117- Freedom for the Prisoners

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A Man: Hey, Anna! Jason! Jason!… Everyone, come out! Hey neighbors, to the street, all of you!

The news that Jesus had been arrested and was handed over to the hated Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, spread rapidly all over the barrios of Jerusalem. The poor people of the capital, the Galileans who were there for the holidays, the men and women of our town who had put so much hope in Jesus, took to the streets to demand the freedom of their prophet. It had not stopped raining. The pallid sun could not find its way through the clouded sky on that Friday, 14th of Nissan.

A Man: Neighbors, no one in the houses! Everyone to the street! They can’t take Jesus away from us!

A Woman: Where do we have to go, Samuel?

Another Man: They say they’re taking him to Herod’s palace. Since he’s Galilean, he will be turned over to this swine!

Another Woman: Look, look, a great multitude is coming…!

Another Man: Jesus belongs to us! Release him!

The narrow streets of barrio Ophel soon became crowded with people running, screaming, clenched fists raised, toward the Gate of the Vallley, near the walls where Herod was staying…

A Man: Freedom for Jesus! Freedom for the prisoners!

A Woman: Release the Messiah!

Another Man: Jesus is ours! Free the prophet! Jesus is ours!

Not having slept the whole night, Peter, James and I, as well as the women, met immediately at a bend. The rains had left the streets slippery and we held each other by the arms to keep us from falling. Every moment, more and more people were joining us…

Magdalene: We won’t leave him in peace, this Herod, damn him…. until he lets go of Jesus! If necessary, we shall have to bring down the walls of the palace!

James: Very well said, Magdalene! Jesus belongs to us and we want him free!

Mary, Jesus’ mother, was supported by Susana’s arm. She too, was shouting, in unison with the screaming dozens of countrymen. Drenched in their robes and blankets, they were heading through the mud-filled streets of the potters’ barrio…. Along the low walls surrounding Ophel, the Roman guards intensified their vigilance…

A Man: Let go of Jesus! Free him!

A Woman: Not Rome nor anyone else can take the prophet from us!

Another Man: The Messiah belongs to Israel! Freedom for Jesus!

A Soldier: Shall we use our swords, Titus?

Another Soldier: Wait for orders. They’ll come soon. Damn this mob!

Meanwhile, Jesus was brought, heavily guarded, from the Antonia Fortress to Herod’s residence. When they saw them pass, the residents of barrio Ephraim also ran behind the troops guarding Jesus, and joined us in front of the palace of the ruthless king of Galilee…

Herod: At last, we come face to face, Jesus of Nazareth!… For a long time, you stayed in Capernaum while I was in Tiberias…. We have been neighbors, yet we don’t even know each other….

Herod Antipas, the Tetrach of Galilee and Perea, was in Jerusalem for the holidays only. In the capital, he resided in a grand palace protected by three enormous towers on the west side of the walls… Jesus was brought to one of the luxurious halls of that building that smelled of Arab perfume…. At the center was the king, reclining on a silken triclinium… As always, Herodias, the queen, was at his side…

Herodias: “Prophet,” aren’t you even interested to see the face of the king?… I can’t believe you have such ungrateful subjects, Herod…!

Herod: That’s right. Galilean… I am your king and my wish is your command… Don’t you know that?

Jesus, his hands tied behind his back and his face swollen from beatings, fixed his gaze at the scared Herod…

Herod: Poor guy…. I see you’ve gotten a good beating at the house of Caiphas… See how these lords from Judea abuse us, those from the north?… Or was it Pontius Pilate?… Did the foreign soldiers hurt you so?… Well, I see you’re strong enough to bear it and a lot more, am I right?… What do you think, Herodias?

Herodias: Of course, my king. These peasants are like donkeys: strong, brutal and… castrated!

Herod: That’s not the way to talk to the guy, Herodias…. After all, he’s our visitor… Let’s see, prophet, why don’t you brighten up our day. Now, I’ve seen your face. I want to hear your voice. I was told about your gift for telling stories and amusing your listeners…. This is just between the two of us… Being a king can sometimes be boring… It’s like casting your dice over and over again, and you always come out the winner… Hey, cheer up a little and tell us something… I’m almost sure, if Herodias likes your story, you’ll be given a reprieve.

In silence, Jesus continued to stare at the Galilean king…

Herod: What’s wrong?… What’s the matter with you?…

Herodias: It’s always the same. You find him full of bravado with his friends at the inn, but bring him in here and he’s as tame as a lass…

Herod: It’s but natural, Herodias… Farmers are a shy people… Imagine yourself coming from a barrio, and suddenly, you find yourself facing the authorities, especially the king!… But fear not, young man, I’m not as bad as they think… Stop trembling, I’m not going to devour you… I prefer other flesh, isn’t that right, Herodias?… By the way, I heard you also perform miracles… Is it true, prophet?… Or are they only stories?… You don’t know anything?… Not even the trick of the serpent?

Herodias: But his hands are tied, Herod. His hands should be able to move freely.

Herod: You’re right, my dear… Gracus, come over here! Free his hands….

Soldier: Right away, your majesty.

One of Herod’s guards went near Jesus and with his sword cut the cord tying his hands behind his back…

Herod: Are you ready?… What else do you need?…. Hey, young man, take this apple…

Herod took an apple from the table and threw it to Jesus… The fruit bounced on his body and fell to the floor…

Herod: Take it, I command you. If you can make it disappear without my knowing it, I’ll give you a reward… C’mon, dammit, that’s not so difficult to do!… Or could it be that my wife’s beauty has upset you?…. Ah, my friend, that apple I can’t give you!… She’s all mine… Ha, ha, ha!

Jesus kept silent like a stone. Outside our loud voices of protest could be heard, demanding freedom for the prisoners…

Herodias: I’m getting bored, Herod… This idiot can’t even make us laugh…

Herod: Hey man, what’s the matter with you?… Speak up, say something… Have they cut off your tongue?… I’m glad of that! But that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough that only the prophet’s tongue should be cut off, but his head too. I had John the Baptist beheaded! A stupid fool! A viper!

Herod trembled when he mentioned the name of the prophet, John, whom he had ordered killed in the prison cell of Machaerus barely a year ago…

Herod: Why do you look at me that way, damned Nazarene? Why?… Do you want me to believe that you’re not scared? Well, you’re wrong my friend, because I don’t buy your stories! I’m not as stupid as this mob acclaiming you! You’re a fake! Charlatan!

Herodias: Easy now, Herod… Don’t lose your cool just because of this stupid fool…

Herod: It’s the shouting outside that gets on my nerves. Gracus!… I want you to inform governor Pilate immediately. He should order his soldiers to disperse these troublemakers immediately. They should be crushed like tomatoes. If he can’t do it, then I’ll order my soldiers to do it and that’ll be worse.

Soldier: Right away, your majesty.

Meanwhile, outside….

James: Freedom for Jesus! Freedom for the prisoners!

Magdalene: Jesus belongs to us. Release him now!

Soldier: This is a scourge of screamers. They’ll end up losing their voice!

Another Soldier: Leave them alone. Pilate’s guards are already there…

A Man: Release the prophet from Galilee!

Another Man: Freedom for the Messiah of Israel!

Magdalene: Mam Mary, you see they won’t dare lay a hand on us. We’re many, that’s why! They’ll have to free him! Freedom for Jesus!

The noise grew like a swelling sea. Uncontrollable. Burning with rage, our clothes dripping wet, while all eyes were fixed on the palace gates, we didn’t notice that the Roman soldiers had us surrounded…

A Man: Jesus is our man! Set him free!

A Woman: Hey, look over there! There are guards all over…!

Another Man: Well, let them be!… They can’t drive us away from here!

We were cornered. Since there were many of us, we felt strong. Pressed against one another, we continued shouting….

A Woman: Freedom for the prisoners! Set the prophet free!

A Man: Bring out the prisoners! Bring out the prisoners!

It didn’t take long for the soldiers to draw their short and shining swords… The raindrops pitter-pattered on their iron helmets….

Centurion: By orders of Pontius Pilate, disperse, all of you!… Do you hear?… You are to leave this place, by orders of the Governor!

Nobody budged. The hope of obtaining Jesus’ freedom drove us to stay where we were, all the more over the stones of the esplanade surrounding the palace. Then, the soldiers threateningly raised their swords and drew their shields closer to their bodies…

Centurion: By orders from Rome! Disperse, or we disperse you, damn!

A Man: No one will budge until you set Jesus free!

A Woman: Even if Caesar demanded it!

Another Man: Down with Rome and down with Pontius Pilate!

The shouts of those Galileans enraged the soldiers who lunged at us upon orders of the centurion. The confusion was alarming. Suddenly, some women in the first row fell. Terrified, the people ran, slipping through the plaza to escape the assault of the Roman soldiers. The more daring ones pulled out their knives from beneath their robes and became involved in the melee. But the odds were against us since they had superior weapons. Running and stumbling over each other, we had to disperse through the steep roads leading to the walls of the Hasmoneans….

A Woman: Sarah, they might kill your little boy!…

A Man: Pilate, murderer, someday we’ll get rid of you!

Magdalene: James! Peter!… Wait!… Run, Mam Mary, run!

James: John, don’t stay behind, go! Philip, Andrew…!

In order not to incite the people more, the soldiers were ordered not to kill anyone, so they aimed for the legs… Desperate and terrified, we ran again for cover through the narrow streets of Ophel, where the guards could not reach us…. The wounded were brought and hidden in the nearby houses… After a while, the uprising was over… From then on, Pilate ordered strict vigilance at all the strategic points of the city…

Herod: Go and tell governor Pilate that Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, is bringing back the prisoner that he may ratify whatever he decides regarding this imbecile. Let him die! He may hang him on the cross and gouge out his eyes! Then he may come to my palace to celebrate! We shall drink the best wine from Arabia when the worms are feasting on your body, and listen to this well, damned Nazarene…!

Herodias: Wait a minute, Herod…. You can’t dismiss him like that… Didn’t they say he’s the King Messiah?… Well, let him look like one… Here, put this rag over him…. Let the people who love him so much see him dressed as a king!

Jesus was dragged from the hall by Herod’s servants and over his shoulders they hung a white cloth of old and frayed silk that touched the floor…

A Soldier: Hail to you, king of Israel!

Another Soldier: Come, men and women, look at the Messiah of the starving people!

They laughed boisterously as they delivered him to the Roman soldiers guarding the palace gate with their lances raised. We were no longer there to see him leave. Jesus, overcome with fatigue, walked slowly, dragging his cloak of mockery, and crossed the streets of Jerusalem once again, toward the Antonia Fortress. The blood of the wounded stained the rain waters of the plaza….

*Comments*
Herod Antipas before whom Jesus appeared in this episode, was the youngest of the sons of Herod the Great. His father did not have Jewish blood and this gave the powerful king a complex throughout his life, as he wielded authority before his subjects. Herod the Great, who died four years after Jesus was born, had three women. Some of them were of Jewish families. This was the case of Herod Antipas’ mother. This enabled the young Herod to show people that he was still a Jew, appearing like a good follower of the religious laws. Every year, during Passover, he would go to Jerusalem to join his countrymen in celebrating the holidays. He refrained from having his face engraved on the coins of the Galilean kingdom, knowing this would make the pious Israelites furious. He also tried to intercede before Pilate in defending some of his countrymen, in order to earn the sympathy of his subjects.

Once he defended a group of Israelite rebels, resulting in enmity between him and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. In order to hurt the religious feelings of the Jews, on one occasion Pilate paraded imperial banners bearing the image of Caesar Tiberius along the streets of Jerusalem. He placed the imperial coats of arms in the palace of Herod the Great, in the sight of all the citizens. It was a grave offense to the Jews, who did not tolerate any representations of the Caesar, whom the Romans venerated as a God. So great was the scandal that beside the people’s revolts, a letter of protest was sent to Caesar in Rome, signed by the Jewish leaders of the country, demanding the removal of Pilate. Herod Antipas was one of the signatories of that letter, and since then, considered an enemy of Pilate…. The costly construction of the aqueduct built by Pilate in Jerusalem, using the money of the Temple, also caused enmity with Herod, who, as a man fighting for “religious” considerations, could not tolerate such an act of sacrilege. All these bickerings stopped with Jesus’ trial, whose death sentence was agreed upon by both rulers. For them, Jesus was a threat and they agreed to have him die as soon as possible. Herod the Great, the father of Herod Antipas, constructed magnificent buildings in Jerusalem. It was he who restored the temple, which was finished about twenty years before Jesus was born. (The first temple was built by King Solomon and was destroyed about five hundred years before Christ.) He constructed the Antonia Fortress, a gigantic theater, an aqueduct, an enormous hippodrome – for horse races and circus games – a big sepulcher for himself and his family, etc. Prominent among these constructions was his own palace, near the western wall of the capital, with three immense towers dominating the city. The tallest (45 meters) was that of Phasael (dedicated to a brother of Herod). Another, which was 40 meters, bore the name of Hippicus (a friend of the monarch); and the smallest and most artistic (27 meters), was the tower of Mariamme, one of the ten wives of Herod, who was the only one to carry the title of “queen” and who was murdered by the king himself. The bases of these three great towers are still preserved today.

This imposing palace stood out among all the buildings in Jerusalem. Herod Antipas would go there to celebrate the holidays in the capital and this is where Jesus was brought for interrogation by the king of Galilee. Since Jesus was a Galilean, his case legally fell within the jurisdiction of Herod. The interior of the palace was impressively luxurious. It was crammed with works of art. Slaves were available for service. Antipas, who must have been about fifty years old then, was corrupt in every sense. A superstitious man, insincere and vicious, he still harbored the fear of John the Baptist, whom he had ordered killed. This episode shows all his baseness and debility. Jesus did not utter a single word to denounce the man. His silence was enough to totally discredit a king whom he called a “fox.”

When the people of Jerusalem and the thousands of pilgrims – many of whom were Galileans – who had gone to the capital for the holidays, learned that Jesus was arrested, they would manifest their surprise and possibly their opposition, accordingly. If the priests and the authorities took time to decide to arrest Jesus and once arrested, immediately condemn him – in violation of all laws – it was precisely because of their fear of the people (Mk 14:1-2). These were the people, who, in the episode, took to the streets to demand Jesus’ freedom.

(Lk 23:6-12)

117- Freedom for the Prisoners

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