THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 7

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

“What you have heard this night, keep it guarded only among yourselves. The time is not yet right. But it will soon be.” Jesus paused and closed his eyes in contemplation for a long minute. Then he opened his eyes and said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”

The men began murmuring among themselves. Peter stood up and requested Jesus if he could talk to him privately. Cornelius watched them walk not too far, just at the edge of the light of the camp fire. At first, the big man was calmly whispering things to him. But then he started gesturing angrily. After awhile, Peter was heard angrily saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” The men went silent. Jesus was walking back with Peter wanting to talk some more. Then Jesus angrily pushed Peter back, turned his back to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind in God’s interests, but man’s.” [Matthew 16:22,23 NASB]

Peter’s face first showed shock and anger, and then realization on the implication of Jesus’ words. Shock was soon replaced by shame. The once big proud man who was minutes earlier praised for his faith stood there humbled with his head down in dejection.

This is the first time that Cornelius has seen Jesus angry. But as quick as it came, Jesus’ face was composed. He went up to Peter and placed his hand on his shoulder and guided him back to the circle of men. He looked at each face and said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

Jesus sat and everyone else followed suit. Then he said, “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” [Matthew 16:24-28 NASB]
Cornelius returned to his own campsite. Jacob, Trax and Cestus were already sound asleep. As he wrapped himself in his blanket, looking up onto the starry sky, he tried to think about Jesus’ parting words. But to no avail. He finally gave in to sleep with one question lingering in his mind, ‘Why the cross?’

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 6

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

Jesus welcomed Cornelius to their circle and gestured that he sit between Simon and Matthew. Matthew had his writing tablet out and was scribbling away. As he was meticulous in keeping records as a former tax collector, he had taken on the task on keeping a journal. By the light of the campfire, Cornelius saw that it was only the twelve that was gathered with Jesus. All of them offered him a nod of greeting. The men were talking among themselves about today’s event, when Jesus interrupted with this question.

“Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus asked.

The men started to answer all at once. Some have heard that he was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Matthew and a couple of others called out Elijah. Every major Prophet of old from Jeremiah to Elisha was mentioned.

Then Jesus raised his hand for silence and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Cornelius watched the men look at each other like they were afraid to give the wrong answer. He wanted to blurt his answer out but felt that it was not his place. Then Peter stood up with determination and answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

Then Jesus approached the big man and to Cornelius’ surprise he spoke in Greek! “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”   [Matthew 16:13-20]

Jesus then sat down allowing them to discuss it among themselves. Cornelius, as to his practice, preferred to think it out by himself. The first thing that came to his mind was, ‘Why in Greek?’ Here in Galilee, Aramaic was the common language among the locals, but Greek was often used in trade with foreigners. In fact, Greek was often used this way throughout the Mediterranean even as far as the cold North Country where the empire had not touched. As he stared at Matthew’s writing, he thought, ‘Of course, one day Jesus’ teachings will go out among the nations and Greek is richer in vocabulary and meaning than Aramaic! At that matter, it is even better than Latin, the language of Rome.’ This message is for the ages, not just for the Jews or else Jesus would have spoken in Hebrew.

So, Cornelius focused on the message. Jesus said that God had opened Peter’s eyes and revealed to him who He really was. He himself came to that same conclusion even before Peter declared it. He had to wonder if God’s hand was behind this as well. Was his conclusion that Jesus may be the promised Messiah from months of investigative work? As he looked back, he began to see patterns of a divine guiding hand. He would never have investigated Jesus closely if it were not for John the Baptist.

‘But hold on’, he thought. ‘He did not exactly point out Jesus directly!’ John pointed him to the manuscripts of Isaiah of which he was already studying even before he came into this land. Was that coincidence? At that matter, he would not have shown any interest in the Baptist if it wasn’t for his childhood interest in the Prophets of God. Cornelius eyes widened in astonishment to the realization that God may have put him on this road of discovery when he was still a child hearing for the first time of Jacob telling a story of God choosing a shepherd boy to lead His people. He felt he should talk about this in length with his old mentor.

Meanwhile, his mind started to work on the final part of Jesus’ message. He was staring at Matthew’s writing tablet and the freshly scratched message on it. He asked him if he could look at it closely. Matthew handed the tablet to him. Cornelius tilted it toward the fire so that he could read.

Matthew wrote Jesus’ message, word for word, in Greek. Right under it, he also wrote the Aramaic interpretation. His first impression was that Jesus was declaring that Peter would be the ‘rock’ on which He would build His church. But for some reason, he was not sure if that was correct. He again looked over the Greek and Aramaic passage. At first, he was not sure what he was looking for. Then he saw a discrepancy in the Aramaic passage and compared it to the Greek. In the Greek, Jesus used the words Petros for Peter and petra for a big rock. In the Aramaic, Matthew used only one word for both, cephas, which both translate to Peter and rock. But then Cornelius realized that the Greek word, Petros, also means small stone. Now, he understood why in Greek.

It is a play on words. Jesus was not declaring that Peter would be the ‘rock’ on which He would build His church. He again looked at the original passage. ‘You are Petros… small stone… and upon this petra… big rock… I will build my church.’

In his mind’s eye he saw an image of a small stone being placed upon a massive rock. The small stone was definitely Peter who was privileged to be placed on the big rock because of his open declaration of faith. The only other question that came to mind was, ‘Who is the big rock?’ Of course, there was no doubt who that is.

Cornelius looked over at Jesus and found him looking at him too with that knowing smile. Then Jesus quieted down the men.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 5

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

Jesus then gathered only his chosen twelve and they circled around him. He called over the boy with the bread and fish.

Cornelius could not see what Jesus was doing but he heard him prayerfully giving thanks for the bread and the fish. As he looked upon the backs of the twelve, he saw them bend over closely to what Jesus was doing in their midst. Then all twelve broke out in joyous laughter. Soon they were handing out lots of bread and fish to the waiting line of people who carried filled baskets back to their respective groups. Levi who was now called Matthew brought to Cornelius’ group a basket full of warm barley flat loaves and fish that was amazingly smoked dry and ready to eat.

When all have eaten, Jesus again gave instruction only to his closest twelve to each to take a basket and collect the left over pieces from among the people. When they returned they had collected twelve baskets filled with bread fragments.
The sun was just setting in the horizon. Cestus went back to the boat to bring food to Nacob and Lyca. Cornelius was lounging close to the fire listening contently to Jacob telling Trax the story of how David narrowly escaped Saul’s trap, when, to his surprise, Simon the Zealot approached him.

“The Master wishes you to join us up at the ridge.”

As he got up, he asks, “Did he tell you to get me?”

“No. I volunteered.”

About half way up the ridge, Cornelius asked, “How is it that it was you to volunteer to get me? I thought you did not like Romans?”

Simon paused to face him, “That is true! I still do not trust your people. But the master considers you with high regard and even to my surprise, I have to agree. I have heard that you tried to have John the Baptist released.”

“To no avail, I’m afraid. I failed him!”

“Yet, it was told us that you would have risked your own life to save him from execution.”

“How did you hear of that?”

“We do have eyes and ears in Herod’s palace,” Simon amusingly said. “The wife of Herod’s treasurer, who at times comes to minister to us with the other women in our group, witnessed your anger at Herod’s celebration. Be at peace, Cornelius. She was the only one that noticed your anger. She knew, through John’s companions, that you were going to petition for his release. When the order was given for his execution, she saw you walking after the guards and guessed that you were going to do something violent until your governor called you, of course. But it is of no more matter. To all of us here, your intentions are clear. Of this, we thank you. For myself, well, now I am beginning to understand some of my master’s teaching.”

He held out his hand and Cornelius took hold of it and shook hands.

“Come! The master awaits us.”

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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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