Disclaimer: Torn is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and biblical figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
With blue tassels dripping from the corners of his spotless white robe, the elderly, frail man raised his trembling hands to the sky as he read aloud from an ancient scroll laid before him on a podium. In a shaky but clear voice, he proclaimed,
“Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
As his decrepit frame rocked back and forth with emotion, the old man paused in his reading. Breathing deeply, he planted his hands on the tall podium to steady himself. After a few seconds of solemn silence, he continued.
“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Overcome by passion, the elderly man raised his eyes to heaven. “O Lord,” he cried, “we are your people! You see our oppression and sin. We have forsaken you! You see the depths to which your chosen nation has sunk. Oh, send the Messiah! Send the Deliverer! Deliver us! Deliver us as you delivered our forefathers from the land of Egypt!” His head slowly sank down until his bony chin rested on his chest. With his strength exhausted, he leaned on the podium.
I gasped. “Rabbi Micah!” I exclaimed, rushing toward him. “Let me assist you!”
As his thin lips bent into a faint smile, Micah turned toward me. “Thank you, Hilkiah. My body is no longer as vigorous as it once was.”
“But,” I countered, “your spirit has retained its passion and fire, its love for God.”
Micah shook his head slowly. “You should have seen me in the old days. I was ready to drive the Romans from our sacred land when the Messiah arose. But now—now I am too old and weak to do anything. And, Hilkiah,” Micah looked at me with a piercing stare, “I do not believe that the Messiah will come merely to save us from the oppression of Rome.” Holding my gaze fixedly for a few seconds, Micah seemed to speak worlds to my soul, then turned and hobbled away.
Pondering Rabbi Micah’s words, I stood by the podium for some time. His eloquence and devotion captivated me. Indeed, he was a man who loved God deeply.
Suddenly, a loud, deep voice broke into my contemplation. “Hilkiah! You are late for the Council!”
My head shot up, and I spotted a powerful, middle-aged man rushing toward me. While his bushy, jet-black beard and mustache framed an intimidating scowl, his garments bespoke a fellow Pharisee.
“Hilkiah,” he cried, with his eyes flashing fire, “of all times, to be late for Council! We have important matters to discuss!”
“I’m sorry, Zechariah,” I apologized humbly. “I was speaking with Rabbi Micah.”
Ignoring me, Zechariah continued his rant. “This—this wandering preacher!” he spat out in disgust. “This so-called divine healer! This alleged miracle worker! Do you not understand our crisis, Hilkiah?”
“Crisis?” I echoed blankly.
“Yes, crisis! We have been entrusted with the Law and Prophets. We have been entrusted with keeping the people on the right path. And now this Jesus of Nazareth would take our place! Come with me!” Zechariah snapped. Abruptly turning on his heels, he marched away toward the temple.
I followed Zechariah. Slowly. Thoughtfully.
For almost three years now, a man named Jesus of Nazareth had traversed Israel performing miracles and proclaiming the kingdom of Heaven. Vast crowds believed him. Flocking after him, they refused to let Jesus out of their sight for even a moment. From Galilee to Jerusalem to the cities over the Jordan, Jesus criss-crossed the land and his influence grew.
We Pharisees were worried. Some, including Zechariah, were not merely worried—they were furious. As Zechariah had just declared, these radical Pharisees felt that Jesus was a threat to their authority. I wasn’t so sure. However, Zechariah and his clique possessed powerful influence, and would not hesitate to remove me from the council if I dared to dispute them.
Moreover, the council itself was torn apart by internal dissension. Two sects, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were locked in a fierce battle of beliefs. We Pharisees held strictly to the Scriptures and to what we thought were other important rules. On the other hand, the Sadducees were skeptical and worldly. We viewed them as Godless apostates; they viewed us as overbearing hypocrites. There appeared to be nothing that we could agree upon.
Further complicating the political situation, the heathen Romans ruled the nation of Israel. Their officials and legionaries swarmed like flies and stung like hornets. It seemed that I could not turn anywhere without being confronted by greedy, swindling tax collectors.
As I considered the strange plight that God’s chosen people had fallen into, I approached the grand edifice where the Council of the Sanhedrin met. Stern, stoic guards flanked the forbidding, wide cedar doors. Glancing back at me as I mounted the marble steps, Zechariah spoke to the guards in an undertone. Despite straining to listen, I only caught a few scattered words.
“Keep an eye—not sure—tell me if—got it?”
While still maintaining their grave demeanor, the guards nodded. One of them stepped forward and shoved open the cedar doors, which swung back with a muffled creak.
Zechariah rapidly disappeared into the gloomy, dusty, torch-lit interior. With a grim sense of foreboding, I followed in his footsteps, and the doors slammed shut behind me.