Some days later the Twelve set out for their tour of preaching. Each pair had been given a particular district. On this first occasion they were to confine their work to the smaller towns and villages.
Jesus took the opportunity of paying another visit to Jerusalem. He had not been there since the previous Passover; and though he intended to make Galilee the chief centre of his work, he felt that it was necessary to keep in touch with the capital, to teach those who were ready to listen, to learn at first hand the opinions of the priestly body and discover the real extent of their disapproval of his work and methods.
To this end he sent a message to his good friend Nicodemus, suggesting a meeting when and where he pleased.
Nicodemus answered promptly, asking Jesus to meet him on the first day of the week at the house of his friend Lazarus at Bethany. He added a word of warning; it would be unwise for Jesus to preach publicly or to give the rulers any handle for criticism against him.
Jesus smiled at his friend’s caution. How could he hesitate to declare the love of the Father or to do his work? If anyone needed his help, what did the hostility of the priests matter?
These thoughts were passing through his mind as he sat on the Sabbath afternoon just outside the city. Returning through the sheep gate, he walked through the colonnade of the pool Bethesda, where lay a crowd of sick folk, waiting and watching for the surface to be ruffled. It was the popular belief that at certain times an angel passed over the pool, fanning the water with the motion of his wings; then the first sick person who scrambled into the pool would be healed. Day after day, week after week, they waited with a kind of despairing hope.
One especially attracted Jesus’ notice; he lay, like many others, on a straw palliasse; his eyes moved restlessly from one passer-by to the next, not as if he were looking for money, but more as though he longed for a friendly word. He was an elderly man and Jesus wondered how long he had lain like this by the pool.
He stopped and spoke to him.
“Do you come here every day?”
“Every day, winter and summer,” replied the man. “I leave the bed here and get to and fro as best I can. You see I’ve no use of my legs; but I can get about on my hands.”
Jesus saw that he had pieces of wood strapped to his palms; on these he managed to drag himself from place to place.
“Yes,” went on the man, “every morning year after year, I’ve come here in hopes; every night I hoist myself back home. Thirty-eight years I’ve been coming.”
Thirty-eight years! Eight years before Jesus himself was born! The misery of it staggered him. Thirty-eight years!
“It was my own doing,” continued the cripple, more cheerfully than would have seemed possible. And he told his story of vice, which had brought its own punishment—but what a punishment! Thirty-eight years.
“And you still hope to be cured?” asked Jesus, in wonderment at such patience.
The man grinned.
“I’m a slow mover,” he said; “when the pool’s stirred, somebody with legs gets there first. And I’ve got no one to chuck me in.”
Jesus stooped down; he placed his hand on the cripple’s spine; for a few moments he remained silent.
Suddenly he spoke.
“Stand up! Take up your mattress and walk home with it.”
Slowly and painfully the old man rose to his feet, those feet which had not borne his weight for thirty eight years. Now he was standing. He looked down at the mattress, as if it were an infinite distance away. Then he bent down and lifted it on one shoulder. For a second or two he shuffled his feet ineffectually; then he began to laugh. It was an unnatural laughter, high-pitched and hysterical.
“Pull yourself together,” said Jesus sternly. The man stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
“Now walk home,” continued Jesus. “I’ll help you for the first few steps. That’s splendid. Now you can go alone.”
He watched him turn to the right under an archway, his gait becoming steadier as he gained confidence. Jesus walked on up the hill to the Temple Courts.
The old fellow with the mattress had not gone a hundred yards when he was sharply accosted from behind; two young priests coming down a side alley had seen him pass with his burden. He stopped and waited for them.
“You there,” said one. “Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? It’s not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
“The chap who has just cured me told me to take it home,” answered the old man. “I’ve been crippled for thirty-eight years.”
“That’s no concern of ours,” replied the other priests. “The question is, who told you to carry that thing on the Sabbath?”
“I don’t know who he was,” said the man; “he didn’t tell me his name.”
“There’s too much slackness about the observance of the Sabbath nowadays,” the first speaker remarked to his friend. “This sounds like that fellow Jesus the Galilean; but I didn’t know he was in Jerusalem. Reports from Capernaum make him out a notorious Sabbath-breaker.”
In the Temple courts later in the afternoon Jesus met his old friend from the pool; the man had come to give thanks for his recovery. He put his hand on his shoulder.
“Walking better now, I see,” he remarked cheerfully. “Well, you remember what caused the trouble: don’t fall back into bad habits or the whole thing will start over again.”
“No fear of that, sir,” protested the other. “I’ve had my dose; I don’t want another. I shan’t forget you in a hurry, sir, but I don’t even know who I’m to thank.”
“My name’s Jesus.”
“From Galilee, sir?”
“That’s right. From Nazareth. But don’t thank me; it’s God’s goodness, not mine.”
The news spread quickly: Jesus the Nazarene was in Jerusalem; once more there had been a flagrant breach of Sabbath discipline. The younger priests openly criticised him. The older and more prudent held their hand. Give the fellow enough rope and he was bound to hang himself.
In the early afternoon of the following day Jesus knocked at the door of a small, but well kept, house on the outskirts of Bethany.
The door was opened by a good-looking young woman, who said: “It’s Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t it? Come in. Dr. Nicodemus is already here with my brother.”
As she spoke, Nicodemus came out of a room on the left and greeted him.
“This is Martha of Bethany,” he said by way of introduction. “Sister of my young friend Lazarus; come along in here. Lazarus, this is Jesus of Nazareth.”
A young man of extraordinary charm came forward to meet the guest. He could not have been much over twenty; his pale complexion and the shadowy hollows under his eyes suggested a delicate constitution. There was about him an air of modest assurance which argued nobility of birth. Jesus took to him at once.
“You would like to talk to Nicodemus alone, I expect,” he said.
“Don’t leave us,” replied Jesus; “just as well for you to know what an unpopular person you are good enough to entertain.”
The young man laughed.
“I realise that,” he said; “you are making quite a stir in the priestly dovecotes.”
Nicodemus took up the subject more seriously. The Council, he explained, was determined to put a stop to Jesus’ teaching, not only in Jerusalem, but in Galilee as well. Many reports had been sent in by his opponents in Capernaum. If his influence spread further, the priests might well resort to force.
“But what can they do?” asked Lazarus; “they can’t stop Jesus from teaching, even if they bar him from the synagogues.”
Nicodemus glanced at Jesus. It was Jesus himself, who spoke.
“The Romans have powers beyond those of the Seventy.” Lazarus stared at him. “You don’t mean—”
“The Council is quite determined,” said Nicodemus. That was all; but it meant much.
The subject was not mentioned again. The rest of the afternoon was spent in peaceful happiness. Lazarus lived with his two sisters, Martha, cheerful and practical, and Mary who spoke little but thought much. It was evident that both sisters idolised their younger brother and their one happiness was to give him pleasure. Yet Lazarus was by no means the spoilt young man. He was as ready to do little services for the girls as they for him. Theirs was a home life to which all three contributed their share.
Jesus was at once accepted on terms of easy intimacy; when he rose to take his leave, Lazarus gave him a standing invitation to come and see them whenever he came to Jerusalem.
“It might be—more convenient to stay here than in the city,” he added. And Jesus understood what he meant.
It was a good many weeks before Jesus returned to the lake. On his way north he spent his time teaching and healing in the towns and villages of Judaea and Samaria.
The Twelve were due back in Capernaum on the day after his arrival. They were in good spirits; things had gone well. Not only had the villagers received them kindly and listened with interest to their teaching, but they had also had considerable success in the healing of sickness and lunacy.
Judas of Kerioth was particularly enthusiastic; his sombre eyes glowed with an unusual light as he gave Jesus an account of his work. His preaching had been effective and he knew it; his powerful personality and persuasive tongue had swayed the crowds of simple folk who had collected to listen to him. He had experienced the intoxicating joy of carrying his audiences with him. But he had the grace to acknowledge his own debt to Jesus. “I’ve studied your methods, Master,” he concluded; “I’m beginning to understand your influence.”
Young Simon of Cana had been his companion; while Judas talked, Jesus was conscious that Simon looked uncomfortable and depressed. He knew the young man’s nature was too generous to feel any jealousy of his more brilliant comrade. Yet something was wrong. He must find out what it was.
His opportunity came the same evening. After supper there was a knock at Peter’s door. It was Simon.
“You want me, don’t you?” Jesus words were a statement rather than a question. “I’ll come out.”
They threaded their way quickly through the crowd of loungers on the quay; but it was not until they were outside the town that a word was spoken.
“Well, what is it?” asked Jesus.
Simon did not answer immediately. It was difficult to criticise a fellow-worker.
“It’s about Judas, Master,” he said at last. “I thought you ought to know. You see, you sent us out to teach the love of God and goodwill among men—not to be political agitators. That’s what Judas is.”
“Tell me all about it,” said Jesus quietly.
“I wish I could explain better,” went on Simon in a worried tone. “There’s nothing much you can really lay hold of. But whenever I heard him talk, I always felt he was trying to—to excite people, to rouse them to some sort of violence. Mind you, he’s a wonderful speaker.”
“Which makes it all the more dangerous,” put in Jesus.
“Yes,” agreed Simon; “that’s just it. Of course, he never said anything about a rising against the Romans; but I couldn’t help feeling that was what he had at the back of his mind. You told us to tell people that the kingdom of God was coming on earth—and then to explain that it was to be a kingdom of love and peace and goodness. Well, Judas began with the Kingdom right enough; then he told them that the King was the long-expected Messiah who would soon declare himself; and he would go on to say they must rally round him and be ready to follow him wherever he led. It was just the sort of stuff we Zealots used to glory in. In one place he got the people so worked up that they shouted to him to lead them to the Messiah; he had some trouble in keeping them in hand. He managed it all right, but only by telling them they must wait for the signal to action.”
“I’ll have a talk with Judas,” said Jesus; “but will he ever understand?”
“Of course I may be wrong about Judas,” Simon went on with extreme diffidence, “but I have the feeling he’s trying to force your hand to push you into a position in which you have to take a lead—I mean, to lead a national movement.”
He fell into a gloomy silence. Jesus wondered at the insight of this straightforward young man. Simon’s estimate of Judas’ motives tallied so exactly with his own opinion of him.
“Judas is a patriot,” said Jesus slowly; “he’s ambitious and he has tremendous ability. But he has not yet learnt the two greatest things.”
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” quoted Simon, “and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. What you always call the two greatest commandments: that’s what you mean, isn’t it, Master?”
“Yes,” replied Jesus; “if Judas could learn the meaning of those two things, he could be an amazing force for good. But will he learn their truth? I wonder.”
“It’s been such a relief to talk about it,” said Simon; “I’ve had it frightfully on my mind. And I didn’t want to say anything to the others.”
“You were quite right,” answered Jesus; “the last thing we want among the Twelve is a spirit of criticism.”
“I hope you don’t think I’ve done wrong,” Simon said hastily, “in talking about Judas like this. I simply had to tell you. Now I’ve got it off my chest, I feel much better.”
“Shifted the responsibility on to me, eh?” remarked Jesus with a smile. “Oh well, it’s one of my jobs to carry other people’s loads.”
On the next day there was striking confirmation of Simon’s words and Jesus’ own fears.
It was a fine warm morning. The Passover season was approaching and spring was in the air. The Twelve had had several months of hard work and Jesus proposed a holiday; they would take the boat to a lonely spot along the shore and spend the day resting in peaceful idleness.
“Where are you off to, John?” asked someone on the quay as they went aboard.
“Humpback Hill,” replied John; “We’ve got a day off,” he added with a grin.
The news soon spread round the quayside, where a crowd had already collected in the hope of hearing Jesus preach. After his long absence they felt cheated when they saw the boat put out; but they were not to be balked. If he was bound for Humpback Hill, it was only five or six miles, an easy enough walk on a morning like this. Before the sail was up, hundreds of people were already streaming along the coast road; as the passed through the Lakeside villages, others joined them; after Bethsaida the highway was as congested as on a fair day. Among the Bethsaida contingent was a boy of seventeen on holiday from Judaea; he was just setting out for a walk from his aunt’s house, carrying his lunch in a basket, when he saw the throng pouring along the road. He entered into conversation with one of the passers-by, inquiring whither they were all bound.
“Humpback Hill,” answered the young man whom he had addressed. “They say Jesus of Nazareth is going there. I’ve never heard him and I want to. They say he’s marvellous.”
The boy nodded.
“I heard him a few weeks ago,” he said, “in Jerusalem. He wasn’t preaching exactly—just answering questions and criticisms. I’ve never heard anyone like him.”
He relapsed into silence.
Jesus and the Twelve stepped ashore in a sunlit cove and climbed up the steep slope of an irregular-shaped hill. As they reached the summit, Jesus looked back at those behind; his eyes were dancing with amusement. “So much for our peaceful holiday,” he remarked; “there seem to be others wanting to share it with us.”
Sitting in groups on the short grass was a crowd of several hundred people; more were mounting the slope which on this side was much gentler than the other; and the road, as far as the eye could reach, was black with pedestrians.
“Aren’t they like sheep?” said Jesus, “just following one another and hardly knowing why.”
“Shall we go back to the boat, Master?” suggested Peter; “we can easily sail further along the shore.”
“No, no,” rejoined Jesus quickly; “the sheep need a shepherd. You can all take it easy; this is my job.”
He began moving about among the different groups, chatting easily and naturally with each. Some few who had ailments or injuries found that the touch of his hand, even the sound of his voice, brought relief and healing. When all had reached the spot and the hillside was covered, he sat down where they could best hear him and began to talk. For more than two hours he held the whole multitude spellbound. The Twelve, lolling on the grass, behind him, glanced occasionally at one another; they had never heard even the Master so convincing, so compelling.
At last the speaker rose. The crowd, released from the spell of his words, lost its rapt stillness; eyes which had been turned in one direction sought their neighbours’ faces; tongues began to wag, first in hushed undertones, as if noise were a desecration, then with greater freedom until the whole hillside was a babel of chatter. Many, finding their limbs stiff and cramped, stood up to stretch or walk about. None had realised till now that the afternoon was well advanced and they had had no meal.
It was Thaddaeus, with his practical good nature, who first realised the situation. He came up to Jesus.
“Master, we’re a long way from any town and the day’s wearing away,” he suggested. “Hadn’t you better send the people away to buy themselves something to eat.”
Jesus was lying on his back in the sunlight, enjoying a well-earned rest. He did not open his eyes.
“Give them a meal,” he said.
Philip was sitting next to him. He and Thaddaeus burst out laughing.
“I meant what I said,” continued Jesus quite seriously; “give them a meal.”
He spoke loudly enough for all the Twelve to hear; they looked at one another in astonishment. Jesus knew they had brought hardly any food with them.
He turned his head and looked at Philip.
“Where are we to buy food for all these people?” he asked.
“But, Master,” replied Philip, “it would cost more money than we’ve got here to give every one of them a few mouthfuls.”
Andrew spoke from the back of the group.
“There’s a lad here who has five barley loaves and a couple of fish. But what’s the use of that for a crowd like this?” He moved his hands is a helpless gesture.
“I only thought,” said the boy by his side, “that if anyone who had something brought it here, it might be shared round.” He spoke shyly, as if he were half ashamed of his suggestion.
Jesus sprang to his feet. His eyes met the boy’s eyes. Without addressing him, he spoke to the Twelve.
“Make the people sit down.”
Peter stood up. He raised his voice.
“Sit down in rows, will you!”
Obediently the crowd ranged itself in ranks and squatted on the grass. Was the preacher meaning to talk again? Expectantly they waited, their eyes upon him.
Jesus took the boy’s basket and raised it above his head. In simple words he blessed the food. He placed the basket before him on the ground, took out one of the barley loaves, broke it across and returned it to the basket. Then he turned to the Twelve.
“Borrow baskets from the people and take this round to them.”
Baskets were quickly forthcoming, and the Twelve set to work. Again and again they had to return for fresh supplies; they neither knew nor understood where they came from. There was hardly time to stop and think. But every man, woman and child in that vast crowd was able to eat his fill.
“This is your picnic,” said Jesus to the boy.
“I don’t understand, sir,” answered the lad in bewilderment.
“You offered what you could,” explained Jesus; “without your gift I could have done nothing.”
The boy did not reply. But he understood. Here was one who had the power to turn a little act of unselfishness into something which could feed a multitude.
“Where do you come from?” asked Jesus.
“From Judaea, Master;” the name came naturally, as if he had already dedicated himself to that Master’s service.
“I thought you were a stranger about here,” went on Jesus, “yet I seem to know your face.”
The boy flushed with pleasure.
“You might have seen me in Jerusalem,” he replied; “I was at the pool of Bethesda, when you healed the cripple. And afterwards I heard you talking to some of the priests in the Temple courts. You spoke of God as your Father, just as you did today.”
“That’s how I’ve always thought of him,” answered Jesus; “as a Father who understands and loves every one of his children.”
“I was thinking about that as you talked today,” said the boy eagerly. “But wouldn’t it be just as true to say that God is Love?”
For a moment Jesus did not answer. This unknown boy had understood the innermost meaning of his words, as no one else had done.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“John,” was the answer.
“I shall have to call you John the Divine.”
The boy reddened. “You’re laughing at me, sir,” he said.
“No, John,” Jesus replied; “I’m far from laughing at you. You have seen the truth.”
By this time most of the Twelve were back. Scraps of their conversation floated over to Jesus.
“Don’t they look like an onion bed, James,” Thaddaeus was saying, “sitting in those straight rows.”
“More like a drinking party,” someone answered.
Jesus noticed that Judas was not with the others. Looking round, he saw that he was talking animatedly with a group of young men some distance away. There came to Jesus an uncomfortable feeling that he was urging them to some sort of action.
“Have the people had enough?” asked Jesus.
“More than enough, I should say,” grinned Thaddaeus.
“Then take round the baskets and pick up the scraps,” ordered Jesus; “lets have no waste or litter.”
Again the baskets came into play. Again as Judas collected the fragments, he seemed to be whispering in the ears of the younger men.
The twelve baskets were brought back; all were full to the brim. Judas put his down, then raised his hand above his head.
Immediately from the group with whom he had been talking, came a shout.
“The Messiah is among us! Crown him! Crown him King of the Jews!”
Others took up the cry; and soon half the multitude was shouting the words in a kind of rhythmic chant.
Nathaniel was standing close beside Jesus.
“I must slip away,” Jesus said in an urgent undertone; “tell the Twelve to return without me.”
Nathaniel nodded; in a moment Jesus was over the brow of the hill. Leaping from rock to rock, he hurried inland. In a few minutes he was concealed behind a clutter of boulders. But he did not stop. Running as if bloodhounds were on his heels, he made for a dried watercourse; up this he turned and began climbing up the stony bed to a higher hill beyond. He reached the summit and lay there exhausted.
His first feeling was one of relief: he had escaped a great danger. There was no doubt that the crowd, inflamed by Judas’ propaganda, had meant to take him by force and proclaim him king. This would have given the priests the handle they were seeking; a word to the Roman governor—arrest—a cross on Skull Hill.
Gradually the full implication of the episode dawned in his mind. His Kingdom of love and unselfishness and humility was on the verge of collapse; its very foundations had been undermined by Judas’ mistaken loyalty or selfish ambition. How was he to continue to preach the true kingdom of God, when one of his intimate followers had tried to make him a king of rebels? Who would believe that he was not aiming at worldly power? The work of the past year seemed at one blow to have been shattered.
The scene on the hillside would not be forgotten. Gossip would exaggerate it, until all Galilee would think of him as an upstart insurgent—or, more bitter thought still, as an inspired national leader. It was the one thing he had tried to avoid. All too well he realised the popular conception of the Messiah—the saviour who would break the power of Rome. Even the Twelve were unable to rid their minds of this idea, which had been instilled into them from childhood upwards. But all except Judas had been content to leave him to do his work in his own way; if they yet accepted him as the Messiah, which was by no means certain in every case, they did nothing to push their own ideas if they conflicted with his.
By this time the confused noise from the opposite hill had subsided; the crowds had dispersed and peace reigned over the countryside. But in Jesus’ soul there was no peace. He had been hailed as King by an excited mob; and one of his chosen followers had betrayed him. Judas knew well enough how his Master would hate his action, yet Judas had attempted to compel him to accept the title of King. No, this was not mistaken loyalty, it was sheer treachery.
All previous disappointments faded into insignificance in comparison with the feeling of failure. One thing was clear; he must leave the lakeside cities; it was impossible to continue his homely work there; every act of kindness, every cure, every word of his teaching would be misinterpreted as a bid for popularity. He must leave the country, and the Twelve with him, until today’s events were forgotten. Then perhaps he might begin all over again.
Lying on his face upon the rock-strewn turf, Jesus sought the aid of the Father in this crisis of his life. Without words, without conscious thought, he laid his troubled spirit in the light of God’s presence. And as he lay on the mountain top, he felt new strength and peace stealing into his soul.
Suddenly there came into his remembrance the face of the boy who had offered the loaves and fishes. That boy of seventeen had realised the truth of his message to the world, as no one else had done; none even of the Twelve had shown the same perception.
Jesus found himself wondering what effect the sordid demonstration of the afternoon had had on that bright spirit. And the answer came to him with the conviction of utter certainty; the boy who could perceive that “God is Love” was too near to himself in mind and soul to suspect him of worldly ambition.
And he knew that the Father had answered his unspoken prayer. If this day had brought disappointment to his hopes, it had also brought him a friend who could understand.
He rose to his feet. Darkness had fallen.
He remembered his words to Nathaniel. The Twelve were to sail back to Capernaum without him. What if they arrived before him and Judas had time to rally his partisans to greet him on his return? The boat must be halfway across by now. He must be back as soon as Judas.
So intense was the urgency of this thought that he had no perception of how he descended the hill or left the shore. His whole mind was centred on the imperative need for him to rejoin the Twelve in the returning boat. Without surprise he knew he was passing over the ruffled waters of the Lake.
It was Matthew who saw him first. A cry of fear escaped him. He pointed.
“What’s that!” he exclaimed; “over there! What is it?”
“My God,” whispered his brother. “Look Jude! It’s someone walking on the sea!”
By this time the eyes of every man in the boat were turned on the mysterious figure which was rapidly nearing the boat. A pale light seemed to radiate from it, and was reflected from the sombre green of the choppy water.
“It’s a ghost!” cried young Simon; “the ghost of some drowned fisherman.” His voice rose hysterically.
A well-known voice hailed them; the voice that had stilled the tempest, the voice that had healed the maniac, the voice that had brought encouragement and peace of mind to hundreds of tortured souls.
“Cheer up!” said the voice; “it is I; don’t be afraid.”
“It’s the Master,” said Andrew. He spoke the words as calmly as if he had seen Jesus walking on the quay. To Andrew it was as natural that the Messiah should walk over the waves as on dry land. His brother showed more excitement.
“If it’s you, Master,” he shouted, “bid me come to you on the waves.”
A low laugh sounded over the water.
“Come,” said the voice.
Peter scrambled over the gunwale. He took a few steps towards Jesus; then he looked back nervously and saw that the way on the boat had already carried her some distance from him. He was seized with panic.
“Master, save me,” he cried, “I’m sinking.”
In a flash Jesus was at his side; he took his hand. The next thing that Peter knew was that James and John were hauling him over the side of the boat. Jesus was already aboard.
“You’ve got no confidence, Peter,” Jesus chaffed him. “Why did you give up?”
The boat sped over the lake as if nothing unusual had occurred.
“Put into one of the fishing villages in Gennesaret, James, will you?” said Jesus after a time. “I’m not keen to land at Capernaum.”
Without a word James put down the tiller. And in the grey early dawn they made the shore.
Even in Gennesaret, it almost seemed as if the inhabitants were expecting them. Is a few minutes heads were popping out of doorways and a little crowd had collected. Sick folk were carried into the streets in the hope of healing; and none were disappointed.
They breakfasted at an inn. During the meal Jesus surprised them all.
“I am leaving the country for a time,” he announced in a matter-of-fact tone. Judas looked at him quickly, but Jesus purposely disregarded him. “I’m proposing to make a tour of Phoenicia, to teach in the cities and villages there. I can’t expect all of you to come with me; you have other work to do, your livelihood to think about. But I hope that as many will come as can. A change will do us good and prevent us from becoming narrow and thinking that our own countrymen are the only people who matter.”
“I’ll come with you,” volunteered Nathaniel at once.
“You’d better all take the boat back to Capernaum,” Jesus continued. “Think it over and come back here tomorrow by road, if you feel you can join me.”
Judas was the first to get up. He strolled towards the door; Jesus spoke again.
“I particularly want your company. Will you stay here with me and wait for the others?”
Judas hesitated. It was clear that the project was displeasing to him. He shuffled his feet. Then he shrugged his shoulders.
“Very well, Master,” he said sulkily. “I’ll think it over here;” he brought out the last sentence with a hint of challenge.
“Thank you, Judas,” replied Jesus, without the slightest change of tone.
Judas stood in the doorway, watching the others walk down the steps to the quay.
“Judas,” began Jesus briskly; “you and I have got to understand one another.”
“What about?” was the ill-tempered reply.
“You’re not a fool,” Jesus went on sternly; “you know quite well what I mean.”
“About yesterday, I suppose?”
“About yesterday, certainly,” answered Jesus; “but not only that. Your whole outlook is in opposition to my ideas and my plans.”
“I want you to fulfil your destiny.” Judas turned to Jesus; “thousands of good men are ready to accept you as the Messiah. They are only waiting for the word. And you refuse to lead.”
“I am leading all the time,” was the reply; “but I do refuse to be led.”
Jesus stood up. The two faced one another. There was a moment’s silence.
Then Jesus spoke again. “Your only idea of leadership, Judas, is to head a rebellion. You know that doesn’t fit in with my theories.”
“If you mean the milk and water stuff you sometimes talk,” retorted Judas angrily, “I’ve no use for it. ‘Love your enemies!’ ‘Turn the other cheek!’ It’s not manly and it’s not sense. You may be the Messiah—I believe you are—but you’ve no ambition. What’s the use of a Messiah who won’t act as one?”
“Read the scriptures, Judas, and try to understand them. ‘He was despised and rejected of men;’ that’s Isaiah’s description of the Messiah. Then again: ‘He shall lead his flock like a shepherd,’ not like a captain of freebooters, but like a shepherd, a humble, kindly soul. For centuries our nation has been oppressed by foreigners, Judas, and patriotic men, like you, have come to think of the Messiah as a warrior prince who would free the race of Israel from the alien yoke. But that’s all wrong; the Messiah was never coming to free the Jewish people from Babylon or Syria or Rome, but to free mankind from sin and violence and degradation.”
For fully a minute Judas gave no reply; he was watching Jesus warily. At last he spoke.
“Then you seriously mean that you have no intention of founding a kingdom.”
“Not in the sense that you mean,” answered Jesus without hesitation.
“You are wasting your powers,” retorted Judas bitterly, “throwing away a brilliant opportunity. It’s nothing short of sacrilege! God has endowed you with qualities which no man has ever possessed before; and you refuse to use them.”
“Haven’t you seen me use them day after day,” was the reply, “to heal the sick and cure insanity? God never gives anyone powers to be used for his own advantage.”
With a snort of impatience Judas turned away. His dejected figure was silhouetted in the sun-drenched doorway.
“Judas;” Jesus spoke the name quietly.
“Oh, what is it?” was the impatient reply.
“You asked to join the Twelve. Why?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“You wished to make use of me to further your own schemes? Is that it?”
“I believed that you were the Messiah,” Judas parried.
“And that the Messiah would create a flourishing Jewish kingdom,” went on Jesus relentlessly, “and that Judas of Kerioth would be one of the chief ministers of state.”
“That’s not just,” said Judas furiously; “I was not thinking of myself; it’s the nation I care about.”
“Have you ever pictured a Jewish Kingdom without yourself as one of its organisers.”
Judas did not reply.
At last Jesus broke the silence.
“You don’t want to come to Phoenicia?”
“It seems to me pointless,” was the reply.
“It’s you who have forced me to it,” Jesus explained.
“You have made my work in Capernaum impossible. How can I continue my teaching of unselfishness and love, when you have made everyone believe that I am aiming at power for myself?”
“I wish to God you would have some aim,” sneered Judas. “Are you expecting the Twelve to be content if all their self-sacrifice and effort is to lead to nothing?”
“Some of the Twelve at least understand my purpose,” said Jesus.
“The half-witted dreamer, Andrew, I suppose,” retorted Judas with biting sarcasm, “or Nathaniel the young idealist. Fellows like that haven’t the guts to strike a blow for what they believe; and I don’t believe you have, either.”
“What good can come of striking a blow?” questioned Jesus; “but I hope I have the courage to suffer for what I believe; and I’m sure both Andrew and Nathaniel would too.”
“I’m sick of your sloppy philosophy,” exclaimed Judas. “I want to be up and doing. I thought I saw in you the hope of the nation; I was wrong, that’s all.”
“You want to leave us. Is that it?” asked Jesus.
Judas kicked the doorstep savagely.
“I don’t know what I want.”
“You’re perfectly free to do as you like,” added Jesus. “But if you stay with us, it must be on my terms.”
“And what are they?”
“No more revolutionary propaganda,” said Jesus with decision; “Understand clearly that I am not going to lead a rebellion—or be made into a figurehead for one.”
“And you’re determined to waste time on this absurd trip to Phoenicia?”
“I’m quite determined to leave Galilee,” answered Jesus, “for six months at least.”
“Look here,” said Judas persuasively, “I’ll strike a bargain with you. Give up the Phoenician plan and I’ll stick to you.”
“I can strike no bargains,” Jesus declared. “Either you remain with us and fall in with my plans or you give up your membership of the Twelve. That’s my last word.”
And Judas knew the Master too well to doubt that he meant it.
“I’ll think it over,” he said, and strode out into the sunlit street.
He climbed the hill behind the town and flung himself down on the turf. For hour after hour he sat motionless, staring over the lake. He was very unhappy. He saw the ambition of a lifetime crumbling into dust; for years he had looked for a leader and at last had found one. And now the leader refused to lead. Better to cut adrift and begin the search anew.
Yet it was not so simple as that. In his heart Judas knew that Jesus was the one leader he could follow; he would never find another to compare with him. In his curious, distorted way he was passionately devoted to the Master. He could not tolerate the old, lonely life, after enjoying the intimacy of a friend like that. But why did this splendid friend insist on behaving like a fool? Why wouldn’t he undertake the work which no one but he could do?
Out of the welter of his thought there gradually emerged a clear-cut issue: either he must resign his place among the Twelve, which would be treachery to his friend; or he must undertake to abandon all hope of organising a national rising, which seemed an act of treachery to his country. In either case he was doomed to be a traitor.
Gazing down on the wrinkled surface of the lake, Judas felt an intense longing to end it all. How simple to slip over the side of a boat and let the gentle water close peacefully over his weary head; or a rope—a sudden jerk and his troubles and problems would be over. Why endure this mental anguish, when escape was so easy, so desirable?
In this crisis of his emotions a fresh solution crept into Judas’ subtle mind. Perhaps in time the Master might change his point of view; or perhaps some opportunity might occur to enable Judas himself—oh yes, given patience he might be able to place Jesus in a position in which he would have no alternative but to assert himself. His active brain raced; his excitement grew. Forgotten was all idea of self destruction. He leapt to his feet and hurried down to the little town, where the twinkling lights, springing up one by one, proclaimed the coming of darkness.
The feeble flicker of a smoking oil lamp emphasised the gloom of the inn parlour. At first the room seemed to be empty. Judas stood uncertain in the doorway.
Then a quiet voice spoke: “Well? Have you made up your mind?”
Judas sat down by the rough wooden table.
“I’ll come with you,” he said.
Without a word Jesus got up from the wooden stool by the window where he had been sitting. He came over to the table. The flame of the spluttering lamp played fitfully on the two faces, the one eager and self-assured, the other set and stern. Judas had never seen the Master like this before; his confidence began to ooze away.
“You don’t seem to welcome my offer,” he said uncertainly, yet with a hint of challenge.
“That depends on yourself, Judas,” was the answer.
“I mean that every member of the Twelve must be ready to give up his own inclinations and desires—yes, Judas, and his ambitions—for the sake of the work to which I have called him. There can be no half measures. Unless you are willing to come with us all the way, it would be far better for you to leave us altogether and work out your destiny in your own way.”
“You don’t trust me,” Judas challenged.
“You let me down yesterday,” was the reply; “there must be no repetition of what happened then.”
“You want to be rid of me,” said Judas with some heat; “that’s really what you’re driving at, isn’t it?”
“You ought to know me well enough,” replied Jesus, “to realise that the desertion of one of my friends would give me infinite pain. Let me put it quite bluntly, Judas; I want you to stop with us, if it’s only to make you understand that mine is the right way to save the world. No good can come of violence. It is only through the Knowledge of God’s love and the desire to do His will that mankind can learn the way of happiness. If once you can appreciate this, you will see how petty and hollow is the desire for power, for you will have within yourself the one real source of power—the only force which can transform mankind from sons of darkness into sons of Light.”
“Then you want me,” said Judas slowly, “to stick to you.”
The answer came instantaneously: “If you can do so honestly and loyally.”
The uncertain lamplight played on Judas’ face. In his eyes was a look of blank misery. The muscles of his throat were working strangely.
Suddenly he dropped his head upon his arm and broke into convulsive sobs. Jesus turned away and walked back to the window. Incoherent words reached his ears: “even my best friend—the only man I ever cared for—why can’t he trust me?”
Gazing out into the blackness of the night, Jesus seemed to be looking into the blackness of despair in Judas’ soul. He saw with vivid clearness the spiritual desolation of this man who knew he was not trusted, because he was unworthy of trust. A wave of compassion surged up in his heart; he longed to bring comfort, to assure his tortured friend that he believed in him. Yet all the while he knew that he could not depend on Judas; this emotional outburst was no proof of a real change of heart. The man’s distress was genuine enough; but it was caused by wounded vanity, not by any conviction of his own disloyalty. These were tears of resentment, not of shame.
To Jesus there was something almost degrading in this spectacle of a proud and self-reliant nature abandoning itself without restraint to a paroxysm of weeping. This was not the moment for kind words or a scene of sentimental reconciliation. He strode across to the table, seized Judas by the shoulder and shook him.
“Pull yourself together, man,” he said roughly. “This is nothing but weakness.”
In sheer surprise Judas looked up. Jesus seemed to tower above him, harsh, implacable. This was not the Master he had come to know and love—and almost to despise; this was a man fierce and dangerous, a man who could lead a lost cause. His heart leapt; his whole nature rose to greet the leader, for whose coming he had so long searched. He had found the Messiah at last.
What matter if Jesus insisted on wasting a few months in Phoenicia? What matter if he set about his work in a way Judas could not understand? This was the very Messiah; sooner or later he must proclaim himself.
Slowly he rose to his feet.
“I’m sorry, Master,” he stammered. “I was a fool to give way like that.”
“You’ve made up your mind?” said Jesus.
“I’ll follow wherever you lead.”
“It must be my way, not yours;” Jesus’ voice was still hard.
“You can trust me,” replied Judas with enthusiasm.
“I hope so,” said Jesus sternly; “you still have to give me proof of that.”
Judas winced. But he was not downcast.
“I have found the Messiah,” he said with earnest conviction; “I ask nothing else but to obey him.”
Without another word Jesus walked over to the rickety staircase; with his foot on the bottom step, he turned.
Judas took a step forward. His shadow, vast and grotesque, fell upon his Master and seemed to engulf him. Jesus shivered.
He watched till the other disappeared from view up the creaking stairs. How would this strange Messiah achieve his purpose? He shrugged his shoulders and picked up the lamp. A sudden gust of wind blew out the flame. In the pitch darkness he groped his way after his Messiah.
On his return from a walk in the country on the next morning, Jesus was overjoyed to find all the Twelve assembled round the well in the village square. They had agreed to make the necessary arrangements about their various occupations and follow the Master in his voluntary exile from the lakeside.
In the two days’ tramp to the great port of Tyre, the life and soul of the party was Judas of Kerioth.
Created from a nineteenth or early twentieth century text by Athelstane E-Texts