In anticipation of a week of sober meditation on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, I offer the following series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. None of us Americans would likely have allowed Jesus’ story to play out the way it did. We prefer stories of heroic violence, in which there are clear villains and enemies. We like strong heroes who don’t mind shedding a little blood in the process. So please indulge me in this creative writing exercise, and imagine what our faith would be like if this is what had happened:
The view of Jerusalem from Mount Olive is a depressing sight, he thought as he stood in the breeze, holding a Bud Lite. It’s our city, he muttered grimly. Yes, it’s a sinkhole in a third-rate country in the middle of a desert, but it’s ours. If we built a few casinos, we could turn this into something.
Larry Ulysses Vance, III, or “Chuck” as his friends and enemies called him, turned and stared at the hut where Jesus was holding court with some of his hanger-ons.
Miserable riff-raff, Chuck thought. Jesus would never accomplish anything with that group of wannabe soldiers. So far, he’d put together a band which included a couple of mercenaries from South Africa, a chap from the French Legion, and a Libyan who’d abandoned al-Qaeda. There was Simon Peter, who’d followed him the longest, and thought he knew everything, though there was something to be said for seniority.
But the guys who made him the angriest were the consultants. Three guys in gray suits and red ties who had advised every American president since 1908. They’re civilians, he thought disgustedly. What do you they know about military strategy?
At that moment, he caught a whiff of a cigarette. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Bartholomew had joined him on the hillside, peering across the valley.
“I’m not feeling good about this,” Bart said. “I think the Romans know what we’re up to.”
“They have superior force of arms, hundreds more soldiers, and an easily defensible position,” Bart went on. “And now we’ve lost the element of surprise.”
After a moment, Chuck blurted out, “Napalm.”
“Napalm. In ‘Nam, we had the same difficulty. They knew we were coming, and so they hunkered down, hiding everywhere. So we used napalm. The stuff burns forever.”
They stood in the silence of the darkening dusk, watching the lights go on throughout the city.
“Where are we supposed to get that?” asked Bart finally. “Would the Iranians be willing to deal?”
“Napalm is easy to make. Just need some gasoline and styrofoam,” Chuck said.
“Let’s run it by Jesus” Bart said.
But Jesus wasn’t at all interested.
“We don’t want to burn the city down,” he said. “We want to rule the city. We simply need to secure the essential seats of power. It’ll be easy — once we invade, the occupants of Jerusalem will welcome us with open arms. They’ve been waiting to overthrow their oppressors for years. And that’s what I’m here for.”
He reached across the table and picked up a chicken wing. “Hey, eat up everyone. There’ll be time for plotting later.”
The next morning was time for plotting, as it turns out. Jesus picked out Leo and Roy, and gave them instructions.
“Go into the village over there, and you’ll find a gun shop,” he said. “Pick out a wide variety of machine guns, automatic rifles, rocket launchers, and a few grenades for good measure. If anyone says anything to you, just say you’ve got a big hunting trip coming up. But don’t worry, nobody will question you. They won’t even run a background check.”
Once they took off in their Jeep, Jesus bent over and started writing in the sand with his finger.
“Jerusalem has seven open gates, and we need to secure each one,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will advance with the major body of fighters to the east and enter through the Golden Gate.”
“Not a good idea,” said one of the South Africans. “The Western side of the city is more vulnerable.”
“Yeah, but the prophecies all say that the Messiah has to enter from the east,” Jesus said. “It’s a bummer, but that’s what we have to work with.”
Chuck watched the plotting from a distance. He had his doubts about this operation.
Yet he liked this Jesus figure. He was smart, charismatic, and funny, really funny. He also liked to get things done. He wasn’t one of these windbags who talk and talk about stuff, but aren’t willing to work.
That’s why Chuck liked him anyway. He could have cared less about the stories and sermons that Jesus told.
But he would follow him anywhere. Especially into the middle of a revolution.
However, napalm was the missing ingredient. Chuck was sure of that.
The first thing that Lev remembers about that Sunday morning was the sound of something falling onto the roof of the building, like enormous raindrops. At first, he thought it was one of those summer rain showers that blew across the desert with a furious, but brief, fury.
Upon reflection, Lev concluded that it must be stones, or rubble falling from towers above his family’s own apartment, or even shrapnel. He flew out of the bed, threw on a shirt and shorts, and bounded into the streets, along with every other teenage boy in Jerusalem, ignoring the warning cries of mothers and sisters.
The commotion came from the east side of the city, and Lev headed that direction. Along the way, he fell in with a schoolmate, Gad.
“What’s going on?” shouted Lev.
“It might be the Zealots,” Gad responded. “Finally — the revolution!”
As they turned a corner which led to the Golden Gate, they dropped to the ground.
A column of well-armed fighters was advancing across the bridge, mowing down Roman guards with a steady clip of machine gun fire. They weren’t uniformed, but they weren’t Zealots, either. They were too well-organized for that.
Bullets whizzed around Lev and Gad’s head, as they stumbled for cover behind an ATM machine. They watched the advancing fighters move through the gate, as resistance crumbled.
When the shooting stopped, the gate was secure. The lead fighter spoke into a walkie-talkie and apparently heard some good news. He raised his arm, and swept it forward several times.
Suddenly, a magnificent stallion galloped across the bridge, into the city. Astride the horse, Lev caught sight of a wild-eyed, confident, and impressive figure. He recognized the itinerant preacher who had been roaming the countryside.
Lev turned to Gad and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s Jesus! I’ve heard him speak — do you think he’s the one, the Messiah?”
Gad shook his head. “He wouldn’t have been my first choice. But if he can get rid of Herod and Pilate, more power to him!”
Jesus lifted his sword and uttered a war cry that echoed across the square. “Long live Israel!”
The citizens of Jerusalem began picking themselves up off the ground, emerged from hiding places, and began cheering loudly. “Long live Jesus, the Messiah, king of kings! Long live Israel!”
And then Jesus and his fighters were off, striding into the heart of the city, firing at every sight of a Roman soldier.
Lev and Gad followed, picking up stones to participate in the rampage. That night, Lev dreamed happily of the noise the rocks made as they bounced off Roman heads.
TO BE CONTINUED