WITNESSES OF THE CROSS STORY #1

PALM SUNDAY: JOHN’S PERSPECTIVE

SUNDAY OF THE WEEK CHRIST DIED

We arrived at Lazarus’ house in Bethany 6 days before the Passover and fellowshipped with many of Jesus’ disciples there. One night, we had a dinner in Jesus’ honor at Simon the Leper’s house, whom Jesus had healed. After dinner, Mary brought in an alabaster bottle expensive perfume (worth a year’s wages!) and poured it over Jesus’ head and feet and wiped his feet with her long, dark hair. Jesus said she was anointing him for his burial, which shocked us.

Quite a few of us disciples grumbled about the waste of perfume, especially Judas, who was our group’s treasurer. We could have sold the perfume and fed a lot of poor people with that money. 

Simon’s house was crowded because Lazarus was present. He had become a local celebrity since Jesus had recently raised him from the dead. This miracle was unlike any of his other resurrections (which religious leaders successfully played down as fevers or unconsciousness) because Lazarus had already been dead for 4 days when Jesus commanded him to come out of the tomb! When Lazarus stumbled out, bound in burial wraps from head to foot, everyone screamed. He was still bound up tight by the wrappings. Someone had to go unwind him so he could be free. That caused some controversy and excitement, I can tell you.

The Pharisees and priests could not hide their growing hatred and jealousy of Jesus after that. We didn’t realize it then, but they were already hatching plots to kill both Lazarus and Jesus in an effort to thwart Jesus’ popularity and squelch the story.

The day after Simon’s dinner, Jesus told us how to find a donkey’s colt for him to ride on, and we began the walk to Jerusalem. Many from Bethany ran ahead on the road and re-told the story of Lazarus’ resurrection, gathering crowds of excited bystanders to come greet Jesus when he passed. Excitement was growing that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem during Passover week to lead a revolution against the Romans. Pilate was arriving as the new governor, accompanied by enough soldiers to wage a war. Jerusalem might have had about 2 million people packed in for the holiday, so Pilate was expecting trouble.

It seems silly, looking back, that we thought Jesus would call us to arms against them.

As we approached the city from the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked over the city’s layout–the outside walls, the towering Temple mount, Herod’s palace in the distance, and the tangle of brown houses. I could feel his heartache, but I couldn’t understand why. He was contemplative, and sorrowful. Throngs of people ran before us, waving palm branches and laying them in his path. They shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not since the Maccabean revolt had there been so much unified excitement.

We were ecstatic! Finally, people were proclaiming Jesus as their Messiah! They understood and accepted who he was. Their reception vindicated our years of sacrifice and loyalty to Jesus. His reign would finally begin! No more itinerant preaching, sleeping in fields and plucking grain for our meals. No more reliance on his wealthy admirers to supply our needs. He would take charge now, for sure. James and I couldn’t help but exchange glances of eager anticipation. Recently, our mother Salome asked Jesus if we could sit beside his throne when the time came.

Whom else would he choose, if not us? Simon Peter was a bit of a risk, and we were the other two in his tightest circle. Our request angered the other disciples and launched a lesson on servanthood from Jesus. But we were still hopeful. He would be king! And we would be there with him!

When we entered the Temple, Jesus made a whip and chased out the vendors, quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah in a stern rebuke. He silenced the self-righteous Sanhedrin with his quick wisdom and denounced the scribes and Pharisees, exposing them as hypocrites before the multitudes. He spoke with supreme authority. Enraptured, we envisioned the coronation of our king. But as the days fleeted past us, he spoke of his coming death, not his reign as king. He collected no more followers. He made no powerful speeches. He didn’t take advantage of the eager crowds. Instead, he took us aside quietly and spoke earnestly.

At the Passover dinner in an upper room, Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and washed our feet—something the servants hadn’t even done! Then he said one of us would betray him. The room rocked with questions and protests. We had left everything for him! Such a crime was not possible! Since I was sitting the closest to Jesus, Peter motioned for me to ask him specifically who it would be. Jesus dipped his bread in the wine and gave Judas the piece. Then he told him to go take care of his business. We all assumed Judas had left to buy food for the poor. Jesus became melancholy and lost in thought, troubled, even.

Jesus took us on a long walk through the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane, speaking of death and love in urgent tones. In retrospect, he spoke like a father going off to war, leaving his children with parting kernels of wisdom and instruction. I have repeated his words to myself ever since, trying to burn them into my memory. “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It troubled me greatly—why would anyone need to die for me? These were not the words of a conquering king.

At the moment, I dismissed them. Until Friday. Then everything changed.

(NEXT EPISODE COMING SOON for WITNESSES OF THE CROSS)

see also “13 Reasons the resurrection matters”

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