A Fictional First-Person Account of the Passion, Through the Eyes of an Unlikely Disciple
The chief priest Annas appeared visibly agitated, but he did not protest. His cohorts, including his son-in-law Caiaphas, all grumbled among themselves and I recall taking note of how bright and white their priestly garb looked in contrast to the gray of the stone pillars and the grit of the mob. Outwardly, they could be described as spotless, the picture of reverence, even pure – but the hatred in their faces and the malice in their words turned my stomach. All my life I had been taught to believe that the priests were undefiled. I was taught to modify my behavior to suit their ways because they appeared holier than I could ever be. But looking on, it seemed to me that outward purity was good for nothing, a farce, if the inward man was dark and corrupt.
Two of the nearby guards forcibly grabbed Jesus by the arms. His body lurched as they pulled him toward the staircase. Another guard fell in behind the trio as they descended the stairs. The crowds parted like a field of wheat as the guards led Jesus toward the square where public punishments were often carried out. As they passed, I was struck by the countenance of the guard in back. He appeared somehow apprehensive. His eyes met mine as they passed and, based on his gaze, I would not have been surprised had he run away like a startled hare. Pontius Pilate turned his back on the crowd and began to walk away. I could tell by his gait that he wanted nothing more to do with the King of the Jews.
Droves of people pressed into the small square to witness the flogging of Jesus of Nazareth. Only a fraction of the people from the courtyard would be able to fit, so people pressed and wriggled against one another like fish in a net. I was embroiled as I watched members of the crowd spit on him. Some of them hurled small stones as the guards pushed him forward. I could see tears welling in Peter’s eyes as he pressed ahead of me into the square. He kept his face covered, but this time, he led the way, emboldened by his nearness to Christ and moved by his inability to help him.
Once inside the square, there was scarcely room to breathe. I was relieved the women had remained in the courtyard. The hoard was pressing into itself like a herd of cattle that had outgrown its pen. The movement of one person unsettled at least ten others. I did my best to press onward. I heard another woman in the crowd cry out, “here is his follower!” as she pointed at John. Somehow, his face covering had been pulled away. He ignored her and hurried to recover himself. I looked to Peter for wisdom, fearful that the crowd may turn on him as well.
“James” Peter cried out, “James!”
“Sir, James is not with us,” I yelled back, shaking my head. “He stayed on the rooftop!” I thought perhaps he meant to call John’s name, and given the chaos of the experience, his mistake seemed plausible.
“No,” Peter was merely inches from my ear as he yelled, but even so, I struggled to hear him over the crowd. “James, his brother!” He pointed toward the other man in our group. The man standing by John was preoccupied with a robust gentleman to his right who seemed to be out of sorts. They appeared to be in some form of an argument. It took me a moment to process what Peter was saying – when I finally understood that the other man was also called James, and that this James was the brother of Jesus, I nodded to Peter and pushed my way past the crowd to reach him.
“Sir, Peter has need of your attention!” I yelled to combat the voice of the screaming man next to him. James, brother of Jesus, left me holding his place as he pushed back toward Peter. The robust man pressed his round belly into me and laughed. I did my best to hold my ground. I steadied my footing and tensed my legs. It didn’t take long to understand why James had been arguing with the man. He was rude. He wore a dusty robe and he sprayed spittle from his lips with every word he spoke. He smelled so much like a wet goat that I had to hold my breath for a moment. As more and more people pushed in around me, it became apparent that his was not the only ripe body in the crowd. As he forced his body into me once again, I saw James and John using their mass to create a space at the rail in front of them. We had managed to press as closely to the square as one could get without passing beyond the barrier.
Just as I found my footing next to Peter, the line of priests and scribes filed in to the loft at the back of the square. A handful of the Roman guard were gathered by a wooden table, covered with a woven cloth. The two guards flanking Jesus pushed him to the middle of the square. The crowd began to settle and the yelling and shoving subsided as the praetor signalled the guards to begin. We all watched as the Christ was bound to a whipping post in the center of the square. Then, one of the soldiers from the group by the table approached Jesus from behind. He laid hold of Jesus’ robe just at the base of his neck and jerked it, causing it to pull violently against Jesus’ throat. The guard pulled a knife from the leather sheath on his hip and gave it a quick but forceful yank through the upper part of the robe. He then returned the knife to its place and used his bare hands to rip the garment from Jesus’ body, tearing it away from his skin with much more force than the task required. Reflexively, I turned my eyes away. To see him there, his body laid bare, was in and of itself difficult to take. But when the men removed the woven cloth from the table, I could no longer avert my eyes.
Another of the five guards retrieved a nine-tailed whip from the table, a flagellum, with what looked to be sharpened lead tips woven into its tails. His companions hung the woven cloth on a rack near to the table. At this point, even the murmuring in the crowd had ceased. I watched Peter’s face intently. His lips moved as if he was speaking, but he was looking into the sky. The sight of him confused me, but then I saw a tear form at the corner of his eye and roll down his cheek before it became one with the drape that covered his face. I looked away from Peter and back to Jesus just as the praetor signaled the guard to begin.
The guard made no pretence of his duty, as he raised his strong arm and hurled his whip toward Christ with the force of an army. Jesus cried out as the free ends of the whip cut into his flesh. The soldier then pulled back with a mighty yank and I watched as the blood sprayed across the square and as the meat was ripped from Christ’s torso about his ribs. The shock of it stunned me. I almost lost my footing, but I didn’t have time to steady myself before the next blow came, and then another and another. At one point, Peter and John were weeping so silently, yet so bitterly, that I myself felt tears forming in my eyes.
The soldiers whipped him and scourged him again and again, until the flesh hung from his body in large, loose strips. The meat from his body hung in gaping shreds, enough to expose the sinew and bone underneath. When one of the tails took a wild flight and wrapped around his head, it was all I could do to keep my stomach. As the guard yanked the whip back, the lead spike tore through Jesus’ forehead, across the bridge of his nose and down his cheek like a jagged knife through warm butter. One of the women in the crowd screamed and I watched as many people turned away. Even some of the priests could bear no more. I watched them turn their backs as a piece of loose and bloody meat flew hard against the woven cloth, now heavy with blood and flesh. Peter steadied himself against the railing. I could tell his strength was failing him. He cried out, “My Lord!” Several people in the crowd turned to look at him. John seemed ready to chastise him for risking their safety, but he stopped short when he saw the anguish in Peter’s eyes.
Jesus fell to his knees as yet another crack of the whip tore flesh from the backs of his legs and backside. My face grew hot as my stomach churned within me once again. I held my breath. Surely this would be enough to satisfy the priests. Surely they would demand no more. The praetor raised his hand, signalling the soldier to stop. Jesus hung to the whipping post with his knees bent beneath him. Had I not known it was Jesus before me, had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed him to be a man. He didn’t look human. The flesh hung from his body like tassels, dripping with blood. The two guards who had first escorted him returned and took him by the arms. They unshackled him from the post and pulled him to his feet. His legs were unsteady beneath him as they dragged him toward the collection of holding cells that bordered along the square. Was he to be imprisoned? What more could they possibly want from him?
I found myself transfixed by the sheer depth of the blood that pooled at the foot of the post. The ground was slick with crimson. Peter, John and James his brother each held onto the railing as though it were the only thing keeping them from collapsing. The crowd began to thin as the guards removed Jesus from the square and we all stood, silent, until the doors of the jailhouse slammed shut.
Without a word, John turned his back to us and moved quickly around the edge of the square. We watched as he spoke with a man opposite us along the rail. I didn’t know the man, and from the look on Peter’s face, nor did he. Jesus brother held the railing with both hands, his head hung low between his arms. I couldn’t tell if he was weeping, or if he thought he might be ill, or both. Just as I was about to reach out to him, John returned. “When they’re finished with him, they’ll return him to Pilate. We should make our way back to the courtyard.”
We walked in silence. I looked toward the sun. So much had happened since dawn, and it couldn’t have been more than eight o’clock, perhaps half past. I could feel the exhaustion of the day’s events building in my bones. I wondered how I would ever return to my normal life after this day – how would I be able to move on? Once we were back inside the courtyard, we found that much of the crowd had, at least for a while, dispersed. We found Mary and Jesus’ mother exactly where we’d left them, holding one another and weeping bitterly. They looked as though their tears had been flowing freely since the moment we departed. James gently touched Mary’s shoulder and reached down to console his mother. He held her close to him, and she buried her face in his tunic and cried out. The pain in her voice was so agonizing I felt as though my own heart may shatter.
Soon the courtyard began to fill with people once again, and we needed no one to tell us that the guards were returning with Jesus. Mary stood to her feet and steadied herself. James held his mother as she prepared herself to see her son’s battered body. I expected the guards to drag him into the courtyard through the crowd, but they did not. Instead, they must have taken a different path.
Pilate stepped out onto the platform at the top of the stairs and raised a hand to hush the crowd. The chief priests were all gathered, once again, at the front of the stairs beyond the crowd. “Again I say to you, I have found no cause in this man, and yet to meet your demands, I have ordered him punished. Now I say to you, here is the man.”
Two guards pushed Jesus out onto the platform. He shuffled forward, shackled at the ankles and at the wrists. In a cruel attempt at humiliation, the soldiers had fashioned what looked to be a ring of thorns and forced it onto his brow like a crown, and draped him in a purple robe. His body was so badly beaten and covered in blood that even his own mother could not recognize him. “No!” she cried out, clutching her hand to her heart. I could tell that even Pilate was pained by what he saw. Perhaps the flogging had been worse than he expected. The multitude gasped at the sight of him. Some shielded their eyes.
One of the guards in front shouted “All hail, King of the Jews,” and laughter erupted among his ranks. But the priests and Pharisees were not amused. The soldier’s words sent them into a fit of rage.
“Crucify, crucify!” They cried in unison. I stood in disbelief. This man was not at a threat. He was far cry from Cesar. I wanted to cry out my opposition, but I was consumed by fear. “Crucify him!” They shouted again.
“Shall I truly crucify your king?” Pilate asked, his voice thick with sarcasm and disdain. It was obvious to all that he had no desire to put Jesus to death.
The chief priest answered back, “We have no king but Cesar, and if you let this man live, you are no friend to our king.” Pilate paced back and forth for a moment. The priests seized advantage of the time by shouting and flailing about, throwing stones and stirring the crowd into an uproar. The look on Pilate’s face told an unsung truth, he feared an uprising. He stormed to the center of the platform and motioned for his aid to come near. The priests hushed the crowd and turned back to Pilate. “What say you?” the chief among them asked.
Pilate then turned to Jesus and spoke to him. I could not make out his words. The look on Pilate’s face was pitiable, but he looked back to the crowd, who stood at the ready to riot. Immediately, the aid returned with a pitcher. “I say, I wash my hands of this!” Pilate answered back to the priests. “I am innocent of this man’s blood – if you want him dead, take him and crucify him, but his blood is on your hands!” Pilate’s aid poured water over his hands, and we all watched as Pilate physically enacted his inward resolve.
The mother of Jesus collapsed to her knees on the ground near where I stood. Mary began to weep. I looked toward the men and watched the tears forming in all their eyes. Deep within, I knew I would be forever changed by all I had witnessed. I heard one of the priests cry out again, “His blood is on our heads and the heads of our children!” And with that, Pilate shook the excess water from his hands and turned his back on the crowd, and on Jesus, as the guards pushed him forward into the courtyard and drug him through the crowd, back toward the square.
Peter moved to follow, but a company of guards halted us, and forced us back. I looked around to see guards clearing the courtyard all around us. “Golgotha!” the guard yelled, as if to tell us the route we should follow to witness the crucifixion. I looked to Peter. What would we do now? What could we do?
Peter stood for a moment, seemingly uncertain of what to do next. “What now?” John asked.
“I don’t know,” Peter answered.
“Well, we better decide quickly before the guards decide for us!” John returned.
“Let’s clear the courtyard and then decide where to go,” Peter suggested.
Outside the courtyard, we decided that we would follow Jesus along the path, in the hopes that we could somehow bring him comfort, or spare him, or help him in some way. I wondered if now would be the time for fighting – I hoped the answer would be no. “I will go and tell the others and meet you on the path!” John announced his intent and rushed off toward the rooftop. I imagined the group of men waiting there, uncertain, broken, or perhaps enraged. How must this scene have looked from a distance?
Peter led the way toward the road outside the square. We all followed behind. There were people everywhere. Everything about the day felt differently, even the way people moved in the streets. We hadn’t waited at the square for very long before we saw solders laying two, notched Dogwood beams one over the other to form a cross in the road. I had never cared to see a cross up close, and being this close to one made my skin crawl. As the soldiers dropped it onto the ground, a cloud of dust flew into the air so thickly that I could no longer see my companions. As the dust settled the main gate of the square opened and we saw Jesus, unshackled, but flanked by guards. One guard hit him with a rod to keep him moving, and I could tell by the way the other guards stood watching that they would make him carry his own cross.
Throngs of people gathered around him. They yelled and said hateful things. They spit on him and threw stones. When a small boy next to me lifted his arm to throw a small rock, I couldn’t help myself and I grabbed his wrist to stop him. He looked at me with confusion, but the look on my face must have been easily read, because he dropped the stone and ran away – no doubt to tell his father. Regardless, I did not regret my choice.
The masses watched as Jesus struggled to hoist the large cross onto his shoulder. He appeared to be talking to himself occasionally and at first I wondered if he’d lost too much blood. I didn’t understand it, but I remembered that I had seen both Peter and John talking to themselves throughout the morning. Was this practice typical for holy men?
I pushed the thought from my mind as I considered just how brutal the walk to Golgotha would be, especially under the load of a cross. I longed to help him, but the guards held us all back, no one could get near. As we neared a turn in the road, the crowd pressed in behind me. I found myself near enough to reach out and touch him. The guards were behind him and I thought I may have just enough time. I stretched out my hand toward the cross. “I am here. Do you know me?” I formed the thought in my mind, but I spoke not a word. I strained forward against the crowd and felt my fingertips graze the wood. I cannot explain what happened next in words. It is impossible to relay without sounding as though I’ve succumbed to madness, and yet it was more real to me than even the ground beneath my feet. He saw me. He looked right into my eyes, and I heard his voice. He answered me, but he did not open his lips. He made no words with his mouth, and yet I heard his voice and I knew it was him. It was only three words, I know you, but somehow I knew they would become the most important words I’d ever hear. But how? Why? I could not discern.
We made yet another turn and I could no longer see Peter or the others in the crowd. I’d lost them somewhere along the way. As I scanned the sea of faces for them, I realized that we were crossing the same road on which palm fronds had been laid at Jesus’ feet just days ago. My heart sank. How fickle mankind could be. Whom could a man trust?
About that time, I saw James, the brother of Jesus, across the way, climbing a set of stairs with Mary and the mother of Jesus close behind him. I tried to look beyond them. It appeared they were looking for a place to get near to the cross. Inside my spirit, I willed the crowd to let them through. I wanted them to be near the cross almost as badly as I wanted to be there myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone strike one of the guards. I don’t know who it was, but it certainly got the guards’ attention, because they all turned on him. As they did so, a woman ahead of the cross took the opportunity to run to Jesus. She took the free end of her veil and blotted his face with it, and then she offered him a drink from a craft of water. She turned the cup up to his lips and as the loud crack of a whip sounded behind me, she moved away from him and back into the crowd. Who was this woman? How many lives in this crowd had been changed by this man?
I saw the mother of Jesus pushing her way through a mob to the edge of the road, James and Mary right behind her. They were so close. The mother of Jesus called out to him, reaching her arm into the street as far as she could. I quickly turned to see if the nearby guard was watching. He was. I felt my chest tighten. I contemplated my next action. I had no desire to be arrested, and yet, I plotted. But, despite my readiness, the guard did nothing. I wondered if he knew of the family. I wondered if maybe he felt torn over the condemnation of an innocent man, or even if, maybe, he considered his own mother. Then again, I also thought maybe he was simply lazy and disinterested in his work.
Nonetheless, I turned back to his mother. As she stretched her hand forth, struggling to reach him, I saw his hand, shaking and dark with blood slowly reach out in return. His fingers made contact with hers and they lingered for just a moment. She closed her fingertips around his hand as best she could until the crack of the whip forced him to move again. I didn’t even realize I was crying until a man to my left asked me, “is he your rabbi?”
“No,” I replied, as I turned away – but as soon as the word escaped my lips, it felt like a lie.
Continued at http://www.tylieeaves.com/the-making-of-a-rock-3/