Mark could still picture that small group of men as if it were yesterday and not close to, what, four decades ago now? As he began to speak, his eyes remained distant. “We followed Jesus as he ascended the Mount of Olives. We left the main road and took one of the side paths, just as we had done a couple of days before. I looked back across the Kidron and could just make out the outline of the Temple in the moonlight.
“Jesus suddenly turned and stood still. We gathered around him and although I was on the fringe of the group, I could see Jesus’ eyes searching his disciples’ faces with some kind of profound emotion etched upon his own. Sadness? Fear? Perhaps both – I couldn’t tell. We stood in silence for a long moment before Jesus spoke. We had to strain to hear him. ‘You will all fall away, because it is written, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.”’ His disciples began to remonstrate with him, but Jesus held up his hand to quiet them before saying, ‘But after I have been raised I will go before you to Galilee.’” Mark’s eyes came back into focus as he caught the motion of his mother’s head nodding slowly up and down.
“None of you understood those words that night, did you?” she said. “No,” he replied. “We either could not – or would not – accept what Jesus had been trying to tell us. This was the third time he had talked about his death and resurrection, but once again, it was Peter who challenged Jesus’ declaration. ‘Even though all may fall away,’ he blurted out, ‘I will not.’” Mark shook his head. “And he really meant it. Whenever Peter and I talked about that night – which we often did as the end drew near for him – Peter never shrank from what he had done just a few hours later that night. But he always insisted that he’d been in earnest when he’d said that he would not abandon Jesus. Because at the time he simply could not believe it possible of himself. I think he told that story so often because he saw how easily we underestimate the difficulty of choosing the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. So when Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, that you yourself this very night, before a cock crows twice, shall three times deny me,’ Peter remonstrated with Jesus again. ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you!’ And this time we all joined in with him, declaring our willingness to follow Jesus, no matter where it led. Including myself. Because, like you said mother, we could not believe that he would die.
“I know it was dark, and it was a long time ago, but I remember what I saw in Jesus’ face before he turned to lead us further up the mountain: not anger or frustration, as I might have expected, but understanding. He knew us better than we knew ourselves. We walked for a while longer, and I could hear muttered conversations between those ahead of me, and saw many heads shaking, obviously still avowing their loyalty to Jesus, regardless of the cost. As did I, to myself.” Mark laughed bitterly. His mother spoke softly, “Your loyalty is not in question anymore, my son.” Mark held her gaze. “I hope when the time comes again – and I fear it will, soon enough – you will be proved right mother.” “I do not doubt it,” she responded. “But I fear that some of those here will choose a different path in the days to come.” She sighed. “There is much talk – argument even – among the community about the Revolt, and our place in it. Some among the ecclesia sound more like your brother Daniel, than they do Jesus.”
“I know,” said Mark, reaching inside his tunic and pulling out a piece of parchment. “Simeon has written to me, expressing concern that many here will succumb to the pressure to take up arms in the defense of Jerusalem.” His mother began slowly nodding her head as she said, “Ah, so that is why you have come now, after all these years.” “Yes,” he said. He reached out to take her hands between his again. “But I have longed to see you, before…before…” His voice trailed off. “Before the end?” she asked, tenderly. He nodded slowly, tears welling up in his eyes. As the first fell to trace the path of a wrinkle, she reached across to wipe it away, as she had done countless times when he was a child. As she did so, she said, “Mine, or our beloved city’s? Because they both surely cannot be far off now.” They sat in silence for a while, unwilling or unable to speak further just then. His mother looked up at a sudden cry from the courtyard to see David being helped to his feet by one of his brothers. She turned back to her son and said, “But we do not need to speak of that just now.” She gestured outside towards her great-grandchildren. “Would you like to finish your story of how you became ‘the naked man’?” He leaned back, brushed the sleeve of his tunic across his eyes and smiled weakly. “Yes. Perhaps that would be good…”