Thursday, April 9, 2009

Part V: Responding to "The Jesus Threat"

Tuesday Night

[Based on Matthew 26:1-5, 14-15; Mark 14: 10-11; Luke 22:1-5]

Mamercus went with Caiaphas to a secret meeting at his home in the city. Since he was now part of the Temple Police he was present for this obviously private conversation between the High Priest and several other prominent members of the Scribes and Pharisees. He would quietly be Rome’s eyes and ears for the discussion, reporting back to his superiors with anything of note. Another older man, whom Mamercus did not recognize at first, was also present. Mamercus soon realized that this was Annas, who had previously been High Priest, and while he no longer had the formal title, he was obviously shown deference. The topic of conversation this night, not surprisingly, was Jesus.

It was clear that this was not a new topic of conversation for this group. The “Jesus threat” had clearly been discussed on numerous occasions before tonight. But tonight’s discussion was particularly heated and intense, given the events of the last couple of days. Of course there was the grand entrance that Jesus had made on Sunday, but that was nothing compared to the stir he caused yesterday in the Temple Courts when he and his followers drove the merchants and moneychangers out of Court of the Gentiles [This is described in Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 12:15-19; Luke 19:45-46.]

It didn’t take long for Mamercus to realize that there was a clear division of opinion on how to best deal with Jesus. Annas, and others, seemed to favor taking immediate action, but a group loyal to Caiaphas, who as High Priest had the final say, seemed reluctant to move too quickly.

“We can’t just ignore this any longer! He’s turning the world upside down! Pilate is already on edge. He’s losing faith in our ability to handle this on our own.” Annas motioned over in the direction of Mamercus who was standing watch near the entrance and lowered his voice a bit. “I’ve never seen so many Roman soldiers in the city. If we don’t take action to neutralize this threat soon, Pilate may take matters into his own hands and have the soldiers seize control. And I for one don’t want Rome cracking down on us anymore than they already have.”

“I agree with you, but we also don’t want to act too rashly…” Caiaphas said. “Remember, he hasn’t really violated any of our laws. And even so, consider the people’s reaction if I do in fact have him arrested immediately. If you think they are on edge now… just try putting their self-proclaimed hero in prison. Then he becomes a martyr for the people… and we don’t want that, do we?”

One of the other leaders, a Pharisee named Cleophus, spoke up. “No of course not. But didn’t you yourself say recently that it might be better for one man to be sacrificed if it will keep peace with Rome? Let’s not forget, he is speaking blasphemy … making this absurd claim that he is the Son of God. And did you hear all that business he was spewing out today about the temple being destroyed?! [See Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6.] Is that not enough grounds to have him arrested?! I would think Pilate would back us up?”

A Scribe named Bartimaeus exclaimed. “Cleophas is right! We can’t let such treasonous claims stand without responding. Jesus has to be stopped… and soon. Things are getting out of hand. We should have done something before now… we can’t afford to wait much longer.”

Caiaphas replied, “I agree with all of you; Jesus does need to be stopped. But we have to wait for the right moment… This man is smart… and we have to me smart too. He picked the perfect time to make his grand entrance. He did it at a time when he knew that thousands of people would be on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. People were lining the road all the way from the Mount of Olives. The whole world is going crazy over this Jesus of Nazareth; we have to be careful in how we respond.”

“So what would you have us do in the meantime?!” Annas shot back angrily. “Do we just sit back and wait for Jesus to make his next move?! With all due respect, it seems to me that this policy is precisely why things have gotten out of hand in the first place. Did you see the scene he made in the Temple courts yesterday?! He disrupted everything and got away with it! We did nothing but sit there watching it all unfold, huddling away in the shadows, afraid to act for fear of upsetting the people! I can’t imagine Governor Pilate was too happy with that little scene.”

Mamercus knew for a fact that he wasn’t, but the Temple was clearly Caiaphas’ domain and Pilate was reluctant to get involved… at least not yet. As long as the rest of the city remains relatively calm, Pilate would like the Jews to settle their own internal dispute.

“And if that’s not enough he has the audacity to go right back to the Temple today and start spewing out more of his crazy teachings about his the so-called kingdom… And again no one did anything to stop him! It’s like we don’t know what to do. Meanwhile, he’s gathering throngs of people around him to listen to him speak; bigger and bigger crowds each day it seems. They are so desperate to believe Jesus is the liberating king they have waited for that they hang on every word he speaks, and worship the ground he walks on.

While Annas was speaking Caiaphas rose from the table and walked across the room. He gazed out an open window across the darkened city clasping his bony thin hands together. While his back was turned just the slightest hint of a smile formed. “My dear Annas, you should know me better than by now. I by no means have been ‘sitting idly by and doing nothing.’ In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Please don’t mistake my reluctance to rush into a confrontation as ‘doing nothing.’ I am every bit as concerned about this Jesus threat as you are.”

The tension in the room had built to a head... Caiaphas paused for a long moment before he continued. “It becomes clear to me that Jesus isn’t here to start the glorious revolution the people hoped for… He’s just another in a long line that have gotten the people all riled up only to disappoint them… and soon, the people will figure that out. He isn’t the kind of king they wanted. They want war and revenge, but he keeps preaching peace and justice for all. He still attracts crowds but I sense they also grow apprehensive and impatient. People are fickle…. Public opinion can turn quickly… sometimes very quickly… especially if they are given a push… And I intend to provide that push.”

“Wait a minute… You sly fox… I should have known! You have something in the works already don’t you?! You have for a while… that’s why you’ve been so calm in recent days…” The question was mostly rhetorical; Annas already knew the answer. “Come on Caiaphas, out with it; tell us what you’re up to?”

Caiaphas slowly turned away from the window and walked back towards the table. “What would you say to me if I told you that late last evening, we received a visitor to Fortress Antonia who has a rather intimate connection to this Jesus of Nazareth?”

“A visitor?” Annas was a bit puzzled. “Who was it?”

“A man by the name of Judas Iscariot. He is apparently treasurer for Jesus’ band of itinerant followers, I guess one might call them his disciples.” Caiaphas clearly said the last word with a good deal of disdain. “Anyhow, it seems that this Judas is likewise concerned about the direction Jesus is headed, and came to us wondering if he could help us in dealing with the threat he posed?”

Even after years of dealing with this shrewd leader who happened to be his son-in-law too, Annas was still sometimes surprised at his masterful manipulations. “How in the world did you do it? We’ve been trying to penetrate their ranks for at least a year!”

“Dear Annas, you’d be surprised what a little strategic inquiry and a lot of patience can produce. It seems there are some divisions among the followers of Jesus. They are not as unified as they might like us to believe. There are disagreements among them over how to proceed with their mission, arguments among them over who is second in command, those sorts of things. These disagreements can be exploited to our advantage. We simply made a few overtures to some of at opportune moments… At first they were not successful, but we persevered, and in time we made several contacts in Jesus’ circle of close followers. This Judas just happened to be the first one to bear fruit.”

“So are you telling us that this Judas is willing to betray Jesus?”

“Betrayal is such a nasty word, Bartamaeus. Why don’t we just say he is prudent enough to know that this new way of living, this alleged kingdom of God that Jesus keeps preaching all over Judea is just a fantasy that can never become reality. Perhaps he came to his senses and is looking for a way out. He probably has come to realize that it is in the best interest of everyone if the Jesus Movement fails.”

“But can we trust this Iscariot character?”

“Well, considering he took quite a risk to come to us in the first place and was willing to reveal his identity, I think so Cleophas… and if that’s not enough, well, let’s just say we made it worth his while.”

“So you bribed him?”

“Again, Bartamaeus, best not to get too bogged down in terminology. But suffice it to say I think we’ve given him proper incentive to help us when the time is right. You see, Judas has intimate knowledge of Jesus and his followers and that will be very helpful to us as we plan our response. I think Judas is the key to bringing down Jesus…”

Even though Mamercus was privy to the earlier conversation and knew what was coming, he still impressed by the mastery of Caiaphas’ staging. (Apparently Jesus was not the only one in Jerusalem who knew how to manipulate events.) Perhaps he needed to reassess the shrewdness of the man he was assigned to protect. What he lacked in brawn he just might make up for with brains, and that made him extremely dangerous.

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