Via Dolorosa

Yochanan

I ran and hid till morning.

Shortly after dawn I met Shimon on his way out of Jerusalem. He was in great distress.

“I—he—it happened just like he said,” he said, and flung his arms around me.

“Shimon, what’s happened? Are you running away?”

“Yeshua, he—he told me that I would deny him three times before morning.”

I remembered what he was talking about. During supper Yeshua had told us that he was going where we couldn’t follow. Shimon had protested that he would never abandon him, and Yeshua had prophesied.

“I followed them, bar-Kepha and that rat Yudah and the rest, to bar-Kepha’s courtyard. Someone asked me if I was one of Yeshua’s disciples. I wanted to stand up for him, protest his innocence, but they would have killed me, Yochanan. So I told them—I told them, no, not me. Then they asked me again, when I was warming myself by the fire, and I denied him again, but they didn’t believe me, so I repeated myself. Then the cock crowed and I remembered. I betrayed him, Yochanan. I—I’m no better than that bastard Yudah.”

“Shimon,” I said, “none of us is perfect. If Yeshua were here, he would tell you that God is gracious, and to pray for forgiveness. It could have been any one of us: if we don’t lie low now they will kill us like I fear they will him.”

Shimon said nothing, and I watched him walk into the distance. I sat there by the road for a long while. Maryam found me in the late morning.

“They’ve sentenced him,” she said. “He’s to be crucified.”

“What do we do?” I asked. “What can we do now?”

“There is nothing we can do to save him,” she said. “All we can do is go to the place where they will do it and pray for him.”

We sat, not looking at each other, for a long time.

A jeering sound came from the direction of the city, slowly getting louder, and we saw Yeshua walking in front of two other condemned prisoners, and a large crowd behind them.

Even with the heavy burden of a cross, and a crown of thorns that the guards had put on his head cutting into his brow, with the crowd shouting mocking insults, he still had the same quiet dignity. His forehead ran with blood, running in rivulets down his cheeks. My eyes filled with tears. We joined the grim procession, walking beside him, no longer caring who saw us.

A short while later, Yeshua stumbled under the weight of the cross and fell to the ground. I made to help him, but a soldier brushed me aside and picked him roughly up.

Ahead of us was a face I recognized: Maryam bat-Yoaqim, Yeshua’s mother. She ran to him and seized his hands. I tried to imagine what it must be like for her to lose her son like this. She joined us walking with him.

Two people fought their way to the front of the crowd. I recognized them as being among those who had travelled with us near the beginning of our mission. The man picked up the end of Yeshua’s cross. The soldiers conferred to one another, but did not stop him. The woman wiped his face with a fine linen cloth.

Yeshua fell again, his face in the dust. He grimaced, and this time picked himself up without the soldiers’ help. We walked on, until, exhausted and afraid, he fell again and lay prone on the ground. The soldiers shouted at him to get up.

At last we reached the place which is called the Place of the Skull. Yeshua’s clothes were taken from him and we watched, grief-stricken, as he was nailed to the cross. His cross was raised between the other two condemned, and we sat on the ground at the foot of the cross, praying with him.

“Woman,” he said to his mother, “behold your son.” At first I thought he was talking about himself, but I soon realized he meant me, that I should take care of her when he was gone. To me, he said, “Behold your mother.” I swore that I would do all I could for her.

Yeshua’s torture lasted for hours. It tore me up to watch him, but I could not look away. Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, he gave a loud cry. The crowds watching misheard him, or misunderstood him on purpose. They said he was calling for Eliyah, but we heard what he said.

God help us, we heard him.

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.

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.

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.

a task given

It was always easier when they looked like they needed to be healed…

Raphael sat on the roof beam, watching. Peter had already overturned the washing basket and torn all the straw from the bed. He was now lying prone on the floor, padding his hand along the shadows behind the bed frame.

Nothing. Peter arose, dusty and annoyed.

‘Loose something?’ Raphael said, as he hopped down from the beam.

Peter spun round, and looked to the door. Surely, he had closed the door? But apparently not.

He wasn’t sure he liked this Raphael. He’d appeared a few days ago, and now wouldn’t leave him alone. Yet, Jesus welcomed him, so…

‘No, no. I’m fine. Just sorting a few things.’
Raphael laughed, and said, ‘here, let me help you.’

Together they began re-laying the straw and tidying the clothes. Peter’s eyes kept straining along every shelf, every door frame.

‘What were you looking for?’ Raphael asked again, once Peter had settled down.

‘Keys.’ Peter said, in defeat.
‘But you have no locks…’ Raphael said, almost innocently.

‘No — never any need.  Not here.  But… ‘ Peter went digging through his pockets again.

‘But you found some?  Offered to keep them safe, maybe?’
Peter got defensive, then saw the mischievous glint in the man’s eyes.

‘You know, don’t you?’ Peter said, as he slumped on the bench.

Raphael nodded and quoted, ‘You are Peter, and on this Rock…  So, has he given you the keys, then?’

‘No, not yet. But it’s a big responsibility, and I’ve… well, I’ve been practising.’  Peter walked out into the yard, and pulled out his tools. There, half-whittled, was a wooden key.

‘This is the fifth one I’ve made. I keep loosing them…’
Raphael nodded. ‘Tricky things, keys…’
Peter scowled, and turned away from him again.

‘But that not all, is it? What are you doing here today? Why are you whittling keys instead of going with the others.’

‘You heard him! “Get behind me, Satan!” I’m a stumbling block. I get in the way.’

‘You know he didn’t mean it.’
‘But he did. I act too fast. I make a fool of myself. I get in the way.’

‘True enough– but he didn’t mean it. What he has to do is hard. He needs you to understand that — not try to talk him out of it. And that day — well, that day you said the very thing he was trying not to allow himself to think. You said he should go a different way.’

‘No fear of that. I could never influence him.’
‘Oh, Peter, don’t you see? You can. You do. He needs all of us around him — but sometimes he sees things you don’t, and you misunderstand.’

Peter had never thought of it this way — and he wasn’t sure if he trusted this Raphael yet. But it was true:  Jesus chose to stay with them. Maybe he did need them…  Peter began to feel better.

Raphael let Peter relax into the silence. He still wasn’t quite sure what his task was with Peter… but he trusted it would become clear in time.

‘Do you remember the day you walked on water?’
Peter looked up, swiftly.  How did Raphael know that?
‘They day I learned to drown, you mean. Another bit of folly.’

‘Well, yes. But there was a moment, wasn’t there, when the water held?’

Peter remembered it. Jesus, calm as could be on the waves, and Peter stepping out — crazy, wild, trusting. The first step held and he walked on water, and then his nerve broke, and he forgot even that he could swim.

‘Yes.  There was a moment.’

‘Right then. Hold onto that. You are Peter…’

‘I am Peter… and perhaps … maybe Andrew is good with keys?’

The angel smiled and led Peter out of the village.   His first job was done.  Now, it was time to climb a mountain.