The Eve of Battle


“The Rt Reverend James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, broke ranks with the official church line to call for it to consider offering weddings in all but name for same sex weddings… He questioned whether the current prohibition was a Christian approach, asking whether it was tenable for the Church to ‘deny any blessing of God to that which is just’ any longer.”   ( 16 March 2013)

“Once there are women bishops… Anglo-Catholic opponents will not be able to recognise bishops as true bishops…sacramental assurance will be lost.”  ( accessed 22 March 2013)

He looks first at his mother, then at Mary and the others.  Glancing down the road from the Mount of Olives he hears the distant shouting and the sound of a great body of people making ready for the morrow. The anticipatory sense of release of tension in the air is palpable.  The journey from Jericho had tested his companions, in mind and body. But not to their limits; that ordeal was yet to come. They were exhausted and nervous. The preceding days had seen the rumours flying thick and fast from all over the region. Haven’t you heard? There is to be a great battle! He will be triumphant, victorious! With a navy he will control the seas… with an army and war horses he will cut off our enemies… law and order will be restored… things will go back to just the way they were before the occupation…

He watches  Peter closely, listening as his gruff voice rumbles through the late evening air. He is arguing, as usual. Rough and ready, clumsy but to the point.

Jesus smiles.  He sees Peter in the days and weeks and years to come. There he is- standing with his companions, his voice booming confidently above the cacophony of  sound coming from the large crowd gathered from every nation under heaven. Peter knows. A language for all peoples. A language for all men and women. He remembers the words of the prophets as he booms above the crowd’s head. Through the Holy Spirit the sons and daughters of God’s people will prophesy. Everyone who calls on His name shall be saved.

Noticing Mary watching him, Jesus steps out from his reverie. She moves closer towards him. Tomorrow the colt will be ready. He stares into her eyes and recalls teaching in the synagogue the words and teachings of the prophets. He looks across towards Peter, whose voice has risen clearly above those arguing with him. Jesus’ mind once again casts to the future as he hears Peter’s voice addressing that large crowd.

“For what goodness and beauty are His!

Grain shall make the young men flourish,

and new wine the young women.”

God’s love and God’s redemption, for all women and all men of all nations. Mary stretches out her hand towards Jesus. Together, they walk back to where the others are waiting.


Lessons at Bethany


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.

Without sin


It all started when I heard the noise of them, clamouring not far from the road. It was an ugly sound; the crowd were clearly angry—hateful, even—and wanted blood. I turned my face away and made to continue toward Bethany. Before I could leave them to their hate, though, the image of Yitzhaq came into my head—of what he would say about the flourishing of evil, that silence was complicity. My Yitzhaq, who had loved me and cared for me, who had stayed with me even when I couldn’t bear him a child. So, with great trepidation, I left the road and joined the back of the crowd, trying to look inconspicuous and wondering what I was supposed to do.

Thirty or forty people jostled in a knot around the huddled figure of a woman. She wore a ragged and filthy tunic, and her feet were bare. I saw that many people in the crowd held stones, and the woman was hunched over, protecting her head and abdomen.

“What has she done to deserve this?” I whispered to my neighbour, a thin man with a scrawny beard.

“She has committed adultery, which is hateful in the sight of God,” he replied, and bent to pick up a lump of rock.

Someone near the front began to chant, “WHORE! WHORE! WHORE!” and soon the chant was picked up by the crowd. Passers-by pretended unconvincingly that they couldn’t see or hear what was happening.

Suddenly there was a commotion opposite me. A man was pushing his way through the crowd, not seeking to hurt anyone but with the air of one who will not be held back. His face, too, was contorted with anger, but this was not the hateful rage of the mob. It was measured, controlled. The chant died away as the people realized he was there.

“What has this woman done, that you should kill her?” the man shouted.

The crowd was silent. One or two hefted their stones and looked at the newcomer. Others looked embarrassed.

“She is an adulteress. The Law says that she must be stoned to death,” someone said.

“I see,” said the stranger. “She has sinned against the Lord. So she must die.”

“That is what it says in the Torah. All who sin must be stoned.”

“All who sin?” he asked.

“That is what it says.”

“And yet,” said the man, “which of you is any different to her? Which of you can truthfully say they have never sinned? Very truly I tell you, in the eyes of God, no-one is righteous.”

A few people looked very angry at that, but the mood of the rest was shifting. Something about this man’s voice and the way he carried himself made people listen to him.

“Let one who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said. A murmur went through the crowd. Even the belligerent ones had put down their stones by now. A few people at the edges drifted away.

“Go about your business, and pray to God to forgive you your sins,” he said. The people began to move back to the road, most of them heading back toward Jerusalem, with expressions of shame. Eventually, only the man, the woman and I remained. He laid his hands on her head and said something I couldn’t hear, and she stumbled away, looking shaken.

“I wasn’t with them,” I said to him. “I mean, I was, but—”

“You were trying to stop them,” he said. “You are a good person, but you carry a heavy burden. It will be lifted, and you will be healed.”

I wondered at his words. How could he possibly know about Yitzhaq, about the sorrow his death still caused me?

“I am Maryam bat-Levi, from Magdala,” I said. “I live at Bethany now, not far from here.”

“Pleased to meet you, Maryam bat-Levi from Magdala,” he said, a playful smile on his lips. “My name is Yeshua. I am travelling through these parts and I need somewhere to stay. May I stay the night at your house?”

I had only just met this man, but some things just instinctively make you trust someone, and I always did trust easily.

“You’ll have to share a room with my brother,” I said. “I live with him and my sister Martha.”

Yeshua nodded, gazing into the distance. We set off toward Bethany.

That was the first time Yeshua stayed at our house, but by no means the last. Over dinner I learnt that he was a travelling preacher, and that his disciples were following about a day’s journey behind him. At some point, he asked me if I would consider travelling with him. I was reluctant to leave Bethany, but Yeshua intrigued me, and his message of peace and goodwill seemed harmless enough. What, I asked myself, could possibly go wrong?