He faced Jerusalem from the East looking down the road from the height of the mountain. I followed his gaze. My rabbi wasn’t looking at the spectacular view of Jerusalem or at the tiny villages that lay to our left and right, but at a small flock of sheep being herded down the road toward the Sheep Gate on the North side of the city. I could hear their bleating from the distance and wondered if they were going to Jerusalem as we were for the Passover sacrifices. My stomach dropped at the thought. We were going to Jerusalem.
I glanced at the rabbi for re-assurance. He always had a purpose for our travels, but I refused to believe his current pursuit was surrender. We had heard of the warrant for his arrest in Jericho, and we knew that if the rabbi put a toe in the city, every ambitious and greedy soul would be looking to reveal his location to the authorities. I searched his face. He must have a plan.
He did. Sensing my questions he grinned then turned to face me.
“Take Philip and go to the village.” He motioned to the right. “You’ll see a young donkey tied up as you enter. I want you to bring me that colt. If you are questioned about taking it, say, ‘The rabbi needs it and will return it by nightfall.'”
I knew the colt he was talking about and figured Lazarus had agreed to let us use it for the day. My nerves were calmed as I realized Jesus had made these arrangements the last time we were in town visiting the family. So, he must have unbreakable plans in the city. That’s why he was going, not to turn himself in.
We brought the colt and a crowd back with us. When the villagers saw that the rabbi meant to ride the donkey, they began to buzz with excitement.
The blood began to pound in my temples and my spirits were elated. That’s it! He’s going to take the city and establish His throne! I pressed my thigh where my father’s knife was hidden, and knew I could wield it to help my Lord become the new King of Judea.
“Hosanna to the Descendant of King David! You will deliver us!” A joy-stricken father shouted, fist punching the air.
The children had returned and began waving their palm branches and beating them on the ground around the donkey. The villagers laid out their cloaks for the donkey to walk on and began to sing and dance as we made our way down into the city.
“God has sent us a deliverer, the messiah!”
“Death to Rome!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” I cried and grasped a branch offered to me.
“Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” The gathering mass of people began to chant.
Every frenzied cry that was music in my ears was ripping him apart. He was receiving every blessing yelled his way as a curse, as if he were physically struck. He pulled Peter and John close and spoke as he gestured to the city. Peter looked confused. The rabbi began to weep as he continued shouting into John’s ear. The noise of the crowd was deafening. When he was finished talking, I saw his posture sink with each step as we passed through the Sheep Gate and into the city.
Astonished, I quieted my dance and placed my hand on the colt’s rear to keep pace. It was then that I noticed two things, the sheep and the sheep’s stink. Why the rabbi chose this entrance, I could not imagine. The East Gate would have made a more appropriate statement. Here it was all business. Especially today. The tenth. Lamb selection day.
As I lifted my sleeve to cover my nose, the rabbi turned and looked for me. When he caught my eye, he shouted.
“Pick a lamb for our Passover. If you lose us we’ll be in Bethany after Temple services.”
I stopped walking and let the crowd pass. Gradually, the confusion was replaced with bleating and business dickering, and I let my mind lapse into the comfort of commerce. Better to buy a lamb here, than up at the temple where they charged a tax. I noticed the shepherd that had herded his flock down the road before us setting up a stall, but I looked for Bethlehem stock. Bethlehem stock were first-born lambs bred specifically for Passover and special temple sacrifices. They ran expensive, but were guaranteed to be flawless. The rabbi, who I hoped would be king by the time we needed the lamb, deserved the best. I paid the shepherd to deliver the lamb I selected to the house of Lazarus in Bethany, and made my way to the house of Abbas to discover the latest news in the city and look for allies.
This would be an unforgettable Passover.
Texts: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:12-19