Holy Week is supposed to be a painful time for followers of Jesus.
However, I worry that it is painful for the wrong reasons.
For many Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus is simply understood as a sacrificial act on our behalf. Jesus, though without sin himself, had to die on a cross so that humanity’s sins could be forgiven. This requirement of a sacrificial victim, so this logic goes, stems from the idea that God requires perfection, or sinlessness, and cannot, in any way, accept the stain and corruption of a sinful humanity. The sin must be atoned for, and thus, Jesus steps in and takes our place as a substitute.
This idea is called “substitutionary atonement,” and is the standard evangelical Christian view of what happened during Holy Week. This idea gives rise to an extremely sentimental and individualistic view of Jesus’ passion. I’ve heard preachers say things like, “You were on his mind, when he was on the cross.” I’ve sung songs that assert, “I owed a debt I could not pay/He paid a debt he did not owe.”
In the end, Jesus came to die. That’s it. Nothing else. Even the resurrection is not necessary — all that had to happen is that Jesus die as a substitute for our sins.
I will say it plainly here: this view of Jesus, salvation, the kingdom of God, history, heaven and hell is plainly incoherent, incorrect, and destructive.
That is why I wrote the Alternative Holy Week (#AltHolyWeek) stories on this blog. I wanted to engage with the original purpose, motive, and strategy of Jesus, and contrast it with our usual way of thinking about the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.
First of all, it should be clear that Jesus’ mission was to proclaim and inaugurate the kingdom of God. This is what he himself said on numerous occasions. His first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom has come near” (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15). Everything he said and did flowed from that self-understanding. His parables illustrated what life in the kingdom is like. His miracles were pointers in the direction of kingdom-life.
Everyone who followed Jesus seemed to understand this mission fully only after his resurrection. To some extent, they thought that Jesus was going to set up the kingdom on earth. They thought that this kingdom of which he spoke, was going to look like the Roman kingdom, only better. Thus, when Jesus was crucified, they truly thought everything was over. They believed they had been likely mistaken about Jesus’ identity, because the powers of evil had defeated him.
The resurrection overturned their resignation, however, and they came to see that Jesus was himself the kingdom, meaning that he had truly inaugurated a new order of things, that new life was possible, that God’s shalom could be found on earth. This is what the original Christian creed meant: “Jesus is Lord.”
The second point flows from the first: the kingdom of God is a radically different kind of thing than any of the earth’s kingdoms. For one, it cannot be ushered in by the world’s standards of power and authority. God’s kingdom purposes cannot be accomplished by violence and force. This is the simplest explanation of my story last week. We should take note of the simple fact that Jesus was nonviolent. Though his mission was to establish a kingdom, he did not gather an army, nor did he amass weapons.
This is why the story is so jarring. Jesus came to announce that there is a new king and a new order of things. Yet, he didn’t try to oust the people in power by force. He didn’t even seem interested in that. He simply lived in the reality of the kingdom of God at all times, and refused to acknowledge the idolatrous claims of the various kingdoms around him.
Not only is the kingdom of God nonviolent, but it inverts the values of the world. In God’s kingdom, the poor are lifted up, the sick are made well, the humble are exalted, the last are first. There is no selfish competition, no self-aggrandizement, no jockeying for position and power. Relationships are open, transparent, trusting.
But in the story I wrote last week, Jesus’ kingdom-building was not only physically violent, but also suspicious and cynical. This kind of kingdom rewards the powerful, centralizes authority in a single figure, and creates idols.
There is one more important point to be made, but it is one that is often skipped over, or ignored. Because the kingdom of God is fundamentally different from that of the earth’s kingdoms, many Christians jump over its implications for life on earth, and relegate it to a description of heaven. Then Jesus’ death becomes a substitutionary atonement performed on our behalf, so that we can go to heaven and live in the kingdom of God when we die.
But that is not what Jesus said!
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here amongst you!”
Jesus said, “Let anyone who hears, listen!”
If we are going to participate in Jesus’ mission, if we are truly Jesus’ followers, then we must live in the kingdom of God now, just as Jesus did. We must be nonviolent. We must be merciful and gracious. We must reject the values of the world. We must live as if we truly believe the poor are being lifted up, the sick being made well, the humble are being exalted, and the last are becoming first.
If we don’t, then maybe we don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord after all.
Today, I conclude my alternative Holy Week story. This creative writing exercise has profoundly impacted me. As I reflected on the Biblical story of Jesus, the radical, nonviolent nature of the Son of Man hit me in a powerful way. Tomorrow, I plan to blog about my conclusions as to what it means that Jesus didn’t storm Jerusalem with soldiers and swords.
Early on the first day of the week, as dawn was just beginning to lighten the eastern sky, Jesus stood alone at a window in his bedroom at the royal palace.
He hadn’t slept a wink.
The view of three men hanging on crosses had haunted him all night. From his window, he could just make out the crosses on the distant hill.
He didn’t know why he didn’t feel victorious. He had accomplished exactly what he’d set out to do. He had re-taken Jerusalem, restored the Davidic monarchy by proclaiming himself king, and begun a process of making the Torah the law of the land again. He had broken the yoke of the Romans, and had dismantled their oppressive tax system. All of this fulfilled the Scriptural prophecies of the Messiah.
But it was a hollow victory.
In the meantime, he had executed one of his closest friends, alienated himself from the rest of the disciples, and found himself racked with constant anxiety and worry.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, he thought. It had seemed clearer before. He’d felt so much closer to his Father then.
Another voice told him that this was simply the way things had to be in the real world. Nothing happens without struggle. A military force only understands military force. You can’t really trust anyone in this world. Every human heart is corrupt, deep down. History is written by the victors.
He knew all these things. But it didn’t keep him from fundamentally doubting whether he’d done the right thing.
For one thing, it would be a long time before he knew that his revolution had truly been successful. The Roman army had retreated, for now. His spies told him that these were merely restocking on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
Pilate had gotten away free, too, and Jesus knew that he had significant resources at his disposal. Once Caesar got wind of what was happening, it was likely that Jerusalem would be attacked again. Only this time, the force would be larger.
Jesus wondered how long they would be able to hold out in a siege. He was also exploring the possibility of a preemptive strike against the resting forces. But this would require recruiting a large number of Israelis, training them, and deploying them in a timely manner.
And speaking of the army, how long would he be able to keep them happy? Could he prevent a coup d’etat? If Judas was willing to sell him out for some money, what about the other disciples and leaders? What about that flimsy Peter? Would Peter disappoint him, too?
Besides the military threats, there were plenty of domestic problems.
A new constitution was hastily being written, but already significant sides had formed around various interpretations of Torah. Most of the city’s social services were in disarray, since they had been used to receiving direct orders from their Roman supervisors. And everyday, a line formed outside his throne room from people who wanted to complain about the potholes in their streets, or wanted to have their picture taken with him, or wanted to ask theological questions about their pets.
He was overwhelmed, exhausted, and even a little afraid.
From his window, he saw the distant hills of Galilee. He dreamed of going up into the forest by himself, alone, to spend time with his Father again. Just like it had been before.
But it would never be like that again. Never.
Jesus was the Savior now. For better or worse.
The following is the sixth 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?”
Chuck spent most of the next morning busily chopping wood, measuring planks and assembling nails and ties. He worked tirelessly, without stopping, as if he was avoiding having to think too hard about what he was doing.
Yes, this new project bothered him. This didn’t seem consistent with the Jesus he knew. This wasn’t exactly what he’d signed up for.
He knew how to plan and execute successful military campaigns. He knew how to inspire and motivate men and women. He knew about weapons, armaments, security paraphernalia.
But he didn’t do torture.
And this Roman method of execution known as crucifixion was nothing but torture, according to Chuck. A cruel and unusual punishment.
The orders from the top had been to prepare three crosses, and to find a place just outside the city walls to hang three men. The command had a chilling effect among the citizenry.
They didn’t know exactly who the three condemned figures were, but there were plenty of wild guesses and rumors.
Chuck had briefly argued with the ranking officer who brought him the news. “I thought Jesus said something about overturning the ‘eye for an eye’ law,” he shot out. “Has he changed his mind already?”
The officer was surprised to hear Chuck’s resistance. “This bothers you? But Guantanomo Bay didn’t? Firebombing Dresden was acceptable?”
“I thought we were going to do things differently in this operation,” Chuck countered.
“Things change,” the officer said. “But don’t worry. This is an anomaly. Jesus wants to make a public statement here. Things will return to normal eventually.”
Chuck didn’t believe that.
He obeyed the orders anyway.
And that Friday afternoon, on a small hill called the Mount of the Skulls, the rebels led three men to their custom-made crosses.
The first was a two-bit common criminal named Barabbas. He was in Roman custody when Jesus invaded Jerusalem, but he had such a long rap sheet that Jesus didn’t dare set him free. The dungeon was getting a little cramped, so the decision was made to free up some room. And Barabbas’ fate was set.
When the crowd saw Barabbas, they roared with delight.
“It’s about time you got what you deserve!” shouted a merchant who’d been terrorized by Barabbas.
“Glad to see the new administration is getting tough on crime,” a voice was heard to say in the crowd.
The second man led to the hill was a weaselly fellow whom the crowd immediately recognized as one of Jesus’ original disciples. Judas looked worse than he ever had, eyes ringed with terror, hands nervously twisting.
“Where’s Jesus?” he shouted as he was being stretched on the cross. “I want him to forgive me! Tell him that I beg his forgiveness …. tell him, somebody tell him!”
Judas’ cries of agony were lost in a roar of cheers, as the crowd caught a glimpse of the third and final victim. It was none other than King Herod himself.
He was being forced to carry his own cross, an impossible task given the physical shape he was in. A mocking crown of thorns sat askew on his head, sending a constant stream of blood down the side of his face. A rebel soldier cracked a whip behind him, forcing him forward.
Herod stumbled up the hill slowly, which gave the crowd plenty of time to heckle and harass him. He had never been a greatly-loved king, but neither was he despised either. As Chuck watched on, he grimly wondered how much of the abuse was purely show for the new king.
At the top of the hill, Herod was stripped of his clothes, which were then flung to the eager watching crowd and torn to shreds. The soldiers laid him down on the cross, and nailed his arms and feet to the wood. A sign was affixed to the cross above Herod’s head, which read, “The Charlatan Formerly Known as the King of the Jews.”
Then they hoisted the cross up.
It was a bloody scene, worse than what Chuck had expected.
The men died slowly. So slowly that most of the crowd had thinned out before they finally succumbed. Chuck noticed, with some irony, that none of the other disciples showed up for this public event. Neither did Jesus.
Judas was the first to expire. At his moment of death, a look of satisfaction froze on his face.
Barabbas died not long after, choking and roaring expletives.
But Herod was calm, even peaceful. He seemed to take his death in stride. It was something every king had to be prepared to do eventually. It was one of the hazards of the job. At one point, he looked down at some jeering men and said in a pleading tone of voice, “I’m one of you, don’t forget that. I’m a Jew. I’m proud of you all. But this won’t last. Caesar will crush you.”
When Herod was no more, Chuck looked up at him and muttered under his breath, “Truly that man may have sold his soul to the Romans, but nobody deserves to die that way.”
TO BE CONTINUED
The following is the fifth 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?”
Golda scurried around the kitchen, moving pots and sipping spoons. She had very little time left before the guests began to arrive.
She stopped to mop her brow with the edge of her apron, and reflected on the day’s crazy events.
Early in the morning, two men from the revolutionary guard had arrived and told her that they needed the use of the room on the second floor of the residence she shared with her children and grandchildren.
Wisely, she asked for a rental fee, and the guards accepted without even attempting to negotiate. She also asked if she could prepare a meal for the guests, and they readily agreed to this proposal.
Ever since, she’d been working hard on a meal for thirteen persons. But not just any meal, and not just a plain ol’ Passover meal. She was laying out all the works because she knew that Jesus himself would be present. She was preparing fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, loaves of fresh-baked bread, and apple pie.
But she had something else for Jesus. A request.
Her granddaughter was bright. Brighter than any of the other children in her class at school. Golda could prove it; she patted the report cards hidden in the pockets of her apron.
If she had just a moment alone with Jesus, she could ask him to help her get her granddaughter into the best school in Jerusalem, the Beth Yeshurun Academy. She was presently on a waiting list, but the chances of her moving up were hopeless, unless Jesus could perform some kind of miracle.
Golda checked her oven, then headed upstairs to set the table.
Peter was the first to arrive in the upper room. He wanted time to carefully consider his strategy, and to check the room’s entrances and exits.
He needed to do something to endear himself to Jesus right off the bat, and had decided that he would dismiss the servant, and wash everyone’s feet before the meal. This would impress Jesus as being a humble act, and set the stage for Peter’s dramatic announcement, just before dinner was served, that Judas was a traitor.
Slowly, the guests began to trickle in. Peter watched them straggle in with a wary eye. He noticed that Matthew had recently shaved his long white beard, and that Thomas seemed obsessively concerned with his cell phone. James and John were engaged in a heated argument about the first draft of the new Israeli constitution.
When Judas entered, Peter noticed that he slunk into the room, noiselessly. He looked nervous, furtively glancing from face to face.
Finally Jesus himself arrived and closed the door. His bodyguards stayed outside the door, within earshot.
He raised his arms and said, “Mazel tov!”
The room erupted in applause and cheers. The men slapped each other on the back, exchanged fist pumps, and whooped it up for a good five minutes.
When things had calmed down, Peter seized his opportunity.
“Jesus, sit down,” he said, as he removed his outer robe, and grabbed a towel that had been stretched across the back of his chair. “Here, let me have the honor of washing your feet. In fact, I’ll wash everyone’s feet!”
But Jesus didn’t respond the way Peter expected. He took a step backward, and frowned.
“Wash my feet?” he said. “Why?”
Peter stammered, “Because I want to do something nice for you. I want to be in service to you.”
Jesus snatched the towel from his arms and said, “No thanks, I’ll do it myself. Rule number one for a rebel leader — don’t put yourself in vulnerable situations, even amongst friends. You never know who might have a knife hidden in his underwear, or might be about to betray you with a kiss.”
He leaned over, unbuckled his own sandals, and began to pour water over his dusty feet.
When he noticed that nobody else in the room was talking, he said, “Sorry, but we all have to be careful. Especially me. I can’t afford to be vulnerable and transparent. There are so many people out to get me. But let’s be honest — if they take me out, then this revolution has zero chance of sticking. I’ve got to stay alive.”
When his feet were clean, he tossed the towel to Peter. “Peter, don’t take it personally. Security — that’s my new commandment.”
After everyone had washed their own feet, they sat around the table as Golda brought in heaping plates of fried chicken, potatoes, corn and bread, and poured copious amounts of iced tea and lemonade.
Jesus picked up one of the loaves of bread and stood up ceremoniously.
“Men, the new kingdom has begun,” he said. “We have fulfilled the will of God for this time and this place, but there is much work to do. We are like this one loaf of bread. We have been baked together in the crucible of struggle. We are held together by common bonds of brotherhood.”
But suddenly Jesus grasped the loaf with both hands, and ripped it into two.
“Woe be to the one who would tear this unity, who would rend our fellowship and betray the cause.”
Then just as suddenly, he tossed half of the loaf in the direction of Judas, who instinctively reached out and caught it.
Bartholomew blurted, “But who among us would betray you?”
Looking directly at Judas, Jesus said, “Someone already has.”
The room collectively gasped.
“How much do you plan to make for this transaction?” Jesus asked Judas. “What do you plan to do with the money? Mediterranean cruise? Couple of weekends in Vegas?”
Judas stood up and backed away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about …”
“Guards!” shouted Jesus.
The soldiers burst through the door, and grabbed Judas by the arms.
“If he’s such good friends with Herod, then go put him in the cell next to him,” Jesus said. “But don’t feed him. He’s siphoned enough off our accounts already.”
Peter watched as Judas was dragged off to the dungeon. He was crushed, of course; his plans to ingratiate himself with Jesus had fallen through.
But now he was truly in awe of Jesus — how had he known about Judas?
TO BE CONTINUED
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
Of all weeks, this is the week that followers of Jesus ought to be thinking seriously about justice.
This is not the time to be absorbed with private, sentimental thoughts of lilies and butterflies, or even of a peaceful life after death.
Our faith evolved out of a profound injustice that was perpetrated on an innocent human being two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem. As if to drive home the point, Matthew describes the conversation of the two thieves who are hanging on either side of Jesus. One guy says, “Save yourself, you would-be Messiah!” The other chastises him, saying, “We deserve to be hanging here, but he doesn’t, because he has done nothing wrong.”
And to top it all off, all of the Gospel accounts depict a Roman soldier who, watching as Jesus succumbs, utters, “Surely this was the Son of God!” This was a frank admission that the execution was a terrible mistake.
The fact is that Jesus should not have been arrested, condemned, and executed. He should not have died on Calvary. He should have lived to be a ripe old age, slowly proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God all the while. (I dispute the notion that Jesus’ death was theologically necessary, as if the only reason he was born was to die. But that’s another post.)
Jesus’ life and teachings were the epitome of justice; he preached and lived right relationships with God, self, others, and creation. He went about putting things right, through acts of healing, exorcism, and where necessary, resurrection.
What happened to him was plain injustice. He was arrested on flimsy charges, condemned on the basis of false witnesses, and executed like a dangerous serial killer. He didn’t deserve it. The execution was wrong.
But before we rush on to the end of the story, we ought to pause here and let the weight of this judgment fall on us at this particular point in history.
We cannot deny the fact that the injustice done to Jesus is repeated on countless numbers of people every year. And because we are acutely familiar with Jesus the victim, we ought to be intimately aware of the victims of oppression and evil all around us.
When I think of the criminal saying, “He has done nothing wrong,” I think of children born in refugee camps, or to abusive parents, or in wretched, grinding poverty. I think of young women trapped as sex slaves in Thailand and Eastern Europe. I think of young male African-Americans who are headed to prison in a few years because we’ve greased the slide for them. I think of undocumented workers sitting in detention camps near the Mexican border who were caught trying to visit their sick family members. I think of couples who love each other with a fierce commitment, but are not allowed to formalize their relationship with rites and legal protections.
During Holy Week, we replay all the suffering Jesus went through. We visualize the drops of blood, the whipping, the beating, the crown of thorns, and the nails driven into the hands. We might even shed a few tears of our own, as we reflect in the silent darkness on the injustice done to our Lord.
But if we don’t also shed tears for the victims of present-day injustice, then perhaps we never really did understand what Jesus was doing here among us.
The following is the third 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?”
A wood fire shot sparks into the night air, as shadows played on the distant Wailing Wall. A group of Jerusalem peasants were toasting Jesus’ merry band of mercenaries, and singing old Maccabean revolutionary songs.
For the first time in several days, the disciples felt like they could relax. The city had been completely secured, and every last Roman soldier or sympathizer had been either executed or locked up in a holding cell underground.
Just as Jesus had predicted, after the initial invasion and take-over of the Temple, the shocked Roman guard had momentarily retreated. While they regrouped at their garrison near the Jordan River, hundreds of young Israeli men had flooded into the city to join the uprising. They brought weapons, armor, supplies, and food.
The Romans were clearly caught on their back heels. They didn’t know quite what to do next.
The longer they waited, the longer Jesus had to stabilize his control.
That was the subject on Peter’s mind that night as he sat near the fire on the edge of the Green Zone. Everyone else was getting drunk on the wine which Jesus kept creating out of the endless stone jars of water that they kept dragging to him.
But Peter kept a clear head. He needed to keep an eye on things. He didn’t want things to get out of control. Jesus was counting on him. At least, that’s what he told himself.
He liked to think that he was Jesus’ right hand man, but these days he wasn’t sure. John had weaseled himself awfully close to Jesus lately. And Judas, the money-keeper, was increasingly important to the daily operations.
And then there were the consultants that Jesus brought in from overseas. They brought a critical tactical eye to the proceedings, but they weren’t Middle Eastern. They were responsible for the post-invasion plans, but they didn’t know a thing about Jewish politics or religion.
As Peter mused, Chuck sauntered over and asked if he could have a seat.
“Why aren’t you celebrating with your friends?” Chuck asked.
Peter shrugged. “I’m afraid it’s a little early for that,” he said. “We have lots of work to do before we’re a free country.”
“Indeed,” said Chuck. “But so far, so good. I think Jesus might very well be the right guy for the job this time.”
Peter shot him a sharp look. “This time?”
Chuck laughed. “This is my fourth attempted revolution in Israel. I’ve been around a lot of Messiahs. Most of them were nothing but half-baked lunatics who spent too much time in the desert. But this one is different.”
“Of course,” Peter snapped. “He is the real Messiah, the Son of God.”
Chuck kept quiet. He didn’t dare challenge Peter. But he didn’t agree with him either. Instead, he sat in the silence.
Peter flushed with anger, and continued. “The problem is that he’s surrounded himself with a bunch of idiots. I don’t know why he listens to all these soldiers from Africa and oil executives and security experts.”
Chuck nodded. “I thought Jesus had a pretty good core group of advisers around him, like you and those other eleven guys.”
“They’re not all that special,” he said. “Most of them are just simple fishermen from the backwoods. He used to listen to me — I have my ear close to the ground in these parts. But now he spends most of his time with the consultants.”
He was getting worked up now, but before he could say something he would later regret, he caught sight of a figure walking briskly through the courtyard.
It was Jesus.
Peter stood up quickly. Here’s my chance, he thought to himself.
“Jesus, wait! I need to talk to you,” he said. Jesus looked at him, and without breaking stride, motioned to him to join him.
Chuck watched in amusement. “Good luck with all that,” he thought to himself.
Peter ran to keep pace with Jesus, who had already turned down a darkened market street.
Jesus strode purposefully, his eyes set forward, gleaming.
“Yes, Peter?” said Jesus.
“Lord, I just want to know what’s going on,” Peter said. “I feel a little out of the loop, but I want you to know that I’m willing to do whatever you want — anything!”
Jesus kept walking, though he slowed just a bit. “Ummm, OK. I appreciate that.”
Peter was not satisfied.
“Lord, why are you cutting me out of the leadership?” he said sharply. “You gave me the nickname — ‘Peter the Rock’! For three years, I have been your most trustworthy ally. I was with you on the mountain that day with Moses and Elijah. I walked on the water with you. You believe in me. You need me!”
Jesus stopped and turned to face Peter.
“Peter, I appreciate everything that you have done,” he said with a stony face. “But don’t you ever dare suggest that I need you. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone, because I have the blessing of my Father and the strength of his arm.”
A shudder went through Peter. “I’m sorry, Lord,” he said in a whisper. “But please … put me to the test. Let me prove myself to you.”
Jesus gazed at him fiercely. Then he suddenly pointed to the side of the road.
“See that fig tree?” he said.
Peter turned and saw a scrawny tree in a family garden. It couldn’t have been very old, planted only very recently.
“It’s not much of a tree, is it?” asked Jesus.
“Well, it’s young,” muttered Peter.
Jesus strode right over to the tree, reached down and pulled it from the ground, roots and all, then flung it at Peter’s feet.
“It’s young, alright,” Jesus said. “And it’s vulnerable, easily plundered. Just like the revolution. Nothing is secure yet. We don’t have deep roots yet. We have not yet planted the kingdom firmly in this land. And so everything is at risk. I’m sorry, but I can’t really trust anyone. Everyone is suspect. Everyone is a potential traitor.”
Peter persisted. “After all we’ve gone through these past three years, you say you don’t trust me, Jesus?”
“Especially not you,” said Jesus softly. Then he turned and continued walking down the street.
Peter slumped to the ground, next to the pitiful wilted fig tree, and began to softly cry. In the distance, a lone rooster began to crow.
TO BE CONTINUED