A journey to the cross is a journey to repentance. It’s a journey to deep personal change. Will you take this journey with me?
In today’s reading, Marcus, the centurion, meets with Jonas the tax collector. They discuss the news of the week, namely the huge stir that Jesus has caused in Jerusalem since his triumphal entry into the city. Date: Early morning April 6th, 30 A.D.
As I descended the stairs of the gate, I caught sight of Jonas and his son, unoccupied at the customs booth. With a quick wave of my hand, I signaled my intention to speak with him, and after taking the salute of the sentinels at the gate, I headed straight to the booth. “Good morning, you old goat!” I called out as I approached.
“Well, if it isn’t the top dog himself,” he shot back.
“It’s always good to see a man standing around doing nothing. It sets me at ease,” I said. “Ease?” His eyebrows shot up. “Oh yeah.” He nodded emphatically. “It’s been a week of ease all right. I’ve had my feet up all week.”
Of course, just the opposite was true, and it was true for both of us.
“Do you think we could have a short word?” With a jerk of my head, I motioned in the direction of the road leading down the Kidron Valley.
“Sure,” he answered, and then with a glance and a nod to his son, he transferred responsibility to him. A light mist still hung over the lowest reaches of the valley, but the early-morning sun was promising to burn it off. The swallows nesting along the crevices in the city wall were engaged in a full-throated competition with the songbirds in the trees along the brook. Traffic to and from the city was just beginning to stir.
When we had gone a few paces beyond the gate, I spoke. “I just wanted to say thanks for the help with the Barabbas case.”
“Oh, don’t mention it.” There was relief in his voice. “I thought you were going to warn me about some new plot.”
“No, there’s no new plot.” I hesitated. “Let me rephrase that. There’s no new plot that I know about. You never can be sure what’s being hatched in this crazy city.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. I guess we learned that with Barabbas.” Jonas nervously bit on the corner whiskers of his mustache, and then continued. “Now, that Galilean prophet? I’ve been losing sleep over him all week.”
“Harmless as a dove,” I said. “Harmless as a dove.”
“How do you know?”
“I checked him out myself on Monday, right back there in the temple courts.” I made a quick double-pump motion with my upraised thumb aimed over my shoulder. “Then on Tuesday I had Claudius in there with the prophet.”
“You Romans have more nerve than brains.” He kicked a loose pebble off the pathway, looked up at me with a quizzical grin, and then with an incredulous shake of his head, he repeated, “More nerve than brains, that’s all I can say.”
“If we didn’t have nerve, we wouldn’t be running this place. Or any other place for that matter.”
He shrugged, furrowed his brow, and then cocked his head to one side. It was his way of reluctantly conceding my point.
“So he’s harmless?”
“Harmless to us.” With my index finger, I pointed first at myself, then at Jonas, and then back again. “Caiaphas, on the other hand”—I paused for effect—“now there’s a man who I’m sure hasn’t slept well all week.”
“So you think the old rusty gate has lost some sleep? Over what?”
“Money. Money and prestige. It can’t look too good having some roving up-country rabbi come in and take over your temple at the religious high point of the year.”
“I suppose not,” Jonas said. But then he added, “You know this prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, he’s been here before. He kicked out the money changers a few years back. Caused quite a stir then. But nothing like this. He’s got the temple guards running scared. That’s what my uncle told me.”
“Your uncle’s right. I saw that firsthand on Monday. So what else do you know about this Galilean?”
“My wife tells me he’s a friend of tax collectors and sinners. She told me one of his disciples was a tax collector before he met the prophet.”
“Ah, tax collectors and sinners?” I responded with a wink and a nod. “Maybe there is hope for the two of us yet.”
Jonas smiled back at me. “So, Marcus, where is this all headed? Some people think he’s the Messiah. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, we’re well aware of that. But he doesn’t oppose paying taxes to Caesar.” I gave my tax collector a supportive thumbs-up signal. “And he hasn’t spoken a word against Rome since he’s been here.”
“That’s not a surprise. He knows better. You and your boys would have him nailed up on Golgotha the moment he did.”
“You’re right about that,” I agreed. “But I honestly don’t think he’s got a quarrel with us. He’s going after the parading hypocrites in long, flowing robes, those killjoy Pharisees and teachers of the law. You know the ones—the religious police who run this place.”
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