I count myself as extremely lucky for being able to experience both the Christian and the Jewish holidays this week. As my family is both Christian and Jewish – as is the Bible -- we will have this week all of Easter as well as Purim to look forward to.
First in the week is the Jewish holiday of Purim, starting this Wednesday evening on March 23 through Thursday, March 24. Purim, of course, is the ancient celebration of the rescue of the genocide designed by the Babylonian chancellor, Haman. Haman was the Hitler of his times, seeking to kill all the Jews starting with the ones in his immediate vicinity. As is celebrated via the Book of Esther, it was only through the Jewish Queen Esther, married to the king of Babylonia, who managed to expose this evil chancellor for what he was as a destructive force among both Jews and Babylonians and bring Haman to justice.
These days our family’s favorite traditional way to observe Purim is to give money to someone that we know who really needs it. These days, we have quite a large choice. Contrary to what I usually hear, my own finding is that the unprecedented American homeless of hundreds of thousands of people are in large part a very remarkable population of men, women and children. They could easily enjoy the room and board and free medical care of incarceration if they were to simply choose to concentrate on stealing any way they can from us and going on spending sprees with their spoils before landing in a warm jell cell with free room and board. Instead, the great majority of homeless are enduring the most difficult life for the sake of their own above-criminal standards in conditions that other nations would not allow to their worst criminals.
We understand that the homeless at least have access to food stamps and some disability financial support even if they choose not to use it. But even choosing to take disability payments, the money is usually not enough to house them every day of the month. Going against these salient facts of today’s American life, I have recently settled on giving the decent homeless people I know restaurant gift cards in my exercises for holidays like Purim. At least, these poorest of all Americans may get some relief from the harshest changes in the outdoor elements while they eat some decent food and – even for a little while – clear their heads. (The sleep deprivation that comes with living on the streets creates much of the mental illness observed among the homeless.)
Also being a family that that is both Christian and Jewish, we have to expect at Easter time that the way some people think to raise Jesus is to lower the Jews. Indeed, the statement that “the Jews killed Jesus” is one of the most sinister murders in all history. Surely no other statement has led to the deaths of so many people over the years throughout Europe and Eastern Europe. At last I have written a story that has already appeared in several venues and – in the absence of historical fact – fills in the informational gaps of the Passion of Christ that the anti-Semites would prefer to fill in with the oldest hatred in world history. My story is told by an old Roman man named Marius.
I am Caius Marius. At the moment, I am half-sitting, half lying in a shaded glen off the Tiber River, really too tired to do anything but write these words with a dull quill on equally dull parchment. They want me to write about Pontius Pilate, my former supervisor. Of course, if the emperor thought I was converting to Christianity, with all my government service on it, I would be human meat to lions the next day.
But I am getting so old that it matters less to me how I die than it used to. Maybe the lions could add a little excitement to my final stage exit.
Even ten years ago, I would have been shocked to find people interested in anything to do with Procurator Pilate. I had not heard anything about the man since he had been recalled to Rome by Caligula, beyond of course the usual gossip that followed Caligula anywhere. The most popular gossip was that Caligula had duped Pilate into returning to Rome on the pretext of being reassigned, but once deep at sea, the procurator was thrown overboard. That could only be if the emperor had heard of the things Pilate was doing in the East that only an emperor had license to do.
But now it is over 20 years since I had woken up that morning that looked so much like any ordinary day in Jerusalem. I had been drinking much too much wine the previous night. Then I woke up late right in the middle of a working morning.
Pilate was already in the midst of one of his ceremonial demonstrations on his vast raised terrace when I reported to him. He had several soldiers with him in addition to two prisoners whose lower arms were roped together. One of the prisoners was excessively burly and looked like a real zealot terrorist who had typically been caught. The other was a younger man who looked less typical a prisoner and seemed to have been beaten up and scourged a lot.
“Marius,” said Pilate, when I arrived. He was really too pre-occupied with his new situation to even mind my lateness. “I have two prisoners here and they both have the name of ‘Jesus.’ To my left is Jesus Barabbas and to my right, meet Jesus Ben Joseph, or something like that, and he is from Galilee. Isn’t this something, Marius?”
Pilate was in one of his frenzies of energy, which he expressed with walking one end of his terrace to his other as he spoke, and turning like a dancer when he returned to us from the crowd of a few dozen men in the small courtyard. There was something about the crowd of men that looked somewhat carnival imbued, and then I found my answer what it was.
“Procurator,” I told him. “Why do you have your guard costumed like a Jewish street rally?”
“Be quiet, Marius, quiet. Don’t you see I’m having some fun here?”
I knew nothing about this Jesus Barabbas. But for the past week, I had been getting an earful about this other Jesus from Galilee, who had then already was becoming a legend in his own time. At Caesarea, we had been getting reports for some weeks now that there was a Galilean named Jesus creating a stir all over the Northern provinces with a traveling crusade. Pontius could get easily jealous over minor competition, but got really got enraged that there was a Galilean who was making his name known in places that hardly knew the name of Pilate. What was worse, all the time this Galilean was moving closer to Jerusalem.
Three days before Jesus actually entered Jerusalem, to a triumphant welcome from what seemed like every resident of the city, Pilate had thought he had already killed the man. Actually he had slaughtered another group of Galilean men who were traveling to Jerusalem to exercise their worship, thinking they were Jesus and his entourage. When Jesus and his real entourage entered Jerusalem just three days after that terrible slaughter, this normally smug Pilate had looked suddenly shaken, as if Jesus was now coming back from the dead.
“Well men,” he said to the crowd. “Who do want me to crucify today, or who do you want me to save for Passover? Do you want me to crucify Jesus Barabbas, or the other Jesus?”
“The other Jesus,” the men yelled.
“Well, the other Jesus is called the king of the Jews.”
“Let them condemn us Jews for all future generations then,”
“You heard them say it,” Pontius said to me. “Now the Jews want to condemn themselves, and not just for today, but for all future generations.”
“Do you want my honest opinion, Pontius?”
“Whether I want it or not, I am sure you will give it to me, my dear Marius.”
“My opinion is that the emperor would not like knowing you playing these games. Only the emperor can get away with these kinds of jokes.”
“Who said I am joking? Look. I am paying honor to the King of the Jews. Centurion, make sure that this king is given his proper title before you lift him up on the cross.”
Sometime after that, Pontius was recalled by the emperor and disappeared off the face of this earth. I had of course warned him. But I always tell the outcome to my new Christian friends, who are crazy about even an old proliferate like me who had spent even a few minutes seeing what happened that day. I tell them the only consolation Pilate can get from history is the fact that one of his days intersected one of the days of Jesus. Pilate spent the day – typically – disgracefully. But I will never forget the courage Jesus displayed as he gazed over the entire scene without even a complaint, but reacted throughout like what we old Romans would say as even more than just a “real man.”
Chris Sharp-- Community Interview
Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.