0-50 CE · Israel · The Holy Week Series

The Sword-Pierced Heart

BE ADVISED
There is one use of a crude word in this piece, but it is used in correct context and with Scriptural basis (Deut. 23:2 KJV, John 8:41, and John 9:34).

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Taken at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion

15 Nissan, 33 CE • Bethany
· Mary, the Mother of Jesus ·

I couldn’t sleep the night we buried Him. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Him. I saw the blood. I remembered the way he had convulsed as He fought death. There were so many bugs drawn to the scent of blood. Carrion circled overhead. His eyes were bloodshot, yet bright with pain. And still the blood. So much of it! I had no idea one body could contain so much. It poured from Him like a fountain.

Finally, I gave up sleeping. I wrapped myself in my shawl and walked down to the dark courtyard. I knelt on the grass and stared at the stars, my eyes burning. They were so bright, which struck me as ironic. Nothing should have been bright. God had promised Father Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky. But what worth is progeny when the prophesied Messiah– my precious, loving boy–was dead.

Dead. What a terribly final word. A tear slipped into my ear, then another down my chin. I clutched my fists. I didn’t want to cry again. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop if I did. But they would come, so I gave up fighting them. I whispered, “God,” then wailed, “Oh God!”

I keeled, my heaving chest slamming again my thighs. I could barely breathe. But somehow, I could cry. I didn’t even try to understand how the two activities were mutually exclusive.

“Mother?” A man’s voice. But it was wrong. It didn’t belong to one of my sons. They were all in Jerusalem right now, anyway. Strong arms grasped my arms and pulled me against a strong shoulder. He held me awkwardly like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to do this or was afraid he was doing it wrong. Jesus had done the same thing after my husband died.

I cried harder and clung to the man who held me. “He’s gone!” I sobbed. “Why? If God is sovereign, then why was His Son murdered!?”

The man’s arms wrapped around me tighter. It reminded me of Jesus’ hugs. Another sob wrenched from my throat. “I don’t know,” the man’s voice broke. “And He warned us. He warned us on the way here that this would happen. But he was so calm about it… I just assumed it was one of his parables. If I had known…”

I knew who this was now. “Oh, John.” I pulled myself away from him and timidly put a hand on his wet cheek. This mother-son thing would take some getting used to. He had been like a son to me for two years, but this… What had Jesus been thinking?

John pulled away and looked up at the stars. His voice was husky when he spoke. “What was He like? As a child?”

I sniffed and wiped the tears from my cheek. “He was a good boy. He loved playing with the village children when they would let him, which wasn’t often. But He won everyone’s respect eventually.”

“Why didn’t the other kids like him?”

“They believed he was illegitimate. No one believed me when I said He was the Son of God.”

“Ah.”

“Once, he didn’t come home for supper. Joseph and I found him crying in a cave on the outskirts of town with a bloody nose and black eye. An older boy had called him a bastard.” The memory came with a mind-numbing cloud. I looked down at my fingers. “I always wished I could somehow shelter Him from all the rejection and cruelty. But it kept finding Him.”

“Did He know the truth then?”

I nodded. “He always knew who His Father was.”

“So did He fight back? When the boy…”

I sighed. “He never took kindly to people dishonoring His Father, even indirectly. But even at that age, He acted respectfully… honorably. The boy was looking for a fight, and when Jesus didn’t get riled, he hit Him.”

“What about your other children? Did they know who Jesus was?”

“We didn’t tell them right away. But they all figured it out eventually. Jesus was the only one who didn’t have Joseph’s nose.”

John snorted.

“The only one that heard from us was Susanna. The rest resented Joseph and me for not telling them. They thought we were lying when we told them the truth. It was hard on Jesus. I’ve always regretted that.” A tear ran down my cheek. “He forgave us, though.”

We stared at the stars for a few minutes. Memories swirled around me. The pleasure on His face when He walked by Himself for the first time, then His adorable shock when he fell. The way He fell asleep on Joseph’s chest after spending all day in the carpenter’s shop for the first time. The way His face shone with pride at His bar-mitzvah.

My mind skipped ahead a few years. I vividly remembered the look on His face when He told me that He was going to the Jordan River to be baptized, and my instinct said my world was about to change. I was shocked and disappointed in Him when I heard He was preaching, not joining the zealot army. My other sons’ assessment was that he was insane, and I believed them. We tried to take custody of Him the next time He was in town, but couldn’t get anywhere near Him.

Then He left. Over the next few months, I kept hearing stories of Him as He traveled around the region. He spoke truths concealed in parables and I lost count of His miracles. The people loved Him. The next time He came to Nazareth, he and I talked. More importantly, I actually listened. When He left town, I and my widowed daughter Susanna joined Him.

How I wished I had been with Him from the start like John had.

“Tell me something else. About His childhood.”

I sighed. “He loved climbing trees. Practically lived in the neighbor’s olive tree when he was eleven.”

John half-smiled. “I believe it. We stopped to help an old farmer harvest figs the summer before you joined us. He gathered all the figs at the top of one tree with the farmer’s grandson. We joked that Jesus was a little boy stuck in a man’s body.”

I smiled. “I’m sure He had a ready reply.”

John nodded. “He laughed and told us that unless we became like little children in our hearts, we’d never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” He picked up a pebble and stared at it. “That was one teaching He drilled into us to a lot.”

I could almost hear Him saying it. I pictured Him sitting on a high branch, a fig in hand, laughing. His eyes would have crinkled at the corners. Then it hit me again. The way his eyes were glazed when he looked at me that last time. I shuddered and forced myself to think of something else. “From the first time that I held Him, I was mesmerized by His eyes. They were deep and dark. He watched me so intently.”

“His eyes were the first thing I noticed about him, too. They shined with peace and joy and… Love.” He flipped the pebble over. “It rubbed off, you know? Especially all that love. God seemed so close. I trusted God better when I was with Him.” He sighed and thumbed away some dirt on the pebble. “I was with Him for three years and it still blows me away that someone like Him would choose a fisherman like me. And now, He’s my best friend.” He gulped. “Was.”

Another tear rolled down my cheek.

“I think that’s what’s going to haunt me the most,” he whispered.

My numbness shattered into anger. How many times had people tried to kill him in the last three years? I couldn’t even remember. He had always dodged his enemies and escaped the traps laid for him. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend why my intelligent and clever Son hadn’t gotten away yesterday. He could have. He had silenced mobs, soldiers, and the religious leaders so many times with His silver tongue. Why hadn’t He used it yesterday? I spat, “That all His potential was wasted on that cross?”

John glanced at me and blinked red-rimmed eyes. I bit my lip and took a calming breath. I glanced at the color-streaked sky. I wanted to scream at the sun. How dare it rise today?

He sighed. “That, too. But I was referring to His eyes specifically. Even when He was tired, his gaze was always sharp. The only time it wasn’t…”

I closed my eyes, allowing myself to be swallowed by the memory. While He was dying, John and I stood before His cross. I refused to let my knees buckle. Not while there was breath in Him, even if it took days for death to come. Then He looked at me. Through me, really, like he was drunk on pain and couldn’t focus on my face. Then He pushed up on those cruel nails, gasping for air. “Madam!” I was shocked that such a painful word could be said so lovingly. His arms gave out, and He hung there, allowing the nails to hold His weight. He was so still then.

The thieves dying on their crosses had called for their mothers a few times. I felt sorry for them. The only other women closeby were those who traveled with Jesus. It amazed me that He hadn’t called to me sooner. I’m here, I wanted to tell him, Shh, save your strength! But I couldn’t find my voice through my tears. After a long moment, He looked back at me. It was exhausting to watch him rise to take another breath.

“Behold your son,” He gasped. He relaxed, but was up again almost immediately and looking at John. “Behold your mother.”

John’s voice broke through my reverie. “He talked to me about it a few months ago. Asked if I would take care of you if He asked me to. I told Him that I would watch out for you as though you were my own mother. I said all He had to do was say the word. Then I told Him that I hoped it wouldn’t be necessary and that He would have many years of ministry to Israel and to you ahead of Him.”

I felt slapped. Until about a month ago, I didn’t know for sure that Jesus was planning on coming to Jerusalem for the Passover. How long had He known that this would happen? Why hadn’t He told me? I shook my head, gulping back tears. “What did He say?”

“He didn’t. Just gave me this look and walked away.”

My eyes burned as I looked away. I could now make out the pots on the other side of the courtyard. My thoughts turned to my second-born. “I don’t know what I’ll tell James.” He lived here in the city and pretended that he wasn’t related to the famous Galilean miracle worker. With Jesus gone, it was James’ right and responsibility to take me into his home. I doubted he would take kindly to Jesus’ choice.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to tell my mother or brother either.”

“You have a hope that they’ll understand eventually. They followed Jesus before I did.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean it will be easier to hear.” He looked up at the sunrise and his shoulders slumped. “I know it’s one of the most important Sabbaths of the year, but don’t want to go to the synagogue today.”

I leaned my head against his shoulder. “I don’t feel like worshiping today, either.”

He gulped, his adam’s apple bobbing. “It’s not that. I just don’t want to worship God sitting right next to the men who murdered His Son.”

Thank you for reading part 6 of The Holy Week Series!
Check back tomorrow for part 7!

Part 1: “Behold the Man” 13-year-old Alexander is esctatic to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But what he doesn’t realize is that this festival will change his life forever.

Part 2: The Last and the First John the Disciple has eaten more meals than he can count with his Master, Jesus of Nazareth. But this one is different. In many respects, it feels like a meal to end all meals. Then again, is it a herald of things to come?

Part 3: The Commander’s Vigil “Jesus went as usual to the Mount of Olives… There appeared to Him an angel from heaven, giving Him strength.” (John 22:39 and 42, CJB)

Part 4: The House of Judgment Nicodemus, a pious lawyer and friend of Jesus, is summoned to be a juryman for the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. As Jesus is tried for His life, Nicodemus can’t help but notice how unusual and, well, illegal the proceedings are. He wonders when the council will give up… or if they’ll succeed.

Part 5: The Sacrifice Joseph of Arimathea has been waiting expectantly for the Kingdom of God, and believes that Jesus heralds its arrival. But when Jesus is crucified, Joseph is left only with would-have’s, could-have’s, and should-have’s.

Part 7: The Appearance As far as James is concerned, it’s the end. His brother, Jesus, is dead, and that is–unfortunately–that. But he’s about to figure out that God has other plans.

Author’s Note

The story above is fiction. It is based more on personal experiences and brushes with grief than on Scriptural evidence. Despite the Scripture’s silence on the thoughts and feelings of Jesus’ followers during this time, however, I believe that this scenario could have happened.

Sources and Further Exploration

Books
A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays
John 19
Luke 3, 23
Mark 3, 6

Videos
The Star of Bethlehem by F.A. Larson

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