Gethsemane

Maryam

It was the evening of Passover. Yeshua had sent Shimon and Yochanan to prepare the meal. We had escaped the crowds that had followed us from Bethany after the miracle at Eleazar’s tomb, and had lined the streets as Yeshua rode into the city on a borrowed donkey. He had sent most of his followers away, and said it with such heaviness that they listened. He seemed drawn, distant, as though he was afraid of something we couldn’t see. Andreas, Shimon’s brother, had joined us not long before, bringing the news that his previous teacher, Yochanan bar-Zechariah the Baptizer, was dead. Yudah too was still with us. The rest of us were growing weary of his anti-Roman diatribes, except for Yeshua, who now seemed not to hear them.

Yeshua led us to a two-storey house not far from the Temple, into the upstairs room where the table had been prepared for us. Yeshua took his seat between his mother and me.

“Yeshua,” I said, “what’s wrong?”

He didn’t answer for a long time. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “I will not eat the Passover or drink the fruit of the vine until all these things are fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

“Yeshua, I don’t understand. What is going to happen?”

Yeshua picked up the unleavened bread from the middle of the table and said a prayer of thanksgiving. “This is my body,” he said. “It is given for you.”

I began to understand, then.

I went through the rest of the meal in a daze, not wanting to think about what Yeshua had said. Some of the disciples talked amongst themselves, but we were mostly silent except for the required prayers.

At the end of the meal, Yeshua refilled his cup and gave thanks once more. “This is my blood of the New Covenant,” he said. “It is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.”

Each of us drank in turn from his cup. I hoped that he was mistaken. After all I had been through, I couldn’t lose him like I had lost Yitzhaq.

We went with him to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

“Wait here,” he said. “Pray that you do not come to the time of trial.”

I prayed, harder than I had my entire life. Yeshua walked into the darkness. I saw his figure kneeling not far away, but I couldn’t hear what he said. I turned back to find Yudah gone, and the rest of the disciples asleep.

Yeshua returned, apparently strengthened. When he saw the sleeping figures his brow knitted.

“Wake up!” he said. “Can you not watch with me one hour? Get up and pray!”

As he was speaking there was a commotion behind us. I turned and saw a group of armed men, with torches and cudgels. With them was Yoseph bar-Kepha the high priest, and beside him Yudah bar-Shimon.

I was shocked. I knew Yudah was frustrated that Yeshua wasn’t listening to his revolutionary ideas, but he had made his opinion of the Judæan government very clear. Surely he wouldn’t have sold Yeshua into the hands of people he considered traitors and collaborators?

Yudah said something to bar-Kepha, then walked towards Yeshua, who made no attempt to keep him away.

“Yudah,” he said, “is it with a kiss that you betray the Son of Man?”

Yudah didn’t answer. He walked up to Yeshua and kissed him on the lips. Bar-Kepha’s guards seized him. Something moved quickly through the air and one of the guards screamed, his head gushing with blood.

“No more of this!” said Yeshua, breaking free of the injured guard. He picked something up from the ground: it was a severed human ear. I felt sick.

The guard flinched as Yeshua reached out with the ear. In a moment he was healed and he renewed his grip on Yeshua.

“Have you come out with weapons, to arrest me like a bandit?” asked Yeshua. “Why not arrest me in the Temple or the synagogue? You had ample opportunity. But no, this is how you work. Quietly, under cover of darkness. So, do what you have come here to do.”

Yeshua was led away, and I sat in the garden until daybreak, weeping to myself.

‘What are you doing here?’

Raphael watched as the coins fell into Judas’ hand.

Judas bowed to the priest, but there was no response. Judas flinched and looked afraid. Had he really expected more?

Raphael sat in a pile of feathers. They’d been at the temple all morning, and one by one, Raphael had plucked a fair patch of wing. He was angry — at Judas. At the priests. At the crowds as they prepared for the passover. Even at the lambs — poor things — who were everywhere, and causing chaos.

But mostly, he was angry with himself. How had it come to this?

As Raphael tidied the lost feathers into straight rows, seeking comfort. He barely rose his head when Michael appeared.

‘What are you doing here, Raphael?’
‘You saw, didn’t you? He went to the priests. We cannot stop this now.’
Michael looked unperturbed. ‘What made you think we could?’

Raphael scowled at him, and stood to walk away. Michael stopped him, holding his hand on his shoulder.

‘Raphael, what are you doing here?’

‘I tried to stop him. Someone had to! Ever since he saw that Centurion — saw power, and looked there for salvation — I’ve been pleading with him. “Judas, please. This is not who you are. You want Justice. You want Salvation. Stay with us. Jesus is the one you need.” He just kept shaking me off, and told me to go back to Peter.’

Michael laughed, ‘He wasn’t wrong — in that at least.’

Raphael was furious. He was not prepared to concede that Judas was right about anything — after what he’d just done?

Michael spoke again, ‘Just out of curiosity: when did you stop hearing the hissing?’

Raphael looked confused. ‘The hissing? It began when Judas met the Centurion. It lasted for a few days, and then it stopped.’

‘No, Raphael. It never stops.’

Raphael shook his head, trying to dismiss Michael’s words. But he knew he was right. It never stops. So when had he stopped hearing it?

‘What did Judas want, Raphael. Think: why are we here?’

‘Judas wanted his own way. He wanted to be the one to fix everything. He couldn’t bear it that Jesus chose Peter — that he trusted Mary. He couldn’t bear that he was not the one.’

‘And so?’

‘And so: that is why we are here.’

‘No. That is why Judas is here. Why are you here?’

Raphael opened his mouth, but found no words. Before he could speak, the truth hit him.

‘I am like him…’ he whispered, facing more fear than he had ever known.

‘No, you’re not. But finish the thought.’

‘I wanted to be the one. I wanted to stop him.’

‘Yes. But why were you sent?’

‘I was sent to work with Jesus, to learn from him, to befriend Peter.’

‘And Judas — did he seek healing?’

‘No — but he needed it. Someone needed to try. He had to be stopped.’

‘Maybe not.’

Raphael’s anger flared again. ‘Of course he did. Look what he’s done! If you had helped me, maybe we could have stopped him.’

Suddenly, the sound of hissing returned. Raphael heard it swirling around him — there in his blame. He began to sob.

Michael came to him, and held him in his wings. ‘Raphael: no one asked you to save him. Let it go.’

‘But to fail now! How could I have failed now — when it matters so much?’

‘You failed because you failed. We do sometimes. It’s what happens when the world won’t conform to our will.’

Raphael looked up, and saw that Michael was smiling. Raphael was cross — but he began to see his own folly. Finally he laughed, and the hissing faltered.

‘My timing was bad, wasn’t it?’ Raphael asked, chagrin.

‘How can we know? The failure isn’t the point, really. It’s what you do with it. What happens next?’

Raphael had calmed down, and they were walking together around the square.

‘I was sent to help Jesus, to learn from him, and to befriend Peter…’

Michael nodded. ‘So, shall we find them, then? The passover is near.’

Tears of the Anointed

Yochanan

We had stopped for the night on the banks of the Jordan. Yaqov was building a fire, assisted by a few of the throng who now travelled with us. Shimon had made a small net and was teaching Yudah to fish with it.

I had a bad feeling about Yudah bar-Shimon from the moment I met him. He was pleasant tempered, and he could charm the very birds of the air when he wanted to, but there was something subtly wrong about him. The others didn’t notice, as far as I could see. I think Yeshua knew from the start exactly what he was, and he accepted him anyway. That was the way Yeshua was.

Yudah hated the Romans. None of us were particularly happy about their presence, but we put up with them and by and large they didn’t bother us too much. Yudah wanted an armed uprising, and thought that Yeshua was the way to achieve it; he wouldn’t let it go, however many times Yeshua patiently explained to him that that wasn’t what his teaching was about.

Shimon and Yudah produced a few fish, and Yeshua soon had them cooking over the fire. As we were about to eat, a man approached, out of breath. I recognized Maryam’s neighbour, a man called Tzedeqiah. He took Yeshua aside and whispered urgently to him. Yeshua spoke calmly back and gestured towards the fire. Tzedeqiah looked reluctant to rest, even though he had clearly just come from Bethany as fast as he could. I feared the worst: Maryam had already returned home to care for her brother, who was ill.

Next morning, Tzedeqiah was even more agitated, and I was beginning to feel the same when night came and Yeshua had made no move to strike the camp.

“Eleazar has taken a turn for the worse, hasn’t he?” I said. “Shouldn’t we go to him? You have the ability to heal him.”

“Eleazar will not die of this illness,” said Yeshua. I wondered how he could be so sure. “Rather, it is for the glory of God, so that God’s Son may be glorified by it.”

Yeshua had been talking like this a lot. The last time we were in Judæa he had almost been stoned outside one of the synagogues, and we had fled east of the Jordan. We were beginning to get a true idea of what being Yeshua’s disciple really meant.

We spent another night by the Jordan, and in the morning Yeshua announced that we were going back to Bethany.

“But Teacher,” said Shimon, “last time we were in Judæa we were almost killed, and you want us to go back there?”

“Eleazar whom we all love has fallen asleep,” said Yeshua. Shimon looked puzzled.

“If he has fallen asleep, he will be all right,” he said.

Yeshua sighed. “Shimon, Eleazar is dead,” he said.

None of us thought to question him.

A crowd had begun to gather in Bethany when word spread that Yeshua was coming. I was uneasy: crowds didn’t seem like such a good thing any more. Martha met us as we were coming into the town.

“Lord, my brother is dead. Why did you not come sooner? You could have saved him.”

“Eleazar will rise again,” said Yeshua.

“On the last day,” said Martha. “Small comfort for us now. Who will provide for us, with him gone?”

“I am the resurrection,” said Yeshua. I tensed. Mutters of ‘blasphemy’ came from the crowd. “Whoever believes in me will have eternal life.”

Martha went and got Maryam, whose face was transformed by grief.

“Lord,” she said, “if you had been here, Eleazar would have lived.” She began to cry.

“Where is he laid?” asked Yeshua.

In all the time I had known him, I had never seen Yeshua bar-Yoseph weep. For all the hardship of the life he had chosen, his thoughts were always on those more needy than he was. Yet when he saw the tomb of Eleazar, his eyes welled up. Seeing the depth of his love, the crowd warmed to us, but I still heard someone whisper that he wasn’t the Anointed, or he could have kept Eleazar from dying.

“Take away the stone,” he said through the sobs.

The smell was awful. Eleazar had been dead for four days by then, and even if I hadn’t been weeping for Eleazar my eyes would have watered. Yeshua gave thanks to God, and called out, “Eleazar! Come out!”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to see Eleazar, alive and well but still in his grave clothes, come stumbling out of the tomb. My sobs very nearly gave way to laughter. I still had half an eye on the crowd, but the dangerous element had mostly slunk off, or been convinced by what they had just seen.

We stayed at Bethany that night, and we were filled with joy to have Eleazar back. Next morning, Maryam joined us again, and we turned at last towards Jerusalem.

bad dreams

Ramiel was working franticly. The page was filled with sketches: a woman, standing by a well, talking easily with her neighbours. A little girl, skipping after a butterfly; her mother hanging the bedding and whispering her joy. A man, carrying a mat. Healing after healing. Meals shared. Laughter. No pattern to the drawings, no coherence: just whatever came first to mind.

Raphael was surprised. This was not how Ramiel usually worked.

‘You called for me?’

That too was surprising. They often worked together, Ramiel and Raphael — but it usually just happened. They each knew their task. There was no need to plan.

‘You need to see this.’ Ramiel said, as he looked up from his drawing.

And sure enough, as soon as his pen stopped, the images began to change. Not healing, but grudges. Not shared meals and laughter, but bickering and anger. Judas shouted in his sleep, and Ramiel’s pen flailed.

Raphael didn’t like what he was seeing. Ramiel was afraid.

‘Keep drawing. Let me see the earlier dreams.’

Ramiel went back to work, as Raphael turned through the notebooks.

The first years were filled with wonder: Judas and Jesus walking by the lake side, keeping passover, studying scripture late into the night. For years Judas had waited for this —  friendship. Purpose.

Then, there were more confusing dreams. Judas’ first meeting with Peter. Mary Magdalene. The people whom Jesus loved, whom Judas was trying to love too, but who stirred his jealousy. Ramiel had worked hard then, weaving garlands of friendship around people who eyed each other warily. For a time, it had worked.

But then there was a dark dream: Judas smashing rocks, and screaming, as Peter jangled a new set of keys. Anger. Quarrelling. ‘Surely, Lord: not him?’

The recent notebooks were confusing. There was a lovely dream of a hillside — people stretched out as far as the eyes could see. Bread for all, and fish salting the air. The next night, it began again, but this time it was gold, not bread, that was in infinite supply as Judas reached into their store chests.

Raphael was confused. ‘Gold?’

Ramiel looked over. ‘You see?  That’s how it began.’

As Raphael flicked the pages, he saw the dreams shimmer and change. At first the gold wove with dreams of justice.  Judas had been given the purse — more important than the keys, surely? He would use it for the healing of the nations.

Raphael saw page after page of conversation with Jesus, Judas setting out his plans. Here and there the paper was rubbed raw where Ramiel had tried to erase certain paths, re-direct Judas’ dreaming.

Then, there was the night of Jesus’ anointing. Judas saw the woman with her jar of nard, and imagined welcoming her. At last: a gift that would release their potential.  He knew just how to use it; just what they would do. Raphael saw the gentleness with which Ramiel drew the woman, as she bent down and broke the jar so that the fragrance filled the room.

And then he saw the violence of Judas’ response. The dreams that Ramiel couldn’t stop, of Judas throwing the woman out, feeling satisfied as she ripped her clothes, and felt blood mix with dust.

Raphael turned back to tonight’s drawings.

Judas was dreaming of revolution. He and Jesus were riding into Jerusalem with all the world following him, as the people of Jerusalem lay down their cloaks and branches to welcome the king.  Ramiel quickly rubbed out the war-horse, and set Jesus on a donkey. He scaled down the crowd.

And then, Ramiel saw him: the one he had been dreading. The Roman soldier. The dream shifted and Judas’ breath quickened. As Ramiel paused, Judas’ own visions filled the page. Judas walked towards the soldier unafraid, carrying the purse, the vast treasure he had raised for Jesus. Now there would be revolution. Now, Judas would change the world.

Ramiel quickly scrubbed out the gold chests. He scaled down the purse. Judas tossed and turned: one dream fighting with another. Just as he drew near to the soldier, Ramiel seemed to win: Judas looked down and the purse was empty.

The Roman Soldier was amused. ‘What is it?  What do you want me to do for you?’

Judas stared down at the empty purse, and Raphael flinched as the dream filled with hissing.

Lessons at Bethany

Maryam

Yeshua’s disciples welcomed me easily. I had assumed—naturally—that they were all men, but the group also included women, including Yeshua’s mother, Maryam bat-Yoaqim, and his sister Hannah. I was also introduced to a tall, proud man with reddish hair, whose name was Shimon but everyone called the Rock, and to two men, brothers, both slender with striking blue eyes. They looked alike, and yet one of them, Yochanan, had the strangest, far-away expression. His elder brother Yaqov had a sharp gaze, and as I soon realized just as sharp a temper.

There were others, too. Never quite the same group from one day to the next, as people joined us, or suddenly remembered fields that needed tending, or families who missed them. The road was hard, after all. We couldn’t afford mounts for everyone, and so we walked from town to town, listening to Yeshua, and helping him to calm the crowds that always gathered. It was nearly six months before we returned to Bethany.

The group was small, then. Besides the seven of us there was only one other. Yudah bar-Shimon was a charming young man from Kerioth. Yudah was political, with an intense dislike of the Romans. I wondered sometimes if he really understood Yeshua and his message of love. But I wasn’t sure how well I understood it myself, and he was friendly and full of enthusiasm.

When they saw us approaching, Martha and Eleazar both ran out to meet us, falling over each other in the rush to embrace me.
“Maryam! You’ve come home!” cried Martha.

My eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t realized how much I missed my brother and sister until I met them again. They told me all the local gossip I had missed, and Eleazar complained about a cough he had that wouldn’t go away. That worried me, but I kept it to myself. I didn’t want to spoil my one night at home, and it was probably nothing.

The eight of us were ushered inside. Hannah went to help Martha to prepare the meal while the rest of us sat in a corner listening to Yeshua. I was rather relieved that Hannah didn’t join us: she and Shimon had been making eyes at each other for weeks, and it was starting to annoy me. It was partly jealousy: Shimon was widowed as I was, and he was finding someone else, while I was still filled with pain and emptiness.

Yudah was speaking. “—why we aren’t rallying the people together to overthrow the Romans. People listen to you, Yeshua. With your ability to draw a crowd—and to speak to them—we could raise an army!”

Normally Yeshua was softly spoken, mild and friendly, but every now and again he could be scary. Anger and alarm filled his face.

“No!” he said. “No, that I must never do.”

“Master, why? Do you not care for the plight of our people?” said Yudah.

“I do care,” said Yeshua, calm again. “It is because I care that I say this. I did not come to overthrow the Romans by force. Death cannot overcome death. I came not to bring death, but life, and the good news of the love and forgiveness of God.”

Yudah did not look happy, but he knew to let the matter drop. Yeshua began to speak again, about the poor and oppressed and our duty to them. That was a great concern of his. Though I found it difficult to think about, he reminded me a lot of Yitzhaq sometimes.

Yeshua was interrupted by a grumpy Martha, who had crossed from the kitchen area on the other side of the room.

“Maryam!” she said. “Hannah and I have been working for an hour to feed everyone, and here you are sitting about listening to the men talk.”

I thought that this was fair enough. I was just as much one of Yeshua’s disciples as any of the others, but I decided that wasn’t a wise thing to say, so I said nothing. Martha appealed to Yeshua.

“Lord, your sister and I are doing all the work, and this sister of mine does nothing. Tell her to help us!”

Yeshua gave her an appraising look. “Martha,” he said, “you are distracted by the things of this world. Be still. Your sister has chosen the better part, learning of the world that is to come. For this world will pass away, but the world that is to come will never be taken from her.”

That was the sort of cryptic thing Yeshua said a lot. From most people I would have dismissed it, but on his lips the words made sense. It was as though the new world he spoke of was just beyond my reach, or behind a veil of fine cloth, its form just visible but hidden.

Next day, I bid Eleazar and Martha farewell, and we set off, directly away from Jerusalem.