It was a busy weekend in Jerusalem, with everyone beginning to arrive for Passover. We had our hands full, between worrying about the lateness of our lambs and wondering if we’d have enough turtledoves for the crowds wanting to make other sacrifices before the big festival. The courtyard of the Temple was crowded, and noisy, with birds squawking and people shouting and the Romans stomping about making their presence known. I didn’t even get a chance to look out and see what the singing and commotion was about yesterday, but I heard that the crowds were singing for a rabbi who’d just arrived. Some of the children were even calling him the Son of David, which won’t make the leaders too happy.
Since I couldn’t get away from my stall for even a second, I wasn’t prepared when this rabbi arrived in the Temple, trailing the crowd still chanting “hosanna.” At first he was just like any other visitor, looking around at the big stones and the high walls, they are a marvel after all. This place is beautiful, not to mention that God lives inside. That’s why we merchants are here, because people need perfect animals and the right currency to make their offerings, so we change their foreign money and sell them sacrificial doves and lambs. How would people worship if we weren’t here to help?
But then this rabbi started shouting, and somehow he was heard over the din of people and animals. He was shouting about a house of prayer—well, that’s what this is, a house of prayer. All of a sudden I knew why he could be heard above the racket, because all my senses narrowed as my own table was turned over and my bird cages scattered! I couldn’t think of anything as I grabbed as many birds as I could and ran out, slipping on the coins spilled from the currency exchange, with his voice chasing me through the gate, saying we’d made the Temple a hideout for criminals.
Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that I’m not sure about going back to work today. The city is abuzz with gossip about this rabbi, they say he’s called Jesus, and he might be The One. He’s certainly got us all talking about what is worship and what we need to pray properly. There’s lots of grumbling, too, about what he says about the Temple being for all nations, and about God being with him. I don’t know where this will all end up, but for today I think I’ll keep the birds at home and see if I can find him to hear more of what he has to say. Someone’s got to pick up the pieces.
Tuesday: religious leader (“he’s got to go”)
There’ve been rumours for weeks, but we didn’t think he’d really come here. Especially during the Passover festival! After all he’s said and done, he has to know that it isn’t only we clergy keeping an eye on him, the Romans are too. And the last thing we need is a riot, or worse, a revolution.
The rumours say this Jesus fellow has been attracting huge crowds, and then he teaches them how to break the rules that we have so carefully set up and followed for years. He even heals on the Sabbath! And worse than that, he feeds people, even the ones who weren’t prepared to take care of themselves when they left home to go hear him preaching in the countryside. He gets them sharing with each other and crossing all sorts of boundaries, mixing up women, and outcasts, and sinners, and people who are ill, and tax collectors, and regular men, all together as if they belong in one family or something. He’s turning people away from the true worship of our traditions!
He knows his scriptures, too, so it’s hard to catch him out. We asked him which commandment was most important, and he said to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself—he quoted Deuteronomy and Leviticus at us, and what could we say? He was right, of course. So we asked about taxes, and he turned the question around until we couldn’t answer without getting ourselves in trouble. Even when he heals people on the Sabbath he quotes scripture to defend himself, something about doing good and helping people in trouble no matter what day it is. It’s going to be hard to pin anything on him unless he makes a big mistake.
I thought maybe that stunt with the donkey and the crowd chanting Hosanna would do it, since he was clearly pretending to be like our ancient kings returning to the city of David. And then when he had that tantrum in the Temple, we looked for a way to arrest him. But the crowds are spellbound. I don’t know what they see in him, but it’s getting dangerous. He’s not just a threat to our power, he’s a threat to everything we’ve got going here—peace with Rome, peasants who don’t talk back, and just enough religious freedom to arrange things our way. If he keeps talking about loving people who don’t deserve it, and mixing up different kinds of people, and bending the rules just for the sake of compassion or what he calls justice, well...I don’t like to speculate about what happens if the emperor hears about the crowds he draws and how they call him the Son of David. We need a plan. Maybe we can buy off one of his followers somehow? Whatever it takes—He’s got to go.
Wednesday: the woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany (he’s the one)
I’ve been saving this up for....I don’t know what. I put it up on a shelf, behind some baskets. I hid it there, myself, waiting until the day I needed it.
When I heard Jesus was staying nearby, after all that he’s said and done, after all I saw in the city this weekend, after hearing him myself, I decided today was the day.
It took a few minutes of rearranging, balancing on the stool to reach up to where the jar was pushed all the way to the back. Alabaster is fragile, so I wanted to be careful, but it still felt heavy so the perfume inside hadn’t leaked at all. It’s a beautiful jar, and once I wiped off the dust it nearly glowed in the afternoon light.
Before I could lose my nerve I went right in to the dinner, even though I wasn’t invited. The whole way there I was working the cork loose, to be sure I could open the jar quickly. I poured the entire bottle onto Jesus, almost before anyone reclining at the table could see me. The scent filled the house, overpowering the smell of the food. It was a rich delight for the senses, to feel the smooth ointment on my hands, to smell the perfume...but then I heard the voices rising. I was so focussed on offering my gift, trying to show Jesus my love for him, how much I thought he was worth, I hadn’t thought what others might say.
They were angry, and their words cut through my prayers like spikes into my heart. Calling me wasteful...calling me a waste. They didn’t seem to remember that Jesus always had time for the poor, and the stranger, and the widow. I’d heard him tell the stories about God’s kingdom being like yeast hidden in flour, rising up from within, and being like a woman who looked for a lost coin and rejoiced with her neighbours when she found it. I’d seen him touch the leper and sit at table with sinners. Hadn’t they heard the same teaching I had, about the woman who gave her only two coins, or about giving to God what belongs to God? Weren’t they there when he fed the multitudes with only a few loaves given by a child? I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t belong after all, if I had heard wrong when people called him the Messiah, the one coming to save us.
With tears in my eyes, I wiped his feet with my hair, and waited.
“She has anointed my body for burial” he said.
“You should always be taking care of the poor, just as she took care of me” he said.
“Wherever my story is told, hers will be as well” he said.
I looked up, and saw love in his eyes—Love far more extravagant than my greatest gift.
He understood. I had offered everything I had to him, just as he was offering everything he had for all of us. He’s the One.
Thursday: the owner of the upper room (the room where it happened)
There are many great things about living in the city. I enjoy the hustle and bustle, and being close to the Temple means I hear a lot of interesting teachers speak. Most of the animals are outside the walls so it isn’t quite as smelly as some villages can be. My walls are stone and my house doesn’t leak if we get a big desert rain. And, like everyone else, since my family and I live only on the ground floor, our guest room upstairs can be rented out during the big festivals. I can go worship and then stay in my own bed at night, while making a little money by offering a space for people from the country to stay too.
This year is a bit unusual, because the guest room upstairs is full for the night, but a few days ago a young man asked me if he could hire the room just for dinner time. I could use a few extra coins, so I said sure. We moved the packs to the roof, brought up some tables, and I set my daughters to cleaning and doing some of the cooking. Then a couple of this man’s friends—I guess he’s a rabbi, and they’re his disciples?—appeared and said they’re to prepare the meal. Well, I don’t know what sort of disciples they are who can cook, but my girls were glad of the help, and I could hear them giggling as they tried to teach these young men to chop vegetables and boil eggs and roll out matzoh. Then the disciples went off to the Temple to get their lamb sacrificed, and they brought it back ready to cook...perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that they left that to the girls and went back to their rabbi!
When I opened the door to them tonight I was surprised how many there were. There was the man who’d arranged the room, he must be the rabbi. There were twelve of his disciples with him, and also some other followers too, women and men. I led them upstairs, and we laid out the Passover feast, and then left them to it.
Normally, I would go down and preside at my own Passover table with my family. But since they’ve been working hard all day on two meals, ours is a bit delayed. So here I am, kneeling on the top step, trying to listen through the door. Most everything I’ve heard has been the usual way of the Seder, with the story of slavery in Egypt, plagues, and escaping through the Red Sea. But he also said something strange about the bread and wine and his body and blood, and I can’t tear myself away even though I know my family is downstairs waiting. There’s some confused conversation coming through the door, I think they’re coming toward me...perhaps I can be invited in to the room where it happens?