Witnesses of the Cross Series

John’s Reflections on the week before the Crucifixiongreen-palm-tree-leaf-1441097379LMk

 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 from Judas, who was our group’s treasurer. We could have sold it and fed a lot of poor people with that money.

Simon’s house was crowded, as Lazarus was present; he had become a local celebrity since Jesus raised him from the dead not long before. 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! Lazarus stumbled out, bound in burial wraps from head to foot, and he had to be loosed. That caused some controversy and excitement, I can tell you. The Pharisees and priests could not hide their growing hatred and jealousy towards Jesus after that. We didn’t realize it then, but they were already hatching plots to kill both men in an effort to thwart Jesus’ popularity and squelch the story.

The day after Simon’s dinner, we got Jesus a donkey’s colt 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.

As we approached the city from the Mount of Olives, Jesus looked over the city’s profile–the outside walls, the towering Temple mount, Herod’s palace in the distance, and the tangle of brown houses. I could feel his stress and his heartache, but I couldn’t understand why. He was contemplative, I would say, 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. The twelve of us 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. He 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.

Stay tuned! THURSDAY: Judas’ perspective, FRIDAY: Peter’s perspective, SATURDAY: Mary’s perspective, SUNDAY: Mary Magdalene’s perspective

image by Petr Kratochvil

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