THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch10 – part 4

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

It was mid-afternoon when Jesus tiredly returned to the encampment. He walked up to the ridge and sat down gazing down upon the multitudes. Cornelius and his disciples sat down around him.

Peter, who was coaxed by the others, came to stand by him and said, “Master, this place is desolate, and the time is already past; so you must send the multitudes away that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”

As Jesus looked on upon the milling people below, he quietly said, “They need not leave this place.” Then he turned and faced the disciples with a knowing smile. “You give them something to eat.”

“Master?” Peter asked as he slowly sat down not sure what he heard him say.

Then Jesus asked Philip who was right next to Cornelius, “Philip, where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?”

Philip looked doubtfully out upon the people and said, “Master… two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, even to receive a little.”

The disciples started to talk among themselves. Judas Iscariot, who was the group’s treasurer, said that the purse was practically empty. John enthusiastically declared that they can go out and fish. His confidence was based on Jesus miraculously showing them where the fish was. Back and forth they discussed and debated among themselves as Jesus amusingly looked on. Then Cornelius remembered that he had the money from the Lady Procula which was probably twenty times worth more than two hundred denarii. He was about to make his offer when he noticed that a smiling Jesus looking at him ever so slightly shaking his head; signaling him not to intercede. Cornelius quickly understood that this was a test for his closest disciples.

Finally, it was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, out of exasperation brought a boy before Jesus. He pried open the basket to show its content. “Master! This lad here has only five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”

Jesus stood up with gleam in his eyes. “I will show you. Bring the lad.”

Jesus came down the ridge, his weariness forgotten. He instructed his disciples to go among the multitudes and organize the people to sit on the grass in groups of fifty men with their respective families. Then from each group ten were chosen to bring empty baskets to Jesus’ encampment. Within the hour, there was a long line of men and women with their empty basket waiting. Jesus then gathered only his chosen twelve and they circled around him. He called over the boy with the bread and fish.

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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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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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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 6

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

They both went back to the festivities and noticed that the party was focused to a lone dancer performing mostly in front of Herod Antipas and his party. Cornelius guided Pheobe back to where the Lady Procula lounged with the rest of Pilate’s entourage.

The dancer was weaving on the dance floor in fluid seductive movement keeping in rhythm with the thumping pounding of several drummers. With her hand still on his arm, she asks, “Who is she?” noticing that the dancer was no ordinary performer.

Cornelius saw that the dancer resembled Herodius, Herod’s wife. “She must be Salome, Herodius’ daughter from her first marriage,” he whispered back.

By the increase of pitch and tempo of the instrumentalists and the dancer’s undulating movements, the performance was reaching its climax. Then the dancer positioned herself in front of the obviously leering and drunk Herod gyrating ecstatically until the music stopped abruptly with her collapsing into a bowed position. There was a moment of silence when Herod applauded her excitedly.

Obviously drunk with pleasure, he stood and declared, “Ask me of anything you like and I will give it to you. Upon my head and before my court, I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” Then he collapsed in joyous laughter with the court joining in with the mirth.

Salome goes to her mother, Herodias, and they whisper excitedly to each other. Then Salome gracefully returns before Herod who looks upon her attentively.

“I want the head of The Baptist, right now, here on a silver tray.”

Herod quickly lost his mirthful look. What seemed like a long time, Herod sighed and then gestured to the head of his household guards. Herod whispered his instructions to him then the guard left. Meanwhile, Procula was herself furiously whispering to the Governor to take action. Cornelius prayed under his breath that she would succeed.
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