Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode in to town and everyone’s excitement and anticipation were at a fever pitch. However, in just a few short days, the hopeful high that Jesus would be Messiah came crashing down into the reality of his arrest and crucifixion.
This week I’ll be sharing three letters I’ve written from three different characters: Judas, Peter, and Mary Magdalene. Each person experienced great disappointment that first Holy Week. But each person responded wildly different.
The letters are written in a “Dear Abby” style, but written to a first century Galilean Advice Columnist named Ebenezer bar Jonah. Or, Ebby, if you will.
At the bottom of the letter is an audio version, if you prefer hearing the letter read/performed.
I hope you enjoy.
Have you ever wasted three years of your life? I mean, not just look back and have regrets. Sure, we all do that.
No, I’m talking about that moment when you pause long enough to take stock of the recent events of your life and realize that everything you had been chasing after for the past several years was all crap?
You see I can still remember vividly the day that I first heard about this new wannabe Rabbi from up north. You have to understand, at first it was just a running joke between me and my friends. We didn’t really give it much attention, to be honest with you.
My friend Jacob, whom I grew up with, actually WAS a Rabbi, so I knew what it took. And hearing about some loner who worked with wood up in the backwoods of Nazareth, who was going around claiming to know better than people like my friend Jacob? Well that was just dumb.
We’d often joke with one another and say things like, “Hey Jesus,” pretending he was standing there, “you seem to know a lot about building stuff, and about Yahweh… so, can Yahweh make a rock so big that he cannot lift it?”
Then we’d bust up laughing.
I’m not sure why, really. It’s not actually funny. But it made us feel better all the same.
Then one afternoon Jacob, my actual Rabbi friend, rushed to my house to tell me that Jesus, the wannabe Rabbi from Nazareth, had arrived to our town.
We immediately dropped what we were doing and rushed to where the crowd had gathered. Far more interested in getting new material for our jokes than we were in seeing or hearing from the Carpenter.
Ebby, I could fill your scroll with stories of what transpired over the next three years… the healings, the teachings, the calling out of the powerful, the lifting up of the weak… honestly, you wouldn’t believe half the stories, I’m sure. I didn’t, and I was standing right there.
But that first afternoon when I squeezed in to the Synagogue where he was teaching, I knew.
Almost the second I saw him, I knew.
Don’t ask me how I know.
I could no sooner describe that to you than I could explain why a sunset captures our imagination and draws in the human soul every single evening.
I knew in the same way that I did when I held my first born son for the first time, and nobody had to tell me that I would love this boy for the rest of my life. Things like that cannot be explained.
So I left everything to follow him. Several of us did, actually. Although I was surprised how few did, if I’m honest. He invited people everywhere he went… but not many responded. At first that annoyed me, but then I grew to like the fact that there were so few of us that got to soak up all of his attention.
For three years I watched him grow. I watched him blossom. I watched him evolve from this young itinerant preacher who spoke of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace… into a full blown leader who talked about the Kingdom of God nonstop, inspiring and challenging people everywhere he went.
In fact, my friend Jacob, the Rabbi, soon resented me for following him. He never did get it, Jacob. Jesus was always a fraud in the eyes of my friend.
But not me.
He could no more be a fraud than a flower not be beautiful.
It was in him, and we knew it.
I knew it.
What was in him, you ask?
Messiah was in him.
The one my Grandpa was always going on about. The one whom our ancestors predicted would one day show up and bring real freedom to our people once again.
The one who would restore worship in the Temple and call the people back to Torah.
The one who would raise up an army to defeat the godless Romans.
Three years of following Jesus left no doubt in my mind that I was lucky enough to be alive at just the right time. And not just to witness it, but be a part of it.
Eventually Jesus trusted me, more so than some of the others I think, because he put me in charge of the money. We didn’t’ have much, but there were a few women friends of Jesus that really believed in him and they provided enough for us to live on.
One time I accidentally lost a bag of coins and John and James insisted to the Master that I stole the money. We argued for days about it, me denying I’d do such a thing, them giving me sidelong glances and whispering to the others. But Jesus never seemed to give a thought. He knew I wouldn’t do something like that.
Like I said, I loved that guy. I believed in him, I followed him, and I was sure he was going to be the One.
But things started to get weird on our trip to Jerusalem for Passover. This was our third such trip and at this point anticipation was running high that maybe this was the year, this was the moment, when Jesus would finally make his move.
The people were anxious and excited, believing the time was near.
The religious leaders, like my friend Jacob, were getting angrier and angrier. Convinced that Jesus was a liar and was leading people astray. Because for them the Messiah would have been someone who followed the Law religiously, but Jesus seemed to see those sorts of things differently.
He saw Love as trumping Law, in ways that shocked some, but it always made sense to me. As though that was what the Law was always trying to point out in the first place.
But what didn’t make sense to me was how often Jesus started talking about dying, especially on our final trip to Jerusalem.
The other guys would always shrug it off as another one of Jesus’ weird metaphors or parables. But I couldn’t shake it. I was slowly getting this sense that Jesus really did think he was going to die.
Which, if memory serves me right, meant he wouldn’t actually be Messiah. According to Legend, the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die.
Further, I often felt he pressed too hard against the scribes and the Pharisees. At first it was kind of fun, but eventually it just seemed over the top.
I mean, those guys have power, and Jesus was really starting to piss them off. I’ve heard rumors before of what they’d done to people who crossed them, and I felt like Jesus was getting distracted from his main mission: overthrowing Rome and setting up his Kingdom.
The turning point for me was when we finally got to Jerusalem.
All my recent suspicions about Jesus maybe not raising an army and not challenging Rome were now confirmed. And all my frustrations with how hard he railed against the religious leaders came to a boil.
You see, we had just entered the city, and people had gathered around Jesus shouting out things like, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!” And they were waving palm branches. Almost everyone was convinced, as I had been, that Jesus was going to be Messiah, and that now was the time that he was showing up, in Jerusalem, to start the revolution.
We passed through the city gates, pushing through the mob that couldn’t stop singing out praises, and we followed Jesus to the Temple.
Which made sense. The Temple would make for a great headquarters for the Revolution. But something felt off to me. The look on his face… the way he didn’t seem to hear the kids clamoring for his affection (and he never turned down a kid, which was part of what I loved about him, actually).
He got off his donkey and walked the Temple steps. My insides started to turn. I couldn’t see this ending well. I knew him too well to know that what was about to happen was not going to match the energy in the air of excitement and praise.
Like the drunk uncle who shows up at the Wedding Celebration and knocks over the cake and drinks all the wine.
I heard the screams before I saw where they came from.
Then I heard him yelling, even through the noise of the crowd. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. Going on about a house of prayer, not a den of thieves.
I pushed my way to the front and stood there, horrified.
Jesus was going back and forth, from kiosk to kiosk, destroying things. Flipping entire tables over. Breaking open cages that held sacrificial doves and screaming at the men who were running the small businesses.
Priests began rushing down from the inner parts of the temple, and started shouting at the guards to take him away.
The crowd, who had just moments before been shouting “hosanna” now stood their dumbfounded and afraid. A few brave souls joined in the table flipping (while swiping up some of the coins from the ground, thinking no one was looking).
I stood, motionless, but not emotionless.
In my head I just kept hearing echoes of what Jesus had told us only days before, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”
It finally made sense.
I was dead wrong.
Jesus had no intention of being Messiah. He never did.
We had followed him for three years, and for what?
To go down with him in some sort of inglorious flame of railing against the systems, but not actually doing anything about it?
And that’s when I knew, Ebby, that my last three years were wasted.
This was no Rabbi.
This was a rabble rouser from up north, just like Jacob said. And he swindled me and countless others, convincing us he was special.
He’s not special.
He’s an imposter.
And I hate him for it.
I am disillusioned. I feel duped. And I don’t know what to do or where to turn.
Outraged in Jerusalem