Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Along the Way
Upon this Rock... Simon Bar Jonah
Home | Homilies | Stories | Thoughts along the way... | ATW News | A User's Guide...

Story time again! Previous stories appearing in Along the Way focused on the Old Testament. This time we visit the New Testament, looking at events through the eyes of St. Peter. This series draws upon the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Peters epistles, long established traditions, Biblical studies, and speculation. Its purpose is to gain a bit of insight into New Testament times in general and the spiritual struggles of Simon Bar Jonah in particular. Perhaps we will even gain a little insight to our particular spiritual struggles!

Finally, the Hebrew word that is translated into English as the name Jesus is also translated as the name Joshua. Since both names are equally valid translations, I am drawing on the less common usage for this series. Perhaps in reading the name we are not as familiar with we will listen to the story with fresh ears and hearts.

Two miles outside of Capernaum a grove of olive trees stood at the crest of a hill that dropped steeply down to the Sea of Galilee. It was Simon Bar Jonahs favorite place. It was quiet, except for the sound of birds and the rustling of the trees as the breeze blew off the water. Peter had gone there often with Hannah during their courtship. There were so many wonderful memories. They had shared so many secret dreams and hopes with each other. So many afternoons were spent on that hill looking into her eyes, caressing her hair and cheeks. After they were married they would still come often on picnics, or simply to sit and watch the clouds, the waves and fishing boats in the distance. It was the only place Simon was able to find any comfort now.

Hannah gave birth to Simon's son, Eli, three years before. What a magical time that was! It was as if the curtain between heaven and Earth had been torn asunder for those few moments when Eli came into the world. God was giving the two of them such a precious and wonderful gift in the baby! Simon's heart swelled with such pride and joy that he thought he would burst. The weeks that followed only added to the wonder. When Simon presented the boy at the Synagogue for circumcision his eyes teared up as he thought of young Eli entering Gods people as the mark of the covenant was made upon his flesh.

What more could any man want? The girl of his dreams, his best friend, was his life's mate. He had a young son of whom to be proud. Surely, others would follow as the years passed. He had no financial worries to speak of, as he and his brother, Andrew, owned several fishing boats and made a good living on the Sea of Galilee. Even his house in Capernaum was relatively spacious, as befitted an up and coming young man in the town. He was well respected in the synagogue. Though far from being a graybeard, the Rabbi and community leaders looked upon him as one of the young men who would soon be a pillar of the community. Already he had served as chairman of the building committee for a term and would soon be asked to serve on the school committee, once young Eli was old enough to begin Hebrew studies.

Then it happened! A fever swept through Capernaum, perhaps it was brought south from Damascus by merchants. Who knows? Eli caught the fever and was gone within days. Hannah lived long enough to bury their son and then she was gone as well. The fever passed by Simon and infected Lois, Hannahs mother who had lived with the young family. It didnt kill her but she never recovered from it. The Egyptian physician who had his practice in Capernaum explained to Simon that the fever had burnt in Lois for so long that the poison ruined the womans blood. There was little that could be done for her. She lingered in a dreamland. The fever had gone but she didnt seem to be there any longer. She just laid in bed much of the time.

Simon felt as if he had died with Hannah and Eli. He still moved but there was no life in him. All joy and hope were gone. Even on the most golden of days, all was gray for Simon. It seemed that pain lurked just beyond the horizon but Simon could not feel it. He felt nothing. He did little except sit under the grove of trees on the hillside outside of Capernaum and stare into the water. It seemed as if he were expecting Hannah to rise from it like some Greek goddess.

****************

Simon was always the more practical of Jonahs sons. Andrew was the dreamer. Andrew was the one who had been accepted to study for the rabbinate under one of the great scholars in Jerusalem. It was Andrew who would one day be the Rabbi in Capernaum. Simon would follow in Jonahs footsteps, as befitted the eldest son. Andrew would be the scholar in the family, bringing it respect and recognition in the synagogue.

How Jonahs plans were being undone! First, Andrew abandoned his study of the Torah in order to follow some mad prophet from the desert. Now Simon was withdrawn into such a melancholy that Jonah feared for his sons sanity. What was a father to do? Jonah felt that work would be proper therapy for Simon but now the young man was almost useless in the fishing boats. He was a danger to himself and the others.

Jonah sent word to Andrew of Simons condition and asked him to come home and try and get his brother to snap out of the depression in which he seemed trapped. Andrew came and spent a few days with Simon. Jonah wasnt sure if Andrews intervention was wise but at least he was able to get Simon out of his house.

Andrew explained to Simon that John the Baptizer, the prophet of whom he was a disciple, had directed him and several of the other disciples to follow another young prophet who had recently begun public ministry. John explained that his ministry was coming to an end shortly. Joshua Bar Josef, or as the Greeks called him "Jesus of Nazareth" was the one to whom they should turn.

Andrew and the others listened to Joshua and were awed by his words. There was the same power and truth they felt when listening to John but there was something different with Joshua. He spoke with authority. Here was a wisdom and compassion in his words that surpassed even John. Andrew felt that it was Joshua for whom his heart had yearned for so many years.

Simon agreed to go with Andrew to please his father and brother. He realized that they were worried for him. Perhaps getting out and listening to this new preacher would be a diversion. At least Jonah wouldnt be worrying so much about him!

The next day Andrew and Simon sat on a hillside not far from Capernaum listening as Joshua spoke to the crowd that had gathered around him.

"Happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy the gentle; they shall have the earth for their heritage. Happy those who mourn; they shall be comforted. Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right; they shall by satisfied. Happy the merciful; they shall have mercy shown them"

The words penetrated Simon to his heart. It was as if Joshua was speaking directly to him. The words evoked his memories of Hannah and her gentle spirit. He thought of Eli lying in his arms staring mutely in his fathers eyes as he died of the fever. When Joshua spoke of the happiness of those who mourn, he looked directly into Simons eyes and shattered the stone shell that had grown up around his heart. Sobs welled up from deep within Simon Bar Jonah. He felt a searing pain, as if his heart would break and darkness would overwhelm him. Yet, instead of darkness or a broken heart, there was release. As the pain and tears which Simon had denied for so long flowed from him, he understood the truth of Joshuas words. There was comfort.

"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lampstand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven

"For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the Kingdom of heavenIf you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering"

Joshua spoke much of the afternoon to the people assembled on the hill side not far from Capernaum. The words both soothed and upset Simon. For the first time in months he could feel again. He could feel the bitter pain, which he had tried to run from for too many months. He could also feel the first stirrings of hope. The sky was now blue, the sunlight golden and the hillside an emerald green, instead of the uniform gray that had covered his heart and his eyes for so long. The words of Joshua also stirred up a sense of excitement that he had not felt in a long time. He feared that his virtue was lacking, for much of the good that he did was to obtain recognition from his neighbors and friends at the synagogue. He longed to be like the city set on a hilltop, a light for the entire world. That evening, back in Capernaum, Simon and Andrew spoke into the wee hours of the morning about Joshua Bar Josef and the words that had so touched their hearts.

*************

Simon returned to the fishing boats in the weeks that followed. The pain of his loss was still etched on his face but at least now he accepted it. The people of Capernaum needed fish and he needed to keep him busy. Jonah was still worried about Simon but knew that the young man was on the road to recovery. A year or two from now Simon would probably take another wife and eventually Jonah would have his grandchildren.

Andrew informed Simon that Joshua had taken up residence in Capernaum. Apparently there would be other opportunities to hear this young prophet. Simon looked forward to this.

Not long afterward Simon and Andrew were casting their net from a small boat near the shore. They noticed Joshua on the hillside. He had been praying for the longest time. Now he seemed to be enjoying the view, watching them going about their labors. As the afternoon drew to a close Andrew and Simon pulled their boat ashore and began sorting the days catch. Joshua came down and wished them well. He recalled seeing Simon on the hillside the other day when he was speaking to the crowd and asked him how he was doing. Simon explained the cause of his sorrow that day and thanked Joshua for his concern. They spoke of other things that day, all of which seemed to mend his heart even further. Simon was more intrigued than ever by this mysterious stranger. Having put everything away, the two brothers hoisted the baskets of fish on their shoulders when Joshua turned to them and said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!" They were shocked by the words. Yet, in his heart, each knew that he would follow Joshua.

Simon invited Joshua to his home for dinner and conversation. Hopefully, he would learn more of this prophet that evening. He wanted to hear what the young man had to say and to ask the questions that were burdening his heart.

Early that evening Simon went to the home of Jacob, the Rabbi of the Capernaum synagogue. Jacob had invited Joshua to stay in his home while the young prophet was in the area. After pleasant conversation with the elder friend, who still held out hope that Andrew would eventually succeed him, Simon brought Joshua to his home. He prepared the evening meal before escorting Joshua home, as his mother-in-law was in bed and particularly withdrawn that evening. Upon entering the house, Joshua stopped for a moment, as if something was amiss and he was trying to figure out what it was. He turned to Simon and asked if he could visit would the sick person in Simons home. He brought Joshua into the other room, where Lois was laying on the bed. Joshua sat down beside her and put his hand on her forehead, as if he was checking for a fever. As he did the woman shook. A slight convulsion ran through her. She blinked a few times and looked up at Joshua and Simon. For the first time since the fever had overtaken her she seemed to recognize Simon.

"You have a guest, Simon. I will prepare something for the two of you to drink."

Lois sat up in bed and after a few moments to steady herself was up and moving around the house. The fever was gone, and with it any sign that she had ever been incapacitated because of it.

Simon was confused and a bit frightened of this miracle worker who had come into his life. He was attracted to Joshua. He felt a mixture of curiosity, awe, and spiritual hunger that he never realized was within him. He was acting more like his brother Andrewthe spiritual seekerthan himself. What was it that drew him to this prophet? How could he satisfy the desire to better understand Joshua; to satisfy the spiritual longing in his heart? He was the responsible one in the family. Andrew could go wandering from town to town with the prophet. Simon was the fisherman. He had boats to manage nets to mend, fish to catch and market. Who would be responsible for the family business, if Simon was to wander off and walk the by-ways of Israel with Joshua?

"Simon, do not worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the evening sky. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can you, Simon, in all of your worrying add a single moment to your span of life? Are you concerned over what you shall wear? Think of the flowers growing in the fields; they never spin or work; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how our Father in heaven feels about grass in the field that is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not look after you much more?"

The prophets words echoed in his head that night, as he tossed and turned in his bed trying to find sleep. In the morning he would speak with Andrew and then with his father. There were others who could help Jonah with the business. Moishe, his cousin, was a good fisherman and was a big help in recent months. Surely he would be willing to help a while longer!

Joshua stayed in Capernaum for many months, using it as his base of operation. This allowed Peter and Andrew to continue to help their father, yet also spend much of their time with Joshua and the others who gathered around the young prophet. There were many lessons to be learned. Simon witnessed many miracles, even more spectacular than the cure of his mother-in-law. He accompanied the prophet on his journeys throughout Galilee and saw how the crowds flocked to him and hung on every word.

Some things about Joshua confused Simon. Being a good Pharisee, Simon never let his shadow fall on the path of the unclean; prostitutes, public sinners, tax collectors, or foreigners. Yet, Joshua seemed to seek these people out! Once Simon tried to explain to Joshua how his ministry to these people may be misunderstood and his own credibility hurt among the upright people of Israel. Joshua was patient in his response to Simon, explaining that he was a physician sent to bring healing to Gods people. Does a physician treat the healthy or the ill? If he spent so much time among the spiritually ill, Simon had to understand that it was necessary.

Simon realized the truth of Joshuas words and never raised the issue again, though he was not particularly comfortable eating in the homes and shops of people he carefully avoided until so recently. He was not happy either when Joshua invited Levi, known to the foreigners as Matthew, to join the band of disciples. Ministering to tax collectors and other social rejects was one thing but inviting one of them to join the elect was quite another! He realized that his feelings ran counter to the spirit of Joshuas teachings. He tried his best to control his feelings and to be gracious to Levi and the others who made him feel so uncomfortablebut his feelings were his feelings!

As Passover approached Joshua spoke of going down to Jerusalem to worship in the Temple on the great feast. It was his intention to stay in Judah for awhile and teach to anyone who would listen. Those who considered themselves to be Joshuas disciples were invited to accompany him on the journey and assist with the teaching. Simon didnt give it a second thought. The fish would get along without him, as would his father. Simon and Andrew would travel to Judah.

**********************

A change seemed to come over Joshua during that first Passover in Jerusalem. At least, that is the impression Simon was left with after they returned home to Capernaum. His friend and teacher now spoke with authority. He seemed to have no patience with the religious leaders in the capital. He confronted them on every turn. He exposed their hypocrisy whenever the opportunity presented itself. The only similar examples that Simon could remember from Joshuas travels in Galilee was those times when he would command demons to leave some poor madman.

Many worshipers came to the Temple to offer sacrifice. Pigeons, sheep, even cattle were traditionally offered as blood sacrifice. The wealth and social standing of the worshipper determined the appropriate offering. Of course there was money to be made, as someone had to provide the animals for sacrifice. Stalls were set up all around the Temple area but were forbidden in the Temple itself. The outer court of the Temple was supposed to be a place of ritual bathing and prayer. It was part of the Temple and therefore sacred. Temple guards were supposed to keep the area free of merchants. Over time dealers would move closer to the Temple itself to gain advantage. Guards and Temple officials were given bribes to look the other way and everyone was happy, at least until there was sufficient outcry among the more righteous of the worshippers that some pretense at enforcing the rules required the stalls too close to the temple to be removed.

No sooner had they arrived in Jerusalem than Joshua caused a minor riot. As he entered the outer courtyard the first day they were in Jerusalem Joshua found it filled with sheep, goats, hay, moneychangers and sellers of sweetmeats. The noise and smell were so great that worshippers in the inner courtyard could not concentrate. It wasnt that businessmen were trying to make a buck off the tourist trade. That was a fact of life. What angered Joshua was that the guards and Temple officials were looking the other way. Joshua took the belt from around his waist and moved through the outer courtyard, his disciples in tow, knocking over tables, pushing merchants aside, freeing animals, smashing cages.

"Take all of this out of here and stop turning my Fathers house into a market!"

The Temple officials were angry with Joshua, though they could not confront him over what he did. The merchants were clearly in violation of the law. Joshua only enforced the law when it was being publicly violated. However, they were concerned over his apparent rejection of their authority by not complaining to them first (so they could warn the merchants). Rather than confront him directly, they asked for some proof of his authority to evict the moneychangers.

What Joshua did next thoroughly confused Simon. In a calm and quiet voice, Joshua looked at the Temple officials and said, "Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up."

What did that mean? Why would Temple officials want to destroy the sanctuary of their own Temple? How could Joshua rebuild something in three days that took hundreds of men decades to erect? What did Joshua mean? Why was he being so confrontational with these people? By what authority did he speak?

This was not the end of the confusion for Simon but only its beginning. In the weeks that followed Joshua spoke in symbols and metaphors more and more frequently. His parables became more difficult to penetrate. Again and again, Simon was forced to struggle with the question of just who Joshua was and the nature of his mission?

A few evenings after the Temple incident a member of the Sanhedrin and a respected Pharisee, Nicodemus came to visit with Joshua. He met Joshua in the evening, as he did not want to be seen with the controversial young man. The man clearly wanted to learn more of Joshuas teachings but being a politician he began his discussion in a roundabout manner. Joshua cut him short and went to the heart of his inquiry.

"Unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

The look on Nicodemus face was precious. He couldnt make heads nor tails of what Joshua was saying. So, he did his best to dig out the core of meaning Joshua presented in the sentence.

"How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mothers womb and be born again?

Joshuas initial statement had the desired effect. Nicodemus wasnt trying to play roles any longer. Instead of the posturing community leader, he was now an honest and questioning soul.

"Unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God; what is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Simon enjoyed such encounters. It was a pleasure to see Joshua get the best of the so-called "high and mighty" in the community. He also treasured the opportunities to learn more of his Masters views. The problem was that now Joshua was saying things that didnt make any sense to Simon. For example, while he was talking with Nicodemus

"No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven; and the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life"

Who was this Son of Man of whom Joshua spoke? Who was Gods Son?

***************

After a few weeks in Jerusalem, Joshua brought his disciples into the Judean countryside. Joshua used this time to further instruct his disciples and to pray. Once people realized that the young prophet was in the area crowds began to gather, wanting to hear Jesus or to obtain a miracle for their ill friends and relatives. Joshua accommodated all the people he could. He began to press his disciples into greater service at this time, having them preach to some of the seekers and baptizing those who wished to repent of their sin. John the Baptizer had been arrested not long before Joshua came to the Judean countryside, so many of the people that had flocked to John were now coming to Joshua. In part this was curiosity over the new celebrity preacher in the area but in part it was because many of Johns disciples had gone to Joshua. Perhaps the disciples knew something that the others did not? Finally, before he had been arrested, John was asked by many of those who followed him about Joshua. Johns response was to remind them that he was not the messiah but only one who is sent in front of the Messiah to announce his coming. God gives the spirit to his anointed one without reserve. Look for the signs. If they are present in Joshua, believe in him!

It did not take long before the crowds were getting too large to care for adequately. The Pharisee leaders in Jerusalem were getting concerned over Joshuas activity as well. They did not like Joshuas laxness with ritual ordinances and his association with public sinners. The Pharisees were fearful of any so-called prophets who might stir up the people, given the constant troubles with the Roman Legions, who policed Palestine, and the zealots, who wanted to drag everyone into a suicidal war with the Romans. The Romans didn't like anything out of the ordinary and were quick to put down anything that smelled of rebellion. The Pharisees feared that Joshuas talk about the kingdom of God could easily turn into talk of an earthly kingdom. Then the Romans would be on them!

Word of the Pharisees concerns was passed to Joshua through his friends among the Pharisees. It was not the time to confront the religious establishment in Jerusalem quite yet. So, the next day Joshua and his disciples gathered their things and headed back to Galilee. Though the trip home was turned into something of a teaching trip, with stops in a number of Samaritan towns before they reached Capernaum.

******************

The number of disciples had increased greatly in the year that Simon had spent with Joshua. The crowds were growing quite large as well. A number of times Joshua spoke of the need to better organize his disciples. There was too much work to do and he needed to delegate it among those who were his companions. Storms were ahead as well and he needed time to prepare some of his disciples to weather the storms that would strike and to strengthen the others.

Joshua would often walk to spot a few miles outside of Capernaum, along the see of Galilee, where he would spend hours in prayer and reflection. If something were weighing on his mind, he would spend the night there in prayer. After one such prayer session he called his disciples together. He informed them that he was selecting twelve of them to be apostles of the Kingdom of God. That is, they were to proclaim the good news to Gods people.

Simon was surprised when his was the first name called. He had no particular talent to offer. He fumbled with the words when he tried to speak in public. He was comfortable with people he knew, not strangers. About the only thing he felt he had to offer Joshua was his loyal friendship.

Andrew was called after Simon, as were Philip and Bartholomew. The three had been disciples of John the Baptizer and would serve Joshua well.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee were called to be among the twelve. Simon had known them from childhood. James was a playmate when they were children. John was his kid brother and used to tag along with them a good deal. His old playmates were not scholars but they had good hearts and would walk on burning coals if Joshua asked it of them.

The others were disciples that had joined Joshua on his journeys. Simon did not know them all that well. There was Thomas, once a steward for a wealthy merchant. Levi, the tax collector was called to be among the twelve. James, son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus were also called.

A second Simon was called. He was a zealot. The wisdom of including this hot head among the twelve was beyond Simon Bar Jonah, as he would certainly attract the interest of the Romans. However, Simon had more liking for people like his zealot friend, than he did for the Saducees or other Roman sympathizers.

Finally, Joshua called Judas Iscariot. Simon was impressed by this appointment. While he didnt know Judas well, the man seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. He knew how the world worked and could deal with bureaucrats and petty tyrants in whatever town they happen to visit. Since he had joined the disciples there was always food for the pot and invitations to dine with the leading Pharisees.

The next day Joshua sent them out to their hometowns, where they were to proclaim the good news and to heal the sick in his name. Joshua would visit each of the twelve in their hometowns and see how they were doing. He would end up in Capernaum two weeks later, where the twelve should gather at that time.

Simon and Andrew returned to Capernaum where they were already known as Joshuas disciples. They held meetings at the synagogue, visited the sick and elderly, spoke with the leading Pharisees, encouraged those in the towns who were impressed by Joshua but afraid to go beyond that. Simon was not happy with the reaction to their efforts. He wanted to draw crowds and to convince the non-believers of the truth of Joshuas teachings. Instead, he was forced to witness his own lackluster performance as an apostle.

Simon was forced to face his own questions and doubts as well. More than one of the people with whom he spoke confronted him.

"Who is this Joshua you speak of? Weve seen him around here plenty. What makes him so special that you follow him all over Israel? We dont need another preacher or even a prophet around here. What we need is the Messiahblessed be his name! If the Messiah would come to us as promised, then Israel would again experience its rightful glory! Is this Joshua you follow the Messiah? If he is not the Messiah, we have no need of him!"

Was Joshua the Messiah? Did the prophets promise Joshua? Would Joshua be the one to make Israel free? Was the kingdom about which Joshua spoke to be established soon. Would Joshua reign as king and the disciples as his lieutenants?

Simon struggled with these questions. He could reach no answers yet, so he decided that he would continue to watch Joshua closely until he knew one way or the other if Joshua were the Messiah.

***************

The next Passover Joshua returned to Jerusalem. The apostles accompanied him. Simon found this visit to Jerusalem as insightful as the previous. He felt he was getting closer to the answer to his questions.

Once when Joshua cured a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees confronted him with charges of violating the Sabbath. Joshua smiled and responded.

"My Father goes on working, and so do I."

The Pharisees were angered that Joshua referred to God as his father. Joshua replied.

"the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing; and whatever the Father does the Son does tooThus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooseswhoever refuses honor to the Son refuses honor to the Father who sent him."

Simon listened to these words and saw in them not the blasphemy that the Pharisees found but a simple statement of who Joshua was.

Simon thought back to a few weeks before they left Galilee to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover. Joshua was teaching in Tiberias, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds had grown very large and Joshua knew that the people were hungry. He pointed this out to Andrew and Philip, who were responsible for logistics at that time. Philip was perplexed, as upon checking the community purse he found only 200 denarii. That would buy some bread but not nearly enough to take care of the large crowd that had gathered.

Apparently one of the families had noticed the frustration of these disciples as they struggled to find some way to feed the crowds. A lad carried a picnic basket to Andrew and informed him that his family was willing to share their meal with the others, if it would help. There were five barley loaves and two fishes inside. Andrew called to Joshua, informing him of the contribution. It was too little to be of much real help but he thought Joshua would want to bless the family for their generous hearts. Instead, Joshua told the disciples to have everyone sit down, food would soon be served. He blessed the food, broke it into portions, and began to pass it out to those who were sitting nearby. He then divided the food up among the twelve and told them to share it with the people. They did so. Surprisingly, the more they gave to the people, the more they had to share. After everyone had eaten they collected the leftovers, so that nothing would be wasted. The leftovers filled twelve large baskets.

The people saw what had happened and began to murmur among themselves.

"This is the prophet who is to come into the world!"

They began to speak of making Joshua king. Seeing the potential for misunderstanding and provocation, Joshua went off by himself to pray.

Simon and the others spoke with the people and saw to the sick who had been brought for healing, though the larger part of the crowd began to disperse once Joshua left.

That evening the twelve got into the boat and set sail for Capernaum. Joshua was not with them. They were not particularly concerned, as the Sea of Galilee was really a medium size lake. Joshua probably wanted to spend the night in prayer, otherwise he would have joined them on the beach earlier. Simon and Andrew would sail back to Tiberias in the morning to pick up the Master.

The wind picked up and the waves got rough As they sailed. Simon, as an experienced fisherman, was not particularly concerned with the weather. It was brisk but presented no serious hazard.

As he worked the rigging, Simons mind wandered back to the events of the day. The people had wanted to make Joshua their king! This was a sign of the Messiah. The Messiah would be king, as was his ancestor, David!

Simon was so caught up in his musings that it took him a while to realize there was something in the distance moving toward them on the water. At first he thought it was another boat. Then he thought he was crazy! Joshua was walking toward themon the water! Simon tried to get the others to look but the words would not come from his mouth. Then John and Thomas shouted that the Master was approaching on the water! Everyone was shouting, either in excitement or fear. Joshua calmed them by saying, "It is I. Do not be afraid." They were in the process of making room for Joshua to get in the boat, when they arrived in Capernaum. This surprised Simon, as the last time he checked they still had the greater part of the trip ahead of them!

The next morning Joshua met with some of the elders at the synagogue in Capernaum. They were friends and enjoyed speaking with the young prophet. Before long some of the people who had been in Tiberias went looking for Joshua and found him at the synagogue. As the crowd grew, Joshua acknowledged them, asking if they were still hungry. He explained that he could not feed them with bread and fish that morning but that he would offer them a better food.

"Do not work for food that will not last, but work for food that will endure to eternal life. This kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself has set his seal."

They asked what they must do to obtain such food. Joshuas response was simple.

"You must believe in the one he has sent."

They understood that Joshua was referring to himself. However, in Israel one can throw a stone into the air and no matter where it comes down it will strike a prophet! So, they were more than a little cautious with Joshuas claims, even though they were the ones who were seeking him out because of his miracle the previous day.

"What sign do you have that we might believe in you? After all, Moses fed our ancestors manna in the desert. They ate bread from heaven. What of you?"

Joshua responded that it was not Moses who gave their ancestors bread from heaven but God. It is the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. They asked for such bread, that they might have eternal life.

"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirstwhoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and that I shall raise him up on the last day."

These words were difficult for the people to accept. Many had known Joshua or were related to his family. How could this young carpenter make such claims? Joshua pressed on with his discourse.

"I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world."

These words really confused the crowd. How could they eat the flesh of Joshua?

"If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him"

These words proved too much for the crowd. Was he speaking in metaphor? Was he speaking of cannibalism? His words were too obtuse for the crowd. They wanted another miracle, signs and wonders, something that would over power them. They wanted some proof that Joshua was the Messiah, the promised king. What they got was a theological treatise for the rabbis to unravel. Very soon the crowd dispersed, mumbling.

The discourse had confused many of the disciples as well. They were doing little better than the crowd in figuring out what Joshua meant by his references to himself as the bread of life. Indeed, it was at this time that many of the disciples left Joshua, returning home.

A few days later Joshua sat with the twelve. They were discussing the loss of so many disciples and confusion caused by Joshuas words the other day.

"What about you, do you want to go away too?"

Simon answered for all of them, simply and without thinking. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life."

Even though Simon spoke with such conviction and all the twelve nodded their assent to his words, the apostles were unusually quiet in the weeks that followed. They were struggling to understand. Their minds were confused but their hearts were firm in their love of Joshua.

A few weeks later they were traveling in the region of Caesarea Philippi when Joshua put this question to the twelve.

"Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They responded with names they had heard from the crowds. "Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and other Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But you," Joshua asked. "Who do you say that I am?"

Again, the words came to Simons lips immediately, without thought but with an abundance of love. "You are the Messiah, the anointed One. The Son of the living God!"

Joshua looked into Simons eyes.

"You are greatly blessed, Simon Bar Jonah. Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven."

He placed his hands on Simons head in a sign of blessing and continued.

"Atta kefa! You are rock and upon you, as upon a rock, I will build my Church. Satans forces will be unable to destroy it. When the time comes I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Simon was pleased that the struggle between his heart and mind had finally been settled. He knew who Joshua was! There was no doubt. Joshua was the Messiah! If the Messiah was among them then the last days were sure to follow. The world of pain and oppression would be rolled up soon and the Kingdom of God would cover the earth! Joshua would reveal himself to the world and ascend his throne! Simon would have a place in that kingdom! Joshua had said as much.

The nickname Kefas stuck. Others began referring to him by that name. It was not only a friendly gesture of solidarity on the part of the other apostles but it also reflected a new deference in the way the others related to him. Joshua had singled him out and placed a special mantle of authority on him. It was not clear to either Kefas or the others exactly what this meant.

Now among the apostles there were two who held some sort of appointive office. Judas Iscariot was the business manager for the group, handling the community purse and all logistics. Kefas seemed to have been given authority as Joshua assistant, except he didnt see himself exercising any more authority or responsibility than before. Though, increasingly Kefas was called to accompany Joshua, even when the other were not invited. Joshua also made a habit of inviting Kefas old friends, James and John, along on their excursions.

******************

It had taken Kefas a long time to come to realize that Joshua was the Messiah. He was the first among the apostles to voice such a thought. Now they all spoke of Joshua as the Promised One. Indeed, they were arguing with one another over who would be greater once the Kingdom had come. They imagined Joshua sitting on a throne, with themselves gathered around him as members of his royal court.

No sooner had this idea entered their heads, when Joshua began to say things that threw Kefas into confusion all over again. He began to speak of his destiny. When ever he began to talk like this the conversation would turn to suffering and death. One time he spoke of his decision to go to Jerusalem. Kefas warned him against it, for the mood in Jerusalem was hostile. He was not welcome. Some looked upon him as a radical who could bring the wrath of the Romans on everyone. Others saw him as a blasphemer and wanted to put him to death. Kefas was shocked by Joshuas reaction. He was angry with Kefas.

"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to my path. You are thinking mans way, not Gods way!"

Raising his voice so everyone heard, Joshua spoke.

"If anyone wants to follow me, he must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What will you gain if you win the whole world and lose your life?"

This talk of death and suffering frightened Kefas. How could Joshua be the Messiah if he intended to get himself killed by confronting the leadership in Jerusalem too early? Even King David bided his time before asserted his own claims.

No sooner had Kefas begun to have doubts than Joshua brought him, James, and John to a mountain for prayer. On the mountain Joshua revealed himself as the Messiah in all his radiant glory. Moses and Elijah were with him. There was no doubt. Joshua was the Messiah! Yet, Kefas could not harmonize the reality of Joshua being the Messiah, with Joshuas talk of death and suffering.

No sooner had they come off the mountain and returned home, when Joshua was again talking about being handed over into the power of men. They would put the Son of Man to death and on the third day he would rise again to life. Kefas knew that the Son of Man was a reference to Joshua himself. He was not going to confront Joshua on the issue, after the last scolding he received. Even though he was bothered by Joshuas increasing focus on death, he kept his concerns to himself. Perhaps such talk would pass?

*********************

Joshua was teaching on the eastern side of the Jordan, beyond the reach of the Judean leaders. Large crowds were interested in hearing Joshua. Many came to believe. Kefas was relieved, as it was also a safer place to be than Jerusalem.

Word came that Lazarus was ill. Clearly his sisters hoped that Joshua would heal their brother, as he had healed so many others. Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary lived in Bethany, a small town just a few miles beyond the walls of Jerusalem. Joshua met them the year before on one of his visits to Jerusalem and they became fast friends.

Joshua thanked the messengers and continued with his work at the Jordan. Three days later Joshua got up early and started out on the road to Bethany, the apostles trailing after him. When they arrived in Bethany Joshua learned that Lazarus was dead. Kefas saw Joshua weeping with Lazarus sisters and offered his own sympathy as well. He was speaking with one of the guests at the wake when he saw Joshua walk to the gravesite with Mary. The gravestone was moved. A moment later Lazarus came out of the tomb. He was alive!

Everyone said that Joshua raised his friend from the dead! Kefas was not surprised. Joshua was the Messiah!

Word got back to Kefas a few weeks later that the leaders in Jerusalem were out for blood. If the resurrection of Lazarus was staged, then it was clear that Joshua was a dangerous mountebank who had to be eliminated. If it was real then he was even more dangerous, as he must be in league with the devil. Most of all, they feared that some how he would bring the retribution of the Romans upon Israel and that was something to be avoided at all cost. Joshua had to be eliminated.

Joshua would not be deterred once he set his mind on a particular course. While he returned to the Jordan after restoring Lazarus to life, he had no intention of changing his plans. He was going to Jerusalem and so he did. A week before the Passover feast Joshua and the twelve again arrived at the home of Lazarus and his sisters. They would rest there and head on into the city in the morning.

That evening Mary anointed Joshua with an expensive ointment. Kefas heard Judas complaining that such a use of the ointment was a terrible waste of money. It was so expensive. The money could have been used instead to feed the poor! Joshua dismissed Judas concerns saying that there were always poor people. He compared the anointing with being prepared for burial. At best it was rather grizzly humor, at worst another of Joshuas references to what surely awaited him in Jerusalem.

The next day Kefas had reason for hope, as a crowd of people recognized Joshua and honored him as a conquering hero. Some spoke of him as the Messiah. Others spread word of him having raised Lazarus from the dead. Hosanna! was on the lips of everyone, except for the Pharisees. They stood in the background murmuring about the crowds and the danger he presented. Kefas saw the crowds praising Joshua. He didnt notice the reaction of the Pharisee leadership.

During the week Joshua spent most of the time in the Temple area. He taught the disciples, spoke with strangers, saved the life of a woman accused of adultery, and prayed a great deal.

Thursday they prepared the Seder meal in a meeting room to which they had access during their stay in Jerusalem. That night they ate the Seder meal and prayed. They listened to Joshua. Later that night everything came unraveled.

Joshua spoke of betrayal and of his imminent death. Kefas, as impetuous as ever, swore his fervent loyalty. He would not let anyone do harm to Joshua! His Master smiled at the words and slowly shaking his head told Kefas that before the cock crowed he would betray Joshua not once but three times! Kefas was hurt by the words. Yet, Joshua had said them with such love in his eyes that Kefas was frightened. He knew that Joshua was simply speaking the truth.

Diner conversation that evening was unusual. Joshua spoke as he did the time he sent the disciples out on their first independent teaching mission. The conversation was not casual. It was formal and instructional. It almost seemed as if he was preparing them for his departure.

After diner and a walk to the Mount of Olives for community prayer, Joshua sent the others away. James, John and Kefas remained with him. Joshua needed to pray and asked them to pray with him. They agreed but sat apart, allowing Joshua privacy. The three of them began in earnest supplication for their Master. Kefas was trying to sort out the confusion he was feeling as well. The three of them tried their best to stay with the prayer but the day had been long and they were exhausted. Before an hour was past, the three of them had fallen asleep.

The sound of soldiers marching and loud voices woke Kefas from sleep. He saw Judas approach Joshua and kiss him. It was then that Kefas realized Judas was the betrayer. The crowd was rushing around Joshua, getting ready to drag him off.

Without thinking, Kefas jumped to his feet and rushed over to save his friend. As he threw himself into the crowd around Joshua, he grabbed a sword from the scabbard of one of the temple guards and swung wildly. Someone in the crowd screamed in pain. A strange silence descended over the scene and Joshua told Kefas in a quiet but firm voice to put away the sword. At that the noise started up again and they lead Joshua off.

Kefas was in shock. He couldnt believe that the Messiah had been arrested. He couldnt believe that his dearest friend, Joshua, was now in custody.

He didnt know how much time had passed, when he noticed that James and John were standing next to him. They had to do something but werent sure what to do. After some discussion, James said that he would go and alert the others. Joshuas mother was in Jerusalem staying with relatives. He would let her know what happened as well. John and Kefas decided to find out what was happening to Joshua. John thought that Joshua probably would be taken to the High Priests villa. He knew some of the servants there and figured he could get them on the grounds without too much difficulty.

There wasnt much to see. Joshua was inside the villa much of the night being questioned by the High Priest and as many of the members of the Sanhedrin that could be assembled on short notice. Kefas saw Joshua lead in and out the meeting chamber several times. Most of the night Kefas and John stayed in the background, trying to find out what was going on inside of the meeting chamber.

Toward morning the air grew chilly and one of the servants started a small fire to keep warm in a pit near the guard station. Before long the others in the courtyard had joined the servant around the fire, Kefas and John included. His mind was on the events of the evening when Kefas heard someone ask him, "Arent you one of his disciples?"

What should he say? If he admitted it, they would probably arrest him as well. What should he say?

"No, I am not." The words slipped out and he was ashamed of them as soon as he heard them fall from his lips.

Another of the servants spoke. "I am sure of it. I have seen you with him. You are a Galilean. Surely, you are his disciple!"

"I am not." The words were firm and loud enough for everyone to hear.

One of the guards spoke up this time. "Werent you the one who cut off the ear of that fellow back at the Mount of Olives?"

"I dont know what you are talking about!" The words shot out in anger. Kefas was angry at this interrogation and his cowardice in the face of it. Then he heard it. As the first bit of gray became visible, hinting at the coming dawn, a cock crowed. It knocked the wind from Kefas, as if he had been hit in the stomach. Unable to even look at John, Kefas ran from the courtyard. He ran wildly without looking or without thinking. He had to get out of there.

The grief and the guilt were too much for him. Grief he could deal with, as he had dealt with the loss of his wife. It was the guilt that tortured him. All his brave talk had come to nothing. He had betrayed Joshua not under torture or threat but when questioned by a couple of servant girls! What kind of friend was he? What kind of disciple was he, to betray his master so easily? Kefas?? He was no rock! What kind of creature was he, that he would betray the Messiah?

As he stumbled around, mad with guilt and exhausted from running, he saw a figure in the distance. It was a man hanging from a tree. Kefas knew that he had to act quickly, he ran to the tree and climbed up. He cut the rags that had been knotted into a rope and let the man drop to the ground. When he turned the man over, the blood drained from Kefas head. He thought he would pass out. It was Judas.

Taking the body of the dead apostle in his arms, he held the betrayer, as a mother would her child, and wept. He wept for Judas. He wept for Joshua. He wept for himself.

Gradually the memory came to him of the day he asked Joshua how many times one must forgive his enemy. Kefas had suggested seven times as a reasonable number. Joshua told him that seven times seven was closer. If Joshua taught forgiveness with every other word he uttered, perhaps Joshua could forgive Kefas a betrayal that he foretold would occur?

If only Judas would have sought forgiveness, surely Joshua would have forgiven him! Instead, Judas despaired of Joshua when he realized the seriousness of his betrayal. Now he was dead. Had he not listened to the Master? Did he not understand the heart of Joshuas doctrine? Lord, have mercy on him! Kefas call for mercy on Judas became a prayer of repentance for himself as well.

Eventually, Kefas composed himself and set off to report Judas suicide to the authorities. By the time they had collected the body and interviewed Kefas on the matter, it was late in the morning.

It didnt take much to find out what happened to Joshua. The talk of Jerusalem was the crucifixion that was about to take place. By the time Kefas made it to Calvary, Joshua was already hanging from a cross. John was at the foot of the cross with Joshuas mother and some of the women disciples. Other grim-faced disciples were silently watching, mixed in with the crowd. Kefas stood mutely at the back of the crowd. He was drained of tears, hope, and all emotion.

Josef, a Pharisee from the town of Aramathea, stood near Kefas. He had been a silent follower of Joshua, afraid to go public as he was also a member of the Sanhedrin. Once it was clear that Joshua was dead, he called to Kefas. Perhaps they could get permission in the name of the family to take down Joshuas body for burial. There was little time left before the Sabbath would begin. They had to get him buried soon. Kefas agreed.

With Josef at his side, Kefas found the courage to admit to the Roman officials that he was associated with Joshua. He asked for the body so that they could bury it. He helped Josef and John remove the body from the cross and prepare it for burial. He was among those who brought the body to the grave that Josef donated and laid it in the tomb.

*******************

There was no time to go anyplace but the upper room by the time Joshua had been laid in the tomb. Sabbath was upon them and travel was out of the question. The disciples gathered in the upper room but little was said much of the day. Everyone was deep within his thoughts trying to understand what had just happened.

Toward evening Kefas called the group to order. They had to talk. He told them of Judas Iscariot and his suicide. He confessed as well to his own cowardice in the face of questioning, just as Joshua foretold. Many of the others confessed their own de facto denials of their Master in their fear-rooted incapacity to take action in defense of Joshua. John reported on Joshuas instructions from the cross; of Johns responsibility for Miriamthe Masters mother, and of his words of forgiveness. If Joshua had prayed that the Lord would forgive those who were his executioners, surely he forgave them whose only sin was fear and cowardice.

Finally, they spoke of what they would do next. The general thought was that with the Master gone it was over. It had been a wonderful dream while it lasted but now they were awake. It was time to go back to the real world. Most of those gathered were from Galilee. Since that was a trip of several days on foot and everyone was exhausted, they would wait a few days and then start back. Those who lived in Judea decided to leave for home as soon as the Sabbath was over and it was possible to travel.

The morning after the Sabbath two of the disciples set out for home at sunrise. About an hour later Mary, a woman disciple from Magdala, came pounding on the door of the upper room. She was almost hysterical. She was barely able to get out the word that Joshuas body was gone, when John and Kefas raced for the door. They ran at full speed through the bustle of Jerusalem as shops and businesses were opening. They were out of the city gate and at the tomb in a matter of minutes. John arrived first but waited outside the tomb. The large stone covering the entrance to the tomb had been moved, leaving the tome open! A moment or two later when Kefas caught up the two slowly entered the tomb. Joshuas body was gone!

A flash of anger shot through Kefas. Why would anyone want to steal Joshuas body? He was dead. Couldnt they leave him in peace now that they killed him? Who could have done this? The High Priest and his friends wanted Joshua dead and buried. There was nothing to gain by hiding the body. They had arranged for the Romans to place a guard at the tomb to prevent the body being stolen. They wanted the body where it was! Anyway, it was too soon after the Sabbath for them to have done anything. They certainly would not have broken the Sabbath!

As Kefas sorted through his thoughts, he knew that he was missing an important clue. Something in the tomb was strange. Then he noticed it. The shroud and face cloth in which Joshua had been wrapped were folded neatly at the head of the shelf upon which they placed Joshua. Grave robbers do not fold sheets before they leave!

Before long they were back at the upper room reporting on what they had seen. Mary was gone, perhaps to tell Miriam and the other women of her discovery. It was then that Kefas learned the rest of her story. Andrew reported to Kefas and John that after they ran out the door Mary went on to describe her encounter with the gardener. Apparently she noticed a man not far from the tomb who she assumed was the gardener. She asked him if he had seen anyone removing a body from the tomb. He did not answer her question directly but simply said her name. She then had the overpowering feeling that this man was Joshua risen from the dead. She was so overcome with emotion that all she could do was cry out "Teacher". She attempted to embrace him but he backed off. Before she realized what was happening he was gone. So, there was another piece of the puzzle but Kefas could not make any sense of it.

That evening they were gathered for their evening meal. This would be the last time many of then would be together for a meal, as the Galileans were leaving for home the next morning. During the meal Kefas remembered the Masters instructions at the Seder meal. They were to bless bread and wine and share it in memory of him whenever they gathered. He reminded the others of this. They encouraged him to lead the blessing. So, repeating the words the Lord had used the other night, Kefas blessed the bread, broke it, and passed it among them. He did the same with the wine. At that moment the pain of losing Joshua was so great that he had to stop. Then, as if in answer to his unspoken prayer, it seemed that Joshua was among them. His heart soared in joy. Then opening his eyes, so that he could continue their memorial, he saw Joshua!

"Peace. Peace be with you." He heard the words clearly. Joshua was no vision or produce of an over active imagination. He stood among them. He spoke to them. As Joshuas greeting of peace washed over him, he felt the forgiveness that he so desperately wanted. He had betrayed the one he loved. Now the sin was no more. Through the word "peace" they were reconciled.

"Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whose sins you do not forgive, they remain. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you."

Joshua remained with them much of the evening. They realized he was alive, risen from the dead, yet they did not understand. Fear and joy mixed together in their hearts. So, he tried to get them to understand that he had to die and rise from the dead. It was in large part the reason that he had been born into the world and undertook his public ministry. Kefas had been correct when he acknowledged Joshua as the Messiah and the Son of the living God. Yet, Kefas and the others had misunderstood what that meant. They thought of a savior who would destroy the Romans and their oppression of Israel. The Fathers purpose was not to overcome some local tyrant but to bring His people to a greater, an eternal salvation. As Joshua had risen from the dead, so would they at the end of history.

Kefas and the others began to understand. Joshuas actions and strange comments over the past couple of years began to make sense in light of what Joshua was telling them.

Joshua took his leave, much as he had arrived. When they were busy talking among themselves about what they had just heard, Joshua slipped into the background and was gone.

A short time later the two disciples who had departed earlier in the day entered the upper room and excitedly told the other of talking with a stranger on the road from Jerusalem and coming to realize at the breaking of bread that the stranger was Joshua. They were informed in turn of their recent visit with the risen Master.

Over the next month or so there were many times that Joshua was present with his disciples. Indeed, the risen Lord was seen many of his disciples, so that the witnesses to his resurrection were abundant in that generation. One of the most memorable occurred a couple of weeks later. Kefas and a few of the twelve were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They noticed a man building a fire on the shore and quickly realized that it was Joshua. The rest of the day was spent with their Master eating fish, enjoying each others presence, and speaking with their Lord.

Ever since Kefas had denied Joshua he needed to give voice to the sorrow that he felt. He needed to face Joshua and express his sorrow and repentance. Kefas knew that he was forgiven ever since the first night Joshua visited them. However, he needed to hear the words of reconciliation.

Early that evening as they were sitting, eating fish from the days catch, Joshua asked Kefas a question.

"Do you love me more than these others do?"

Kefas blushed because he knew that Joshua was speaking to his unexpressed need for reconciliation. "Yes Lord, you know that I love you."

Joshua continued. "Feed my lambs."

A few moments later Joshua asked him, "Kefas, do you love me?"

"Yes, Lord, you know I love you." There was concern in his voice, as if Joshua didnt believe him the first time.

Joshua continued. "Feed my sheep."

They were finishing their meal and cleaning up, when Joshua again spoke to Kefas. "Simon Bar Jonah, do you love me?"

Kefas was upset that Joshua was asking him a third time. "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you!"

Joshua smiled and embraced Kefas. "Feed my sheep."

Kefas realized that he had denied Joshua three times and that Joshua questionned Kefas love for him the same number. Perhaps each profession of love was meant to nullify each denial.

****************

A few weeks later Joshua and the twelve met on a hillside in Galilee where they had gone for prayer often during the previous three years. There was something final about the conversation that day. Joshua was giving instructions and seemed to be making his farewells.

Everyone sensed that this meeting was different than the others. Kefas, as impetuous as ever asked, "Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Joshua smiled at Kefas, as one does at a friend who never seems to "get it". "It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth."

During the other visits Joshua seemed to slip away when no one was paying attention. This time it was different. As Joshua spoke of the disciples being his witnesses throughout the world, he seemed to rise up and fade from sight. Kefas thought of Elijahs ascent into heaven at the end of his ministry and realized that the mantel had fallen to him and the others.

It was clear that Joshua had commissioned his disciples to bear witness to the Good News of salvation. This was not the end for them but the beginning of their ministry. While Joshua was among them they were students in preparation. Now they had work to do. After discussing his understanding of the situation with the others, he suggested that they all return to Jerusalem. Indeed, he sent out word to all of the disciples to gather there. They would meet, discuss the work that lay before them, pray, and wait for the Holy Spirit to come among them and empower them for the work that lay ahead.

Within ten days over one hundred disciples joined the twelve in Jerusalem. Among them were Miriam, Joshuas mother, and those of his relatives who had come to believe in him. Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Mary of Magdala were there. The Pharisees Josef of Aramathea and Nicodemus joined the others.

Kefas and the other apostles explained the commission that had been given in Galilee and reminded everyone of the instructions that had been received from Joshua in the weeks since his crucifixion. Indeed, many present were eyewitnesses to one or another of Joshuas post-resurrection appearances. They tried to lay out a plan for what would come next but stumbled repeatedly in trying to organize their nascent community. About as far as they got was selecting Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve.

The next day they decided to devote to prayer, as it was the Jewish feast of Pentecost. As they prayed it seemed as if they were caught up into heaven. The earth seemed to shake and the wind blew around them. All was brilliant light. Fire seemed to burn around each of the assembled disciples. They glowed with God love. They were filled with a new spirit. No longer bound by fear and uncertainty, they were bursting with excitement and zeal for the Lord!

Kefas and the others went out and began to proclaim the Good News to all who would listen. Since it was a feast day the crowds in Jerusalem were large and many were willing to listen.

The other disciples were surprised when Kefas began to speak. It was astonishing! This man who was always stumbling over his own words and was never much of a teacher before, was now speaking with a passion and wisdom that entranced the crowd. He reminded them of the teachings of the prophets regarding the Messiah and how Joshua came among them with signs and proofs of whom he was. Kefas spoke of how Joshua had fulfilled the promises of the prophets. Then he reminded them of how instead of embracing the Messiah they had condemned him and had him crucified. It was then that Kefas and the others bore witness to the risen Lord, that he had risen from the dead. Finally, Kefas assured them that Joshua was indeed their Lord and Messiah.

Many in the crowd were moved by Kefas words and asked what they must do. Kefas called them to repentance and explained that they must receive the baptism of forgiveness in the name of the Messiah and they would receive the Holy Spirit. He and the others went on to offer many arguments and to instruct them in what Joshua had taught. Many were convinced. It was estimated that in this first rush of zeal following the descent of the Holy Spirit about three thousand people came to be baptized and to join the disciples in faith.

******************

As Peter looked back on those first few years following Joshuas departure, they were times of wonder and terror.

It seemed as if miracles and signs were being worked from one day to another. Many people joined the community and tried to follow the way of life that Joshua taught. Where possible the faithful shared everything, holding nothing back when a brother or sister was in need. The love among the faithful in Jerusalem was palpable. The believers would gather at the Temple daily for prayer, as well as in their homes for the breaking of the bread. They praised God in their words and actions, gaining a reputation in the community as a godly people. Others in the community would look at the faithful and remark that if this is what it means to follow the Way of the Nazarene, then they wanted to learn more! As a result, the Lord kept adding to their numbers.

As the community grew Kefas became known at Peter (petros), a name derived from the Latin equivalent of rock (kefa). The name also reflected the broader reach of the community of believers, for it was becoming known among the Greek and Latin speakers in Israel and beyond.

The growing community created many difficulties for the twelve. Joshua had trained them to be itinerant preachers, as he was, spreading the good news. Now they were responsible for a community of several thousand believers who looked to them for leadership. The vast majority of believers came to faith under their evangelization and had not been formed by Joshua in any manner. Thus, the twelve realized that just as Joshua had taught them what it means to be a disciple, so they had to teach the others. They tried to structure a community whose lifestyle was much like the band of disciples in which they had been formed. There were attempts at a common purse. There was much teaching and prayer. They were primarily Jews, so they followed the Jewish traditions as well. When everything worked the community seemed like one big family, loving and supportive of one another. When there were disagreements or slights among the believers, it became a form of torture for the twelve.

This was especially difficult for Peter, as he was looked upon by the believers as the first among the twelve, and thus responsible for overseeing much of the communitys evangelization and providing assistance to the communities of believers outside of Jerusalem as well. At the same time, he was called to salve bruised feelings and keep the Jerusalem community going from day to day. He was constantly exhausted from the demands on his time and attention. His own prayer life suffered as a result. He thought back to the premium that Joshua placed on frequent days alone dedicated to prayer and tried to copy the Master with little success.

Finally the twelve met and discussed the need for better organization of the believers. They realized that they were formed by Joshua to be apostles, not politicians or community organizers. It was decided that the members of the Jerusalem community would choose their president and he would be responsible for the community. A group of advisors would be appointed from among the members of the community to assist the president in making decisions for the community, in leading worship, and in organizing the work. In addition, seven assistants would be appointed to help the overseer in the day to day care of the community members. The assistants could help in other duties as well, such as the formation of new believers. This way the work of the apostles could go forward and the community life could receive the attention it very much needed. The structure followed the general model of the Jewish community, with its priests and levites. It seemed to work just fine.

Peter was relieved when James, a Jerusalem bred cousin of Joshua, was selected as the president for the community. The best and the brightest of the community were chosen as assistants, most being Greek speakers, as that portion of the community was more estranged from the local customs that ensured support for Aramaic speakers. They needed the extra attention, whereas the others could meet their own needs more easily. That done Peter tried to focus his attention on the communities of believers throughout Israel. They needed support, instruction, and encouragement as well.

A number of times during the early years the believers suffered persecution. Peter and John were arrested after curing a lame man and proclaiming the Good News to a group of on-lookers. They felt the lash but were released and instructed not to cause trouble with their tales of Joshua again. Another time Peter and John were arrested again. This time it was in the Temple portico, where the believers gathered for prayer daily. They were locked in jail but didnt stay there long. Soon they were back at the Temple loudly proclaiming the word of life to whoever would listen. Again, they were taken into custody and brought before the Sanhedrin. That body was split on what to do with these two and the entire community of those who followed the Way. Some wanted a vigorous persecution of the heretics to eliminate them before they grew too large. Others, lead by the famous rabbi Gamaliel, took more of a wait and see attitude. Gamaliels view held sway in the Sanhedrin. As a result, the community of believers was saved from any open persecution at that time.

About two years later one of the more outspoken assistants in the community was taken into custody. While on trial for blasphemy he gave an eloquent defense of his faith and was put to death as a result. The believers had their first martyr, after the Lord. Among those who were most virulent in their antagonism toward the believers was a young rabbi known as Saul. The strange thing was that he had been a rabbinical student of Gamaliel, the most outspoken of those who argued for tolerance.

The death of Stephen triggered other arrests among the believers and a good deal of fear. The Greek speakers were the most vulnerable among the believers, as they did not fit in very well in the very orthodox Jerusalem Jewish community. They did not speak Aramaic. They were not familiar with the local customs, being as much Greek as they were Jewish. Finally, their attitudes toward the Temple were much less reverential than the Aramaic believers. Indeed, they saw no need for the Temple since the Messiah had come. Since the Holy Spirit resided in the heart of every believer, each believer was a temple. What need was there any longer for a building? Thus, many of the Greek speaking believers left Jerusalem following Stephens death, going into Samaria and the surrounding countryside. This hardship turned out to be a blessing in the end, as the faith spread throughout Israel and even into the cities of Antioch, Damascus and beyond.

The Aramaic-speaking believers maintained a lower profile than the Greek speakers, who were now dispersed throughout the region. With the more outspoken among the believers gone, the attitude toward followers of the Way in Jerusalem quieted down. Over the next few years the Jewish leadership returned to Gamaliels wait and see attitude.

What also helped was the conversion of the most adamant of the persecutors to the faith. Saul had obtained arrest warrants for followers of the way in Damascus when he experienced an overpowering vision of Joshua. Saul called off his campaign against Joshuas followers and became a quiet member of the Damascus community, learning as much of Joshua and his teachings as he was capable. Peter heard that eventually Saul moved on to one of the small towns eastward, in Arabia, to study further and pray.

The dispersal had a number of effects that increasingly pulled Peter away from Jerusalem. Philip, one of the assistants, went to Samaria. Barnabas was in Antioch. Ananias was in Damascus. These were all outstanding believers and effective evangelists. Shortly Peter found himself being asked to spend time in these other cities in order to teach the large numbers of believers and deal with various problems.

It was during this period that the community experienced its first major identity crisis. While the followers of Joshua were confined to Palestine and all the believers were Jews, the Way was seen by one and all as a movement within Judaismlike the Essenes or the Pharisees. As it spread beyond the borders of Palestine and people who were not Jewish were attracted to the faith, a number of complications arose.

If the Way was a movement within Judaism, then anyone who decided to follow the Way had to convert to Judaism as part of the deal. At least, this was what many of the believers argued. On the other hand, many of the Greek speaking believers, even though Jewish themselves, saw the Way as something different from Judaism. They felt that it was unrealistic to expect pagan believers in the Way to be circumcised and follow Jewish ritual and laws. Indeed, outside of Palestine the believers were being referred to as Christians, since they considered Joshua to be the Messiah. Many of the Jewish communities in those cities had little to do with the Christians, seeing their beliefs and involvement with gentiles as taking them beyond the pale of orthodox Judaism.

Peter leaned toward the former understanding of the faith. Throughout his life and ministry, Joshua lived as an observant Jew. While he had little respect for the Jewish leadership around him, he was deeply rooted in his Jewish heritage and faith. His complaints about the leadership arose from their failure to honor their responsibilities properly. He could not see this community, which grew out of Joshuas love and teachings, cutting itself off from its Jewish roots. However, he also realized that Joshua instructed the disciples to take the Good News to the far ends of the earth. Surely, that implied that the faith was meant to reach beyond the Jewish communities of the Diaspora. Peter was confounded and unsure of how to deal with this crisis.

One day, while Peter was staying with the believers in Jaffa, he received a request from the believers in Caesaria to come and meet with them. There was a man, Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who was known as a good and righteous man. While not Jewish, he respected its beliefs and traditions and had even contributed a large sum of money to help with the repair of the local synagogue. He wanted to be baptized into the community of believers. The local Christian community was not sure what to do? Must he be circumcised first and brought into the Jewish religion as well?

The day before leaving for Caesaria Peter spent a great deal of time in prayer. He was seeking the Lords guidance, as he didnt have a clue. His prayers were answered with a vision in which Joshua told him to eat the animals considered unclean by Jewish law. Peter took this vision as the answer to his prayers. When he arrived in Caesaria, Peter went to the home of Cornelius with the leadership of the local Christian community. Only moments after arriving, the presence of the Holy Spirit was so overpowering that it was almost another Pentecost experience for Peter. It was clear that the Lord wanted these people baptized, so Peter immediately baptized Cornelius and his entire family.

Peters position on the issue from that time forward was that non-Jews could become Christians without being circumcised and brought into Judaism as well. He did not expect the gentile believers to follow all the ritual laws of Judaism but he did expect them to follow the Ten Commandments and the ethical laws expected of the "Righteous" (gentiles who identified themselves with Judaism but were not circumcised converts). This was essentially the position he argued at the Council that gathered in Jerusalem a few years later when the issue came to the boiling point and a consistent policy was required.

Peters ministry in Palestine had gone well. During the first ten years since the Lords resurrection and ascension the faith was firmly established in many Palestinian towns and villages. The Jerusalem was thriving under the leadership of James. A period of persecution had been survived and a variety of internal crises worked through. Peter discovered leadership skills and courage that he never thought he had.

Just about that time Herod Agrippa I, king of Judaea and Samaria, decided that it was time to do something about the Christians. Those who did not agree with Gamaliels solution to the Christian problem may have planted the idea. It may have also been the result of political concern over the growing numbers of people who identified themselves as Christians. The last thing he needed was another zealot sect to stir up troubles! The normal way of dealing with such groups was to arrest a few of the leaders. This caused confusion among the ranks and reminded everyone who held the real power in the community. They began by arresting James Bar Zebedee, the brother of John and one of the twelve. James was the first of the Twelve to join the Lord. Herod beheaded him. Peter was arrested next. Since James had been killed, the Christian community expected that Peter would follow James shortly. Given the tight security and a trial scheduled for two weeks later, it was an expectation shared by Peter as well. The Christians throughout Palestine kept a prayer vigil from the day of Peters arrest onward.

The night before the trial Peter was asleep, chained to two guards to ensure he would not escape. Peter awoke from his dreams when a bright light shown in his eyes. The source of the light was a young man who was standing before him. He was instructed to hurry and follow the young man. He got up and followed. As he did the chains fell from his hands and feet. As they walked he found guards asleep or simply ignoring them, as if they were invisible. Doors and gates would open of their own accord. Finally, Peter found himself standing several blocks away from the jail. He wasnt sure if his memories of the escape were actual or simply a dream. He didnt care because he was free. He went directly to the home of Mary, the mother of John Markthe young man who served as Peters secretary. When he first knocked on the door the girl who answered was so surprised to see Peter that she ran to tell the others before she remembered to open the door for Peter.

He didnt remain in Jerusalem. After letting the others know that he was alive and well, thanks to God, Peter left town. The Jerusalem community was strong enough. It would be wiser for him to evangelize and strengthen the other Christian communities. Since Herod was focusing on the leadership of the Christian community, many of the other apostles who had not already left the city took this as a cue to begin their missionary activities. This was not the last time Peter stayed in Jerusalem but future visits were few and far between. Initially, Peter went to Antioch. His journeys took him to Odessa, Ephesus, Corinth, and many other cities throughout the Roman Empire. Most of the next twenty years was spent among Christian communities throughout the Empire. He taught, as well as shared stories of the years he spent with Joshua. He corresponded with the believers providing instruction and encouragement. He helped John Mark compile a detailed story of Joshuas ministry that could be shared among the believers. This was a concern as the twelve and other eyewitnesses had begun to die. Eventually, Peter found himself in Rome.

********************

Rome was the capital of the Empire and one of its largest cities. As a crossroads of the Empire, there were people from all over who lived and worked there. It was from among the emerging Christian community in Rome that believers were spreading the faith to Gaul (France/Germany), Carthage (major city in North Africa) and Iberia (Spain).

Peter realized the critical role that Rome was playing in the expansion of the faith and that it would continue to play an important role as long as it was the capital of the Empire. He was also concerned that it was hard to maintain a solid core of older believers to instruct the younger because such a large portion of the population were only temporary residents in Rome on business and then gone again. As a result, Peter decided to stay in Rome for a number of years, as John was doing in Ephesus, and strengthen the Christian community. Under Peters leadership the Christian community put down strong roots in the city, attracting not only travelers and the poor but members of the nobility and intellectual classes as well. Peter also developed a skilled group of presbyters and deacons in the local church, drawing primarily upon Roman believers.

Indeed, the Christian community was becoming so large and influential under Peters guidance that some members of the Emperors court grew worried. As a result, a close watch was kept on the Christians to ensure that they did nothing against the Empire.

Under the Emperors Caesar Augustus and Tiberius Rome enjoyed an extended period of relative peace and prosperity. These men were good administrators and tempered military men who knew when to use force and when to restrain themselves. Following the death of Tiberius the mantle of leadership fell to a series steadily worsening Emperors. Claudius was a good man but weak and was replaced by Caligula. Emperor Caligula was a sadistic, hedonistic, psychopath. His reign was relatively short thanks to the wisdom of the Praetorian Guard. Following Caligulas assassination, Nero became Emperor. He was self-indulgent and fancied himself among the literary elite of Rome. An opinion not shared by the literary elite, who were wise enough not to make their opinion known to the Emperor. However, he left the military to their commanders who seemed to tolerate the Emperor. Nero also tried to build up Rome with new construction projects. His political appointments were usually of competent men. So, in the end he was a tolerable leader for the most part.

Peter was in his mid-sixties when a terrible tragedy hit Rome. Somehow a fire got started in the heart of the city and quickly spread. Many of the residences and business of the common people were destroyed, with about a quarter of the city burned to the ground. Many lives were lost. It was most likely a tragic accident, especially as the part of Rome that burned down was a tinderbox, with its overcrowding and wooden construction. However, people looked for scapegoats. A common rumor was that the Emperor had the city torched to make room for his construction projects. Realizing that the last thing he needed was a major scandal. At the urging of his staff who were concerned about the growing Christian community, the Emperor had the rumor circulated that the Christians started the fire. Even though it made little sense to anyone who knew the Christians, many people did not know them and thought of Christians as some strange oriental cult.

A period of persecution began at Neros orders. Arrests were made and Christians were put to death. Indeed, the Emperor used one of the first groups of those arrested as human torches at a garden party he was giving. The initial arrests were not very organized. At first it seemed they only wanted Christians to kill, as a way of satisfying Nero and sending out a warning to everyone else that Christianity was not a healthy lifestyle. Thus, most of the church leadership in Rome was untouched by the first wave of arrests.

Peter was uncertain about the course of action he should follow. The Roman Christians urged him to leave the city for his safety. He would be better off in Greece or even moving on to Gaul, Carthage or Iberia. He was too valuable a resource to the Christian community to have him caught up in the persecution. On the other hand, the Lord had gone to his death at the hands of persecutors. He was certainly no better than his Master! He was still haunted by his denial of Joshua so many years before. If he were to leave Rome while others were being put to death, wouldnt that be the same thing all over again? In any case, what did he have to fear in death? He would be reunited with the Lord! He would again be with Hannah and his son!

The Roman Christians feared for Peter and didnt want him hurt, so they prevailed upon him to leave Rome for the time being. He eventually gave in to their arguments and left the city. After almost a days walking, Peter reached a crossroads. Offering a short prayer, he asked, "Which way should I go Lord?"

As he looked up, he thought he saw Joshua a short distance away pointing back toward Rome. Relieved, he headed back toward the city. At least now he was certain as to what he should not doleave Rome!

Things were quiet for a while and the Christians in Rome took advantage of that time to better organize and prepare for persecution. They went underground, avoiding the glare of public attention. They wanted to deepen the faith and understanding of the believers. New believers continued to come into the Christian community but now evangelization was on a person to person basis, with the Christian vouching for the newcomer. Linus was doing much of the work now to better prepare the Roman Christians for persecution. Peter was pleased with the young mans ability and continually encouraged him and the other community leaders.

A new wave of persecutions began. This wave was more coordinated than the first and seemed to focus on Christian leadership. Arrests were made in Rome and in many major cities throughout the Empire. This time Peter was taken into custody. The Roman authorities especially sought him. They realized that he played a key role in the Christian community not only in Rome but also throughout the Empire. His death would have a broad impact.

Peter tried to follow the Lords example in all that he did. The trial was short and the outcome known before he appeared before the judge. He stood before the judge with calm dignity remembering that he would soon be home. His time in prison was used for prayer and encouraging the others who came to visit him.

When the time came he was brought to the place of execution on Vatican Hill, just outside the city wall. He saw that he and the others would be crucified. At the sight of the cross, memories flooded into Peters awareness. He felt terrible shame at his denial of the Lord. Certainly he was not worthy to die in the same manner. He begged his executioners to crucify him upside down. The request was strange enough that they agreed. When the cross was raised into position, Peter hung on itupside down.

His mission was accomplished. The responsibility that the Lord had given to him years ago had been honored. It would be passed on to a new generation. Now he would go to be with his Lord.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.