Palm Sunday


excerpt from
Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ

Soon, it will be Passover when the Jews celebrate their liberation and flight from Egypt.  I have read the story many times when I dwelled in Secacah.  Do I believe their stories of miracles?  I don’t think it matters if I believe them or not.  The book says how their God split the sea with a strong wind so that the Hebrews could walk through it on dry land.

That is no less fantastic than the story Yeshua’s followers tell that the teacher walked upon the sea.  Does it matter if he did or didn’t?  I don’t think so.  My longing to believe that he is someone special has nothing to do with miracles, and everything to do with the words he speaks to those who will listen.  A day does not pass when I do not reflect upon my encounter with the adulterous woman.

When the grip of the north wind finally loosens after what I consider the most brutal winter I have experienced, Pilate announces that the Passover festival called Pesach will commence in Yerushalem.

“What say, you Gaspar?  Will you accompany me to the city?  Who knows, you might encounter your rabbi.  You’ve searched with no luck for months.  Perhaps it will be nothing more than a chance encounter.  Their law commands that every Jew make pilgrimage to the Holy City at Passover.  If you teacher is a good Jew, he will be there.”

Procula returns to Rome to visit her mother and father.  It is good she can visit them without her husband, good for her, good for Pilate and good for her parents.

“Since my wife will not be with me, I have sent word to Herod that I will stay at the fortress.  You are welcome to join me there as my guest, but know that barracks life is much different than life in the palace.”

“You can be certain, Pilate that I have resided in far worse places than your barracks.”  I agree knowing that Malachi’s inn will be overflowing with guests, as it always is at times of festival.  I will visit the brothers while I am there, perhaps even share their meal on the night of Passover.

Yerushalem is unsettled when we arrive.  It is not due to Pilate’s presence.  Something strange and inexplicable is in the wind.  The high priest is waiting for the Prefect when we enter the fortress and there is an irritable urgency in his demand for a private audience, which Pilate politely grants.

That evening as we dine, Pilate explains to his men that Caiaphas intends to arrest the young rabbi if he dares to enter the city during the festival.  “No one is certain where the teacher is or even if he will come to Yerushalem to celebrate the feast.  The high priest seems to think he will and assures me he will apprehend him if he does.

“I suggested that he wait until the festival is concluded, but Caiaphas listens to no one, not even his god.”

Midway through the feast on the night of the Sabbath, Pilate retires early.  Sleep is not yet ready to take me, and I make the mistake of playing dice with a group of soldiers.  They are a burly lot but friendly enough.  This crew has patrolled the streets all day and wishes only to relax.  Each has more interest in getting drunk than he has in winning a game of chance.

I fall victim to their excesses and retire with a throbbing head thinking that I shall be in no hurry to rise early the following morning.

My wish is not to be granted.  Not long after the sun climbs the Mount of Olives to the east of the city, a large commotion rouses me from my drunken slumber.  Unable to block out the cacophony of voices, laughing men, women and children and a variety of musical instruments, I climb from my mat and enter the blinding sunlight that fills the courtyard.

Pilate and his tribune climb the steps to the balustrade on the upper rampart to gaze down on the road that runs along the eastern wall to the gate the people call beautiful because it opens directly into the courtyard on the Temple Mount.

As I join them, Pilate says over his shoulder, “There he is, Gaspar.  Your teacher, the one you call a ghost.  He has come for the festival after all.”

Hundreds of people line the road, but they raise their voices as if they were thousands.  Many wave palm branches in the manner we pay homage to our victorious athletes.  Are they celebrating the Passover or are they celebrating Yeshua’s arrival?  I do not know, but the rabbi wears a broad smile.  He seems to enjoy his ride aboard a donkey, so small that Yeshua must bend his knees to keep his sandals from dragging in the dust.

When he is directly beneath us, he raises his face, shields his eyes and looks directly at Pilate as if he knew the Prefect would be watching from that spot at this moment high atop the wall.  Yeshua shifts his gaze to me with a look of recognition as if he remembers me from the incident by the Temple during Sukkot.  He nods.  When I return the gesture, the throbbing ceases in my head.

This is my chance to meet the man face to face.  I hurry down the steps and force my way through the thick mass of humanity that floods the city.  By the time I enter the court of Gentiles, Yeshua has already passed into the temple.  I can proceed no further.

“What did he say?” I ask a man who sells doves for the sacrifices.

“What did who say?” he responds as he concludes a deal speaking only with his hands to a solemn priest whose robes drag in the dust.

“The teacher, the rabbi, the one called Yeshua.”

He laughs.  “Don’t ask me.  He is a charlatan that one is.  I pay no attention to him.”

As I have learned through months of searching and questioning, Yeshua has his following, but it is not as large as I first believed it to be.  His strength is in the countryside.  The high priest is the most powerful Jew in the kingdom, and his supporters outnumber the upstart preacher’s, particularly within the city walls.

I accidentally collide with a woman who roams through the court with closed eyes murmuring, “This one is blessed, and he comes in the name of God.”

When she opens her eyes and realizes I am listening to her, she exclaims, “Did you hear him?  Did you hear what he said?”

“No, but please tell me.”

She swoons as if she is in rapture, and I catch her in my arms before she falls to the ground.  “Take hold of yourself, woman, and tell me what he said.”

She regains her composure and wipes her sweating brow with the sleeve of her robe.  As she prepares to answer, thunder peals in the clear sky.

“Did you hear it?” she asks again.

“The thunder?” I respond quizzically.

“No, not thunder, but an angel speaking to him.”  She pulls her arm from my grasp and quickly disappears into the crowd.  While some men look skyward with unspoken questions on their lips, most act as if nothing unusual has happened.

The man is here somewhere, but he has returned to hiding.  I search in vain for three days.  Even Pilate assigns men to find him so that they can monitor his activity during this holy feast, but not even they can locate him.  I tire of following rumors.  He is a ghost with substance that I cannot find.  He is like the sea breeze.  I know it is there, but I can never hold it in my grasp or see it with my eyes even though it surrounds me and influences my life.  Perhaps this man will, too.

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