Jerry Francis and his companions had done very little so far this day. They mostly sat around the cramped, smelly room in the boarding house and discussed recent events. They mostly discussed Jesus.
At first Simon the Zealot was angry at Jesus, while Benjamin was confused. As the day went on and the discussions intensified, Simon’s anger abated. “Well, I’ll just ask him face-to-face tonight at the Passover,” he said. “Then we’ll know whether we should look to another to lead us in our revolt against Rome.”
However, during the day Benjamin’s confusion gave way to firm conviction. He decided that Jesus was definitely a fraud. He felt betrayed that Jesus had raised their hopes about a new Jewish kingdom, only to dash them with his strange behavior and apparent appeasement toward Rome. He told Simon, “Don’t waste your breath. Jesus is NOT the one.”
All the while Jerry listened to the discussions with rapt attention. Jerry knew that Jesus had no intention of leading a military revolt against Rome. If that were so, he surely would’ve remembered it from his catechism classes. No, Jesus was obviously a gifted speaker and leader, but his message was love and forgiveness, compassion and service toward others. When Jerry thought about the miracles Judas claimed to have witnessed, along with the Resurrection and Son-of-God-stories his wife Brenda believed, he shrugged his shoulders in confusion. I bet those fables were added on many years later, Jerry thought. I mean, that stuff can’t possibly be true.
As Jerry continued to listen and think, he felt sad that Jesus was about to die on a cross. He could do much more good for people if he has the chance to keep preaching and teaching, he thought. Then Jerry had another thought. But what if he doesn’t die on Friday? What if the crucifixion never occurs? Jerry smiled. If Jesus lives to be an old man, he’ll be able to preach his full message. And other people won’t be tempted to add miracle stories onto his legend just because he was a martyr. If I can stop him from being killed I could change history—and for the better. If Jesus doesn’t die tomorrow the world will know his true message without all the fairy tales added on.
Deep in thought, Jerry lost track of the conversation around him. His ears perked up when he heard Benjamin say, “Too bad our friend Barabbas is in prison. He would’ve made a fine leader. At least he fights. At least he kills Romans.”
Barabbas? Jerry thought. That name rings a bell. Jerry wracked his brain to remember some details. He could only recall that the crucifixion takes place on Friday afternoon and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus causes it to happen. I need to get to Judas, Jerry said to himself. He’s the key. If I can convince him not to betray Jesus, then Jesus will live.
Simon stood up and said, “I’ve got to get going. I’m supposed to meet the fisherman Peter near the east gate, and he’ll take me to the secret room where Jesus will celebrate the Passover.” Then Simon said to Benjamin, “And you have to get going, too. You need to buy the unleavened bread for your Passover.”
“That’s right,” Benjamin exclaimed as he slapped his forehead. “Come Jeremiah, we’re late. We need to leave right now.”
“Hey, uh, Simon,” Jerry said nervously, “you’re going to see Judas tonight, right?”
“That’s correct,” Simon answered.
“Well, I need to talk to him,” Jerry said. “Tell him to meet me here early tomorrow morning, OK?”
Simon looked at Jerry suspiciously. “Well, all right,” he said. “I’ll tell him.”
“Thank you,” Jerry said. Then he thought to himself, Good, that will give me time to stop Judas before he betrays Jesus.
As the sun moved lower and lower in the sky, Jerry and Benjamin walked quickly down one of old Jerusalem’s countless narrow streets. They purchased unleavened bread and herbs from a curbside vendor. The bread reminded Jerry of a small pizza without any sauce or toppings. Benjamin looked up and saw that the sun had dropped out of sight, hidden behind the two-story buildings that lined the street. The shadows were growing longer. “Come!” he said urgently to Jerry, “It’s almost sunset.” Then he broke into a trot. Jerry struggled to keep up. Man, I’m in lousy shape, he thought. I should’ve played more sports rather than watch them on TV all the time. As he huffed and puffed, he added, And these stupid sandals are painful. I wish I had my Nikes.
Soon throughout all of Israel the Passover meal would be celebrated. As he jogged behind Benjamin, Jerry realized he never attended a Passover before. If Jerry knew little about the Catholic faith in which he had been raised, then he knew even less about the Jewish faith. I hope I’m not called on to say or do anything as part of the ceremony, he thought. I’ll be clueless.
The Passover meal was held in the back room of an old home at the end of a desolate street. Jerry recognized a few of the other zealots he had seen in recent days. A couple of women and five children also were in attendance. Jerry thought the ritualistic aspects and the prayers of the ceremony were interesting, although mostly incomprehensible. He recognized references to Moses and the Exodus, but since his knowledge of the Old Testament was even less than his meager knowledge of the New Testament, it was all a blur. There were some solemn moments during the evening, but also much laughter. Jerry was relieved that no one asked him to say or do anything.
Jerry was delighted with the food. The roasted lamb and fresh bread tasted fabulous, especially compared to the dried fish and stale bread he had survived on since being transported into this strange world. The food portions still were tiny, but everyone seemed genuinely grateful. Jerry thought about all the abundant material goods he had enjoyed back in Connecticut, even though he considered his family to be barely middle-class. There was always plenty of food, to the point where Jerry and Brenda worried about getting fat. They had closets full of clothes. Their house was modest by Connecticut standards, but they had a finished basement with a hi-definition flat screen TV, a sizeable yard, and the children had their own bedrooms.
As he looked at the smiling faces around the room, despite being in the midst of what his former world would label as abject poverty, Jerry felt guilty. These people are really happy, he thought. And they’re so thankful for the little things. Jerry then thought about a recent argument he had with Brenda. Jerry wanted to get a bigger big-screen TV, having decided their 39-inch screen was woefully too small to watch the Yankees games. Brenda wanted instead to use the money to get braces for Jennifer’s teeth. That’s why Jerry went to Vinny’s house that fateful night. Vinny’s new TV was a full 60 inches. Jerry shook his head and thought, What a jerk I am. If I ever get back home…
Jerry paused then shook his head again. His eyes got misty. What are the chances that will happen? he asked himself sadly. I’m stuck here.
After the meal, and after a few more cups of wine, Benjamin said, “Jeremiah, it’s time to go.” They said their goodbyes and left the house. The streets were quiet and dark. The wine had put Benjamin in a good mood. The wine also had made Jerry feel better, until he began to think about his family back in Connecticut.
They returned to the boarding house room, and had just laid down to sleep, when a frantic knocking at the door startled them. “It’s me, Simon,” they heard in a loud whisper. “Open up!”
Benjamin lit a small oil lamp, then motioned for Jerry to unlock the door. When he did, Simon the Zealot ducked in and quickly shut the door behind him.
“What’s the matter?” Benjamin asked. “Why are you here at this hour?” Then Benjamin and Jerry noticed that Simon was clutching a dagger. He looked terrified.
“I don’t know if I was followed,” Simon gasped, as he struggled to catch his breath. “There must have been at least 50 Roman soldiers. And Temple guards, too.”
“Where? What are you talking about?” Benjamin asked.
“In the garden. In Gethsemane,” Simon said. “Jesus took us there after the Passover meal. But then we all dozed off, and suddenly the place was filled with soldiers. The fisherman Peter started to fight. He cut off a man’s ear with his knife. But the rest of us ran. The soldiers were too many. They would’ve slaughtered us if we stayed and fought.”
“Why were soldiers there?” Benjamin said.
“To arrest him,” Simon answered. “To arrest Jesus.”
Jerry’s eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Oh no,” he mumbled out loud. “Now I remember. He gets arrested the night before, in a garden, not during the day on Friday. I’m too late!”
The other two men looked at Jerry in confusion. Then Benjamin turned back toward Simon and said, “How did they know you were there?”
“The Iscariot!” Simon said with a sneer. “That coward Judas brought the soldiers to us. He almost got us all killed!”
After a pause, Benjamin asked, “So now what happens?”
Simon shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”
Jerry said, “I know.” The two men looked at him again. “Jesus will be crucified tomorrow afternoon,” Jerry said matter-of-factly.
“Crucified?” Simon said. “And so soon? How do you know this?”
“It’s a long story,” Jerry whispered as he sat on his bed of straw with his back against the wall. He no longer was sleepy, and he no longer had any idea what he would do next.