The Jesus Story- John Cantwell

Just before dawn a dark figure quietly detached itself from the shadows and moved stealthily among the slumbering shapes under the olive trees. He worked his way quietly whispering softly in each ear before coming to the next in line to receive his faint words of arousal. As he approached her she woke up and hesitated at his silhouette against the dimly lit sky. He pulled at her blanket even more annoyingly when he couldn’t find the person he was looking for.
Where is he?
She glanced up at him nervously and shrugged her shoulders. They looked at each other
without speaking and then he moved quickly away.
The musical sound of a gurgling brook disturbed the stillness as a man with a short stocky body came nearer, his head bowed in thought. Coming to a stop he kneeled down and scooping up the cold water cupped his face in his hands. Leaning forward he waited for the rippled surface of the stream to settle into a glassy grey image that would mirror his face. A slightly disheveled appearance bearing some resemblance emerged and he looked him straight in the eye noticing his cropped curly hair and beard, his broad nose and dark complexion haloed around the break of day. He was still for a moment before taking his right hand and gently swirling it around in the water until the face had disappeared to the bottom in a thick layer of sediment.
Jesus turned and looked at his friend.
He walked quickly up to Jesus and greeting him with a smile embraced him warmly.
We were worried. It is not yet cockcrow.
I needed to think, he said in a clear voice.
Why so? Judas asked looking confused and spreading his arms wide with a sense of
exuberance. We are close to achieving our goal. Take a look eastwards.
He pointed his finger at the thick morning haze.
Only a few miles away below the ridge there are many gathering to call out your name and triumph your entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus looked up at the red orb of the sun rising above the horizon.
Listen Jesus, we like what you have to say. Lazarus your cousin was only too willing to lend a hand, so much so that he pretended to be dead for four days. Even Martha and Mary played a part in your amazing achievement. When all were hanging on your every word we changed the water into wine. I myself took from the purse to heal the sick and made the crippled walk again and the blind to see, who had little of succour and were grateful for our help.
He placed a gentle hand on Jesus’ shoulder.
You have a way of speaking that captures men’s minds but words are not enough, if you want to fill your cup to the top you must capture their hearts as well.
I am just a man like everyone else.
Take up your place, Jesus. When you called for Lazarus to come forth the crowd watched
hushed and frightened, but they believed.
All of a sudden two of the disciples appeared from under the evergreen trees and ran noisily towards them.
We went to the village as you asked and found a donkey for the rabbi to ride into Jerusalem, Peter said with a childlike directness.
John stood beside him giggling happily.
It was exactly where we expected it to be, tethered to a post next to a young colt less than
three or four years old.
Jesus looked at them and smiled.
Did you tell the owner that the rabbi needed them and that they would be sent back at once?
We did what you told us that if anyone asked why we were taking the beasts to say, the rabbi needs them.
Jesus laughed and patted them both on the shoulder for a job well done and watched as they ran ahead.
Judas was relieved by Jesus’ change of tone.
Remember Jesus he added sotto voce, at this moment you have the power to live in God’s
glory for all time.
Wait, rabbi.
Jesus looked on as Mathew walked quickly over to the donkey and draped his tattered cloak over the rough back of the animal. The other disciples, except for Judas followed suit arranging both animals with their poor cloaks for Jesus to sit on. They stood looking at him without speaking, waiting for him to choose, until he walked up to the donkey and they crowded round to help him mount the animal.
Rabbi, Thomas said his voice revealing an inquisitive mind. Why choose the donkey over
the colt?
It only took a moment for Jesus to reply.
There are those in authority who will try to undermine our entry into the city, so we must show them that we come in peace.
Andrew gave the other disciples a silly grin and pulled on the donkey’s reins, guiding it down the sloping ridge, while the colt trotted slowly behind them.
As they approached Jerusalem, Andrew pointed a finger at one of the city’s two eastern gates facing the Mount of Olives, showing scenes of joyous celebration. He looked back at Jesus who sat with a faraway look in his eyes and was surprised to witness tears streaming down his face. His hopeful smile had faded as he turned his head away without speaking and struck the donkey’s flank with the palm of his hand.
Jesus and the disciples entered the old gate closest to where the Temple Mount stood and
moved at a slow pace through the excited crowds gathered in the street. Palm branches were waved over their heads as others removed their cloaks and laid them in front of the donkey and her foal.
Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah. O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity.
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah. We have blessed you out of the house of Jehovah.
Andrew’s eyes shone with happiness as he looked over his shoulder and saw Jesus’
untroubled gaze. Grinning broadly, he pushed his way through the noisy crowd of people.
While most of the inhabitants of the city praised Jesus and the disciples some were simply curious.
Who is he?
This is Jesus, the Nazarene.
You mean the prophet who raised Lazarus of Bethany four days after he died.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of Jehovah, he muttered under his breath and shuffled away.
In order to safeguard Jesus from the Temple priests, Judas had Mary sent away with the
animals unseen. If all goes according to plan Jesus’ name will be on everyone’s lips together with the Pharisees, who were very much in his thoughts and prayers for the future.
The Temple Mount was within walking distance so Jesus and the disciples proceeded to
make their way there accompanied by an ever present crowd of onlookers. When Jesus
entered the courtyard he was shocked to find livestock intermingling with a diversity of
merchants, trading with pilgrims numbering in their thousands, who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. Before the disciples could stop Jesus, he charged angrily at the moneychangers upending a multitude of coins and whipping the animals with his open hand, driving them before him.
Take these things away and do not make my Father’s house a marketplace, he cried out.
Turning on the dove sellers he knocked over their seats as the small and delicate birds
hovered over the heads of the poor.
It is written my house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves, he warned.
Jesus’ sudden attack on the moneychangers came as a shock to them and they dropped to
their knees and scrabbled around on the earthen floor, scooping up small handfuls of gold coins and cursing loudly, while the dove sellers threw their hands in the air in damnation of him.
What sign do you show us for doing these things, they exclaimed.
If he heard them, he paid no heed and tried instead to prevent a large number of pilgrims from entering the enclosure, but his displeasure was beginning to infuriate some in the crowd and they threatened him with violence. Not able to understand what was happening, but at the same time trying to appease the swarm of angry merchants and pilgrims milling around them, the disciples decided to leave for their own safety.
Destroy this Temple, he cried, and in three days I will raise it up.
The disciples and every one there stopped what they were doing and stared at him open-
mouthed, as if he was completely insane. Peter’s voice was full of concern as he tugged at
Jesus’ sleeve.
Forgive me rabbi, but do you know what you are saying?
A thin priest revealed himself between two Temple guards and gave a disparaging smile.
It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and will you raise it up in three days?
Jesus looked at him.
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.
With that, he turned and left the courtyard followed closely by the disciples. As they pushed their way through the large number of pilgrims gathered together in an unruly manner the crowd ridiculed him and wagged their heads.
What manner of man is he who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, they laughed.
Late in the evening, Judas hurried towards the magnificent houses of the Herodian Quarter overlooking the nearby Temple Mount, defined against the night sky. Rooms of dazzling opulence, whose residents he knew were the wealthy Sadducean priests and the upper echelon of Judean society, greeted him on the way. As a guest he had been here before and enjoyed the cellars and the elegant rooms and mosaicked bathhouses, but this was different.
His presence, as far as he could tell, had being requested by one of the chief priests and that it was not possible to excuse him from attendance. His instincts told him to be careful. The lights of the houses shone in the darkness. He swore under his breath.
Why did he do it?
Standing at the entry door, he took a quick glance at his slightly dishevelled appearance
before a servant took him across an open paved courtyard surrounded by a row of columns.
Entering a most splendid vault he was left alone under the great wooden beams and lighted tapers of the lampstands, shaped like almond flowers made of gold.
He had no sooner spoken than a man of priestly bearing presented himself walking towards him wearing the finest of garments. Halting slightly in his walk he came to a stop in the clear light and smiled.
You are not looking too well lately. Where have you been?
Judas looked down at the small roughly squared coloured pieces of stone patterned under his sandaled feet.
Forgive me Master Annas, he said. I was with the rabbi.
Yes. The Nazarene.
Judas watched him move slowly around the chamber contemplating what to say next.
Your upstart preacher is making a nuisance of himself and challenging our authority over the people, he said simply.
Permit me, Judas began, but Annas interrupted him with a wave of his hand.
Jesus had only been allowed to preach at the Temple on the understanding that he would be on his best behaviour at Passover.
Judas lowered his head.
Through his actions and that of his followers a disturbance was created among the
moneychangers and dove sellers, which the soldiers would not have failed to miss, no doubt it was reported to the governor Pilate, he added bitterly.
Their deeds cannot be excused, Judas mumbled to himself.
Do you think we are not aware of their trickery and his beguiling words on those willing to listen, counselling them to ignore their religious obligations, and that the Kingdom of God is available to people everywhere, come what may.
He gave a shrill laugh of disbelief and derision.
I say he has gone too far and I fear for the city with this madman let loose in it. We don’t
want tricks or his persuasive arguments bringing about a state of confusion, or dare I say a revolution.
He turned round to face him.
If your blasphemous preacher wanted to die he could not have gone about it in a better way.
Judas looked at him wide-eyed.
Jesus and his followers have to go, he said raising his eyebrows in a matter of fact manner.
But Master Annas, Judas said. I must have misunderstood…I thought you wanted to find out about Jesus. After the raising of Lazarus you came to me…his voice trailed away.
He smiled at Judas and gave him a pitying look.
Don’t feel so bad that our business is benefitting from something so shocking. What are we going to do? This man Jesus is performing many signs. If we let him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.
You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die
instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish, he repeated. Oh, he reminded himself. I know you have gone to a lot of trouble, and took a small leather pouch from his girdle which he tossed at Judas. You know what to do.
Judas gave him a burning look and watched as he disappeared from sight, hidden among the flickering shadows.
The sound of their steps broke the silence of the night as he followed the servant towards the exit door devoid of any trappings. Stepping through the doorway, he paused close to the door just as it was shut behind him.
The members of the Sanhedrin want Jesus dead.
Who told you this?
What does it matter.
We must flee the city before they can arrest him.
There is a death warrant for all of you.
Why us?
No loose ends.
What are we going to do?
The penalty for blasphemy is death.
We must think.
There is no time to think.
What are you saying?
We must act now before it is too late for all of us.
You mean…
Jesus must die.
You want us to hand him over to the soldiers?
There is no other way if you want to live.
It is a sin in the eyes of God.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Let us leave the city.
All the exits from the city are being watched.
What are we to do?
This is how it is to be done. Go to this man called, Yosef in the city and tell him the rabbi
says that the time draws near, and he wishes to celebrate the Passover with his disciples in his house.
What will you do?
I will arrange with the Temple guards to have him arrested.
So be it.
May God forgive us all.
Jesus broke the unleavened bread and glanced at John next to him. John smiled at Jesus and avoided meeting his eye, pretending instead to be interested in a conversation between Peter and James sitting alongside him. Jesus sipped at his wine and looked about the table at the other disciples. Mathew glanced at him nervously, while Bartholomew whose eyes were red and swollen, lowered his head.
Where is Judas? Jesus asked.
Even as he spoke Judas came into the room.
Shalom, he said.
Aleichem Shalom, they replied.
As he took his place at the table, Jesus responded to his grin with a smile.
Coming to the foot of the mountain, Jesus decided to stay behind at the garden of
Gethsemane and pray. The disciples, apart from Peter, John and James continued towards the Mount of Olives.
Jesus walked along the secluded path solemnly looking up at the wandering stars shimmering above his head. Occasionally he would glance over his shoulder at the three disciples sprawled under a shady olive tree.
What are we to do?
Judas told us to stay close to him.
I don’t like it.
It will be over soon.
Coming to a stop neath one of the larger trees he knelt down in its long shadow and prayed.
Great beads of sweat broke out on his brow and he rested his heavy head in the palm of his hand. Sweat soaked through his robe and he felt a cold shiver of fear run down his spine. He clasped his hands in earnest and prayed to God out loud.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, he begged.
What was that?
He said God have mercy on him.
The three disciples stood up and walked towards him slowly and listened in as he prayed.
Jesus lowered his head in anguish and gave a low moan of despair as they came within
My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.
He thought for a moment before lifting his voice slightly.
Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it. If this cup cannot pass by, but I must
drink it, your will be done.
The garden was reduced to silence as they knelt down and prayed beside him. Looking up they saw the glint of armour moving forward in an orderly way through the olive grove, and the face of Judas flamed against the lighted torches. The four men stood up and faced the Temple guards led by Judas. John wanted to run away but Peter had his wrist grasped firmly in his hand.
Don’t be a fool! he hissed.
The Temple guards surrounded Jesus and the three disciples, who were terrified at the
thought of being taken into custody. Each of the three gave Judas a glare of contempt. Judas returned their stare with a condescending sneer.
Which one of you is Jesus of Nazareth? demanded the captain of the Temple.
Jesus stood very still, his eyes closed. When no reply was forthcoming, Judas took a step
forward and kissed him on the cheek. Jesus pulled away from him.
Judas, are you betraying me with a kiss?
Jesus, he replied. You can die the Son of Man or the Son of God, which side of the coin
decides when it lands is up to you.
At a nod from the captain, the guards seized Jesus roughly by the arms and led him away. He then confronted those who sought to follow him.
If you are found in the city after cockcrow, you will suffer the same fate as your rabbi, he
Farewell, Judas said and gave them a sly grin before following the others.
The three disciples having watched them leave, turned on their heels and fled in the opposite direction.
Judas, meantime, had visited with another a house of prostitution and having taken his leave of him lurched round a corner into a large number of people gathered together in the courtyard of a priest’s house, where Jesus had been taken not long ago. Peter slowly
approached from the shadows and stood with the crowd pressed round him for a better view of the prisoner, just as Judas shouldered his way pass him unawares. His hope of impressing the high priests had availed him nothing but thirty pieces of silver. He fingered the small leather pouch uneasily and wondered about the man standing trial before the Jewish elders.
If he claims to be the Son of God what further need, having heard it from his own mouth they will condemn him, and ask Pilate to put an end to it.
He continued his stumbling walk home when suddenly he was seized in a narrow street. A hand cuffed him across the head and he was dragged along the rough ground. Despite his drunkenness he plucked at his pouch and blindly offered it up in an attempt to save himself.
His assailants took no notice of his frantic gestures and desperate cries for help. He tried to kick out with his feet, but to no avail. Coming to a halt a coil of rope was noosed around his neck and the other end thrown across a rock jutting out over a wide door facing the street.
The rope was raised over his head and he was lifted higher up. He struggled to break free trying to prise the tight rope off with his fingers while making a gagging noise. They looked at his legs pumping in the air and then come to a stop. As the two disciples turned and began their slow walk to the outskirts of the city, a cock crowed its early morning salutation.
We can’t go back.
That life is finished.
I agree.
When the wolf appeared we abandoned him and now we are left scattered or be killed.
The son hath branded his sheep with his father’s name.
He said I have other sheep, which are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
He called us by name and led us from the flock.
When the centurion and those with him guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and said, truly this was the Son of God.
Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sadducees.
They sentenced him to death and gave him to the soldiers to crucify.
When I went to the tomb and he wasn’t there Jesus called me. Do not hold onto me, for I
have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.
He rose from the dead.
He led us to Bethany and told us to remain in the city until the coming of the Holy Spirit.
He was carried up to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

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