Three characters, a donkey owner, Simon the Zealot and Barabbas speak their minds about some of the events of Holy Week…
(Written for a Palm Sunday service at Muddiford URC. Barabbas is included because once again a crowd gets swept away on a tide of emotion…)
Meditation of a donkey owner
They were ‘avin away with me donkey! Two of ‘em, bold as brass, in broad daylight!
OI! You – geroff me donkey!
They looked at me, calm as you like, with smiles on their faces.
The master needs it.
I racked me brain. The master? What master? Whose master?
Then it came back to me – the deep, intense bloke who’d spoken to me a few weeks before – out Jericho way – they must mean ‘im!
I’d been going about me business, ordinary day, when I’d come across a crowd looking up into a tree. There was a tiny bloke up there looking embarrassed and wishing the leaves would swallow ‘im up. Some were laughing and pointing, but others were also watching a preacher-guy who was shouting something up at the tree-guy.
The little guy climbs down and the crowd follows as he and the preacher guy wander off to a house and disappear inside.
The crowd started to disperse – but I got chatting with an olive seller who I knew from years back and he said that the preacher guy (Jesus) had spotted the little guy (Zacchaeus) up the tree while he was preaching. Apparently Zacchaeus was the local tax collector – scum! – and Jesus had spoken to him and asked if he could go round his house for tea. Zacchaeus had agreed and had half climbed/half fallen out of the tree and set off with Jesus – and here we were.
We chatted about other stuff for a bit – and then out comes Zacchaeus all in a flap – and he’s promising to give away half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he had cheated four times over! Jesus is smiling and shouts “surely salvation has come to this house today!”
As you can imagine – there was a bit of a scrum – Zacchaeus gets mobbed by folk claiming to be poor and wanting his stash right now!
And as the crowd’s attention is distracted, Jesus picks me out – looks right at me – and walks over.
“I’ll be needing a donkey” he says. “I understand you can help me.”
How did he know? I don’t have a rent-a-donkey hat (though, come to think of it – that’s a very good idea!) – he didn’t know me from Adam.
I stammered and stuttered – errr… when, what, where, how… errr… what?
“You’ll know” he said…
And then he was gone.
The master needs it….
Of course – take her – she’s all yours – least I can do! Err… bye!!
The master needs it…. The master needs me… ME! Wow! He needs me!
Meditation of Simon the Zealot
They weren’t there by accident, you know – those crowds. That was a LOT of hard work.
I still had connections to the zealots in Jerusalem, and of course all the old crowd were in town for the Passover – no better time to sign up new recruits. Judas helped me – he could see it like I did – Jesus needed a push, probably not a big one – if he really wanted to help the poor, then agenda item number one was throwing off the evil yoke of Rome, being our own masters again.
We worked hard – working the traveling crowds – passing on the word.
Jesus had sent two of the others to get a donkey – we knew he’d be coming down from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives and in through the North East gate – so we could make sure there would be a crowd – kick up a bit of a storm – it would be crazy to let the opportunity pass – maximum impact – maximum attention – Jesus would realise that he only needed to say the word…
It worked a treat! We had palm leaves – they’d make the Romans take notice – Jewish rabble waving palms and singing that psalm “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” – the stuff any Jewish nationalist demo was made of!
We’d surpassed ourselves – there were more there than we could ever have hoped – waving palms, singing, throwing cloaks in the road. Me and Judas and some other guys worked the margins – encouraging a chant here – getting the singing going there… giving out palm leaves to those on the edges – encouraging them closer…
All Jesus had to do was seize the moment.
All Jesus had to do was find the right words and that crowd was his.
I wasn’t carrying – but I knew plenty of guys who were – I saw several Sicarii – the really violent wing of the Jerusalem Zealots – they all had little knives concealed in their cloaks – and they were ready to use them.
Jesus did nothing.
We kept the noise going as long as we could – but as the procession got near the garrison, folk started melting away. The sight of nervous Roman guards tooled up to the hilt is a bit of a turn-off when it comes to casual demonstrating.
When we got to the temple, only the children were singing…
He’d let us all down, I was gutted, it had all been for nothing. Coward.
Of course I know different now – but that’s how I felt then – and so at the time he needed me most, I was sulking and resentful. Judas felt it harder than I did, I think – maybe that’s why he did what he did – I’d never have gone that far – but in the end, it was never Jesus who let me down – but ME who let HIM down.
Meditation of Barabbas
That’s how I felt!
It was a near death experience! I’d said my goodbyes – I knew there was no escaping it this time. Crime: insurrection; Verdict: guilty; Penalty: death.
There were others like me in the jail – some of them caught with knives over the festival – they’d been out at some demonstration at the North East gate – got drunk and caused trouble later that night. Never try and stab a Roman guard whilst under the influence is my motto – it’s hard enough when you’re sober – believe me – they’ve got body armour and big stabby swords! I have a couple of notches on my CV, though – folk know who I am.
No escaping this time though…
Then I heard it..
“Free Barabbas! Free Barabbas!” and jeers and shouts and cheers…
Yeah, right, I thought – very touching and all – but stupid! You’ll only get yourselves arrested demonstrating for my release – we’ll hang together! Knock it off! Muppets!
And then – from the cells on the other side – there’s a prisoner getting dragged out and flogged. It turns out this was Jesus – the bloke from the North East gate demo.
I’ve no idea what’s going on – I can still hear the chanting – “Free Barabbas! Free Barabbas!” As if! As if the romans are gonna release ME – at Passover of all times! ME! Strewth – folk can be thick as mince!
Then they’re dragging Jesus past my cell and out into the courtyards – he’s barely conscious now – covered in blood – I’ve seen prisoners not survive those floggings…
It turns out that Pilate was offering the crowd some kind of warped choice – as a special favour – a Passover tradition that I’d never heard of! Who did they want to release – me or him – me or Jesus!
I have no idea how it came down to me or him – there’s other folk in there who have done nowt – but that’s what was going down – a choice – me or him. And they’d chosen me.
But Pilate had given it another go – he’d had Jesus flogged – and now he’d dragged the unconscious, bleeding Jesus in front of them – maybe now he’d get the sympathy vote.
But no! the chants are even louder – “Free Barabbas! Free Barabbas!”
And then: “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!” It was chilling – even to a hardened killer like me.
And that was it. The guards dragged me out of the cell – gave me a kicking and threw me out of the back door.
And the other guy was crucified.
Here’s the thing, though. Knowing what I know now, I reckon that while they chanted ““Free Barabbas! Free Barabbas!” – Jesus was probably joining in. I reckon he’d have chosen to save me with his very last breath.
It’s enough to make a hard man think…