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.
Long time reader, first time writer. Thank you for always giving such sage advice to those of us here in Palestine. It’s refreshing to have a voice that isn’t my mom’s or the local priest’s.
Somehow the answer to life’s problems always end up being, “you just need to find a nice girl and start a family,” or “you should probably sacrifice another goat for that.”
I’m currently writing this letter while hiding in a cave outside the city. Why am I doing that? Well, that’s a fair question.
I had plans, Ebby. Big plans.
We all did, really.
In the beginning we didn’t really know exactly what we were signing up for, that’s true. But after three years we all pretty much thought we figured it out.
I first heard about him from my brother, Andrew, who showed up late to our fishing boat one morning, breathless as he told me about this guy he just met.
“We have found the Messiah!” He said to me, as I was busy scolding him for causing us to miss the best part of the morning for fishing.
Every so often there’d be a new claim that this guy or that guy was the long-awaited Messiah (it was always a “guy,” come to think of it… I wish I could have asked Jesus about that. Now it’s too late…)
But anyways, I didn’t think much of it until a few days later when Jesus actually came to our town and Andrew dragged me to hear him teach at the Synagogue.
I admit, I was impressed.
He spoke with a strange sense of authority, but not in any sort of cocky way. I liked the guy.
Sure, he could crush a passage from Isaiah, but he didn’t seem the type to crush the skull of a Centurion.
Yet later that evening he actually came to our house for dinner (Andrew insisted). And it’s a good thing he did because when we got home my wife met me outside frantic that her mother had fallen gravely ill.
My brother turned to Jesus and asked him to help. I found that idea to be ridiculous and instead sent my son to go fetch the doctor.
I caught Jesus out of the corner of my eye and, even though I didn’t process it at the time, over our next few years together I became a pro at reading his face.
He does this little half smile thing, and I think he thinks he’s hiding it from people, but his eyes are always the giveaway.
I call it his, “they’re-gonna-get-a-kick-out-of-this” look.
I would come to find it equal parts enthralling and infuriating. Because I knew that what was about to happen would be jaw-dropping, but he also never bothered to let me in on it.
Anyways, he walked straight in the house, went to the bed where my mother in law lay, bent over her bed, and spoke firmly to her. Or, maybe it wasn’t TO her, it was more AT her. Or, past her…
I don’t really know… the point is, I couldn’t tell what he said, but the next thing I knew my mother in law was sitting up, the fever was gone, and the two them were chuckling together as though they were long lost friends.
My curiosity grew.
So much so that, a few days later, when Andrew and I were out fishing (and were wildly unsuccessful, at that), I decided “why not” and chose to accept Jesus’ invitation when he said, ‘come follow me.”
In the beginning, for me anyways, it just felt good to be noticed. To be wanted.
Growing up I didn’t make the cut for Rabbi school, so i took up my father’s trade: fishing. And I liked it okay enough, but I always wondered what it would be like to work for Yahweh, to teach the Torah, and to lead people in the Ways of God.
So when Jesus, this bizarre guy who had a way with words and the capacity to heal people, when he said, “drop your nets, Peter, if you’d like. And I’ll teach you how to fish for people,” well, my insides leapt.
Over the next three years I became convinced that Andrew was right: this was the Messiah.
In fact, I was so firmly convinced of this that when jesus asked us all one afternoon who we thought he was, I couldn’t spit the words out fast enough, “you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!”
Bartholomew and Thomas give me the stink eye, but I didn’t care.
Jesus always sort of brushed those sorts of titles off before, but not that afternoon. He said, “Blessed are you, Simon” (he was talking to me… my name used to be Simon) “Blessed are you, Simon, for no human has revealed this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you.”
Enigmatic sayings were sort of his thing, so we just rolled with it, but then he said, “I tell you that you are Peter.”
That’s right, Ebby, my reward for getting his name right was that I got a new one.
He just straight up gave me a different name. Didn’t ask me about it, surely didn’t consult my parents. Never considered how my wife would feel. He just decided from there on out I would be called “Peter.” Which means “little rock.”
Like I said, the guy could be weird. But I loved him for it.
“And I’ll build my church on this rock,” he continued, “The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.”
To be honest, I had no idea what he meant. I knew we’d soon have the Roman Empire to fight against, as we started his Kingdom Revolution, but I wasn’t sure what the Underworld had to do with anything.
Anyways, he ended his dramatic monologue by telling all of us to not tell anyone that he was, indeed, the Messiah.
You read that right: he admitted to being the Messiah, but told us we couldn’t tell anyone.
(I think he was looking straight at Philip when he said that last part. Phil tended to get a bit loose lipped)
Ebby, here’s my problem.
Even though I often didn’t understand what Jesus was doing or what he was saying, I always felt like I understood the end game.
The Messiah was, after all , destined to liberate our people.
And even though in the beginning I followed him because it felt good to be seen and invited, and because he intrigued me with his teachings and his healings, by the end I realized that I really wanted to be in on this Kingdom Revolution thing.
I heard that one afternoon James and John’s mom actually asked Jesus about putting the two of them as his first and second in command when Jesus rose to power.
That’s when I first started thinking about my own position in the Kingdom, once we overthrew Rome.
I knew I wasn’t as close to Jesus as John was, or as trusted as Judas was, but I felt confident that I was still closer to the top of the hierarchy of us 12.
Whatever Jesus’ plans were for the Kingdom I was relatively confident I’d be close to the action.
There’s no action.
There’s no hierarchy.
There’s not even the 12 of us anymore.
I’m hiding in this cave, writing you this letter, because I have no idea what to do.
We showed up in Jerusalem this week for the Passover and dozens of people (myself included) were buzzing that this was going to be the week. Finally, after three years of building up momentum, Jesus was about to declare himself publicly as Messiah, rally people around him, and begin the process of establishing God’s Kingdom like he’d always talked about.
You should have seen it, Ebby.
The fanfare. The palm branches. The singing and dancing. The children everywhere crying out “Hosanna! Yahweh has come to Save us!”
It got a little weird, I’ll be honest, when Jesus did that freak out thing in the Temple. But I didn’t mind much. I was there rooting him on (in my head, of course). I knew how he felt about the religious elite, he didn’t hide that.
Then a couple nights later we shared this amazing Passover meal together, filled with more cryptic things about his body and blood and covenants. But we’ve learned to just roll with it, assuming that either he’d explain it later, or that one day we’d understand, or just generally being okay with having no idea what our friend and master was saying but glad to be hearing it nonetheless.
Everything was cruising along… until last night.
That greedy little bastard Judas showed up with some temple guards and handed Jesus over to be arrested. They took him away, and when I tried to follow people kept recognizing me.
I was afraid I’d get arrested too, so I took off.
And found this cave.
I have no idea what the day will hold when the sun rises.
I’m just… I’m sad, Ebby.
I truly believed this was going to happen. It felt so right. I thought this was exactly where Yahweh wanted me.
But now everything is falling apart.
I feel utterly lost.
How could we have all been so wrong?
Disappointed in the Desert