Excerpt, Footsteps of St. Peter, Passion Week, Book III (Release date, November 2012)
When it was almost time for the Passover many went up to Jerusalem for their ceremony cleansing. They were looking for Jesus. As they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Is he coming to the Feast at all?” For the chief priest had issued orders, that if any one knew where Jesus was, they should tell them, so they could arrest him when he came to the city for Passover week.
* * *
Passover week in Jerusalem, what a week. The Holy city flooded with people from all over the region and beyond. Coming to honor and worship God in their own ways. Coming out of duty. Coming out of curiosity. Coming out of hope to take advantage of the vulnerable crowds.
There were Meads, Parthians, residents from Mesopotamia and Cappadocia, citizens of Judea. The ever present Roman guards—the mounted police. There were Egyptians, Lydians, families as far away as Macedonia or nearby Bethany, Bethelehem and Nain. Young and old. Babies complaining at the noon-day sun. Children running, playing, snatching scraps of delicacies from market tables and shops. The smell of incense and fresh lamb roasting of open fires filled the air. The smell of beggars in filthy rags with their stashes of molded bread scraps.
There were shouts and laughter and arguments over the value of some trinket or souvenir. Clever pickpockets filled their pouches. Not so clever pickpockets being clubbed with instant justice for all to see.
There was every language, dialect you could imagine. There was every level of culture. Every manner of dress. Every shade of skin. This was truly a merchants dream. One week of the year—the high tourist season—when they could really rake it in. And it was a bargain hunter’s delight, every thing you could imagine to buy. To me, in my book, it was nothing more than a pedestrian’s nightmare. That is what it was.
Maybe one tenth of this surge of pious intruders cared one mite about the Passover. This was my fourth year in a row and I deserved to be here. They should have
guards at the gates checking credentials.
We had stopped at Bethpage on the Mount of Olives and found places to stay. A few of us at Lazarus’s house. The others nearby. The crowds covered the ground all the way down the mountain side and up to the city. Tents of every color littered the landscape. Smoke rising form campfires. Goats and lambs grazing on stubble or sticking their noses in sacks of grain.
There was no sense at all trying to stay in the bulging city. Besides were already felt like criminals with what happened on … no, let me tell it this way.
I’ll start with Tuesday. A day off. We thought. We came into the holy city through the South Gate up the Royal Porch. We past the Court of the Gentiles which was orderly today, you’ll understand in a minute. Jesus headed straight to Solomon’s Portico where his students were waiting—his hopeful Talmadine disciples. He sat and leaned against a massive marble column while his students sat close, stood near and hovered. He taught. They hung on his every word. He answered their questions with incredible wisdom yet great understanding. This was the happiest I’d seen my master in days—longer. There was open discussion with Jesus enjoying every moment. The crowd swelled. I realized we were surrounded. Trapped. No way out. I didn’t like it. Yes, many were enthralled with his understanding of the scriptures but we knew many were threatened by his authority over the people.
I couldn’t shake it—a feeling in the air—as if trouble was coming from somewhere but I couldn’t tell from which direction. I stood up on my toes. I peered around the heads and bodies, then, I spotted them. Jesus didn’t seem to notice or care about anything except his hungry students, but here they came. Chief priest, scribes, Pharisees, each one trying to stand taller than the next with their royal robes swirling. Have you seen a camel’s face? Then you know what they looked like.
As they made their way through the narrow streets, the crowds swept in behind them, like a school of fish. They knew. They hoped a ruckus was coming. No surprise when this hoard strutted through town it would end in a confrontation. They did not come out in public but for a pious show of self-righteousness or a display of disdain for a minor infraction of legality.
As they stomped up the steps like a regiment from God Almighty it became obvious their destination was us—was Jesus. The students scattered as the crowd pressed. Guarded excitement. Dust of holy ground filled the air. Grunts of disapproval from those forced from their vantage point. The pious party squared off. They retreated to a neutral corner and elected a spokesman who stepped forward pointing a scrawny finger, stroking his scraggly beard.
“Jesus.” He said. His voice dripping with anticipation. Jesus looked over a shoulder.
“Yes you.” The Pharisee pointed his finger and stroked his beard again. “We have a question for you.” His voice rose. “We’d like to know.” He circled behind Jesus and stopped abruptly poking his face to Jesus’ ear. “By what authority are you doing all these things? And just who gave you the authority to do these things.” He went back to his cronies.
This was a common question. It should have been a polite one, rabbi to rabbi. An opportunity to find out who the new teacher in town studied under. To see if the visiting rabbi had sufficient credentials to draw a crowd.
But the these things of their question must have referred to the likes of Sunday. Our entry into the holy city. Never had I seen anything like it. Oh yes, we were often met with townspeople anxious to hear, to see, to touch just the hem of his garment, but let me start with the Sabbath.
We had observed the celebration of Unleavened bread the first day of Passover week with Lazarus and his family and as many as his house could hold. It was a quiet meal. Jesus spoke little. He asked Lazarus to read the scriptures and John to conduct the proceedings. The passage of scripture we were all familiar with but I hadn’t heard since I was child and then had no idea what it stood for.
“Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph,” John actually shouted, “O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey's colt.”
Jesus sighed as he heard it. I wanted to shout too, this must be a sign of things to come, but Jesus pulled his tallith over his head and prayed. We joined him. He left the room and held his hand so we would not follow. His shoulders sagged as if he carried a great weight.
What should have been a festival felt like funeral possession. Little did I know. The next day we saw the three hundred year old scripture passage come to life.
“Peter, John,” Jesus said, “go to town find a colt tied to a stake and fetch it here. If someone asks who needs it tell them the Lord does.”
We went to town and it happened just that way. When we returned, John and I took our outer coats and laid them over the back of the colt for Jesus. John’s face filled with joy as we both spoke the scripture, “Rejoice daughter of Zion, see your king is coming…”
Without a signal of any kind we were surrounded with folks from all over the mountainside. Thousands we already ready with us as we made our way toward the Gold Gates of the holy city. Children ran and played. People sang and danced. Tambourines jingled, the ram’s horn blasted. Then thousand came running from the city and flooded the street. I could see people hanging from the top of the walls. Then the most amazing thing. People took off their out coats and laid them on the street in front of Jesus. Others cut palm branches and waved them in the air. Roman soldiers lined the roads so we could make our way into the city. And everyone was shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
We had arrived. All I hoped for was in front of my eyes. John and I held the donkeys’ rope, walked through the crowds while many threw flowers from balconies lining the streets. Hosannas rang through the city, palm branches waved in the air. It seemed everyone agreed, Jesus is the Messiah. This is the day that the Lord has made and we will rejoice in it.
Yes, these things, they were talking about, like the triumphant entry to Jerusalem on Sunday, but then there was the ugly event on Monday.