They reached Bethany late in the afternoon. Lazarus had been on the look out and came out of the house to welcome the travellers. He greeted Jesus naturally, making no reference to the stupendous event in which these two had been the principal figures a fortnight earlier.
“I’ve asked a few friends to supper to meet you,” he said; “I hope you won’t mind.”
Among the guests were Nicodemus and Joseph and the boys, John and Mark. There were also several men whom Jesus had not met before. Not one of those present could fail to remember that short while before their host had lain for four days in the tomb and that among them was the friend who had called back his soul and restored the wasted tissues of his body. But by tacit consent everyone avoided the subject.
The girls had insisted that it should be what they called, “a bachelor party.” It was a warm evening and the low tables with couches beside them had been spread under the spacious portico which ran along the whole of one side of the house. Here the guests reclined and fed in easy intimacy, while Martha and Mary attended to their wants.
When supper was over, some of the guests wandered out into the garden while others withdrew into the house. Jesus was deep in conversation with Joseph and Nicodemus and remained reclining on the couch by the supper table; his two friends were vainly trying to dissuade him from showing himself at the Passover. Young John and Mark sat listening with growing anxiety as the councillors painted the danger of remaining in Judaea. Lazarus was entertaining the visitors indoors.
Some of the guests were admiring the beautifully inlaid furniture.
“Yes,” explained Lazarus; “my uncle Simon was a great connoisseur. He lived in this house, you know. Towards the end of his life he was afflicted with leprosy and had to lead a solitary existence, attended only by a devoted couple who had been with him for many years. Having nothing else to do, he indulged his passion for antique furniture and made a wonderful collection. When he died, he left his property to my sisters and me. The house had to be thoroughly disinfected, of course. It’s still known locally as, ‘the house of Simon the leper.’”
“What is that curious smell?” asked Nathaniel suddenly. “Is anyone burning incense?”
“It comes from outside, I think,” volunteered Philip.
The company walked out on to the portico and paused in astonishment on the threshold. Mary was kneeling by Jesus’ couch, rubbing his feet with pungent ointment and wiping them with her hair.
“Do you remember telling me about the other Mary?” she whispered. “I wanted you to know that I am as ready to give you my treasure as she was.”
And there flashed into Jesus’ mind a memory of that autumn afternoon, when this girl had sat at his feet in the garden and he had told her the story of Mary of Magdala. He recollected how Martha had scolded her for not helping in the kitchen and how puzzled he himself had been over her interest in the value of the ointment. Now he understood.
His quick ears overheard a remark from the doorway. “A silly, hysterical young woman;” it was Judas of Kerioth speaking; “and a ridiculous waste of valuable stuff; that’s spikenard. It might have been sold for a considerable amount in aid of the poor.”
“Don’t criticise her, Judas,” said Jesus at once. “She has done what she could for me. The poor are always with you; but I shan’t be with you much longer. Spikenard is useful for embalming a body after death; Mary has been a little premature, that’s all,” he added with a smile. “Keep the rest, Mary; it may be needed before long.”
The girl stood up, replaced the stopper in the alabaster bottle and without a word walked into the house. The guests stood aside to let her pass.
Jesus got up. “If anyone ever takes the trouble to write my life,” he said, “I hope he won’t forget to mention what Mary did this evening.”
Mark and John exchanged a glance. They would not forget.
It was the first day of the week. Thaddaeus and James had gone into the garden to examine the crops. Jesus found them bending over a bed of spring cabbage.
“You two can find your way into the village, can’t you?” he said.
A grin spread over Thaddaeus’ face. It was good to see the Master in a cheerful mood again and ready for a joke.
“Might manage it,” was the laconic reply.
“Very well,” Jesus went on, “go down to your old home in the open road. Outside you’ll find an old donkey tied to the garden railings. She had a foal last year, but he ought to be strong enough to bear my weight by now. Untie them both and bring them back to me. I’ll meet you in the main road at the foot of the hill.”
“That’s all very well, Master,” said Thaddaeus with a chuckle, “but I don’t want to get run in for donkey stealing. What do we say if the owner objects?”
“You just say, ‘the Master wants them,’” said Jesus. “He’ll send them along right enough.”
When they reached the village, there were the donkeys just where Jesus had said. Following his instructions, they began to untie them. Their backs were turned when young Tobias strolled out of the cottage door. He recognised his old friends at once.
“Here, you two!” he bawled, “what are you untying my donkeys for?”
The two swung round apprehensively, to be confronted by a grin which extended from one of the young man’s ears to the other. He wrung their hands warmly and insisted on taking them into the house to see Rebecca and the baby, who had distinguished himself that morning by cutting his sixth tooth.
“And now,” said Tobias, “perhaps you’ll explain what you mean by trying to steal my donkeys?”
“They’re not really yours, are they?” said Thaddaeus delightedly.
“Of course they’re mine,” laughed Tobias, “but they wouldn’t have been for long if I hadn’t had the luck to catch the thieves. You can have them of course; but I call it pretty cool just snooping round and trying to sneak them.”
“We’ve not much experience at that sort of thing,” remarked Thaddaeus, and they all laughed.
“It was the Master’s orders,” explained James; “he wants them.”
“Is he here?” exclaimed Tobias. “Well, that is good news. Staying up at Simon the leper’s, I suppose? Right you are. He used to ride old Sarah all last autumn; but no one’s ever sat on little Michael yet. We call him Michael because he’s such a little angel. Never met such a good-tempered little beast. I’d like the Master to be the first to ride him and I don’t think he’ll give any trouble. Might be a bit shy at first, so be careful.”
Tobias had untied both the animals and patted the colt’s neck.
“Go along, Michael my lad,” he said affectionately, “you’re going to have an honour today. You’re fit for a king to ride, you are, and no mistake. Isn’t he a beauty? Now Sarah, old girl, you’ve got to keep that youngster of yours out of mischief. She’ll trot along behind quite happily,” he explained, “no need to lead her.”
The two friends led the donkeys away and Tobias whistled cheerfully to himself as they mounted the hill.
“Don’t forget to bring them back,” he shouted; “we’ve got to take the vegetables to market tomorrow.”
Jesus and the others were waiting at the appointed place; other pilgrims had halted and were staring and pointing in their direction.
“That’s Jesus of Nazareth,” said one. “Not heard of him? They say he’s a great prophet and healer.”
“My younger brother was born blind,” whispered a poor woman to her neighbour; “but Jesus healed him; he can see as well as you or I now.”
James and Thaddaeus laid their coats on the colt’s back to make an improvised saddle. Unaccustomed to such treatment, Michael showed signs of restiveness; old Sarah sidled up alongside as if to reassure him. Jesus walked across to the animals, patted old Sarah, who appeared to know him, and then stroked Michael’s nose. The colt stood perfectly quiet while he climbed on to his back, then started off at a cheerful trot.
A pilgrim in the crowd shouted: “This is the Galilean prophet, who cures the sick and raises the dead. Some say he’s the Messiah, the son of David!”
Others took up the cry and in a moment the whole road echoed with cheers and cries: “Here comes the Saviour of our nation! Save us! Save us, Son of David.”
Half the crowd had no idea why they were shouting, but the spirit of excitement caught them and they joined in the enthusiasm. Clothes were thrown beneath the donkey’s feet; branches were pulled from the palm trees and waved in the air or flung into the road.
All the sullen disappointment had left the face of Judas. His shouts rang above all the rest. A light of fierce excitement blazed in his eyes. As the cheers increased, he turned to Philip who was running beside him and muttered in an intense undertone: “Does he mean to do it at last?”
Children in the city heard the noise and came scampering to see what it was all about. They recognised the rider at once, he had always been popular with children. So they took up the cry and ran before the procession to the city gates.
A group of priests stood by the porch of the Temple Courts.
“What a noise the country pilgrims are making,” said one disdainfully.
Then, as the crowd approached, some of the words came to their ears: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Another priest hurried to join the group. “It’s that upstart from Galilee,” he exclaimed breathlessly, “Jesus the Nazarene!”
By now the front of the crowd had reached the Temple gates and a line was formed on each side of the street; between these ranks came the children, shouting and waving their palm branches, and in their midst the donkey and its rider.
He dismounted and walked reverently into the Temple Court, while the mob continued cheering outside.
One of the priests advanced and addressed him with icy courtesy: “Rabbi, this is unseemly. Bid the crowd make less noise.”
A smile flickered over Jesus’ face; but he answered with equal courtesy: “If they stopped, you would hear the very stones starting to cheer.”
With a shrug the priest rejoined his companions. “Caiaphas must hear of this,” he muttered; “it cannot be overlooked.”
Jesus glanced round the familiar scene in the Courts and then walked among the throng of buyers and sellers in the Temple market, and was lost to view.
The excitement of the pilgrims outside began to subside; they had had a long and tiring walk and wanted a meal. They gradually drifted off in knots of twos and threes, and soon there was no one left except a few street urchins, who hung about to see if there was going to be any more fun.
“The Master wants us to have some food,” said Peter, “and meet him at five o’clock at the Bethany gate.”
“Right,” answered Thaddaeus; “James, take them to Mother Esther’s; you can always get a good meal there. I’ll take Sarah and Michael outside and give them some dinner first; I know where the donkey rank is. See you later.”
“Coming, Judas?” said young Simon cheerfully.
Judas was standing, strained and, white-faced, leaning against the gateway. He was staring into the Courts with wild, unseeing eyes. Once again his world had crumbled before his very face.
“I’m not hungry,” he replied tonelessly. “Don’t worry about me.”
Simon looked at him searchingly, but Judas had his back turned. The younger man shook his head gloomily and followed his companions down the steps.
Judas waited till they were all out of earshot, then hurried down the stone steps and out of the city. He must be alone; he must think.
Meanwhile Jesus was watching the busy scene in the Temple market. Here a number of lambs were tethered; there were stacked the baskets of pigeons; on the other side were the tables of the money-changers.
As he looked on, a poor man approached one of the money-changers and offered him a Roman coin; the sly, rat-faced money-changer pushed across the change in Temple money.
“But is this the right amount?” replied the other.
“That’s the rate of exchange, fixed by the Council. You can take it or leave it. But you know you can’t buy offerings for the Feast except with Temple money.”
The whole dishonesty of this Temple trade smote upon Jesus’ mind. He picked up a few pieces of old rope which had been used to tether lambs that had already been sold. Apparently quite idly he began knotting these ropes together. As he did so, he recognised a voice behind him.
“This is all I can afford. The exchange is so dear, and I brought no more with me.”
He turned and saw a woman bargaining for a pair of pigeons. He knew this woman; she came from the village where he had told stories to the children; he knew the poverty of her home; he knew that those pigeons were to be her little offering to God for the recovery of her baby from a serious illness.
“I’ve told you the price,” answered a coarse voice. “Pay it and the pigeons are yours.”
Jesus strode up to the stall; the burly pigeon-dealer watched him out of the corner of his eye.
“This woman has offered more than the just price,” said Jesus.
“My prices are no concern of yours,” answered the stall keeper. “If she can’t pay what I ask, let her buy pigeons elsewhere.”
“Rabbi,” protested the woman wearily, “I’ve been to four booths already and the answer is always the same.”
Jesus’ indignation flared up. He raised his voice.
“Your dishonesty is an insult to God’s House!”
The hubbub of buying and selling stopped abruptly. Who was this who dared to interfere with the Temple traffic? Jesus stood there, the centre of an angry throng. In his right hand he grasped the knotted ropes; his left hand he raised and pointed to the stately pile of Herod’s Temple.
“In the scriptures it is written,” he cried in ringing tones, “‘My house shall be called the House of Prayer,’ but you, with your swindling, are turning it into a thieves’ den!”
“I quoted today’s price,” shouted the pigeon-dealer, “Pay it yourself if it’s too—”
But his remark ended with a shriek of pain and fury, as the knotted ropes descended on his shoulders.
For one brief moment there was silence. Then the fury of hell broke loose. There was a wild rush at the intruder. But he stood his ground and laid about him with his improvised scourge. Tables were upset, stalls overturned. It was not a crowd of fighters, and, after the first mad dash, the attackers gave back, overawed by the righteous indignation of the Nazarene Rabbi and cowed by the strength of his right arm. Some of the traders began to slink away; Jesus took a few steps forward and the rest retreated. With muttered oaths they grabbed up what they could carry and hurried out of the market.
With a half-smile on his face, Jesus looked about him and saw the woman cowering behind a stall.
“Here’s your offering,” he said, handing her a basket containing two pigeons; “you had paid more than enough before the uproar started.”
The two left the Temple Courts together.
Jesus reached the Bethany gate a little before the appointed time. James and Thaddaeus were waiting there with the donkeys. None of the others had yet appeared.
“Will you two ride the donkeys back?” said Jesus. “I’d really rather walk. Give my thanks to Tobias and tell him Michael lived up to his name. I’ll look in and see him and Rebecca tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you’re not tired, Master?” asked James.
“Not a bit,” was the cheerful reply; “the walk will do me good. Up with you.”
The two friends swung themselves on to the animal’s backs and trotted away.
As soon as they had gone, Judas came through the gateway. He seemed to have grown older—older and more bitter.
“Master,” he said, “you threw away a great opportunity today; the people would have made you king. We could have taken the Romans off their guard with a following like that. But again you funked it!”
Jesus looked at him searchingly. “Won’t you understand even yet, Judas,” he answered wearily. “My kingdom is not of this world, but in the hearts of men.”
Judas made no reply. He turned abruptly on his heel and stalked away in the direction of Bethany.
It was pleasant strolling back to the little village in the cool of the evening. Three of the Twelve were walking some way behind the rest.
“They say the Master drove the traders out of the Temple,” said Thomas. “What did he do it for?”
“Yes,” answered Philip, “and why did he ride like a king into Jerusalem? He must know it will rouse the enmity of the priests still more.”
“Perhaps that’s why he did it,” suggested Andrew. “He’s told us over and over again that he must suffer and die. It’s the priests who will bring him to his death if anyone can.”
“Do you mean that he’s deliberately challenging the priests?” asked Philip with a puzzled frown. “Does he want to die without accomplishing his work?”
“If they put him to death,” said Thomas despondently, “then our hopes are gone. He can’t be the Messiah.”
“Jesus is the Messiah, whatever they do to him,” asserted Andrew warmly.
“But we should have no proof,” said Thomas.
And the three trudged on in the silence of foreboding.
The moon was shining straight into Judas’ face. The house of Simon the Leper was not large, and mattresses had been strewn for the Twelve on the flagged floor of the portico. The others were sleeping peacefully, but Judas still lay wide awake. The sound of regular breathing was all around him; occasionally someone would stir in his sleep and roll over; once Philip muttered a few incoherent words and relapsed into silence; a large moth fluttered round the vaulted roof and out again into the moonlight; an owl hooted down in the valley; bats darted in and out of the portico with a suggestion of vanishing hopes; the harsh guttural croaking of frogs from the pond in the garden jarred on his taut nerves; Peter’s heavy snoring close by maddened him. All around him lay the eleven men who had been his companions for three long years; yet how remote he felt from everyone of them. If only there were one to whom he could talk freely—with whom he could share the wild scheme which was now surging in his brain! But there was none who would try to understand; all would condemn him as a traitor or a lunatic.
How could anyone think, with the moon looking down on him with that cold, impersonal stare? How could he sort his chaotic ideas with rhythmical snoring sounding in his ears? He must get away by himself.
Swiftly and silently he pulled on his clothes and threaded his way between the slumbering forms. He slunk past the house in the shadow of the bushes, and made for a little knoll where a solitary cypress cut the moon-flooded sky like a gigantic black spearhead. This gaunt, lonely tree drew him like a magnet; it seemed to have a strange affinity with his own spirit, isolated from all its surroundings and thrusting darkly upwards to some unattainable height.
A clutter of broken rocks on the side of the hills afforded him a seat from which he could gaze across the mist-laden valley to Jerusalem, rising like a rock out of a silver sea.
Jerusalem! Fortress of Israel. Jerusalem! God’s sacred City. Jerusalem! Capital of the promised Messiah! And now the Messiah was in the midst of his people and would not claim his throne.
But was Jesus really the Messiah? If so, could he be compelled to assume the Kingship for which he was born? Would the nation rally round him? Was Judas of Kerioth the agent chosen by God to bring the Messiah to his destiny?
The questions whirled into his brain as the bats had flitted into the portico. There seemed as little chance of answering them as of catching the bats.
“Pull yourself together, Judas!” He found himself talking aloud. “It only needs a bit of clear thinking.”
He buried his head in both his hands and pressed his eyeballs till they ached. The pain seemed to steady him.
The first question rose up and confronted him. “Is Jesus really the Messiah?”
He lifted his head and gazed wildly upwards, as if expecting to see an answer written in flame across the face of heaven. The moon mocked him with sardonic cynicism. He looked down and his eyes fell on the hollow where yawned the cavern in which Lazarus had lain four days dead. He saw the scene again; the draped figure, white and unearthly, stepping forth at the bidding of the carpenter of Nazareth.
Judas laughed softly to himself. His question was answered. No one but the Messiah could raise the dead. Jesus had called Lazarus from the tomb; therefore, Jesus was the Messiah. That point was settled.
Now Judas’ thoughts came quickly. The Messiah must be made to fulfil his destiny. What else had he come to the world for? And there was a way. Oh, yes, Judas himself had devised a way. He had been thinking it out for the last fortnight. It was the priests who desired his downfall. Their agents were already at work trying to find some means of getting him into their power. It was only a few days ago that Jesus had himself said he would be condemned to death by the priests, but in three days he would rise triumphant over all obstacles and dangers. That didn’t mean that he intended to give in to them; perhaps he saw as clearly as Judas himself that the only way of establishing himself was to be victimised by the priests. Surely that must be it? If he were to lead an insurrection against established authority, he would not readily gain supporters; but if the priests arrested him unjustly, his followers would spring to arms. And there was no fear of failure; the Messiah, who could raise to life a man four days dead, could free himself from the power of the corrupt priesthood. By some startling miracle he would thwart the malice of his enemies, overthrow their influence and emerge as champion of the Jews. In his own words, he would rise again.
Then how did Judas of Kerioth fit into the picture? Perhaps it would not be necessary for him to do anything. He would wait for two days and see if the Master took action himself. If not—his plans were laid; he would go to Caiaphas and offer to lead the Temple guard to some spot where an arrest might be made without publicity. The prisoner would be taken to the palace; the rest could be left to him. Judas would have played his part.
What were the words Jesus had used that evening, before they left Ephraim? “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of the Priests.” Why had he told them that? Surely it must have been a hint to the Twelve? It was equivalent to saying, “My Kingdom cannot be established, unless one of you betrays me to the priests.” The others hadn’t seen that; it was only Judas of Kerioth who had had the intelligence to understand. Very well, he would take the hint.
His tortuous mind had just brought him to this sinister conclusion; he was half beginning to believe that such an act of treachery was really justified, when a strange thing happened. Before his fevered imagination rose the face of the Master, sorrowful and stern. His eyes seemed to search his inmost thoughts as they had often done before. His lips spoke and the words stripped the disguise from Judas’ soul leaving it naked and shivering.
“Judas, you are deceiving yourself. It is your wish, not mine, to found a Jewish Kingdom. How often have I told you that my kingdom is not of this world, but in the hearts of men? But it is your insane ambition to be one of the great ones of the earth, to have power and fame and wealth. And for these things you would betray your friend, deprive mankind of salvation and barter away your own soul. To satisfy your lust for greatness, you would cheat yourself into believing that this is my wish. Have you ever known me use trickery and subterfuge to gain my end? Turn back, Judas of Kerioth, before it is too late. There is only one path to true greatness, the path I have striven to show you—to serve others in all gentleness and humility.”
Judas shook himself.
“My fancy’s playing tricks with me,” he muttered.
But for more than an hour he sat motionless, pondering over what he had seen and heard. While it had lasted, it had been so vivid, so real. And in his inmost soul he knew that the words had reflected the real feelings of his Master. But he would not allow it to himself.
Suddenly he rose and threw back his head defiantly.
“I’ll not give up the ambition of a lifetime for a freak of the imagination,” he said aloud. “This is what I’ve worked for, schemed for. And my reason tells me I am right; it’s only my confounded emotions trying to pull me back. All my life I’ve kept my emotions in check; and now when my destiny calls me, I’ll not hang back through squeamishness. I’d be a fool to follow my heart instead of my reason. So, Jesus of Nazareth, if you are the Messiah—and I believe you are—I’ll make you take a lead to save your own skin. And if you’re not the Messiah, you’ve deceived us all—and you deserve what you’ll get.”
He turned and strode back to the house. In the portico his eleven companions still slept soundly.
Jesus’ mother was already on her way south with the Lady Joanna and Mary of Magdala. Her son James had been studying now for six weeks in Jerusalem and had sent her word of the intentions of the Council. She had started at once for Tiberias.
When Joanna had visited her at Nazareth, she had made her promise to let her know at once if she were worried about anything. And now that Jesus’ life was in danger, she had remembered the lady’s kindness. Joses had accompanied her to the royal city and from there Joanna had made all the arrangements for the journey. Her husband Chuza was already in the capital; the court had been transferred there for the Passover season.
As her richly caparisoned donkey ambled along, Mary’s thoughts drifted back over the years to the time when she had ridden to Jerusalem on old Enoch while her husband and her twelve year old son walked by her side. She remembered her boy’s excitement as they neared the Holy City, his awe when it burst upon their view, his interest in its buildings, his wonder at the magnificence of King Herod’s new Temple. She felt again the agony of uncertainty when she and Joseph realised that the boy was lost, the unutterable relief when they found him in the lecture-hall. Now she was in danger of losing him again. And it was those very doctors that had encouraged the boy, who were now determined to bring the man to his death.
The mother knew there was nothing she could do; but she must be near her son.
The three donkeys jogged along, kicking up the dust of the highway.
Years afterwards the disciples tried to recall in detail the incidents of the three days between Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem and the Passover feast. They found this very difficult: the time seemed to be a jumble of events with little connection between them.
The Master spent a good deal of time in the Temple courts, teaching the Passover pilgrims by parables, some of which contained obvious criticism of the priests and other religious leaders. Matthew made careful notes of these, for it had long been his intention to write an account of Jesus’ work and teaching.
Every now and then a scribe or group of people in the confidence of the priests would approach Jesus politely and fling a sudden question at him. Most of these had a catch in them and Jesus had to exert all his native wit not to fall into the trap. For instance, he was asked by what authority he did his work and teaching; he saw at once that if he gave the true answer, he would be accused of blasphemy. So he told the questioners he would satisfy their curiosity, if they would tell him what was their opinion of John the Baptiser. Was he an agent of God or not? This placed the others in a quandary: if they said that John came from God, the Nazarene would ask, “Then why didn’t you accept his teaching?” but if they said John was not a prophet at all, it would at once bring upon them the disfavour of the crowd, who had all believed in John. They could do nothing except stammer rather lamely, “We really don’t know.” This gave Jesus his opportunity.
“Then I am not bound,” he said at once, “to tell you by what authority I do my work.”
Other questions of a similar nature were put to him. But when he found himself confronted by a party consisting of Pharisees and some of Herod’s followers, it was obvious that these political opponents had made a temporary truce to bring him into discredit. They began with open flattery, which was not lost on Jesus. It was one of the Pharisees who addressed him.
“Master, we know that all your teaching is genuine and true, and that you care nothing for rank and position. There’s a question that we have been arguing with Herod’s supporters and we cannot agree; it would be most interesting to have your opinion about it.”
Jesus said nothing. He waited for the other to continue. One of the Herodians went on.
“Do you consider it right to pay tribute to the Roman Emperor, or not?”
Jesus thought quickly. This was a matter of politics. If he said it was wrong to pay taxes to the Romans, there would be a definite case against him which could be laid before the proconsul.
“Have you a Roman coin?” he asked. Someone handed him a denarius.
“Whose head is stamped on it?” he went on. “And whose name occurs in the Latin inscription?”
“Tiberius Caesar’s,” was the reply.
“Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he said at once. “And give to God what is God’s due.”
It was on one of these days that some Greeks, who were visiting Jerusalem for the first time and were doing the sights, heard people talking about Jesus the prophet. They asked Philip for an introduction; he and Andrew conducted them to the Master. While he was conversing with them, a sound was heard from the sky; some of the crowd asserted that it was thunder, though there was not a cloud to be seen at the time. Others insisted that it was the voice of an angel, speaking to Jesus.
But Philip and Andrew knew that the Master had just prayed to the Father: “Father, glorify thy name;” and the sound which they heard was a Voice, which uttered the words, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Young John was listening to Jesus too, and declared quite independently of the others that he had heard the words.
On the next morning Mark rushed up to Jesus as soon as he came through the porch.
“Master,” he exclaimed breathlessly, “have you heard about John?”
“What’s he been up to?” Jesus asked with amusement.
“He’s come out top of the whole list!” said the boy. “In the exam, I mean. Fifty three successful candidates and John top of the list. We heard the result this morning. Dr. Boaz told us John’s philosophy papers were the best the examiners had ever marked. They’ve been sent to the High Priest. He’s sent for John to congratulate him. He’s at the palace now.”
“How did you do?” asked Jesus, delighted by the boy’s pleasure at his friend’s success.
“Oh, I was only eleventh,” Mark replied modestly. “It was the philosophy papers that dished me; I told you I was a complete dud at it. Dr. Boaz said I did all right in my Greek and Latin.”
“Eleventh is a very good place,” Jesus said warmly.
“Well, it’s better than I expected,” returned Mark. “The others must have been pretty rotten.”
At this moment he espied John coming rather self-consciously out of the palace. The two made their way across the crowded courts to him.
“My congratulations to John the Divine,” said Jesus. “You see it was worth working, wasn’t it?”
“It’s all your doing, Master,” replied John diffidently. “It was you who made me stick to my work. And it was you who gave me all my ideas.”
“Mark tells me you did brilliantly in the philosophy papers,” Jesus went on.
John laughed awkwardly. “They seem to think so,” he said. “As a matter of fact, most of what I wrote is what I’ve heard from you. Practically the whole of my moral Philosophy papers was your teaching.”
“Oh, was it?” replied Jesus with secret amusement; “and what did the High Priest say about it?”
“Well,” answered John, “he said it was most original and stimulating.”
Jesus burst out laughing. “It’s lucky for you, young man,” he said, “that Caiaphas didn’t know where it all came from, or you’d have probably been ploughed for blasphemy.”
After the morning services were over, Jesus walked out to the Mount of Olives with the four fishermen. They sat down in a quiet spot overlooking the town.
“It’s a fine city, isn’t it, Master?” said James. “Look at those massive walls; they might stand till the end of time. And how splendid the Temple looks with the sun on it.”
Jesus sighed. “Yes, they’re fine buildings,” he agreed, “but the time is not far distant when not one stone of the city will be left on another.”
The four looked dumbfounded. “But when will that be?” asked John with awe. “And will there be any warning when it’s going to happen?”
And then in solemn, prophetic words Jesus told them of the coming doom of the holy city. And as he spoke, they seemed to see Jerusalem compassed about with the Roman legions, her people starving, her glory departed. And instinctively they knew that all this was coming upon their nation because its leaders had refused to accept the Messiah when he came to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
And, from the fall of Jerusalem, Jesus went on to speak of more distant events, of earthquakes and famines, of bloody wars and revolutions, of the rise and collapse of nations and empires, of the pains and convulsions of the world, of epochs of evil and darkness which would make men feel in their misery that the sun, moon and stars were blotted out of heaven. But from this travail of humanity would be born a glorious world, in which the Son of Man would reign in the true Kingdom of God on earth.
“When this will be,” he concluded, “no man knows; it is hidden from the angels in heaven; I myself cannot foresee it. It is known only to the Father. But your duty is plain; be prepared, watch for the coming of the Kingdom, be on the lookout for opportunities to establish the reign of love and peace, pray for the fulfilment of God’s purpose. And it’s not only to you that I say this, but to all succeeding generations throughout the ages; the opportunity may slip by unheeded; so be prepared.”
At the very moment when Jesus was talking to the fishermen on the Mount of Olives, the select sub-committee on public morals was in session at the palace under the chairmanship of the High Priest. This committee consisted of the High Priest himself, his father-in-law Annas, Dr. Alexander and three others.
“You say the brigand Barabbas and his followers are to be tried tomorrow?” said Dr. Alexander.
“So I am informed,” replied Caiaphas; “there are six of them, so it may take some time, though the evidence is probably pretty sound. We must try to get the proconsul to take the other case the next morning. Then the sentence can be carried out the same day; delay might mean demonstrations in the Nazarene’s favour.”
“You think he will pass sentence of death?” asked one member. “We haven’t a particularly good case.”
“Pilate will be anxious to avoid disorder,” said the High Priest quietly, “especially with the city crowded as it is for the Feast. If we can secure a strong enough demand for the prisoner’s crucifixion, I feel fairly confident of a sentence. I have entrusted Dr. Alexander with the propaganda campaign. I hope the work is proceeding satisfactorily?”
“I think so, my lord,” replied Alexander in businesslike tones; “I have instituted a whispering campaign in the lower quarters of the city; my agents are putting it about that the Nazarene is a dealer in witchcraft and that he was in league with the robber Barabbas; there is, by the way, some foundation for supposing this to be a fact. Then, when the moment comes for the proconsul to give his verdict, I have engaged between forty and fifty men to shout for his crucifixion. They will be disposed among the crowd and I can answer for the fact that they have good lungs. I think there’s no doubt that they’ll carry the rest with them. It always astonishes me how easily a mob can be swayed, even against their better judgement, by a few noisy enthusiasts.”
“It’s possible Pilate may try to evade the death sentence by releasing this Jesus in accordance with the Passover privilege.” This suggestion came from a sallow-faced man, who kept on picking his teeth with a golden toothpick.
“I have considered that point, Dr. Manuel,” answered Alexander suavely; “my men have instructions to shout for Barabbas. He has always enjoyed a certain popularity with the riff-raff of the city.”
“You are very thorough, Dr. Alexander,” remarked a complacent councillor, rubbing his hands.
“I have done my best to carry out his lordship’s instructions,” replied Alexander modestly.
At last old Annas spoke. “It is well to make preparations for all contingencies, my lord,” he addressed his son-in-law punctiliously by his official title; “but are we not overlooking the fact that the Nazarene is still at large. I do not doubt that you could organise a demonstration against him if once he was in our hands. But how is he to be taken without creating a public riot? He has strong support, especially among the Galilean pilgrims. And it is by no means certain that we can count on the loyalty of the whole Temple Guard. You may remember my failure a few months back.”
For a few moments no one spoke. The old man’s shrewdness had damped everybody’s confidence.
“Let us hope you are exaggerating the difficulties, Lord Annas,” said the High Priest at last. “No doubt the Almighty will point the way. We can trust him to perform his will.”
“Of course, of course,” agreed the old man. His eyes were closed, but there was a flicker of amusement round his lips. “I suppose we can assume that His will coincides with our own.”
Caiaphas looked nonplussed.
“Can’t we get back to practical politics, my lord,” said the man with the toothpick. “May I ask what steps you propose taking to arrest the fellow?”
Caiaphas was about to reply when the door opened. His secretary, an oily young priest with a self-satisfied air, entered; he crossed the floor on noiseless feet and whispered to the High Priest.
“Gentlemen,” Caiaphas announced unctuously, “this may be an answer to our prayers. One of the Nazarene’s inner band has asked for an interview. You may bring the man in, Solomon.”
The secretary retired. Not a word was spoken until his return; an air of tense expectancy had settled upon the room. All eyes were fixed on the doorway as Solomon ushered in the stranger. The secretary withdrew again, closing the heavy door softly behind him.
Judas had come in with an air of assurance. He knew that he had something to offer, something which the priests would be delighted to receive. But when he found himself the object of scrutiny by six pairs of very intelligent eyes, his courage began to ooze away. The palms of his hands grew moist with sweat and there was a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.
At last the High Priest spoke. “You are intimate with Jesus the Nazarene, I understand,” he began.
“I have been with him for three years, my lord.” Judas heard his own voice speaking as from a great distance away.
“Judas, my lord; Judas of Kerioth.”
“What is your business with us?”
“I heard you were anxious to lay hands on Jesus of Nazareth, my lord.”
“Are you attempting to worm our intentions out of us, to disclose them to your leader?” asked the High Priest abruptly.
Judas cleared his throat. He could not look into those steady eyes which regarded him so fixedly. “I thought I might be able to assist you, my lord.”
“In what way?”
“I have frequent opportunities of knowing where Jesus may be found—without exciting popular suspicion, I mean.”
“You are offering to betray your Master to us? Is that it?”
“I could lead you to him where there was no crowd about,” was the evasive reply.
The High Priest struck a little silver gong on the table. Solomon obeyed the summons. “Ask Captain Nimshi to be good enough to join us,” ordered Caiaphas.
When the secretary had gone to find the captain, there was a long silence. Judas became more and more uncomfortable. No one took any notice of him. Two of the priests began to whisper together. The High Priest was tracing patterns on the parchment in front of him. Old Annas sat slouched in his chair with his eyes closed. Abstractedly Judas wondered if he had dropped asleep. Why had Caiaphas sent for the Captain of the Guard? Perhaps he was to be given into custody? Perhaps they didn’t believe his offer was genuine? He strained his ears to overhear the whispered conversation; but all he caught was, “You can imagine my wife was not best pleased at that,” and the other man answered, “you can trust Josiah to put his foot in it, if there’s a chance;” and they both laughed softly. Judas stopped listening; their talk had no connection with him or his offer. A small beetle was slowly crawling over the polished walnut table. He could not take his eyes off it. Vaguely he tried to imagine why it was there and where it wanted to get to; had it a better reason for being where it was than he had? Perhaps to those great men in whose presence he stood his own value was about on a level with that beetle’s. He tried to remember why he had come at all. To push the Messiah onto his throne—yes, that was it; he must cling onto that. He must say it over and over to himself or he might forget it.
After what seemed an interminable time, the door opened behind him. He swung round. The captain of the Temple Guard disregarded his presence; he saluted the High Priest.
“Thank you for coming so promptly, Captain Nimshi,” said Caiaphas. “This man is an associate of Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I know him by sight, my lord,” returned the Captain. “Judas of Kerioth, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You have come across him before?” asked the High Priest with surprise.
A shadow of a smile flickered over the Captain’s stern features. “Merely a matter of routine, my lord,” he explained; “It’s a part of my duty to keep a check on suspicious characters like the Nazarene and his supporters.”
“This man Judas,” continued the High Priest, “has offered to guide a party to arrest his leader. That’s so, isn’t it, Judas?”
Judas’ throat was dry. He nodded.
“Tell Captain Nimshi yourself what you propose,” Caiaphas ordered.
Judas pulled himself together. “Jesus is staying in Bethany,” he began, “at the house of Simon the Leper.”
“That’s where young Lazarus lives, isn’t it?” asked the man with the toothpick. Dr. Alexander nodded.
“But tomorrow,” Judas went on, “he’s coming into the city for the Passover supper. In the evening he often strolls out to the Mount of Olives or to the olive plantation at its foot.”
“Will he be alone?” asked the Captain in businesslike tones.
“Probably not,” replied Judas; “he generally takes his band of followers—the Twelve he calls us.”
“I see,” said the Captain; “it’s not likely he’ll have more with him?”
“Not at all likely.”
“Very well. Is it certain that he’ll be in one of those two places?”
“I can find that out and bring you word.”
“You’ll come yourself?”
“That would be safer,” said Judas.
“What time shall I expect you?”
“I must be with them for the Passover feast,” explained Judas. “I might get away soon after eight.”
“Come round to the south wing of the Temple barracks,” Nimshi instructed him, “and ask for me personally. I shall be there by eight o’clock. It’s up to you to find out where the Nazarene will be and at what time. And if there’s any dirty work, you’ll find yourself in trouble, my lad.”
“You can depend on me, sir,” said Judas.
“Have you any further instructions, my lord?” asked the Captain.
“None, Captain Nimshi,” replied Caiaphas. “The matter is now in your hands. When you have taken the fellow, bring him to the back door of the palace; that will excite less comment.”
“Very good, my lord.” He saluted and went out.
A great wave of relief surged over Judas; the interview had gone better than he had hoped.
“Now, Judas,” said the High Priest as soon as the Captain was out of the room, “what’s your price?”
“I—I don’t understand, my lord,” Judas stammered.
“What are you expecting to get out of this?” said Caiaphas impatiently.
Judas thought quickly. The idea of money had never occurred to him. But of course they would expect him to demand payment.
“I can leave that to your generosity, my lord,” he replied ingratiatingly.
“What do you suggest, Dr. Alexander?” asked the High Priest.
“Thirty pieces of silver,” answered the doctor drily.
An ill-suppressed chuckle fluttered round the table. Alexander’s sardonic humour was famous. For the betrayal of a so-called Messiah he had suggested the price of the meanest Roman slave. This would become one of his well-known “mots.”
“Does that satisfy you, Judas?” asked the High Priest.
“I’m quite satisfied, my lord.”
The High Priest looked at the man in some surprise. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “Very good. My secretary will pay you the money before you go.”
Old Annas appeared to wake up. “May I put a question, my lord?” he asked.
“Please do,” replied his son-in-law.
“Exactly why do you want to betray your Master, Judas?”
Judas was taken off his guard. The basilisk stare of the old man disconcerted him. He remained speechless.
“Clearly not for money,” the ex-High Priest continued smoothly. “You have agreed to accept a ridiculous sum. We should like now to know your real reason.”
“Well, my lord, I,—” Judas stopped, cleared his throat and proceeded more rapidly; “it came to my knowledge that Jesus was plotting to overthrow the authority of the priests and Council.”
“Indeed,” said the old man; “Who was concerned in the plot?”
“I can’t give you any names, my lord,” replied Judas uncertainly; “the whole thing came to me in a very roundabout way.”
“And without attempting to test the truth of the information, you decided to give away your leader?”
“I thought the High Priest ought to know, my lord. Before I had time to sift out the facts, the mischief might have been done.”
“For how long have you been associated with Jesus of Nazareth?” pursued Annas remorselessly.
“And during that time you have been on terms of the closest intimacy with him?”
“You are one of the chosen Twelve you referred to just now?”
“Have you ever heard him advocate revolution?”
“He has frequently made remarks,” said Judas, now supremely uncomfortable, “which pointed in that direction.”
“Can you quote any of these remarks?”
“Not in so many words, my lord. He was always talking of the coming of his Kingdom.”
“Has he ever claimed to be the promised Messiah?”
“Yes, my lord. Oh yes. Certainly.”
“Why have you not brought these facts to our notice before?” the old man continued.
“I hoped to be able to dissuade him from doing anything rash.”
“What made you join him in the first place?”
“That’s a difficult question to answer, my lord,” replied Judas, now thoroughly rattled. “I suppose his personality and teaching attracted me.”
“And you have come to the conclusion, on the sole evidence of a roundabout report, that this friend, with whom you have been intimate for three years, is a danger to the State.”
Judas mopped the sweat from his forehead. “It has been borne in on me for some time past,” he plunged desperately, “that Jesus has been using us all, my companions and me, simply to further his own ends.”
“Thank you,” remarked the old man acidly. “I have no further questions to ask, my lord.” He closed his eyes again and relapsed into silence.
“Judas of Kerioth,” said the High Priest gravely, “you have undertaken to guide Captain Nimshi and his men to arrest Jesus of Nazareth tomorrow. Should you fail us in that undertaking, you will yourself be brought before the council for cross-examination.”
“I shall fulfil my promise, my lord,” the wretched man replied.
Caiaphas struck the gong again. “Solomon,” he said, “pay this man thirty pieces of silver and let him go.”
His brain in a whirl, Judas watched the secretary weigh out the money. Mechanically he thrust the small leather bag into his wallet. As he emerged from the palace door, he glanced furtively to right and left. Seeing no one whom he knew, he hurried away and mingled with the crowd.
In the committee room old Annas was speaking. “A most unreliable man,” was his comment.
“You think he’ll let us down?” snapped Dr. Alexander.
“No, no,” said his uncle soothingly, “don’t misunderstand me, Judas of Kerioth will betray his Master. But why? That’s what I should like to know. Why?”
“Does it matter,” said Caiaphas, “provided that we get the Nazarene?”
“Motives always interest me,” said the old priest. “When we have seen Jesus of Nazareth, we may be able to put two and two together.”
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts