The following is the fourth of a series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. A warning: this is just a wacky exercise of creative writing that asks the question, “What if it had all happened like this?”
Deep underground in a dank cell sat a poor substitute for a king. Herod groaned as he turned his head in the darkness. His bones ached, and he was worried that at least one of his arms was broken.
For hours, he simply groveled in his pain, and muttered over and over, “I should have seen it coming … I should have known.”
He’d had his eyes on Jesus for over a year now, but he’d been convinced finally that he was a harmless itinerant preacher, of less substance than that pesky John who couldn’t keep his nose out of everyone’s business. He had some good tricks up his sleeve, like multiplying food and healing people, but he didn’t think he had a knack for guerrilla warfare.
Herod had been fooled.
He knew that he himself hadn’t been a particularly good ruler. He had the title of “king” simply as an honorary designation from the Romans, which he’d paid dearly for. He didn’t have to do much but throw lavish dinner parties on a regular basis, because he got his direct marching orders from Pilate.
Yet the one thing that he was responsible to Rome to do, he’d failed spectacularly at. And that responsibility was to keep rogue Israelis from even thinking about rebellion.
Herod had already searched his cell for something to put an end to his misery. But it was bare.
He feared what Jesus and his army might do to him.
And when he heard the footsteps coming down the steps, his heart momentarily stopped.
But it was only a couple of ragged soldiers, followed by a little weasel of a man, who carried an enormous ledger. He was taking inventory of the cells and their inhabitants.
When he stopped in front of Herod’s cage, he did a brief double-take, then smiled sardonically, made a few notes, and began to walk away.
“Hey,” said Herod. “Is this any way to treat a royal prisoner? I’d have better accommodations in a Turkish dungeon.”
The man moved on, chuckling under his breath.
But the laughter seemed to enrage Herod.
He struggled to his feet and lunged against the bars of the cell. “You piece of dirt,” he roared. “You and your Messiah don’t know what you’re doing! This rebellion will never last. Who’s funding it? How much money do you have in your coffers anyway? You know, paying for an occupation is expensive!”
At the mention of the word “money,” the man with the ledger stopped where he was. Herod thought he saw him wince.
He motioned for the soldiers to move on without him. Slowly, he turned around.
“Yes, I suppose you have a point,” he said. “I don’t honestly know how we’re going to make this work. The mercenaries and consultants are costing us a fortune. The weapons were smuggled from Russia at a great cost. I’m trying to figure out how to make sure to keep everybody fed, including scum like you. Perhaps you can direct me to a hidden treasure box in your palace.”
Herod stared back at him.
“I’ve got something better for you … ” he said, searching for the man’s name.
“Call me Judas.”
“OK, Judas, if you can help me get out of here, I will share a small fortune with you, and you alone,” Herod said. “I have plenty of financial resources. But it will be no good to me, or to you, if I die here.”
“With all due respect, that would be like slitting my own throat,” said Judas. “You would lead the Romans right back to us, and we’d be doomed.”
Herod laughed. “You’re already doomed,” he said. “Don’t you understand that? There’s no way you’ll be able to keep this up. When Caesar hears what’s happening, he’ll send a million troops, plus tanks, airplanes, and nuclear submarines! You will never last!”
Judas seemed to go pale suddenly.
“Let me out and I’ll set you up for life,” Herod said. “And you can walk away before this place goes up in flames.”
By the time Judas left the dungeon, he’d made his decision and set the plan in motion that would make him a very rich man.
However, he failed to account for one very small detail.
One of the soldiers who’d accompanied him into the dungeon had hung back and overheard the conversation between Judas and Herod. One man knew Judas’ awful secret. That man was a handsome rebel named Lev.
Lev had become a willing accomplice in the revolution. He and his friend, Gad, had immediately joined the new, makeshift army. He let it be known to his regiment commander, a Westerner named Chuck, that he was willing to do the dirty jobs, the things that nobody else wanted to do.
In so doing, he’d earned the trust of Jesus’ closest associates, and was slowly burrowing his way closer to the inner circle. When he wasn’t running messages for the army or serving as guard on the wall, he took his newest squeeze, Miriam, under his arm and paraded her through the streets.
In all honesty, she didn’t care much for the politics of it all. When Lev tried to explain to her the intricacies of the new provisional city government that Jesus was putting together, she shook her head.
“Who cares?” she said. “As long as those pig-headed Romans are gone, I don’t care if Jesus wants to set up a communist utopia. Anything will be better than what we had.”
Lev’s eyes darkened momentarily. “He’s not a communist,” he snarled. “He’s the Messiah. He’s going to restore Israel to the prominent place we once had among the nations. We’ll be a world power again.”
Lev’s fierce loyalty is what made him such a beloved comrade.
And once he’d caught wind of Judas’ disloyalty, he was ready to act.
He knew he couldn’t go straight to Jesus. He wasn’t high-ranking enough to have the ear of the Master. So he tried to identify someone close to Jesus, someone who Jesus trusted.
He saw Peter around the campfire that night, and approached him.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said.
Peter looked up at him and nodded.
“My name is Lev. I have something important to tell somebody,” he said. “About a betrayal …”
As he spilled the information, he saw Peter’s eyes grow large, then shrink into themselves. When he was finished, Peter said, simply, “Thank you, young man, thank you. Your diligence will not go unrewarded. I will be responsible for this information now.”
As he walked away from the fire, Peter was lost in a reverie of emotion. At last, his time had come. By revealing this news to Jesus, Peter would cement his place next to the Messiah. He would be celebrated for his faithfulness, his loyalty. Jesus would see that he needs him. He would say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
But when would be the right time to tell Jesus? He would need to do it at a crucial and dramatic moment, in front of many people. He needed witnesses, lots of them. Maybe even Judas should be present.
He began to smile as the thought occurred to him that on the following day, he and the rest of the original disciples would be dining with Jesus at a special celebration meal.
The perfect time, he thought.
TO BE CONTINUED