The Sunday before

I wrote this a year ago. It is my little tribute to the Greatest Week in History.

*****

When dawn broke on the Sunday before, He was in Bethany.

The previous night there was a banquet. It was not any old dinner party either. It was hosted by a man named Simon the Leper. And it was attended by Lazarus. Celebrity diets were probably not part of the conversation; the guests had more exciting cures to discuss.

In fact, not many days previously, Lazarus was dead. For four days Lazarus lay inside his tomb and he was beginning to rot. His sister, Martha, warned that he stank. Yet He called and Lazarus emerged, covered in his burial shroud and bandages.

While He was eating with Simon another of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary, anointed Him with fine perfume. And at this point an uncomfortable truth is revealed about Judas. Judas objected to this. Taking a high-moral soapbox, Judas claimed the ointment could have been sold for more than 300 denarii, with the proceeds given to the poor. It’s not the first time the corrupted have used self-righteousness to hide their motives. John later wrote that Judas was the group’s treasurer and held the purse. But he was also a thief and had been stealing from it as well. Judas was not concerned about the poor; a longing for gold tainted his heart. In that, Judas is not so different from us.

He simply replied that the Apostles would always have the poor to tend, but they would not always have Him. It was one of many warnings of what was to come.

In the morning He announced that they would be going to Jerusalem.

News that He was leaving Bethany spread fast. Jerusalem was less than three kilometres away and was quickly filling with Jewish pilgrims arriving to celebrate the great day of the Pasch. The custom was for crowds to gather and welcome the most distinguished guests. As He made that journey, He signalled that He was the most distinguished visitor of all: the Messiah. He did this by deliberately fulfilling the ancient prophecy that the Saviour would ride into Jerusalem upon an ass and a colt.

But the crowds were also well aware of the tension between Him and their High Priest and political leaders. Scandal was in the air, hinting at trouble. Of death even. It was a great spectacle and it certainly beat anything that reality television could offer.

His decision to signify His claim to the throne of David sent the crowds wild. Hosanna, they cried! Palm leaves and coats were strewn before him, as a sign of honour. No doubt, even the Apostles were filled with the joy of expectation; of anticipation that they would soon be princes of the kingdom.

The Pharisees, scandalised by what they saw, rebuked Him and His disciples, calling for Him to calm the crowds. His eloquent but profoundly audacious response was one for the ages:

“I tell you that if these keep silence; the stones will cry out.”

Even nature could recognise the greatness the Pharisees rejected.

However, the triumphal tumult was broken at one point at least. As He crossed the top of the Mount of Olives, He wept in the midst of the crowds. The entire city lay before Him with the marble and golden temple sparkling in the sun. Located right next to it was an ominous shadow, foretelling great suffering to come: the Antonia Fortress.

It was the Roman stronghold, built by Herod the Great and named after the famous general, Marc Antony.

He wept over it
In 1892, the Spanish painter Enrique Simonet produced this masterpiece, ‘Flevit super illam’.

It means ‘He wept over it’.

As He took this view in, He said:

“For days will come upon thee when thy enemies will throw up a rampart about thee, and surround thee and shut thee in on every side, and will dash thee to the ground and thy children within thee, and will not leave in thee one stone upon another, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.”

About thirty years later, Titus laid waste to Jerusalem, giving orders that the Temple should be entirely destroyed. The Jewish historian, Josephus, recorded that 1.1 million people died and another 97,000 were enslaved. A later Greek writer, Philostratus, stated that Titus refused to take a crown of triumph for the destruction of Jerusalem, declaring that he had only lent his arms to manifest the divine wrath of God.

Jerusalem model
A model of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. It shows the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was built between 538 BC and 516 BC and then rebuilt again by Herod the Great between 20 BC and 18 BC. At the top right hand corner of the Temple court is the Antonia Fortress.

But then the journey continued and He certainly did not seek to calm the situation. He proceeded straight to the Temple, to the heart of Jerusalem, where even the children praised Him. Again the chief priests murmured with indignation at this and again His response was eloquent, quoting from the Book of Psalms.

“Have you never read: out of the mouth of infants and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.”

It is the basis for our own idiom of today: out of the mouths of babes comes the truth.

Those plotting His death were frustrated. The whole city was alive and He was protected by exultant throngs. The blind and the lame were brought before Him and cured. A voice even cried from the heavens. Some said it was thunder. Others that an angel had spoken to Him. But He said the voice was not for Him, but for us. God would be glorified.

Then He returned to the business at hand, warning that the Son of Man would be lifted above the ground. The significance of this statement was not understood and raised questions, both from the crowd and the Apostles. John simply annotated that it was stated to signify His death.

Finally, He told the thronging mass that He was the light. And as the shadows grew, He left Jerusalem to the plotting chief priests and Pharisees and returned to Bethany.

That was the Sunday before.

Modern view Mount of Olives

The modern view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

See also in this series:

*****

I have relied heavily on Guiseppe Ricciotti’s book, Life of Christ, for this article. It was translated by Alba I. Zizzamia and published by the Mercier Press, Ireland in 1955. It carries the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Moses Kiley, dated 6 February, 1952.

 

Author: Bernard Gaynor

Bernard Gaynor is a married father of seven children. He has a background in military intelligence, Arabic language and culture and is an outspoken advocate of conservative and family values.

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