The Naked Man – pt. 10

Olive-Tree-in-Courtyard-of-the-Church-of-the-Multiplication“Yohannan – you make your Jesus sound more like Caesar than Messiah,” called out the young man. Mark turned to address him. “My young friend, you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I do not know yours.” “Yiftach. My name is Yiftach,” the young man responded. A smile played at Mark’s lips. “Your father chose well, for it would appear you have grown into your name. Yiftach is honored among the judges of our people: an outcast who became a great warrior.” Yiftach shifted uncomfortably as people turned towards him appraisingly, although he did not seem displeased with Mark’s words. “Tell me,” said Mark, “the reason for your pronouncement.”

“‘The gospel of the Son of God?” Yiftach said dismissively. “‘Glad tidings of the Son of the Divine?’ How many times have our people heard those words from the heralds of our Roman oppressors? How many times have we heard the latest ‘good news’ about Caesar – about his latest victory over another people? How is it that you use such language in the same breath as talk of Messiah?”

“A good question,” Mark responded. “And if I were like you, still waiting for Messiah, perhaps I would not use such language. But we of the Way believe Messiah has come – Jesus, the Christ – and with him, the kingdom of God. So why not begin the story of Jesus by serving notice on Caesar and all his imperial propaganda?” Yiftach snorted loudly. “Why not?! Other than the fact that your Jesus did not depose Caesar from his throne, nor remove his legions from our land – Vespasian’s being even now camped just outside this city? Exactly what kind of notice do you think you’re serving on Rome?”

Yiftach’s words prompted several people to nod their heads in agreement with his sentiment, and to turn to Mark for a response. Mark glanced quickly at Simeon, anxiety writ large on his friend’s face, who shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Now you can see for yourself.” Mark offered him a quick smile of encouragement before turning back to Yiftach. “Again, a reasonable question, the answer to which I hope you will discover as you hear the story of Jesus. But let me ask you a question. Do you not grow weary of the endless history of empire? Of the endless succession of powerful nations rising, only to inevitably fall to more powerful nations? Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and now, Rome. Do you truly believe that Messiah will come only so that Israel can replace Rome? That Messiah will lead the armies of Israel against Vespasian? Is that the Messiah you are waiting for? Do you not long for a new beginning – not just more of the same?”

“What I long for,” responded Yiftach, his eyes flashing in the lamplight, “is the destruction of those soldiers camped outside the wall, for Rome to leave, and for a descendent of David to sit on the throne of Israel, to rule our people in our own land. That is the Messiah I am waiting for. That is the new beginning that I long for!” “And,” said Mark, gently, “you must surely hope that this Messiah will act differently than your leaders of recent years, who have slaughtered their fellow countrymen in the city of David. Will Simon bar Giora be any different than them – even if he does manage to drive Caesar’s legions from your gates?”

Yiftach began to get to his feet angrily, but stopped, and then sat back down against the olive tree. He held Mark’s gaze for a long moment, but did not offer a response to his question. A look of understanding seemed to pass between them, and then Mark turned to address the ecclesia. “I am telling you plainly what we who walked with Jesus failed to see. Today we confess the gospel that Jesus is Lord – and Caesar is not – but as we walked the hills of Galilee with him, Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, and we did not – or would not – understand what he tried to teach us.”

“How could we?” Mark turned to find his mother pushing herself up from her reclining position. “It was so fundamentally different from the teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees. It did indeed feel like he was building a whole new world within the shell of the old with his words. A world we could not imagine – then. As you well know, Yohannan, in the early days I not only could not understand what Jesus taught, but I was opposed to it, and I did not want you involved with him.” “I well remember, mother. But,” Mark’s eyes took on a distant look, suddenly caught up in a vivid memory, “when John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, I – like all the country of Judaea – went out to him, along with all the people of Jerusalem. And we were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing our sins. It was John who prepared us for the one who would come after him, for Jesus. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make his ways straight.’”

“But surely,” said one of Yiftach’s companions, “those are the words of the prophet Malachi?” “And,” said another, “you have not completed the prophet’s declaration: ‘and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple.” Mark held out his arms wide, taking in the assembly. “How wonderful it is to be back among people who know and love the scriptures!” He turned towards the young men. “You are both right.” “Then why did you choose to say it like that?” Mark could see a few heads nodding with sleep. “It is late. Perhaps we should save that question until tomorrow night…”

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