THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 2

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

Cornelius and Jacob rushed into the house. They found the physician grinding some herbs for a potion he was preparing. He looked at them shaking his head.

“How long?”

“He will not survive the night.” He handed the potion to Jacob, “This will help him with the pain. I am sorry, Centurion. But this is as far as my skills can go.” Then he left the room.

Cornelius sat at the edge of the bed. Trax was unconscious and burning to the touch. He then took the cloth that was laying on Trax’s forehead and dunked it into a waiting basin of water and put it back on his feverish head. Cornelius have been on many deathbeds of comrades and friends before but watching Trax like this was heart wrenching for him.

Flavius entered the room, “I am sorry, sir. I know how fond you are of him.”

“He is like a son to me.” He whispered.

“Well, he is now in the hands of the gods.”

Then hope sprung up in him like he never felt before. “No, Flavius… not the gods, but one God!” He called out to Jacob and Cestus. “Take the horses, ride out to the teacher. Implore to him to heal the lad. Quickly now. Go!”

They did not hesitate. As Cornelius heard the horses galloping away, he again sat on the edge of the bed and offered up a pleading prayer to the God of Abraham for the very first time.

“Who is this teacher that you sent them to seek? And what can he do?”

Cornelius relayed to Flavius about Jesus and what he had witnessed. Flavius was understandably skeptical.

“And you think he will come and wave his hands over Trax… and then he will sit up like nothing happened?”

“Yes! I really do.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 1

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w
For the next two hours, Jesus expounded on this same theme by presenting what the people already knew through their traditions and everyday beliefs then elevated their point of focus to go beyond from what they normally do to that of what would truly please God. There were a lot of hard lessons to swallow in that sermon on the mount. Cornelius was not sure that much of what Jesus exhorted is attainable. In one part, he talked about loving the enemy and pray for those that persecute you. Cornelius could not help but look at the face of Simon the Zealot. He was almost sure that he would reject this teaching off hand and walk away. At first, Simon gave the teacher a questionable look. Then he looked down as if to contemplate on it. With his eyes closed, he subtly shook his head. Cornelius wondered if that was regret written on his face. Then Simon lifted his head determined to hear more. Jesus was truly a master teacher.

When Jesus finished with sermon, the hillside again erupted with people talking in amazement. As Jesus and the twelve made their way through the praising crowd, Cornelius motioned to Jacob and Cestus that they should return to their horses. As they were climbing the hill, it was Cestus who broke the silence.

“Never in my whole life, have I ever heard anything like that before. I do not know what to make of what I am feeling. On one hand, I feel a sense that everything I have done was wrong. While on the other, I sense there is hope for me yet. I… I cannot explain it.”

Then a noise of shouting people behind them made them turn around. They saw on the opposite hill from them a man fighting his way through the crowd. He was screaming something but it could not be heard from where they stood. The crowded parted avoiding to be near him. Cornelius saw that he was making a beeline towards Jesus who was already crossing the small stream in the bottom of the hill. Cornelius’ first thought was that this was an assassination attempt against the rabbi. So, Cornelius and Cestus raced back down the hill to get between Jesus and this man. They plowed through the crowd, jumped the stream then stopped where Cornelius gauged where the assassin was heading. Then he heard the man’s croaking shout, “Make way! Unclean! Make way!”

Cornelius and Cestus were both aghast when they saw that the would be assassin was a leper heading their way. They quickly jumped out of the way as he painfully hobbled through. Cornelius gagged at the passing smell of sweat, unbathed odor and rotting flesh. The people were cursing him, throwing stones and hitting his back with long sticks. Soon, he crumpled to the ground under the barage. The leper was decrepitedly thin and bony. He noticed that the rags that clung to his tortured body were once the clothing worn by a rich man. A thrown stick snagged the cloth that covered his face revealing it filled with bloody festering sores and a nose that had rotted away. The anger and shouting increased and so did the bombardment. They were going to kill this man. Cornelius was about to intervene when a large burly shape came roaring in and swinging his staff in a mad violent circle. The people stopped their beating and backed away, forming a circular clearing, from this bear of a man. It was Simon Peter, the fisherman. Then behind him the crowd parted to let another man through. It was Jesus.

He calmly walked over to the giant and placed his hand on his arm. He looked up at him half-scoldingly and said, “Peter…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence. The big man returned a half grin and a shrug. Jesus smiled shaking his head and then turned his attention to the leper who slowly and painfully got up.

He took two steps forward and then like he realized who he was facing threw himself on the ground and asked, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The crowd simultaneously gasped as Jesus did the unthinkable. He unhesitatingly reached down to help him up and softly said, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

What Cornelius witnessed was beyond anything he had ever experienced. What at first was a leprous creature lying on the ground with a flesh eating disease was now a whole man standing before Jesus restored to full health. This was no trick. The process of the healing took place as Jesus touched him until he straightened up. The disciples surrounded the man, removed the rags that he wore, and covered him with a robe. Jesus and the disciples led him to a large tent among a copse of trees a short distant away. The people were in a festive mood. There was dancing and singing.
It was late in the afternoon when they returned to the house. Porcius and Flavius were there waiting for them.

“Where have you been? I have sent some men to look for you.”

“What is wrong?”

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 6

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

So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

Again systematically, Cornelius went down the list: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful and the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

What amazed him was that Jesus revealed a concept within a series of riddles that just turned his sense of reality upside down. Jesus’ ten riddles expound on who truly are the recipients of God’s blessing and Cornelius does not fit with any of them. He came from a world that does not consider them successful. As a Roman, with the expanse of the empire covering most of Europe, Africa and Asia as a testimony, he was brought up to make something of himself not value meekness or to be poor in spirit. He was taught to push himself to the front of others, to promote oneself, and climb the ladder to success even over the bodies of his fellows. For him, the way to inherit the earth is to get ahead. Yet, herein lay the paradox. In the eyes of God, it is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit, not those who are self-sufficient, who are in the kingdom of heaven.

Cornelius always knew that there was something lacking in his life but he could not put his finger on it. The words of Jesus may be what he sought especially the last riddle that appealed to him in some way but even that he could not peg down. The last riddle calls one to rejoice and be glad, not when things are going good, but quite the opposite. In fact, it challenges the one who is being persecuted to be happy regardless the pain they are feeling and knowing full well that he will not taste the rewards in this lifetime. He would have loved to meditate on this concept some more but then he heard Jesus’ voice again.

He opened his eyes and saw that Jesus was again addressing the crowd to listen. He spoke to them of how, as the chosen people of God, they should boldly shine out to the world and be that beacon to bring people to Him. A number of people called out to him asking who he was. His response to them was…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matt 5:17-18 NASB]

Cornelius found it interesting that as the people clamored for him to identify himself as the Messiah, he would not entertain them with a direct answer. The people, who were probably cajoled by the zealots, desire a fighting leader like in the days of the Judges. But Jesus emphasized that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. If Jesus is the promised Messiah, then there are things based in the Law that he has to accomplish first. In many ways, this is how the true Messiah would be revealed.

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   [Matthew 5:19-20 NASB]

This declaration surprised Cornelius even more. Though it mirrored the riddles that Jesus started with, he openly emphasized that the best of them, the teachers and lawyers of the Law, failed to live up to it. And he challenged the people to live better than them if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cornelius felt both relieved and concerned at the same time. He was relieved because these were not the words of a man who would ally himself with the shortsightedness of the zealots. Jesus wanted to bring change to the people but it was clear to him that Jesus will do this from the inside out. The concern was that Cornelius want him to succeed but his last statement polarized him from the religious leadership. Sure enough, as he searched the crowd, he saw them gathered together whispering to each other casting angry glances at the teacher on the rock.

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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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