The Diary of Judas, a betrayer: Sunday’s Entry
This morning as we were leaving Bethany and on our way to the Temple, we saw a fig tree full of leaves far off from the road. It is spring. Figs are only beginning to form. So when the rabbi detoured across the field to look for early-ripened fruit, we knew this wasn’t about figs. The rabbi rarely bothered with his stomach beyond necessity. He was going to make a point.
When he found that the tree indeed had no fruit he lowered himself from the branches and his hand dropped like a weight to his side. He turned his disappointed eyes away from the tree and fixed his attention on the golden-topped crest of the Temple gleaming through the distance in the morning sun.
“May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” he said.
I had followed his gaze to the Temple and thought he was referring to it, when the rustle of leaves drew my attention back to the tree. It was the tree he had cursed and it had withered; dead.
We were shocked into silence. Peter had questions written all over his face, but he could not form any of them into words.
He pointed at the tree instead, and barked out, “Rabbi, your curse has killed it.”
I looked at the Temple to see if the curse had changed anything on the heights. It had not.
“Have faith in God,” the rabbi instructed. “If you say to this mountain…” He gestured with a nod to the Temple. “…‘Go, be destroyed in the abyss.’ And you do not doubt, it will happen.”
He offered no more explanation, but turned back to the road and continued the walk to Jerusalem.
I followed at a distance mulling the prophecy of Jeremiah in my mind.
“I will take away their harvest, declares the LORD. There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.” I knew that Jesus, like Jeremiah, spoke of a cursed Jerusalem. He will make his move soon.
Upon entering the city, Jesus picked up his pace as if he had an appointment to keep. We struggled behind him as he pushed his way through the throng of worshippers gathered at the steps of the temple. I noticed dark-skinned Nubians, Persians with their blue-dyed turbans and smelling of spices, even a few togas in the crowd making their way into the Gentile Court.
I always get a headache upon entering the courts at Passover. Too much livestock crammed into a space designed for humans. I think every sheep in Judea was in the courts that week. You had to be careful with every step. It was dirtier than the street.
And you had to watch your purse. Not only for thieves, but also for the merchants and moneychangers. I felt sorry for the new initiate or first-time worshipper at Passover time. It took experience to know what was necessary for proper worship. The sheer amount of market goods was confusing if you did not understand it was about making a profit, not contributing to the worship of God. Many a sincere pilgrim spent their last mite on oil from Antioch or Balm of Gilead. And I haven’t even mentioned the exchange rate for Temple currency. Most new converts and folk from distant parts of the empire didn’t know that their money was no good in God’s house.
I knew from past experience with the rabbi in the Temple at Passover that the market angered him as well. I looked to him to act again. He did not disappoint me. In fact, that was his purpose for going to Temple today.
“Out! Out! Back to the street where you belong!” The rabbi roared as he lifted the heavy tables, ignoring the coins and goods he sent flying into the crowds, and carried them out the gate. He grabbed the birdcages and heaved them toward the entrance. He tore down the sheep fences, mixing the herds and sending the shepherds into a panic. Wielding a staff, he herded the livestock out the gates and into the city.
“Simon, James, Philip, Nathaniel. All of you, we must clean the filth from the courts!” We began to follow his example.
The merchants, seeing that the crowds were in favor of this new reform, began to dismantle their stalls with speed before we could ruin them, and within a few hours the court had cleared of all business. Those gathered to worship also helped to sweep out the floor and wash away the stench with water carried from the Sheep Pool.
My rabbi, with sleeves pushed up to his elbows, wiped his brow and drank deeply from a water skin brought to him. He stood on the raised platform leading to the Court of Women and faced the crowd of pilgrims and Gentiles pressing him for understanding. What did his cleansing mean?
“My house will be called a house of prayer for ALL nations.” He smiled at the diverse crowd of people looking at him for answers. “But you have made it a ‘den of robbers.'” His strong voice carried through the enormous courtyard finding the ears of the holy men.
I eyeballed those priests who listened through the Court of the Women. By quoting Jeremiah, the rabbi was charging the priesthood with defiling the Temple, as God did through Jeremiah 500 years earlier. Most of them turned away in contempt.
The rabbi led the crowd through the Hallel then lifted his shawl over his head and entered the Israelite Court nearest the Holy Place to worship in prayer.
The word on the street is that the Sanhedrin is in a quandary. They have issued a warrant for Jesus’ arrest because they do not believe he can deliver us from the firestorm Rome is sure to bring us when we establish a free Israel. Cowards! Do they not believe the prophecies? The very promises of God Himself?
Yet they are paralyzed, for the people love him. They hang on every one of his words. If the authorities move against him, the Passover crowds would join us, take arms and we would be an undefeatable army of God! And the greedy cowards won’t risk losing their place of power. Hence the quandary, and their reluctance to move on us.
We have the people in our palms. We are at the height of our popularity. The time is ripe. Even if the figs aren’t.