At dawn the courts were crowded. Shopkeepers, shepherds, politicians, professors, mothers, soldiers, farmers…all were waiting for the rabbi’s words. The holidays had brought out the spectator in people and we joined the crowd expecting a confrontation. I was growing anxious that the rabbi would wait too long to declare revolution and miss his opportunity to use the mob of people crowding Jerusalem in a show of strength.
As noon approached, Eli, a disciple of the Pharisee Jacob bar’Hashuv, eased to the front of the gathered crowd. A few others were ribbing him and he carried a proud look in his eye.
“Rabbi, ” Eli started with a mocking tone. “We know that you tell the truth and teach God’s way. You aren’t concerned with what others think of you and you treat everybody the same. So give me your opinion. Should we pay Roman taxes or not?”
I swiveled to glance at the Roman soldiers stationed just inside the Beautiful Gate. They were listening and had perked up in case the rabbi’s answer sparked trouble.
Jesus looked at Eli, then turned and walked to the top of the steps where he could better see those in the crowd. He found the group of priests and Pharisees who had sent Eli and shook his head at them.
“Why the act? What are you hoping to accomplish by trapping me?” he asked them.
It was a well-laid trap. Because an affirmative answer could stir the crowd to abandon hope that this rabbi was to lead their revolution against Rome, hence freeing up the authorities to arrest him. And if he said, “You should not,” the Roman soldiers could arrest him as a troublemaker. Either way, they had something to gain and the rabbi something to lose.
My stomach tightened with tension and I remembered the words the rabbi had spoken to a group of Greeks earlier this morning. “Now is the time for this world to be judged, now the ruler of the world will be expelled.” I hoped this would be the moment he stood against Roman tyranny.
“Show me a coin used to pay the tax,” the rabbi said.
Jacob bar’Hashuv coughed into his hand and motioned for someone to give the rabbi the coin. He exchanged a significant look with the Roman centurion, and the soldiers began to block the exits. People at the fringe of the crowd began to stir nervously as the soldiers moved.
“Who’s picture and name mark that coin?” he asked the boy.
The boy inspected the coin, glanced at Eli who frowned at the display of a graven image in the Temple and cried, “The Roman Emperor!”
The rabbi smiled encouragement at the correct answer.
The nervous crowd burst into laughter, and I felt my heart plummet. He would not take a stand against Rome. He means to compromise. His fight may be with the Jewish religious leaders, but not with the Roman oppressors. Yet what can Israel be without freedom from the Pagan legislation that enslaves us?
What has he been talking about for three years, if not his kingdom? What does he mean by, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” if it is not to take the throne? Why does he wish to take his place among the martyred prophets when he could rule the vineyard?
I have followed my rabbi for years. I have witnessed and tasted his power. I know that he is a prophet and God is with him. Yet, I must conclude he is naive and too generous with the injustice facing our people. Is he a coward? I think not. He swings his tongue and hopes to change people’s hearts with words. He lacks the conviction that it will take the sword to free the people. Words alone will fail. Only words enforced with iron will free Israel. He must see the truth of this. I believe he is our deliverer, how can I provoke him to act? Yahweh help me.