“Follow me,” said the frantic young Pharisee. “He’s in court.”
“What do you mean, ‘in court’?”
“I’ll explain later. Maybe you can stop the madness.”
It was the middle of the night. Nicodemus didn’t want to get involved with some late night case among his confreres, especially with the Sabbath so close. But John was a friend because he was unafraid of the leaders. It bolstered his lack of courage, so he wrapped his shawl around his head and followed the apostle toward the temple precincts.
They were too late. The case had been turned over to the Romans. By the time the two men picked up mother Mary, dawn had broken and they were forced to shove their way through nosy crowds that had accumulated around the Praetorium. The pulsing mob didn’t give Nick enough room to move. Mary tried to steady his unstable old legs, and he finally rested against a pillar. He took a moment to recall Jesus’ words at their first meeting that had initiated him into truth. Christ was learned as he was, and it was refreshing how he had talked about being born again and about the prophets, but his mind was too tired. John and Mary started to move again. He pushed off the street post and followed. He wasn’t paying attention to the crowds ahead. He just put one foot in front of the other trusting John.
“What’s going on?” he stopped to ask John between his huffing and puffing.
“They’re taking him to Golgotha,” said John. He didn’t mince his words, “They want to crucify him.”
Nick stopped dead in his tracks, “Crucify him? Why?”
“It’s a long story,” answered John. Mary reached out her hand and just said with a wan smile, “Let’s follow him.”
Nick understood the words as indicating his continuing journey to faith. He smiled back remembering Jesus’ words to him about eternal life, something a few of his fellow priests didn’t believe in. But he believed!
When they broke through the crowd, they found themselves on the hill. Mary leaned on John whose face had paled at the preparations of the three criminals. But he isn’t a criminal, thought Nick. He’s a teacher, a healer, a lover. . .
And as the soldier raised the crucifix up and Christ’s body slumped in agony, Nick finally understood what Jesus had tried to tell him when he had said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” He was really saying ‘look at me . . and live’ And Nick, tears in his eyes, looked up at the Savior of the world.
“Follow me,” said the frantic young Pharisee. “He’s in court.”
“I’m not Interested.”
“But you’re such a spiritual soul.”
“Didn’t get that way from prayer group gossip. “Prayer’s a private thing.”
“Yeah, I know . . . close the door and all that. But there’s strength in numbers. Maybe the girls can help.” The neighbor knew Miriam had been worried about her sick husband.
“I don’t need any help.” Miriam scrubbed the clothes on the washboard harder, avoiding Anna.
“We all need a little support. I can get the girls to come over. They can cook and clean so you can tend to Joe.”
Miriam wiped her arm across her sweaty forehead. She could use a little help, stubborn as she was. “I only need God to answer my prayer,” she said turning back to her work.
Anna had already told the ladies Miriam would never join the prayer group. Still, she was certain their combined prayers could help Joe get better. “How ‘bout I put you on the prayer tree?”
Miriam shrugged. “Guess there’s no harm in that,” she said thinking ‘as long as I don’t have to join up.’
Excited voices echoed through the outer corridor as Elizabeth and Martha spilled into the sunlit courtyard. “We’ve come to pray with you Miriam,” said Elizabeth.
“Yes,” Martha chimed in. “The teacher wants us to pray together.”
Miriam had heard about the new Rabbi she avoided because he was a groupie like them. “So my prayer isn’t good enough?” she said, a touch of cynicism in her voice.
Anna knew Miriam felt invaded. She understood the value of silent private prayer as well as anyone and didn’t want to force group prayer on her. But before she could stop them, the other two women had grabbed Miriam’s wet hands, pulled her into their circle, and started to pray for Joe.
Pete felt no pleasure in his new role. Jesus had, so to speak, given him “the Keyes”. The bystanders who had kissed his hands slowly dispersed while he was still trying to take it all in. He wondered, almost out loud, why would Jesus put him in such a position?
A few of the boys started to come up to him. He was sitting there on the rock that the tree’s roots had grown around. They provided a footrest that Jimmy almost stumbled over. He caught himself, smiling sheepishly, and said, “This is why he picked you. I’m too much of a klutz to be a leader.”
Tom and Judd came up to promise obedience and gave him a firm clasp of congratulations. Judas just tossed the community money bag at his feet with a dark grumble “It’s all yours,” and walked away. That took him apart. Why would Jesus turn leadership over to him? The boys already had a leader. Sure they all liked him. He even took charge of little issues that arose among them. The apostles didn’t always agree when Jesus was off praying or sleeping in his boat on crossings. His mood got glum until he looked up at Jesus. But him a leader?
Jesus was leaning against the tree next to him. As if he had been drained after calling him “the Rock” Jesus, eyes closed, just breathed in deep and slow. Pete, shaking off his glum mood asked, “You alright?” He was truly worried about his leader, so he pulled him aside, away from the others.
Jesus opened his eyes and said slow and even, “They’re out to get me.”
“They?” asked Peter.
“The Elders: Scribes, Pharisees, you know, the priests.” For a moment he stared at Pete, then as if confronting an internal devil he said, “I have to go to Jerusalem.”
“You don’t have to go.”
“They’ll kill me.”
He’s going crazy! Why would he go if they were going to kill him. Pete pushed a loose hair out of his eyes. I gotta do something. He grabbed Jesus’ arm firmly to pull him out of his dark reverie. “God forbid,” he said, unsettled by the prediction. “This won’t be.”
A fire flared in Jesus’ eyes. He turned on Peter screaming, “Get behind me Satan!!!”
In fright Peter backed against the tree shaking as Jesus continued, “If you want to come after me . . . take up your cross!”
The remaining words became a blur in his mind. Suddenly he realized that Jesus had made him leader because he wasn’t going to be around much longer. And Pete crumbled onto the rock and cradled his head in his hands.
He had a big mouth. He couldn’t help that he was impulsive, It was in his nature. So when Jesus asked, Who do you say I am? he blurted “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Sometimes he wished he were quiet like his brother. He’d have fewer headaches. He’d trudged behind his leader faithfully up and down mountains, in and out of villages, and followed him down dusty back roads, dry tracks that made him thirsty. Now they were up the mountain again, the one close to Caesarea-Philippi. And a bunch of other disciples were with him, including the women who always tagged along bringing food to keep Jesus from going hungry.
They weren’t privy to all of Christ’s miracles, like when he’d healed Jairus’ little girl. Neither was his brother, although he too was one of the twelve. Now, in front of everyone, Jesus told Simon his impulsive words weren’t his own. It caught his attention. He looked at his brother Andy and shrugged his shoulders because he wasn’t sure what Jesus was trying to tell him.
Then Jesus changed Simon’s name, “You are Peter . . .” He did it in front of everybody, and Simon got worried Jesus was trying to single him out, again. He ran the name through his head, Peter, Petrus, Pete. . . And on this rock I will build my church.”
Pete’s knees shook. He didn’t want to be a leader. He didn’t want to be in charge. He just wanted to be a fisherman, no responsibilities, no dealing with people who grumble, no dissension in the group. Fish don’t talk back. Fish hang together. He couldn’t help but look down with longing at his beloved Sea of Galilee. But with the rest of the disciples around there was no escape.
Jesus wasn’t finished. He added, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaved.” All the disciples understood and began to mill around Peter to kiss his hands.
Tears welled up in Pete’s eyes because the Son of God had singled him out to lead the Church, and all the disciples agreed with Him.
The close circle of people crowding the home pushed and shoved against the Canaanite woman who had wormed her way into their circle. The woman was a fighter. She pushed back. She didn’t care about their stares. She started to yell over their heads, “Help me.”
How did she find the house? This was supposed to be a secret affair, the young Rabbi having been invited to share their friendship.
“Save my girl,” the woman cried and pushed forward. Her veil slipped revealing hair torn out in wads. Her little girl was a child, but her fists had left bruises all over her mother’s face. Though the mother could handle the taunts, the ripped clothing, the trashed home, she couldn’t take away the terror in her little girl’s eyes or the hopelessness of her condition.
The young preacher had come to be among his own and to get away from the larger crowds. He glanced toward the woman who had fallen to her knees in front of him. He could see that she was a Syrophoenecian. He held back comment. It wouldn’t do to support the pagan who had wormed her way into the exclusive group.
“Please help my daughter; she is possessed,” she begged, her tear stained face raised to him.
The Rabbi didn’t look at her, and the host began to grumble over the intrusion. His honored guest continued to ignore the woman’s pleas even as she grabbed for the hem of his robe and raised her voice again.
The idea of devils had been relegated to a superstition among her kind. Personal experience had changed that view. The mother knew her daughter wasn’t sick in the head or a mental case. There was nothing insane about the violent outbursts and dark verbiage. She had almost lost all hope when none of the local shamans could help her. Then she’d heard of this Jewish rabbi who once sent hundreds of devils into swine. So she left her child with a caretaker and came. The Rabbi was her only hope. If he could send swine over the cliff, he could surely release her daughter from torment. “My daughter,” she said, kissing his feet. “Help my child.”
“Get out of here,” grumbled an angry listener. “Can’t you see he’s ignoring you?”
A burly fellow that smelled of fish nudged his partner, “Make her go away.”
Almost smiling the Rabbi tested the woman who had fire in her eyes, “It isn’t right to give the food of the children to the dogs.”
The crowd sucked in a communal breath at the deprecation, then gave a muted cheer at the healer’s allusion to the children of the house of Israel. Their eyes bored through the woman. They meant for her to slink away. They didn’t know she was crying inside, not because of the rabbi’s remark, but because her pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Covering up her personal damage, she looked into the eyes of Jesus. His face melted with compassion, and she realized his reference to dogs was typically anti-Gentile prejudice. This would be her only chance, and she took it. In almost a whisper she said, “Even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table.”
She set her chin and threw her shoulders back. Her voice firm she answered, “Even the dogs get the scraps from their master’s table.”
I saw him come across the water
so simply, so naturally
that I couldn’t help but think
there’s nothing to it.
I knew when I saw him that I could do the same,
but it would be on his terms
and in his time.
So, dumb me, I yelled
“If it’s you, let me come
across the water.”
Thousands of people had followed Jesus to the open field between the towns. It was getting late, and Peter had asked Jesus about providing food. “Feed them yourselves,” Jesus had said.
Peter stared at him in disbelief. Even the villages surrounding the hillside where Jesus was preaching wouldn’t be able to support this many hungry people. “How will we feed so many?” he asked.
“Have them sit down,” said his Master.
Pete whispered to his partners, “Collect what food you can find among the people. We’ll share.” He began motioning the crowd to sit on the grass in groups. The weary people, children darting between them at play, waited eagerly for Peter to pass the bread.
Dismay wrinkled Peter’s face as he stared down at the sole basket of five loaves and two fish. He was about to reach for a loaf of bread to break it when a hand rested on his arm. Pete looked up at Jesus from his crouched position over the basket.
Jesus bent down and began to bless the food. It was like him to do that. The people bowed their heads to whisper their own grace before meals.
Peter reached out his hand for a loaf, and Jesus broke it and gave him half. He passed the other half to James. In a continued easy motion he passed the rest of the loves and fish to the other apostles and said, “Pass it on.”
The partners pulled off chunks of bread, and handed them to the seated groups saying, “Share.” Like a school of fish in frenzy the happy crowd ripped off piece after piece of bread and fish. The women laughed. The children giggled. The men stuffed their faces. Within an hour the thousands who had no idea where so much bread and fish was coming from calmed down to a crowd ready for spiritual food.
Before Jesus began to teach them he said, “Pass back the leftovers.”
Pete sent the apostles to pick up the baskets women were holding up. Twelve baskets full of food were laid at Jesus feet, and he began to teach.