Before the Cock Crows
It was dawn of Friday when they arrested Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jerusalem was still asleep, oblivious of what had happened. As a major precaution, the soldiers, with drawn swords and a few lighted torches, surrounded the walls of the city along the valley of Gehenna and entered through the gate of the Essenes. Nearby was the palace of the high priest, Caiphas…
Commandant: Lock up the prisoner, guard the two entrances and let no one set foot in the patio without my permission. Is that understood?
Mary, Jesus’ mother, Magdalene, James and the rest of the group hurriedly left Mark’s house, passing through the dark and deserted streets toward the palace of Caiphas, desirous to find out what was happening. It was a few hours before daybreak.
Magdalene: Look, the lights are on…
James: The bastards haven’t slept all night…
Mary: Oh, James, for God’s sake, what are these swine up to?
James: Don’t worry, Mary. They won’t harm your son. Jesus is innocent.
Magdalene: Not them. The judges of Israel are more rotten than week-old fish.
In a short while, Peter and I joined them….
John: Hey gang, we’re here…!
James: Shh!… Don’t yell… Any news? Have you seen Judas?
Peter: Of course. The Iscariot’s crazy, saying it’s the plan of the movement, that they were going to mobilize the whole city, but, as you can see, not even the cocks are up tonight… They made a fool out of him…
Magdalene: A fool? He’s an informer! He’d better not be here or I’ll pull out his tongue!
James: Shh!… Not so loud, Magdalene. We can’t afford to attract attention. Everyone is being watched…
Tall and massive walls surrounded the palace of Caiphas. It was a luxurious building with several domes and a wide indoor patio where palm trees grew. Outside, along the walls, a number of soldiers with lances and clubs kept watch…. While the magistrates of the Sanhedrin, warned of the urgency of the situation, kept coming to the tribunal hall, Jesus was brought to the neighboring palace of Annas, the High Priest’s father-in-law….
Annas: So this is the peasant who stinks, the famous Jesus of Nazareth!… How could our men have missed him with this reeking smell of his!
The old and powerful Annas was standing; the smirk on his face reflected his sense of security. A group of priests from the hierarchy of Jerusalem surrounded him. Some even covered their noses despisingly when the soldiers pushed Jesus to the center of the elegant hall…
Annas: Good work, young men. Now, you may leave and wait outside. Leave him to us…. We have to interrogate this Nazarene before we pass our judgment…
The soldiers left the patio. Jesus, with hands tied behind his back, stared at the old priest who was dressed like a prince in tunic with a black scarf and a double gold ring on his finger….
Annas: Well, well, first, tell us what happened last Sunday in the Temple. What did you do in the courtyard?… What was it you said about us, the leaders of Israel?
Jesus: Nothing that you don’t already know. There was nothing I said in secret. Why don’t you ask those who were present that day.
Aziel: Worthless dog! How dare you talk to his excellency that way!… Take this!
One of the servants of Annas slapped Jesus. Without turning the other cheek, Jesus replied:
Jesus: As far as I know, I haven’t done anything wrong. If that is so, what right have you to hit me?
Aziel: You insolent man! Do you want me to slap you again…?
Annas: Stop it, Aziel…. I’m amused to hear his replies….
Annas began to walk from one side to another, while touching his beard. One of the lamps in the hall reflected his elongated shadow on the floor of shining marble….
Annas: You know what? Because of the trouble in the Temple, I lost a number of cows and lots of sheep…. Poor creatures, I wonder where they are now… But this game has cost you a lot… Now, you lose much more than I… They say that he who laughs last, laughs best.
Jesus: Whoever said it is right.
Annas: Oh yeah? How easily you give in, Nazarene! You surprise me.
Jesus: What amazes me is the fact that you have been a high priest for ten years and still you’re not aware that it’s always God who has the last laugh. The Scriptures say so.
Annas: What do you know about Scriptures when you can’t even write!… Oh, these cheats in our country!… Fortunately there are still judges in Israel… Yes, my friend, we’re going to judge you… What? You’re not afraid?… You, who claim to be a prophet, can you foretell our judgment?
Jesus: It’s already given.
Annas: You don’t say. And what could it be?… Guilty?… or innocent?
Annas: You hate yourself that much, prophet?
Jesus: I know you too well, Annas. You and your cohorts. But it doesn’t matter: to be guilty before you is to be innocent in the eyes of God.
Annas: What do you know about God’s judgment, charlatan?
Jesus: What you never wanted to know: that God feels ill before priests like you who make a trade out of religion, enriching themselves by taking advantage of the good faith of the people.
Aziel: How dare you! Your excellency, let’s have his tongue cut off!
Annas: Leave him be, Aziel… These are the tantrums of a cornered enemy… Words, after all, are like feathers: they are blown by the wind… they are nothing.
Jesus: You’re wrong, Annas. God’s wind will soon blow and level with you, your house and all of you who claim to be the servants of God, when in fact, you serve the kings and masters of this world. You, shepherds who indulge in self-gratification, who remain silent when the wolves attack the flock, and kill the sheep! Later, in your dens you are joined by the murderers of the sheep to share the food and drinks you prepare for them. You even embrace them in front of everyone, in the open, without any feeling of remorse! Mercenary shepherds who have fattened yourselves at the expense of your sheep! This is what you have done as a preparation of the day of reckoning!
Annas: That’s enough, damn you! Shut up!… So they are right. After all, you do have seven demons inside!
With an irritated gesture, Annas approached Jesus and spat in his face…
Annas: May you burn in hell, son of a bitch!
Behind him, his supporters rushed toward Jesus and began to beat him and insult him… Meanwhile, in the street, the women and we waited impatiently, not knowing what was happening inside the palace...
Peter: Are we just going to stay here and watch, with our arms folded? Damn, we’ve got to do something.
Magdalene: That’s what I was saying a while ago, Peter, but we’re scared.
Mary: So what can we do, Magdalene?
Peter: Hey, John, do you think this servant friend of yours is inside? Well, why don’t we call him and sneak into the patio?
James: What for, Peter?
Peter: To find out what’s happening. If we have to create a scandal, then let it be. This can’t go on like this. By hook or by crook, they’ve got to free the Moreno!
Magdalene: That’s the way to talk, bum. I’m with you.
Peter: Let’s go, John.
John: Okay, Peter, let’s go. But watch your tongue. Everyone is all ears inside and….
Peter: Better. Let them hear what I say. That’s what I want: let them hear me! Let’s go!
John: Psss… Hey, buddy, he and I know a certain Bruno who works here as a servant… He’s expecting us, you know, and…
Soldier: Well, let him wait. We have orders not to allow anybody in. Do you think I’m stupid enough not to know that you’re one of those seen with the Galilean? You too!
Peter: Bah, take it easy, buddy… Cheer up, man… Look, with this denarius you can go get yourself some wine, will ya?
Peter slipped the money into the soldier’s hands and he left the door for us to go inside…
Peter: See how we must deal with these people, John? If you seem inferior to them, they kick you in the ass. Come, let’s find out where Jesus is….
The palace troops of the high priest had built bonfires in the middle of the patio. They were playing dice near the fire to warm themselves and to kill boredom over a long night watch….
Soldier: Five and three! It’s all mine!… Hey, you’re getting my money!
Another Soldier: You’re cheating, baldy!
Soldier: Cheating? The Nazarene has brought me luck! Didn’t they say he performs miracles? Here’s the proof, five and three!
Soldier: It’s a miracle if he comes out alive from the hall of Annas! They’re beating him to death! I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes!
Soldier: Not even in those of his cohorts! Do you know what they told me? They’re going to raid a group from Capernaum who was with the Nazarene… Poor souls, they don’t know what’s waiting for them…! C’mon, c’mon, enough of this talk, but let’s have more money…. Cast the dice!
Peter and I, wrapped in our blankets, were beside the fire and we heard everything…
A Woman: Hey, you two, who are you…? What’re you doing here, huh?.... Say, you big nose, I’m talking to you…
Peter: What’s wrong with me, woman?
Woman: You’re Galilean, aren’t you? I can tell even from afar.
Peter: And so? Is it a crime to come from the north?
Woman: Maybe you’re a friend of the Nazarene. Don’t deny it.
Peter: What’re you talking about?… Go away and leave me in peace…
Woman: Yeah, your face looks familiar… I’ve seen you with the prophet.
Peter: What nonsense are you saying. Never in my life have I seen this guy!
Woman: Hey guys, come back…!
Peter and I remained squatting, without moving at all. The woman kept on calling the guards…
Woman: Here, here, come over here, guys!
Peter: Shut up, dammit!… I didn’t bother you… what do you want?
Woman: You’re a spy of that man.
Peter: I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
Woman: Tell that to the marines! Hey, guards, come over here and take a look at this man. He seems suspicious…
With a lighted torch, they drew close to Peter to see him better…
Soldier: Dammit, he was the one who cut off the ear of my cousin Malcolm! Grab him!
Peter tried to stand and escape, but a group of soldiers surrounded him at once.
Soldier: So, this is the man who injured Malcolm…? Ha!… Let’s see if you can be as brave here as you were in the garden…
One of the soldiers drew his sword and approached Peter.
Peter: Wait a minute, friend... I’m not the one you think I am… it’s a mistake… Aghh!
The soldier was cornering Peter at the point of his sword until Peter was driven to the wall of the patio. The rest formed a circle for their own amusement…
Soldier: An ear for an ear, as they say!… But I’ll cut off your two ears to make it even…
Peter: Please, I… I know nothing about this… I…
The soldier passed the tip of his sword on his forehead, his face, and his ears….
Soldier: It tickles doesn’t it? How about this?!
…And he thrust the tip of the sword under his chin. Peter became white as flour….
All: Stick him, stick him!!
Peter: No… no… I don’t know anything… I don’t know that man, nor was I ever with him… I don’t…
Soldier: See how brave he is… See if his underwear is wet… Damn you, Galilean, what are you doing here?… Speak up!
Peter: I… I…
Soldier: Let him go, man. Don’t stain your hands with the blood of a chicken!
Another Soldier: To cut off a woman’s head brings bad luck!
Then the soldier sheathed his sword, grabbed Peter by the nape, and dragged him toward the palace gate and kicked him out.
Soldier: Get away from here and I never want to see your face again, bastard!
I was able to slip through the other gate. I ran, and turned to the corner where I found Peter lying among the stones, face down. He was covering his face with his hands… When Magdalene and the rest asked what had happened, Peter cried bitterly… It was still dark, but the first cocks were already announcing the start of a new day….
The palaces of the former High Priest, Annas, and the High Priest of that year, Joseph Caiphas, were situated near each other, in the high barrio of the city. They were very luxurious inside and out. A number of slaves, servants and employees served in them. In the palace of Caiphas, there were spacious halls where the special sessions of the Sanhedrin were held, without having to transfer to the branch offices of the Temple.
Annas had been high priest for nine years (from 6 to 15 after Jesus). He was appointed to this office by Quirino, the Roman governor of the province of Syria. Annas became so influential that after him, five of his sons were appointed high priests, after which came his son-in-law, Joseph Caiphas. His lust for power, his greed and his fabulous wealth were known to all. The business of selling animals to be sacrificed in the Temple was practically controlled by him and his family. As the head of an influential line of priests, he was the most powerful Jewish personality during Jesus’ time. Although his term was over, he maintained – according to the custom of Israel – his rank with its corresponding privileges. Since Jesus’ case had nothing to do with a legal judgment, Annas’ decision carried the most weight in that juridical farce.
Jesus is not “humble” before Annas. He rejects being interrogated like a criminal and does not “give the other cheek.” Instead, he questions the servant of the High Priest who beats him, trying to get an explanation from him. He gives no excuses nor does he try to evade responsibility. We must realize that this confrontation took place between a lay person with no authority and the High Priest of the period. Jesus’ freedom before such a religious power is complete. In this episode, Jesus echoes the words of the prophet Ezekiel, denouncing the bad shepherds of Israel, about six hundred years before (Ez 14:1-10).
Mary, the women and the disciples did not give in passively to the event. They tried to do something, although the odds initially seemed to be against them. We must not look at them as spectators to a drama whose unfolding they were aware of beforehand. Mary accompanied Jesus during those hours, hoping everything would be resolved.
Peter did not deny Jesus in a “fatal” way. As if the denial had already been “predestined,” through the warnings that Jesus had made during the last supper. Peter was scared. The turn of events happened unexpectedly. Peter was weak. His three denials are, above all, a model, an archetype. It is characteristic of Aramaic narrations, giving the story three moments to show that it deals with a finished happening, complete, definitive, which reached the end. The presence of the cock has special meaning too. Orientals considered the rooster as a symbol of the power of darkness as it always moved in the dark, crowed when there was yet no light. When Peter was intimidated and denied Jesus, the crowing of the cock became a symbol of the drama that was unfolding in Jerusalem: the triumph of darkness.
(Mt 26:69-75; Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:54-65; Jn 18:12-27)