Sunday 14 April 2019
Based on the work of Henry Admiraal.
Thank you, Joseph. As you heard in the previous reporting, the unusual display from Jesus of Nazareth happened during a time of already heightened alert. The population of Jerusalem can increase multiple times over as pilgrims stream into the city for the Passover holiday festivities. Every business and home is struggling to accommodate the massive crowds.
If the size of the crowd weren’t enough to put the Romans on edge, the theme of the Passover holiday certainly does. After all, Jews everywhere are celebrating when God freed us from the oppressive rule of a mighty empire by striking dead the first born sons of every family of the Egyptians. That the Romans let us celebrate this holiday at all is a bit of a miracle. That’s why, as we do every year, we’re encouraging residents and visitors to Jerusalem to keep things calm and not cause any trouble.
But there’s no doubt that Governor Pilate and his legion will be on high alert. Supplementary troops marched in yesterday and today from their base in Caesarea by the sea. Anytime there are this many pilgrims in the city, the legionaries will be looking to suppress any unrest, but especially during a season like Passover, a celebration linked so closely with Jewish nationalism.
And we all know what happens when the Romans sense resistance. It seems we can hardly go two years without some supposed Messiah rising up and trying to overthrow the Roman occupation. Usually they don’t get very far, of course. A few highly public crucifixions and everything is over. They want to make it clear. This is what happens if you challenge the Peace of Roman, you end up hanging on a cross.
But many of you will remember the revolt of Judas the Galilean. Not 25 years ago, after the Great King Herod died, he started an uprising that still echoes today. His followers, the Zealots, are still agitating for a new order, a new Jewish state that has no king or emperor, but is ruled only by God. Is this new Galilean rabbi, Jesus, planning to pick up where is follow countryman, Judas, left off? Can we expect more violence in the streets in the days to come?
And who hasn’t heard the stories of one of the elders about Antigonus Mattathias the Hasmonean? Seventy years ago, he courted the help of the Parthians, Rome’s enemy to the east. With their help, he ruled as King in Jerusalem for three years. That’s when Herod the Great first came to power. He was a personal friend of the emperor’s family. They sent him to Judea at the head of a Roman army. After three years of fighting and brutal siege in Jerusalem, Herod and the Romans brought Antigonus, and Herod became King of the Jews. Ever since then, Judea has been one giant construction project, with Herod expanding the temple, building new fortresses and palaces, and even founding whole new cities for the glory of the emperor.
So, what are we to make of this new rabble-rouser, this Jesus ben Joseph from Nazareth in Galilee? His late father was a small-time carpenter, although there are rumors about whether or not he was Jesus’s father at all. They say that his wife, Mary, was pregnant before they were married.
Jesus himself is a bit of an odd duck. Thirty-some years old, but never married. No children, let alone the grandchildren we might expect from someone his age. His life seems to have changed when he went out to the Jordan wilderness and was baptized by John ben Zechariah. After that he seems to have left everything behind and become some sort of wandering preacher, exorcist, and faith-healer. He’s become a bit of a sensation across Galilee and the surrounding area. Crowds have been flocking to him with their sick and demon-possessed. And he’s even been sending his disciples out ahead of him, two-by-two, with the same powers of healing and exorcism.
But the real story has been his controversial preaching. Critics are divided or what it is that he means. So much of his teaching is done with enigmatic stories called parables, it seems like the meaning changes depending on who is hearing him. But there can be no mistake that his constant references to a Kingdom of God have raised the hackles of authorities. Some claim that Jesus is simply speaking metaphorically, but others hear a clear critique of Rome in this subversive, political imagery.
Concerns over Jesus’s possible revolutionary views will certainly not be relieved by his actions today. Parading into town on a donkey like an ancient king can be nothing but provocative. The crowds were even calling him a Son of David. What else could the authorities think except that he fancies himself a king?
And he drew even more attention to himself when he visited the temple. On the busiest week of the year for the temple, he went in and disrupted its regular operation. Jews coming from hundreds of miles away depend on the animal sellers and the money-changers in order to procure appropriate sacrifices. But Jesus came in and overturned the whole thing. A provocative action in an already tense time.
So what is next for this Jesus of Nazareth? If he keeps a low profile for the rest of the week, he might just skate by without punishment. But there is no doubt that the authorities, both the Sanhedrin and the Romans, will be watching him closely. If he shows up in the temple again for anything other than a quiet sacrifice, you can bet that there will be consequences. If he starts preaching his radical message in and around the temple, the authorities will have to do something.
And yet these crowds that are following him are a problem. He’s got them so whipped up with Messianic expectation, who knows what will happen. If he gets arrested and his followers try to resist, we could have blood in the streets, curfews, martial law.
Right now, though, it’s just too early to tell. If Jesus passes through the rest of the week without controversy, he might just make it back home to Galilee and continue his eccentric ministry. If he provokes the authorities again, we could have the start of another rebellion. With the city packed like it is, there could be hundreds, even thousands of deaths. There could even be a return to war.
But more than likely, Jesus’s story will end like so many other so-called Messiahs before him. He’ll poke the Romans in the eye one too many times and get himself arrested. If so, he’ll probably end up hanging on a cross, made an example of, just like everyone else who challenges Rome. And that will be the end of his story. Jesus of Nazareth. Just one more outlaw who tried to stand up to the power of Rome. One day the talk of the town, the next day hung on a cross, and a week later, his name completely forgotten.
Be sure to tune in next week as we bring you full coverage of the continuing situation in the holy city. For Jerusalem News Broadcast, I’m David ben Horace. Stay safe, and good night.