoul of the Roman occupation. The spot was ideal from the Romans’ standpoint, for, even from inside the walls of the city, everyone could see the crown of the skull-like outcrop and see the bodies of those executed and exposed there for days.
[ii]Nicodemus led us through the crowd until we were within a few feet of the cross on which the soldiers had nailed Jesus. Two other men were crucified on nearby crosses. I was surprised to see them, as if somehow this event belonged solely to Jesus; but I realized this was an unremarkable day for the Roman empire, and they unburdened themselves of whomever was held on capital charges.
The soldiers had evidently gone about their business as impersonally as ever; by the time we got there, they had tidied up their tools, bagged the clothing of the men now hanging on the crosses, and were settling down to wait out the long time it would take for the men to die.
At least six heavily armed soldiers stood guard around the area of the crosses while the others made themselves comfortable. At least one managed to produce a bottle of wine from under his mantle, and it was passed round. Another brought out some dice, and they began to play a game to pass the time.
Wind whipped up the dust and blew it around us in little clouds. The women had covered their faces and now drew their garments tightly around them to keep out the dust.
I would prefer to go on describing the storm clouds forming along the hills to the north and the various people who stood around the central cross, so I would not have to remember what they had done to Jesus.
Arms outstretched, his wrists were nailed to the wood of the crossbeam. The helmet of thorns some soldier had forced on his head was still in place. Blood smeared his hair and face, rivulets ran down his arms from the nail wounds in his wrists, and the cross-hatched marks of the flogging were now evident all down his body and legs. His feet were held together and nailed by one huge spike that pierced both feet.
When we first arrived, Jesus was hanging mostly by his arms with his head drooping forward, and I thought maybe he had died already. After a few minutes he raised his head and painfully pushed upward to take his weight on his nailed feet. He eased himself there for a while, and I heard him say a psalm to himself. I only caught a few words here and there, but he went on, minute after minute, psalm after psalm.
Eventually his strength gave out, or the pain overcame him, and he slumped down. His head dropped forward again, and he hung there. Just as I wondered whether he was unconscious, he raised his head and, in great pain, tried to take a deep breath. My breath caught in my throat too, and my heart froze as I saw him struggle to push himself up so he could breathe again. A second trickle of blood flowed from the nail wounds in each of his wrists, running down his arms and dripping in the dust.
At last he raised his eyes in our direction and focused on our little group. I saw incredible pain cross his face as he realized who we were. I saw a look of deep gratitude for our presence. He gave us an infinitesimal nod to acknowledge our presence and redirected his attention back inside himself to battle new waves of pain. He closed his eyes and set his face against the agony. He sank down again.
Involuntarily, I stepped forward, not even knowing what I intended to do—maybe touch him, maybe speak to him. A guard forced a javelin pole vertically against my chest and barked in a hard voice, “Back!”
So the hour passed. I had never been present at a crucifixion, and now I saw the slow rhythm by which the sufferer descended toward death. Earlier, when I had seen Jesus standing in the courtyard of the fortress after he had been flogged, he could hardly keep upright. Now the accumulation of trauma to his whole body took its toll. He could hold himself up to breathe for shorter periods each time, and he hung motionless for longer stretches. Every time he struggled to raise himself, I could see the toll was greater and the struggle harder.
He was dying! I couldn’t believe it. No! I wanted to scream, but I only hung my head as his fell forward once more.
The other men crucified with him were in better shape. One of them raised himself up and stood on his nailed feet and looked desperately about him. He looked across at Jesus and shouted, “Okay, miracle worker, get us out of this. We saw you save others, so save yourself and us. For God’s sake, try, or we are done for.”
A jeering voice from a group of Temple clergy standing to one side shouted, “Let’s see you do that. Come on down from your perch, and we will believe you.”
I grabbed Peter’s arm as he started toward where the jeer came from. “No, Peter.” He was sobbing with rage. Unfortunately, the only emotion he knew how to express at that moment was anger.
Someone else joined in, “You saved others; let’s see you save yourself.” Other taunts came, but Jesus was insensible to them all. He hung there, inert.
The third crucified man turned his head to the first criminal and barked, “Knock it off. We knew what we were doing; we just got caught. Do you remember what we saw him do? He healed, and he had a word for anyone. He even saw us. He knew why we were there. Leave him alone, for he should not be here with us.” He paused, and then in a soft voice I hardly heard, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, okay?”
Jesus made a huge effort to raise himself up so he could take a breath. Painfully, he turned his head to look at the man to his right. Barely audible, he said, “Today you will be with me in that kingdom.” He looked out over the crowd, down at us who stood almost at the foot of his cross, and slumped down again. It was a long time before he moved.
A soldier said something to the officer in charge of the detail and received a nod in return. The soldier very soberly took a javelin, stuck a sponge on the end, and dipped it in the wine the soldiers had with them. He held it to Jesus’ mouth, who took a little, and then shook his head.
Jesus heaved himself up again, perhaps making one final effort. There was a hush among those around us as they recognized this struggle was close to his last.
He looked down, locked eyes with mine, and croaked, “John, look after her,” and he nodded toward Mary clinging to my arm. Infinitely, painfully, he said slowly, “Mother, take him as your son.”
He looked at Mary Magdalene and said simply, “Mary.”
His gaze rose over the crowd to the city and the arid ridges beyond, and he smiled a thin little greeting of love.
With great effort he took another painful breath, looked up toward the sky, and cried, “It is done, Father. Into your hands I entrust my spirit. It is finished.” Jesus lowered his head and gradually slumped down, exhausted.
Every now and again he moved his head slightly, and he continued to breathe. Once he strained to raise himself up again, but he could not. After that effort, more of his weight hung by his arms. He took little shallow gasps, but they grew less frequent until they stopped altogether.
Mary buried her face in my chest, clung to me, and cried great shuddering sobs that shook her whole body. I wrapped my arms about her and forced myself to watch the last moments of life drain from my friend.
We stood there for what seemed like an eternity. There was nowhere else for us to go. Mary finally pushed away from me, uncovered her face, and stared at the now lifeless form of her son. She gazed up at him steadily, as if wanting to remember him there as completely as she could.
The officer in charge barked an order for the men to get up. “Right, you know what to do. We’ve got to get these down before nightfall, so let’s get started.”
Two soldiers picked up a huge wooden mallet and went over to the first condemned man. He still groaned but was conscious. He saw what they were going to do, and he struggled to right himself, but it did no good. The soldier with the mallet swung it and broke the bones of one leg, then the other. We all heard the bones break, and in spite of the horror of the day, this final brutality sickened me afresh. They went over to Jesus, looked up at him, and said to the officer, “This one’s dead already,” and walked over to the last man.
[iii]The officer took a javelin from one of those who had been standing guard and, advancing to the foot of Jesus’ cross, thrust the point expertly into Jesus’ rib cage. There was no movement, no response. As the officer withdrew the weapon, a gush of blood and clear fluid flowed out.
I stood there, unable to believe what I had seen. I thought everything would somehow right itself if I just stayed still. I couldn’t move. After about fifteen minutes, I thrust off my paralysis and gave Nicodemus a little shake. “Nicodemus, now what? Can we look after the body? Who do we have to see to bury him? I am not going to just leave him there.”
Nicodemus said, “Yes, I mean, no. Oh, dear, I don’t know. You are right. We must do something. Let me ask the officer there.” He walked over to the officer and spoke in hushed tones.
On his return, he said, “I am going to see Pilate. He has to give permission for us to take the body. It will be another hour before they get the bodies down because the others will take a while to die. I think we should get what we need to wrap him up, and also we have to find somewhere to lay him for tonight. We will bury him properly on Sunday. Why don’t you leave this to Joseph and me, and you take his mother down to the house?”
The crowd was thinning and drifting away. The storm that had been threatening for most of the afternoon suddenly let loose. Rain poured down, and the wind lashed the little mound where we all stood. I took one last look at the still figure on its cross and led Mary away, down the hill toward the city.
Simon Peter, Thomas, and Thaddeus caught up with us as we made our way back to the house we had been meeting in. I explained to them what we were planning. At the house we met Lazarus and his sisters. He looked as devastated as the rest of us. He produced a parcel, which he thrust into my hands, and said, “I brought this. Maybe we can use it to wrap his poor body in.”
I took the parcel, which was a bolt of linen cloth. It would be enough to do what we had to do. How strange it was that, after such a horrific day, the ordinary tasks like preparing the body for burial should restore us to normalcy.
The linen shroud was not all we needed. I explained, “We will wrap him, and with help from a couple of other men, we can carry him back here. It is too late to do much else. First thing on Sunday, we will find a place to bury him and do everything we need to do then. Right now we will need a lot of spices and other herbs to help keep the body from deteriorating too quickly. With the festival starting in a few hours, we don’t have any other option. We can hardly carry his body through the streets as everyone goes to their Passover gatherings.”
Simon Peter and I retraced our steps through the city, out the western gate, and up to the mound where the soldiers were lowering the body of one of the other crucified men. Nicodemus was already there, and he had taken charge of the body of our friend, our Lord, our teacher. “Pilate gave us permission to look after the body. The officer has clearance for us to remove it when we can,” Nicodemus informed us.
Nicodemus eyed the linen we had and looked at the bag of spices. I told him of my plans. He nodded. “That will work. Joseph of Arimathea came with me to Pilate. He’ll be back in a minute. Right now he’s checking out the garden down there.” He tilted his head toward the quarry bottom where a garden had been laid out. “There are tombs down there belonging to various families. He thought there might be one we could use. I don’t see how because once they are in use they are sealed and nobody is going to thank us for disturbing their family’s ancestors.”
We stretched out the linen on the ground for it to receive the body of our friend. Three soldiers stomped over, carrying their ladder. Once they had it up against the cross, Peter took a napkin we had brought with the shroud and went to climb the ladder. The closest soldier saw what he wanted to do and made way for him, bracing the ladder as he climbed. Peter wrapped the cloth about Jesus’ head, preserving any blood and keeping it from dripping into the dust. This done, the soldiers went about lowering the body and then with brutal efficiency removed the nails that held Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross. As we lay his body on the cloth I could barely keep myself from sobbing uncontrollably. We all stood around the body of our friend for a moment, then quietly organized ourselves to carry the body back down toward the gate of the city.
[iv]Just then Joseph appeared, climbing up the last few feet of the slope toward us. He was a little breathless and took a moment to collect himself. “There is a tomb down in the south corner of the garden.” He pointed off to the right. “It looks as if it is new, so the stone is rolled back, and there is nobody there. I don’t know who it belongs to, but right now it’s the best we can do. If we leave him in that tomb until Sunday, we can move him elsewhere before anyone finds out. Right now we have little time left.”
“I think you’re right,” I agreed. “Let me go look at it. If we can leave him there, the temperature will be cooler. We should have no problem getting him down there.” I climbed down the path into the garden.
There were a number of tombs there. All had the stones closing their entrances rolled into place, with seals attached to them. I found the one Joseph had indicated and immediately saw the advantage of what he had suggested. We did not know whose tomb it was, but if we were up early on Sunday, we could remove Jesus’ body before anyone was awake. Until then, we could roll the stone into place to secure the gravesite from animals. This was infinitely better than trying to carry him through the streets of Jerusalem just before the festival.
I scrambled back up the hillside and found that Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene had rejoined us. They had brought more spices.
I looked inquiringly at Mary, who said, “I am going to look after him. I tended him as a little boy, I nursed him as a baby, and I carried him within my womb. All that is left for me is to carry him in my mind from now on. It is all I have left.”
Simon Peter and I took the head, and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea the feet. Lifting together, we took the weight and slowly and carefully headed a short procession across the barren hill.
Gone were the cross bars, and now all that was left were the sockets into which the towering vertical timbers were sunk. I was too occupied to look back as we descended. Once we were down, I did manage one last glance, but the angle was wrong. Maybe I didn’t need to see that accursed place again.
Here on Patmos, and over there in Ephesus, there are followers who’ve journeyed secretly to visit that place I thought was cursed. I’ve never returned, but those who go, come back blessed. They know it only as a holy place.
As I write these words, I cannot but think of my own friends who were murdered in Ephesus. Jesus’ death—their deaths—they are all cut from the same piece of cloth. Man can desecrate, but only God makes holy that which is profane.
[i] From the text of all gospels Jesus’ crucifixion was immediate. The first hearing had been at night, the Sanhedrin was not consulted, and Caiaphas presented Jesus to Pilate with the charges and evidence. Pilate was the only way to have Jesus executed right away, and that would have to be for claiming to be King of Israel. This is the charge Caiaphas makes to Pilate. Jewish law required a waiting period of 72 hours before carrying out an execution.
[ii] Mathew 27:33-44. Mark 15:22-32, Luke 23:33-43 and John 19:17-34. Description of the crucifixion. See also articles on the Shroud of Turin. Details found on that cloth confirm much of the evidence we find in the gospels, especially John’s account.
[iii] John 19:35. This is an assertion that the writer, John, was indeed an eye witness. This is the only claim made in the gospels for an actual eye witness account. John’s account is very detailed, both here and in other parts of his gospel. In the case of the crucifixion his accounts tally exactly with many details found on the Shroud of Turin.
The 12th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
We four men carried the body between us down the path. Stones rolled beneath our feet, and the limp form was difficult to hold. Once we were down on the floor of the garden, we pushed along until we staggered to the doorway of the grave. The doorway’s lintel was low, and we had to stoop to enter. With the weight of the body between us, we carefully carried Jesus into the carved outer chamber.
We found there a rock bench carved out as a preparation table and laid Jesus on it. There was not enough space in the cramped cave for all of us; so Nicodemus, Simon Peter, and Joseph ducked out and waited for Mary, his mother, and me to complete the necessary rituals.
Mary entered immediately. I braced myself to deal with her complete collapse into uncontrollable weeping and wailing. Certainly, I could not have censored her for that. Instead, Mary took the limp body of her son in her arms and sat on the rock bench. There was hardly enough height to allow her to hold him in her lap, but she clasped him to her.
With closed eyes, she raised her head and intoned the prayer for the dead. I joined in. Mary finished the final prayer, opened her eyes, and gazed at the body of her dead son in her lap.
She looked across at me and held my eyes with her gaze. “Why?” she demanded.
Her authoritative question required an answer. She didn’t speak in the soft and reasonable tones I expected from her but in a hard voice made up of countless mothers’ voices down through the centuries. She was speaking, I knew, for all of them: mothers whose sons and daughters had been offered as sacrifices in days long past, sons wasted in battle or broken by endless toil, and sons who disappeared and no word was ever heard of their fate.
As I looked into her eyes, I saw the aggregate of violence we men visited upon each other and consequently upon the women who gave us life and sustained us through their love. I had no answer then, but I have spent my life since that moment trying to understand her question and provide an answer.
She sat and wept. I now know she was not only weeping for herself but for the world and the suffering we men inflict on each other. She closed her eyes. Tears squeezed out and ran down her cheeks. She cradled her dead son, and her lips moved in prayer for the world, for the suffering and waste we inflicted. Mary prayed in words I didn’t understand, but her pain poured out as sorrow and mourning for all of us. In later years, she never lost the love for us all that, she explained, came to her during those moments in the tomb.
At last her tears dried, and she started to get up, twisting out from under Jesus’ limp weight. With my help, she laid him down on the stone slab and carefully arranged his body.
Mary moved with a certainty of years of knowledge and practice as she straightened his limbs and carefully rearranged his hair to cover the worst of the wounds to his face and head. She was a mother saying good night to her sleeping child. She touched his forehead with her lips, then rose, and stepped back from the table so I could complete what little preparation was left for me to do at that time.
I had already removed the square of cloth Peter had wrapped around his head. I wiped his face a little, then threw the cloth down on the bench beside the body. I withdrew from my pocket two drachma coins to weigh down his eyelids. Pilate had issued the coins. Jesus’ words, “Render unto Caesar the things that were Caesar’s and to God the things that belonged to God” came to me. I blinked away tears. The irony of using Pilate’s coins swirled around my head.
I stroked his eyes closed and placed a coin on each eye and combed his hair with my fingers to cover the headband. His hands I placed together over his abdomen. For a long moment I held his hands, and I too bent and kissed his cooling forehead. Covering his body with the linen, I tucked the last foot of it under his heels. As the sheet settled upon him, I saw the stains of blood from his wounds show through the linen, marking it as a map of his sufferings.
I stood up and moved to the entrance. With one last look of farewell, I bowed out of the entrance to the tomb, leaving Mary with her son.
[ii]Mary Magdalene appeared on the path to the tomb, carrying a large bouquet of flowers she had gathered from the surrounding garden. She ducked into the tomb. I stood in the entrance and watched as she gently laid the flowers on the linen shroud and knelt on the rough rock floor before the body of her savior.
After about fifteen minutes she rose, and in the tight confines of the tomb, the two women embraced. They slowly and reluctantly emerged into the failing light outside. Hand in hand they walked down the slight slope toward the city gate and the house we had made our home for the last week.
I bent down and removed the blocking rock from the massive round stone intended for a door to close off the tomb. Peter and I levered the stone along its track until it closed off the entrance.
We clumped downhill toward the city gate. Simon Peter snuffled beside me. All down the path, I alternated between grief that swamped me and rage that sent a scream into my throat. Halfway down the path, I felt the weight of Simon Peter’s thick arm rest across my shoulders and he pulled me to him as we walked.
Caiaphas was just here. He gave me a glowing report of how he outsmarted Pilate and forced him to do what we needed to have done. Ha!
I was very good. I congratulated him and even went so far as to praise him for his planning of the whole thing. I laid it on so thick he got my point. I don’t know what my daughter sees in him.
So, the Nazarene is dead. That all worked as I predicted. From what Caiaphas said, and what my other sources have reported about the morning hearings, Pilate came close to letting that Jesus fellow off. I am glad I gave Caiaphas that clincher. Friend of Caesar. Ha! I must remember that. Leverage—it’s all about leverage. Now what?
Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin is a nuisance. Do we need to pursue him and any others who followed this man? I can think about that later.
I am worried about my secretary. I hear he was helping Nicodemus and the others who were trying to stop the proceedings. That is being disloyal. I just can’t stand disloyalty. It would be a pity to lose him; he is very useful around here.
The Sabbath begins in half an hour. I can finish the rest of my notes tomorrow evening. I will sleep tonight after being up all last night. It was worth it.
[i] Matthew 27:57-61 Speaks of Joseph of Arimathea as using his own tomb, but Mark, Luke and John refer to the tomb as unused only. They did not know who the owner was.
[ii] On the Shroud of Turin there are marks of a bouquet of flowers picked within the area of Jerusalem. They are spring flowers, and their pollen has been identified as belonging to flowers indigenous to that region and flowering at that time of year.
13th Lenten Reading
The Last Week in Jerusalem
Saturday morning dawned red and stormy. Wind whipped the streets. The Sabbath was no joy to us.
Pointlessness and powerlessness stalked my thoughts. I fancied that old image of evil chattered and laughed at me, mocking all my hopes. I had to confess that I had indeed dreamed of a kingdom without the evil I now saw triumph.
If Jesus could not overcome it but only be destroyed as he stood against that terrible image, what hope was there for any of us?
I thought of the miracles of healing, and I sought consolation that at least those people had benefited. They had been given a better chance, but I found myself bitterly rejecting them as the justification for all the life Jesus had poured into all of us.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, came to me. “John, would you talk to Mary? She is losing control. She has done so well until now, but I fear for her. She could slip back to where she was when she came to us.”
I went in with her and sat on a low stool. What was there to say? Mary sat with her knuckles in her mouth, her face white and eyes restlessly moving from the high window opening to the door and back to the room. She was disheveled. Her hair fell down her face, partly hiding her from view. In the corner of the room there was a torn shirt, as if she had torn it off herself sometime during the night. Now she sat hunched against the world. This was how she had been when we first met almost a year ago.
Mary’s eyes flickered over me and returned to the window. Finally she said, “John, I thought I was safe. That demonic presence has reached right back into my life, and he has snatched me back. All I can see is the great gulf opening before me, and I am slipping toward it.”
“Mary, do you remember what Jesus said? Nothing can touch you. ‘Stand and do not be afraid.’”
Silence filled the room, and I hoped she was thinking over what I had said and fortifying herself with my words.
[i]Apparently not, because she shook her head. “John, you do not understand. You think the evil one is just an image you can dismiss or laugh away. He is not finished yet. He never is satisfied but must always seek our destruction. He is not satisfied with Jesus’ death. John, why did we leave him there all alone in that cave? We should have brought him here. We could have kept watch over him. We could have protected him.
“Tell me, what will happen if the owner of the tomb hears we are using it to hold Jesus’ body? What if they send someone over there, and they find him lying there in the tomb? What if they take him away and throw him in the Valley of Hinnon? That evil presence is never done; it will savage even his poor dead body.”
“Mary, Mary, think about it. This is the Sabbath. We left him there last night when everyone else had gone back to the city. In any case, nobody will do anything until Sunday morning. First thing tomorrow morning we will move his body and have a proper burial. Last night, Joseph said that he would find a place.”
Mary looked wildly around her and shouted, “No, you will see. Evil is never satisfied to conquer, but it must squash us under its heel. That is the way it’s been for me forever. Just when I think I am safe, that’s the moment he comes back. Jesus is alone in that tomb. He is defenseless. Just when we think it’s all over, when he is safe, that is when the evil one will celebrate and demonstrate his power with revenge.”
I got up, stood over Mary, took her hands in mine very gently, and assured her, “Mary, Jesus is safe. Tomorrow we will do what little we can. Maybe you and some of the other women would like to get together spices and the other things you need to prepare his body for burial. We will all come and take him to where we can bury him.
“Mary, you are safe with us. We understand what you have been through, but remember what Jesus himself taught you. The evil one cannot touch you. You are safe.”
Mary shook her head. “I was safe in his presence. Him being there was my bastion against the darkness that continued to chatter and gibber at me from the shadows. Now he is gone. John, it was not what he taught but who he was. He was a rock on which I was unassailable. I no longer care about myself. With him gone, I have no future. My only vulnerability is through him. That is why I fear for him. I watched him become powerless like I used to be, and now that evil will want to destroy even what is left. It is always that way for me.”
For the rest of us, shock was giving way to grief. I was far from being able to comprehend what had happened. We sat in the house, looking at each other and listening to the pounding rain. Simon Peter strode restlessly around the central room, complaining about the city with its walls and dirty streets. I fancied if he was back in Capernaum he would be out fishing. That is where he would be most at home. At one point I tried to engage him in conversation, but he cut me short with a shake of his head and a mumbled, “John, I betrayed him.” He withdrew into himself, hiding from the rest of us behind a restless, angry exterior.
I grew more anxious about Mary Magdalene, for when I went in to see her again, my impression of her was a wild animal caught in a trap. She had pulled at her hair, and there were scratch marks on her face. I went to find the other Mary to get some help.
Not five minutes later—just about three o’clock, the hour Jesus had died—I saw Mary Magdalene go to the cooking area. A moment later a loud crash was heard throughout the house. Everyone ran to see what had happened; and we found her sitting on the floor, weeping, surrounded by shards of a large earthenware pot.
Mary screamed at us, “Why did we leave him there? He was with us in life. Could we not have been with him in death? Have we not abandoned him?” she sobbed.
Jesus’ mother came in and gently took Mary Magdalene by the hand and helped her up. “Mary, don’t blame them. They did what they thought was right. Let us get things together for tomorrow.” We filed away, one by one, sheepishly avoiding each other’s eyes, and went out from the cooking area. Each found a spot to be alone.
Saturday evening after the Sabbath ended, men arrived from other houses where they had been staying. Lazarus and his sisters appeared. Some brought food. Others brought wine.
We said Kaddish for Jesus. Kaddish are our people’s prayers for our dead. Nobody wanted to leave. We talked about Friday and exchanged our views of what had happened.
Later someone began a mournful lament—a haunting song of loss. Others joined in the slow cadence, and soon a ring of bearded men began a slow dance, linking their arms together. Their stomping feet oscillated back and forth as the circle of men slowly circled about the center of the room.
We broke up, and each of us drifted off. Some went back to where they were lodging. Silence fell upon us all. There was nothing to say and nothing to do. I sat up, staring at the wall. I was empty of all feelings and thoughts.
Everything I had hoped, everything that I held dear, was gone. Not only was everything lost but intentionally desecrated.
Perhaps Mary Magdalene was right after all. I wished we had him with us. I could at least watch with him, like I used to, when he went out to pray.
The Sabbath is over. Everything is quiet today. I would expect that. Getting that Nazarene looked after just before the Sabbath started was a stroke of luck. First John the Baptist, then him; that should discourage any more rabble-rousers.
Might we have trouble with the Sanhedrin for going around them? Maybe. I should brief Caiaphas about how to deal with that if it happens. It would be just like Nicodemus and a few other liberal Pharisees to ask questions on the floor of the Sanhedrin. They can’t bring that Jesus fellow back—he is dead—so they can complain all they want.
I can’t help thinking about Jonathon. I always thought of him as such an honest and open young man. Has he been deceiving me? Was he a secret disciple? I find such duplicity despicable. I must make inquiries before I do anything. Judas is another one who surprised me. Yesterday morning when he realized we were going to have Jesus executed, he came and threw his money at us. Damned arrogance of the man! Now he has gone off somewhere to nurse his conscience. Ha! A bit late for that, I would say. He never had a conscience before. Why would he bother now? So, we saved thirty talents. I should make a note for Jonathon. We need to use that money for something other than normal Temple needs. It cannot go back in the treasury.
That’s enough for now. Too much excitement, all in one week. We can tidy up any loose ends later.
Last night that dream was back. That man from Daniel appeared again. This time he looked more like the Nazarene than ever. Funny thing what the mind can do if you are overtired. Those nightmares should go away now we’ve seen the last of him.
[i] This is the wisdom of a battered woman. Their experience is so often the return of the abuser, and the continued abuse to the very end.