THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 5

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

By the time they came to hearing distance, Jesus sat on an outcrop that was slightly higher so that his disciples and the surrounding crowd could see him better. He motioned for the people to sit. Again, just like at the lake shore, Cornelius was amazed with Jesus’ commanding presence. Except for the wind and the rustling of the grass, it seemed like there was hardly anyone on the hills. Then he spoke.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

[Matthew 5:1-12 NASB, The Beatitudes]

Cornelius was somewhat surprised and relieved at the same time in what he heard. He half expected him to conjure up a miraculous happening, staged by the zealots, of course, and convince the masses that this is the time to rise up against the Roman occupation. He had no doubt that Jesus’ charisma is such that he could be able to raise the whole populace of Palestine, Syria, Persia and even Egypt to push Rome out of this part of the Mediterranean. Rome would be hard pressed to claim it back or even to keep the rest of its empire intact. But instead, Jesus started out his sermon with ten riddles at the end of which he stopped. He looks first at the twelve men that he chose with a whimsical smile. The men looked at each other with puzzled looks. Until Jesus told them to talk it out and make sense of it. Then like a flood bursting, the silence was shattered by hundreds of people conversing.

Jacob and Cestus were conversing silently to each other knowing that Cornelius would prefer mulling it over by himself. Closing his eyes, he mentally blocked out the noise around him to better analyze the words. Systematically, he started out on the most prominent word that was repeated nine times, ‘Blessed’. He remembered when he was young, while listening to Jacob telling him the story of Creation, he said that God blessed the animals, and then man, saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” [Genesis 1:28 NASB]

He asked him what it meant to bless.

Jacob gave him a scholarly definition, “To bless is to endow with power for success, prosperity, fertility, longevity and so on.”

But Cornelius was only ten. He did not understand. So, Jacob picked up a wicker ball and put it on the floor. He then told that very young Cornelius that the ball was him. After a while, as Cornelius was staring at the ball, Jacob asked him if he thought that the ball was happy. He said no. When asked why, he said that the ball was just sitting there when it should be rolling or tossed around with or kicked. Then Jacob asked him if the ball can do any of that by itself. He shook his head. When asked how the ball can be made happy, Cornelius gave him a toothy smile and kicked the ball across the room.

For the first time, he finally made the connection. In the beginning, mankind was like that ball. From the first book of Moses, it says that God formed man of dust from the ground but like the ball just sitting on the floor, man was without purpose… was without life, until God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But it did not stop there; God endowed to him with the ability to multiply… to fill the earth and eventually subdue it.

So, when Jesus said, “Blessed are those…” he was actually saying, “God blesses those…” God is the key. So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 4

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius did not want to take the same road that the crowd was on. He led them cross country heading west, north of the city. Then they swung south always keeping the lake road and the people in sight but yet far away enough not to be seen. About a mile to where the crowd seems to gather, Cornelius found a gully where he left the horses and the three soldiers to guard them. Cestus, Jacob and he climbed a high grassy hill. When they reached the top, they beheld a shallow valley surrounded by three hills including the one they were on. There was a running stream snaking its way through the valley on its way to the lake. Here and there were a few copses of short trees and shrubs. They were standing on the highest hill. They saw that the largest concentration of people was on the hill adjacent to theirs and more were pouring in. Cornelius could not make out any details from their high vantage point but when they went down the hill about three quarters of the way, he noticed that people were looking toward at the base of the adjacent hill near the stream. Jesus was there standing in the center of an open circle of people. Also in the circle was a cluster of eight men. Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew, were among them. Cornelius also recognized two other fishermen who were their partners. “What were their names?” He tried to recall. “Oh, yes… James and John.”

Jesus then beckoned to another man to join him at the center and it was another face that he recognized. He also noticed the angry murmuring of the crowd.

“That is Levi, the tax collector,” exclaimed Jacob. “I heard a rumor in the city that he just up and left his collecting table and I even heard that there was still money on it.”

For some reason Cornelius was pleased that Levi got out of that hateful work. Then Jesus beckoned to another which did not please Cornelius at all. It was Simon the Zealot. Simon seemed surprised himself to be chosen as he hesitantly approached Jesus. But Jesus embraced him in a bear hug showing him that it was no mistake. Two other men were also chosen. Cornelius made a mental note to later acquire their names.

“He chose twelve men,” whispered Jacob.

“Why is that important?” asked Cestus.

“Twelve is a number that is very prominent in the Scriptures.” Jacob quickly mentioned that through out Scripture, God had chosen the twelve sons of Jacob to become the twelve tribes of Israel. It seems to represent, in most cases, the number for perfection and authority.

Cornelius noticed that Jesus and his followers were heading to a bunch of rocky outcrops half way up the hill. It seemed to him that if Jesus was going to address the people, that rocky outcrop would make the perfect platform. At first, he hesitated to be in the midst of the crowd lest he and Cestus be identified as foreigners until he noticed that, though the crowd was made up mostly of Jews, there were a fair number of Greeks, Syrians, Arabs and other nationalities mingled in.

“He is moving up that other hill. Come let us go closer so I can hear what he has to say.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 3

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

The next day, Cornelius was at his desk writing his report when Cestus entered.

“Sir,” Cestus said. “One of our spies has reported that the Nazarene was not at the house of the fisherman. He was told He snuck out in the middle of the night. Even his followers were looking for him.”

“Very well. Have him go back to the house and follow the fisherman.”

“Yes, sir!”

Just as he was about to leave, Cornelius inquired, “Have you seen the lad? He does not seem to be out and about this morning.”

“He is down below, sick in bed again. He has been in and out of bed sick three times already this past month.”

“Send for the physician. I will be down in a while to see him.”

A few minutes later, He found Trax in bed being fed some broth by Jacob.

“Hello lad. How are you feeling?” He puts his hand on his head. His head was hot with fever.

Trax smiled up at him and then made a face at the taste of whatever Jacob was spooning into him.

“It is supposed to taste bad or else it would not be good for you.”

Trax gestured with his hands that he’d rather it be bad for him. Cornelius laughed out loud and tousled the boy’s curly hair. He was concerned for the boy but it seems like Trax will be fine in a day or so. Then he will be running around like himself.

Later that morning, Cestus told him that the spy he sent to watch Simon Peter reported that many people from the city including the one he was to follow were heading out to the hills about seven miles south-west of Capernaum over looking the inland sea.

“Get out of that armor, Cestus. Choose three men all in nondescript clothing and have them saddle six horses. We are going out there.”

Cornelius went back into the house to talk to Jacob.

“It looks like Jesus of Nazareth is out on the hills south-west of the city. As usual he has attracted a large crowd. Do you wish to come?” Jacob looked at him eagerly but then looked over at an already sleeping Trax. “Do not worry about Trax. The physician will be here later and Porcius will look after him. He is fond of him too.”

So, they rode out.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 2

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It was neither long nor difficult to find Simon Peter’s house. The house was not as large as that of Elan’s, the synagogue leader. There was one entry point and stairs that led up to the roof. The house and the narrow streets were literally wall to wall jammed packed with people most of which were crippled from disease and physical ailments. Cornelius and Jacob had to shove their way through the crowd until they reached a platform that overlooked the entrance. At the front entrance, a large man can be seen shuffling people in and out through the door. Cornelius recognized him to be the fisherman who allowed Jesus the use of his boat as a platform to teach people by the lake. He was also the one that bowed before Jesus after that miraculous catch of fish. Simon Peter was pleading for the people to not crowd the entrance and wait their turn. He was just letting a woman and her sons out when they started to praise God loudly. This added to the frenzy of the crowd. Gauging the size of the house, Cornelius calculated that it can only hold about forty people. For now, Simon Peter was only choosing those who were ambulatory. There were some exceptions though.

A group of six men all dressed in expensive robes easily walked through the crowd, especially since the crowd parted for them, came up to Simon Peter. Jacob told him they were Pharisees. Cornelius noticed that Simon Peter was not pleased they were here, but he called to his brother Andrew and whispered in his ear. The brother Andrew went back in and then about eight disappointed men were ejected and the Pharisees entered. Cornelius also spotted Simon the Zealot with three of his comrades and walked up to Simon Peter. They had a short conversation and Simon Peter allowed only Simon the Zealot in.

Then a determined group of men, who were carrying a crippled man on a pallet pleaded with Simon Peter to let them in. But he told them that there was just no more room. Eager to be inside himself, Simon Peter closed the door. But the dejected group would not give up, one of them pointed at the stairs that led up to the roof. Cornelius watched them carry the cripple up the stairs. He was curious to see what they were doing. So, he and Jacob climbed the stairs that led to roof of the house across the street. There was also a small crowd on that roof and they were calling out encouragement to that group of friends that started to dig up the roof by tearing at the dried mortar and thatch. Cornelius could hear the protest of a voice from inside. When the hole was big enough, the friends gently lowered the cripple in his palette. Then, there was silence for about five minutes. Then the friends who were peering in the hole started clapping and patting themselves in the back. It was not long when they started down the stairs. Then a man came out carrying a palette praising and crying out with joy. Cornelius almost did not recognize him and was not sure if he was the same man. But the friends knew and gathered around him. Then the whole crowd erupted in song and praise. From Cornelius’ vantage point on the roof top, he could hear the spreading of the singing and jubilation to the adjacent streets; though he was sure that many of the crowds were just caught up with the celebration not really knowing the reason. But if this spreads even farther, he feared that the nearby garrison may be called to quench what they may easily think is an uprising. But after a while, things were calming down a little. The atmosphere was still a little festive but not all were joyful. Midst the crowd the group of Pharisees walked out of the house frowning and did not seem pleased.

“There is no way we will be able to get in now!” He looked over at a teary eyed Jacob. “Come, my old friend. That is enough excitement for today.”

They made their way back down to the street and walked back to the house. Again, Cornelius’ mind was in conflict. It started when he realized that he was feeling an inexplicable sense of happiness. Did he get caught up with the festivities? The sober side of his mind needed to look over at the event logically. What did he really witness? Was that man, the cripple, healed magically? He had never seen the man before. The only proof he had was him being carried by his friends. Could it have been staged by the Nazarene? But then why deny them entry in the beginning? It does not fit. But then there were the Zealots to consider. Simon the Zealot was there with three others. Maybe more! Cornelius pursued this line of thoughts with a question. How will staging miraculous hoaxes help their cause? The answer was simple, mob mentality. He saw how easily a hopeful crowd got riled up. Get the people to fanatically declare that Jesus is the Messiah and crown him king which will unite them enough to push Roman rule out of Palestine. Another disturbing thought was that for the Zealots to this pull off, Jesus and his followers must be in collusion with them. When they finally got back to their house, though he had a hard time believing in it, he really hoped that what he saw was miraculous.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 1

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

On the Sabbath day, Cornelius was summoned to a meeting with Arturos at the Bethsaida garrison. The meeting lasted for two days. Contingent plans were laid out for the transfer of the Governor General’s seat of power from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem next month. Already the Fortress Antonio in Jerusalem had been garrisoned with two cohorts of Praetorian. Before Cornelius made his return to Capernaum, Arturos told him that the Governor has shown interest with Cornelius’ reports. Since, the insurgent problems are mostly concentrated in the Galilee region, he is still ordered to stay in the area.

It was mid-day, when Cornelius returned to his house. As expected, Jacob was there eagerly waiting for him with news.

“Jesus was at the synagogue!” He called out even before Cornelius can dismount. “He was there at our Sabbath meeting! Oh, if you were only there yourself to listen to him. At the lake I said he was a masterful teacher. That praise does not do it justice. I have been a scribe of the law for over thirty years and even I cannot teach and explain the Scriptures the way he did. For one so young, he spoke with conviction… with such authority like he himself was the sole author of the law. It was an eye opening experience that I thought I would never relish again in my old age.

“Then this man barged in making such a commotion. He was crazed out of his wits. I have seen this man before roaming the streets talking to himself. He was one with an unclean spirit. He pushed his way into the center and no one could hold him. He pointed at Jesus and said, ‘What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God!’ [Mark 1:24 NASB]

“While we all backed away, like from a rabid dog, Jesus stood there calmly. I saw no anger or judgment in his face for this unholy creature. I did see pity and compassion when he told the man to be quiet. Then he took a step forward and commanded the unclean spirit to come out. The man collapsed and began thrashing violently on the floor like a fish out of water. His face was contorted like in such pain and then he suddenly calmed down. Like waking from a deep sleep, he opened his eyes and asked where he was. The whole room erupted with amazement that no one noticed the Nazarene had left quietly.” Chuckling to himself, “When I left I noticed my old colleagues, both scribes and Pharisees, arguing among themselves on what to make of all this.”

“Where is he now?”

“Oh, how foolish of me not to say right away! He has been staying in the house of a man called Simon Peter. I heard that the mother of his wife was with fever and this Jesus healed her. So, since yesterday, the house has been inundated, day and night, with all sorts of people bringing their sick.”

“Come! Let me change and then we will go to this house.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 5

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

After eight days, we traveled to Jerusalem to present our baby at the Temple as in tradition. It was there, we were met by a man named Simeon who said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.’ Then he told me that ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ [Luke 2:29-32 NASB]

“After the census was finished, people went home. Joseph’s family urged us to stay. So, we stayed. Jesus was over a year old, when we were visited by several disciples of Daniel known as Magi. They presented us with the gift of gold, francinsense and myre. That night, Joseph woke from a disturbing dream. He told us that an angel urged us to leave for our child was in danger. So, we left for Egypt. It was there we later heard what Herod had done. So, we stayed two more years until again an angel told Joseph it was safe to return. When we learned that the eldest son of Herod was to rule Judea, we chose to return to Nazareth.”

Then Mariam went silent. After a long while, Cornelius asked, “Would you tell me how I may find your son?”

She looked into his face for a very long time without uttering a word. Cornelius assumed she would not give that information to a soldier of Rome who could harm her son.

“He is in Capernaum.”

An hour out on the road, Cornelius was riding his horse next to the wagon.

“Ahem… Centurion?” It was the voice of Levi, the tax collector. “You have done a kind thing back there.”

“It is of no consequence.”

“No consequence, you say,” exclaimed Jacob. “You have, time after time, shown such consideration to my people of which you again risk retribution from your own people.”

“Ah yes…” Levi said. “I have heard talk of you among our people, even from those that hate me. You are gaining many friends in the city. It may be that if my people can accept you, a Gentile. Maybe they will be able to forgive me, a tax collector, and allow me back to worship the Lord in the synagogue. Oh… how I tire of this hated position.”

Cornelius did not say a word. He kicked his horse to a trot and rode ahead. He felt conflicted inside. In the back of his mind, he knew that part of his motives to show kindness was also to add to this myth so that he may do his task to protect the empire. But then hearing that incredible tale, his duty to do his task didn’t seem so important. But he shook his head and reminded himself that he is a Roman soldier with orders and a task to do. However, he wondered how he was going to report this.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 056

JORAM THE THIEF
33 AD – Miraculous Sight – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

They led him south of the village into the same small canyon where Joram hid from the Romans. They followed the well worn winding track passing several fenced out grave sites, a number of which had carved circular stones about three feet in diameter covering the openings. They reached the end of the trail that opened up into a wider enclosure where Simon’s clan maintained a garden. The garden was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high. There were several burial chambers carved out halfway up the canyon wall. Simon told Jesus that Lazarus was entombed inside the chamber of the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor.

Jesus climbed the steps to the ledge followed closely by Simon and Jesus followers.. The sobbing sisters also climbed the steps but stopped part way. Jesus placed his hand on the round stone and wept openly.

“See how He loved him!” Joram heard one of the Pharisees saying. But someone else also said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?” [v36,37]

Jesus took a step back and spoke to Peter and Andrew, “Roll the stone away.”

Martha gasped and said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” [v40] Mary’s head came up and looked on him with a desperate hope.

Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” [v41]

So, the two men positioned themselves on the right side of the stone. The round stone was resting in the bottom of its inclined groove carved into the rock. Grunting profusely, they rolled the heavy stone up the slight incline, revealing the small opening into the dark chamber. Except for Jesus, those on the ledge and steps as well as those gathered below the ledge covered the nose and mouth from the obvious smell of decay. They quickly retreated down the steps leaving Jesus alone on the ledge.

Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then he called out in a commanding voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” [v41-43]

The crowd was silent. When after a while nothing seem to be happening, some in the crowd started snickering. But then a woman gasped and with a trembling hand pointing, she said, “Look!”

Joram climbed the stone wall to look over everyone’s shoulder and get a better look inside of the tomb. At first, all he saw was pitch darkness until he could just make out some slight grayish movement deep inside. He felt the hairs on his back stand up and eyes grew wide. The crowd was startled with a few women screaming out loud as a bound hand came out of the darkness grasping the entrance wall. Jesus reached in, grasped the other hand and helped the struggling bound man out. It was Lazarus alive after four days in the tomb. He was wrapped from head to foot with linen wrappings. The bound wrappings were hardened and stiff from the herbal ointments applied when he was buried.

No one moved. Jesus, who was holding him up, called out to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” [v44]

It was the sisters that reacted first as they both rushed up the steps and embraced Lazarus. Other men rushed up to the ledge and started to tear at the hardened wrappers. His father handed his robe to cover his nakedness. He was still pretty weak, so they had to carry him down.

The people were amazed and were calling loud praises to God. Even those Jews who had laughed at him bowed their heads in respect when Jesus and his disciples walked by following the happy family.

Joram’s mind was reeling. He heard the stories but to witness what he just witnessed was mind boggling. He had to get to know Jesus more. Fortunately, he knew the exact person to make the introduction. He was in such in a light mood that he did not notice a squad of Roman soldiers waiting outside the canyon. When they spotted him, they pounced on him. He tried to struggle free but one of the soldiers hit his head and knocked him out.

When Joram woke up, his head was pounding. It was very dark. When he tried to stand he realized he had a heavy iron cufflinks on his ankle and he was chained to the floor. He heard a moan nearby.

“Who is there? Where am I?” He asked desperately in the dark.

“Stop your wailing! No one will come to help.”

“Where are we?”

“Where else! We are deep in the dungeons of the Praetorium.”

Joram’s mind reeled. The Praetorium is the Roman fortress that overlooks the Temple itself. There is only one way out from here for the likes of him; crucifixion.

Even in his dire situation, he only had one thought, ‘I will never see him again.’
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