THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 3

THE SIGN – Wilderness East of the Lake of GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Jesus raised his hand and everyone went silent. “Do you know what I see?” Everyone seemed to lean toward him in anticipation. In a quiet voice, he said, “Sheep with no shepherd.” Then he slowly walked back to the encampment.

The disciples were whispering among themselves as they followed Jesus back to the encampment. Then from the farthest group an excited buzz was quickly spreading among the followers. Cornelius started to hear snatches of what was being spread around: ‘Will he claim himself King of Israel?’

Cestus, who was looking somewhat confused, asked Jacob, “I do not understand the excitement? What is the meaning behind his words, ‘sheep with no shepherd’?”

Jacob explained, “In our holy Scriptures, it is written that when the nation of Israel was wandering the wilderness for forty years and the Prophet Moses who was very old went to God and pleaded that He appoint a man over the congregation, who will lead them to the promised land, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd. It is also written that the Prophet Micaiah, during the time when Israel was divided, spoke unto King Jehoshaphat that he saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd. He was speaking about the northern tribes of Israel who was then ruled by the apostate King Ahab.”

Cornelius interjected, “Do these people think that Jesus was making a claim to be king?”

“It is the hope that the Messiah would take up his rightful place as ruler. If he openly declares himself Messiah, then the people will rally around him.” Jacob paused in his thinking. “But I do not think he will make that claim and there are people here who know it! They are abiding their time. Waiting… for a sign… a big miracle…”

Cornelius finished his thought and said, “… for them to force the issue and declare him king whether he liked it or not. This is what I fear.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Jesus and his twelve disciples went among the people. He preached about the kingdom of heaven again in parables. As he moved among them, he would often pause to comfort the sick and the infirm. Most of that time, they were so happy to be just around him that when he walked away they were not even aware that they were healed. He laughed with them and cried with them. In a deep gully between two hills, Jesus came upon ten weary lepers who took refuge in it away from the taunts of the masses. The crowd was dismayed when he, closely followed by Peter, John and James went down into the gully to speak to them. He approached them until he was among them. Words could not be heard for Jesus was speaking to them quietly. When he climbed out of the gully what followed him were not ten decrepit men with skin eating disease but whole men.

The next day was pretty much the same.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 2

THE SIGN – Wilderness East of the Lake of GalileeCG-book-cover-w

The patchy sail was drawing well on a westerly breeze. The inland sea was not too choppy and the sky was slightly overcast. The boat was an old one and double the price of its original value. Cornelius was at first speculatively concerned about a growing pool of water along its transom even after Jacob’s assurance that all boats leak. But seeing that it was manageable with Trax bailing the water out every so often, Cornelius forgot his initial nervousness. Cestus was on the tiller and quite adept in handling a boat since he grew up in a fishing village. He chose two other men, Nacob, the Syrian and Lyca, the Cypran.

It was around noon when they reached the eastern shore. There were six other boats drawn up on the pebbly beach. Cornelius was amazed of what he could only describe as a multitude which has gathered with more still coming.

After working their way through the throng, Cornelius found Jesus on the tallest hill surrounded by his closest followers. As they came closer, it was Jesus who came forward to greet them. Though some faces showed disapproval.

“Welcome my friends.” Jesus said.

Cornelius took a step closer. “Teacher, I have grave news. John the Baptist is dead!”

“Yes, I know. His followers came to me yesterday. Be not concerned, Cornelius. His death was not in vain.”

“Teacher! All these people…?”

“Yes! I came here to be with my disciples in solitude and to ask of my Father in heaven of his will. When we arrived many have already gathered. I received my answer.”

Then Jacob asked, “Rabbi? What is the answer?”

Jesus turned to Jacob, “Do you not see?”

Jesus then beckoned them all to follow him to a ridge where they can see the hills and valleys covered with milling people. Cornelius calculated that there may be about eight even ten thousand people that have gathered.

“What do you see?”

A number of his followers called out their answers, “a multitude…”; “a nation…”; “followers of Jesus…”; and so on. Cornelius even heard someone, a Zealot, more than likely, call out “…an army for God!”

Jesus raised his hand and everyone went silent. “Do you know what I see?” Everyone seemed to lean toward him in anticipation. In a quiet voice, he said, “Sheep with no shepherd.” Then he slowly walked back to the encampment.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 1

THE SIGN – Wilderness East of the Lake of GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“Where is Jesus now?” Cornelius asked as he walked into his house after some hard riding.

Jacob goes to the table and pulls out the map of Galilee. “A great number of people seem to be heading to this part here.” Jacob circles an area south-east of Bethsaida. “I remember that area as a boy. From the lake shore up, it is quite hilly. Hardly any trees, mostly dried brown grass especially at this time of the year.”

Cornelius studied the map. “Too far to walk and if we are to be incognito we cannot bring horses. Did you say that Jesus has been going back and forth across the lake lately?”

“Yes,” said Jacob. Then he knowingly looked up at Cornelius. “We need a boat!”
Cornelius called for Cestus. A minute later, Cestus marched in and snapped to attention. “Sir!”

Cornelius hands a bag of coins, “Go to town and acquire us a boat. Bring two of our men who know how to handle it. We leave in two hours!” Cestus left.

“Well, I better pack some things.” Jacob gets up but then he pauses and peered toward a curtained off alcove.

Cornelius followed his gaze and noticed a slight movement on the curtain. He looked down and could just make out little dirty toes just sticking out.

Cornelius humorously ask, “What are we to do with young Trax? Hmmm?”

“Oh, I think we should leave him behind,” Jacob joins the jest. “He will be a troublesome handful in the boat!” They heard an obvious groan behind the curtain.

Jacob quickly pulls the curtain aside to reveal a startled Trax. “Behold,” Jacob exaggerates. “A spy among us!” They both laughed at Trax’s concerned face.

“How can we leave behind such a resourceful spy?” Cornelius laughingly declares.

Trax’s face quickly brightens. “I can come!”

“Come,” Jacob leads the lad toward the other room. “We have much to pack.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 8

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius knew all too well what was really at stake. Herod Antipas have friends in Tiberius Caesar’s court. Pilate, though still supported by the emperor, received communication from him of his displeasure regarding the aqueduct project in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate plans to bring water into the city using Roman engineering as a way to better the relationship between Rome and the Jews had an opposite effect. Pilate had used the Temple tax revenue to finance it. The Jewish leadership was in an uproar. Herod saw his opportunity to try to regain the governorship of Judea. With his help, the Jewish leadership sent communique through those in court that were no friends of Pilate. This incident opened up Pandora’s box for Pontus Pilate. The Jews have gained a political advantage over him which is causing him to tread lightly.

“I have decided to grant you a leave of absence. I am in agreement of your assessments in regards to this other preacher and miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth. His large followings cannot be ignored. Though, as you have reported, he has no political ambitions, yet his activities do provide tremendous political advantage for those who would exploit it. Centurion, I do not want to be caught unaware. You, at least, are already known to him. You will follow him closely. If there is any indication that this preacher will be used to bolster a revolt, you will report back to me. Tribune Arturos will fill in the other details. Now, before your misplaced sense of fairness gets the better of you, Centurion, I think it best that you leave here now. Dismissed!”

Cornelius snapped to attention, saluted and made a sharp about face. As he and the tribune were about to walk out, two household guards entered. One was carrying a tray with a covered bundle and trailing behind him were droplets of blood. Cornelius need not stare for he knew what it was. His professionalism maintained a passive appearance as they marched out of the ballroom. But in his mind, he voiced to the heavens, ‘I am sorry, my friend.’

“Cornelius, the governor will be going down to the coastal city of Caesarea to oversee the final phase of the construction of our military port. Flavius and the whole cohort will be garrisoned there sometime this month. In two months from now, the governor will be in Jerusalem for this big Jewish celebration… Passover, I think… Security is going to be very tight for us, there. I hear that the whole country will be congregating there for at least two weeks.” Arturos motioned to stop just under the big palace doors. “You will be on your own. You better keep some men with you.”

“Cestus and six others is all I will need. I will also still use the Capernaum house as my base of operation.”

“Then, it is settled,” Arturos smiled. “I was worried back there for a moment, Centurion. I would hate to lose such an able loyal soldier as yourself and… a good mentor and friend.”

Both men laughed and grasped each other’s right forearms. Then Cornelius descended the short flight of stairs and was about to mount his steed when a woman’s voice called out to him. He turned to see Pheobe run past an amused Arturos. He met her at the bottom of the stone steps.

“The Lady Procula sent me to give you this!” She hands over a small but heavy bag of coins. Pheobe leans close to whisper, “She says to use this in any way you feel fit to help the Nazarene. For myself, I hope to see you again soon.” She places her hand on his arm. “Please take care!” Then she turns and walks back up the steps and stood by an already beaming Arturos.

When Cornelius mounted his horse, Flavius hands the reins over to him with a mirthful smile. As Cornelius rode out into the night, followed by Cestus and six others, Cornelius could not help but smile in the darkness.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 7

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

Reluctantly, Pilate addressed Herod about this matter. “My lord Antipas, may I have a word with you?”

“Certainly, my dear governor,” Herod said as he lead Pilate to a quieter alcove for a private talk.

Cornelius and Tribune Arturos took their position not far from the governor.

“My dear Antipas, I was hoping to broach this subject of the Baptist with you. Would it not be prudent for you to hand him over to us? There are some among my… ahem… officials that are quite interested in interrogating this John the Baptist further.”

“Alas. It is out of my hands,” responded Herod. “I have given my vow that she may have anything in my power to give. It is regrettable but culture and tradition dictates that I must fulfill my vow.”

When Pilate returned to his divan, shaking his head negatively, Procula coldly stood and left the party followed by Pheobe and a number of ladies. Pheobe looked back to Cornelius with a wave.

Cornelius seethe with the thought that a righteous man… a prophet of God… and a friend would lose his life needlessly. With no plan formed in his mind, he started moving purposely toward the exit with his hand tightly grasping his sheathed sword.

“Centurion!” Cornelius halted and turned to find that it was the governor who called him. “Come! Attend to me.”

“Sir!” Cornelius snapped to attention. Then he followed the governor and the tribune out to the same balcony where he talked with Pheobe.

“I think it best that you stay standing at attention, Centurion.”

“Sir!”

Pilate circled him with amusement.

“I wonder, Centurion, how you would have fared against Herod’s hired guards if you did manage to stop the execution in time?” Pilate then sat at a bench looking at him up and down. “Yes. I think you would do well, for a time by yourself. I would even venture to speculate that the men you commanded outside would not think twice to mutiny and come to your aid. But then, what would that have left me? Mmmm…? A renegade cohort… outlawed… hiring yourselves out as mercenaries… No, Centurion. I cannot spare you. At ease, Centurion.”

Cornelius relaxed his posture but kept looking forward.

“Besides, how would I explain this to your father?” Cornelius questioningly gazed down at Pilate. “Oh, yes. I know your father. He wrote me sometime back that you were with the Italian contingent. He as well as your commander had appraised me on your strong sense of fair play. This has served you well, so far. But I have to rein you in, this time. As much as you would like to save the life of that desert preacher,” Pilate raised his hand for silence as Cornelius was about to object. “I am sure he is innocent, but I have to consider the bigger picture. This region is too volatile. Herod and I, at least, must have the appearance of a unified front.”

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 069

DEMACLI THE LEGION DEMONIAC
33 AD – The Last Supper – Jerusalem, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

“Demacli, look!” Elpida relunctantly disturbed him. When he stood, she pointed toward the western gate. “Those two men walking to the gate. I recognize one of them.”

Demacli easily spotted the two men she was pointing at. They were struggling against the flow of people coming through the western gate. He recognized both of them to be members of the chosen Twelve. One of them was named Philip.

Demacli and the other Greeks headed toward the western gates. With the crowd impeding their progress, it took some minutes to reach the gates, but by that time, the two disciples had already gone down the western stairs. They pursued after them. When they reached the bottom of the Temple Mount, they came upon a wide plaza. Demacli looked left and right but could not see them. The left was the city perimeter wall, a dead end. To the right, across a deep gully was an entire city of tightly clustered houses against a steep slope.

Demacli was not liking the idea of getting lost in there. He then looked straight ahead and saw another part of the city that was closer. His wife told him that it was named the City of David. The structures were grander there than those houses at the east. He decided to take the chance and headed toward it.

As they entered the city’s porticos, his choice to come this way was rewarded when he saw Philip talking to another before a three story structure. He approached the disciple by himself.

“Sir,” Demacli said bowing to him, “we… that is, we are Greeks from the free cities, would like to see Jesus.”

Philip looked at him curiously.

“You do not recognize me, do you, sir?”

“Of course! Now, I recall,” Philip said.

“A group of us from Hippus have come in search of him.”

Philip looked up at the building then smiled and said, “Well, your timing is not fortuitous. For this is the time of the Passover Meal. You wait down here while I go up and ask.”

Demacli watched Philip disappear into the house. Several minutes had past when Philip reappeared at the double doors of the house and happily gestured for all of them to enter.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 068

DEMACLI THE LEGION DEMONIAC
33 AD – The Last Supper – Jerusalem, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

This was his first time in Jerusalem. The city was larger than any in the Decapolis. Demacli and his newlywed bride, Elpida were captivated by this sprawling metropolis. He, Elpida and four others traveled here from their own city of Hippus, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. It took them three days to cross the great lake, traverse through Galilee, the Samaritan territory, the northern escarpments of the Judean highlands until eventually they crested over a hill and there was Jerusalem. They came to find Jesus of Nazareth. But they were strangers in the city and knew not where to find him.

“I did not expect this many people,” Demacli said. “How will we find him in this bustling city?”

“It is their most important holy feasts,” Elpida explained. “I have been here before. Every year, Hebrews from all over come here to congregate up there.” She pointed up to the Temple Mount which towered over the city. “If we are to find the Son of David, we surely will find him there.”

After they settled in a house of a Greek trader, an associate of Demacli’s father, they went up to the Temple Mount. They went in through the western gates. If Demacli was impressed about the size of the city, he was even more impressed when they entered the Temple court.

“This is the Court of Nations,” Elpida said.

“And you said we are only allowed here?” asked one of their companions.

“Yes,” she acknowledged. Then she pointed to the tall gleaming structure at the center of the vast courtyard. “That is the Temple where the sacrifices are offered. Only Jews are allowed in.”

“What is this Passover celebration all about?” asked Demacli.

“It’s in their history, back when they were under the enslavement of Egypt,” Elpida said. “It was more than a thousand years ago. According to what I heard, their God sent a man named Moses to go to Pharaoh and demanded their freedom. When the Pharaoh refused, God sent ten plagues to change his mind. The tenth plague was so devastating, that Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go.”

“But why is it called the Passover?”

“Well, you see, the tenth plague was that death will come upon all the first born of Egypt. But to protect the first born of Israel, God commanded that every family kill a male lamb and put its blood on the door frame.”

“Why?”

“So that, when the Angel of Death came upon Egypt and found a door smeared with the blood of a lamb, he passed over that house, sparing the first born of that house. The Angel of Death took a great toll of Egypt that distant night and only Israel was saved. To commemorate it, God commanded the people to celebrate annually the Passover Feast.”

“You know wife, your stories of the history of these people are opening my eyes even more. What I always appreciate more is how much you know about them,” Demacli said to his wife who smiled back warmly.

Looking at her fondly, he considered himself quite lucky… no, he corrected himself… since he met Jesus, he stopped believing in luck. The word that came to mind is ‘blessed’… yes, that is the right word. Marrying Elpida was a gift that he knew he truly did not deserve. He faced the Temple, went down on his knees and bowed his head to the ground whispering, “Thank you, Lord God.”

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