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Tony's Reflection 81
The English batsman enters the gladiatorial arena of Ashes cricket, to confront the “oldest enemy”. The baking Australian sun burns its anger mercilessly down onto his lily-white skin. He walks slowly and deliberately to his crease. In a moment, he will stand there totally alone. The crowd are barracking for his blood. Hostile fielders surround him, like hyenas around prey, laughing menacingly about everything from the way he holds the bat to his parental origins. The limbering bowler snarls. He will soon send a ½ pound missile of leather and cork hurtling towards the batsman’s head at 90 mph.
For all the challenge and danger, it is “only” cricket.
The smouldering threat of violence, soon to explode into bloody carnage, is anything but a game, in this week’s episode from
We see a crowd on the hot, dusty road to Jerusalem. One man is out in front. That’s how any teacher would lead his followers, as they went from town to town. But this is no ordinary teacher. No ordinary journey, either.
So often Jesus has been mobbed. People pressing and pushing, just to get a healing touch. Crowds jostling for the best view, so they could watch him teach, utterly spellbound as he mesmerised them with messages that went like flashes of light from heaven into the very depths of their souls.
Today, there is no hubbub of excitement or anticipation in those following. The only sound is of sandals scraping through gravel, as the dust rises in the sweltering heat. Their bodies are soaked in sweat, but in their hearts is an ice-cold foreboding.
Jerusalem lies at the end of that road. How often had they trodden that route, full of warmth and good cheer. It had so often been like “coming home for Christmas” as they journeyed towards the coming celebration in their Golden City.
It would soon be time for the biggest party of the Jewish year. But this year, among those on the journey with Jesus, spirits were cast low, full of grim uneasiness about what lay ahead.
Their gaze lingered on Jesus, as he strode out in front of them. Those eyes that had so often been ablaze with love for God and for people, as he had brought them his message of good news, simply show steely determination. There was no sign of fear on his face.
News about Jesus always spread like wildfire, through the crowds. News of healings. News of miracles. The latest news couldn’t have been more different. The Twelve had heard the predictions from Jesus himself. Warnings of betrayal, warnings of rejection by the very authorities who should have welcomed him with open arms, warnings of death. The Twelve couldn’t keep that disturbing news to themselves. They didn’t understand it, fully. They had seen Jesus take on a whole army of demons, single-handed. He told the storm to keep quiet and it did. Yes, he had enemies, they knew that… but how could this Jesus whose every pore exuded God’s power ever be beaten by those snivelling Pharisees? Rumours had been flying around ever since those first predictions. No one could grasp what was going to happen and confusion was breeding fear.
Then there was The Man himself. The mystery that was Jesus had become ever darker, more obscure. He had such strength and authority in every fibre of his being, it was inconceivable anyone could ever overcome him. Yet, instead of crushing his enemies, he talked of being crushed by them.
They were used to heroes refusing to be killed off, putting their enemies to death and conquering overwhelming odds, as they rode on to triumph. Jesus, though, was different. They knew he was a hero, but not in that mould.
It was all breathtakingly amazing, yet bone chillingly scary at the same time.
As he marched on, full of purpose, towards Jerusalem, it felt like he wasn’t interested in winning the victory over his enemies they all felt should be his, as Messiah. No, it was almost as if he had a death wish. Like he wanted to die. Worse than that, it was becoming ever clearer that even though he held his destiny in his own hands, he didn’t want to hold on to his own life. He was going to give it away. He wanted to let them kill him. This was utterly unnerving.
Voices are hushed. Reduced to a whisper, as the crowd struggle to come to terms with the fate Jesus is so clearly embracing.
He turns and looks behind him. The steely determination in his eyes melts into sadness as he sees the bewildered confusion written all over the faces of the men he has loved the most for the last three years and shared so much with.
He calls them close to him. The crowd hesitates. This is not a place or time for them to pry. They keep a respectful distance, so that the Master is alone with the Twelve.
“Jerusalem is waiting. I am going to be handed over to my enemies. Sentenced to die.”
This is the third time, now, they have heard this. This time, there is more. It wasn’t going to be a quick or clean death. Their master was going to be ridiculed, mocked and spat upon by people not fit to tie his sandal straps. Those he had previously confounded with a word, would have their day while he remained silent. Then he would be handed over to the hated Romans. The ultimate insult and rejection. Israel’s own Messiah handed over, by Israel’s own leaders, to the savagery of the very people the religious leaders despised the most.
They all knew what handing over to the Romans meant. The cruellest death known, by the most barbaric instrument of torture - the cross.
But then three days later, he would rise. Jesus’ voice rose into a calm and confident air of triumph as those words fell from his lips.
But no one understands what he means. No one says a word.