All attention was raptly fixed on Caiaphas as he slowly took his seat. Deeply shrouded by ragged, black eyebrows, his dark, piercing, glittering eyes scanned the room critically, lingering on each member of the Sanhedrin.
“Be seated,” he commanded. We complied. Something about his manner, his very being, demanded absolute obedience. As the high priest, one of the most powerful Jews in Israel, Caiaphas held great authority.
He pursed his lips thoughtfully before continuing. “I have called you here to speak of a grave crisis. This crisis is one that will touch every aspect of our lives and influence. We are at a critical crossroads; indeed, our entire nation is at a critical crossroads. Despite the depredations of the accursed Romans, up to this point we have held strong sway over our people. They listen unquestioningly, absorbing everything we tell them. But now—now their ears are trained to another voice. The question at hand is simple: are we willing to relinquish our power, our hard-earned influence? Are we willing to let this man supplant us?” He stared fiercely at us. “I do not doubt that you know of whom I speak. This man is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Zechariah snarled. Several others scowled. “We are not willing to let this happen!” Zechariah exclaimed as he leapt to his feet, his nostrils dilating and his face flushing dark red. “We are the law-abiding, righteous leaders of Israel. Jesus is nothing more than a wandering Galilean with a sharp wit, some sleight-of-hand tricks, and enough knowledge of the Scriptures to seem like a rabbi to the masses!”
I braced myself, waiting for the inevitable backlash from the Sadducees. They especially hated Zechariah and violently opposed anything he said. Astonishingly, this time they merely nodded. Several voiced assent.
“Indeed,” Caiaphas exclaimed, “we cannot allow Jesus to continue stealing the people’s hearts. That is obvious. The question is, how will we go about it?”
“Just have him arrested at once,” one of the Sadducees suggested.
Caiaphas shook his head. “No, as I said, the people love him. They will be furious and we will lose any chance that we still have to reclaim them.” He slammed his fist on the arm of his chair. “We should have acted sooner! Even now we are wasting precious time.”
“We must keep a careful watch on Jesus,” Zedekiah stated. “Our only chance is to catch him doing something against the Law. So far, we have not been able to trap him in his words, although we have tried many times. He is too clever with his tongue. He may grow careless, however, and say things that will give us reason to turn public sentiment against him.”
“Excellent idea, Zedekiah.” Caiaphas grinned. “We will try to have him arrested this week.” His smile grew crafty and wicked. “If we are not able to bring valid charges against him, there is always the option of false witnesses.”
Zechariah chuckled, his eyes narrowing in their focus on a spot somewhere on the dim marble floor. “Yes, we can do that,” he affirmed. “Jesus has said certain things that we could twist to our advantage, and the masses would never realize the difference.”
Caiaphas’ brows arched. “Such as?”
Zechariah hesitated. “Well,” he began, his eyes narrowing even more, “Jesus once called himself the bread of life. He was speaking figuratively, but we can make it sound like he preached cannibalism.”
“Yes, that is forbidden by the law,” Caiaphas mused.
“Also,” Zechariah continued slyly, “Jesus said something else that we can bring against him as a last resort.”
Caiaphas’ voice took on an intensely interested tone. “Go on?”
“You will probably remember this, but Jesus once said that if we destroy the temple, he would raise it up in three days.”
“Yes, I remember that,” Caiaphas recollected with his head in his hand.
“We can twist his words so that it sounds like he threatened to destroy the temple.” Zechariah sneered.
“Yes, we could,” Caiaphas agreed. “Well, are we all agreed on what to do?”
Most of the members of the Sanhedrin nodded. The others voiced no dissent.
“Very well then,” Caiaphas remarked. “At the moment, our task is to track Jesus. Who should we appoint to this task?”
To this day, I still don’t know how I found myself standing and volunteering.
“Hilkiah?” Caiaphas queried in surprise. “I would not have expected you.”
“I—I wouldn’t have expected myself either,” I stammered. “But I’ll take the job.”
I cast a careful glance in Zechariah’s direction. He was frowning deeply and muttering in his beard. Caiaphas didn’t seem to notice it, however.
“Very well,” he declared. “Do so at once. Do you know where he is to be found at the moment?”
My mouth was dry and my knees felt slightly wobbly, but I managed to reply. “No, I don’t.”
“I will tell you, then. He is in a small village called Bethany. You doubtless know where that is. Track Jesus. Keep a close eye on him. Blend in with the crowd if you can; we don’t want him to be on his guard.”
I nodded. “I will begin immediately.”