They’ve posted guards.
There are to be no witnesses.
Much of the scene isn’t clear, blurred by lamplight; some things stand out in sharp focus - the almost offensive softness of the elder’s hands carefully placing three piles of coins onto smooth olive wood, the dreadful scar down the right cheek of his minder. I can smell the silver. I’m smiling, despite the sombreness of what I am doing. I’m fulfilling the prophecy.
Yes, I can bring back an earlier memory of that evening ... it is all too vivid. We are all at supper. The women have been baking for us and the bread is fresh, aromatic. Dipped in a soup of spiced pulses it is delicious. There are figs and olives for us, and local wine. We are nearly at the end of our meal, discussing points of philosophy, when he ...
... Yeshua. He picks up the end of the loaf and pulls it into twelve pieces. We each take a bit. He says the bread is his own body. He tells us all that tomorrow he will be killed and his death will pay mankind’s spiritual debt in full. People can start again with a clean slate however wicked they have been. Nobody speaks - they’re all in shock. He is asking us to remember his sacrifice every time we eat together. Now he is passing the wine around the table, and he wants us to thank God for his blood every time we lift a cup to our lips. We eat and drink in stunned silence. Now he is looking around the room and saying that among us is his betrayer.
I know who that is, of course. The others have no idea. They have no knowledge of the private conversations that Yeshua has had with me over the past few months and now they’re terrified that something they inadvertently let slip will bring the authorities down on us and compromise our teacher’s safety. John is deathly pale; he is going to lose the person he loves most in the whole world. The women are weeping. Peter is shaking with fear, he has to put his cup down, the wine is staining his mantle. Yeshua has just said his right-hand man will be the first to deny all knowledge of him once the military come looking.
And now he turns his dark, mesmeric eyes on me. He tells me to go. I have to keep my appointment. As I turn down the steps to the street I can hear the gasp of dismay from my eleven friends transfixed at the supper table.
Go back to the temple.
It’s dark now. I’m back with the priests and elders. Caiaphas is looking at me like a cat who has got the cream. The thirty shekels are in my pouch; now I have to keep my side of the bargain. I’m saying to him, ‘We are sleeping rough up on the hill in the olive trees. Bring your men and I’ll take you to him.’ He says, ‘How will I know which man to take?’ I can’t believe he has never set eyes on Yeshua after all the gatherings, all the publicity ... I tell him to arrest the man I embrace. The one with the dark eyes. The one in the seamless tunic.
Now I’m there in the olive trees. I thought the militia would move silently through the darkness and take the group by surprise, but no, officials and soldiers are tramping through the grove, weapons clanking, torches flaring into the branches and setting leaves alight. My eleven friends have all been asleep and are springing to their feet, stumbling against rocks and tree-roots. Yeshua is on his own a few yards away - he has been praying. He comes slowly toward us. If he is afraid he isn’t letting anyone see. And he embraces me. The arrest goes with barely a hitch - there is one nasty scuffle when Peter raises his sword to one of the soldiers and cuts his ear, but Yeshua reaches out with his free hand and touches the open wound and the blood stops and it starts to heal. The soldier is startled, he steps up to Caiaphas, says, ‘Let him go! He’s not a threat, he’s a healer!’ But the priest isn’t listening and we all have work to do.
They take Yeshua away ... and you ... ?
I have my own plans. You see, I know. I know what this is all about. Do you think I would bloody my hands with this if I didn’t know he was going to astonish the world by coming straight back from death? I know - because he told me - that they would nail him up crosswise on a tree like a common criminal and he would seem to die but then come back to life - perform the ultimate miracle - and carry on teaching with me as his second in command instead of Peter.
Has he told you that as well?
Not explicitly, but Peter was clearly going to let him down, and I have done everything that was asked of me.
What are you doing now?
Going to the man who has a plot of land for sale in east Jerusalem. It’s Friday morning. I intend to do something wonderful for Yeshua. I have enough money now to buy this field and make plans for a school there where the world can come to learn from the greatest teacher who has ever lived - or will ever live - and witness miracles. It will be a great healing centre. A temple. It will be my finest achievement.
Is the sale going through?
Yes. He’s an old man, used to be a potter, retiring after many years working with the clay from his field. He smiles and shakes my hand warmly. The thirty shekels are now his. He and his wife will now be more secure in their old age.
I’m very excited now - my moment is coming soon. This afternoon Yeshua will perform his promised miracle, the act that is destined to change the world, and I shall be there at his right hand. With my surprise waiting for him.
Move on ...
What’s happening? I don’t understand. The women are all there with him and they’re crying and covered in blood, and John’s in pieces, and there are guards laughing at them and tossing Yeshua’s clothes around while he ... he’s not moving. It went terribly dark and the ground started to shake and I thought, ‘Now’s the time!’ and now I’m here and it’s all gone horribly wrong. Why isn’t he moving? There’s a gash in his side and a thing on his head made from camel thorn that has made him bleed all down his face and he’s not breathing. He said he would come down...
Yeshua! You can’t be dead! We had a plan! Yeshua! You lied to me! You said we would change the world! Together! You said you needed me! Yeshua, I’ve bought you land! I’ve planned our own temple! Yeshua!
You need to move on.
No-one will speak to me. John and the women all turned their backs and took him down from the tree. They’ve buried him. In some tomb or other. I’m back at the old potter’s house, banging on the door. I need my money back - the land is useless to me now. Thirty shekels is thirty shekels. I’ll salvage something out of this rotten day. He’s on the step, staring at me. ‘The money’s gone,’ he says. ‘Invested.’ ‘Where?’ I am asking. Desperate to know. ‘None of your business,’ he is saying.’We had a deal. Enjoy your land.’ He shuts the door in my face.
It’s dark. Now I’m in the field, shouting at heaven, swearing at God. It has become a field of blood. There is nothing left for me, everything I prized and worked for has been taken.
Climbing now, to a tree branch. Belt around my neck ... a sudden drop ...
Yeshua is before me. There is no censure. Only love. ‘Everything has to be paid,’ says that beautiful voice.’Every I dotted, every T crossed. But even in purgatory, and through all your lives I will be close by. All you need to do is turn round.’
Come back now. Counting - ten, nine, eight ... on three you will open your eyes, on one you will be fully aware and in 21st century London. You will only remember that earlier life if you need to. You may choose to forget.
... Seven, six, five, four - three, two - one.
I’m back, aren’t I. And I’ve done it again. Dear God, I’ve done it over and over again.
Why can’t I stop?
Tomorrow the friend I love best in all the world is turning me in to the police on a trumped-up charge. How do I forgive?
Oh Jesus. Living Yeshua. Help me trust you at last. Help me listen.