What a week. WHAT – A – WEEK.
It’s Saturday and I’m scared.
I’m all alone in the outskirts of Jerusalem. Days ago I felt energetic, excited, part of a great movement.
And now – I’m alone and wondering what happened…
This all began many months ago when I first heard HIM. I’m a young man from Bethsaida, a carpenter by trade. One day a friend mentioned this man Jesus who was traveling through the area. I had heard of this man before, either a prophet or some mystic who could hold people spellbound with his words and his actions.
I was there that day when thousands heard him speak on a nearby hill. People just stopped what they were doing and flocked to that hill. No one apparently had any idea what would happen, they just went. No one apparently knew how long it would take so they went without any meal or drink. My work was done for the day so I just followed the crowd, curious to see what would take place.
And we were there for hours, chatting and waiting. When the man finally climbed the hill he was surrounded by all these people who suddenly became quiet when they saw him. I was off at a distance and It was an incredible scene as he preached to us.
Then the man finished and called his close followers, his disciples, over to him. The people just stayed still and after hours of waiting and then listening we were all hungry. But no one would leave the hill, wouldn’t leave HIM.
The man’s followers started scrounging the crowd for food – what did they expect to find? Finally I was told by those close to the middle that a boy offered his lunch, some bread and some fish. That's it.
An entire crowd of thousands – and just some bread and fish? I remember laughing with those around me. Maybe we should start heading home while our stomachs were rumbling.
But before we headed off we noticed these disciples starting to hand out food from baskets to those in the middle. And then more food…and then more food. I could see these disciples from afar – they all had amazed looks on their faces as they reached into the baskets and kept pulling out more food.
Eventually one of these followers approached my group, and I was handed some bread and part of a fish. The fellow had the strangest look on his face. When someone asked “how can this be?” he almost shrugged his shoulders and continued on.
The people eventually returned to their homes after eating and the man and his group departed. All of us wondered “what just happened?” But his words, his teachings, touched all of our hearts. And the food in an empty belly helped as well.
I tried to keep track of this man, Jesus from Nazareth, and some time later he and his group came nearby again. I went to see them, heard him speak and preach again, and something grabbed me. A feeling deep down, like being called to do something.
It was then that I made the decision to follow him, just for a brief time, to learn more about him and his movement. My parents thought I was crazy – they also believed in this Jesus but how would I support myself while I was away? My father gave me some money and said he could make do with our carpentry business for a while but he would expect me back soon.
That was months ago. And everything was amazing – until this week…
A small growing group of travelers like me followed Jesus and his disciples from town to town, area to area. Sometimes he would come and chat with us, men and women, always with a gentle smile or a hug, sometimes with a laugh.
But we would never get too close – that was the domain of his disciples, almost always surrounding him. Peter and James and John, who grew up not far from my own home, were among those who stayed closest to him. They were “important,” the rest of us were just following a dream. We found ways to stay close by finding lodging with sympathetic believers or sometimes just on the ground on warm evenings.
And along the way we witnessed, well, miracles. Things that were just incredible. Someone who claimed to be blind was healed and could see. Others who knew this guy swore that he WAS blind. Another day Jesus helped a crippled man get up and walk. A trick, some scoffed. But watching this crippled man with wide eyes slowly walking around, realizing that he was WHOLE again, and laughing and hugging and crying – something amazing just happened here.
And raising someone from the dead? That was the claim from some people recently.
Along the way we watched as Jesus encountered some of the religious officials of the area. Pious holier-than-thou Pharisees always seemed to linger, and Jesus always found a way to send them packing. But as they left they were always muttering to themselves. Should have known they’d try something.
Then came this week. On the first day of the week we all approached Jerusalem as Passover was about to begin. I heard some of the disciples try to warn Jesus away from the city but it was as if he was glowing. As I watched him he looked compelled to be there.
As we approached the city gate someone acquired a donkey somehow, maybe a gift from an admirer. And as the group got closer the crowds along the roadside got larger. And larger. They started chanting, then shouting “Hosanna!” People started laying palm branches on the road, or they took off their cloaks and put them down there. Jesus rode over them on the trudging donkey with perhaps a sad smile on his face.
It occurred to me – this was a greeting for a king or a conquering hero. And there I was, now well behind Jesus in the growing throng of well wishers heading into the city. “This is it,” I thought. All of Jerusalem is welcoming him, and I’m part of his entourage. Even the hated Romans won’t take on an entire city. And maybe now, Jesus will snap his fingers and the old power of mighty Israel will return.
But Jesus and his disciples didn’t stay the night in the city, instead heading just out of town. The rest of us just found a place to lie down as we did every other night – but this night felt different. Something was about to happen.
I hadn’t been to Jerusalem in quite a while so I roamed the city for a couple of days. I visited an old friend from boyhood days who had moved there, and of course visited the Temple. While there I saw Jesus as well but never as I had seen him before. He was ANGRY and it was plain to see, angry at the merchants on the Temple grounds selling sacrifices to people like me. I was about to buy a dove when he tore into them, flipping their tables and yelling at them to leave. Coins were flying everywhere.
And in the background I could see the priests and Temple authorities. The look of utter hate on their faces – little did we know…
Then it happened – some others and I who had traveled together found a comfortable spot in a field Thursday night. We had just bedded down for the night when another of our number rushed up to tell us that Jesus had been arrested. WHAT? Why? For flipping some tables?
Then came word – the disciples were nowhere to be found. Had they been arrested too? And – were the authorities now coming for US? Everyone knew that the Temple guards could be mean…but they were nothing compared to the Romans. Were they involved as well?
Panic spread. We all separated and found places to hide somewhere in the city. I found a quiet secluded corner and had a fitful sleep that night.
The next morning dawned mostly clear but clouded over as the day progressed. That Friday was the beginning of Passover but I was petrified, in no mood for celebration. I kept looking over my shoulder as a crowd began heading for the center of the city. Word had spread about a trial for Jesus last night and something was going to happen, maybe even today.
Some of the people who surrounded me looked familiar, from the parade earlier in the week. Except now they looked angry and I could overhear them – this Jesus fellow would bring the Roman Army down on them and he needs to be dealt with. What, the same Jesus I had been following who wouldn’t hurt anyone? The same man who preached peace and mercy and forgiveness? This is a nightmare.
And when I was fairly pushed into place in a large square there was the Roman leader Pilate surrounded by his legionaries, and Jesus was standing there nearly stripped of his clothing. I was far away but he had something on his head and he was bleeding everywhere. I stared in disbelief at what was happening.
The next moment was incredible – Pilate shouted to the crowd on what he should do with Jesus. And many in the crowd yelled out “Crucify him!” over and over. I looked left and right, unable to comprehend what was happening. These people WERE part of the parade on Sunday – what are they DOING?
Some soldiers grabbed Jesus and led him away as the crowd now navigated to the streets. Crucify Jesus? Where? Rows of people lined the streets to the edge of the city. I tried to squirm my way to the front of the group in front of me.
As soon as I made it to the front I saw him and I couldn’t believe my eyes – a bloodied Jesus carrying a heavy cross on his one shoulder, stumbling down the street toward me. People were shouting, some spitting and throwing rocks in his direction. Two other men were doing the same thing, carrying their own crosses as part of this bizarre procession.
With my mouth open and saying nothing I stared into the street as Jesus passed where I was standing. And for a moment he turned – and looked right at me. Our eyes locked and I could see the anguish in his face. First I was stunned, then I was ashamed and looked away. Jesus resumed looking down the street and continued his struggle.
As the men with crosses passed some people fell in line behind them, still shouting and insulting. But I just slumped to the ground. Everyone who had known Jesus, who had been with him for days or months or years, had all run away and hid. And I was one of them. As the noise of the crowd began to subside I cried out of guilt. I had miserably failed him.
They nailed Jesus to his cross up there on that hill called Golgotha. I couldn’t bear to watch and instead slunk away to in a dark corner of town. Later that afternoon a big storm rolled in, thunder and lightning and everything. I could sense – he was gone. It was all over. The movement was dead.
Passover began at sundown. Things quieted down at that point. But I was too scared to go anywhere, even to eat. I stayed in that dark corner all night long, all alone.
And now it’s Saturday, It’s still rather dark and cloudy. And the city is actually pretty quiet after yesterday. I have no idea what happened after Jesus was killed – did they bury him? Did they just throw him to the wolves?
Somehow I need to get out of town. NOW. I’ll head for home and my family. Someone there will probably say “I told you so” but I don’t care, I just want safety away from here. It will be a long journey and I’m out of money.
But again I’m scared – what if someone recognizes me as I walk the streets? I could be next. I need to RUN.
I’ve never felt such despair. And what will happen tomorrow?
As related by George Churchgoer