The Praetorium guard closed ranks in front of the dais as Pilate gathered his robe and outer garment then swiftly and silently departed through the archway to his judge’s private chamber. Crossing the room in measured pace, Pilate now made his way to the prison attached to Herod’s magnificent palace and was ushered through the gate as soon as he arrived. Several of the convicted were slated for crucifixion. Even now, the crossbars of their crosses were being tied across their shoulders before being shoved and herded to the exit marking the main avenue to Jerusalem’s outer wall.
As each prisoner was processed, the jailer barked out their name and crime, and the scribe painted the words on a piece of flat board, whitened with gypsum. It was to this table Pilate approached with an air of purpose. Without comment, Pilate took one of the longer boards piled beside the scribe and dipping a brush in the scribe’s ink bowl, he wrote a line in Latin. Then speaking brusquely, he commanded the scribe and jailer these words to be repeated in Greek and the language of the Hebrews.
He still felt restless and perturbed, repulsed at having been manipulated into doing what he had been so reluctant to do, and angry that his day had been made hostage to the schemes of the Sadducees. Needing a walk, he returned to the Praetorium, jerked his head at his waiting captain of the guard, and without a backward glance strode through the private exit that would lead over the bridge and back to Fort Antonia.
Chief Priests and Elders
Annas, Caiaphas, and the elders with the temple guard contingent had quickly returned to the temple mount. They, too, had heard the horns announcing the sixth hour, and upon their arrival the massive marble courtyard of the temple was filled with worshippers and their bleating yearlings. Caiaphas noted with approval that many had already been slaughtered, the air heavy with the acrid odor of blood mixed with a thick miasma of cardamom, frankincense, spikenard, and myrrh wafting from the incense burners.
Money changers were clearly conducting a brisk business, with long lines snaking through the throng, and the other vendors calling out their wares had no dearth of pilgrims crowding around their kiosks. Annas smiled with satisfaction, and though retired, moved to the inner Court of the Women to oversee the Treasury, his usual post on feast days.
Soon, each member of the Sanhedrin’s coterie had dispersed to the tasks appointed to them during such an important festival—though not without first assigning a few who had not yet done duty, to observe the crucifixions. They were to bring back word when the itinerant preacher Jesus had been hanged.
John, Mary and the Other Women
Disconsolate and lost, John stumbled through the streets of Jerusalem until he had found his way back to the house of John Mark. Perhaps some of the others would be there, and at the least, it would be a place to leave news before he returned to the main thoroughfare. He thought to perhaps catch a glimpse of the Master being led with the other condemned to skull hill. As he entered the house’s small and tidy courtyard, he noticed the windows were dark, yet called out even so. It had been a long and exhausting night, perhaps they had fallen into troubled sleep just as the dawn had begun to break.
When no one returned his call, John sat on one of the stone benches beside the door and leaned against the cool of the house’s wall. Soon, Mary the mother of Jesus came to the house’s entrance. Here is a drink for you. Do you have word of my son? And with many tears, in a broken voice, John poured out his heart as Mary listened from the door.
Finally, her voice quiet and solemn, Mary called back into the darkness behind her, echoing the words of Jesus spoken the night before, Arise, [that] we might lead away, now. From within came the sounds of rustling, and scraping of chairs, for it seemed a number of the women had come to the house in the night. Soon, they were walking wordlessly together toward Jerusalem’s street called Straight, what would one day become known as Via Dolorosa.
John’s description of the religious rulers’ final words hung pensively among them. We do not have a king if not Caesar. Had they never prayed the Shema? Had they never spoken the holy words of the scriptures, there is but one Lord, Adonai alone? Did they no longer believe the Almighty One was Sovereign over all? Had they not listened to even one story of Jesus’s teaching? Did they not recognize themselves as the ones who killed the king’s son in the hopes of keeping the vineyard of Israel for themselves?
How could they reject God? John was deeply troubled, and found his faith twisting inside him, as though caught in the throes of death. His faith cried out within him, it struggled for breath, it thrashed frantically, suffocating in the fumes of the chief priests’ pronouncement. He thought of the many times when, as a boy, the rabbi of Bethsaida’s small synagogue would teach them from the sacred writings.
One lesson filtered up now, in vivid recollection. You must remember this the rabbi would say, you must remember the choices of these two in the garden of paradise itself. John bit his lip as he walked slightly ahead of the women, trying to make a way for them, moving his shoulder here, and his hip there, to push a line through the thick crowds of people.
They chose between righteousness, between communion with the Almighty and pleasing Adonai by doing good, and rejecting the Sovereign of all creation, stiffening their necks against the Holy One. John remembered gasping with the other boys as the rabbi would play the part, shaking his fist at heaven, and crying out, We will not have Almighty reign over us.
They already knew the truth about what was good, the rabbi had taught them. They had only this one word from God, this one Law, do not eat of this tree, but of all the others you may eat. But they knew much from this one word. Good is Who Adonai -is-, the rabbi would say to them, and they of course always nodded their heads in obedient assent, for it was true. Good is what the Lord made, good is what the Lord provides, only good can come from the Lord.
And they knew evil, too, the rabbi would continue. Yes, they knew that evil, on the other hand, is anything contrary to Adonai, contrary to the good word of the Lord. And so they were -already- growing in the knowledge of good and evil from the perspective of righteousness. And the boys knew this too was true, for every day they obeyed the word of the Lord and communed with the Holy One was a day they aligned themselves with all that was good.
What happened? The rabbi would always ask this question with great sorrow, and puzzlement, lifting his shoulders up, and his hands out, as though any answer they offered would be a great gift.
And they would answer always with the same urge to comfort and reassure their grieving rabbi, They doubted!
What did they doubt?
The goodness of Adonai! one would say.
The goodness of the Lord’s word! would pipe another.
The right of the Sovereign to rule! They wanted to be the rulers, they wanted their own rules, answers would tumble out of them now, knowing in their own hearts what Adam wanted. Did they all not also want to disobey their parents? And do whatever they pleased?
And their rabbi would nod, as though he had heard these answers for the first time. Yes, yes, how right they were, these are the things they wanted, these two people. And why? Who put these thoughts into their heads?
The Lying Serpent!
Yes, their rabbi would nod, exactly so. The serpent of old, that liar. And what did they bring into creation? Was it freedom? Was it liberty from their good Sovereign? Was it a better world they made for themselves, and for their children, and for their children’s children? And vigorously, they would shake their heads, No!
No, agreed their rabbi, shaking his head sadly. With one fatal decision they brought sin and corruption and death into the world, they brought devastation. And the boys would shudder. For were they not all here today, in a world crushed by the cruel and heathen Romans, who had tied great millstones to people and thrown them into the Galilee for trying to break away from imperial rule.
And they hid from Adonai. The man blamed the woman, the woman the Lord had made for Adam. So the man blamed the Holy One as well.
They would suck in their breath at that.
Only the woman exposed the Lying Serpent, for it had deceived her, and now she knew. It is why things are they way they are today, their rabbi would explain. It is why we die, why we struggle and suffer to draw forth a living from the earth, why there is sorrowful toil and struggle between people, and nations, and with the Almighty.
John’s breath had become ragged, for they were hurrying, and his early morning drinks of water and small barley loaf were but a faint memory, now. But they had at least reached the street called Straight, and just in time.
[Streets of Jerusalem as Jesus is led away | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]