“You know they’re going to ask you to speak,” Andrew Ben-John told his brother with a gentle nudge of his elbow and with a sly smile.
The brothers were back home again after what seemed a dream trip. Or was it a nightmare?
Andrew and big brother Simon were back in Capernaum, Galilee, in the Middle East, and headed to their first Sabbath synagogue service following a trip to far-away Jerusalem and back.
The village still buzzed over their champion, Jesus the Nazarene, who was cheered in the streets of the old capital, then arrested secretly in the middle of the night and hurriedly crucified before anyone from Galilee could know.
Simon knew they’d all come to the synagogue to hear from him what happened. But few had heard of the dramatic rest of the story.
The synagogue ruler, something like the chairman of a church deacon board, traditionally picked a man from the Jewish crowd to read from the scroll. It was carefully and prominently displayed in its case at the head of the synagogue and contained the Holy Scripture.
Simon had become a celebrity in Capernaum. He had brought the Nazarene to the fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Simon had opened his home to the man.
Villagers packed out Peter’s house one time after a memorable Sabbath during which Jesus was called to come up and read from the synagogue scroll. Then Jesus did so much more.
The Nazarene quieted, some said healed, a yelling, crazy man whom some said had been demon-possessed. Right there in the synagogue. On a Sabbath. The news spread like wildfire.
As soon as Sabbath had ended, after sundown, villagers brought everyone and their kinfolk to Simon’s house for Jesus to heal. And he did.
Brother Andrew knew the people did not want Peter — the nickname that Jesus had tagged on Simon — to read from the scroll because of his elocution. Peter’s voice was raspy and deep. He could be hard to hear in a crowd.
No, the people wanted to know what Peter had to say for himself now. Some may be bitter for following and promoting a rabbi who came to such a tragic, terrible dead end.
Peter understood. He pondered what to say.
Jesus resurrected back to life in Jerusalem, just as he said he would, though Peter and the other apostles at the time did not believe that Jesus was speaking literally.
Peter saw Jesus twice, post-resurrection, in Jerusalem. The Lord’s only instruction was for Peter and the rest of the apostles, or ambassadors, to return to Galilee.
Should Peter tell the synagogue crowd the story? The whole story? Would they reject it, as Thomas the apostle did initially. Would the crowd grow angry? And dangerous?
In Jesus’ hometown one time they rioted when Jesus presented himself in the synagogue there as Messiah, the Christ. Peter never did learn just how Jesus eluded the mob.
Would the Capernaumites do the same now if Peter started talking about Jesus rising from the dead, of being Messiah? Peter shuttered.
“Brother Simon, would you come?” Mishael the synagogue ruler announced during the service. The ruler did not let on about the real purpose of his choice this day.
The burly fisherman found himself jumping up and striding forcefully to the front with a confidence he did not feel. With the help of a couple of young acolytes he had the scroll rolled to the right, to the prophecies. Just before entering the synagogue Peter had picked the passage he would read.
“We considered him stricken by God,” Peter read in the rhythm of Hebrew verse. “Smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.”
Peter paused, then looked up from the scroll with determined brown eyes. This was the moment the people had been waiting for. The house was packed. And it was so still you could hear a pin drop.
The apostle took a moment to breathe in the situation and remember the scene in Nazareth years before.
“The events in Jerusalem were tragic,” began Peter, clearing his throat in mid-sentence. “Yet they were foretold. The prophet told us clearly that Jesus of Nazareth would have to suffer. Jesus told us repeatedly that he had to go to the cross, that Scripture like this would be fulfilled.”
“Blasphemer!” yelled Johann the tanner, jumping up from his bench. Johann always had been a thorn in Peter’s side since Peter had arrived in the village.
Others joined in, yelling, taunting, unleashing emotions ranging from indignity to embarrassment to hate. As the crescendo rose rapidly. Peter suddenly realized that this mob was between him and the only door.
“Shalom!” came a cry from the back. Peace! Jews used the word like hello.
The men turned and froze. The eyes of the women and children in the back were like saucers as they stared at the figure in front of them. Some gasped. There was no sign that the man had parted the crowd in back.
Jesus strode confidently, as he had in Nazareth, with head up and headed to the front and to the scroll. Men were like statues. Those who had started to rise froze in a crouch.
A wide-eyed Peter respectfully stepped away from the scroll. Jesus did not need the acolytes’ help as he spread his arms and rolled the heavy scroll further to the right as only the strongest might do. It was at this point that the men toward the front focused on the scabbed-over nail wounds in Jesus’s outstretched hands.
He stopped the scroll at the book of another prophet, Zechariah, and read: “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd. … Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.
“I am the shepherd, the good shepherd,” Jesus said as he looked up at the crowd. “Though my sheep scattered in Jerusalem, now I gather my sheep, again. Come now. And believe.”
It was the apostle Paul who gave us the tantalizing detail in the Bible that after his resurrection Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time.” Unfortunately, Paul gave no more details, and none of the other New Testament writers mention it.
But at this Eastertime I offer this fictional short story as an example of what COULD have happened. And as an invitation to join the flock.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.