Like a Thief
It was dawn of Friday, the 14th of Nissan. Jerusalem was sleeping, reeking of lamb’s blood and drunk with wine and the holidays. We were also asleep, sprawled among the olive trees of Gethsemane, dreaming of going back to Galilee as soon as possible, where we could hide ourselves in our own province…. Only Jesus remained awake. His head bowed down and buried in his calloused hands, he saw the hours pass and he prayed…
Jesus: Let not their will but yours be done, Father… Not their will… but yours…. Let not the powerful win, but you, the God of the poor...
Then a voice, most familiar to us, resounded in the middle of the night...
Judas: Jesus!… Jesus! Are you there?!… Jesus!…
Jesus suddenly stood up and went toward us…
Jesus: Wake up!… Do you hear that?… People are coming… Peter!… John!…
Peter: What’s the matter… what?
Jesus: Psst!… Quiet…
Jesus was in front of me, he was very pale, and his eyes were glowing with fear...
Judas: Jesus!!… Where are you?
Peter: Dammit, John, that’s Judas’ voice!… What does the Iscariot want…?
John: Psst!… Quiet and be ready…. Inform the others….
Peter called Philip who woke Nathanael up. Thomas and Andrew soon followed, despite too much wine during supper… Each one shook his companion beside him and in a few seconds the eleven of us plus Jesus were all wide awake and crouching among the rocks of the garden….
Judas: Jesus!… Hey, what’s the matter, where are all of you?!…
Judas’ voice was getting closer and closer…. James and Simon had their hands held fast on the knives they were hiding inside their robes. Peter and I quietly unsheathed the swords we brought along from Mark’s house… We held our breath and waited….
Judas: Jesus!… This is Judas…. I’ve got to tell you something… Where are you?
Judas was talking in the dark. Suddenly, a few olive branches moved and the Iscariot came out into a small clearing, just a little distance away from where we were hiding. His figure, tall and strong, with the usual scarf tied around his neck, stood out amid that great mass of light from the moon….
Judas: Jesus!… Are you there?… Come out for a while! I need to talk to you…
Jesus, who was beside me, took a deep breath, as if mustering enough strength before undertaking a long and difficult task….
Jesus: I’m coming out, John…
John: What? Are you crazy? That’s a trap, Moreno, I’m sure…
Jesus: It doesn’t matter, John. I’m coming out.
John: No, don’t do it….
But Jesus freed himself from us and slowly walked toward the open space where Judas was….
Judas: At last you show yourself… I imagined you were here… so I came to look for you….
Face to face with one another, Judas and Jesus, remained in silence momentarily… The Paschal moon, round and aglow, watched over the night like the eye of a sentinel…. Jesus moved a little closer…
Jesus: Judas, why did you fail us?
Judas: Everything will be all right, Jesus. I can’t explain it now, but things will turn out fine. Trust me, Moreno.
Judas advanced toward Jesus and kissed him. That was the signal agreed upon with the commandant of the Temple guards… Suddenly, two soldiers appeared from among the bushes, carrying ropes and chains…
A Soldier: You are the so-called Jesus, aren’t you?
Jesus: Yes, I am. What’s wrong?
Soldier: You’re under arrest.
Jesus: For what reason, may I know?
Soldier: We’ve got orders from our superiors. Come with us.
The soldiers approached Jesus and they began tying up his hands….
Peter: Dammit, John, shall we just stay here and do nothing…?
Peter held his sword firmly, gritted his teeth and like an arrow, hurled himself at the soldiers to attack…
It was a matter of seconds. Peter flung the steel object at the head of one of the soldiers, who parried the attack, but injured one of his ears. James and I attacked the other soldier, pushing him to the ground placing the knife at his throat. Seeing this, the rest came out of their hiding place to assist us…
All: Good work, Peter!… Very good!…
Commandant: Everybody, freeze!… You’re all surrounded!
The commandant’s order made us all still. We had fallen into a trap... Then we saw coming out from the shadows a number of soldiers armed with swords and clubs… Some of them lighted their torches to see us better… The troop was closing a circle around us…
Commandant: I told you to freeze!
Peter: And you too! One false move and this guard is dead!
James: And this one too!
Peter held one of the soldiers, blood flowing from his ear. Peter’s sword was pressed deeply into where the soldier’s kidneys were… James and I held the other soldier on the ground face up, but with the knife’s edge pressed against him.
Peter: Don’t come close!… Jesus, run, escape through the back of the hut! To hell with you, Moreno, I told you run! Go away! We’ll hold them back until you’re gone…!
Jesus: But what are you saying, Peter? How can I go, leaving you here?
Peter: It’s you they’re after, Moreno. Don’t you understand?
Jesus: They’re after all of us, Peter. And somebody has to face them. C’mon, hurry, put back your swords and go away. Now we must gain some time.
Peter: What about you, Jesus? How…?
Jesus: Don’t worry about me, Peter. God will help me get out of this. Go away now and try to do something…. Go on, beat it!
Jesus retrieved the sword from Peter’s hands and threw it farther away, on the ground. The bloodied steel glowed by the moonlight….
Jesus: Now, who is it you’re looking for?
Commandant: We’re looking for this man called Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve got a warrant of arrest for him.
Jesus: I am Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not armed. I won’t resist arrest….
Jesus walked toward the chief guard his hands over his head…. Then he stopped.
Jesus: If you are after me, then please let the others go. They’ve got nothing to do with this. Peter, James, John… leave this place right away…. We’ll see each other later.
Peter: But, Moreno…
Jesus: Go, I’m telling you! Inform my mother and the women. Peter, please, talk to Judas and find out what happened.
Judas was no longer in the garden. He disappeared among the olive trees. We left hurriedly through the back of the little hut where Mark kept his oil press… Jesus was left alone before the soldiers…
Jesus: You came looking for me with swords and clubs, like you were looking for a thief. You’re all wrong. The thieves are your bosses. They work in the dark because they are afraid of the light.
Commandant: Hurry up! Tie him and let’s keep on moving!
They tied his hands behind his back, and with another rope tied around his waist, they dragged him….
Commandant: Mission accomplished. Move on, men!… To the palace of Caiphas!
They dragged Jesus up the foot of the mountain…. Mark, Peter’s friend, who had seen everything from his little hut where he was sleeping, followed the soldiers. He wore nothing but a sheet…
Soldier: Hey, man, what’s the matter with you?!
Commandant: He looks suspicious! Get him!
Terrified, Mark threw away the sheet and began to run naked through the olive trees…
Andrew: Mary!… Mary!
Mary: My God, man, what’s wrong?!… What happened?
Andrew: They grabbed him, Mary.
Andrew: Jesus. They arrested him.
Mary: Oh no, oh, my son!… That can’t be… oh, no!
Magdalene: Damn, what’s happened? Speak up!
James: Now easy, easy.
Andrew: Only one should speak. Tell them, James.
James: They took us by surprise in the garden. It was a trap. Judas squealed.
Magdalene: Of course, he came here first… Oh, Iscariot, wait till I get hold of you…!
James: A troop of soldiers came, surrounded us, and arrested Jesus.
Magdalene: And you were all so terrified, you didn’t even defend him!
Andrew: We did, Magdalene! Peter even had cut off the ear of a guard, but…
Magdalene: Ear or no ear! You’re all a bunch of cowards! Now, where’s Jesus? Where did they take him? Tell me where, so I can go and tear out the eyes of the whole army, if need be. Should they touch even a strand of hair of the Moreno, they will have to deal with me! I swear by the bones of my mother, these scoundrels will not hear the end of it! And you, gang of cowards, worthless bunch, and then you will say that women… if only I had been there…!
James: Shut up, Magdalene!… It was Jesus who didn’t want to flee.
Andrew: That’s right. We did what we could, but…
Mary: Oh, James, my son. What will they do to him? Tell me.
James: Nothing, Mary. They simply want to terrify us. I’m sure they’ll set him free after the holidays….
Andrew: Jesus will know how to defend himself before the tribunal.
Magdalene: I’ll blow my nose on their faces! In this country, the judges are just like my colleagues in the business: they want money and nothing else.
James: It’s up to you, Magdalene, but these days, they can’t do anything to him. There are a lot of people in Jerusalem. If they lay a hand on Jesus, the entire city will all rise in protest!
Magdalene: They already did, and you “his trusted men,” came out running like scared chickens! Damn, where did they bring him? That’s what I want to know now!
Andrew: Maybe he was brought to Caiphas.
Magdalene: My goodness, what are we all doing here? Let’s go…
While the women and the other groups ran through the dark, small and solitary streets of Jerusalem toward the palace of the High Priest, Peter and I, after going back and forth several times, and having talked to the servant of the palace who was a friend of mine, met Judas in one of the huts of the barrio of Ophel…
Peter: Damn you, Iscariot, we wanted to grab you!
Judas: Men, what’s all the matter with you, huh? Haven’t you understood yet?
John: Yeah, we realize what a treacherous dog you are.
Judas: I promised not to say this before, but now I can. Everything was planned by the movement, do you understand? If they take Jesus as prisoner, people will take to the streets! Barabbas is organizing the uprising. In a few hours, Jerusalem will turn into a nest in turmoil. We’ll free Jesus! And Israel too!
John: Do you know what you’re talking about, Judas?
Judas: Everything is all set. Barabbas and the men from Perea are going to assault the arsenal of….
Judas: Yes, John, it’s true. I know I should have told you before, but….
John: Fool! Barabbas is also a prisoner.
Judas: What did you say?
John: They made a round up of these people and they caught him, Dismas and several men from the movement. Everything is under their control. No one can do anything, Judas. No one.
Judas: That’s a lie… that’s a lie… it can’t be…
John: That’s right, Judas. A friend of mine working for Caiphas has just told me.
Judas: No! That can’t be… that can’t be… noooo!!
And Judas of Iscariot fell down on the earthen floor of the little hut, weeping and beating his face with his fists….
From the garden of Gethsemane to Calvary, Jesus would be confronted not with the fatality of his destiny, but with a series of painful circumstances before which we would see the quality of his life and his commitment. In each moment, Jesus tries to discover, step by step, the meaning of every event in order to be faithful to God and to his mission. There is no moment in his passion that Jesus ceased deciding, selecting his words and his acts. He was free. His passion brings out his courage and his rectitude.
The Levites (clergy of rank inferior to the priests) performed different functions in the temple. Among them was that of policing. These were the troops who brought Jesus when he went to Gethsemane. These Levite-police made the rounds in the temple to assure that no one went beyond the place assigned them. At night, they went on guard in 21 locations around the gates and the esplanade. This police force was under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin (priestly aristocracy) who could assign them to special missions – like arresting Jesus. As a matter of fact, all security services of the province of Judea fell under the authorities of Jerusalem and this police force. A commandant or a senior officer headed the police troops of the Temple.
In the garden, Jesus’ disciples displayed armed resistance so that Jesus would not be arrested. They left the house where they celebrated supper, armed with a pair of swords and the gospel has it on record that Peter wounded one of the soldiers. Certainly, many of the disciples have zealot origins, and in all probability, possessed some weapons. Jesus did not encourage them in this line. In Gethsemane, he opted not to use violence. It should not be interpreted simplistically that the disciples fled out of cowardice. They tried to gain time, to grasp the meaning of what was happening, to look for a solution, to seek help. It had to be a tremendously disconcerting moment for Jesus and his group.
(Mt 26:45-56; Mk 14:41-52; Lk 22:47-53; Jn 18:1-11)