In my job, you need to know who’s who. You can’t let just anyone into the High Priest’s house — especially when there is so much tension in the air. You get used to checking people out. Even before that Friday night, there had been a lot of tension. The chief priests and the elders had been around the place for days. They’d been talking about a particularly troublesome Jewish teacher — Jesus of Nazareth and the crowd who followed him.
Rumor among the servants had it that they were plotting the death of this Galilean upstart. He’d been a thorn in their side for months. Just a week or so before, he had become quite confrontational. First, he rode up into the city in what seemed like some sort of triumphal procession. Crowds of adoring followers came with him — we could hear them singing and chanting right here in Caiaphas’ house. They sent a couple of us maidservants out to find out what was happening.
It almost looked like a royal procession — but he was riding on a donkey! Outside the Temple, the Jesus fellow got off his donkey. He marched into the Temple courtyard and sent the tables of the money changers flying. He let some of the sacrificial animals out of their pens. In the middle of it all, he stopped. Standing tall and looking fiercely around at the chaos he had caused, he shouted, “You’ve made a holy place, my father’s house, into a hiding-place for thieves.”
“Who is this man?” Everyone else was asking the same question. There were all sorts of rumors about him — that he wanted to be king of the Jews — even that he claimed to be Messiah. We were asking that question, too. After all, if there was going to be a new king of the Jews, our boss Caiaphas needed to know about that.
When we got back to give our report, we found the house already in confusion. The Annas-Caiaphas family were furious. They already had enough problems with holding on to their power under Roman rule. They couldn’t afford to ignore this Galilean and his growing crowd of followers any longer. There was more plotting in corners.
In the middle of that night, there was a lot of scuffling and some ruffians brought the man Jesus into Caiaphas’ house. We were very curious to see what he looked like at closer quarters. Even in shackles, he didn’t look much like a criminal. But they told us to be very careful who we let into the courtyard.
We let John in. It’s true he was from Galilee but I knew he had been a friend of the High Priest’s family for years. I wouldn’t be in trouble for letting him in. But who was the big man with him? I wasn’t so sure about him and I didn’t know who he was. There was something unsettled and smoldering about him. I had the feeling that I had seen him somewhere before. He was obviously a friend of John. So I let him in but I kept an eye on him. He seemed quite confident. He strode in straight across to the fire in the middle of the courtyard to warm his hands. Big workman’s hands they were — strong like the rest of him.
There was a lot of chattering and banter in the courtyard. But he said nothing to anyone. Who was he? I watched him like a hawk — and then I remembered where I’d seen him before. He’d been with the Galilean in the big procession, walking close behind the donkey. After a while, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I pointed with my thumb over the back of my shoulder to where the prisoner was holed up with the chief priests. And I asked him straight out, “You were with Jesus the Galilean, weren’t you?” Suddenly, everyone else was listening, waiting for his answer. He looked around at them all and then down at me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, woman!” None of the men took much notice. Most of them were only too willing to think that a woman doesn’t know what she is talking about! And they turned their attention back to their own business. But I kept watching the Galilean — because I was sure that’s what he was. He moved away from the fire to the porchway where he thought he could hide in the shadows. Still he kept his mouth shut.
And then the other maidservant recognized him. She was more confident than I had been and spoke out to everyone, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” The big man shook his head. “I don’t know the man,” he said. Now we had heard him speak twice and everyone was curious. Other people were looking at him and muttering under their breath. After a few minutes, one of them walked over to Peter and confronted him, “Certainly you are also one of them, I know by the way you speak.”
Well, certainly not in the High Priest’s courtyard nor anywhere else have I ever heard anything like the bad language that Galilean came out with in response. He shouted and went red in the face. By this time, of course, we could all hear that he certainly was a Galilean. He seemed to think that swearing would make a point.
While we were sniggering at the Galilean, they hustled the so-called King of the Jews out through the courtyard again. He’d probably heard the last few curses and denials. You should have seen the look that passed between them. They certainly did know each other. And they both knew a lot more about each other than they had a few minutes before.
In those few moments, I knew a lot more too. It was obvious to me that the big man, who left quickly, now holding back tears and looking somehow much smaller, had known Jesus — or thought he had. Despite all his swaggering and shouting, he was like a hunted rabbit — not knowing which way to run. Jesus’ arrest had scared the life out of him. He had just betrayed a good friend — and he knew it. And I knew one more thing — I would do anything to find a friend who would look at me with such understanding when I let them down.
DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM
We could see those Romans had done their worst. Soldiers don’t have a lot of fun most of the time except playing cards and betting. Not much entertainment for them really, here in Jerusalem. When this Jesus fell into their hands and they heard that he had said he was the King of the Jews, they had had a field day. They’d jammed a makeshift crown made of thorns onto his head and the blood was trickling down, into his eyes. He was covered with bruises from their abuse and assault and they were still mocking him. They’d obviously spared him nothing.
By the time they had pushed him, staggering under the weight of his cross through the streets and up the hill, to where we were, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. Finally, he stumbled and fell. They collared a passerby to carry the cross for him.
It was terrible but we were drawn into the crowd and the drama of it all. We weren't quite sure why we were following this man to the crucifixion site — crucifixions were common enough, after all. We knew that the Romans had been cruel to him and we knew he was going to die. We didn’t know his name or really care about him. True, there was something unusual about him for a criminal. He was certainly no Barabbas. It didn’t seem fair. So, although we didn’t exactly know why, we became his supporters. Then someone started to wail and we all joined in. A good wail can often have nothing to do with your feelings for the dying or dead person. But it can help you feel better sometimes.
Then, suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. He turned around and looked straight at us and he said something I can’t get out of my mind. “Don’t cry for me,” he said. “Cry for yourselves and your children.”
Think about it — someone staggering along the road to crucifixion, telling a bystander not to cry for him. He was going to cruel and certain death. We were going home to the comfort of our families. And yet he told us to cry for our children. What could he mean?
Heaven knows, I do shed plenty of tears, real tears for my children. Like all mothers, I want to protect them from harm. I wonder what will become of them. It’s a frightening world we live in. Roman soldiers are always on the streets and crucifying people like this young man — Jesus of Nazareth, they called him. Someone said he was the son of a carpenter. So, did he mean that his death wouldn’t be the end — our children were going to have to suffer just as he was? Maybe.
But the more I have thought about it, the more I think he was somehow, in the middle of his own woe, wanting to warn us of danger to come which we could do something about. He wanted to make us recognize the value of our lives as mothers and what we were doing. He was preparing us to think more seriously about all the trouble in our world — and in our own families. Later on, when we got to the cross, we heard him say, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” And we didn’t know what we were doing. We just followed the crowd without really asking ourselves — what is going on here?
If we had stopped to ask ourselves about what was really going on and why it had happened, we might have thought more seriously about the sort of wickedness that was taking a good person like him to the cross. We might have seen some connection between his unjust crucifixion and the sort of everyday evil that continues to happen in all our lives and all our families. We might have thought about the casual selfishness and the everyday bad-mouthing of people who didn’t really deserve it. We might have thought about the quarrels and the fights, the mocking malice and the meanness — exactly the sort of blind spots that brought Jesus to the cross. We might have asked whether mothers like us could do anything to stop it. We might have recognized that we are all much more like the Roman soldiers than we like to admit — laughing and playing games without really thinking about what we are doing.
Sentimental wringing of hands and beating of breasts, wailing and moaning about things that other, evil people do may make you feel better. But, in the end, it doesn’t do much to make you a better person. Weeping and praying for yourself and for your children, changing your own life and doing what you can to make things better in your own family might have more effect.
WOMEN FROM GALILEE
A group of Galilean women like us following a young male teacher and still living in their homes in Galilee is extraordinary enough. Leaving home and going with him and his followers 70 miles south to Jerusalem is quite a different matter. We couldn’t really understand why Jesus had decided to go. We were just getting used to being part of the group who followed him and looked after him and his other followers. Our families and friends were just getting used to it, too. Then, right out of the blue, he said he was going to Jerusalem to the Passover. We should have known by now that there were always unexpected choices for people who were with him.
This was obviously a case of “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” We knew him well enough now to know that once he had made up his mind, he wasn’t going to change. We just needed to decide whether we also were going to leave the familiar terrain of our Galilean home and walk the seventy miles to the big city of Jerusalem. Women were not required to go to the Passover, only the men. So, there was no religious obligation to go.
Of course, all of us had already “left home” in one sense. We had had to “leave home” to be part of his band of followers. It hadn’t been easy for any of us. Some of us had gone almost because we needed to — our sons or our husbands were following him. Some of us had gone because after what he had done for us, being part of His group was the only home we had anywhere in the world. People thought he was mad. They thought we were mad too when we gave money and time and energy to support the group. They thought we should have found more worthy objects for our funds.
But there had always been something special for us about being where he was, being part of what he was doing, being there to help him. We felt part of something bigger than ourselves. James and John and some of the others said that maybe this visit to Jerusalem would be the time when Jesus would set up the new kingdom which we had all hoped for so their mother was quite keen. Of course, we knew that some of the chief priests did not approve of Jesus. It was one thing to gather crowds and talk about God in Galilee but quite another to do it in Jerusalem. And we knew he would do it, because he always did. We were uncertain about what Jerusalem would hold. But for reasons we didn’t always understand ourselves, we decided to go with them. We just wanted to stay with Jesus and his group whatever it cost.
Jerusalem seemed to begin well with an amazing event. As Jesus rode up the hill into the city on a donkey, our hopes about his kingdom soon were raised. People everywhere were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They were throwing their coats on the ground for the donkey to walk on and the whole world seemed to have come out to welcome him — and us!
From then on, seemed to go downhill. Jesus walked into the Temple as if he owned it and threw out the money-changers there. We were thrilled that someone had the courage to do what needed to be done but very worried about what would happen next.
The real trouble started on Thursday night. Before we knew anything about it, he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and taken to the house of the High Priest. Everything was happening behind closed doors. Peter and John hung around outside. Jesus was taken back and forth between the chief priests and Pilate and Herod.
Slowly a crowd began to gather. Again, we had to make the choice about whether we wanted to go out and be part of it, with him. We did. But when we got to the square where everyone was gathered, there was nothing we could do. The enormous crowd was just chanting over and over again, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
As we looked around, we recognized some of the people there. Many of them had been in the procession into Jerusalem just a few days before shouting, “Hosanna.” We felt helpless. He was just surrounded by soldiers and Jewish officials. Eventually the crowd began to move. In the middle of it was Jesus, bleeding from the whipping they had given him and staggering now under the weight of the cross beam they had forced him to carry. We couldn’t get anywhere near to help him or offer him comfort in the ways we were used to. We could only follow at a distance, watching and waiting to see how things would turn out.
It was a long wait…Most of the day he hung there. Time lost its meaning. We hung on to each other as we listened to the jeering, sneering, goading, and taunting. Watching the suffering of someone you care about is unbearable but what we endured was nothing in comparison to what he was going through.
You might have thought we would feel helpless and passive and useless. But somehow, we didn’t. Somehow, we knew that in those hours, just by standing by, just by being there, we were giving him and each other something important. After all, he was the one who had taught us that to be “with” someone, to give someone your presence, is the greatest gift of all.
Helen Pearson is a counselor, psychotherapist, writer, and trainer from Wokingham in England and a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run a website, Pearsons’ Perspectives, where this and similar articles can be found. It is reprinted here with permission.
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