Sunrise over Bethany. Breathtaking. The gloomy stone buildings are touched gently by a rose glow as mist trails down from the hills. Overhead, the gray sky gradually gives way to golden splendor as the sun rises in the remote east. Dark, gnarled, scraggly trees clinging to the jagged rocks bloom into color—earthy, somber color, but still rich and beautiful, browns and greens gleaming on the rugged Judean slopes.
Life renewed. Withered wildflowers lift up their heads gratefully to meet the dew and the warm sunlight as birds twitter in the treetops. Jackals slink into their dark dens as the terror of the night passes to make room for the joy of the day.
Every morning it is the same. Every morning comes the dawn; every morning comes the beginning of another day.
But this morning, something felt different. As I sat wrapped in a thick blanket, seated on a rough wooden bench under the overhang of a building on the outskirts of Bethany, I contemplated the events of the previous day. Why had I volunteered to watch Jesus? I still was unsure. Did I want to prove myself to Zechariah? Suddenly, I heard a voice: a woman crying out desperately in anguish.
“Oh, have mercy! Heal my daughter! Please!”
I stood up carefully, keeping in the thinning shadows, and peered around the corner of the building. A middle-aged woman, her hair disheveled and with tears running down her face, stood in an alley, clenching her thin, bony fists in desperation.
“Have mercy, Jesus!”
Then I saw him. Standing a little to one side with a look of intense pity and compassion on his face—Jesus. Clad in a simple white robe, appearing so unpretentious.
“Where is your daughter?” His voice was no more than a soft echo.
“In the house,” the woman cried.
“Can she not come out to me?”
“Oh, sir, Jesus, that is just the problem. She is paralyzed! When she was only five, she fell from the roof of our house. Now she cannot move from the shoulders down!” The woman fell to the ground in her anguish, groveling at Jesus’ feet.
“Bring her out to me,” Jesus commanded.
The woman scrambled to her feet and dashed into the house. I waited breathlessly as Jesus stood patiently at the door. A minute later, she and her hefty husband exited the doorway, carrying between them a young girl of no more than ten years old. Her emaciated frame drooped listlessly from their hands, and her eyes rolled to one side as she looked at Jesus with fear. He gazed back at her with boundless compassion.
“What is your name?” he asked gently.
“Aderet,” she responded with slurred and raspy speech.
Jesus laid a hand on her forehead. Closing his eyes, he raised his other hand to heaven and whispered something. I strained to hear, but was unable. Suddenly, the girl’s legs straightened. She began to sit up. Awestruck, her parents rapidly set her on the ground. She leapt to her feet and began dashing down the alley, screaming with delight—her voice no longer unnatural or harsh, but rather the clear, high-pitched voice of a young girl. The parents fell at Jesus’ feet, pouring out their gratitude. I turned and walked silently away, out of sight, pondering. As I reflected on the healing I had just witnessed, it struck me that it was the Sabbath.
The late afternoon found me in Rabbi Micah’s home in Jerusalem. Leaving a trusted servant to keep watch on Jesus, I had traveled back to the city to discuss the morning’s events with the faithful rabbi.
Micah stroked his thin beard thoughtfully. “From what you have just told me, this is another instance of the many miracles performed by Jesus of Nazareth. Demons have been cast out; lepers have been healed; even the dead have been raised.” Micah half-rose from his seat, trembling excitement apparent in his voice. “I have been contemplating what this means, and I believe that I may know.” He sank back down into his chair, regaining his sober composure. “But I will continue to consider it.”
I grasped his arm. “Will you not tell me what you suspect?”
He shook his head. “No, I do not think it prudent at the moment. You may come to know later. And, Hilkiah,” he gazed at me again with that look that pierced my soul, “you may come to experience it.”
Nightfall over Bethany. Ominous. Red fire dies out in the west as the sun sinks slowly. Long shadows stretch along the streets, and stars burn faintly overhead, while jackals raise their lonely, eerie chorus.
Every night it is the same. Every night comes the dark; every night, life says goodbye until the next morning. But this night, as I returned from Jerusalem, something felt different. Something felt wrong. Something weighed heavy on my soul.
My servant met me under the gloom of a tall house.
“Is all well?” I whispered.
“All is well,” he responded. “Jesus is lodging on the other side of town for the night. I waited here for you.”
“Well done,” I responded. “I will be farther into town. Keep watch here. My heart stirs as if something horrible is about to happen.” I melted into the deepening shadows and strode farther into Bethany.
As I made my way along the street, I noticed several men also moving stealthily in the same direction, but on the opposite side of the road. They were conversing quietly. I knew it wasn’t prudent, but my curiosity was piqued and I edged closer to listen.
“So we have our weapons,” one was muttering, “and they have been sharpened?”
“Yes,” another voice, deep and harsh, responded.
“Good,” the first voice remarked. “We deal with Jesus first, then the two renegades. When the time comes, strike hard and deep. We cannot afford to leave them alive.”
I rapidly but silently turned and glided back the way I came. I had heard all I needed. A small Roman garrison, my destination, was posted on the outskirts of town.
A sentry stood at the door, impassive as I dashed up to him.
“Halt!” he commanded. “What do you want?”
“I must speak with the centurion,” I exclaimed. “I believe that there are lives in danger!”
The soldier disappeared into the barracks without a word. A few moments later, the centurion exited and approached me.
“What is the matter?” he queried curtly.
I took a deep breath and began. “I saw several men sneaking into town and overheard some of their conversation. They were armed and planned to kill some people.”
“Did you hear who they wanted to kill?” the centurion interrogated in a flat tone.
I hesitated. “No, I didn’t,” I forced out the lie.
“I will have them captured or killed at once.” The centurion re-entered the barracks.
I dashed away, shouting, “Malachi! Malachi!” My servant materialized from the shadows.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Run! Run! We don’t want to have any more to do with this. Trust me!”
And as we slipped away into the dark of night, a long line of merciless Roman soldiers issued from the barracks and melted into Bethany. It would be a red night.