Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hello, my name is Alexander bar Simon. I grew up with my family in Cyrene. Cyrene, now known as Al-Bayda was the largest city in Cyrenica, which you now call Libya. It is Northeast of Benghazi, above the coast of the great sea at almost the northernmost point of the country. Cyrene is in the hills at about 4000 feet elevation, which means snow in the winter is not uncommon. Our city is on the Cairo-Dakar trade route, and many visitors come through with interesting goods and strange stories. My family is Jewish, and while we were not, by any means, poor, we were far from rich. It was my Father's dream to, someday, celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was far, far away, and traveling there would be dangerous, take a long time, and cost a lot of money.

Finally the time came. My parents had saved up their money, Rome had brought relative safety to the region, and a large caravan from Dakar came through town en route to Cairo. My father made arrangements for the three of us, himself, my mother and me to travel with them From there we would either travel by land to Jerusalem, or board passage on a ship to Joppa, and then go from there by land.

We left with the caravan at dawn on the first day of the week. We walked, and walked, and walked endlessly. I thought we would never get out of the hot son and the arid land until finally we reached Alexandria, and then Port Said. We waited for a week, but no ships bound for Joppa, or Caesarea showed up: so we continued walking; across the Sinai where our people wandered for forty years, up through Gaza and Judea, until, at last, there she stood in front of us, Jerusalem! The most beautiful city in the world. Home of Kings and prophets. Home of the Temple. Capital city of the promised land.

When I first saw the temple, it took my breath away. A thousand feet wide and 1500 feet long, the complex sat atop a hill on the east side of the city. Within it's walls were the courts of the gentiles porticos, and, of course the temple itself.
It was a crowded, noisy, and active place, hawkers sold doves and lambs for the sacrifices and money changers changed Roman coins for Hebrew coins that could be used for the offerings. I actually wondered how anyone could worship in such and atmosphere.

We celebrated the Passover feast with some distant relatives of my father. There was a lot of talk about family and friends; much catching up. Then the conversation turned to politics. My cousin was telling us about the ruckus caused by a wandering rabble-rousing rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth. Neither the temple priests, the scribes, nor the pharisees seemed to know who he was but every time they challenged him, he came out on top. My cousin told us that one day they tried to trick Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome. If he said “yes,” he would be guilty of blasphemy, if “no” he would be guilty of treason. Jesus countered them by saying "Show me a coin." Then he asked, "Whose picture and name are on it?" "The Emperor's," they answered. Then he told them, "Give the Emperor what belongs to him and give God what belongs to God." (Luk 20:24-25)

“When they couldn't trick him, they just stood there looking at each other” my cousin said. Then he went on to tell us amazing stories about this Jesus. It was said that he had turned water into wine, fed 5000 people with two fish and 5 small loaves, healed lepers, restored sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, made lame people walk, and it was even claimed he raised a man, Lazarus by name, from the dead. And then, just a few days ago, he entered the city to shouts of acclimation from the throngs who laid their coats and palm branches on the road in front of him. And to make matters worse, he drove the merchants and money changers from the temple saying:"The Scriptures say, 'My house should be a place of worship.' But you have made it a place where robbers hide!”

The next morning my father wanted to go to the temple, but as we walked we came across a large and noisy crowd lining the streets.
“Wait here, while I go see what's happening.” my father told us. As he made his way through the crowd, we saw a Roman soldier grab him and haul him into the street. There were three condemned men, carrying their crosses to be crucified. One of them kept stumbling and falling, so the soldiers took his cross and made my father carry it. We ran along behind the crowd, trying to keep my father is sight. Many of those lining the street were shouting curses and abuses at the stumbling convict, who, it was clear, had been scourged. Others were beating their breasts and wailing. Jesus turned to them and said: “don't cry for me! Cry for yourselves and for your children. Someday people will say, "Women who never had children are really fortunate!" At that time everyone will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" They will say to the hills, "Hide us!" If this can happen when the wood is green, what do you think will happen when it is dry?
(Luk 23:28-31)

I'm not really sure at what point I realized that this was the man named Jesus my
cousin had told us about. “How had this happened? Didn't the people shout praised to him as he entered Jerusalem just a week ago? How had he come to be condemned? What was this world coming to?

When the soldiers and the crowd came to the place called Golgotha, or "The Skull," they took the cross away from my father, nailed, not tied, Jesus to it, lifted it upright and slammed it down into the hole they and prepared for it.. They also nailed the two criminals to crosses, one on each side of Jesus. Then I heard the most amazing thing I've ever heard Jesus said, "Father, forgive these people! They don't know what they're doing." And as we all stood there watching Jesus, the soldiers gambled for his clothes. The leaders insulted him by saying, "He saved others. Now he should save himself, if he really is God's chosen Messiah!"

There was a sign above him that said: “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” and The soldiers made fun of Jesus and brought him some wine. They said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!" Even one of the criminals was insulting and taunting him. Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!" But the other criminal told the first one off, "Don't you fear God? Aren't you getting the same punishment? We deserve what we're getting, but this man is innocent. Jesus told the second criminal: “Today you will be in paradise with me.

Right at noon, everything became dark. Not just there on that hill, but all over the city, it was like night. We heard later that when the darkness came the curtain in the temple, which is tightly woven and the thickness of a man's hand was torn in two From the Top to the Bottom! The top is far higher than a man can reach. That was when Jesus cried out: “It is finished.” and died. I thought I heard the guard at the foot of the cross say that Jesus was certainly innocent.

We left the hill and went back to my cousin's home. We never did get to the temple. Our family returned to Cyrene, and we heard nothing more about the man named Jesus for many years. Then some traders came through in a caravan. They were telling people about this man named Jesus, and said he was the Messiah. They told us more stories about his life, and said that after his crucifixion, he rose from the dead, appeared to his followers and told them to tell his story where ever and when ever they could. They said other teachers had gone as far as Rome, and even Gaul. As hard to believe as the story was, I remembered that Passover so long ago, and I really think that if anyone could come back from the dead, it was Jesus.
What do you think​? AMEN.

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