April 09, 2019

Jesus Enters Jerusalem


Th next eight articles tell the story of Jesus Christ during his last week of his ministry. They have been excerpted from my gospel/novel "Am I Your Son?" 

The life of Jesus: His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday in Christian tradition).

Wednesday April 5, 30 A.D. A man dressed in a white robe with a purple sash appears on the top step of the entrance to the inner Temple Courtyard. It is the High Priest. Standing on the top step, he looks down at the throng of people below him in the Woman’s Courtyard. He scowls. Three other men, also dressed in white robes with smaller sashes join him. The High Priest surveys the crowd again and turns to one of his companions.

“There is too much excitement in the air. These fools can talk of nothing but this man Jesus. We must be ready to deal with him. Assemble the Sanhedrin Counsel.

“Only a few of the 71 are in Jerusalem. They are not scheduled to arrive until tomorrow.”
“Then find as many as you can and bring them to the Royal Porch tomorrow afternoon.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“We must deal with this man Jesus.... We will bring his blasphemy before the Council.... With their support, we can end his sacrilege.... Permanently.”

***

Friday April 7, 30 AD.  Passover (which by Jewish tradition, started at dusk last night and will end at dusk next Thursday night) had begun. As his popularity grew, the people of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea began to look upon Jesus as their Messiah, the man who would defeat the Romans and free the Jews from the tyranny of a hated dictatorship. He was already held in high esteem as a venerated religious teacher. It was but a short step to imagine he also had overwhelming political power.

Sunday April 9, 30 AD. It was a beautiful morning. Jesus went to the Mount of Olives with his Apostles. They had secured a donkey for him to ride when he entered Jerusalem. Bartholomew removed his robe and spread it on the donkey’s back. Then he helped Jesus onto the donkey. Jude took the reins to lead the donkey into the city.

As they came down from the Mount of Olives, Jesus and his Apostles were cheered by a large crowd of excited disciples and pilgrims. The closer to the city they got, the larger the crowd became. The joyful noise of the people who lined the road was deafening.

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” called his disciples “Peace in heaven and glory to God!”

The Pharisees in the crowd were very unhappy. As usual, the Sadducees could only sneer at this upstart.
“Tell them to stop!” shouted a Pharisee to Jesus.

Jesus looked down on the man. “If they were unable to cry out, the stones on the road would cry out in their place.”

They crossed the Kidron Valley and slowly made their way up the winding road to the Temple Mount. Pilgrims and disciples spread palm branches in the road to keep down the dust. The cheers grew louder. Jesus began to weep.

“Oh Jerusalem, the day of your destruction is coming because you did not recognize the arrival of your true God.”

The procession stopped at the Temple Mount, near the Shushan Gate. Jesus dismounted, climbed the steps, and began to speak to the crowd. The people were so excited, they frequently interrupted his speech with jubilate cheers. Many believed: Jesus was the Messiah. Their King had arrived. He would free them from Roman rule.

.................

Ron

“Am I Your Son”

30



Jesus Was Enraged


The life of Jesus: His last week - On Monday he preached in the Temple Mount.

Jesus lived in a time of social, political and religious conflict. Because his message was very close to what many people needed and wanted to hear, and because of his growing reputation as a healer of the sick, Jesus was soon regarded as competition, an upstart whose popularity was dangerous to the authority of established political and religious institutions. Scribes and scholars participated in a closed social structure that discouraged outsiders. Priests felt they had the exclusive right to teach about God and the law. The Romans dictated matters of State. Jesus was considered an outsider and a rebel to all three groups. Jesus had a natural theology that was occasionally at odds with Jewish tradition and law. Although he was very familiar with the law, he frequently ignored it.

The ministry of Jesus was on a collision course with destiny.

But Jesus already knew what lay ahead. On Monday he entered the Temple Mount and went into the Court of Gentiles. The stench of animal dung mingled with the stink of rotting flesh and the sweet aromas of cooking food. There was ceaseless noise from thousands of voices, crying children, and terrified animals. The air was thick with the smoke of a hundred fires and the flames of the sacrificial alter.

He was enraged by what he saw. The area around Herod’s Temple had been turned into a bazaar, teaming with human activity. Booth after booth of merchants and money changers. Jesus knew most of the pilgrims did not know how to value the money they received in exchange for their Roman coin. Incensed by the larceny, he stormed across the courtyard, overturning the money changer tables.  His outburst was cloud and clear.

“You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!”

The merchants and money changers were so surprised at his wrath; they retreated into the center of the Courtyard. The pilgrims and disciples with him cheered. He began to speak to the assembled crowd.
“Believe in what I say. Prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of heaven before money changers will.”

Jesus spoke for 20 minutes. His passion resonated with the crowd. Most of the people desperately wanted to believe that here - at last - was the Messiah who had come to free them from their hated Roman oppressors.

***

Jesus left the Temple Mount after speaking and went to the Mount of Olives to talk with his followers. Several children gathered around his Apostles. Jesus watched them as they begged for money and food. They had learned to be very insistent. They followed the Apostles, hands extended, and pleading as they walked.... He looked intently at their faces. They were mostly dirty, sullen, and desperate. Then three children broke away from the group and walked toward Jesus. Thomas rushed to stop them from reaching Jesus. But Jesus held up his hand and beckoned for them to come to him. Thomas was apologetic.

“I’m sorry. I know children are not allowed to approach High Priests, or a Prophet.”

Jesus responded with sympathy. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to our children. Truly I tell you, life is precious. We cherish the miracle of life. Let us protect the life God has given to us.”

Jesus looked at each apostle in turn, and said: “It does not matter if one is young or old, healthy or infirm, rich or poor, a man, a woman, an adult or a child. We know every soul is equally important to the Holy Spirit. We are therefore challenged to cherish and protect human life from conception to death.”

***

The meeting with the Sanhedrin priests and teachers of the law had not gone well. Caiaphas the High Priest was not amused. In fact, he seethed with frustration. He turned to the three Levites with him.
“Most of the Council members think Jesus is harmless. They believe he will fade away like a dying tree in the desert. But you wait, if he continues to disrupt Temple activity like he did today, they will change their minds.”

..........

Ron

“Am I Your Son?”

30

What gives you the right to speak about God?


The life of Jesus: His last week - On Tuesday he was challenged by the establishment.

Jesus went to the Temple Mount on Tuesday with his Apostles and a number of disciples. He climbed to the top step of the stairs leading to the Temple Gate. He spoke to the crowd gathered below him in the Court of Gentiles. His popularity and the content of his teaching irritated the priests and Levites who feared Jesus would diminish their religious authority. It was on this day the Chief Priests, backed by other priests and Levites, as well as elders and scribes, came out of the Temple to challenge his authority to speak about God and theology. Jesus was talking about our relationship with God when a Levite spoke up.

“What gives you the right to speak about God? Are you a Levite? Have you any training?”

Jesus stopped for a moment and looked intently at the Levite.

“Who cannot speak of God? What is it that you teach? Do only the holiest of the holy have the right to speak of God? You think too much of yourselves. We all have the right to seek our Father in heaven. If we are sincere, then of course we can....  Every humble person who looks for God has a right to find God....  And he will respond.”

The Pharisees grumbled among themselves. One of them, an expert in the Law of Moses, tested him with this question:

"Teacher, which are the two greatest commandments in the Law?"

Jesus earnestly replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your thoughts. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the words of the Prophets center on these two commandments."
A priest spoke up. His rude interruption contained words of condescending arrogance.
“Do you really know what you are talking about?”

Jesus responded with conviction. “The second commandment encourages us to love others with the same sensitivity and empathy we have for ourselves. It assumes we are able to take a thoughtful view of our interpersonal relationships. People with a healthy outlook on life will not choose to hurt themselves either physically or emotionally. We are expected to project this same caring attitude in our personal relations with others. It does not matter whether our contact is casual and brief - as with a stranger we meet on the street - or the result of a long term relationship such as marriage. God wants us to love others as we would want others to love us. Our failure to obey this commandment is often the source of inexcusable sorrow, friction and hatred.”

Jesus paused for a moment. There was a murmur of agreement within the crowd.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of God’s law.”

“So you dare to speak like a prophet!” jeered a teacher of the law “why should we practice what you are teaching?”

Jesus spoke again with conviction. “The more we try to follow these two commandments, the closer we come to creating God’s Kingdom on Earth, which is paradise. The further away we move from these two commandments, the greater the risk of creating personal and social hell here on earth.”

“But that breaks the rules of our social structure!” exclaimed a Levite.

Jesus gave a forceful response. “We do not believe in a class social system where there is a hierarchy of privilege. We believe in the inherent equality of each person. One is not condemned to forever be at the bottom of the sociological pyramid. Even the poor can have dignity and status. Within our community there is love and compassion for the sick, the elderly, the very young, the hungry, the widow, and the poor. No one need live in the loneliness of isolation. One can have a sense of belonging to a community of friends, all brothers and sisters.”

Then Jesus raised his arms as in prayer, but looked directly at his tormentors.

“We are created equal in the eyes of God, all humans, male and female.... That has always been God’s intention and we are the fruit of God’s labor.”

***

Jesus spoke again that afternoon on the steps of the Double Gate. Although his message was well received, many in the crowd assembled to hear him were disappointed in his message. Jesus did not speak about the Romans. He did not tell them how he would expel them from Israel.
...........
Ron

“Am I Your Son?”

30

Render unto Caesar


Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar. Give to God that which God alone embraces.

The life of Jesus: His last week - By Wednesday morning, Jesus had dispelled any notion he was a political leader. To the pilgrims in Jerusalem, he only appeared to be interested in preaching about his father’s values. Even though he often mentioned God’s Kingdom, not once did he attempt to start a revolt against the Romans
.
On this day he chose to preach once again on the steps that lead into Herod’s Temple from the Gentile’s Courtyard. With the Temple’s Gold and silver plated gate behind him, Jesus spoke from the heart for over an hour. Although his presence on the steps that lead into the Temple thoroughly annoyed the priests, they did not dare censure him again.

Wednesday afternoon: the pilgrims were becoming increasingly disillusioned. Rumors and whispers circulated among the thousands gathered for Passover. Jesus was not the Messiah they were looking for. Many felt betrayed. Betrayal led to frustration and frustration became anger. Disappointed, frustrated and enraged that Jesus would not free them from Roman rule, the crowds began to disperse. Adoration quickly became open hostility. Many of the men were Jewish nationalists, or nationalist sympathizers. For them his failure to lead a revolt was a bitter disappointment. Scuffles broke out between those who followed Jesus and the nationalists.

Caiaphas the High Priest sensed he had an opportunity to humiliate this outsider. He sent spies into the dwindling crowd to ask Jesus if he was loyal to Caesar. Jesus was careful, however, to avoid any words that could be construed as a challenge to Roman rule with the response:

“Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar. Give to God that which God alone embraces.”

That reply, however, was overshadowed by his frequent allusion to the Kingdom of God. Jesus used the phrase to describe the world he wanted to create on earth. For the pilgrims who had come to celebrate Passover, it was a phrase that could be interpreted as encouraging a rebellion against Roman rule. That was an act of sedition.

***

Late Wednesday afternoon, Caiaphas the High Priest called another session of the Sanhedrin Council. He spoke with grim authority.

“For three days that renegade has preached in the Court of Gentiles and below the Temple Mount. The first day, everyone who heard him was filled with joy. The second day, many began to have doubts he would be their liberator. Today the crowd dwindled down to a handful of disciples and curious pilgrims. He is losing favor with our people. Today someone even jeered that he has lost his magic power.... I have decided to act. With the help of the Levites, we can turn the crowd against him.”

“Why should we bother?” said a council member “his preaching is dying a natural death.”

“And he has the right to speak,” said another.

The other members of the council nodded in agreement. There was a whisper of conversation among them. Caiaphas was thoroughly annoyed.

“If we let him go, he will continue to be a thorn in our side. He is very charismatic and obviously smart. He has an agenda. This disappointment among the people is temporary. As soon he starts healing again, they will flock to him as before.”
Caiaphas raised his arms to appear as imposing as possible.
“We must get rid of him and his so called Apostles!”
There was more whispering among the council members. One stood up to speak.
“The Chief Priest is right. We must end this now, while we have him close to us. Let us turn the rabble against him, let us call him a traitor for his failure to get rid of the Romans, let us tell them his message is blasphemy, let us destroy his character and smear his name.... they will be angry enough to do our bidding.”
“No, no,” called out another priest as he stood up to speak. “Let us wait to see what happens tomorrow. If he still annoys us we can act then.”
Caiaphas looked over the members of the Council. “Let us decide what to do.... right now.”

That decision took almost an hour. But in the end, the Council decided to wait until Thursday morning to make a final judgement.
...............
Ron

“Am I Your Son?”

30


The life of Jesus: His last week - The last Supper.


The life of Jesus: His last week - The last Supper. Jesus is condemned by false testimony and the contempt of the mob.

Because he knew what was coming, Jesus spent most of Thursday morning in prayer and discussion with his disciples. The mood was both solemn and reverential. He invited them to join with him for a last supper, an idea that struck dread in the hearts of those around him. Jesus sent Peter with two other Apostles into Jerusalem to find a place and purchase food.

Thursday afternoon the Sanhedrin Council had a meeting to decide on a number of matters, including their rising concern about the rebellious preacher from Galilee. The Levites had assembled a crowd of pilgrims and friends to protest against Jesus. It was not hard to find people who would join the crowd. Although some were upset by the theology of this man from Galilee, most were angered because it had become obvious Jesus would not use his powers to banish the Romans from Israel. Their voices rose in an organized chant to condemn and mock Jesus just outside the Council Chambers.

Their raucous demonstration had the desired effect. Inside the chambers the mood turned against Jesus. Caiaphas, the High Priest, and his father-in-law Annas, were given the task of convincing the Romans to punish Jesus.

After the meeting Caiaphas and Annas sat together with several priests to discuss how to secure Roman cooperation.
“We can ask Pontius Pilate to imprison Jesus, perhaps at the same prison where he kept John the Baptist,” Annas said.
“But John was still able to influence many of our people even while he was in prison,” Caiaphas responded “do we dare let him do that?”
Another priest spoke up. “He has far more powers than John ever did. What happens if he decides to walk out of prison? He could do it. He could walk right out of prison and start a rebellion against us.”
“And the Romans,” added Annas.

They all looked to Caiaphas for his decision. He was reluctant to have Jesus killed. During Passover the priests had to be very careful to preserve their image of purity and holiness. Having Jesus imprisoned before Passover began would be acceptable. But sending him to prison during Passover would cause a rebellion among his disciples and give the nationalists even more to be unhappy about.

“We have a problem. We cannot be seen as violating any of our religious laws, especially during Passover.... and that ends today after sundown.”

 Caiaphas paused to look at each of the priests. His humorless demeanor was of a man who didn’t like his options. After all, perhaps he could control this teacher from Galilee. Maybe the punishment of prison would be enough to end his blasphemy. Or maybe it would not.

“We are out of time. We must be seen as protecting the laws of our faith and the sacred authority of our priesthood. The only way to resolve this problem is to give it to the Romans. Although the Council has the authority to banish Jesus, only the Romans can punish him with death. We will use the mob to convince the Romans this teacher is guilty of sedition. Then let them deal with Jesus.”

A sly smile crossed the face of his father-in-law. “Let us deal with Jesus tomorrow morning. Passover will have ended and we can place all the blame for our decision on the Romans.... We will look for Jesus Friday morning and take him to the Romans. They will crucify him.”

***

Peter found a house for the Last Supper in Jerusalem. Mary the mother of Jesus; Salome of Bethsaida; Joanna, wife of Chuza; Mary of Magdala; and her friend Susanna all came to the house that afternoon. They prepared the Last Supper with the help of several disciples. Jesus was the first man to arrive. He bathed his hands and feet, put on a white robe, and waited for his Apostles to arrive.

John and James Boanerges came first, followed in a few minutes by each of the other Apostles. One by one Jesus asked each apostle to sit down before him. He then washed the dust and dirt from the man’s feet. It was a symbolic act of humility. This was a task usually performed by the lowest person in the household, generally a slave or servant. When Peter arrived he asked: “Why are you washing the dust of Jerusalem from my feet?”

“The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Puzzled by the humility of his master, Peter joined the others at the table. A feeling of despair hung over the entire room. There was little talk. The Apostles knew Jesus was planning to be arrested. After they finished, Jesus stood up and raised his glass of wine as an offering. The Apostles also raised their glasses in silence.

“This is my blood which I shed for you.”
He motioned for each man to take a sip of wine.
Jesus took a crust of bread from the table, and raised it up for all to see.
“This is my body, which I give to you.”
He motioned for each man to take a crust of bread. They ate in silence.

The women and disciples who were present were awed by the sense of reverence and sorrow that seemed to echo through the room. Mary of Magdala began to weep.

Jesus spoke again. “We cannot stay here in Jerusalem. We will cross the valley together. I will go on to the Garden of Gethsemane. I want you to go to Bethany tonight and then to Jericho in the morning. Once across the Jordan, you should be safe from the Romans. Go home to Capernaum until you are ready to teach in my name once more.”

“But what about you?” Peter asked, clearly alarmed.
“I go to be tried by the priests and the Romans.”
Peter almost shouted his response. “I will never leave your side!”
Jesus, his face betraying his sadness, looked thoughtfully at Peter.
“You will deny me, Peter, three times before the cock crows.”
Peter was about to protest, but Jesus held up his hand.
“Remember me. Remember me and the message I have given to you. Teach it to all who will listen.”


The meal ended in the late afternoon. Jesus and his companions left the house and made their way toward the Garden of Gethsemane.
Crossing the Kidron Valley, Jesus stopped, gestured toward the Temple Mount, and addressed the Apostles and women. 
“Tomorrow will be dangerous for anyone associated with me, especially near the Temple Mount. You must go to Jericho as I have asked.”

He then turned to Judas and nodded toward the Temple Mount. Judas was despondent. It was difficult for him to look at Jesus.

“Do your duty, Judas.”

***

Once at Gethsemane, Jesus waited in the cold night air for the mob to come. His mental anguish gradually became more intense. Jesus knew what was coming. His skin became fragile and tender, occasionally oozing a slightly bloody sweat.

The Levites were told to create an angry mob. It did not take much effort to provoke a group of pilgrims into a frenzy of disorderly behavior. Then several priests and elders, accompanied by a mob of chanting pilgrims, followed Judas out of the Temple Mount.

It was a short walk to The Garden of Gethsemane and Judas found Jesus sitting in his customary place. The priests took Jesus into custody, roughly securing his hands behind him. The mob was vulgar and hostile. Although the priests briefly looked for the Apostles, there was no one else in the Garden. Unhappy they were unable to find anyone else, but satisfied they had done what Annas had told them to do; the priests seized Jesus and led the mob back to the Temple Mount. Judas, thoroughly shaken by the arrest of his mentor, watched the mob disappear into the darkness. He stood alone for several minutes in the cool night air, struggling with his thoughts.

They held a mock trial before Caiaphas who had hastily called the Sanhedrin into session. The agony of the confrontation lasted for more than an hour. Jesus was condemned by false testimony and the contempt of all who were there. Tired and fed up with the turn of events, the Council condemned Jesus and decided to refer him to the Romans for prosecution. The Levites took him down stairs and brutally heaved him into a cold stone cell. Despite his mounting exhaustion, Jesus would not sleep.

...............

Ron

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