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Saturday 7 April 2012



HE stepbrother of Jesus was asleep in the sanctuary at the Temple. Before that he had spent the hours since the Paschal feast on his knees, communing with God, in contemplation of his destiny.
Years ago, after his baptism in the Jordan, Jacob son of Mariam, had let go of the power of his inherited birthright and had wandered the land like a fish without a sea, not belonging to any place. The corrupt priests and hypocritical rabbis of the Temple could not draw him to their side and he did not feel at ease with the Essenes, though they welcomed him always in their outer circles. He did not even consider himself a Nazarite in the strictest sense, and so could not call himself a true follower of John the Baptist.
He was a man in search of a spirit home.
During the years, conflicting words had reached him concerning his stepbrother. He had heard tales of John the Baptist’s testimony and rumours had abounded of Jesus’ healings and his exorcisms, his sermons and signs. Other rumours told that his stepbrother was a magician, a sorcerer ruled by devils; that he had broken the laws of their forefathers, that he had blasphemed and desecrated the Sabbath.
For his part, Jacob had kept himself aloof from all of it, not wishing to know what truth there might be to one or another rumour, that is, until this Paschal week.
Like others Jacob had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the holy day and to unite with the heart of his people. For he was tattered and thin after long months of wandering through the land–long months of punishing his body with fasting and prayer–and had sought a place to rest his head. But here, in Jerusalem, he could not avoid his stepbrother, who seemed to be everywhere; speaking out against the priests in one place, condemning the rituals of the Temple in another. Making more and more enemies as each day came, not only in the Sanhedrin, but also among the people.
He had not seen Jesus since that afternoon at Nazareth those years ago, and on hearing him in Jerusalem these last days it was hard to imagine him the same man, so strong and full of authority was his mien, and so powerful were his words. Yes. Jacob's baptism and those years of wandering had made his ears sensitive and discerning and he heard the ring of truth in his stepbrother’s voice, and over the days this had formed in him a question.
After all this time, and after all the wanderings and painful prayers…do I now realise that I have been in search of something, which I have always known?
On the eve of the Paschal feast, he took himself to the house given over to the Essenes, where he knew his family would be celebrating the Pascha. He took the steps that led from the outside of the house up to the cenacle, the upper room lit by candles, but when he came to be standing beneath the lintel, not quite in view and yet at the threshold of the room, he was taken by incertitude. In his heart, something told him that the circle around his stepbrother was closed and that there was no room for him. He was overcome then, with a feeling of grief for it and had decided to go, when a man he recognised, one of his stepbrother’s disciples, brushed past him making for the stairs. He had seen this man at the Temple, speaking to the priests. His name was Judas Iscariot.
The man was wild-eyed and taken by his own thoughts, and did not excuse himself, but continued on into the darkness. Disconcerted, Jacob made his way to the Temple, where he waited in the cold, awful wind for the gates to open for those in charge of preparing the morning offering of the Chagigah. Thereafter, in the court of the Nazarites he kneeled and alone and confused, fell to sleep, until disturbed by the sounds of the bleating of the animals, and a great commotion.
As he came out into the streets to see what had caused it, he realised that he had slept long, for the night was near given over to the green light of morning. He saw that the palace of Caiaphas was surrounded by a great crowd, gathered beneath lamps and torches. He went to it.
The pregnant moon hung in the west as he pushed past those people gathered outside, and made his way through the outer court and into the inner court of the palace. He looked about for anyone he knew.
‘What has passed?’ he asked a man.
‘The heretic, Jesus of Nazareth, is seized, and stands trial!’ the man answered.
With a vacant nod Jacob glanced about at a number of men huddled around a coal fire, in the middle of the court. The glow of the fire’s blue flame threw shadows over a face he recognised, another of his brother’s disciples. Jacob made to go to him but when he came near, he heard a Levite say to the man,
‘Are you not Simon-Peter, one of those who followed Jesus, the heretic?’
The disciple buried his face in his wool robe and said, ‘No…I am not!’
‘Yes, I saw you at the Garden!’ another Temple guard added.
‘No! I tell you, you are wrong!’
‘He lies!’ said a woman nearby, ‘I have seen him with the Nazarene!’
He turned on the woman, ‘I do not know what you are saying, addled woman! For I know not the man! Leave me be!’
A cock crowed then, and perturbed by it, the disciple hunched his shoulders and ran off into the crowds.
But Jacob did not go after him, he continued to the palace, where he was recognised and allowed passage. Once inside the great rectangular hall surrounded by columns, he searched among the many faces. The torches flapped in the breeze, and in that cold light he saw no face he recognised. A great uproar was heard coming from the front of the hall, where, on the raised platform, sat the high priest, Caiphas among members of the Sanhedrin. From what Jacob could see, there were only enough to make a quorum, twenty-three priests and rabbis, in a half circle formed by seats. As he made a way through the crowds he realised that the man who stood before these elders, surrounded by his accusers, was his stepbrother.
What had become of him since the supper in the cenacle made Jacob take a deep breath; nothing could have prepared him for what now met his eyes. His stepbrother was a battered man, leaning to one side, with one eye bruised and the other squinting away at the blood that oozed from cuts to his scalp and his forehead. His nose was broken, his lips were swollen and he shook from his head to his bare feet, for his garments had been torn from his body and he wore only a loin cloth. His hands were trussed up before him like an animal ready for the slaughterhouse.
A rising up of indignation was caught in his throat and his eyes filled with tears. He looked about for a support and found a column and leaning against it, transfixed, he watched and listened while the room erupted in screams for his brother’s blood.
Caiaphas was speaking to Jesus from his grand position on the dais,
‘Witnesses have heard your words, which make of you a defiler…and a seducer…and a heretic!’
Jesus did not answer.
One by one, came the accusers then, to shout out their charges and claims.
‘He said he would destroy the Temple, and rebuild it in three days!’
‘But he did not say he would build it with his hands!’
‘He calls himself the Son of Man!’
‘No! He says he is the Son of God!’
‘But he heals the sick and he casts out demons! Is this not a holy man, who can do this?’
‘He might cure the sick but he does it on a Sabbath!’
‘He casts out demons because he is a demon himself and he is in league with them!’
‘He teaches false doctrines!’
‘He does not wash his hands before he breaks bread!’
‘But he speaks of peace and love and breaks bread with the poor!’
‘Yet he has members of the Sicarri as his disciples!’
These contradictions fell into a confusion and rabble of voices.
Jacob saw Nicodemus, a well-respected member of the Sanhedrin come into the fray, followed by Gamaliel and Joseph of Arimathea.
Nicodemus entered into the centre of the horseshoe of gathered men and said, ‘Why have you called this council without us? This meeting is not lawful! There has not been proper notice, and an attendance of all the members of the council!’
The people grew quiet.
Gamaliel pointed to Caiaphas and added his own words, ‘You have tried to prevent those of us who do not agree with you from being here! Such a trial conducted in haste, while many of the council are preparing this morning for the ceremony, is not legal!’
Joseph was angry. ‘Where is the passage in the law that approves of trying a cause at night, and so close to a feast day!’
Caiaphas stood and came forward with a scornful eye. ‘My colleagues…it was not our intention to exclude you…we had to act quickly. If we had not seized this heretic and stopped him from inciting the people to rebellion, the Romans would have done so, and this would have caused grief to the Temple and to Israel!’ 
‘But these accusations only show the confusion of your witnesses, for they bear no proof of his wrongdoing!’ Nicodemus pointed out.
‘Well then!’ said Caiaphas, drawing close to Jesus. ‘Let the man say something himself!’
But there was only silence from Jesus.
‘Why do you not give answer to these accusations?’ Caiaphas taunted, ‘I adjure you to tell us if you are Christ, the Messiah, the son of the living God!’
When the voice came, Jacob recognised no authority in it, it was the voice of a man, not the voice of a god, ‘If I tell you that I am he, you will not believe me…and if I ask you who you think that I am, you will not answer me, nor let me go…no matter what I say, I am condemned.’
‘Are you the Son of God?’ the high priest said.
‘This is a question which only you can answer,’ Jesus said. ‘For it only has value if you, yourself can see the God in me. But I tell you, one day all will see the Son of Man, sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the ether-cloud realms of heaven. Then, you will know, that I am He!’
Jacob knew it suddenly; in his heart he knew it – what he said was true!
But he was torn from the vision by the words:
Giddupha! Blasphemy!’ Caiaphas had a blade in his hand. ‘Blasphemy and sedition!!!’ He took up the corner of his outer and his inner garment and made a tear from top to bottom, renting both. ‘What further need have we of witnesses! Now all of you have heard it for yourselves, with your own ears! What say you to this,’ he said to the crowds, ‘for life or for death?’
The hall resounded with such fierceness, that it near reached heaven.
‘Death! Death! Death!’
‘No!’ Gamaliel cried, outraged. ‘A capital sentence is not legal unless it is pronounced at a regular meeting of the Sanhedrin!’
But his words were drowned out. The priests were already coming off their dais. Each man took his turn to spit into Jesus’ face or to hit him with a staff or to slap him with a hand before leaving the court.
Jacob’s soul welled up with anger and he spoke out so loudly and so heartily that the voices took a pause. ‘The golden band on your mitre has the graven words, “Holiness unto Jehovah”! It means you have the power to atone for those who blaspheme!’
The pause was breathless, the crowd waited.
The cold, fierce gaze of the high priest moved to Jacob. ‘I will not atone for a man who profanes the name of God, again and again!’ Caiaphas raised his staff and looked to the vaults of the hall. ‘I–will–not!’
A terrible draft, unearthly and cruel, washed over the room now, and Jacob saw shadows, and shadows of shadows, sweep over all gathered there; like malignant birds borne by an unfelt wind. He saw, with his own eyes, how these shades were inspired into the souls of those present, and enticed them to rise up in a high pitch of hate and rage, so that snarling, like one great rabid animal, the throng moved on Jesus.
Caiaphas shouted out over the din, ‘Put this king in the dungeon until he is delivered to Rome, for only Rome can render him what he is due!’
By the time the members of the council had left the tribunal, the crowds had descended upon Jesus and were revelling in trampling upon the fallen greatness of the man they had welcomed to Jerusalem like a king only a few days ago. He was clubbed and beaten with fists, and insulted and hit with staves, and in the midst of this brutality, this coarseness and ferocity and profanity, he fell, and was swallowed up by the crowds, and Jacob saw him no more.
Jacob was aghast. The representatives of the highest human knowledge in Jerusalem had failed to see the Messiah of their people! But he was soon reminded of that peaceful morning, looking into Joseph’s workshop, when the image of his brother Yeshua had surfaced on the face of Jesus, and he had not wished to see that Jesus was his brother.
Was he any better than these men?
And so it was, on that terror-full night, when all hell seemed to be let loose on the world that Jacob finally found the purpose of his life, and his spirit home…and it had come too late.

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