Thursday, March 24, 2016

Doing What Must Be Done…

This is a creative account of the arrest of Jesus.  It is an amalgamation of events described in Matthew 27:47-56Luke 22:47-53Mark 14:43-51, and John 18:1-11.

“They are headed out of the city. Now is your chance to get him while he is away from the crowd! I can take you to them. But hurry, we’ve got to move fast!”

I came breathless to the entrance of the Temple. I knew if I was going to do this I needed to act fast.  The guards standing watch drew their weapons. I couldn’t really blame them for being nervous.  Things get a little crazy this time of year in Jerusalem with all these extra people here for the Passover festival. And then here I come running toward them like a crazed Zealot.

After what seemed like an eternity, the man leading the soldiers ordered them to stand down.  My heart raced and my insides churned within me as I caught my breath.

Malchus, attendant to High Priest Caiaphas, had been expecting me. You see, this wasn’t my first visit to the Temple. I had come here a few nights earlier and had a secret meeting with the ruling Council to put this plan in motion. I was convinced that Jesus had to be stopped, but now that it was actually happening I wondered if I would have the stomach to see it through.  

Do what must be done.

Malchus turned to one of the Temple guards, “Go to the High Priest’s house.  Inform the Council that Iscariot is here. We should have Jesus in custody soon.” 

As the soldier scurried off following orders, the others shifted nervously while they waited for their “friend” to return.  Soldier wasn’t really the right word to describe them.  They weren’t seasoned military men like the Roman Centurions, some of whom were stationed in Jerusalem.  No, these were more like mercenaries, local conscripts hired by the Temple authorities for crowd control.  Their job was to “keep the peace”—which would in turn keep the Romans from interfering in the day-to-day operation of the Temple.  Frankly, as nervous as they looked, I wondered if some of them had ever actually seen combat before.

Malchus looked at me and smiled.  “You were right to come to us Iscariot. You and I both know that your teacher is stirring up trouble and must be stopped.  The High Priest and I commend you for your action.”

“If I’m so right, then why do I feel like the dirtiest garbage in Gehenna tonight?!”

Betrayed.  For 30 pieces of silver...
“This should make you feel better.” Malchus tossed me a pouch; I heard coins jangling.  “Per our agreement, thirty pieces of silver… and the knowledge that you are helping protect the peace of the city.”  I caught it and attached it to my belt.

Peace!” I spat, “My friends think I am buying supplies for the Passover Meal or giving alms to the poor right now!   If they had any idea…”

Do what must be done I closed my eyes tightly.  “Look! Let’s just get on with this.”

Malchus shrugged.  “Fine with me. Oh, just one more question. How will I know which one to arrest?” 

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll greet him the way we normally do—I’ll give him a kiss.”

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****
I led the detachment of mercenary–soldiers, priests, and Pharisees away from the walls of Jerusalem.  A winding narrow way led from the city across the rugged Kidron Valley.  We ascended in elevation until we reached the Mount of Olives.  Jesus would bring us out here often when he wanted to escape the crowds in the city or withdraw for quiet contemplation. One of Jesus’ followers owned an olive grove and press that served as a “safehouse” for us.  It was the kind of place that you probably wouldn’t find easily—unless of course you had a “guide” who knew exactly where it was located.

On the night before Passover so the full moon should have been shining brightly.  However, on this night even the heavens themselves seemed obscured.   The only light came was from the flickering torches that some in our group carried.

I was reasonably sure where we would find them in the grove.  There was a small clearing near the olive press where we often made camp. We wanted to keep the element of surprise, so we extinguished our torches and inched our way over the final few hundred feet of our journey in the darkness.  We stood right on the edge of the clearing and could see light emanating from a charcoal fire ahead of us.   Several shadowy silhouettes sat around the fire. We stood close enough that I could even recognize the individual voices of my friends. I was supposed to be with them right now, but instead I was sneaking up on them like a thief in the night.

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****
The plan was that I would approach Jesus first and identify him, then Malchus and the others could move in for the arrest.  As we stood there in the dark, my heart pounded like a drum. There now seemed to be an inevitability about it all however.  The voice that had led me to this point now propelled me forward into my ultimate act of betrayal. Do what must be done!

“Greetings friends.”

Peter looked up from the fire as I stepped into the clearing.  “What took you so long, Judas?” He turned back to the fire, and resumed his conversation with John and James. 

Betrayed. With a kiss.
Jesus rose to greet me the way we had so many times before.  Only this time my kiss might as well have been laced with the venom of an asp.

As we embraced, Jesus pulled me close to him: “Friend, do what you came for.” 

Our eyes met and his gaze seemed to sear my soul.  If I had any doubt back in the Upper Room, it was completely erased now.  Jesus knew—everything

Just a few seconds later, Malchus and the others stepped out from the encroaching shadows of the olive trees into the clearing.  “Jesus of Nazareth, by order of High Priest Caiaphas, I am here to place you under arrest.”

As Jesus turned to face Malchus he let me go.  “So it comes to this… the Son of Man betrayed with a kiss.”  He sighed. “I suppose this is how Scripture said it would be.”

A couple of the soldiers started to move toward Jesus. 

“Not so fast Judas!”  A couple of the disciples had realized what was going on, and weren’t going to sit idly and watch their Teacher and friend betrayed.  Of course, Peter was leading the charge. Is that a sword he has!?  I hadn’t expected armed resistance at all so it caught the Temple guards flatfooted.  Before they could react, Peter swung wildly at Malchus and through some miracle, the big fishermen from Galilee actually connected, chopping off a piece of the lieutenant’s ear.

Sometimes it seemed even Jesus couldn’t predict what Peter would do.  “Peter! Where did you get a weapon?! No more of this nonsense! Don’t you understand after all this time together that we’re not about war and violent conquest?  No, I have to drink the cup that the Father has given me to drink. I could say the word and my Father would strike them down—but then we would be just like everyone else.”

Jesus walked over to where Malchus was standing, blood pouring from the place where his ear had been cut. He stooped over and picked something up off the ground and touched it to the side of Malchus’ head, and in an instant the bleeding stopped, and he seemed to be healed.”

Malchus stood in stunned amazement feeling where his injury had been. The very man sent to arrest Jesus now fell to his knees. “Th… thank you.  Praise God!” Several of the local soldiers fell to their knees at this sight.  Others seemed less impressed.

"Am I leading a rebellion, that you felt the need to come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the Temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” 

Despite the miracle healing of Malchus, he still had a job to do.  The Temple authorities moved in to arrest Jesus.  Surprisingly, he put up no resistance.  One by one all of his friends fled into the night, leaving Jesus alone to face his fate.  One follower even fled away naked, having run so fast he lost his cloak along the way.   

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****
Isaiah 53:7
I stood there in the company of the Temple authorities and watched this whole scene unfold. Jesus was like a sheep before the shearer, standing silent and stoic as the hired soldiers moved in, bound his wrists as if he were some brutally violent criminal. 

I once again heard the all too familiar voice in my head: You did what must be done.

I had become so convinced that this was the only way, that this was what must be done, that I hadn’t stopped to consider the human cost.  Now, as I watched what I had set in motion unfold it began to dawn on me just what I had done.  I saw the Temple authorities take pleasure in roughing up my friend.  They slapped him, spat on him, and called him vulgar names.  And not only had my betrayal made it possible—I added insult to injury by doing nothing to stop it.

Suddenly the 30 pieces of silver in my belt pouch felt like a millstone around my waist dragging me down into an abyss of my own making.

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