A Fictional First-Person Account of the Passion, Through the Eyes of an Unlikely Disciple
The light of the moon washed over every surface in sight, like a shower of goat’s milk under the night sky. Light bounced off the homes’ of my sleeping neighbors in a way that cast eerie shadows onto the street. Unable to sleep, I stood staring up at the stars, filling my lungs with the night air. As I contemplated returning to my bedchamber, I heard the sound of footsteps approaching in a rapid clamor from the west. I turned to see a man running straight toward me, fleeing the courtyard outside The House of Annas. In the distance, I could see the warmth of torches and lamplight dancing behind the courtyard walls – too much light for the hour. The man gasped for air as he ran, and he ran like he was being chased. I found myself instantly frightened. What had this man done?
My breath caught in my chest as I watched him pass. I stayed in the shadows as I turned my eyes back toward the west, expecting guards or a mob to follow, but no one else approached. The dust from the ground floated into the air like a fine mist in the moonlight, as I watched the man fall to his knees. His shoulders shook violently as he wept aloud, wailing with a bitterness unlike anything I’d ever heard before. He fell forward onto his face, pressing his forehead into the dirt as he cried out. Even from a distance, I could see the glistening of tears that stained his face, falling freely from his eyes and streaking the dust that now covered his body in a thin veil. I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach; the sight of him made me ache. He wore brokenness like a cloak and the pain in his cry was so palpable I wanted to turn away – but I could not.
With apprehension, I slowly made my way toward him. My hands trembled as I reached down to touch his shoulder. As soon as my fingers grazed his tunic, he jumped as if I’d struck him. He looked up at me with a wide-eyed fear, gasping for breath. He reminded me of a frightened child – but something about his gaze pierced my heart and something inside me compelled me to comfort him. His face was dark, as though he’d spent his days working in the sun, and though his eyes were consumed by fear, they carried a certain kindness I could not mistake. “Sir, are you alright?” I asked in earnest, but I was sorely unprepared for his response.
“I denied him,” he cried out. I had no idea what he meant.
“I’m sorry, what?”
I watched him cover his face with both hands as he repeated in a whisper, “I denied him.” The tone in his speech was thick with grief, but I somehow recognized the sound of his voice. I was certain this man had to be one of the twelve followers of the Galilean, or was it the Nazarene? I had heard him called by both names, and I wasn’t sure which to embrace. The whole of Jerusalem had been talking about the so called prophet who had performed miracles. My brother and his wife went so far as to meet him at the city gates and to lay palm fronds at his feet just days prior. I opened my mouth to speak again, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead I reached down to help the weeping man to his feet. “The rooster,” he said, as he peered at me through wet, bloodshot eyes. Again, I wanted to speak, but could say nothing. Had he gone mad? A rooster?
Suddenly, lamplight illuminated a nearby window and the man quickly wiped his eyes. I was startled along with him. He took the sash from around his waist and draped it over his head, wrapping a free end over his face. He nodded his thanks and quickly turned to flee, but instead of returning to my own home, I followed closely behind him. It was as if I had no control over my own feet. Something deep inside me urged me onward. He turned toward me, likely to shoo me away, but he didn’t speak. I heard the sound of footsteps nearby and, without even thinking, I pulled the man into the shadows between two buildings to conceal his presence. I leaned into the street, waiting for the foreboding presence to pass. I turned to face the man, and when his eyes met mine, he stared into me with a powerful intensity. Then, a note of both gratitude and understanding formed in his expression. He nodded slightly and turned his back again. I can’t explain it, but I felt as though he fully understood my inability to turn away.
I followed closely behind him. We moved with speed, but neither of us spoke a word. He wanted to stay in the shadows, and though I didn’t know why, I kept to the shadows as well. A cloud blotted out the moon for a short while, flooding the path in darkness as we turned a corner and headed toward a house in the distance. The inkiness of the night wavered as the cloud relented, allowing the moon’s light to fill the early morning sky once again. As we arrived to the house, I could see a single sliver of lamplight gleaming from beneath the batten of a lone upper window. The man reached out to check the gate, but it was barred. He looked around nervously, as he began to knock. He knocked twice, and then paused to look around again. His obvious discomfort made me anxious as well, though I had yet to understand why. As he checked our surroundings yet another time, I saw a dark shadow block the sliver of lamplight above our heads.
A few moments later, there was a noise beyond the gate. It opened slightly at first, and then the gap widened enough for me to see the face of another man. “Peter!” The other man’s voice was a loud whisper and a symphony of relief as he threw his arms around my newly acquired companion. As they embraced, I focused on committing Peter’s name to memory. “I was worried the guards had shackled you,” the other man said. I could see the hesitation in his eyes as he looked at Peter, then to me, and then back to Peter again. Peter laid a hand on the man’s shoulder and nodded, and the man immediately gave me a reluctant greeting. I followed them inside. The man seemed to take extra care with barring the gate and as Peter led the way, I found myself wondering briefly if these holy men weren’t what they seemed. Why the secrecy? What were we hiding from?
Once inside, I could feel a palpable tension in the room. The air was stuffy and as I looked about, I took note of the fact that every window was battened down. I looked around to see yet more men with tired, tear-stained cheeks and I watched the lamplight bounce off their pained faces as their confusion at my presence demanded an explanation. It was an unexpected collection of faces. One man had forearms like tree limbs, strong and sinewy. Another had a slim build and wore a fine tunic. He reminded me of the men one might find at a tax table. Again, Peter only nodded. It became evident to me that Peter was somehow chief among them, a leader of sorts.
No one spoke. The quiet in the room was thicker than silence, heavier somehow. It was almost as though I had tufts of lamb’s wool in my ears. Within minutes, a fair looking woman in a worn blue stola emerged from the stairway with a basket of warm bread and a bowl of dates. She, too, had clearly spent the evening in tears. She quietly placed the food on a small table by the lantern and turned to go. No one seemed interested in eating. I was struck by her beauty. She bore refined features and carried herself modestly. The woman paused in front of Peter, looked into his eyes, and bowed her head deeply as if she were in great pain. Peter raised his hand placed it gently on the back of her head for just a moment. She stood there crying for several minutes before she wiped her eyes with the free end of the tichel that neatly covered her hair, and then she left as suddenly as she had appeared.
No sooner did she leave our sight than we heard knocking at the gate once again. Every man in the room jumped into ready positions, as though they expected the worst. I felt fear welling inside me as I looked toward Peter, who glanced at me with a knowing expression. Though his weeping had subsided, his face appeared sunken and tired. His heavy heart was visible in every pore. He moved quickly to the window and I followed, we both peered out through the tiny crack below the batten. “It’s alright,” he said as he turned back toward the room. I could feel the relief in air as the men collectively abandoned their ready positions. “James,” Peter continued, “it looks to be John. Go down and let him in.” The man who had greeted Peter and I just moments before, again, rose to his feet and efficiently made his way down the stairs. Once again, I found myself claiming a moment to commit names to memory.
I turned my gaze back to the man they called John at the gate. His breath was heaving. He panted as though he’d run all the way from Damascus. I squinted against the still-looming dark as James threw his arms around John, embracing him with the same fervor as Peter before him. The two shared a brief exchange. I struggled to hear them, but I could make out a few words: Sanhedrin, Pilate, and dawn. I could instantly feel my heartbeat in my ears. What had I walked into? The Sanhedrin? Had I made a grave mistake?
When James and John were safely back inside, John was still breathing heavily. The other men sat up, riveted by his presence. “Tell them,” James said emphatically. They each waited with baited breath to hear what John might say. The woman returned again and presented John with a water cup. He took the craft and drank eagerly and quickly with large gulps. The entire room waited in profound anticipation.
“Oh, dear Mary, thank you,” John said breathlessly, as he wiped the excess moisture from his lips with the back of his hand. Another name to remember. This time, Mary stayed. She reached for John’s cup as he began to speak, “The Sanhedrin have condemned him. He will go on trial before Pilate at dawn.” He spewed the words into the air as though they tasted badly in his mouth.
“So quickly?” Peter spit out his words in return. He seemed dismayed. Truly, in all my years, I’d never heard of another trial that had been conducted so suddenly, and in the wee hours of the morning no less – it all seemed somehow evil. “He told us all this must happen. We all heard him.” Peter continued. “We watched him give himself over to the guards. He could have stopped it if he’d chosen to. And in the garden, he told us not to fight back, but how can we simply stand by and do nothing?” He hung his head and grabbed onto his own hair so fiercely that I feared he may pull it out.
“What could we do, besides get ourselves arrested alongside him?” James added ardently.
Another man jumped to his feet and shouted, “We should fight back!”
“No!” James shouted in return, “You heard him in the garden. All who draw the sword shall die by the sword! Or have you so quickly forgotten the guard’s ear?”
The room fell silent for a long while, until another man stood, “I can’t just sit here. I’m going to the trial.”
“You’ll be caught,” another said.
“No I won’t. I will cloak myself and cover my face.”
“I’m going too,” John added. He spoke to the entire room and said, “We must all cover our faces when we’re outside. We will lose the darkness and will be easily found out.” He turned to Peter, “Are you coming?”
Peter stood silently, frozen in place. I could practically see the thoughts running through his mind. I could hear the sound of his voice echoing in my head “I denied him.” He seemed shackled by shame. But after meeting these men and witnessing how they looked to Peter for leadership, I hoped his secret would remain inviolate and that no one else would ever find out about his painful confession there in the road. As I watched Peter wrestle with the consequences of his choices, it dawned on me that I had never met this rabbi, but I had heard the stories. Everyone had. And if these men were any indication of who the Galilean was, then he truly must have been the holiest of rabbis — maybe even a prophet.
As the dawn of a new day began its imminent ascent, Peter, James, John, Mary and I, along with two of the other men, made our way in secret to Antonia Fortress, where the Galilean would stand before Pontius Pilate in what felt like it might be a matter of moments. James and Peter had tried in earnest to keep Mary from making the journey, suggesting that the day’s events may be difficult to watch, but Mary could not be dissuaded. “His mother will be there,” she said. “I’m sure of it. Someone should be there to help care for her and for his brother.”
I thought about her words for a moment. They hung like symbols in my ears. I imagined a mother watching her child stand before the courts. If this rabbi was innocent like they said, then his mother’s pain would be magnified tenfold. I prayed I wouldn’t meet her. I didn’t think I would be able to bear it.
As we traveled, we dared not walk together. Several of the men reiterated the risks of being recognized, so we paired off and allowed lots of space between us. I walked with John and learned through him that he and James were brothers, and the sons of Zebedee, whom my father knew well. Mary walked just behind them, keeping pace and watching where she stepped, always keeping her eyes downcast, probably to hide the tears that had been flowing freely for hours.
Just before the sun crested the horizon we stopped outside a vacant storefront, just beyond the courtyard at Antonia, which everyone had come to know as the governor’s house. The walls of the court were far too high for us to see anything of note from the street. “Look, we could watch from the rooftop,” James whispered. We all followed him up the ladder and kept ourselves behind the cover of the knee-wall as we knelt on the rooftop. “Pull the ladder up behind you,” James told one of the men, “it will be safer for us if we do.” We watched from the distance as a crowd began to gather around the steps.
From our rooftop perch, we began to hear rumblings in the street below. Even the people who were simply going about their daily chores seemed preoccupied by the tension in the air and the suddenness of the holy man’s trial. “He’s innocent,” some would say. “He’s a blasphemer,” others would claim.
“There he is!” Peter shouted in a whisper, as a bloodied, weary man, bound with chains, was cast forth onto the steps. The man stumbled, but he did not fall. I was transfixed by him, though I struggled to comprehend the scene before me. This man they called The King of the Jews didn’t look like a king at all. How could this man be the mighty coming king I’d heard so much about? It didn’t seem possible. I looked at Peter, whom I could tell truly believed this man was our Messiah. But when I looked back toward the courtyard, I failed to see the majesty Peter saw. Instead, I saw brokenness. Pilate motioned for his guards, and two men dressed in the garb of the Roman soldier stepped forward and pulled the Galilean up the stairs toward Pilate. Pilate turned quickly, his crimson cape danced in the breeze behind him as he moved. He made his way toward the doorway. The soldiers flanked the Galilean as they continued up the steps and through the grand pillars. We waited.
“I’m going for a closer look,” John announced. He slowly slid the ladder down toward the street, keeping his body low behind the wall.
“Be careful, brother.” Peter called after him. Mary rose to follow him. “Mary?” Peter asked, as if to question her intent. ‘
“I am not one of the twelve. Perhaps I can get closer than John without risking my freedom.”
“She’s right,” John responded from his position on the ladder.
“So be it,” Peter conceded.
I watched as the pair descended and weaved their way into the tapestry of people on the now crowded street. John began to run toward the courtyard, carefully avoiding a handful of the Roman guard as he did so. Mary walked quickly, unencumbered. It seemed like a long while before we saw John’s face again, but in actuality, the sun had barely moved in the sky. I moved quickly to help one of his other companions with the ladder, but he waved his hand to stop us. “Pilate has called him innocent! They’re taking him before Herod!” He looked over his shoulder in both directions before he continued to speak, “I heard the guards murmuring.” He looked around again. “There’s no way we’ll be able to get close enough, but I’m going to follow the guards as best I can. Perhaps I can call out to him to let him know we are with him.”
“Where is Mary?” one of the other men asked, as he looked back toward the crowd in the street.
“I don’t know. She stayed with the crowds. She was looking for his mother.”
As John spoke, another man I didn’t recognize ran up behind him. I could tell the others knew him so I let the tension fall from my fists. He was breathing heavily and had panic in his eyes, “They found Judas” he panted, “he hanged himself just outside the city walls!” A hush fell over the group and I watched a look of remorse spread across Peter’s face. There was a strange sense of both grief and justice in the glances shared on the rooftop. I wondered what it meant, but I dared not ask. We could hear the crowd crying out in the distance with renewed intensity, and I turned to watch the man they called rabbi, bound in shackles and flanked by two Roman guards, pressing through the throngs of people, making their way toward the courtyard gate.
“I’m going,” John announced. He didn’t wait for a response and instead called over his shoulder to Peter, “I’ll be back. Wait here and be safe.”
“May God keep you!” Peter called out behind him as John ran into the streets, headed for Herod’s palace. I settled back into my spot on the rooftop. The morning light had grown quite bright, so I shaded my eyes with my hand as I watched the crowd continue to grow inside the courtyard. As I watched, unable to look away from the masses, the other men began to share stories, stories unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Of course, I had heard about the Galilean’s miracles, everyone had — but I only knew them as they came through the lips of people at the market, or at the well. But these men spoke as though they’d seen these things with their own eyes. There was no doubt in their voices; no doubt, and no deception. I tore my gaze away from the crowd and looked to Peter.
I mustered the courage to speak for the first time in hours, “Did you really walk on the water?” I whispered. It was as if I’d sounded a horn, suddenly the other men on the rooftop became both aware and abruptly wary of my presence.
“Who are you to ask? Why are you asking questions?” One of the men said sharply. Another reached for a loose stone on the ledge, preparing to pummel me if I answered against his satisfaction. Peter moved in front of me, placing himself between me and my accusers, crouching to remain unseen. He lifted his arms toward his friends disarmingly.
“I trust this man,” Peter said. “Though he was a stranger to me, he came to my aid in the street and sacrificed his own safety to help me.” As the other men disarmed themselves, Peter answered my original question in a whisper, “Yeshua really did the walking. All I did was cling to him.” I felt something akin to excitement building in my heart. I was secretly envious, wishing I had been there to see it with my own eyes. It seemed so impossible, and yet, I reluctantly believed him.
Once again we heard John’s voice, crying out from somewhere among the suddenly boisterous crowd. We all turned to look into the street, scanning the crowd for his face. Peter spotted him, waving his hands over his head to signal his location. He pushed through the throng in the street to cry out to us, “Herod has released him as well! They’re taking him back to Pilate!” He turned from us and headed immediately toward the courtyard. We all shifted and moved to ensure we had the most advantageous views, but within mere seconds, Peter was on his feet.
“I’m going. I need to be closer to him. I cannot stay here.” He laid hold of the ladder.
I stood to help him. As we lowered it to the street, I spoke. “I’m coming with you. Like Mary, neither am I one of the twelve, perhaps I can help you in some way.” Peter bowed his head in thanks. We descended into the multitude. Peter walked closely behind me, keeping his head down, matching my stride step for step. When we passed a member of the Roman guard, he huddled in so close behind me I could feel his heartbeat.
As we pressed in through the gate, the crowd grew especially dense. I caught a glimpse of Mary moving with another woman along the far wall. As I watched, they stepped in behind John and another man I’d yet to meet. The woman with Mary looked torn, as though her heart had been ripped from her chest. I knew immediately that she was the Galilean’s mother. My heart seized at the sight of her. “I see John and Mary,” I whispered over my shoulder. Peter stayed close behind me. He repeatedly placed his hand on the cloak over his face, as if to ensure his identity was still hidden. We stepped in behind John and Mary and the others. A roar erupted from the crowd. I could see the Galilean shuffling in his shackles toward the stairs. His face appeared more battered than before. A Roman guard shoved him periodically, as if somehow shoving him could lengthen the chains that hindered his stride.
A full company of Roman guards were stationed between the stairs and the crowd, far more than had been present at dawn. Pilate appeared on the stairs before us. He raised a hand toward the crowd and spoke, “Herod has found no cause in this man, nor have I!” Many of the people in the crowd hissed and booed. Pilate raised his hand again. He scanned the crowd with his eyes. He seemed to be sizing up a potential threat. “As you know, each year, I release a prisoner back to you.” As he spoke, a trio of guards dragged the man they call Barabbas onto the stairs from somewhere inside the fortress. I knew of Barabbas. He was a notorious robber. He’d been found guilty of insurrection and murder, and he had a much-feared reputation. Just the sight of him made me bristle. His eyes were dark and menacing. His stature was one of intimidation. I found myself clutching my tunic against my chest and I had to force myself to let it loose. I held my breath as Pilate hushed the crowd.
He questioned the mob, asking which prisoner we’d have him release, the man they call Jesus, or the captive Barabbas. From somewhere in the front, we heard the chief priest cry out “Free Barabbas!” As if on cue, the other Pharisees and even much of the crowd began to shout the same.
I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but I found words shooting from my lungs all the same, “Jesus!” I cried at the top of my lungs, “Jesus!” Several people in the crowd turned to look at me. I felt suddenly vulnerable, but Peter began to shout with me, as did the rest of our group. Try as we might though, we were no match for the volume of the mob. And then, it happened. I remember it as clearly as I remember my own name. Jesus looked at me. As he stood there on the steps, beaten, exhausted and quiet – he looked right into my eyes, ever so briefly. I somehow felt his gaze deep in my soul, but I knew he’d seen me. He’d heard me. And somehow, I felt as though he knew me. I felt renewed – Truly, this man must be the Messiah.
“He’s seen us,” Mary spoke, clutching the hand of Jesus’ mother. I could see Jesus lamenting the pain in his own mother’s face. The look in his eyes seemed to be one of comfort, despite his own circumstances. Pilate raised his hand again and silenced the crowd. His expression revealed his uncertainty. He asked a second time who the crowd would release, and the response was nearly identical.
Pontius Pilate gestured to his men and they began the arduous process of unshackling the heavily bound Barabbas. “And what then would you have me do with this man they call the Christ?” He shouted as he lifted an open palm toward the rabbi.
The chief priest shouted back in a loud voice, “Crucify him!” He turned toward the crowd, raised both his arms and shouted again, “Crucify him!” The crowd joined in, screaming and spitting and shaking their fists. His mother wailed. Tears cascaded over her cheeks. Mary was all but holding her up. The other man there wrapped an arm around her and held her tightly.
Pilate took a deep breath. I could see his breastplate rise and fall. He raised his eyes toward the balcony where his wife looked on. I can’t be certain, but I would almost swear I saw her shake her head and mouth the word ‘no’ in his direction. Pilate turned to the crowd again, and again stated he could find no fault in the man Jesus, but the priests continued to aggressively demand an order of crucifixion. The hesitation in Pilate’s face was evidence of an apparent inner turmoil. The mob began to grow restless, they chanted “crucify him, crucify him,” over and again. The Roman guards were forcibly holding back the crowd from pressing onto the staircase. After a few moments of observation, Pilate succumbed to the pressure of the multitude. He again addressed the crowd, raising his hand to silence them long enough to shout, “He is to be flogged!”
Continued at: http://www.tylieeaves.com/the-making-of-a-rock-2/