Sunday, 13 March 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 11

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

Five Days of Crisis
by G..R. Balleine

Now Jesus had to put His daring tactics to the test. He knew how nervous the rulers were about Passover riots. If He could rekindle the old Galilean fervour, the priests would not dare arrest Him in a crowd. He could teach all day in the Temple, and sleep at night among the olives on the Mount, where no one would find Him in the dark.

First, however, He must reawaken the old enthusiasm. To do this He must suggest His Messianic claim; yet not openly enough to alarm Pilate. He had been reading the Book of Zechariah, reading it as His contemporaries did, as our grandfathers used to do, with no thought of critical problems. Much was obscure; but four points seemed unambiguous.

Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass. The city would be filled with contrition, `I will pour on Jerusalem a spirit of supplication.' A wonderful Feast of Tabernacles would inaugurate His reign, `All nations shall march up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.' And `in that day there shall be no more a trafficker (R. V. Marg.) in the House of the Lord'. These points Jesus took as His guide.

On Sunday morning strangers from Jerusalem were closeted with Him. Plans were being made that Peter did not understand. For the moment Jesus had to rely on His friends in the city. Someone in the next village promised to lend a foal; but Tabernacles festivities were not easy to arrange at Passover.

At Tabernacles, the Autumn Harvest Festival, the pilgrims marched daily to the Temple from the Pool of Siloam waving palm-branches. `Take branches of palm-trees,' said the Law. `The people,' wrote Josephus, `carry branches of willow and palm.' This was sometimes repeated on other days of rejoicing. When Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the Temple, `they sang hymns, bearing boughs and palms as on the Feast of Tabernacles'. So it was not unthinkable to arrange a similar welcome for Jesus. But it took time. Palms had to be bought, for they did not grow round Jerusalem. The day was half over before arrangements were complete.

Then Jesus sent for the foal. Bethany disciples carpeted the track with their cloaks. And the little procession started, at first possibly hardly more impressive than one which marched through Temple Bar in 1819, when a night-watchman with thirty followers summoned London to surrender to God.

They climbed the Mount, till Jerusalem burst into view. Its massive walls on precipitous hills made it one of the world's strongest fortresses. In the foreground stood the Temple, its golden roofs gleaming in the sun. From the huddle of humble homes the mansions of the priest-aristocrats lifted their heads like islands, to be dominated themselves by Antony's Tower, which was the Roman barracks, and Herod the Great's Palace, in which Pilate stayed for the Feasts-no easy city for a village carpenter to win!

All the authorities within those walls hated agitation. Pilate had a thousand soldiers to quell any commotion. The Sanhedrin was more nervous than Pilate of disorder. The Sadducees, who ruled the Temple, detested new ideas. But Jesus relied on the common people. Restless and fanatically religious, the Rulers were afraid of them. If He could win their support, He would be safe. When they saw Him coming down the Mount, the palm-bearers rushed out to greet Him, at first probably a small group, but one which showed tremendous courage in attempting this.

Emotion, however, spreads like wildfire in the East. From all sides crowds of pilgrims came racing up. Jesus entered Jerusalem amid waving palms and frenzied cries of welcome. Peter's heart swelled with pride. This was the kind of entry he had always hoped to see. `Those who went before and those who followed after cried, Hosanna!'

English readers think of this as a kind of holy hurrah. But it was part of the Tabernacles ritual. The word comes from the 118th Psalm, which was the psalm of that Feast.

On the first six days pilgrims sang it once, as they marched round the altar. The seventh day was called the Great Hosanna, because they sang it seven times. Indeed so closely were the word and the Feast linked, that the palms themselves became called `hosannas'. The word means `Save now' or, to quote an English hymn, `Bring near Thy great salvation.'

Up to a point all had gone well. This dramatic start made Christ's enemies hesitate. `We can do nothing,' they said, `everyone has gone after Him.' Yet it had fallen short of complete success. The cry of greeting, `Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!' was only part of the Tabernacles ritual, the verse from the 118th Psalm, with which every pilgrim at that Feast was welcomed to the Temple. The shout, `Blessed is the coming Kingdom of David!' implied no more than that Jesus might be its Forerunner. Only `Matthew' mentions a Messianic title, `Son of David'; and he admits that, when bystanders asked, `Who is this?' they were told, `The Prophet of Nazareth' - Prophet, not Messiah.

Moreover the delay at the start brought the day to an anticlimax. When they reached the Temple, darkness was falling. Everyone was leaving. Jesus `looked round', and went back to Bethany.

On Monday He returned to complete Zechariah's programme. Traders were still in the Temple. The Sanctuary was surrounded by a large Outer Court, which foreigners were allowed to enter. This Court of the Gentiles did something to uphold the ideal, `My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all nations.' But a new use had been found for it. Oxen, sheep, and pigeons were needed for sacrifice, and each must be `without blemish'. The Priests had secured a monopoly of this trade. Cattle-dealers bought licences to sell in the Outer Court, and `blemishes' were found in every beast bought elsewhere. So everyone had to buy in the Temple.

The Court of the Gentiles became a cattle-market, bulls bellowing, drovers shouting, pilgrims wrangling over prices. Many devout people were shocked, but no one had tried to stop this, till Jesus entered that Monday, picked up some cords from the floor, twisted them into a scourge, and said to the salesmen, `Begone! This is a House of Prayer, not a den of thieves.'

His air of authority often secured obedience, and today He had behind Him a band of sturdy followers. The drovers fled. The beasts stampeded down the hill. He overthrew the money-changers' tables. The Temple Police stood helpless. Never had Peter felt so proud of his Master. A hush fell on the noisy scene. For the rest of the day Jesus taught there unchecked. `The Priests,' says Luke, `were bent on destroying Him; but they could not see how to do it, for the people hung on His words.' That night for safety He slept with the Twelve under the olives on the Mount.

Mark's account of Tuesday begins with a perplexing story. He says that, the morning before, Jesus had gone to a wayside fig-tree looking for fruit, though `it was not the season for figs', and finding none He said, `Let no one eat fruit from you again.'

This sounds incredible. Can one picture Wesley cursing a strawberry bed for not bearing strawberries in March? Yet on Tuesday, as they passed, Peter is said to have cried, `Lookl that tree has withered from its roots.' Since this comes from Mark, Peter's disciple, it cannot be mere legend. Perhaps Peter told how Jesus had pointed to a dead tree as a warning against fruitlessness, and Mark had misunderstood him to mean that Jesus had caused its death.

Jesus was now full of hope. His mind was still musing on Zechariah. The Prophet had said of some mountainous difficulty, `Great mountain, thou shalt become a plain.' And Jesus said to Peter, `Faith removes mountains.' The three signs had been given, the foal ridden, the palms waved, the traders expelled. Surely now they would see signs of the Great Contrition!

After the fervour of Sunday and Monday, Tuesday fell rather flat. The Priests had decided to undermine the popularity of Jesus. Chuckling they prepared catch questions, which, they thought, He could not answer without losing supporters. For instance, `Should we pay tribute to Caesar?' `Yes' would infuriate the Nationalists. `No' would mean instant arrest. But Jesus proved more than a match for them. His disciples loved to tell later how neatly He avoided every trap, till as last His hecklers `dared not ask any more questions'. But the victory was a barren one. Peter must have felt that precious hours were being wasted. Verbal dialectics, however brilliant, would never establish God's Kingdom.

As they left the Temple, Jesus made a remark that helped to seal His doom. Jerusalem was inordinately proud of Herod's Temple. Someone felt that this Galilean failed to appreciate its grandeur. `Look,' he said, `what glorious buildings!' Jesus replied, `Not one stone will be left on another.'

Jeremiah was nearly lynched when he foretold the fall of an earlier Temple; and such a prophecy sounded no less blasphemous on the lips of Jesus. Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee asked Him privately, `When will this happen?' We do not know His answer. Nor apparently did Mark. But he found an Apocalyptic Discourse, which some Christian Prophet believed that Christ had inspired him to write, and faute de mieux he inserted this here.'

Tuesday accomplished little; yet Jesus had almost won. On Wednesday the Sanhedrin met, and decided not to arrest Him till after Passover, `lest there be an uproar among the people'. As the Feast did not start till Saturday and lasted eight days, this would have given Him eleven days of uninterrupted work. In eleven days anything might happen.

How Jesus Himself spent that Wednesday we are not told. Perhaps the Apostles did not know. He had two distinct groups of disciples, those He had won in Jerusalem and the Galileans. He may have left the Twelve on the Mount, and gone into the city alone to confer with His friends there. But in His absence the situation suddenly changed.

Judas of Kerioth went to the Priests, and offered to betray Jesus. De Quincey's idea that this was a presumptuous but well-intentioned attempt to force his Master's hand, to make Jesus show His power, and so hasten His triumph, seems wildly improbable. Wounded pride and blighted hopes were far more likely motives.

Once no doubt Judas had been a sincere and honest disciple, and Jesus had made him treasurer of their little band. Since they had left all, they had to be supported by friends, and some of these were by no means paupers. Joanna was a Court lady. Mary of Bethany could afford scent that cost ten guineas a bottle. The Centurion, who was rich enough to build a synagogue, probably gave a generous thank-offering for the healing of his slave. All this was entrusted to Judas. It made him feel important.

Perhaps he considered himself the most important of the Twelve. At the Last Supper he sat next to Jesus, and this may have been his usual place. But Peter's personality overshadowed him. He grew jealous and resentful.

Then Jesus dropped bewildering hints about crucifixion. Judas was hoping to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in a World Empire. He would not desert while a chance remained. But he did not mean to be crucified. If failure became inevitable he would turn `King's Evidence'. He had no use for a Messiah who could not save the nation. Disillusioned he went to the Priests, eager for revenge on his rivals and the Dreamer who had failed him. He revealed the spot where Jesus could be seized after dark, an olive-orchard called Gethsemane, of which a Jerusalem friend had given Jesus the key. Here He could be seized without fear of a riot. Now there was no need to wait till the pilgrim crowds dispersed.

Jesus was probably warned of every move of His enemies, for two Sanhedrists, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were secret sympathizers. When the arrest was postponed, they would have sent Him word. So He decided to have supper the following night in the city. But on Thursday He learnt of Judas's treason.

He was now in desperate danger; but He did not postpone the supper. He had been promised a large, upper room, something found only in aristocratic mansions. This might be a safe hiding-place. The police would hardly search the home of a Temple grandee. But Judas must not know where He would be.

So Jesus told Peter and John: `Go to the city, and look for a man carrying a water-jar. Prepare our supper in whatever house he enters.' This was a prearranged sign. In the East women went to the well. A man with a pitcher would be unusual. If Peter and John did not know their destination, Judas, who remained on the Mount, could not guess. They found the water-bearer, and followed him to a house, where the owner led them up an outside stair to a room on the roof, set with low tables and cushions on the floor; and here they prepared a supper.'

At dusk Jesus and the others arrived. Judas could not stay away, for he had to know where Jesus would be. They took their places at the table, Jesus in the centre, Judas on His left, and on His right a rather mysterious person, whom `John' calls `the disciple whom Jesus loved'.' While taking their seats, the old, childish dispute arose about precedence. This had an awkward sequel.

When sandals are worn, feet get muddy, and should be washed before meals. But no one would wait on his fellows. Peter was as bad as the rest. So Jesus tied a towel round His waist, and began to wash their feet. Peter drew back his legs. `I will never let You wash mine.' `If I don't,' said Jesus, `we are no longer partners.' `Then,' cried Peter, `wash me all over, hands and head too.' Jesus answered with a smile, `You don't need a complete bath.' And He told them all, `If I, your Leader, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's.'

Then He broke the news that they had a traitor among them. `One of you is going to betray Me.' Horror-struck, they all exclaimed: `Not I!!! 'Not I!' And Judas said the same. Peter signed to the Beloved Disciple, `Find out what He means.' Had Peter known, Judas might never have left that room alive. But Jesus' next act lulled any suspicion. It was a special honour in the East for a host to dip a piece of bread in the dish and hand it to a guest. He now did that to Judas. Was it a last appeal? If so, there was no response.

So Jesus said curtly, `Get on with your task.' And Judas left the room. The others thought he had gone to buy something for the next day's Feast. If Jesus had wanted safety, He could have kept Judas there. But his presence had become unbearable. Let him do his worst! If God was going to intervene, a paltry traitor would be powerless. If not, Jesus was ready to meet His fate.

That night He planted a seed from which sprang the Roman Mass, the Anglican Holy Communion, the Plymouth Brethren's Breaking of Bread, the Divine Liturgy of the Greeks, the Presbyterian Lord's Supper. Yet it is not easy to grasp exactly what Jesus did or meant. Our four informants, Paul, Mark, Luke and Matthew, had, before they wrote, for many years been worshipping at services that had evolved from the Last Supper; so inevitably their accounts are coloured by thoughts that had clustered round those services during years of use.

One thing is certain. The Twelve were always pathetically slow to grasp any deep teaching. So Jesus must have given this rite some extremely simple meaning. Though this was the Last Supper, it was by no means the First. Religious guilds called Chaburoth abounded in Palestine. Devout groups met to study the Law, to distribute alms, and to join in a fellowship supper, at which the chairman blessed God for the bread, broke it, and distributed it. The Twelve were a kind of Chaburah. Jesus must often have said the blessing over the bread, and handed round the broken pieces. The disciples at Emmaus recognized Him `by His breaking of the bread'. Now He asked them to continue to do this to keep alive their memories of Him. `Do this in remembrance of Me.'

Another purpose was to bind them together. In the East sharing the same loaf and cup creates an unbreakable bond. `We are one body,' wrote Paul, `for we all partake of the same bread.' Jesus wanted to keep His friends united in the face of the enemy, to pledge them to deeper loyalty to one another and Himself.

To Jesus the broken bread and the red wine spoke of the fate that was looming ahead for Him. They heard Him say, more perhaps to Himself than to them, `Thus My body will be broken and My blood shed,' words which meant nothing to them at the moment, though later the Church tore itself asunder with irreconcilable explanations.

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