Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Connecticut Yankee in King Jesus' Court -- part 2


A smile spread across Jerry Francis’ face as he slept. He was having a vivid dream. In the dream, Jerry and his family were laughing and playing in the backyard of their suburban Connecticut home. Jerry was pitching Wiffle balls to his son Michael, age seven, who took mighty swings with a yellow plastic bat. Jerry’s wife Brenda and their daughter Jennifer, age nine, retrieved the balls and offered encouragement and the occasional playful taunt whenever Michael swung and missed.
Then Jerry’s dream became murky. He seemed to hear low, rumbling sounds that enveloped the entire backyard. Then Brenda, Michael, and Jennifer began to fade from his sight. Jerry wanted to yell, “Wait, come back! Don’t go!” but he was immobile and unable to speak. His family completely disappeared from view. Now the low rumbling sounds became more distinct, and were transformed into actual words.
“Wake. Up. Jeremiah.”
Jerry grunted in confusion. “Wake up,” he heard more clearly now. The dream was over, and consciousness took control of his brain. Jerry opened his eyes and saw Benjamin towering above him.
“Wake up, Jeremiah,” Benjamin said again.
“I’m up, I’m up,” Jerry grunted, not really sure whether he was still dreaming or indeed awake. He propped himself up on an elbow and looked around. He saw Benjamin standing next to him, and there were two other men on the far side of the small room. The full effect of the dank and smelly air now hit Jerry’s nostrils. He winced. Then he looked down and realized he was lying on a pile of straw on top of the dirt floor. “What the—” he muttered. “This isn’t a dream, it’s a nightmare.”
Jerry sat up and yawned. He looked around the room again, now with more focused eyes. All the images of the previous day flooded back to him. Vinny’s house. Yankees game. Car accident. Dirt road. Palm trees. Benjamin. Daggers. Jerusalem. Jesus. Jesus? Did I really see Jesus yesterday? Jerry thought. What is going on here?! Suddenly he longed for his family. He closed his eyes tightly and tried to force his brain to return to the dream, to Brenda and Mikey and Jenny and the Wiffle ball and the backyard. Tears seeped between his eyelids and trickled down his cheeks.
“Jeremiah, I have great news!” Benjamin said loudly, startling Jerry into opening his eyes. “I just found out that Jesus is going to the Temple courtyards today. Come on, we must hurry.” He reached down and grabbed Jerry’s arm and helped him to his feet. “Maybe today will be the day we get to kill some Romans, eh?” Benjamin added in a cheery voice.
“Kill Romans? I don’t wanna kill Romans,” Jerry said softly. “I wanna hug Brenda. I wanna play Wiffle ball with my kids. I wanna go home.”
Just then a loud rapping sound came from the door. “He’s here!” Benjamin said excitedly.
One of the other men in the room went to the door and cautiously said, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Simon,” came the reply. “Hurry, open up!” Upon hearing this, the man inside the room slid back the bolt and pulled the door open. A small, wiry man hurried through the doorway and shut the door tightly behind him.
The men in the room greeted the man with handshakes and hugs. Then the man noticed Jerry standing against the wall and said suspiciously, “Who’s he?”
Benjamin said, “His name is Jeremiah. Don’t worry, Simon, he’s one of us.” Then Benjamin grabbed Jerry’s arm and pulled him forward. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to meet Jeremiah. Jeremiah from, uh, where’d you say you’re from again?”
“Hamden,” Jerry answered.
“Jeremiah of Hamden,” Benjamin said. “And Jeremiah, this is Simon, but some people call him ‘The Zealot.’”
Simon reached out and shook Jerry’s hand. He smiled at Jerry and said, “Hamden, where’s that, near Joppa by the Sea?”
“Um yeah, Joppa, New Haven, Bridgeport, whatever,” Jerry mumbled.
“So you’re one of us, huh?” Simon said. “And you want to kill Romans as much as we do?”
Jerry hesitated and said, “Well, I, uh, the thing is—”
“Of course he wants to kill Romans!” Benjamin bellowed confidently. “He is a fine addition to our group.” Then turning to Jerry, Benjamin explained, “Simon is the one who told us all about the Nazarene, Jesus. Simon told us that Jesus plans to usher in a new kingdom in Israel. And you know what that means, don’t you, Jeremiah? It means the Romans will be gone, and we’ll have our nation to ourselves once again! And the best part is,” Benjamin continued, “Simon is one of Jesus’ disciples. Not just part of the big crowd that follows him, but part of his inner circle, his hand-picked twelve disciples.”
“That’s right,” Simon said with a nod. “It’s just too bad the other disciples are so dense. They don’t understand Jesus’ full potential. They’re more focused on prayers and sermons, so they don’t realize Jesus has the charisma to inspire our nation to take up arms and drive the hated Romans from our land forever!”
At this, all the men in the room offered up a hearty cheer. Jerry looked around the room nervously and forced a smile when he made eye contact with one of the other men.
“Come on,” said Benjamin. “We must go.”
*  *  *

Jerry walked past the massive columns of the Temple, gazing upward with the same astonished expression he had displayed as an eight-year-old when his father took him to Yankee Stadium for the first time. The Temple courts were buzzing with activity. The five men had to navigate through thick crowds. Then Simon called out, “There he is. Follow me!”
The men changed direction and pushed their way across a wide courtyard. The crowd became so thick they could hardly move. Jerry looked up and saw a man standing above the throng. He must be on a platform or some steps, Jerry thought. They pushed a little closer, then Jerry heard the man shout, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves!”
The crowd shouted with approval. Then Jerry saw the man step to his side, and with a quick, fluid motion, he clutched the edge of a table and flipped it over. Coins went flying in all directions. The crowd responded with a roar twice as loud as before. The man kept moving, slapping items off other tables as men in ornate robes jumped out of the way in shock. Frantic cries of distress could be heard amid the steady roar of the crowd.
The man came to a stack of what appeared to be wooden crates. He yanked the flimsy sides off the crates and dozens of birds fluttered out and begin to fly in circles overhead. The crowd roared again. Jerry stood nearby, his mouth agape, and thought to himself, That must be Jesus. Wow.
The people whose merchandise had been scattered finally overcame their shock and begin moving toward Jesus. But before they reached him, Jesus grabbed a piece of rope and swung it like a whip. He started thrashing the rope back and forth, and the other men instantly changed direction and retreated.
The crowd became frenzied. In addition to the loud roar, people began to move toward Jesus. Benjamin hugged Jerry and yelled, “This is it! The revolution begins now!” He opened the front of his robe to reveal the dagger hanging from his belt. He took hold of the weapon and shouted with ecstatic glee, “Let us liberate Israel! Let us spill the blood of the Romans!!” He ran forward leaving Jerry behind.
Jerry pressed his arm along the side of his body and felt his dagger. He left the weapon safely hidden underneath his robe.
Just then squadrons of soldiers entered the courtyard area from two different directions. The soldiers pushed their way toward the overturned tables and the empty crates. The crowd hissed and booed. Jerry looked at the soldiers, who were dressed in strange black hats and tunics. He thought to himself, They don’t look like Roman soldiers—at least not the Roman soldiers I’ve seen in history books and Hollywood movies.
Jerry saw a soldier strike someone with the butt end of a long spear. Another person was pushed to the ground. The crowd’s sound changed from a high-pitched roar of excitement to a lower pitched rumble of fear. A wave of humanity began to pulsate toward Jerry. “Uh oh,” he muttered. “Panic time. This is starting to look like a European soccer riot.” Jerry turned and moved as quickly as he could back in the direction he came from.
After a few minutes of frantically scrambling to stay ahead of the wave, Jerry ducked around a corner and climbed up onto a short wall. The sea of terrified people rushed by. Within ten minutes, the frenzy was over. The vast courtyard was quiet again, with a handful of people milling about. Some assisted those who had stumbled. Others lay motionless. I bet they’re dead, Jerry thought. The soldiers regrouped against a far wall, and then exited.
Jerry hopped down from the low wall and made his way out of the Temple courtyards. When he came to an intersection, he stopped and looked around the strange and ancient city. “Now what do I do?” he said out loud. Tears began to well up in his eyes.

He walked down a long, straight street, which he remembered as the road they traveled to come to the Temple. I guess I should try to find Benjamin, he thought. I guess I should go back to that small room—if I can even find it.

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