THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 5

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

After the lavish food was served, the guest clustered themselves to their own private fellowship either in whispered conversations or laughing out loud merriments; at the same time, being entertained by two pairs of half naked black skin Nubians wildly dancing to rhythmic drum beats. Cornelius retreated to the open balcony where he continued to formulate his arguments to convince the governor.

“Ah! There you be, Centurion.”

Cornelius turned to find the Lady Procula approaching with that pretty young woman in tow.

“My Lady, how may I be of service to you?”

“Oh, no Centurion, it is I who is to be of service to you.” Turning to the young woman at her side, she exclaimed in mirth, “this lovely child had boldly requested to be reacquainted with yourself in regards to a marriage proposal promised her by you.”

Both women laughed mirthfully at the confused expression of Cornelius’ face.

“Be at peace, Centurion, for I am in jest… though I fear that there may be some truth in this marriage proposal. I will let this child explain. Mmmm?” She walks away chuckling.

Still confused and somewhat perplexed, Cornelius and young woman stood there watching each other. Uncomfortably, Cornelius broke the silence.

“I am afraid I am in a disadvantage, my lady. You seem to know me but I…”

“Ah, Cornelius, since you seem to have forgotten me, then I should not rely on you remembering your promise to marry me either, now that we are older!”

Amused by Cornelius’ confusion, she goes on teasingly, “Maybe, this will help… in a garden, under an old willow tree at my father’s estate in Athens.”

Recognition lit up Cornelius’ eyes, as he grasped her hand, “Pheobe!? Is it really you? You must forgive an old friend for not recognizing you immediately when my last memory of you was that of a mischievous little girl who helped me steal sweets from the kitchen.”

“So you remember me after all,” laughed Pheobe.

“How is your father?” asked Cornelius.

“He is well. And your father?”

“He, too, is in good health, thank the… the Lord. He still keeps up with news in the Senate, despite having retired from being magistrate. How do you come to be here in Palestine?”

“My father is a distant cousin of the Lady Procula, and he thought it would be a good idea for me to learn the basics of managing a household from her. So I accompanied her and her husband here as a companion,” replied Pheobe. “Congratulations on your various victories abroad. I… that is, my father has followed your career as best he could,” she said shyly. “Is Jacob still with you? I remember he had the most wonderful stories about his god,” asked Pheobe.

“Yes, he is still with me, especially now that he has a chance to come back to his homeland after all these years,” answered Cornelius.

Their conversation went on about family and the past. Then they were interrupted by a sudden loud cheering in the main room.

“The entertainment seems to have livened up,” murmured Cornelius. “Shall we go in to watch?”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 4

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

Cornelius rushed back up two levels and when he reached the gate yard, he took his place by Tribune Arturos. He saw that Herod Antipas and his court waiting somewhat impatiently at the top of the stairs before the large palace doors. Then the trumpets on the gate towers blared out again just as the governor rode in on a majestic white steed in full regalia. Cornelius noted that instead of wearing the traditional helmet with its golden feathered plumes, Pontus Pilate wore golden laurels like that of the Greeks. He suspects that this was meant to remind Herod of who were the conquerors. And by the look of Herod’s face, he got the message. But he quickly put a smile on his face and went down the steps as Pontus Pilate was dismounting.

“Hail, Pontus Pilate! You honor my house.”

“Hail, Tetrarch! It is I who is honored by your invitation to this celebration of your birth. Ah, here is my wife.” Pilate walked over to one of the covered carriages that followed the entourage in. A servant opened the door revealing a tall woman elegantly waiting for Pilate to help her down. “My wife, Procula,” he introduced as he helped her down.

The pleasantries continued as Herod lead them up to where the rest of his court awaited. But Cornelius paid no more attention to them for his gaze fell upon a young woman who alighted from the carriage just after the governor’s wife. Her hair was auburn which flowed down to her shoulders. Her face was elfin with deep brown eyes and rosy cheeks. She briefly gazed his way and ever so slightly awarded him with a knowing smile. He felt that he should know her but could not recall where or when. As the whole entourage entered the palace, Arturos had to nudge Cornelius to follow him in.

They entered through the palace doors following the entourage through the grand foyer into the great hall where the rest of Herod’s guests awaited them. Cornelius noted that except for some of Herod’s court, there were few Jews among the guests. Herod led Pilate and his wife to the head table. Cornelius and Arturos moved to one of the open porticoes that led to a balcony overlooking the city. After they were served drinks, Cornelius told him his plan to approach Pilate to request for the Baptist’s release.

“Now, that is interesting,” mused Arturos, “for the Lady Procula had also shown interest in his release. She, like yourself, is very much interested in the mysticism of the Jewish religion. As I heard, the governor general was not too pleased on her request to have him seek a favor of the Tetrarch. It may not be a wise thing to ask him of this at this time.”

“Tribune, I have to try.”

Arturos sighed dramatically, “How is it that I knew you were going to insist? I hope you can provide the governor with a legitimate and profitable reason to ask for this boon.”

“Well, I was going to convince him that the release of the Baptist would greatly benefit the governor’s standing to the populace. Also because I have developed a rapport with the Baptist, he would be a valuable intelligence asset to a tight group of Jewish fanatics who habituate the Dead Sea wilderness region. They are the ones that call themselves the Essenes. These religious fanatics has a clear mandate that when the right spiritual leader rises, they will be the tinder that light up the brand of all out revolution.”

“We will have to see.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 3

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

The prison guard opened the cell door and Cornelius found John as before calmly waiting for him.

“Peace be with you, Cornelius. It is good to see you again.”

“I must beg your forgiveness. For I have sought the one of whom we spoke and neglected to see to your release.”

“That as it should be,” smiled the Baptist.

Then there was a knock at the door and one of his disciples peered in and said, “Your messenger has returned, master.”

“Let him enter.” Seeing that the messenger hesitated when he saw Cornelius, John said, “Do not fear. What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ ” [Luke 7:22]
Clearly, Cornelius knew who sent the message. John the Baptist bowed his head in a moment of silence and then lifted his head high with a knowing smile. Then he looked at Cornelius and said, “Again, that is as it should be. My task is done. Soon, I shall go to be with my fathers.”

“What talk is this? I have come to secure your release. This night during the celebration I shall persuade the governor to request a boon from Herod Antipas of which he cannot refuse.”

“Nay, Centurion. My task is completed. I must diminish so as not to take away what is rightfully his.”

Then Cornelius could hear faint trumpets blaring through the small dungeon windows.

“The governor is arriving. I must go. When we next see each other you will be free.”

“You will see me, but not as you expect. Farewell!”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 2

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

It took them two days of hard riding to reach Herod’s fortress city in Perea. From Capernaum they followed the western shore of the great lake until they reached where the Jordan River again flowed south. They forded the river at the headlands just above the swampy delta of the Jordan. They then rode up to top of a ridge plateau and followed a caravan road for another fifteen miles before they made a short night camp over. Just as the morning sky started to pale, they broke camp. The caravan road went south skirting the rough ridges of the Perean highlands always looking down the winding Jordan River. The road was busy with slow Jewish traffic on their way to Jerusalem. The road finally descended unto a valley where if you wanted to continue on to Jerusalem, you ride west and ford the Jordan. But their destination is south.

The Tribune halted the unit just before they descended the ridge. From their vantage point, Cornelius can see where the Jordan spilled into what he surmised can only be the sunken salt lake. They say that this salten body of water is way lower than the Mediterranean and that the salt content is so high that a grown man in full armor will float and not sink. East of the elongated salten lake is another series of mountain ranges going all the way down to the Red Sea. Cornelius noted two high mountain peaks. The tallest must be Nebu where God allowed Moses to cast his eyes upon the Promised Land. The other peak must be Pisgah where, according to legend, the angels buried the body of Moses and as of today no one has still been able to find. Their route is to skirt the western sides of those peaks and follow a winding road with the salten lake on their right. They were suppose to ride another fifteen miles until they reach a small walled city below a fortress on a high ridge.

Some hours later, Arturos and Cornelius rode through the gates of Herod’s palace stronghold. The first thing he noticed was that Flavius was there with forty men of their unit standing at attention with their newly shined helmets and armor.

Cornelius handed the reins of his horse to Cestus who also took the Tribune’s. As they greetingly grasped their forearms, Flavius said, “You arrival is most fortuitous. For the governor and his entourage is only forty five minutes away.”

“Good! That gives me some time.” Cornelius turns to Arturos, “Tribune? With your permission, I have to attend to something.”

“Very well, but do not take too long.”

After gaining permission from Herod’s chamberlain, the brought Cornelius down to the dungeons. Upon entering the level where the Baptist is held, he saw that the same two disciples were there. But instead of being wary of him, they greeted him. The prison guard opened the cell door and Cornelius found John as before calmly waiting for him.

“Peace be with you, Cornelius. It is good to see you again.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 1

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

It had been several weeks since Cornelius had his late night meeting with Jesus. He had been informed that Jesus had again gone through out the villages in Galilee preaching. He even heard a story in the synagogue that he and his disciples were seen getting into a boat and headed for the eastern shore of the inland sea probably towards the Decapolis, the ten cities of Greek descent since the time of Alexander the Great. It was night fall and the winds from the north picked up making the sea dangerously choppy. Cornelius could well imagine the dangers of going out on the lake in a boat, though sturdy, was overloaded with men under those conditions. They would have to fight strong winds with oars rigged for only two men to use at a time; any sail they put up would be ripped to shreds. Navigating in the darkness would be next to impossible. They could be rowing in circles and not know it. But the greatest danger is being swamped by ten to fifteen feet swells compounded by the rain storm that tend to follow the northerly winds. Bailing water would be an exercise of futility. As the story went, the storm was incredible as it raged across the inland sea. No boat could stay afloat out there. The witnesses expected to find dead floating bodies by morning. Those that saw Jesus get into that boat despaired, but then as quickly as the storm rolled in, it all suddenly subsided. It was something that they have never seen. A few days later, Jesus and his disciples were at the market square of Capernaum where he cast out a demon from a man who could not speak. That was three weeks ago.

Since that meeting with Jesus, Cornelius had read and re-read the Prophet Isaiah’s thick manuscript searching what the Messiah’s task was to be. With the help of Jacob, they have managed to divide the manuscript into three parts. The first part which consisted of the first half of Isaiah was mostly prophecies of condemnation against Judah and of the surrounding nations. The third part, which was almost as thick as the first part, were mostly prophecies depicting Israel’s glorious future. What fixed Cornelius’ attention was the second part, found in the middle of the manuscript; the beginning of which was a historical reference of the Assyrian invasion of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah. This was what Jesus was referring to when he said, ‘Seek out the answer in the one who was my Father’s mouth in the last days of Hezekiah.’ Cornelius compared it to the collected chronicles of the kings of Judah where he found the last accounts of King Hezekiah. Word for word both passages in Isaiah and the chronicles were almost the same. It was like the prophet had intentionally put these passages in as a red flag wanting the reader to pause and slow down to pay attention to what came next.

Sure enough, early in the passages, Cornelius found the verse that John the Baptist used to describe himself as the forerunner for the Messiah.

“A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’ ”

Cornelius made a mental note to see him as soon as possible. Cornelius felt guilty that he has yet made an attempt to have the Baptist released from Herod Antipas’ dungeons. He had received a message from Tribune Arturos yesterday to expect his arrival today. This may be his opportunity to ask him for his help. Then he heard a shout down at the courtyard, “riders approaching!” Closing his books, he went down the stairs and out the door just as Arturos rode into the courtyard. A contingent of cavalrymen waited outside still mounted.

“Hail Tribune!” greeted Cornelius.

“Greetings, Cornelius!” Arturos dismounted. “As of now, your… ahem… demotion had been rescinded by order of the Governing General, Pontus Pilate.” Before Cornelius could respond, Arturos hurriedly ushered him back inside. “Come! You have fifteen minutes to change for we only have a long ride ahead to Machaerus in Perea where we are to greet the Governor who is to attend a celebration of Herod Antipas. Pilate has asked for you to attend. Now, you go up there and change, I’ll take care of things down here.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch8 – part 2

MEETING FACE TO FACE – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It wasn’t so dark because of the stars and moon. Surefooted, Jesus confidently led him up to the top of the hill. Cornelius looked all around. The lake was shimmering at the East. Some miles North, Capernaum and Chorazin were clearly lit as cities should at this time of the night. The ragged outline of the highlands West and South are quite distinct against the night sky. Jesus went over to a lean-to and gestured for him join him.

“I come up here as often as I can to commune with my Father in Heaven.”

Cornelius had so much to ask but somehow he just did not know where to begin. He again thought how plainly he looked but yet there was a presence about him. Then, like he knew what was on his mind, Jesus spoke first.

“Yes… I am the one that John told you to seek. Not much to look at, am I?”

“Well, now that the subject was broached. I half expected you to look more kingly in appearance.”

“So did many of the chosen. They expected a King David or King Solomon, regaled in majestic glory. How easily they forget. Do you know the story of how David was chosen to be king?”

“Yes… of course, I do recall. I should have known.” Cornelius chided himself because the whole story of David had always been his favorite. This part of the story went like this.

King Saul had disappointed God again. So, God sent the Prophet Samuel, to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse to choose from his sons to be anointed king. When the eldest was presented, he was tall, handsome and an accomplished soldier. Even to Samuel, the eldest would make an ideal king. He would have anointed him right there and then, but God stayed his hand. In Samuel’s ear he was told that ‘God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ [1 Samuel 16:7] Six more sons were brought before him by Jesse, all were rejected. When asked if there was another son, Jesse sent for his youngest who was out in the fields with the sheep. When he came before the prophet, he was but a youth with a face that showed the red glow of good health and was handsome. By all common sense, this was not a lad that would be entrusted with ruling the land. But God chose him.

“And what a king he became, so much so that my Father in Heaven made an eternal promise that his line will rule forever.”

“They say the Messiah will come as a conqueror bringing justice and freedom.”

“There will be a time when all things will be judged then cast into the fire. And yes, the Messiah will be there with sword in hand.” Then Jesus saw the concern in Cornelius’ face. “I know you must report what you heard to your superiors. Do not fret, Cornelius, it is not what you fear. I have not come to condemn but to save.”

“I have surmised what you are saving us from, my question is how are you going to save mankind? What exactly are you going to do? And what can I do to be part of it?”

“You and my disciples will have tasks but what I have to do only I can do.”

“What is it exactly you have to do?”

“The task that I do is written. John had set you in the path of Isaiah. I urge you to continue down that path. Seek out the answer in the one who was my Father’s mouth in the last days of Hezekiah. Then you have a choice to make.”

“You could not just tell me straight, could you?”

“You have strong faith like I told the people. But your faith came to you because of a process of how you gained knowledge. That process started when you listened to your tutor’s first story of the Scriptures. My Father in Heaven once told Joshua before he brought all of Israel across the Jordan after forty years wandering in the wilderness, ‘This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.’ [Joshua 1:8] Follow this same path, Cornelius.”
Cornelius and Jesus spoke late into the night until the pale morning light came creeping over the horizon. They both went down the hill together. Simon Peter and the rest of the Twelve were waiting for them. They broke bread together and then Cornelius said his farewells. He started to ride away, but then he pulled his horse’s rein to a stop and slowly turned. Jesus and his companions were still there watching him. Jesus raised his hand real high. Cornelius too raised his hand and he felt elated inside. He wheeled his horse around and rode at a trot. He was eager to get home and open those books.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch8 – part 1

MEETING FACE TO FACE – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It was night when he rode up into their camp under the same copse of trees. The men around the fire all stood up but none walked over. Cornelius slowly dismounted and raised his hands up to show that he came in peace. He called out the traditional greeting of offering peace.

“Peace be also with you, Centurion.”

Cornelius turned to see the big fisherman and Levi, the former tax collector, emerge from the tent.

“I am pleased to see you again, Centurion.”

“Likewise, Levi.”

“Oh no… my friend. I am now called Matthew. The master named me so.”

Peter reached out his big hand and they shook hands. “I am Peter. The Master had chosen to meet you up there.” He gestured toward the same hill where Jesus gave his sermon. He calls to the tent, “Simon!”

Simon came out of the tent obviously livid.

“Simon here will be your guide.” Simon Peter faced the Zealot and said, “The Master suggested it.”

Simon reluctantly went to the fire and picked up a fiery brand. “Come Roman, follow me.”

They had to cross the creek with the limited light of the torch but Cornelius managed it with just wetting one of his sandaled foot. The Zealot lead him to a foot path which they followed up the hill. For a long while they did not talk. When they reached a level spot, the Zealot suddenly turned around to confront him.

“What do you want with the master, Roman? You are not wanted here!”

Cornelius was not caught unaware. He expected it. Though he had no weapon, he knew Simon could not best him in close quarter fighting alone. But there could be others nearby in the dark. Cornelius started moving slowly to the right forcing Simon to go right as well; circling each other.

“It was he that called me, Zealot. Now, tell me this. What are the Zealots intention with the rabbi? Do you think you can make him king to rally the people?”

That touched a nerve with Simon, he crouched like was ready to pounce.

“How did you do it, Zealot? How did you get the rabbi to choose you to be one of the Twelve?”

The Zealot stopped circling and then stood straight. “I did not! When Jesus called me, I was so proud but then deep down, I really knew there was nothing to be proud of. But yet he chose me. I will not betray him.”

“Peace,” said a voice in the darkness. Then Jesus walked into the light. “Greetings, Cornelius. It is a good night to be about. Is it not?”

“Good evening, Lord. It is truly a very good night.”

Jesus placed a hand onto Simon’s arm. “Thank you, Simon. I will take it from here. Come, Cornelius. Let us walk up in the dark.”

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