Two shipwrecked slaves tag along with Jesus of Capernaum and witness at first hand the work of the Messiah.
A blood-red moon waning gibbous hung low over Jerusalem casting a lurid, pinkish glow. The day had been hot but now the late evening breeze brought a chill to anyone not wearing a cloak.
Silence settled over Gethsemane and the surrounding area now that all the brouhaha was over and as the Temple guards retreated back to the city with their prisoner. The young man sensed that he might stir from his hiding place and make good his escape.
Eyes still wide with fright he peered from around an olive tree and, seeing no one, he dashed to another nearby tree, hoping to remain in darkness, which was the only thing covering his nakedness. He dashed to the next tree closest to the road and after screwing up his courage, stepped boldly out on the road.
Cursing himself and his luck the naked man replayed the night’s events in his mind and he mentally ticked off his troubles with his burnt fingers. He had allowed the disciple Thaddeus to get under his skin. He had made a very stupid and dangerous attempt to hurt his adversary. If he had succeeded, the result would have been much worse. Thank G-d he hadn’t succeeded! As it was, the tips of his fingers had been burnt off. His best tunic had holes burned in it. He had incurred the disapprobation of the Rabbi. He had narrowly escaped arrest by slipping out of his best linen. And finally, here he was, naked save sandals, on the run from the authorities.
To return to the city, pass the guards at the city gates and then to find safe haven with the Rabbi’s disciples, who may not welcome him with open arms, and acquire new clothing appeared to him an impossible series of tasks. On the other hand, he could high-tail it to Bethany, to the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Lazarus would help. So he turned his face in the direction of Bethany.
Despite the disadvantaged position in which he found himself, Mortar made good time on his way to Bethany. Yes, he had troubles, but walking naked in the dark fueled an exhilaration that mocked his difficulties. A smirk found its way to his lips and he began to feel downright cocky in the night.
Then an unwelcome sound assailed his ears, the sound of approaching hoof beats along the road. This could only mean Roman soldiers on a patrol of the road. As bad luck would have it, a house with lights still burning stood next to the spot where the patrol intercepted our intrepid traveler. The moon also provided something of a spotlight for this sorry episode.
The two Romans reined in their horses and they saw a roundish, naked man, striding down the road seemingly without a care in the world.
“Good evening, noble soldiers,” cried the young man in an attempt to brazen it out as he stopped before the soldiers.
“Good evening, yourself,” said the soldier.
“And a very pleasant evening it is!” asserted the young man.
The first soldier, a bit dubiously, said, “I can see you’re not carrying a purse, so you’re in no danger from robbers; you’re not carrying a weapon - worth mentioning; you’re not a Jew; but… your habiliments seem to be… insufficient.”
“Yes,” agreed the second soldier, “What exactly are you doing out here with no clothes on?”
“What am I doing?!” gasped the young man. “Just like you, I am performing my patriotic duty!”
“A curious form of patriotism, if you ask me,” said the other soldier.
“I am assisting the Emperor, a personal friend of mine, in the exercise of his authority by demonstrating that Rome’s majesty surpasses all else,” explained the young man confidently.
“You can be certain of the Emperor’s undying gratitude for your grandiose display,” laughed the first soldier. “By the way, we’re looking for a certain fellow named Jesus of Nazater, Natazer, or something like that. He travels with a group of people. You seen anyone fits that description?”
“No, no, no,” asserted the young man a little too quickly, perhaps. “but I’ve got to be running along.” He was hoping to slip back into the darkness and off to Bethany.
“Hail, Caesar!” cried the young man as he rendered a crisp salute to the soldiers and charged off down the road.
The first soldier looked inquiringly at the second and remarked, “That was out of the ordinary.”
“Very curious, indeed, but obviously not the man we’re looking for,” said the second as both men whipped up their horses in the direction of Jerusalem.
The young man congratulated himself on his chutzpah before the soldiers, but directly his thoughts returned to the matter at hand and the precariousness of his own situation and that of his friend, the Rabbi, who had been arrested by the Temple guards.
Reviewing the night’s events, he first felt stupid and then aggrieved with himself. His countenance fell into a frown and his shoulders sagged. The young man felt the pangs of conscience for his petty mean-spiritedness toward the disciple Thaddeus, and how far he had carried this animosity. His gait slowed perceptively. Then he actually became worried for another person – his friend the Rabbi Jesus. This moment of concern for another led to the flash realization that he was a very selfish person; that he always acted with ulterior motivations; and all this self-centeredness had reaped a bitter harvest. Here he was, naked before all the world, naked before G-d, standing in the dark, on a lonely road, all alone. He stopped dead in his tracks and then fell to his knees. And he began to sob.