By Bob Maddox
From the Gospel Accounts
O deliver not the soul of your turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked.
Jesus and his friends climbed the rising road from Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. James put his arm around his mother giving her extra support as she gasped with the exertion of the long climb. The excitement the group, as faithful Jews, would normally feel as they approached their Holy City was blunted by Jesus’ increasingly somber mood, darkening, it seemed, the nearer they got to Jerusalem.
Cephas, Simon and James made attempts to cheer him up with no success. Finally James motioned for Mary to move in beside Jesus hoping to draw him out.
“Jesus,” she asked, anxiously, “what’s bothering you? We’re worried about you. You have hardly said a word all morning. Are you ill? Have you had a word from Adonai that has depressed you?”
With an agitation she rarely saw in him, he exploded, “Mary, surely you can see what I see. It’s enough to depress us all.”
Glancing nervously around for soldiers or robbers, looking into the sky for signs of bad weather, she said, “Jesus, I guess I don’t see what you see. Help me, please.”
“All these people. Just look at them.” He flung his arms wide embracing the milling throng that ebbed and flowed around them. “Old, young, most unspeakably poor, healthy, sick. Just look at them, Mary! Where are they going?”
Before she could answer, he furiously exclaimed, “To Jerusalem! And what’s there? I will tell you. Nothing! Nothing that can do anything about their terrible conditions!”
“But Jesus, Jerusalem is our Holy City. The City of David. Mount Zion. The place where the Holy One has revealed himself countless times,” she answered with great consternation. “They can meet Adonai in the Temple. That’s why they are all going to Jerusalem.”
“Can they meet Adonai in Jerusalem, Mary? Really meet him. You’ve been there at this time of year. Thousands pushing and shoving. Screaming and yelling at each other. Bartering. Bargaining. Is that what Adonai wants to take place in his sanctuary?”
“Oh, Jesus,” she pleaded, anxiety in her eyes, “of course you are right. But what’s to be done? This has gone on a long time.”
“I am what’s to be done about it!”
His declaration utterly silenced Mary. She did comprehend, at some level within her own being, that he had just made an announcement to her of far-reaching importance, though she had no idea what he meant specifically. She said nothing more to him.
Still walking, still ascending, at high noon Jesus and his band rounded a curve that took them to the top of a hill many called the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. Abruptly Jesus stopped. In front and below them running north and south stretched the shallow Kidron Valley, rising up to meet the city’s walls. Hard on that eastern stretch of the walls stood Mount Zion topped by Herod’s Temple. Beyond the Temple sprawled the warren-like city chopped into a thousand pieces by its maze of narrow, winding streets.
By the thousands they walked, scurried, milled, pushed, shoved, stumbled. Talk from thousands of throats in scores of languages converged to create a constant undertow of noise.
Every eye in the little group was on Jesus. They hardly breathed. Without saying a word, totally oblivious to his friends and the throngs that swirled past him, Jesus held out his arms toward the city, looked up into the sky, and mumbled something no one could understand. Standing, unmoving for a long moment, he suddenly crumpled to the ground as though squashed by a giant hand. Instinctively, Mary started toward him only to be restrained by James with an almost imperceptible shake of his head and gentle touch to her sleeve. Hunched down in the middle of the road, Jesus sobbed, silently, uncontrollably.
When he regained control of himself, Cephas, who was standing closest to him, heard him utter under his breath, “O Jerusalem, my people, why don’t you open yourself to the ways of Adonai! You need not suffer like you have and will. You have ignored the great ones of the past. Will you never accept the love of Adonai and walk in his path?”
The depth and pain of Jesus’ lament tore at Cephas causing him to likewise double over in agony as if stabbed in the ribs by a knife.
Jesus was not through speaking.
He said, “And now, are you about to destroy yet more of Adonai’s messengers, and, this time, yourselves in the process?”
James, Mary and John would later puzzle over what happened next. It seemed that a light, an ephemeral aura briefly enveloped their friend and teacher as he slumped down on his knees atop the hill overlooking the City of David. As quickly as it had come, the vision, the mirage, the epiphany, whatever it was, was gone.
It was all too much for Cephas. He exploded, “Jesus, what are you doing? You’re about to rip me apart! Let’s get away from here. Go back home, to Galilee, to Capernaum…anywhere but here! Nothing but bad can to come of this!”
Before Jesus could respond, Cephas grabbed him under his arms and lifted him up from the ground. “You’re too good for all of us. People like you don’t last long on this rotten earth. Come on, let’s get you to a safe place. You can keep on doing the helpful things you’ve been doing. This city stinks of corruption and death. We don’t belong here.”
Startled, snatched from within himself, Jesus looked like a man coming out of a trance, a coma, struggling to get his bearing, find his footing. He looked blankly into Cephas’ open, honest face. Gradually coming back from where he had been, Jesus stared at the city, turned his head northward toward Galilee, toward home. For a fleeting instant, an ineffable longing seemed to tug at him. Just as quickly he shook loose from Cephas’ grip, straightened his clothes, and said firmly, “Cephas, you don’t know what you’re saying. I may be going home but it’s not to Galilee.”
When Jesus looked at his friends, he was surprised to see how shaken, how confused they appeared. Consciously putting off the ache, the pathos, the yearning that had momentarily overwhelmed him, physically shaking himself, he said, now, brightly, with obvious effort, “Come on, let’s go into the city. I’ll be all right.”
His dramatic change of mood caught them by surprise. Nonetheless, happy for the transformation, they all eagerly complied.
Though the throng of pilgrims threatened to swallow up Jesus’ small entourage as they approached Jerusalem, the pulsating excitement of the roiling scene, immediately gripped Jesus and his friends. By the time they reached the Water Gate, the melancholia of the hilltop had given way to untethered joy.
“Jesus, Jesus,” a chorus of men’s voices called out over the nose of the crowd.
“We knew you’d come,” one of them shouted joyfully.
“Who, what…?” Jesus stammered, his mind rushing to place these men who knew him. “Why, it’s Nathaniel and the other Galileans we sent home weeks ago.”
Cephas came trotting over to the small cluster of excited men. “We only thought you went home, you rascals.” With high-spirited laughter, he grabbed them in a bear hug. “But how did you find us here?”
Nathaniel spoke up sheepishly, “We’ve, well, been sort of shadowing you from a distance. When you went across the Jordan we decided to hang back. We figured, though, when you decided to go to Jerusalem for the festival, you’d come this way so we’ve been waiting and watching and here you are.”
“You certainly fooled me,” Jesus replied, delighted to see the young men who had risked much to keep up with him. “Well,” he said enthusiastically, reaching out to include them, “Let’s all go into Jerusalem and see what Adonai has in store for us.”
Heedless of the throngs around them, Jesus and his friends laughed, sang and clapped their hands. The men patted each other on the back, welcoming one another to the Holy City with traditional greetings. Joining in the joy of the new moment, Mary and Leah swirled their skirts and waved their head coverings in the crisp sunshine. Though quite exhausted by the ascent and the strain of Jesus’ behavior, his mother put on her best face not wishing to dampen the exhilaration of the rest of them with her fatigue.
One of the Galileans chanted out, Clap your hands, all you peoples, shout to Adonai with songs of joy. For our Lord is awesome, a great king over all the earth. Bowing with an exaggerated flourish toward Jesus, he chanted, He is king over the nations, he sits on his holy throne.
Another Galilean picked up the theme singing, My heart overflows with a goodly theme, I address myself to the king. He too dipped jubilantly toward Jesus. Your throne endures forever and ever.
A third young man, now nearly beside himself with the ecstasy of the moment shouted out in Jesus’ direction, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you. You are my God, I will honor you.
As the exuberance of the moment grew, Cephas snatched off his outer cloak and, with fanfare, spread it like a royal cape on the cobblestones before Jesus for him to walk on. Embarrassed at this show of deference and affection, Jesus, for an instant, thought to halt Cephas’ demonstration, reconsidered, saw his friend’s gesture for the good-natured display of love that it was, and boldly, with an air of understated ceremony, trod across the garment. Spontaneously, in response to Cephas’s action, Andrew and Simon likewise tossed their cloaks before Jesus.
Now thoroughly embarrassed by their display, Jesus, with a broad smile on his face, held up his hand and said, “Enough of that. Keep your coats on. Don’t get them dirty in the grime. Besides, you’ll need them in the cool nights. I thank you for your affection. I love you, too.”
A boy of about eight or nine years, standing with his mother by the side of the street watching the scene, turned to her and asked, “Mother, who is that man?”
She replied, “I don’t know but I surely do like his looks. Don’t you? He’s the kind of man I’d like to have nearby if I needed help”.
“Why did his friends let him walk on their coats?” the child wanted to know.
“That’s a way of showing respect and love,” she replied gently, keeping her eyes on the mini-processional unfolding before them.
“Can I let him walk on my coat?” the boy asked brightly.
“Why don’t you keep your coat on. You can go and speak to him if you want to. Ask him his name. Tell him yours.”
“Will he be nice to me?” the child asked his mother, now looking into her face for assurance.
“I am sure he will. He looks like a very nice man.”
Without any further hesitation, the boy walked confidently up to Jesus and said, “Kind sir, my mother said I could talk to you. She said I could ask you your name and tell you mine. I wanted to let you walk on my coat but she didn’t think that was a very good idea.”
Jesus beamed at the child. Kneeling down so he could be on eye-level, he said, “My name is Jesus. I live in Galilee. Now, tell my your name.”
“My name is Saul. I’m from Tarsus.”
“You’re a long way from home, young Saul,” Jesus said warmly.
“Yes. I know,” Saul replied with a confidence and maturity beyond his young years that immediately intrigued Jesus. “My parents are going to leave me here in school to study the Holy Scriptures. I’m scared about being alone but my father says it is Adonai’s will. My father tells me everything will be all right. I hope so. But I’m still scared about being left here by myself.”
“Saul, I agree with your father. You will be fine.”
As Jesus started to stand up, the boy fixed his eyes on Jesus’ face inquiringly and asked, “Are you Adonai?”
Startled, smiling, Jesus replied, “You see beyond your years, young Saul. I am a man in whom Adonai lives.” Moving hurriedly to catch up with his friends, Jesus said glancing back at the boy, “Maybe we will meet again. I would like that. Would you?”
His intelligent, blue eyes flashing in the morning light, Saul answered, waving to Jesus, “Yes, my lord, I would like that, too.”