Addi took a sip of hot tea as he glanced across the city of Jerusalem from the upper veranda overlooking his estate. As was his daily routine, he awaited the sky to change from fading darkness into the full light of day and the brisk air into warmth. He again found himself reflecting on the encounter he and the others had had with John the Baptist forty-five days ago. Addi was still somewhat confused by John’s strong response to Hadar during his questioning, but he was also impressed by John’s confidence and fearlessness in front of the Pharisees and the members of the Sanhedrin.
I am the voice of one calling in the desert, to make straight the way for the Lord, he had said. When Addi had asked Hadar about the words, Hadar hissed back that this man was no voice of the Lord calling out anything except false teachings and self-promotion.
“He will get what his words deserve,” Hadar had replied as Addi rode beside the wagon on their journey home.
Addi waited until the next day to broach the subject with him, but even with one day to cool down, Addi could still see and hear the anger in Hadar’s response when he had asked him about John again.
“I’m sure that the Herodians will be very interested in him.” Hadar added.
“Why would they be interested?” Addi asked, a little surprised by the response.
“Because we have found the possible Messiah,” Hadar replied with a smile, coldly looking away as he continued. “The last thing Herod wants to see is a Messiah showing up to ruin his corrupt rule. Our proclamation will turn the Herodians' attention to this John, while we continue with our plans. A heaven-sent distraction for us if I might say.”
“Wouldn’t such a proclamation mean his death?” Addi asked. Hadar turned toward him.
“He brought this on himself by trying to do the work of God, something that is allowed only for Priests.” Hadar said trying to read Addi’s expression. “Why Addi, do you think he is the Messiah?” he asked as if speaking to a child.
“No,” Addi replied, fighting the urge to respond in anger. “He denied such a claim himself. I just don’t see the need to send a man to his death for trying to turn our people back to God.” Addi responded trying to read Hadar’s expression.
“How many people do you think will die in the upcoming war with the Romans?” Hadar asked. Addi shrugged slightly.
“However many our Lord will deem necessary to bring about the victory,” Addi finally replied.
“Then this John’s death will just be one of many that will help us achieve our Lord’s desires for his people. No one will remember him once our land is restored. Our goal is to find the Messiah and this John is just one more name that we can cross off our list,” Hadar stated, seeing the displeasure in Addi’s face. “Addi, do not let your emotions distort or distract you from your purpose.” They rode in silence for awhile before Addi finally replied.
“He said he knew who the Messiah was. If the Herodians kill him, or worse, they make him tell them who the Messiah is, then we will have missed an important opportunity with our own search.” It appeared that Hadar was preparing a response, but just continued to ride in silence. Addi eventually allowed his horse to fall back behind the wagons where he also rode in silence for the rest of the day.
Letting go of the memory, Addi knew it had been an interesting trip to say the least. As the sun finally rose above the eastern skyline, Addi took another sip of tea, suddenly grimacing at its now lukewarm temperature, struggling to swallow it as he continued thinking. He had never enjoyed the politics life had generated, no matter what level of society a person enjoyed. He had learned the hard way that it was a dangerous and deadly environment, generally having one winner and one loser, yet each side professed to be working for the benefit of the other. He was learning with each new day that not even the priestly order was immune to it. What he had also learned was those not taking a stand, but left their decisions in the hands of others, were generally the ones that suffered the most.
Much like the lukewarm tea he now held, Addi had learned that anyone who takes a stand about the choices of life had to choose between either being hot or cold, for or against those choices. If not, he was simply allowing the battle between the two temperatures to rage without his influence. One's destiny by being lukewarm was to be poured or spit out by someone else’s decisions for his life.
If he were to continue to be heard, he needed to take a stand one way or another with regard to this John the Baptist situation. There was much to do and although he was involved in the preparations for the upcoming battle, he had chosen to take the middle ground of an observer long enough. As Hadar had explained, John was just a casualty of the upcoming war that would cost more lives than just his own. If John’s life would benefit the greater cause, then it was worth the cost of a good man. Addi poured the remaining tea over the railing, walked into the house to prepare for the day and go over the numbers with Gavriel for the Pesachya meeting that evening.
Addi was surprised Gavriel was not interested in the encounter they had had with John the Baptist. When Addi asked his opinion, he just shrugged and referenced the fact Hadar was very knowledgeable on such matters and changed the subject. They quickly went through the numbers and progress since the last meeting, making plans and arrangements for the temple gifts. Knowing he would be stopping at the market herdsman to select the cattle for sacrifice, he asked Gavriel the name of the herdsman who was employed there. Gavriel moved a few papers around until he found the sheet he was looking for and started reading.
“Maor,” he finally stated, putting the paper down and began writing again. His short and somewhat cold response had finally pushed past the point of ignoring the awkwardness of the morning.
“Have I done something to upset you today?” Addi asked. Gavriel looked up from the paper he was writing on and then leaned back in the chair, exhaled, shook his head and smiled.
“No. I’m sorry, despite the apparent success, it has been a difficult week,” Gavriel responded as he placed the marker back into the inkbottle. “Even though there is this feeling that the culmination of all our work is at hand, I feel we are on a dangerous precipice where just one bad decision, or choice, or statement, could doom all we have worked so hard for,” he ended, taking a deep breath while looking at all the various types of work spread out across the table in front of them. Addi at first wanted to console him and convince him everything was fine, but he knew his friend would see through it.
“I know. I feel the same,” was his only response.
“Let’s just make sure neither of us do something rash that may push us over the edge,” Gavriel said smiling. Addi nodded, not sure what Gavriel had meant by the comment.
That afternoon, his two guards with him, Addi headed to the marketplace to select his cattle for the temple sacrifice. His tradition was to stop by the market to see if the young woman was working. Again, he was disappointed to see she was not there. Where could she be? He wondered. His heart sank at the thought that perhaps she had married someone, or was now living far away. At first, he was greatly saddened by the thought, but then felt perhaps that was best. The game he was playing was not fair to her. He turned and headed toward where they kept the animals prior to sending them to the market areas.
With his employee's name now memorized, Addi was happy to see him working when he arrived. He saw the young man confidently speaking with a buyer. There was a joy and excitement in his demeanor.
“Maor, it is good to see you. How is your family?” Addi asked and smiled. When Maor turned to see who had spoken to him, his eyes seemed to light up even brighter.
“My lord!" He exclaimed, smiling. "They are well, thank you for asking;” he excused himself from his current client. “I expected to see you today, so I brought in extra cattle and have held them for you. They are some of the best in the herd,” he said proudly.
At first Addi was impressed and honored that Maor had the foresight to expect him before the upcoming Pesachya meeting, but then a thought occurred to him. If Maor had pieced together this rare meeting schedule and had planned accordingly, had others also? With Gavriel’s concerns still floating in the back of his mind, he made a mental note to bring this topic up this evening.
“Thank you, Maor,” Addi replied, watching as Maor opened the gate, bringing the cattle into the market pen. It was obvious Maor had selected some of the best cattle in his herd. Addi felt a slight twinge at the thought he was going to sacrifice his best breeding cattle. If he continued doing this, how would the quality of his herd be affected? He had worked so hard to build his reputation and that had brought him the highest prices and profits.
“Have you seen him?” Maor asked and Addi thought back to their last conversation.
“Yes, I did travel out to see John the Baptist. He is a very interesting and persuasive man to be sure.” Addi replied, seeing Maor’s face frown as he contemplated his response.
“Oh, I meant have you seen the Messiah?” Maor exclaimed and Addi’s heart began leaping in his chest.
“No, I mean who, or where is he?” Addi bumbled through his excited response, and was surprised that Maor seemed disappointed with him.
“His name is Jesus of Nazareth, but no one knows where he went.” Maor said. Addi tried to remain calm, although his insides were screaming in excitement.
“How do you know this Jesus is the Messiah?” Addi tried to ask calmly.
“John said so. I traveled out to see and be baptized by John and right after my baptism, John turned and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.1 He was pointing to this Jesus who was walking toward him,” Maor reflected as if he was reliving the moment in his mind. He then looked back at Addi. “Jesus walked right past me and into the river toward John, but John tried to stop him and said, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ However, Jesus said to him, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’2 Maor passionately recited the words from memory as if they were burned into his heart, stopping in deep thought.
“What did John do?” Addi finally asked.
“He baptized him. But the amazing thing, my lord, and why I know he is the Messiah is what happened next.” Maor exclaimed and Addi hung on his every word. “As Jesus came out of the water, heaven opened up and I saw what can only be the Spirit of God descending gently...almost like a dove... and surround him. Then a voice booming from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”3 Addi just stared silently at Maor, listening intently to his story, wanting more.
“Then what, what did this Jesus say?”
“He just embraced John as if to say goodbye, then turned and walked out of the water through the crowd of people. Honestly, most of us were frightened by what we just saw and heard. Some thought we would die because of seeing the light come down, but Jesus never said another word. But...somehow he was different than when he had gone into the water.”
“Where did he go?” Addi asked. Maor shrugged.
“To my knowledge, no one has seen or heard from him since. It’s as if he disappeared.”4
Addi thought through the timing of the event and estimated it had been perhaps forty days since Maor’s encounter.
“Thank you, Maor. Please send only two of the four cattle and return the others to the herds for breeding.” Addi finally replied.
“I will have them delivered this evening, my lord,” Maor responded, a little confused by the request.
Thinking about his discussion with Maor, he and his bodyguards walked to the Temple. Had Herod heard about Jesus and had him killed? Addi wondered. Had that really been the voice of God? Had that dove-like light really come down from heaven to rest on him? He had a great deal to share at tonight’s meeting.
With the news he now carried burning inside him; Addi was more impatient than usual with all the pre-meeting rituals of the priests. While each took their turns, he looked around at all the members and wondered how secure their group really was. If his herdsman had recognized the timing of these meetings, a trained professional carefully watching them could also have easily done the same. Gavriel was right, everything that had been accomplished was held together with such a fine twine of trust between these men.
As the rituals ended, Hadar wasted no time announcing that yesterday Herod had imprisoned John. It was a shock to Addi, but it was handled as if it were just another piece of business mentioned in their meeting. Apparently Hadar’s subtle announcement about John had worked its way to the Herodians as planned, and Herod had him brought in for questioning in front of the people. Joseph of Arimethaea, who said he was there in the crowd during the questioning, stated Herod had initially been quite impressed with John. He had been moved enough by his message to ask him about this “repentance” he was preaching to the people. But in the same fearless fashion he had spoken to Hadar, John pointed out an example of Herod’s need for repentance in front of all the people that had gathered there. Herod needed to end the unlawful relationship he had with Herodias, wife of his brother Philip. John's honest response landed him in prison reaping the wrath of Herod.5 There were rumors that John was to be killed, but there was such an outcry from the people Herod had yet to follow through with his plan.
Addi again felt pain in his heart for John’s situation. He was imprisoned because of Hadar’s subtle words and for telling the truth about Herod, an unlawful relationship the whole city already knew about causing great disgust. While John spoke the truth, the Pharisees or Sanhedrin to Addi’s knowledge had never challenged Herod on the relationship in private or in public.
“What a fool,” one of the Pesachya members stated with a murmured agreement and chuckle from most of the ot