While he sat on the veranda contemplating his day, Addi stretched and rubbed his tired eyes as the sun slowly pushed its way above the skyline. He had spent most of the night tossing and turning as he contemplated the knowledge he now carried around in his head following his meeting with Pilate. The biggest question that concerned him was why Pilate had even told him about the Pharisees and Sadducees asking for him to arrest and kill Jesus. Was Pilate once again just being shrewd by trying to undermine his loyalty to the Pharisees, or to the Pesachya group? Did Pilate know about their organization? That thought alone was enough to keep him from getting any sleep.
If he had not witnessed Hadar's admission of planting the seed with Herod that ultimately saw John the Baptist killed, he would have never believed Pilate's statement. But now the whole idea of them requesting him to kill Jesus not only seemed feasible, but probably truthful. It was the thought of his own involvement in all this that made him sick and confused on how he should proceed. It was not until he stepped out onto the veranda that he decided on what he would do.
Knowing he was meeting with Cleopas that evening, he decided the best use of his time before then was to learn more about Jesus. And based on Jesus' fearlessness from yesterday, he figured the best place to find him would be in the temple courts. He notified his two guards of his plans and pulled together what he felt he would need to spend the entire day there.
Despite the crowds, their pace picked up the closer they got to the temple courts, so much so that one of his guards asked if he were late for a meeting. Addi realized the idea of watching and listening to Jesus was somehow exciting, an excitement he had rarely felt listening to the priest at the temple. Was it his message, or the risk and danger it took preaching it? All he knew was that for some reason he wanted to see Jesus succeed every time he encountered a Pharisee or Sadducee. In fact, he enjoyed it.
Arriving at the temple mount area, they crossed the Gentile Court where they had last seen Jesus the previous morning. Again, he dismissed his guards, asking them to return home and wait for him to arrive that evening. As he settled in on the top row of steps to the left of the Beautiful Gate, he watched as crowds of people walked past. There was an occasional person he recognized, mostly priests, but the clear majority were from out of town and wandered the temple grounds in amazement.
"Waiting for the Messiah?" An elderly man sitting on the steps to his left asked and smiled. At first Addi thought he would deny it, but did not know the man so he nodded and asked.
"All my life," the man said with a distant smile as he continued to scan the temple court areas before continuing. "What is it you hope to find from him?" the man asked. Addi contemplated his deep question before answering.
"Answers, I guess," he finally replied and shrugged.
"Answers or truth?"
"Is there a difference?" Addi asked as the man smiled and nodded without taking his eyes off the crowd before him.
"I have found if I'm only looking for an answer, then I will look until I find the one I like best or the one which agrees with my own desires. But if I'm looking to find the truth, I must first remove my personal desires and influences before I even consider the question," he said and turned to Addi. "Then I focus on whether to believe in the source from where the answer comes," the elderly man said and then pointed across the temple grounds. "Here he comes."
Addi's heart quickened as he followed the direction of the man’s finger and saw in the center of the temple court what looked and sounded like a swarm of bees surrounding the queen as she moved locations, except the bees were people and the queen was Jesus. Some were running away as if carrying an important message to another waiting party, others were walking or running toward the swarm in an attempt to join it. Addi fought the urge to also run toward him but stayed where he was, still thinking about the words the man next to him had shared. Addi knew he was looking for the Messiah, the Messiah who would drive out the Romans by sword and reestablish his kingdom in Jerusalem and across the earth, but he knew Jesus was not that Messiah, not the messiah he was looking for. But was he the Messiah the world was looking for? If he followed the man's advice and removed his personal desires for a Messiah, how would he see Jesus?
As the swarm grew closer, Addi tried to set aside his "warrior king" Messiah vision and focus on the answers Jesus and John the Baptist had both taught. Repent and believe the good news, for the kingdom of God is near. All of it accessed through a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Addi remembered what Nicodemas had said about his encounter with Jesus, 'Addi, he sees right through us and into our hearts. He answers our questions before we ask them and his words...what he teaches is so profound, yet so challenging. The kingdom we desire is different from the one he professes. In his, you enter through a new spiritual birth of water and spirit that requires a person to make a physical and mental choice of either believing in him with all your heart, or not.'
Addi thought about Nicodemas' statement and how different the two kingdoms were; one a physical kingdom, the other a kingdom of the heart, and how it applied to what the man nearby had said. If Jesus was from God, as Nicodemas and so many others believed, then what Jesus is teaching should be heeded and obeyed by all! Addi's heart suddenly went cold as he recalled what Jesus had told him; 'One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.'
Addi remembered the interaction as if it were yesterday and the words still haunted him night and day. Even Jesus' initial response when Addi had called him good teacher, and Jesus saying why do you call me good, no one is good - except God alone, as if he were testing Addi on who he truly believed Jesus was. In response, Addi had made it clear whom he felt Jesus was by saying only teacher. It was an easy way out. If he did not believe Jesus was from God, then he would not need to obey his words. If he did believe then everything he had worked and strived for would be lost.
Addi turned to ask the man next to him whom he thought Jesus was, but he was not there. Addi urgently scanned the area, looking for where the man may have gone, but he could not find him in the growing crowd of people who were gathering near the steps as Jesus came closer. Another opportunity lost, he thought to himself as the outer edges of the people began to move onto the steps in front of him.
As Jesus and his disciples approached the steps, he could see they were in deep discussion. Jesus was nodding and answering their questions as the people around them were trying to hear him. He passed through the sea of people in front of him as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea. At first Addi was nervous, thinking Jesus might be coming up the steps to speak with him personally, but he angled to the right and stopped a few steps down. Jesus then turned to face the sea of people gathering below him to deliver his answer.
"Have faith in God," Jesus announced loudly as the crowd fell silent waiting for him to continue. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."1
A hush fell over the crowd of people as they considered the power and challenge of Jesus' statement. Hearing a commotion to his left, Addi saw a group of Pharisees pushing their way through the crowd reaching the edge of the area around Jesus. Jesus waited silently as their pointed hats and white garments came into view only a few feet away from where Addi stood. Although they were a little disheveled and frustrated at the crowd for not dispersing as they approached, a respect and protocol they felt they deserved, they took a moment to adjust their garments as they prepared to address Jesus. Addi recognized Caiaphas, Hadar and a few other priests as they glanced around at the enormity of the crowd below them. Hadar finally broke the silence.
"By what authority are you doing this and who gave you this authority?" The question seemed odd, as if rehearsed. Jesus tilted his head and looked briefly at the crowd and then back to the Pharisees who had assembled themselves in such a way as to create enough room to stand almost defiantly before him.
"I will ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism- where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" Jesus asked. Hadar seemed shaken by the question about Jesus' cousin John, as if knowing he had been involved in his death. Instead of answering, they turned away and Addi heard them discussing how to answer it amongst themselves.
"If we say, 'From heaven' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men' - then he will know we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet." They nodded, and Caiaphas mumbled something Addi could not hear. Hadar turned back to respond to Jesus and the crowd became silent again as they waited for his response.
"We don't know," Hadar said coldly and the crowd murmured and grumbled at the response. Jesus shook his head in disappointment before finally responding.
"Then neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."2
Jesus then turned away from the group of Pharisees as if dismissing their presence to again face the crowd, who immediately went silent in anticipation of what he might say.
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will sir' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?" Jesus asked. To his surprise, Caiaphas spoke up.
"The first," Caiaphas said confidently, the other Pharisees nodding. Then Jesus again turned to face them.
"I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him," Jesus said sternly in response as the crowd mumbled in amazement.3
Addi thought about the simple message and calling John had preached at the Jordan River, the same message Jesus and his disciples were preaching; 'to confess, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, preparing our hearts for God.' It seemed so purposeful; from the opening comment Jesus had made to the crowd to simply 'have faith and believe in God', and then pivot to the same teaching as John's baptism to challenge the Pharisees on their lack of obedience to God's commands. Addi could see the challenge did not go without effect, their embarrassment was evident on their faces.
"Listen to another parable," Jesus said directly to Caiaphas. "There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a wine press in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.' So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" Jesus ended, waiting for Caiaphas to respond.
"He will bring those despicable tenants to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time." Caiaphas finally replied angrily.
"Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" Jesus asked and waited until Caiaphas nodded. "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." Jesus said clearly. Everyone in the crowd, including Caiaphas and Hadar, knew Jesus was speaking about them.4
Addi could see that instead of humility and fear, there was only rage, and revenge written across the faces of the high priest Caiaphas, Hadar and those Pharisees with them. For a brief moment Addi thought Hadar would lash out at Jesus as he had done to anyone in the Pesachya meetings who opposed him, but Caiaphas put a hand on his chest and motioned with his head toward the crowd below them. Hadar could see they were nodding in agreement with Jesus' words, watching how they would respond. Hadar seeming to understand the danger of the moment, calmed down and stepped back. There was an uncomfortable period of silence until Caiaphas turned and left the edge of the circle and disappeared into the crowds.
The next few hours Addi listened as Jesus taught from the steps, answering their many questions. He and the crowds hung onto every word of Jesus’ teaching, mostly being taught in parables, requiring each person to try and understand what it meant and how it applied to them. Addi realized they were 'word pictures' intended to help those who may not have memorized scripture, but could easily relate to what he was teaching.
When Addi was not watching Jesus, he would watch his disciples. Each was very similar in appearance, although the one who sat closest to him seemed larger in stature. Most listened intently to Jesus' every word, never taking their eyes off him. One of them seemed distracted and spent more time looking down at the ground, shaking his head slightly in what Addi could only describe as 'frustration' as Jesus taught from the steps in front of him. He seemed like the odd man out in the group though none of the other disciples treated him any differently.
As the day progressed, Addi recognized various Pesachya members and their assistants stepping forward to ask a question meant to trap Jesus in his words. Hadar and Caiaphas were determined to chisel away at Jesus until he made a mistake, then they would pounce. He was a little surprised to see Hadar now working together with the Herodians, as a combined group of Pharisees and Herodians came forward to ask Jesus a question.
"Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are," they said. Addi could feel them setting Jesus up for the kill. "Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" They had carefully laid their deadly trap and now waited for Jesus to walk into it. Addi knew if they could get Jesus to say, 'do not pay taxes to Rome,' then they would have what they needed to have him arrested by the Roman soldiers. The crowd seemed to understand this also and became silent as they waited for his response. Jesus appeared disappointed with the group of men asking the question and shook his head.
"You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax?" Jesus demanded and held out his hand. One of the Herodians gave Jesus a denarius. Looking at the coin, holding it out for them to see, he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
"Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" Jesus replied and tossed the coin back to them. The crowd, clearly amazed, nodded and mumbled in agreement, while the group who tried to trap him withdrew back into the crowd, defeated again.5
At one point, Addi realized several hours had passed and he and the rest of the crowd, including Jesus and his disciples, had not eaten. Addi opened the bag he brought with him and, at first, thought about withdrawing from the crowd to eat its contents and then return. But as he glanced around, he saw Jesus' disciples sitting on the steps below him had not brought anything. Addi hesitated a moment as he thought about the delicious dates, cheeses, and bread he knew was waiting for him inside the bag. But instead of taking a few for himself, he merely tapped the nearest disciple on the shoulder and handed him the bag. When the big man opened the bag, a smile grew across his face as he looked back and nodded in appreciation. Addi returned the smile and motioned toward Jesus and the rest of the disciples sitting nearby. The man whispered a 'thank you' and opened the bag placing it on the steps just behind where Jesus stood.