THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch15 – part 2

GOING HEAD TO HEAD – JerusalemCG-book-cover-w

No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. Cornelius noted as the Pharisees walked away that the one called Nicodemus kept looking back at Jesus, and he wondered if maybe Jesus reached him. Sure enough, he did.

That night, like all the nights that Jesus spent in Jerusalem since the festival, they were in the house of Simon the former leper. Cornelius remembered Simon as the leper that he witnessed healed when Jesus gave that Sermon on the Mount last year. Simon’s house was in the village of Bethany, a rich community two miles south of Jerusalem. He had a son, his name is Lazarus and two daughters, Martha and Mary. As they finished their evening meals, a servant of the house announced the arrival of a visitor who wanted to see Jesus. It was Nicodemus. Jesus then asked if they can use one of the upper rooms. Simon nodded his head in the assent. He and Nicodemus started for the stairs. He also called Peter, James and John to follow. It was a long while until they came back down. Cornelius wondered what went on up there, but Nicodemus had a perplexed look about, like he wasn’t so sure about himself.
It was the day after the Sabbath. They were in the home of a rich merchant who invited Jesus and his followers for a noon day meal. The rich merchant was a friend of Nicodemus who was also expected to join them. Nicodemus rushed in to where they were all lounging around the dining table. He went to Jesus and told him of an impromptu meeting of the Pharisees that was held yesterday regarding an incident of him healing a blind man on the Sabbath.

Cornelius recalled what happened yesterday. They were walking through the City of David towards the south entrance of the Temple Mount when the disciples came upon a blind man begging for alms at the bottom of the wide marble steps. Inquiring about him, they discovered that he was born blind.

Some of them asked, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

As he said this, he bent down, spat on the dirt and made clay of the spittle; after which he applied it to the blind man’s eyes. Cornelius was intrigued for Jesus only had to speak and he would see but yet he was doing something different and unusual. Then Jesus told the blind man to go to the pool of Siloam and wash the mud away and he will see. That was the last time they saw him.

“The Sanhedrin was summoned to the hall of meeting, but we knew not why,” Nicodemus said. “As I entered and took my place, Gamaliel, the head of our section, was already questioning this man. He asked how he received his sight. The young man who was excitedly joyful spoke of how you applied clay to his eyes and told him to wash it away and then he can see.

“But a number of my colleagues started to protest, ‘This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ While others were saying, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ I tell you that there is division among us over you.

“Then Gamaliel called the assembly to order and asked the young man about what he says about you, since you opened his eyes. And he said, ‘You are a prophet.’ Now some in the gallery started to accuse him that he was never really blind and that this was a trick. So, they summoned his parents.

“So, when they entered the assembly room, they looked fearful; for the word had gone out that anyone who publicly support you as the Messiah will be put out of the synagogues.

Gamaliel questioned them, saying, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?’ His parents answered that he was their son and that he was born blind. But at how he is able to see, they could not say.

“The assembly was divided and could not agree on what action they were to take against you. So, Gamaliel told the young man, ‘Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.’

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 067

SIMON THE LEPER
33 AD – The Day of the Lord – Mount of Olives, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

“There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

Then Jesus’ face turned somber.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Simon felt disturbed and by the expressions on the disciples’ faces, they were feeling it too. Then Jesus stood and looked toward that Temple and said, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ as spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.”

He sat again and his eyes were teary.

“How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘ the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. ‘

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” [Matthew 24:4-35]

Then Jesus stood, as well as everyone else and started the long trek back to Bethany. When they reached Simon’s house, it was an hour past sunset. After the evening meal, it was Philipp again who broached the question that was in their minds.

“Master, when the end comes, will we know or recognize that time?”

“About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 24:36-51]

When Simon retired to bed, the Lord’s words weighed heavily in his mind. Just as his eyes closed, he knew that much preparations for the future required his attention.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 060

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Late in the afternoon, Simon’s household and guests gathered again for the final meal of the Sabbath. As Mary watched Jesus conversing and laughing with her father, brother and the others around their table, she longed to do something special for him.

“Mary, you are in love with him,” whispered Mariam. “I see it every time you watch my son.”

“I do love him, Mariam. But I know he has a task to do and that I… ah, I…” She could not finish her thought. She sighed inside. “What can I do for him?”

“Let the Lord Almighty guide you, Mary.”

Mary closed her eyes and before she could phrase a petition, the image of the alabaster perfume vial popped into her mind. She wasn’t sure what to make of it until the story of Samuel anointing David with essence oil also came to mind. Her eyes opened wide with understanding. She sprung up to her feet, surprising the women of her table. She quickly dashed out of the dining room followed by some of her companions who were confused by her abrupt action.

“Where are you going, Mary?” Joanne asked.

Mary explained what she intended. Joanne and the others nodded with enthusiasm. Mary went in and retrieved the bottle. When she returned to the dining room, she found that Jesus was lounging on his side talking to her father, Simon and Lazarus. She paused just at the threshold hesitating. She looks down at her hands, at the slender white alabaster jar with the golden stopper. Taking a deep breath, she then walked over to Jesus caressing the jar over her heart.

The whole room quieted down as she nervously approached where Jesus lounged. She looks down and no words were exchanged. Jesus nodded ever so slightly to her. She was encouraged. She gracefully knelt and unstoppered the jar. The aromatic perfume filled the room. It had that distinctive aroma of pure nard. She poured some on his head and her fingers gently combed it into his hair. The other women then sounded a wavering, high-pitched tongue sound which they do as a sign of honor and celebration. Mary then poured some on Jesus’ feet and used her long hair to gently wipe them.

Abruptly, Judas Iscariot stood up quite indignantly speaking out loud.

“What is this waste? We could have sold this perfume for three hundred denarii and used the money to feed a multitude of poor.”

“Let her alone. Why do you bother her so?” Jesus said calmly. “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Mary has done a good deed to me. For when she poured this perfume on me, she was preparing me for burial. I tell you all the truth that wherever this gospel is preached in the world, what she did for me will be spoken of in memory of her.” [Matthew 26:8-13; John 12:4-8]

That night, Mary and some of the women were summoned to meet him at roof deck. He asked them to join him next to a hot brazier to fend off the chill in the air.

“My sisters, in the morn, I will go to the Temple for the week long Passover Feast. Much will happen that will cause much tears. You must hold on to your faith.”

The women wanted to ask more but Jesus would not say more. They spent the next hour in prayer and singing some Psalms. When they were leaving, Jesus asked Mary to stay.

“Mary, I have a favor to ask. I would appreciate it, if you would stay with my mother during this week. She will be staying with kin in the old part of the city. She will need your strength.”

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 059

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

The next day, Mary found Jesus happily telling stories to a group of laughing children of the neighbors. He was relating to them a tale of a proud camel trying to squeeze through an eye of an needle at the end of which, Mary could not help but join them in both gleeful laughter and applause. Then, Simon Peter entered with Judas Iscariot in tow.

“Master, there are guests waiting for you,” said Judas. By his tone, Mary heard a little irritation. In her heart, she knows she should not judge, however there is something about Judas that makes her wary. But then again, Jesus chose him to be one of the Twelve… so, what does she know.

“Lord, I know you love children, but I have to agree with Judas.” It was Peter speaking this time, a little sheepishly. Mary smiled inside and knew what was coming.

Jesus was smiling as well. He called for a young boy to stand by his side. He then tilted his face up at the hulking figure of Peter. He got the hint.

“Yes, Lord, I remember the lesson,” Peter said quietly. But when he saw that Jesus was waiting for more, he continued on like a school boy made to give a recital. ‘Unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in your name welcomes you, Lord.’ ” [Matthew 18:1–5]

Jesus smiled some more but gestured that there was more.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in you—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” [Matthew 18:6–7]

Mary was trying not to smile too widely.

Jesus fondly sent the children away. Then he followed Peter and Judas in.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 058

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Mary was awakened by a light rap at the door. Out the window, it was still dark. She quietly got up, careful not to wake her companions who shared her room. When she opened the door, flickering light streamed in from an oil lamp held by Joanne. Mary smiled at Joanne and another woman who came with Miriam, Jesus’ mother.

They went down to the back of the house, crossed the courtyard to the single story structure used as the kitchen. There was light showing in the windows. Mary smelled roasting meat in the air which she knew was started in the wee hours. Entering the kitchen, they found Martha and a servant working.

When Martha raised her eyes, she was surprised to see her sister. Mary went to her and kissed her in greeting. Martha looked at her. No words were exchanged. She smiled.

Mary and the others washed their hands. Then, they went to the work table to mix and knead dough. Joanne was forming rows of long rolls of dough. Mary would take two rolls and meticulously weave them into a braided loaf. As a little girl, her father had told her that the braided loaf was to remind them how God provided a double portion of manna that miraculously appeared to their ancestors during their 40 years in the wilderness. Every morning for five days each family would go out to gather the wafer bread befitting each family’s needs. But on the sixth day, they were instructed to gather a double portion. God did this so that the people would not violate the Law that during the Sabbath no Israelite would labor.

Then the loaves would go into one of the three stone ovens outside the kitchen. Mary and the women labored throughout the morning preparing the food for over thirty people. By the time the sun reached it zenith, Martha gave warning that the Sabbath was almost upon them. All the food had to be laid out on the tables and to help them out, Jesus with twelve others came to the kitchen and started to carry platters full of food into the house. This gave Mary and the others to rush up to their rooms to tidy up.

As Mary was tying up her into a bun, she espied at the far end of her vanity among a variety of bottles, a tiny alabaster cylindrical bottle with an intricate carving of a cluster of grapes hanging off a vine. She recognized it as the perfume vial that her father gave as a surprise gift just before he had to exile himself from them because of leprosy. That was ten years ago.

She reached for it. It was still sealed with beeswax. She shook it and was delighted that the aromatic contents did not dry out. She was about to break the seal, but then she hesitated for some reason. In her mind, she imagined a voice telling her, ‘not just yet’. She shrugged her shoulders and placed the bottle back on her vanity.

The Sabbath was celebrated on the seventh day starting with the evening meal of the sixth. Her father started it with the traditional uttering of the blessing. He gave a blessing of thanksgiving for the land and its bounty, and for Lord’s goodness in feeding of family, the guests and all creatures.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 057

JOANNE THE HONORABLE WIFE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

It had been a month since they all had witnessed Lazarus, dead for four days, being brought back to life by Jesus. The great city and the surrounding environs are still talking about it. Joanne who had been staying in the house of young Mary’s family in Bethany is standing on the front stoop expectantly waiting for her husband who had sent a message of his arrival from Herod’s palace in Perea.

Then, the gate bell was rung and a servant goes to open the gates. Chuza enters followed by two porters. Joanne went to him and greeted him.

“Is he here?” asked Chuza

“No… not yet,” said Joanne. “What is wrong?”

” I have news concerning him.”

Then she heard the front doors open. She glanced back to find Simon coming out followed by Martha and Lazarus.

“Welcome to our home, Chuza, high chamberlain of Herod Antipas.”

“Peace be upon this house,” said Chuza, giving the traditional greeting.

“And peace be upon you.” Simon returned.

“I have been an admirer of your business exploits for sometime now,” said Chuza. “When I heard that my wife Joanne was here staying with you, I was delighted.”

“The Lord had been generous,” Simon said contemplatively. “Please… come inside.”

Just inside the antechamber, a servant waited holding a towel, a jar of water and an empty basin. Chuza ritually removed his sandals while the servant laid the basin before him. Chuza hiked up his robe and hovered his right foot over the basin. The servant was about to pour water but Joanne stopped him. He passed the towel and jar to her. She gets down to her knees and pours water on his foot. She wiped his foot with the towel and then repeated the process on his other foot. When she stood up, she found Chuza looking at her with a surprised look.
An hour later, Jesus and his entourage arrived. When they were all settled, Joanne went to Simon Peter and asked if she can meet with Jesus. After the evening meal, they gathered privately. In the room was Simon, Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, John, Chuza and herself.

“Rabbi, several members of the Sanhedrin and from the priesthood arrived at the fortress of Machaerus some days ago. They met with Antipas with a message from the High Priest. I was not there on the initial meeting but when I was summoned, I came upon in the middle of them plotting to have you seized and put to death.

“They fear of your influence on the people… losing their place of respect and honor among them. They spoke of the people declaring you king and there would be outright revolt against the Romans and even themselves.

“They have set watch for you at the upcoming Passover Festival. They dare not arrest you in the open. So, they seek an opportune time. They have even placed out a reward for your betrayal.”

After the meeting, Simon Peter had sent John and another disciple to Jerusalem. John was related to the family of the High Priest. It was hoped that he could gather more news of their plot. Joanne did note that though Simon Peter and the others showed a deep concern, Jesus reflected a calm demeanor.

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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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