Women of The Passion:
In my job, you need to know who’s who. You can’t let just anyone into the High Priest’s house – especially when there is so much tension in the air. You get used to checking people out. Even before that Friday night, there had been a lot of tension. The chief priests and the elders had been around the place for days. They’d been talking about a particularly troublesome Jewish teacher - Jesus of Nazareth and the crowd who followed him.
Rumour among the servants had it that they were plotting the death of this Galilean upstart. He’d been a thorn in their side for months. Just a week or so before, he had become quite confrontational. First, he rode up into the city in what seemed like some sort of triumphal procession. Crowds of adoring followers came with him – we could hear them singing and chanting right here in Caiaphas’ house. They sent a couple of us maidservants out to find out what was happening.
It almost looked like a royal procession – but he was riding on a donkey! Outside the Temple, the Jesus fellow got off his donkey. He marched into the Temple courtyard and sent the tables of the money changers flying. He let some of the sacrificial animals out of their pens. In the middle of it all, he stopped. Standing tall and looking fiercely around at the chaos he had caused, he shouted, “You’ve made a holy place, my father’s house, into a hiding-place for thieves.”
“Who is this man?” Everyone else was asking the same question. There were all sorts of rumours about him – that he wanted to be king of the Jews – even that he claimed to be Messiah. We were asking that question too. After all, if there was going to be a new king of the Jews, our boss Caiaphas needed to know about that.
When we got back to give our report, we found the house already in confusion. The Annas-Caiaphas family were furious. They already had enough problems with holding on to their power under Roman rule. They couldn’t afford to ignore this Galilean and his growing crowd of followers any longer. There was more plotting in corners.
In the middle of that night, there was a lot of scuffling and some ruffians brought the man Jesus into Caiaphas’ house. We were very curious to see what he looked like at closer quarters. Even in shackles, he didn’t look much like a criminal. But they told us to be very careful who we let into the courtyard.
We let John in. It’s true he was from Galilee but I knew he had been a friend of the High Priest’s family for years. I wouldn’t be in trouble for letting him in. But who was the big man with him? I wasn’t so sure about him and I didn’t know who he was. There was something unsettled and smouldering about him. I had the feeling that I had seen him somewhere before. He was obviously a friend of John.So I let him in but I kept an eye on him. He seemed quite confident. He strode in straight across to the fire in the middle of the courtyard to warm his hands. Big workman’s hands they were – strong like the rest of him.
There was a lot of chattering and banter in the courtyard. But he said nothing to anyone. Who was he? I watched him like a hawk – and then I remembered where I’d seen him before. He’d been with the Galilean in the big procession, walking close behind the donkey. After a while, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I pointed with my thumb over the back of my shoulder to where the prisoner was holed up with the chief priests. And I asked him straight out, ‘You were with Jesus the Galilean, weren’t you?’ Suddenly, everyone else was listening, waiting for his answer. He looked around at them all and then down at me. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, woman!’ None of the men took much notice. Most of them were only too willing to think that a woman doesn’t know what she is talking about! And they turned their attention back to their own business. But I kept watching the Galilean – because I was sure that’s what he was. He moved away from the fire to the porchway where he thought he could hide in the shadows. Still he kept his mouth shut.
And then the other maidservant recognised him. She was more confident than I had been and spoke out to everyone, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ The big man shook his head. ‘I don’t know the man,’ he said. Now we had heard him speak twice and everyone was curious. Other people were looking at him and muttering under their breath. After a few minutes, one of them walked over to Peter and confronted him, ‘‘Certainly you are also one of them, I know by the way you speak.’
Well, certainly not in the High Priest’s courtyard nor anywhere else have I ever heard anything like the bad language that Galilean came out with in response. He shouted and went red in the face. By this time, of course, we could all hear that he certainly was a Galilean. He seemed to think that swearing would make a point.
While we were sniggering at the Galilean, they hustled the so-called King of the Jews out through the courtyard again. He’d probably heard the last few curses and denials. You should have seen the look that passed between them. They certainly did know each other. And they both knew a lot more about each other than they had a few minutes before.
In those few moments, I knew a lot more too. It was obvious to me that the big man, who left quickly, now holding back the tears and not looking somehow much smaller, had known Jesus – or thought he had. Despite all his swaggering and shouting, he was like a hunted rabbit – not knowing which way to run. Jesus’ arrest had scared the life out of him. He had just betrayed a good friend – and he knew it. And I knew one more thing – I would do anything to find a friend who would look at me with such understanding when I let them down.
* I wrote and broadcast a version of this on BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought in a series on Women in the Bible.