Jerusalem Incident: A Documentary Record
Our New Testament record of the final hours Jesus spent in Jerusalem was written by people who loved him. What if we had an account by some who didn’t? A good friend of mine has tried to imagine how that record might read if we had access to diaries, notes, and official government reports about the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem and the plotting that led over the next few days to the crucifixion. You can easily follow this documentary approach even if you aren’t a Bible student, but it will have a special flavor if you are. Listen carefully, and test yourself. Here is the Passion Week as experienced by people who were NOT invited to write the gospels.
Item 1: Saturday entry from the diary of Judas Iscariot
Tomorrow we are going inside the walls of Jerusalem. Up until the last couple of days I was looking forward to this — to Jesus’ getting some recognition in the Holy City. Now I’m not so sure. I have a creepy feeling about it. It has to do with him: he seems depressed or distracted, or something. We were on a hilltop early this evening looking over the city and there were tears streaming down his face. I have no idea why but he really looked grief-stricken. I only hope whatever is depressing him, he’s over it by tomorrow. The people of our country are ready right now to get solidly behind an upbeat, optimistic leader….and that was Jesus up until these last few days. Now, I’m beginning to wonder. It would be hard for me to forgive him if he let’s a bad mood ruin this week’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Item 2: A letter from the disciple Peter to his brother in Capernaum
This is just a quick note to let you know I’m in Jerusalem. I don’t know how long we’ll be here. I was opposed to it, but Jesus insisted on our coming, and for the first time since knowing him I’m really doubting his wisdom. Things were going well in Galilee, but I’m afraid it won’t be that way here. The religious professionals, especi-ally the temple staff, really don’t like him, and they run things in this town. We had a nice crowd of the common people out to greet us when we got here this afternoon, but I don’t know whether they would stick with us if the authorities tried to arrest Jesus. I’m worried, to tell you the truth. There’s just too much that could go wrong here.
Item 3: The Jerusalem Post. Monday. Section B, page 1
It was estimated that close to a thousand people made up the crowd in a welcome to Jesus of Nazareth, a popular teacher from Galilee, as he entered Jerusalem just before noon Sunday. A dozen of his disciples accompanied him. Authorities openly expressed concern over his coming here, especially at Passover time. Highly placed sources have speculated that he and his group might be planning to cause major disruption of the Passover week activities. Other than damaging some of the palm trees lining the road by which he entered the city, there were no serious prob-lems Sunday. The crowd seemed content to shout, sing and wave tree branches as he rode by on the back of a donkey. Authorities are still nervous about his presence here this week. A temple spokesman pointed out that Jesus’ habit of questioning the integ-rity of some of our religious leaders, and criticizing strict enforcement of certain rules and requirements, is not at all helpful during a week in which the city is filled with impressionable visitors.
Item 4: Memo from Chief Priest Caiaphas to the Presiding Elder of the Temple, regarding the Tuesday morning disruption in the Temple Courtyard
I commend you for your restraint in the face of the disturbance caused earlier today by the Galilean teacher, Jesus. I know it was not easy to stand by and do noth-ing while he disrupted one of our important ways of Temple fund-raising. Undoubt-edly he was hoping to create an embarrassment — possibily a full riot. Confronting him and trying to restrain him would only have played into his hands. You wisely sensed that it was best to rise above it — to treat it as one might treat the tantrum of an unruly child. If it is any comfort to you, it appears that this will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Until now Jesus has committed few if any overt disorderly acts. This morning’s incident was an exception, an escalation of his trouble-making. It’s an important mistake on his part, and our attorneys are delighted to have this incident with which to work — especially since it happened in front of so many witnesses. Again, thank you for your wisdom and restraint. Please be assured that the ‘Jesus problem’ will soon be solved. At this point I am not at liberty to disclose what is being done. I can assure you, though, that you are unlikely to have to endure a repeat performance.
Item 5: A scribbled note from Judas Iscariot to another disciple, John
John, I assume you are as upset as I am over the events of the last few days. I think we were all stunned to see Jesus so out-of-control in regard to the money-changers at the Temple yesterday. In light of some of his recent politically and religiously damaging comments, maybe we should have seen this coming. It is a miracle he has avoided arrest, John, and I think something has to be done. This week he’s not acting like the Jesus we have known, walked with, and learned from these past three years. I’m thinking seriously about speaking to one of the Temple officials and trying to explain the situation. I assume they are reasonable men. Maybe I can persuade them that if he is arrested we would work with them to defuse the situation. If we would promise to take him immediately back to Galilee and get him out of their hair, I’m guessing they would be willing to turn him over to us when they arrest him. I know that sounds sneaky, but the most important thing is that he survives. At this point I’m willing to try anything. Wouldn’t it be horribly tragic if one bad week undid all of the wonderful things he has taught for the past three years? If you have a better suggestion, let me know. Sincerely, Judas.
Item 6: Directive from Chief Priest Caiaphas to the shift commander of the Temple Guard
Attached is a signed warrant for the arret of Jesus of Nazareth and any persons with him who offer resistance to your taking him into custody. You and your men will be accompanied by a man named Judas, one of his disciples who has agreed to identify him. It is hoped the arrest can take place outside of the city and under cover of darkness, thereby avoiding any sympathetic public reaction. This Judas seems to think that he knows how and where this can be done. Once in custody, regardless of the time of night, Jesus is to be brought immediately to the Sanhedrin council room for interrogation and appropriate action.
Item 7: A summary of deliberations and actions taken at a special Sanhedrin hearing, 2:45 a.m. Friday morning
Members of the Sanhedrin were called together in special early-morning session in the matter of Jesus of Nazareth who was arrested on complaint of blasphemy, treason, sacrilege, fomenting rebellion and disorderly conduct. The accused was taken into custody shortly before 2 a.m. Friday morning on the Mount of Olives where he was found with eleven of his disciples. There was only minor resistance from one of his followers, a man identified as Simon Peter, who attacked one of our people. The injury was not life-threatening, however, and the arresting officers decided it would be in the public interest not to detain any of the disciples, all of whom quickly fled the scene. Throughout the hearing this Jesus was consistently uncooperative, refusing to answer the questions put to him and offering no explanation for a long list of comments and actions attributed to him. It was therefore unanimously voted by the Sanhedrin to transfer him to the office of the procurator. The charges forwarded to Pontius Pilate include:
•Subverting the religion of Israel • Violations of fasting and Sabbath laws • Treasonous comments regarding Roman authority • Impersonating a rabbi, i.e., doing ministry without proper credentials • Deliberate vandalism in the fund-raising section of the Temple courtyard • Holding a public parade without a permit • Possible charlatanism in pretending to do miraculous healings and exorcisms, blasphemy in claiming to be able to forgive sins. There being no further business, the council adjourned at 4:30 a.m. with words of thanks for everyone’s attendance from Chief Priest Caiaphas.
Item 8: Memo from the Temple Administrative Secretary to Judas Iscariot, Friday morning, l0:30 a.m.
This is to inform you that your request earlier this morning for an apppointment with The Very Rev. Dr. Caiaphas is denied. He and other members of the Sanhedrin were up most of the night working the matter of your friend Jesus, a matter with which they will undoubtedly be occupied throughout today. Dr. Caiaphas and the other council members deeply appreciate your assistance in identifying Jesus for the arresting officers, and regret that you thought certain promises were made to you regarding the disposition of this case. No promises of special considerations appear in their notes on the earlier talks with you. The 30 pieces of silver you received were a fee for services performed and were not connected to any guarantees. We consider the matter of our responsibility to you to be closed.
Item 9: Friday entry from the personal journal of Pontius Pilate
I must get myself transferred out of this godforsaken hellhole they call Israel. I understand now why there has been such a heavy turnover of procurators here. Today was a case in point. I ended up having to send to a miserable death, a man who had done nothing more serious than raise some very good questions about the false piety, the arrogance, and the moral bankruptcy of Israel’s religious professionals. Had I had a chance to get to know him, I probably would have agreed with most of what this fellow said. There was no justice at work in the incident, only politics. That Temple gang had somehow convinced an impressive crowd that the man was a danger to the Hebrew way of life. These people are fickle: many in that same crowd had cheered this fellow’s arrival in town only five days ago.
I interviewed the man. “Jesus” was his name. He was certainly no anti-social religious fanatic, nor was he traitorous. In fact, I rather liked him. In a strange way I ended up admiring him. If I had the choice I would rather have turned him loose and crucified his pompous accusers. That bunch plays hardball, though. They promised me a riot if they didn’t get their way. My wife is upset with me over my handling of the case. I’m not proud of it either, but what could I do? Why is it that in this miserable little corner of the Roman Empire, religion always triumphs over intelligence, over justice, and even over humanity? Maybe if I wash my hands one more time I’ll be able to quit thinking about it!
Item 10: Written report of the Roman Centurion in charge of Friday’s triple execution on Golgotha
As we were instructed, the three condemned prisoners were crucified shortly after noon today. Standard procedure was followed, and all three appear to have expired. As many times as we have done this in the past, today was especially unnerving for some of us. So while recognizing that to do so is irregular, I, along with three of the men assisting me on this detail, have some comments about today’s executions. It is the death of the Galilean teacher with which we are having trouble. The man left us dumbfounded from start to finish. None of the four of us have ever known anyone in his predicament and condition to act the way he did. There was, for example, not a bit of the typical cringing, cursing, threatening, and pleading. But then he wasn’t really submissive, either — at least that was not his overall demeanor. He had, as you probably know, been subjected to extraordinary physical abuse and attempts to humiliate him before he was turned over to us. Nevertheless, we had the eerie, irrational sense that HE was the one in control and that WE were the ones who didn’t know what we were doing. (I know this sounds crazy but it is what we ended up feeling).
What really got to us, though, was his last couple of hours on the cross before he died. Despite his severely weakened condition and what must have been blinding pain, his few comments had mainly to do with encouragment and support of people around him. He made some comforting comments to an elderly woman and a young man who may have been friends or followers. Another time it was reassurance to one of the two thieves we crucified on either side of him. He even said something or prayed something indicating that he forgave those of us who did this to him. We are not used to that. And just before he died, he made a curious comment. “It is completed,” he said, as if he had just conquered something rather than been the victim of a criminal execution. Frankly, he left us with our mouths open in astonishment: this was some whole other kind of person!
I (we) don’t pretend to know who he was or what he was about, but the four of us who are signing this report, believe that we were party to some kind of profound mistake. We are having difficulty thinking about much of anything else. We are fully aware that these may be deemed inappropriate comments on a matter out of our expertise. Be that as it may, we felt impelled to report what we experienced. And finally, just for the record: as powerful, as moving and as disturbing as his effect was upon us in these few hours, it is our opinion that none of us have heard the last of this man. We’re just not sure you can really kill the influence of a life as extraordinary as his, and bizarre as it may seem to you, we desperately want to know more about him. We have a strange feeling that what we did today……… may not be the end of the story.
Signed: Captain Urbanus, Sgt. Menas, Cpl.
Nason, and Pfc. Lepidus of the 4th Roman
Army Crucifixion Detail. Jerusalem.
May the existence of this church, and the power it gives to our lives, be proof, Eternal God, that the story has not ended. Amen.