YOUNG WORLD

Trial and triumph!

PAMELA NINAN

Trial and triumph!

A crimson sun dipped; silhouetting the massive stones of the Antonio Tower into a deeper grimness. Roman soldiers moved about the turrets, their swords and pilums reflecting an occasional bright flash.

Jews from all over the country poured through the city gates, thronging the serpentine streets that led to the Temple. Torches flared as night approached. The babble of countless dialects mixed with the bellows of animals. And over the noise rose the steady tramp of Roman cohorts deployed through the city.

"Our soldiers,'' said Plotus proudly, "prove to the Jews that Rome is the mightiest power in the world today."

"Right now the Jews' only concern is their Temple and their God," commented Felix. "During Passover, Jerusalem's population jumps from 10,000 to over 50,000 thousand! But their authorities plan as best they can. Set up free lodgings. Clear the roads. Reinforce the bridges. Even provide for the pilgrim overflow in neighbouring Bethpage and Bethany."

They heard the grinding of gates opening, the clash of arms, and the steady slap of sandaled feet entering the Tower courtyard. Plotus and Felix moved quickly to the wall overlooking the courtyard entrance.

"They've come!" exclaimed Plotus, "a few centuries each with their centurion-in-command.

"There's old Festus."

A change of guard arrived and the two clattered downstairs. The three friends greeted each other boisterously and were soon sitting around a table, sipping wine and swapping the latest news.

"The Governor has sent extra cohots this year." Said Festus, as he waved the wine glass under his nose, nodded, then took a sip. "There is a strong rumour that the Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, will be here with his followers. Which means a crowd follows, expecting more miracles. "

"I doubt that, my friend," murmured Plotus between sips. "Centurion Septimus's servant was healed by the Rabbi."

Festus' eyebrows nearly reached his hairline.

The three drank in silence. Their thoughts dwelt on the Rabbi — Jesus of Nazareth — who in three short years had turned Judea upside down with his miracles, and radical teachings: "to love one's enemies, to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile helping others, that helping the poor was like helping God". He even challenged the Jewish religious authorities' interpretations of the ancient Scriptures. The Romans knew that the Rabbi had already attracted the ire of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Someone pounded on the door, then rushed in.

"Hurry! Join your century. There's trouble in the Garden... and the Rabbi's there!"

The Garden of Gethsemane — usually a green oasis of peace and beauty — now echoed to the clang of swords and the babble of many voices. "The Rabbi is an ordinary carpenter; his friends just fishermen. Why have they called us Roman soldiers here?" muttered Felix.

The soldiers, joined by some Temple guards, seemed uncertain what to do with the small group of frightened fishermen huddled behind a slim, gentle-faced man who faced the crowd calmly. A Jew slithered forward, and saying "Greetings Rabbi" kissed him.

"Whom do you want?" the calm voice asked.

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I am he. Let these others go. They mean no harm."

A ragged cry of pain lanced through the night air. Malchus, servant of the High Priest,

Caiaphas, staggered from the crowd, hand to the side of his head, blood streaming through his fingers.

"He... he... c-cut off my ear!"

The Rabbi turned to one of his followers who held a bloody sword. "Put away your sword. I must finish the work my Father sent me here to do."

As Malchus pushed his way through the crowd, he passed by the three friends. And Festus whispered, "L-look! His ear is healed!"

His followers melted away. The three friends followed. A Roman soldier always obeyed orders.

In the Praetorium many of the crowd pushed into the hall. The Sanhedrin sat in judgement of the Rabbi.

"They break their own rule," muttered Festus. "The Jewish court does not permit a trial during night hours."

"Nor," added Plotus," can they give the death penalty. Only Pilate, the Roman Governor can do that.

Then Caiaphas challenged the silent figure.

"Are you the Messiah?"

"It is as you say."

Dramatically, the High Priest took the the hem of his robe and ripped it apart.

"Blasphemy!" he shouted.

The Rabbi was mocked, then soldiers took him to Pilate.

Pilate studied the Rabbi and asked.

"Are you the King of the Jews?"

"You say so yourself."

After that the Rabbi remained silent.

"Pilate searches for a way out," commented Plotus shrewdly. "He senses the Rabbi's innocence; but fears the wrath of the mob."

"Bring the prisoner, Ba-rab�-bas," Pilate finally ordered the guard. He then said to crowd; "As is the custom at this time, whom shall I release to you? Ba-rab�-bas? Or the Rabbi Jesus?"

"Ba-rab�-bas! Ba-rab�-bas!" screamed the crowd.

"And what shall I do with this man you call the King of the Jews?"

"Crucify him!"

The Sanhedrin had worked on the screaming crowd to this end. Pilate shrugged. Then washed his hands publicly.

"I am not guilty of this innocent man's blood," he said. He ordered the soldiers to flog the Rabbi, then return him to Caiaphas.

The frail, bloodied figure staggered along the dusty route up the Hill of the Skull, carrying a heavy cross. Finally, the centurion got a Cyrenean to help the Rabbi carry his cross.

At the top of the hill, the soldiers stripped off the Rabbi's outer garments. Five-inch nails impaled his outstretched hands on the cross-bar and his feet on the vertical bar. They hauled the cross upright. . For three hours the Rabbi hung on the cross. The soldiers at the foot of the cross, threw dice for His clothes; as was the custom. The crowd mocked and taunted, "If you are God's son, come down. Save yourself."

Plotus, Felix and Festus stood aside. The afternoon sky darkened. An eerie silence shrouded the hill. His mother and some women drew near . Noon darkened like night. Then through the darkness they heard his cry. "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." The Rabbi died.

Thunder rocked the hill. Jagged lightning ripped down. The crowd melted away. The three soldiers drew near. They looked up at the dead Rabbi. Then Plotus whispered, "Surely... this was a righteous man."

Two days had passed . Festus would leave in a few hours, returning with the soldiers to Caeserea. He sat glumly with Plotus. Then Felix burst excitedly through the door.

"The Rabbi's risen! Jerusalem rocks with the news. Many have seen him!"

"Impossible!" blurted Festus.

"Quite possible," said Plotus as he stood up. Felix and Festus looked at him, surprised.

"I'm resigning." He said. "My old heart tells me to go look for the Rabbi and spend my last years with him."

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