THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch18 – part 3

THE ANNOINTING ANSWER – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

It was the night before the beginning of the Passover Festival. The city is overflowing with Jewish pilgrims. The Kidron Valley, just under the gaze of the Eastern battlements of the Temple Mount, was startingly packed with multicolored tents. Smoke from thousands of camp fires formed a hazy blanket that rose as high as the controversial aqueduct that crossed the valley from the Mount of Olives. Cornelius, again with Jacob, Trax and Cestus were invited to the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. When they arrived from Emmaus, Cornelius was happy to find Jesus and the Twelve, the women who always provided support to the group, and a few other followers like young John Mark. Also present were a few Pharisees friendly to Jesus. Nicodemus was there talking to one that Cornelius didn’t recognize. He was a little taller than Nicodemus and brawny but not like Peter. When he saw him, they approached.

“Centurion, allow me to introduce you to a colleague and friend of mine, Joseph of Arimathea.”

“Oh, yes!” He said as Cornelius grasped his forearm with a smile, “We have common acquaintances. I believe you know the Lady Procula and her hand maiden, Lady Pheobe.”

“Most interesting ladies,” chuckled Joseph. “They have such a zeal to learn. I also have heard that you yourself is a student of the Law and a proselyte. Wonderful!”

Then Simon the former leper called for everyone to the pavilion.

“My brethren, we have come unto miraculous times. Even more so, here in this household. Just a week ago, my son was buried four long days, but now, see my son!”

Old man Simon hugged his son, Lazarus. There was clapping and hugging until the men broke out in celebratory music and Jewish line dancing. Cornelius and Cestus decided not to join in the dance, however Jacob could not keep hold of an excited Trax who jumped right in. They were clearly enjoying the show and was clapping away with the rhythm. This went on for several minutes until Martha came from another part of the pavilion and rang a gong like bell to announce the evening meal. Some of the men moved a number of low tables to the center of the pavilion. Cushions were quickly strewn around the tables and the men started to lounge on them.

Cornelius was content to take the furthest table when Jesus came and led him to the main table. It was the largest there and that it could accommodate about twenty or so people. Jesus led him to a place next to him. Cornelius looked at the faces around the table. Jesus was on his right with old man Simon, Lazarus and a few men he didn’t know sitting next. To his left, the Twelve, Simon, Andrew, Peter, Judas, John, Philip, Matthew, James, Matthew, Thomas, Nathanael and Thaddeus. Before him were bowls of flat breads, salt and a pale yellowish paste that tasted tangy. Simon said before they bring out the main meal, they start with this. Simon broke off some flat bread then dunked it first on the paste then in the salt. He waited for Cornelius to follow suit before they ate it. Cornelius enjoyed it. He was in his fourth serving when Martha and an army of women brought in the rest of the hot food to all the tables.

As the dinner progressed and conversations got more busier, Jesus leans over to Cornelius and said, “Come, I’ve sensed you wanted to talk to me all night. Let us retreat over there for awhile.”

They went over to an adjacent courtyard and sat on opposite benches. Peter and Simon probably figured out that they needed privacy, so they stationed themselves to the entry way of the courtyard.

“I see you have found the passages I told you to find in Isaiah,” Jesus knowingly said. “But you feel you are at a lost.”

“Yes, very much so,” Cornelius said. Then he started telling him everything what he felt and shared his frustration to Jesus who had that silent power to just listen, encouraging him to speak with no reservations.

After what seem a long while, he finally asked, “Lord, I am still unclear on what I am suppose to do?”

“My Father had shown those things for you as a way of understanding and preparation, but it is for you to act or not act. Do not despair, Cornelius, you will do what is right in the long run. Let us return, for you must witness what comes next.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 8

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

So, Peter and Andrew positioned themselves on the right side of the stone. The round stone was resting in the bottom of an inclined groove carved into the rock. Grunting profusely, they rolled the heavy stone up the slight incline, revealing the small opening into the dark chamber. Except for Jesus, those on the ledge and steps as well as those gathered below the ledge covered their noses and mouths from the obvious smell of decay. They quickly retreated down the steps leaving Jesus alone on the ledge.

Then Jesus raised his eyes, and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.”

The crowd was silent. When after awhile nothing seem to be happening, some in the crowd started snickering. But then a woman gasped and with a trembling hand pointing, she said, “Look!”

Cornelius had to take a few steps back to get a better look inside of the tomb. At first, all he saw was pitch darkness. Then he could just make out some slight grayish movement deep inside. He felt the hairs on his back stand up. The crowd was startled with a few women screaming out loud as a bound hand came out of the darkness grasping the entrance wall. Jesus reached in, grasped the other hand and helped the struggling bound man out. It was Lazarus alive after four days in the tomb. He was wrapped from head to foot with linen wrappings. The bound wrappings were hardened and stiff from the herbal ointments applied when he was buried.

No one moved. Jesus, who was holding him up, called out to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

It was the sisters that reacted first as they both rushed up the steps and embraced Lazarus. Other men rushed up to the ledge and started to tear at the hardened wrappers. His father handed his robe to cover his nakedness. He was still pretty weak, so they had to carry him down.

The people were amazed and were calling loud praises to God. Those Jews whom Cornelius noted who had laughed at him bowed their heads in respect when Jesus and his disciples walked by following the happy family. There were a few, however, who were concerned about this event. They did not cheer nor praise. Some of them went ahead of the crowd, probably to report what they just witnessed.

When they finally reached their house in the village, Jacob was there waiting for them with the others. Cornelius filled him in on the incredible event. Jacob was no less astounded.

That night, they received word from Nicodemus, that the religious leaders wanted Jesus dead.
[note: quotes in italics are from John 11]
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 7

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

They spoke privately while Cornelius and the disciple kept the crowd away. Then she hurried back to the village with her servant in tow. About fifteen minutes later, a sizable crowd was seen coming out. They were following Mary, the youngest sister of Lazarus, who was walking fast ahead of them. Martha and her father were just behind her. When Mary spotted Jesus, she sprinted the last twenty yards to him. Then she threw herself on the ground at his feet weeping loudly.

Her tear streaked face lifted to look imploringly at him and she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus helped her up on her feet and she fiercely embraced him, burying her face unto his chest weeping loudly. As Jesus returned her embrace, Cornelius saw anguish in his face. The women among the crowd were also weeping loudly.

Then he looked at Simon the Leper and his daughter, Martha and asked, “Where have you laid him?”

“Lord, come and see.”

They led him south of the village into a small canyon. The canyon walls only rose about fifteen to twenty feet up. It was narrow with only enough room for four men to walk abreast of each other. As they followed a well worn winding trail, Cornelius saw signs of excavations into the recesses of the walls. A number of them had carved circular stones about three feet in diameter covering the openings. They were burial chambers for the rich families of the nearby villages. They reached the end of the trail that opened up into a wider enclosure where Simon the Leper’s clan maintained a garden. The garden which was fenced in by a short rock wall about three feet high, fronted several burial chambers some of which were carved out halfway up the canyon walls. Rough steps were carved into the rock that led up to several ledges. Lazarus’ father told Jesus that he was entombed inside the chamber of the first ledge about five feet above the canyon floor. The ledge was only wide enough for about five to six people.

Jesus climbed the steps to the ledge followed closely by Simon the Leper, Peter and Andrew. The sobbing sisters also climbed the steps but stopped part way. Jesus placed his hand on the round stone and wept openly.

There were a number of Pharisees among the crowd and Cornelius could hear one of them whisper, “See how He loved him!”

But someone else also said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have kept this man also from dying?”

Jesus took a step back and spoke to Peter and Andrew, “Roll the stone away.”

Martha gasped and said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Mary’s head came up and looked on him with a desperate hope.

Jesus said to Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

[note: quotes in italics are from John 11]

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 6

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

They rode out of the village and galloped down the Jericho Road. About an hour later, they reached the outskirts of Jericho near the river. They were about to ford the river when they saw Jesus and his disciples already crossing. There was a crowd waiting for him on their side of the shore. As soon as they waded out of the river, Jesus was quickly surrounded. Jesus started to talk to them and minister to the sick as he waded through them. Cornelius did not want to disturb him. He saw Simon the former Zealot and approached him. As they walked through the crowd, Simon told him what went on the past week.

“We did receive word of Lazarus’ illness about six days ago. We all thought that he was going to drop everything and return right away. But we stayed. We received two other messages. The last one read, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.’ But when he heard this, he paused from his work, looked toward the direction of Bethany. He was looking a longtime. By the look of his face, I knew he wanted to go. Then he looked at us and said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.’

“We thought that Lazarus was going to be healed. After all Jesus did heal the sick from a distance. Your own young servant was healed this way. Was he not? So, we did not think of it anymore. We stayed two more days, ministering and teaching. The he said, ‘Let us return to Judea.’ Peter and the others tried to sway him saying, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’

“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.’ We all stayed quiet because we were not sure what he meant. The he said, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.’

“Now, I thought his sickness had caused him to go into a deep sleep. We all thought that. Peter still hoping that he would stay told him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ But he just looked at all of us and plainly said, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.’

As they neared Bethany, Jesus decided not to enter the village. Instead, he went off the road and sat on a stump among a copse of pine trees. He seemed to be waiting expectantly and sure enough, Martha, sister of Lazarus, came to him with a servant. Cornelius could tell that she was slightly angry and disappointed at Jesus. She stood at a distance and said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Sighing deeply she said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Then Jesus approached her and stood before her. Her face was bowed and downcast. “Martha, look into my eyes,” he softly said to her. She slowly raised her teary eyes to meet his. Then he gave her a reassuring smile and said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” She cast her face down again in shame. Jesus ever so gently lifted her chin and asked, “Do you believe this?”

She sobbed loudly and Jesus drew her closer to him so that her face cried on his shoulder. Martha said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even he who comes into the world.”

[note: quotes in italics are from John 11]

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 060

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Late in the afternoon, Simon’s household and guests gathered again for the final meal of the Sabbath. As Mary watched Jesus conversing and laughing with her father, brother and the others around their table, she longed to do something special for him.

“Mary, you are in love with him,” whispered Mariam. “I see it every time you watch my son.”

“I do love him, Mariam. But I know he has a task to do and that I… ah, I…” She could not finish her thought. She sighed inside. “What can I do for him?”

“Let the Lord Almighty guide you, Mary.”

Mary closed her eyes and before she could phrase a petition, the image of the alabaster perfume vial popped into her mind. She wasn’t sure what to make of it until the story of Samuel anointing David with essence oil also came to mind. Her eyes opened wide with understanding. She sprung up to her feet, surprising the women of her table. She quickly dashed out of the dining room followed by some of her companions who were confused by her abrupt action.

“Where are you going, Mary?” Joanne asked.

Mary explained what she intended. Joanne and the others nodded with enthusiasm. Mary went in and retrieved the bottle. When she returned to the dining room, she found that Jesus was lounging on his side talking to her father, Simon and Lazarus. She paused just at the threshold hesitating. She looks down at her hands, at the slender white alabaster jar with the golden stopper. Taking a deep breath, she then walked over to Jesus caressing the jar over her heart.

The whole room quieted down as she nervously approached where Jesus lounged. She looks down and no words were exchanged. Jesus nodded ever so slightly to her. She was encouraged. She gracefully knelt and unstoppered the jar. The aromatic perfume filled the room. It had that distinctive aroma of pure nard. She poured some on his head and her fingers gently combed it into his hair. The other women then sounded a wavering, high-pitched tongue sound which they do as a sign of honor and celebration. Mary then poured some on Jesus’ feet and used her long hair to gently wipe them.

Abruptly, Judas Iscariot stood up quite indignantly speaking out loud.

“What is this waste? We could have sold this perfume for three hundred denarii and used the money to feed a multitude of poor.”

“Let her alone. Why do you bother her so?” Jesus said calmly. “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. Mary has done a good deed to me. For when she poured this perfume on me, she was preparing me for burial. I tell you all the truth that wherever this gospel is preached in the world, what she did for me will be spoken of in memory of her.” [Matthew 26:8-13; John 12:4-8]

That night, Mary and some of the women were summoned to meet him at roof deck. He asked them to join him next to a hot brazier to fend off the chill in the air.

“My sisters, in the morn, I will go to the Temple for the week long Passover Feast. Much will happen that will cause much tears. You must hold on to your faith.”

The women wanted to ask more but Jesus would not say more. They spent the next hour in prayer and singing some Psalms. When they were leaving, Jesus asked Mary to stay.

“Mary, I have a favor to ask. I would appreciate it, if you would stay with my mother during this week. She will be staying with kin in the old part of the city. She will need your strength.”

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 059

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

The next day, Mary found Jesus happily telling stories to a group of laughing children of the neighbors. He was relating to them a tale of a proud camel trying to squeeze through an eye of an needle at the end of which, Mary could not help but join them in both gleeful laughter and applause. Then, Simon Peter entered with Judas Iscariot in tow.

“Master, there are guests waiting for you,” said Judas. By his tone, Mary heard a little irritation. In her heart, she knows she should not judge, however there is something about Judas that makes her wary. But then again, Jesus chose him to be one of the Twelve… so, what does she know.

“Lord, I know you love children, but I have to agree with Judas.” It was Peter speaking this time, a little sheepishly. Mary smiled inside and knew what was coming.

Jesus was smiling as well. He called for a young boy to stand by his side. He then tilted his face up at the hulking figure of Peter. He got the hint.

“Yes, Lord, I remember the lesson,” Peter said quietly. But when he saw that Jesus was waiting for more, he continued on like a school boy made to give a recital. ‘Unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in your name welcomes you, Lord.’ ” [Matthew 18:1–5]

Jesus smiled some more but gestured that there was more.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in you—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” [Matthew 18:6–7]

Mary was trying not to smile too widely.

Jesus fondly sent the children away. Then he followed Peter and Judas in.

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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 058

MARY, THE FAITHFUL ONE
33 AD – Sabbath Anointment – Bethany, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

Mary was awakened by a light rap at the door. Out the window, it was still dark. She quietly got up, careful not to wake her companions who shared her room. When she opened the door, flickering light streamed in from an oil lamp held by Joanne. Mary smiled at Joanne and another woman who came with Miriam, Jesus’ mother.

They went down to the back of the house, crossed the courtyard to the single story structure used as the kitchen. There was light showing in the windows. Mary smelled roasting meat in the air which she knew was started in the wee hours. Entering the kitchen, they found Martha and a servant working.

When Martha raised her eyes, she was surprised to see her sister. Mary went to her and kissed her in greeting. Martha looked at her. No words were exchanged. She smiled.

Mary and the others washed their hands. Then, they went to the work table to mix and knead dough. Joanne was forming rows of long rolls of dough. Mary would take two rolls and meticulously weave them into a braided loaf. As a little girl, her father had told her that the braided loaf was to remind them how God provided a double portion of manna that miraculously appeared to their ancestors during their 40 years in the wilderness. Every morning for five days each family would go out to gather the wafer bread befitting each family’s needs. But on the sixth day, they were instructed to gather a double portion. God did this so that the people would not violate the Law that during the Sabbath no Israelite would labor.

Then the loaves would go into one of the three stone ovens outside the kitchen. Mary and the women labored throughout the morning preparing the food for over thirty people. By the time the sun reached it zenith, Martha gave warning that the Sabbath was almost upon them. All the food had to be laid out on the tables and to help them out, Jesus with twelve others came to the kitchen and started to carry platters full of food into the house. This gave Mary and the others to rush up to their rooms to tidy up.

As Mary was tying up her into a bun, she espied at the far end of her vanity among a variety of bottles, a tiny alabaster cylindrical bottle with an intricate carving of a cluster of grapes hanging off a vine. She recognized it as the perfume vial that her father gave as a surprise gift just before he had to exile himself from them because of leprosy. That was ten years ago.

She reached for it. It was still sealed with beeswax. She shook it and was delighted that the aromatic contents did not dry out. She was about to break the seal, but then she hesitated for some reason. In her mind, she imagined a voice telling her, ‘not just yet’. She shrugged her shoulders and placed the bottle back on her vanity.

The Sabbath was celebrated on the seventh day starting with the evening meal of the sixth. Her father started it with the traditional uttering of the blessing. He gave a blessing of thanksgiving for the land and its bounty, and for Lord’s goodness in feeding of family, the guests and all creatures.

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