THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XII: ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Like the dozens that had preceded it, this somber pronouncement—recorded dutifully by Lucas (Luke 13:34)—brought a storm of laughter and the thunk of wine cups from happy celebrants (wine glasses tink, metal goblets clink, pottery cups thunk). It was a joyous and excited group assembled in the public room of a large inn an easy half-day’s journey from Jerusalem. The next day, after three years in the sticks, Jesus and company were going big time. It was Saturday night after sundown, the Sabbath was over, and the wine flowed freely.
Only the biggest and best of the Messiahs could hope to make a go of it in Jerusalem. The crowds there were filled with skeptics. They’d seen it all, most of it twice, and ran more second class miracle workers and first class charlatans out of town in a year than Galilee had done total since the Dead Sea was just sick. Jerusalemites were tight with their donations as well, expecting more for their coins than a lofty sermon and a few parlor tricks.
Then, too, church officials were at their strongest in Jerusalem, not only in numbers but in sophistication as well. A seemingly innocent question here, an innuendo there, and the first thing you know your admiring crowd would be howling insults and looking for rocks. The religious class had it good in Jerusalem, and no would-be messiah who offended their well-tuned sense of self-preservation could hope to survive even a fortnight.
But Jesus and his disciples were no longer a collection of country bumpkins feeling and bungling their way around the messiah business. After Cana it had all come together, and the year-and-a-half that followed had polished them into a smooth-running machine. The message might be important—since that night in Cana, Jesus was all about the message—but showmanship was what got you out of playing the villages. So Jesus had driven out demons in Gaza, walked on water in Scythopolis, fed thousands of hungry and adoring fans in Bethsaida, and spoken with Elijah and Moses in Ephraim. Wherever they went, people had already heard of him and gathered in large numbers to see what all the excitement was about.
There were a dozen official disciples by then plus a few more followers-not-quite-up-to-disciple-status like Joseph of Arimathea. Along with about that many permanent women followers. Women couldn’t actually be disciples, of course, since nothing would bring the wrath of the Pharisees down on you faster than messing with the gender status-quo. Plus a couple of laborers and a handful of kids, including a charming six-month-old still suckling at Mary Magdalene’s breast.
Each of the disciples had his specialty. Phillip, at seventeen the youngest, had turned out to be a genius at wandering through the crowd, speaking a few words with madmen and cripples, and picking out the most likely candidates for a miracle healing. Bartholomew was a wanna-be professional musician who had gone from playing his lyre for a handful of coppers a night in backwater taverns to leading hundreds and even thousands in singing and clapping.”Makin’ a joyful noise,” he called it. Judas BJ (for brother of James) was the cheerleader plant, mingling with the crowd and starting the Amens and Hallelujahs to get the people fired up.
Judas Iscariot had been the last disciple brought on board. Jesus added him to the company when it became obvious that someone was needed to handle the money. In the early days it had been much simpler—they spent whatever they made, living high when donations were good and frugally when they weren’t. Nobody cared. Neither Jesus nor any of the disciples had ever done anything but hustle to eat, and even the worst days were better than what they’d endured before. But after Cana there was almost always money left over after they’d paid for room and board and distributed an ever-growing share to the poor.
One of the key figures for Jesus’ success was Matthew, the advance man. Typically, the day before the party arrived at a town, Matthew would be there spreading the word and drumming up excitement. Also canvassing the rich, who often donated handsome sums for the privilege of having Jesus as a dinner guest.
But Matthew had grander plans for their entry into Jerusalem. He’d hired a dozen underlings to hand out palm branches and lead the people in waving them at the right time. Others would throw flowers or offer olives and bread to the disciples. Then at the perfect moment Judas BJ, who had gone ahead with Matthew, would begin shouting, “Look, it’s the King of the Jews,” and the hired men would take up the cry until it rang through the crowd.
The only potential problem with Matthew’s big plans was Jezebel. Jezebel was a scroungy old mule that some admirer had given Jesus, and he’d inexplicably taken a shine to her. She positively hated crowds, particularly crowds making loud noises and throwing things, and when she hated something she wanted to bite it or kick it. Jezebel was plenty ornery enough to go tearing through the organized demonstration, snapping at the palm branches and kicking at the kids while an undignified Jesus hung on for dear life. But Jesus said he could control her, not to worry. And he was the boss and got to do what he wanted, even if that included riding Jezebel into Jerusalem.
As it turned out, Jezebel behaved herself surprisingly well and the demonstration was a rousing success. It was mid-afternoon by the time we got to the city walls, having been up pretty late the night before, but Jesus made up for that and then some. We literally brought the city to a halt. As we rode in through the Fountain Gate and up the hill toward the temple, accompanied each step of the way by lusty shouts of Hosanna, the streets quickly became too clogged for anyone to even consider going against the current. The market place emptied, and the flow through the temple gates was all one way—from inside to outside. Moreover, the crowds were so orderly that the soldiers only had to club a dozen or so people senseless to keep order.
Then, as Jesus reached the outer wall of the temple, dismounted, and turned to face the assembled masses, Judas BJ started the cry, “Hail, King of the Jews.” For ten minutes or better, that famous epithet rang off the temple walls and echoed out over the city. If we’d wanted to serve notice to the religious leaders that we were a force to be reckoned with, we could hardly have chosen a more dramatic way.
Indeed, the Pharisees had been caught with their pants down, or their robes up, or whatever the correct expression is. Minor officials followed along with the commoners, seemingly as caught up in the excitement as everybody else was. The religious hierarchy was prevented from watching dispassionately at a circumspect distance, as they preferred to do, by the throngs who jammed the streets; they were forced to choose between two equally unsatisfactory options: mingling with the hoi polloi, or watching from the Temple wall, too distant to affect the proceedings.
Jesus was at his best. He stood there on the hill, sporting a clean robe and neatly trimmed hair and beard, smiling at the crowd and acknowledging their adoration with the air of one truly deserving. Then he raised his hands for silence and began his first sermon in the great city. The people of Jerusalem, who had never heard him speak before, were totally captivated by the majestic picture he painted of the Kingdom of Heaven as a reward for the poor and the righteous. As well as the not-so-great alternatives for the self-serving and the self-righteous.
Things were going along great. Phillip was out mingling with the sick and lame. We weren’t planning to do any healings that day, but leg work done today put him ahead for tomorrow. Judas BJ was standing over on the left, about three rows back, leading shouts of ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Amen’ at all the right places. The rest were working the crowds for donations, which came pouring in. Even the multitudes were properly orderly and attentive, shouting when they were supposed to shout, listening quietly otherwise.
All except for a babble of voices that grew louder and louder over on our far right. Normally Jesus ignored minor disturbances, but this became obnoxious enough to distract him, and he found himself struggling for words a couple of times like he hadn’t done since Galilee. Suddenly he stopped speaking altogether and glared over at the commotion.
In the abrupt silence it was immediately clear what the problem was. The temple vendors, deprived of their normal throng of customers, had moved outside after their clientele and were busy hawking incense, caged doves without blemish, low-interest loans, wine, and souvenir trinkets.
Jesus lost it. He had labored in the boondocks for years to make it to the majors, and his first at bat in Jerusalem was interrupted by a bunch of petty mongers too wrapped up in trying to turn a mite to appreciate the historical importance of what they were interrupting. He rushed through the crowd, snatching a staff from a man in the front row, and began flailing away at the vendors.
“Thieves! (Whack) Blasphemers! (Thunk) You defile the very ground that you walk on with your presence,” he screamed at the top of his lungs, swinging the staff with both hands and dealing some for-real damage. The vendors scattered before the violence of his unexpected attack. “Jesus Christ! People of Jerusalem! Kick their asses out of here.” That isn’t exactly how it came out, because I intercepted those words before he could actually speak them and smoothed them into: “Drive them before thee in thy righteous anger, for they hath offended Yahweh by their vile taking of undue profits at the expense of His people.” The results were spectacular; you would have thought they were tax collectors.
By the time the last survivor had made it out of the city—the dozen who hadn’t were lying in the street—and the crowds had begun to straggle back to the temple, there wasn’t much use in continuing that day. The disciples spread the word that we would be back tomorrow, and we left for the comforts of a pleasant lodge on the Mount of Olives, just outside of the city proper.
Everybody was pretty bushed by the time we got in and settled, but the excitement of the day’s triumphs had us too keyed up to sleep. So another night of drinking and telling tales ensued. Jesus offered his share of proclamations to be written down by Lucas—not to mention a host of spies whose numbers seemed to have doubled since the night before.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XII: OUTTAKES
It was Saturday night after sundown, the Sabbath was over, and the wine flowed freely. Like the tears to come.
The Grail was a touch moody as she related the last week of Jesus’ life. I didn’t know that cups, even talking cups had moods. But they absolutely do. At least every one that I ever talked to did.
I started to ask how she felt about it, but it wouldn’t have been manly. Besides, I figured she’d tell me when the time came.
* * *
There were a dozen official disciples by then, along with about that many permanent women followers, plus a couple of laborers and a handful of kids. Including a charming six-month-old still suckling at Mary Magdalene’s breast.
That pronouncement brought the work to a halt for a while.
“Wait. You’re telling me Jesus had a kid?”
Yes. A lovely daughter that he absolutely doted on when he wasn’t preaching or performing healings.
“The Bible doesn’t say a thing about that.”
Kids were pretty much non-entities. How many other children are mentioned in the Bible?
I had to confess I didn’t know of many. David and Samuel were the only two I could think of. “But then it doesn’t mention that Mary Magdalene was his . . . wife?”
Wife for sure. Formality wasn’t a big deal among those too poor to have a big wedding. But he referred to her as his wife, which according to practice made it so.
* * *
Bartholomew was a wanna-be professional musician who had gone from playing the lyre for a few coppers a night in backwater taverns to leading hundreds and even thousands in singing and clapping.
“Wanna-be professional musicians today still play in backwater taverns, waiting for their big break. Judy Blue Eyes and I are going to see some next weekend. But they don’t expect in their wildest dreams to be discovered by Jesus himself.”
As usual, my quip elicited a chuckle, even if The Grail was just showing mercy.
Who are you going to see?
“Sergeant Jenny Slade and the Privates. But there’s a hidden connection, you know. Every time I see her I think, “Jesus Christ!”
* * *
Jesus added Judas Iscariot to the company when it was obvious that someone was needed to handle the money.
“So what did you do with extra money in those days?”
There were banks in a few of the cities, but you had to be there to take your money out. Fortunately, there were people everywhere who would manage money for you, lend it out at interest. Better than carrying it around with you, which wasn’t all that safe, since the Romans didn’t venture out away from the cities much.
“I’m guessing the disciples weren’t demanding retirement accounts or looking for tax shelters. So how much of an investment expert could you need?”
Relative to now, not much. But you have to realize, the Zealot was the only one who could even add. And he didn’t know the first thing about money. The first time he held a five shekel piece in his hand, he went to shaking like he had the palsy. That’s why we recruited Judas I., even though Jesus had vowed that he would never again have two disciples with the same name. He was as shrewd as a Pharisee on money matters, and our fortune grew. Too bad we never got around to using it.