Early Wednesday morning Jerry Francis and his companions, Benjamin and Simon the Zealot, left their smelly room in the squalid boarding house and walked through a maze of shadowy streets and alleyways in old Jerusalem. With each passing day since he arrived in this place, 20 centuries removed from his life in suburban Connecticut, Jerry thought less and less about home and more and more about the situation in which he was immersed. Oh, he certainly thought about his previous life, especially at night just before falling asleep. Jerry would shed tears as he longed to embrace his wife Brenda and his children Michael and Jennifer. Then each morning he woke up thinking for a moment that he was back in his own bed, in the 3-bedroom raised ranch on a cul-de-sac in Hamden. But one look around the dark and dank room made him realize he was still in Jerusalem, and his heart sank.
As Benjamin and Simon continued to plot the overthrow of the hated Roman occupiers, expecting Jesus of Nazareth to be their inspirational leader, Jerry wracked his brain to remember the details he was taught about Jesus in the catechism classes of his youth. I wish I had gone to church with Brenda once in a while, he thought to himself, frustrated that he had given the topic absolutely no thought in at least 20 years. But Jerry had a good excuse for not giving Jesus any thought for such a long time: he truly believed it was all fairy tales. Now that he was thrust into the middle of these events by some inexplicable cosmic force, the idea that it was all fairy tales seemed quite foolish. He was seeing the various incidents unfold right before his own eyes. Other than knowing that Jesus would be crucified on Friday, however, Jerry was vague about any other particulars.
For at least the hundredth time in the last three days Jerry reached for his right hip. Then he paused and shook his head with a frustrated grin. Oh yeah, he thought, I can’t do a Google search about the details of Holy Week because I don’t have an iPhone anymore. And even if I did, the Internet won’t exist for another 2,000 years.
The three men came to a doorway at the end of an especially narrow alley. Simon gave three quick raps on the door and waited impatiently while the door was unbolted from within. When the door started to swing open slowly, Simon and Benjamin pushed it forcefully, and quickly entered the building. Jerry followed more cautiously. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Then he saw that it was Judas the Iscariot who had let them in. This was the meeting the men had planned the previous day while in the Temple courtyard. Jerry thought to himself, Hey, I also know something about Judas. He betrays Jesus…I think.
“I wasn’t sure if you would still be here,” Simon said to Judas with a sneer.
“Where else would I be?” Judas replied.
“I fully expected that you’d flee Jerusalem in fear and return to your hometown,” Simon answered. Benjamin looked at Simon and then looked toward Judas and vigorously nodded his head in agreement.
Judas shrugged his shoulders and offered a crooked smile. Apparently being accused of cowardice was a common occurrence, one to which Judas had grown accustomed.
Simon got right down to business. “OK,” he said, “we’re alone. There are no scary Pharisees or scribes around. So Judas, my friend, what exactly is Jesus doing? Why did he say we must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s? How is he going to rally the people behind him? How is he going to lead us to victory if he acknowledges that the Roman occupation of Israel is legitimate?”
“Simon, Simon,” Judas said. “I told you yesterday, I don’t know. I truly don’t know. You and I have been with Jesus day-in and day-out for almost three years. And as we’ve discussed quite often—sometimes to the point of you wanting to strike me—my views about Jesus’ mission are very different than your views. I’ve never thought he had any plans to drive the Romans out of Israel.”
On hearing this Jerry nodded his head in agreement. Benjamin noticed and gave Jerry an angry scowl.
“Well, what is his mission then, if you’re so smart?” Simon growled.
“I wish I knew!” Judas exclaimed as he wrung his hands. “I thought I understood. I thought Jesus was here to bring healing to our shattered nation. Emotional healing. Spiritual healing. Physical healing. You saw the miracles, Simon. You saw those cripples walk, those blind men see, those lepers completely cured. You saw those thousands of people feast on a few loaves of bread. You saw him walk on water. Jesus has been given divine power from on high. I thought he was going to use those powers to bring peace and prosperity to our land; peace and prosperity despite the Romans. I thought he was going to show us how to be happy and content and full of life, even as the Roman army occupies our nation. I thought he was going to give us freedom in our hearts and our minds and our souls.”
“Oh that’s nonsense!” Simon yelled. “You are a fool! There is no freedom as long as Romans take our property, rape our daughters, throw us in prison without charge, and terrorize our villages. The only useful thing Jesus can do is employ his divine powers to drive the Roman army out of our land. How can you possibly think we can be ‘free’ while still under the yoke of Rome?”
Judas took a deep breath and hung his head. He said quietly, “I no longer think that’s possible anymore. I am indeed a fool, Simon. I thought Jesus would teach our nation how to have inner peace despite all our hardships. But now I know that is not his plan.”
“What is his plan?” Benjamin asked.
“Jesus’ plan is simple,” Judas said matter-of-factly. “Jesus plans to die.”
Simon and Benjamin looked at each other in confusion. Jerry stared at Judas with fascination.
“Well, um, all good Jews are willing to die, if need be, to save our nation and further God’s kingdom,” Simon said. “Is that what you mean?
“No,” Judas said. “Of course all Jews must be ready to give up their lives for Israel and for God. But Jesus WANTS to die. And soon. He’s planning it right now. He has become so deluded, he somehow thinks his death will do something wonderful for our nation.”
“Wonderful?” Simon said angrily. “The only way someone’s death can be wonderful is if he kills four or five Romans in the process. Is that what Jesus is planning?”
“Hardly,” Judas laughed. “He has no interest in military things. I was correct early on when I realized this. You have never accepted this fact about Jesus, Simon. When he said, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ you were deaf. When he said, ‘Turn the other cheek,’ you only heard what you wanted to hear. There will be no revolt against Rome. At least no revolt led by Jesus.”
“Raca!” Simon swore as he slapped his hand against the wall in frustration. “So I’ve wasted three years of my life following that man?! You’re saying he will not use his amazing powers to free our nation?!”
“Simon, he will not use his powers even to free himself,” Judas said. “He wants to die. He thinks he is the ‘lamb of God.’ He thinks he is the true Passover sacrifice. He wants his own blood to be spilled as some sort of sacrifice.”
As Simon and Benjamin paced around the room, muttering to each other, Jerry watched Judas. Jerry’s mind raced as he tried to piece together fragments of information he was taught long ago about the Gospels.
When Simon and Benjamin began speaking to each other in a far corner of the room, Jerry leaned toward Judas and quietly said, “Did he really walk on water?”
Judas smiled. “Oh yes,” he answered. “He’s done many other miraculous things.”
Jerry nodded thoughtfully. Then he said, “By the way, I think you’re right. What you’re saying about Jesus sounds kind of right.”
Judas smiled weakly at Jerry. “Yes, I’m sure that’s what Jesus is planning to do.” He took a deep breath then added, “So that’s why I have to stop him.”
Jerry mouth hung open. “Oh wait,” he stammered. “No, don’t do it.”
“Do what?” Judas asked.
“Don’t betray him,” Jerry said.
“Betray him?” Judas said with a laugh. “I’d never betray him. I love him. I want to save him. Save him from himself.”
Simon and Benjamin walked back to the middle of the room. “This meeting is a waste of time,” Simon said. “Nothing you say makes sense, Iscariot. I have to find out what Jesus is really planning to do.”
“Well, if you don’t believe me,” Judas said, “ask him yourself. Tomorrow night is the Passover. You can ask him when we all gather at sundown.” Then Judas added, “I have to leave now, anyway.”
“Where are you going?” Simon asked. “To buy supplies for the Passover meal?”
“Uh, yes,” Judas said while glancing sideways to avoid eye contact.
“C’mon, let’s go meet up with some of the others and try to figure out our next move,” Simon said to Benjamin and Jerry.
As the three men walked through the doorway and into the now sunny alleyway, Jerry turned back and said to Judas, “Don’t do it.”
“Do what?” Judas asked again.
“Don’t meet with…” Jerry paused, his brain struggling to find the right words. “…with the High Priest.”
Judas’ eyes bulged wide in surprise. Absolutely no one else knew of Judas’ scheduled meeting later that day with the supreme religious leader of Israel. Jerry’s eyes also expressed surprise. How did I come up with “High Priest”? he asked himself, amazed that a tiny fragment of information from a distant 7th grade catechism class had emerged from the depths of his brain.
Simon and Benjamin walked up the alleyway, and Jerry started to follow. As Jerry walked he looked over his shoulder and stared at Judas, who was standing in the doorway returning the stare. As they continued to look into each other’s eyes, both men felt waves of anxiety well up inside.