Rebecca withdrew inside her heavy shawl and shivered in spite of the fire. The flames danced convulsively. The smoke made her eyes burn. All around the courtyard of the high priest's palace darkness pressed upon the city. She felt the sluggish weight of the night on her mind, but when she took her eyes from the fire, questing in the blackness, Rebecca found only emptiness.
Lydia's shrill laughter grated on her nerves. A servant like herself, Lydia cooked for the men on guard at the courtyard's door-gate. She had done little more than flirt with first one guard and then another. Normally, Rebecca served her watch at the door-gate alone, but tonight Caiaphas had reasoned that a few extra men-at-arms might prove necessary. She thought she sensed the guards' annoyance at Lydia's persistence.
Rebecca and the guard at the fire heard the commotion at nearly the same time. She stiffened at the distant sounds of violence and anger, and the guard slid his sword noiselessly from its scabbard. Its blade flashed dully in the firelight. A mob was swarming through the streets of Jerusalem. The guards had been waiting for it most of the night.
Pacing silently past her, the guard roused the other soldiers. They drew their weapons and flanked the entrance to the courtyard. Rebecca stood quietly at the door-gate while the venomous clamor grew.
From the shadows of the street, a man emerged and ran up to the gate. The torch held by one of the guards cast shifting shadows across his face. "Who are you?" Rebecca asked, fingering the material of her shawl.
"I serve Matthias, the scribe. He has sent me ahead to tell you to open the gate for them. They're in an evil mood and will not tolerate delay."
"So I hear. My master will not like all the noise they make."
"It can't be helped, woman. They're bringing the prisoner Jesus."
The door-gate swung open silently when Rebecca slid back the bolt and gave it a firm pull. Seconds later the mob surged into view and channeled itself through the gate and the courtyard, into the judgment hall. They passed in noisy confusion, waving clubs, swords, and torches and dragging a lone Man along in their midst.
Just as she turned to close the door-gate two more men appeared out of the shadows. One seemed quite young to Rebecca, slightly built but earnest in his bearing. The other man, though she saw only a glimpse of his face, seemed more her age. He was big, and his clothing could not hide the strength in his body. Even so, he seemed the weaker of the two.
"Please," the young man said, "let us pass."
"I have orders to keep out spectators," she answered.
Her words agitated the young man even more. "Please, woman! We didn't come to watch." He paused, then blurted, "They have taken our Master! We must follow!"
His hoarse admission surprised Rebecca. It was dangerous to admit that one was a follower of a man taken prisoner by a mob. And if the prisoner happened to be the Teacher from Nazareth, the danger increased.
A priest who had not yet entered the hall heard the man's statement. His face angry and red, the priest returned to the door-gate and brushed Rebecca and the guard aside. For several seconds he did nothing but glare at the two men outside. Then he turned to Rebecca. "Let this 'follower' enter. I want him to see what happens to blasphemers who challenge the Sanhedrin!"
Before Rebecca could respond, the priest whirled away and stalked into the hall. Obediently she opened the gate to the young man, but the guard held the other one back at sword point. Rebecca sensed the big man stiffen against the sword.
"My friend is a follower, too. Please allow him to come with me."
"Can you guarantee his peacefulness?" she asked.
"He'll cause no trouble."
The guard sheathed his sword and let the two men pass. The light from the torch flashed briefly on the large man's face, and Rebecca read desperation and anger in his expression. She closed the door-gate, bolting it securely, then slipped back to the fire.
From her seat at the fire she could see the judgment hall in the palace quite easily. The room filled slowly with leaders called hastily from their warm sleep. Most of them had trickled in through a private entrance, not wanting to be observed. But Rebecca had seen them, seen them all.
Caiaphas sat in the judgment seat, dignitaries on either side of him. Half a dozen Roman soldiers occupied a separate dais. They looked bored and irritable. The Prisoner stood silently in the center of the hall, a guard on each side and His hands tightly bound behind His back. The sound of voices carried well into the courtyard.
"Work one of Your 'miracles,' impostor!" Caiaphas spat sarcastically, his voice high and shrill with anger.
Rebecca dropped her eyes. It was not seemly to observe her master demonstrate his lack of control. She knew his behavior could not go unnoticed, particularly since it contrasted so sharply with the Prisoner's. Jesus stood quietly at ease, as if the whole Sanhedrin stood trial before Him instead of the other way around. Caiaphas could not miss the nobility in Jesus' demeanor.
A movement by the fire drew her attention. She could not mistake the identity of the big man who warmed his hands at the fire. His companion wasn't with him, but she was sure he was one of the followers of Jesus.
In the flickering light of the fire, Rebecca could see his bearded face, pale and taut with worry. He glanced up at the meeting hall often, barely hiding the confusion in his eyes. The man tried to blend into the shifting, murmuring assembly that huddled around the warmth. His bulk made it nearly impossible.
Curious, Rebecca wanted to know more about the Prisoner. She had heard stories about His miracles, and she had heard Him speak to the people on a number of occasions. But she had to admit that much of what He said made no sense to her at all. Now she had an opportunity to question one of His own followers.
The big man's eyes wandered, falling briefly on hers. Though she knew he didn't really see her, she took it as an excuse to speak to him. "Aren't you one of this Man's disciples?"
The man went rigid, and fear drained the blood from his face. He glanced around, realizing suddenly that the rest of the group around the fire were listening intently to what he might say. "Woman, I don't know what you're talking about!"
Rebecca asked nothing more. The man had lied. She was no fool. Big enough to take on four men alone, and he feared a single woman with a simple question! He was a coward and a liar, she determined, and she regretted even allowing him to enter the courtyard. He should be outside the walls in the cold night, not shuffling about the fire while his Master stood before the Sanhedrin.
If His followers act this way, Rebecca thought, then Jesus can't be anything special. If He really was the Messiah, His followers would gladly fight and die for Him.
A rooster crowed in the darkness. Morning would come soon.
She went back to listening to the trial. Caiaphas had apparently regained his composure. He was questioning witnesses about the actions of the silent Prisoner.
Rebecca watched a procession of witnesses answer a few questions; then Caiaphas dismissed them with an imperious wave of his hand. None of them had said anything worth listening to, and several had flatly contradicted each other.
"This fellow"--a man pointed accusingly at Jesus--"said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days'!"
That hadn't been the way Rebecca remembered hearing it in the Temple courtyard. But it didn't matter. Most people would listen to a false witness, if he said what they wanted him to say. The Temple was sacred to Jews and a source of pride for the Gentiles, who may have helped construct it. All would take seriously a threat to the Temple.
Before Rebecca could hear Jesus' response Lydia spoke up, drowning out anything that He might have said. "I'm sure you are one of His disciples." She spoke directly to the big man. "I saw you come in with one of them."
"I don't even know the Man!" he answered much too loudly.
He supported his statement with an oath, but Rebecca could feel the suspicion grow in the others standing near the fire. The man slipped back away from the light. Disgusted, Rebecca returned to listening to the proceedings in the hall.
Caiaphas had descended from the judgment seat and stood facing Jesus. Hatred flashed from his eyes. "Aren't You going to say anything? What is this charge brought against You?"
He was back to shouting again, Rebecca noticed. The trial wasn't going as smoothly as planned. Jesus refused even to speak in His own defense. Suddenly Caiaphas stepped close to the Prisoner, one hand pointing upward, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. He thundered, "I command You by the living God! Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!"
Rebecca expected the Prisoner to either continue His silence or deny His divinity. He did neither. "Yes, it is as you say. But I say to all of you, in the future you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of God and coming in the clouds of heaven."
The silence that greeted His quiet pronouncement rocked the hall and left Rebecca floundering in uncertainty. She tried to reconcile Jesus' courage and His follower's cowardice, but the two seemed completely without connection. Jesus at least acted like He was the Messiah, even though His followers didn't appear to believe it. Was He a madman? A liar? Or was He really the Son of God?
At last Caiaphas found his voice. "Blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard His blasphemy with your own ears. How do you answer it?"
The gallery resounded with the demand for execution. Caiaphas took hold of the holy garments he wore as the high priest and ripped them to indicate his abhorrence of the Man and His blasphemy. But Rebecca felt shamed by Caiaphas' disregard for the sacredness of his office.
Almost immediately one of the men in the crowd again drew attention to the Man's follower, who had inched back into the warmth, trying to be inconspicuous. "I was in the garden when they took the blasphemer prisoner."
Rebecca recognized the man who spoke, a kinsman of Malchus, and the look in his eye signaled trouble. Apparently he had recognized the big man too. She motioned to one of the guards to be ready.
"I saw you there. You can't deny that you are a Galilean. Your accent gives you away."
The large man shrank back into the crowd, cursing vehemently. "I don't know this Man you're talking about!"
High on the wall, almost directly behind the frightened man, a rooster crowed a second time. The man's eyes widened, a glaze of anguish spreading over them at the sound. Like a puppet on a string, his head snapped involuntarily around to look into the hall.
Rebecca watched in stunned surprise as the eyes of the coward and the Prisoner met, held their gaze, then fell away. In that brief moment she read disappointment, understanding, and forgiveness in the Prisoner's face. But when she turned to look for the big man, he had vanished into the darkness.
Once again a rooster greeted the morning. But Rebecca could see no hint of the sunrise.
Him - Facade
Copyright © 1990, written by Kenneth Fields