Posted by Simon Parke, 31 March 2021, 1.43pm
An extract from my novel, ‘Gospel, Rumours of Love’. ‘Rocky’ is Peter.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, my chest is tight and I think of the fish in Rocky’s net.
There is a place in the net where the fish have nowhere to go; Rocky spoke of it. ‘On reaching that place, the fish can swim around as much as they like - but they can’t swim out! They live – but they’re dead!’
He tells it with pride but I feel with the fish tonight. Is this where it ends, the net too tight? My friends sleep, for the dear wasters are shattered as the night wind sighs.
We have eaten together, sung songs of lament and come to Gethsemane, our familiar haunt where either horror or joy will greet us…for one or other must arrive this evening. Events in the Temple will not be overlooked, I know this. I have kept to the villages, and walked a hidden path; but the Temple always sat waiting and the Temple is the hinge, on which everything opens or shuts.
Either Nicodemus ensures they are with me, and the restoration begins; or other voices are heard…
‘Maybe it ends here, John, in this garden; or maybe it starts.’ Young John looks at me; he is puzzled.
‘Nicodemus?’ he asks.
‘It is possible.’
‘Really?’ He does not believe.
‘He too wants a new Israel, John. He spoke of a conversation with the priests, with the Sadducees – with Annas even. Who knows? “I will do my best,” he said.
They may come tonight. They know we gather here, I make no secret of it…this is my hope.’
‘You still have hope after what you did, teacher?’
‘I am not your teacher anymore.’ John is disturbed by my actions; this is clear and this, my closest friend. I wonder myself if I went too far; though I felt alive there. But did I say or do too much? ‘Perhaps I have stirred them to goodness, John,’ I say.
But his laugh is dismissive which hurts more than any Pharisee.
‘Stirred to hate, perhaps. And Jude?’
‘Why speak of him?’
‘He has left us, Yeshua, he will not be back. The Temple incident, he could not believe it…maybe others will follow him.’
Anger returns. ‘He must do what he must do, John. He has been leaving for a while. Perhaps you have not noticed… I noticed.’
There is silence between us.
‘So we wait for the end,’ he says. ‘Or the beginning.’
The night is quiet and yes, I wait for Nicodemus. Hope rises in me, pricking the heaviness. He has influence; and Israel could be re-born, born again, with no temple but our spirit. One day we shall have hearts and no rules; for a good heart needs no laws. How can this not be seen? And perhaps he comes now, for surely this is God’s will, God’s promise - Israel waits for such a day! The gentiles await such a day! We could all be one. And Nicodemus is a serious man. He risked much to speak with me.
Through the olive trees, it is a still and starry night. It reminds me of Nazareth, when I would lie on the roof and gaze at the heavens. We called it ‘The Prophet’s Room’ up there on the tiles…where a wandering prophet might be housed. Our mother told us every home should have a prophet’s room, space for the visitor.
And I pray now as I prayed then; I cannot help but pray. Prayer is drawn from me like water from a well. ‘Dear father in heaven, your kingdom come and your will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven…as above, so let it be below!’
‘Master, I hear something.’ It is Rocky moving towards me. He has woken up, his snoring interrupted. ‘Do you wait for someone, teacher? You seem to wait for someone.’
‘How would you know, Rocky? You have been asleep.’
‘Resting – not asleep; I never sleep.’
Let me be honest with him. ‘I wait for horror or joy, Rocky.’
‘We don’t need to, Master. We could leave now, there is still time.’
‘And by leaving run from both? No, I believe I am invited to wait, to yield to one or the other.’
‘When did you ever yield?!’
‘There is a season for all things. Sometimes we must yield.’
I see movement in the distance, four or five figures in the shadows; they seem uncertain of the way. I see shapes but not faces. Nicodemus is small; I do not see a small man. I continue to watch; perhaps he follows, hidden by his companions. Perhaps members of the Sanhedrin have come here without him, to speak for themselves. I would be glad to speak with them.
And then I see another figure, familiar in movement. And I know…I know in that moment that it ends here in the garden. Nothing begins here…everything ends. There is only the horror. And I feel the sweat of terror pricking at my skin, as though I bleed.
And I am empty; quite empty of words. So many spoken but now they are gone. I have nothing to say. Words of anger, words of healing, words in parable, words in judgement…the words rise and fall, they dance and they die…only I remain. Though who am I now?
‘Do you see them, teacher?’
‘I see them, Rocky; and you should go. Take the others - certainly take Mark. He is too young.’ Mark has become his new friend, a young admirer, which Rocky enjoys. I think it does him good. He looks so lost at times; but when admired, he opens like a flower and remembers what to do.
‘I will not go!’ he whispers loudly. Their silhouettes are clearer now, they move faster, a torch of fire guides them, men armed with clubs and knives, brazen in the night. ‘I’m for taking them on.’
‘I think we shall be helpless, Rocky.’
But he does not hear me; or cannot believe what he hears. ‘Helpless?’ he says. I nod and try and calm him. ‘It must be so, it must be so.’ It hurts me to speak this. I have not asked this of my friends before; and I have not asked it of Rocky. I have asked them to hope, trust and pray, to take nothing for the journey but courage. But I have never called on them to be helpless, which is the only robe now left. ‘It ends here in the garden.’
‘We shall never be helpless, teacher! Never. John! James! Levi! Wake up! Mark – wake Levi up, the lazy toad.’
‘It is time to do nothing, Rocky,’ but he doesn’t listen. He is up and about, doing everything, gathering the band; Levi is cursing Mark, Thaddeus stumbling. But I am moving forward towards the torch light and the figures behind - when suddenly Joanna and Miriam appear through the trees on my left. I hear first the anklets, strange music in the dark - and lamps in their hands, worried faces. I approach them.
‘I fear love is not through with me,’ I say, and feel tears breaking.
Joanna says, ‘Neither are the Temple priests, from what I hear.’
‘But love is the more frightening, Joanna; it asks of us the most terrible things. We shall all do our best. And be kind to each other as we fail.’
‘My love will never be through with you,’ says Miriam; and in that moment we exchange souls through our eyes, where no darkness lives, only union. I hug them both, cling to them both, so grateful, so sad, so alone…and walk away. I must walk away or cry for a thousand years. I feel the tears; such heaviness of spirit is upon me. And now the men are before me.
‘Who do you seek?’ I ask.
‘Yeshua the Nazarene.’
‘You could have come in the light, my friends. No, really. But you arrive in the dark, with swords and clubs, as if I am some bandit! I was with you daily in the Temple and you never laid a finger on me. But here we are and this is your hour with the authority of darkness; I understand. And maybe your shame prefers the shadows.’
They are silent for a moment, so I reassure them. ‘I am he, the one you seek.’ I hold out my hands in welcome. They turn to Jude who appears from the dark. He nods.
‘You can trust Jude,’ I say. ‘We knew each other once, a good knowing; but our paths parted…for which I am sad.’ I look at him. ‘Perhaps he is sad too. So Jude, I am handed over by you?’
‘Not by me, teacher, not by me.’ Jude has hollow eyes like a caught fish, like a fish thrashing, like a fish dying. ‘You hand yourself over.’
‘And so I do, and so I do. We must each choose for ourselves and not lay blame at another’s feet.’
‘You handed yourself over in the Temple this afternoon.’
‘I spoke the truth, Jude, which is perhaps the same. But where better for light than the darkness?’
‘You must show respect for the law and the prophets.’
‘Don’t think I come to destroy the law and the prophets.’
‘But you do destroy, teacher, you do. You dismantle the law and you dismantle us, each of us! What are we to do? You seem to think everything is acceptable apart from the Temple! You let a woman wipe your feet with her hair, using costly perfume!’
He refers to Mary, my friend in Bethany and the best of hosts.
‘She used spikenard, Jude…costly, I agree, but kind. Am I not worth kindness?’
‘It stank the place out – I can still smell it.’
‘You sound as bitter as the aroma, Jude!’ Spikenard does stink; it smells of goat and brings all conversation to a halt.
‘It is the smell of death, teacher, and if it’s death you want…well, I don’t know what you want, or want of us. Just what do you want? You say the kingdom of God is within but who knows where? We can’t find it. So you leave us as beggars by the side of the road without comfort. You leave us as beggars!’
‘Happy are the poor in spirit, Jude - but not the self-pitying. You cry “victim” and fight what is; when all the time you could fall into love.’
In this moment, I feel quite free; a decision is made, an adventure ahead. But Jude rubs his eyes, like a child upset. ‘You weren’t the answer, you see - not the answer, not the hope I thought…the hope we thought. All of us.’ And now he almost smiles, though the smile does not reach his eyes, which is how I remember dear
Jude; haunted eyes, with a smile that stopped at his cheeks. ‘Why couldn’t you just?...I mean, I thought you could help; and I did my best, really I did, but, well - the Temple? What you did there, I mean…that isn’t going to work. We must make friends not lose them. Make them!’ He looks for help from the sullen faces around him. ‘I mean, why are you so hostile, Yeshua? It’s just needless, it doesn’t get us anywhere. So you hand yourself over. No one else need do it. You don’t even run away now! You sit here in the garden and wait for us. I feel no guilt. Why would I feel guilt?’
I have an overwhelming desire to kiss him; to let him know that all is well. ‘Jude, my friend.’ I reach out to him. He steps towards me, cautious, holding back. But I do not. I kiss his cheeks, one and then the other and feel his tears; he sobs on my shoulder. I hold him. I cannot judge this man; no judgement is there. I feel such love for him, my fear is quite gone. We release ourselves, each from the other, and he turns and runs into the night. ‘So let us go,’ I say.
They seem disturbed, those who come to arrest me. Perhaps they expect a fight. My friends gather slowly, but barely know the hour, the day or the place.
‘What’s happening?’ asks Andrew, who is still asleep though standing. And Rocky lunges, grabbing a sword and slashing in the night, until held back by James. I also hold him, this dear madman.
‘Remember, Rocky, we must be helpless now - like lambs to the slaughter.’
‘I will never be helpless!’
‘You will be helpless beyond your knowing, my friend. But fear nothing; we shall all do our best and fear nothing. Shall we go?’
Young Mark runs away and proves a quick fellow; too quick for the soldier who grabs at him. He seizes only Mark’s robe, which the boy leaves behind in his hands, running naked into the night, towards the city. And I hear Rocky say to Levi, ‘What’s going on with Jude?’