Tuesday, April 7, 2009


One of their friends awoke them early at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany. "Villagers are whispering about the news traveling from the Temple after the Teacher's action yesterday. Apparently many of the exchange merchants are unwilling to set their tables back up, fearful that he might return. Caiaphas is fuming! Violence is in the air because of how much trouble Jesus is causing. But the leaders are afraid...the people love him!"

Jesus had once again slipped away from his bedroll during the night. It was past dawn and he hadn't returned. It seemed that these times of quiet prayer were getting longer by the day.

As they began to stretch and prepare themselves for the morning, Jesus arrived and said, "I must go back into the city today. I will leave in a half hour."

The crowd of followers trailing Jesus down the road was growing. People were arriving from the distant villages to celebrate the Feast in Jerusalem. They had heard that the Teacher was staying in Bethany and stood in little groups waiting for him to emerge from the house.

A short distance down the road, they neared the fig tree where Jesus had stopped the day before. All the leaves had dried and fallen off; the entire tree looked dead. Late Monday night, two of the disciples talked about the tree.

"I wonder what it means," James ben-Alphaeus had mused.

"I've been thinking about it," replied Thaddaeus. "The prophets Jeremiah and Joel both spoke of the fig tree withering. They were clearly speaking about nation of Israel. We Jews should have been alive and full of fruit, but we substituted our own ways for the ways of The Eternal and have been rendered barren."

"You're right!" said James ben-Alphaeus. "And did you notice how 'alive' our temple looked as we neared the city? But the teacher tore into it like a gardener attacking dead limbs. Clearly he saw our religion has become like the tree -- outwardly striking, but fruitless."

"Yes," Thaddaeus answered thoughtfully, "and remember the words of the prophet Micah: 'Oh people, what does the Eternal require of you? Do justice! Love kindness! Walk humbly with your God!' Here in our Temple was the full leaf of religious ritual, but little justice. Here were religious people walking about in their dark robes with Scriptures hanging from their sleeves, but no kindness in their hearts. Here was a huge show of bringing offerings and knowing the correct interpretation of difficult passages, but no humility before God."

At that moment Jesus noticeably looked up at the tree. Peter, ever overstating, said, "Master, the tree you cursed is withered."

"Yes," said Jesus, "but listen carefully. You can tell a mountain to jump into the sea and it will do it...if you have faith."

Today, as their group walked through the Gate, people openly stopped to stare at the Teacher. Those nearby spoke in quiet whispers; the ones in the distance conversed aloud. The disciples weren't surprised that he made a path straight through the Hulda Gates and back onto the Gentile's Court. It was amazingly quiet today.

People gathered around Jesus, seeing that his expression was kind rather than fiery. He began to teach them. "Learn to bear the fruit of righteousness," he said. Almost immediately he was stopped mid-sentence.

"Teacher!" came the strong voice of a Pharisee who stood cloistered with some of his fellows. "Who gave you the authority to do the things you do? You marched in here yesterday and defied the edict of the High Priest by driving out sanctioned merchants."

"They're trying to trip him up," Peter whispered to James ben-Zebedee.

"I will ask you a question," Jesus said with firm gentleness. "When you answer it, I will answer you."

"Agreed," the man replied, black robe rustling lightly in the breeze.

"When John, the son of the priest Zechariah, baptized at the River near Jericho, was his commission from men or from The Eternal?"

The crowd began to stir when the Pharisee didn't have an immediate reply. Turning to his fellow leaders, he asked quietly, "How do I answer him?"

"If we say that The Eternal sanctioned John, Jesus will ask why we didn't follow him," said one.

"I know," interrupted another, "and look at this crowd. They all believe John was a prophet. If we say he wasn't, that many more will turn against us for this Teacher."

Their leader turned to Jesus and spoke loudly, "We don't know if he was a prophet or not."

"Then, neither shall I answer your question."

The men walked away arguing among themselves. The people inclined to Jesus even more attentively.

All day he taught them there. Two or three other interruptions came from various factions of the religious leaders. Each time, the Teacher answered their questions with wise authority. Each time they walked away.

But their anger was stirring like a storm...

To my readers: the eight days we have come to know as "Holy Week" is detailed graphically in Scripture. The parts we don't know much about are the human elements, especially from the viewpoint of Jesus' closest followers. My attempt this week is to stay true to the Biblical text, while shading in what it may have been like "between the lines." Please distinguish my ruminations from God's Word by reading the last few chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. My hope is that the reading of my words impacts you even a tiny percentage as much as writing them has impacted me.


C. Beth said...

This answers the question I just asked on yesterday's post!

These posts are really making Holy Week come alive. Thank you!

addhumorandfaith said...

I agree with Beth -- these posts really are adding to my week. Thank you, Sam.

Rachel Cotterill said...

It's so interesting to watch this unfolding in 'real time' over the course of the week, it gives a better sense of perspective than reading it in one evening :)

I'm going to be away from tomorrow, I'll still be able to read along (I have a fancy phone now!) but will have to save comments for when I get home at the weekend.

Sam said...

Thanks, Beth, Sandy and Rachel. I'm glad these are helpful. Rachel, congrats on the "fancy phone!"