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We had often heard of Jesus of Nazareth. He was pretty famous but he never came to our part of the world. He seemed to be based up north around Galilee and just came down to Jerusalem for the festivals.
Then, two years ago, we moved up to Capernaum. My uncle had died. He had no family so my father went up to see to the old family business—a small hotel in Capernaum. It didn’t do much business any more but it seemed just the thing to keep Dad occupied in his retirement. So he left my brother in charge of the hotel in Bethlehem and we moved up north. I went with them taking my sewing with me. My husband had died a couple of years before and I wanted a change of scenery.
FEEDING THE CROWD
Now that we were in Galilee we got to see Jesus and heard him speaking to the crowds a few times. People spoke about miracles and healing that had taken place, but we never saw any of that. Once, when my brother came to stay, his boys David and Jonathan were with a crowd that followed Jesus for a whole day—halfway round the lake. They were on the edge of the crowd so they didn’t see much, but the message got around to sit down. Everyone was starving but, next thing, food was being passed around—fish and bread. Where it all came from they had no idea, but some folk were saying that Jesus had a some fish and bread wrapped in a towel that a young boy had given him and he just kept breaking bits off and passing them around ‘till everyone had. Those were the sort of stories people told about Jesus.
We had a Jesus at our hotel in Bethlehem once; just a roadside inn it was in those days. I was only eight or so but I remember it clearly. His parents arrived in the early evening. They had spent most of the day looking for a room. She was heavily pregnant, riding on a little donkey. I can’t remember why the hotels were all so full but we didn’t have any spare beds either. Dad offered them the stable, which was at least warm and dry. Poor people, they were so tired they grabbed it gratefully. He was Joseph, I think. I remember the mother was Mary and she gave birth to him that night. It was so exciting. My mom went to help so I went along as well. Some shepherds also came to see him, part of the mystery of the night, but that’s another story. They called him Jesus. I remember thinking how beautiful the name was: “God saves.” It seemed so full of hope and promise, especially since he was starting off in a stable.
I often wondered if this Jesus of Nazareth was the same Jesus. Of course our Jesus was born in Bethlehem and this one came from Nazareth but, who knows? After we moved up to Capernaum I heard that his mother’s name was also Mary and I wondered again. I even spoke with one of the men who always seemed to follow him around, but he didn’t know where Jesus was born.
Last year we went down to Jerusalem for the Passover. We missed the previous year because we’d moved to Capernaum and things were hectic. Anyway, there was quite a crowd going down from the Galilee region so we had lots of company. Sometime during the journey we heard that Jesus was also on his way. People started talking about him and we heard some amazing stories.
One man said, “He made me see again you know. It’s true. You ask Maria here.” A woman at his side nodded. “I haven’t been able to see since I was a child. No one knew what was wrong and eventually I went blind. I was miserable and angry with God and everyone else.
“One day Jesus came and I was ranting and raving as usual but, instead of him walking past and ignoring me as most people did, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he almost whispered. I realised later that he didn’t want everyone to know; this was just between him and me. Then he touched my eyes and I could see. Just like that. Isn’t that so, Maria?” Maria nodded enthusiastically.
There were many such stories; it was amazing to hear so many of them first hand. The excitement we all felt! It was as though we were a part of some huge historic event that was sweeping us along.
By the time we arrived near Jerusalem, the excitement had built up to fever-pitch.
Someone shouted that Jesus was coming. Then people started pointing. “There he is,” they said.
“Jesus,” people called.
“Jesus, son of David,” others took up the cry.
People started cutting branches off the palm trees nearby.
“Praise the Lord.” “Hosanna.” “Jesus son of David.” The voices got louder and louder in the excitement.
I saw people putting their cloaks and shawls down on the ground creating a multicoloured roadway. Then we saw him. Jesus.
He seemed taller than anyone else but then I saw that he was riding a donkey. A donkey! Somehow I had pictured him striding out in front, his followers struggling to keep up. But here he was, on a donkey! Surely it should have been a horse? I know we Jews don’t do horses much; we leave that to the Romans, but still! A donkey?
Then I heard my father speaking softly behind me. “Shout for joy Jerusalem; your king is coming, riding on a donkey.” And I thought about the other Jesus and how Mary also rode on a donkey.
EXUBERANCE, DISDAIN, AND SORROW
The crowd was going wild.
“Jesus, Jesus” they chanted. “Son of David,” they said.
“Hosanna to David’s son.”
“Blessed is he who comes in God’s name”
“Hosanna in highest heaven”
We were all carried away with the excitement of it all. I was also shouting, although I didn’t really understand what it all meant.
Jesus rode towards where we were, the crowd shouting their excitement. There were some people standing nearby who were clearly not happy—Pharisees I heard later.
“Teacher!” I heard them shout above the din as Jesus drew closer. “Teacher! Control your disciples.”
Jesus called back to them, “I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones themselves would shout out for them!”
I just laughed! It was incredible.
Jesus came closer and, when he was almost level with us, he stopped. I was amazed because he looked so sad, in spite of all the excitement. He was looking down over Jerusalem and I heard him speaking, although it was almost whisper. He seemed to be talking to the city:
“If you had only recognised this day, and everything that was good for you,” he said. “But now it’s too late. Your enemies will press in from every side…. All of this because you didn’t recognise when God came to save you.”
As I looked at him there were tears in his eyes. Then he rode on, down to the city that had moved him so.
When we arrived in Jerusalem, carried along by the crowd, people from the city started asking what was going on.
“Who is he?” someone near me asked.
“It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth, in Galilee,” I heard myself reply.
“He’s the one who brought Lazarus back to life,” someone else added.
When that got around it seemed as if the whole city erupted. Crowds came from everywhere.
I saw the Pharisees again, eyes wide open in horror. I heard one of them say, “It’s out of control! The whole world wants him.”
What was their problem, I wondered? If this was God working among us, then surely we’re all on the same side. Jesus was clearly living up to his name: “God saves”. God was doing something new and exciting, and it could no longer be confined to Galilee. It had come to Jerusalem and everyone was excited. What a Passover this was going to be. “God saves.” God saves his people. And if God was saving his people then a few disgruntled Pharisees weren’t going to get in the way. This was unstoppable. Let them try and get in the way of this crowd; let them try.
Maybe that’s what Jesus had meant when he wept over the city. He had hoped they would join him but, instead, they rejected him. Now they would be swept aside by this new thing that God was doing.
When we got to the Temple there was more chaos. We only saw it from the outside but Jonathan and David told us about it afterwards. They had gone ahead and were inside the Court of the Gentiles trying to buy unblemished animals for the Passover. What a mission it was every year! You had to change your money for temple money before you started—no heathen Roman money allowed for transactions in the Temple. Then you had to buy one of the lambs or doves that the Temple authorities guaranteed as unblemished. If you brought your own they would find some fault with it. Then they’d look at you as if you were the foulest piece of dirt the earth had produced. I mean, fancy trying to offer something less than perfect to God. Anyway, they’d take your defective animal and swap it for an unblemished one—for a price of course. It was certainly open to abuse. My brother’s wife, Sarah, said that one year she was convinced that they had resold the lamb she had brought, and which they had confiscated, to a friend of hers as an unblemished one. She was certain it was the same lamb. I don’t know. It could have been a mistake but, they do seem to act as if they’re the only ones with access to God.
Up in Galilee, and even in Bethlehem, we would talk to God as if he were real, a part of our lives, as if he were interested in us. But here, everything seemed to work together to keep us ordinary folk well away from God.
CHAOS IN THE TEMPLE
Anyway; where was I? O, yes. Jonathan and David. They were inside the Court of the Gentiles where all the buying and selling went on, when Jesus walked in—I guess the donkey had been left behind somewhere. Jesus marched over to the moneychangers.
“I thought he was going to change his money like everyone else,” David told us, shock still evident in his voice.
“No ways,” said Jonathan. “He just picked up the front of the table and tipped everything onto their laps. It was awesome!”
“That was just the beginning,” said David. “He opened the door of the dove’s cage and pulled down the gate that kept the lambs in place; then he chased them all out. It was chaos. When the guys in charge cottoned on, there was an uproar.
“‘What are you doing?’ someone shouted.
“Jesus shouted back, ‘This is my Father’s house; this is a house of prayer! You’ve turned it into a den of thieves!’” David was animated as he spoke.
“‘Thieves’, that’s what he called them. I never knew he could get so angry.”
My father quoted from the Psalms: “Zeal for the Lord’s house has consumed me.” And I thought about how much of what we were experiencing seemed to have been prophesied beforehand.
“The crowd went wild,” David continued. “People flocked around Jesus. Sick people were being healed, people were praising God—right there in the Temple. The Pharisees and the others, the ‘thieves’ as Jesus called them, just stood there seething. They couldn’t do a thing.”
“Yes,” agreed Jonathan. “But I tell you, if looks could kill, Jesus would be a human pincushion with all the daggers their eyes were hurling at him.”
“You’re right,” said David. “But, somehow, they couldn’t stop him. And they couldn’t stop people praising God and being healed. It was like floodgates opening up.”
Yes, I thought. That’s exactly it—floodgates. Jesus was opening the gates and God’s kingdom was coming into the lives of ordinary people. What a Passover this was going to be. God was doing something so new, so different; and this was only the first day of the week. What else would Jesus do to bring ordinary people into relationship with God?
Gate picture by Donna Dawson, See
 Zechariah 9:9
 Luke 19:41-44 (The Message and Good News Bible)
 John 12:19 (The Message)
 Psalm 96:9, John 2:17