Holy Week 2011


These rich people who walk round the Temple scowling at us poor people - hardly people at all to them - who can barely afford a pair of turtle doves, have no idea. They just don't understand. You would think that meat eating was an everyday occurrence.

What they don't understand is that life for the poor consists of two, almost unbearably heavy yokes: daily manual work from dawn to dusk except on the Sabbath and Feast days; and the sheer tedium of life, only broken up by a birth, marriage or funeral. Of course you work in the hope that all the back-breaking, joint grinding, skin burning work will somehow make life more bearable, so that the second yoke gets lighter; but it never does. Or you could try it the other way round, taking your ease and hoping that, somehow, the family will get fed; but that doesn't work either.

Now some of you may think that I'm standing here on this Friday afternoon because I went for the second option and left everything behind; it just wasn't like that. I know when I first saw Him that I wanted to stop work and let everything go hang but the temptation soon passed. I listened to him preaching from a boat moored just off shore and I thought I could listen to him forever but common sense soon prevailed; and that's how it might have stayed but for what happened when he came to our village a few days later.

You've never seen anything like it. There is this old bloke, Soli, who's a bit, well, yonderly, you know, a bit unusual; goes up and down the village making unpleasant remarks and unpleasant gestures but everybody knows what to expect, so you just have to get on with it. Well, Jeshua met Soli right at the edge of the village and took him by the arm and said: "You show me round. You know everything there is to know here, don't you?" And the old man, meek as a lamb, just nodded and walked down the street, pointing at houses and naming names. No, it was a bit more than that. He actually said nice things about people like: "The woman who lives alone in that house is very poor but she's very generous and she's helped me out more than once, even though I frighten her a bit"; and: "the family who live in that house behave really well but people look down on them because the woman doesn't come from round here so they think she's somehow tainted; but she always seems very nice to me."

By the time they got to the middle of the village they were at the front of an untidy procession of all those who lived in the West and people were rushing in from the other three quarters. It was partly the reputation of this Jeshua and also partly because of the way he'd calmed down Soli.

Then a mother with a new-born baby walked right up to him, even though she hadn't gone through the purification, right up to him and made as if to thrust the baby into his arms and he stood stock still, looking straight at her, and instead of doing anything drastic, she just put her left hand - yes, her left hand - on his shoulder while cradling the tiny baby in her right arm and she said: "You can cure him, can't you?" And he said: "Do you really think I can?" And she said: "Yes. Why not? He'll die if you don't save him." And Jeshua looked at her, didn't even touch the baby, and said: "Faith is a wonderful thing, a gift from my dad. The baby - what is his name, by the way? - will be fine." And she said: "Jacob." And he said: "Well, he may turn out to be a wrestler". and people laughed.

As you will have guessed by now, knowing what you know, a not very orderly queue was forming behind the woman and people were tugging at him this way and that begging him to visit people who were too sick to move. That's another thing rich people don't understand, with their Greek doctors and Egyptian wizards, they don't understand how easy it is to be struck down and die. If it isn't the stone in the grain that ruins our teeth it's the bad food in our stomach and the bad water and the skin diseases and the insect bites. I'm told that you can go to some parts of Jerusalem, the nice parts where there's a bit of breeze, and you can see hundreds of people and none of them sick; but not in our village. More or less everybody is more or less sick, so to have this man come in and clear it all up within an evening was just amazing.

I was all right. I didn't need curing of anything in particular; I got so carried away with the whole thing that I became the head steward, organising the queue and lifting the heaviest people - though God knows our village doesn't have heavy people like the ones you see at Jerusalem Festivals - and bringing them to him. Then when that had all been sorted out Soli, who went on acting as his escort, took him to all the houses where there were people who couldn’t be moved. By this time a couple of the leaders from the Synagogue started moaning about him touching unclean people but he just smiled and said: "Well, whatever they were before - and I never ask, you know - they're all clean now."

When he'd finished he went to the local tavern, not much of a place, really - not like the posh places you see in Jerusalem - and he sat right in the middle of a crowd of the worst people in the village, the ones who steal to get money to sit and drink instead of doing an honest day's work. They were like a hedge around him, keeping respectable people out, and he went along with it as if he'd had enough of cleaning everything up and just wanted to enjoy himself. There had been a lot of shouting and praising when he was doing his healing but this was now drowned out by laughing and singing. You would have thought that he knew that when somebody bought him a drink it was with stolen money but he just laughed at the jokes and sang the songs.

When the evening was just about blown out, he thanked his companions and said he was going for a bit of a walk up the hill and as he passed me he said: "You did a good job tonight. I'm sure we could use you. The wages aren't much, very basic really, but there will be a lot to see; and it will do you good, broaden your outlook. See that man over there? That's Simon. He's the leader of my gang and he'll show you the ropes."

So I introduced myself to Simon and said that I'd just nip home to sort things out; but Simon said I wasn't to worry because Jeshua wouldn't be leaving until he came down from the hill in the morning. At home it was easier than I'd feared  because everybody was so lively and well and my dad said that with this new lease of life they'd manage the small holding all right and, anyway, it was rough justice if I followed the man who had made them all well.

During the next few months it went from wild to miraculous, to ecstatic. I'd only just got used to the healing when he started doing miracles with food; and I'd only just got used to that when there were rumours that he'd conjured up Moses and Elijah, which had blown away his inner circle. They were wonderful days but you could see that it wouldn't last. If you live in the kind of place I was brought up in you know that nothing good ever lasts. He said he had to do something really important in Jerusalem. Well, that's hardly a surprise. People think that the only place you can do anything important is in Jerusalem and its inhabitants think that nothing important happens anywhere else. Anyway, he said he had to go there and that times would get very tough.

It looked all right at first. We had decided to give him a bit of a lift as he came into Jerusalem by cheering and telling him how wonderful he was. The "son of David" chant might have been a bit over the top but it had been a hard journey and it was nice to get to our final destination. Did I say "nice"? Well, it felt nice, but only for a couple of hours. I thought that the riot in the Temple when he pushed over some trestle tables and harried all the traders until they left was a bit of a lark but the authorities took a very dim view indeed. During the next few days there was a lot of verbal fencing, with some of the cleverest people trying to trap Jeshua, but he knew his Scripture too well for that and scored some very neat points; but he might have been better off losing the odd point because the more he won, the angrier they all got.

I was still acting as head porter, carrying people to him and watching them run home; but somehow the joy had gone out of it. I wasn't taking anything for granted - I don't think you could ever get tired of all the joy he brought; and you could never get tired of him; never - but in Jerusalem it all got so heavy and conspiratorial. You never knew who was hiding round a corner or behind a wall but you knew that somebody always was. Even booking the place for Passover involved some secret dealings which I was party to because I had to organise all the deliveries, including the lamb.

I was sorting out the waste disposal when Andrew ran past shouting, "Jeshua, he's been arrested by the Temple Police." I thought of running after him but decided it was best to tidy everything up; there was nothing I could do that his key followers couldn't do better, except for Peter who was always terrible in a crisis. He flapped every time something happened without proper warning. I found that right at the beginning when he couldn't handle unplanned departures and arrivals. He wanted everything to be straightforward and it never was, so I'd asked to be transferred to John, which was a bit bumpy in other ways because him and his brother had pretty strong tempers, but they just got on with things.

So I cleared up all the major items after the meal and was thinking of finding somebody who could tell me about the arrest when a couple of the outer circle arrived, looking terrible, and said that Jeshua had been betrayed by one of his chief officers, Judas, the Treasurer; and that he might even be put to death.

Well, I'm sorry to say - but peasants like me can't help it - when I'd heard the news I was very sad but I sat in a corner and fell asleep. It had been a long, hard day and I was sure he'd forgive me.

Next morning a couple more stragglers came in with the worst news of all, so I decided to see for myself. I've seen some gruesome things in my time - the Romans aren't squeamish by any means - but I wasn't prepared for what I'm seeing now, looking across a filthy waste land to three crosses with Jeshua on the middle one. I can see most of his followers keeping their distance and there is a knot of officials, looking nervous and disgusted at the same time. The only people who seem to be comfortable are the soldiers who are playing dice and waiting for the end.

I don't want you to think that I'm cynical because I'm not. I worked for Jeshua happily and would have liked to go on working for him but I always knew that it wouldn't last. As I said, nothing good ever does. He made all kinds of promises but I knew they couldn't come true. I'll wait here because I'm loyal, because that's what I'm like, because I like to see a job finished properly, so I'll help his followers sort out and clear up; but I'm already thinking about what it will be like when I get home and start working on the land again.

The Jeshua story was a wonderful, dream-like interlude, but it wasn't real life.