Rabble In The Dark

The city's stench filled Eliab's nostrils as he stumbled along the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The night seemed uncomfortably worm, or maybe he'd just had too much to drink. The night dew had not yet begun to fall, so the morning chill was absent. Eliab perspired beneath his finery as he made his way through the darkness. He cursed himself for not having thought enough to carry a torch to light his way.

Only a few hundred yards into the darkness Eliab tripped and banged his shins on an unknown something left in the street. He swore loudly, got to his feet, and dusted off his robes. Just then a man rounded the corner. He carried a torch that burned fitfully, casting a confusion of shadow and light about him.

"Well, what have we here? Eliab, son of Zoar, the spice merchant. What are you doing out here wandering in the dark?"

"Is that you, Malchus?"

"It is," Malchus replied. "You should know better than to stagger around Jerusalem in the dead of night. It can be dangerous."

"I'm aware of that," Eliab retorted. "I just finished same business dealings with some friends and was on my way home. I know the way; I don't need a light."

"Oh? Then why are you going in the wrong direction? You must have had some wine this evening to help your 'business dealings.'"

"You take a lot of liberty for a servant," Eliab snapped.

"The servant of the high priest is not just any servant. As a matter of fact, I'm on a special errand right now. Interested?"

"Not really," Eliab muttered as he began to walk away.

"There's same money in it for you." Malchus grinned.

"Money?" Eliab turned back. He'd had a run of bad luck that night. He could use some extra money. "How much?"

"Enough to make it worthwhile to join."

"Join what?"

"Sort of a greeting committee," Malchus snickered. "Some fanatic is hiding out in the hills around Jerusalem. This rebel Teacher has been stirring up the people and undermining the authority of our religious leaders. They plan to arrest Him and bring Him to trial tonight."

"How will you find Him, and what does all this have to do with me?"

"An informer will lead a band of hand-picked soldiers, priests, and responsible persons like yourself right to Him. The soldiers will do all the dirty work. You're just there to serve as a witness in case one should be needed."

"Who's the fanatic that's causing all the trouble?"

"A man called Jesus, a carpenter from a stinking little village named Nazareth. He fancies Himself the Messiah!"

"I've heard of Him, but I don't know much about Him."

"I'm not surprised. You two don't frequent the same places," Malchus muttered as he turned to go. "Come. We must hurry to meet with the others."

The crowd numbered perhaps thirty men, more than half of them soldiers. Mercenaries by the look of them, Eliab mused. None of them wore matching livery, but many seemed to know each other. As they moved about, their leather trappings creaked, and the hilts of their swords clanked against each other.

The priests and scribes stood at a distance, aloof from the raucous laughter of the soldiers. Eliab knew most of the religious leaders only by reputation. Their servants, like Malchus, he knew personally, for they often bought spice from his father. As usual the servants carried the torches for their masters, and a few held clubs or daggers in their free hands.

Just after Eliab and Malchus joined the waiting crowd, a man appeared out of the night, flanked by two priests. Instantly the group's attention centered on the man. Eliab didn't like the look of him. He looked like the sort who rose to success by, climbing over the bodies of his opponents. He must be the informer, Eliab thought.

"What's his name?" he whispered to Malchus as they went closer.

"I'm not sure. Judas, I think. But his name's not important. What's important is that he can lead us directly to this fraud who thinks He's the Son of God."

"How can you be sure?"

"He ought to know where Jesus is. He's one of the Man's inner circle of followers."

"What? He's betraying his own Leader! Why would he do a thing like that?"

"You really ought to pay more attention to your father's business, Eliab," Malchus said with a cutting edge in his voice. "If you had, you would know that everything has a price."

The crowd grew silent, then the informer spoke to the leaders of the group. "The One I kiss is the Man. Arrest Him and guard Him well when you take Him."

"What kind of resistance can we expect?" a grizzled soldier asked as he toyed with the blade of his dagger.

"Minimal. He leads fishermen and hill people, not soldiers. But remember, take Him alive," the informer commanded.

"Lead us to Him," a priest ordered.

Eliab and Malchus followed the torches into the night and the quiet hills around Jerusalem. The wine haze over Eliab's mind had lifted somewhat with all the running around, and his sense of direction returned. He recognized the area they were marching into: Gethsemane.

He and Malchus walked near the front and to the right of the column of armed men. Malchus had orders to oversee the proceedings and report to his master, Caiaphas, if anything went wrong. They wound up the trail, avoiding the sparse vegetation and staying close to the soldiers in the forward position.

When a Man stepped out into the path and confronted them, Eliab jumped back in surprise. The Man eyed the crowd carefully, without fear. Eliab noticed two or three other men standing close behind Him.

The informer slipped out of the brush, came to the Man and greeted Him with a kiss. The Man spoke one quiet sentence that Eliab could not hear, but the informer backed away as though he'd been struck. Anger and embarrassment flitted across Judas' face before the gleam of icy hatred replaced it. Then the Man spoke to the crowd.

"Why have you come? Whom do you want?"

"Jesus of Nazareth," a soldier snapped, then spat at the Man's feet.

"I am He!"

Eliab felt the ground beneath his feet twist and wrench free. A blinding light flashed across the hillside, banishing the shadows and overpowering the torchlight. Eliab fell heavily on his side. His stomach churned and his eyes glazed. For a moment he thought he would vomit, but as the light faded away, the nausea subsided.

He glanced up from the ground at Jesus, standing calmly beneath the black sky. A shimmer of light circled His brow and imparted a glow to the air around Him. Eliab rubbed his eyes. The crown of light disappeared.

He wondered if he'd imagined the whole thing, some trick of the wine. But he found the entire company of soldiers, priests, and servants also prone on the rocky ground of Gethsemane.

"Who is it you want?" Jesus asked again.

The crowd got hurriedly to their feet; embarrassed by their inexplicable behavior, fearful yet angry. Two soldiers unsheathed their swords and stepped forward. Others fanned out to encircle the Man. Eliab drew closer, fascinated.

"We seek Jesus of Nazareth," Eliab heard Malchus snarl.

"I told you I am He. If you are looking for Me, then let these others go," Jesus requested, motioning to the shadowy figures of His followers.

The soldiers moved in quickly, gripping Jesus roughly and tying His hands behind His back. Suddenly, with a blood-curdling cry, a burly mountain of a man swinging a sword lunged out of the trees. Eliab shrank back as the big man burst into the knot of soldiers, flattening two of them. Malchus swung his club ineffectually, and the huge man turned on him.

Eliab jumped away as the attacker's sword whistled through the night air. It swept in a wide arc over the man's head, aimed to split Malchus from head to foot. Malchus, aware of his peril, pivoted sideways, but he didn't escape the blow completely. With a scream of pain he clutched the side of his head where on ear had once been.

Before the burly giant could attack further, Jesus stopped him, grasping his sword arm firmly in one hand. Frayed leather thongs dangled from Jesus' own wrists. "Put away your sword, Peter! All those who draw the sword die by the sword!"

Peter froze, astonished at Jesus' command. Only then did the other soldiers realize that Jesus had freed himself without difficulty from his leather bindings. The guards, too, pulled out their swords but stood back cautiously.

Jesus bent down, picked up the severed ear, and knelt beside Malchus, who lay whimpering on the ground. He pulled away the servant's hand and put the ear back in place. Eliab blinked then looked closer when Malchus stopped moaning. The ear was well! Malchus looked up in disbelief, fingering the healed ear as Jesus returned to Peter.

"Do you think I couldn't call My Father, and He would send twelve legions of angels to protect Me? That is not My way, Peter. Shouldn't I drink the cup My Father has given Me?"

Peter hung his head in silence. He felt angry and confused, slipping off into the darkness. Jesus turned and spoke to the cluster of men who had come for Him. "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture Me? Every day I sat in the Temple courts teaching, and you did not lay a hand on Me. But this is your hour"--Jesus paused--"where darkness reigns."

The soldiers advanced again and bound Jesus thoroughly. The priests and servants began taunting Him to cover their chagrin at the demonstration of personal power they'd witnessed. But Jesus lapsed into a strange silence. The verbal abuse had no effect. He didn't seem to hear it. Jesus was hauled roughly down the trail, guarded on all sides by men with drawn swords.

Eliab hurried over to Malchus, who stood dazed beneath o scrubby tree. He started to question him, but Malchus shoved him away and ran off dawn the trail, leaving Eliab in the dark. It was too quiet then. He could almost hear the night breathe. Eliab began a shuffling run to catch up with the crowd. His mind spun in confused circles. He decided to go to the Man's trial. Perhaps they would need a witness after all.

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Him - Rabble In The Dark
Copyright 1990, written by Kenneth Fields