“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them, and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” So begins the third “act” of my dramatization Testament of a Naked Man. A striking image as we begin the journey, or the final part of the journey, to the cross. I imagine Jesus resolute, jaw set, striding into whatever awaits him; and according to the story, he had a pretty good idea of what awaited him, as is made explicit in the next verses when he takes the twelve aside again and tells them what is to happen to him.
But the fact that “they” (presumably the disciples) were amazed, and that those who followed were afraid, suggests that others too also had an idea that this was not going to work out well. It’s a striking image, yes, and it is a great way to begin the last third of the Gospel – it seems to be a natural break, and that is why I break it there – they were on the road going up to Jerusalem… But as I perform this Gospel over and over again, I am becoming conscious of glimpses that we get, in passing really, of a bigger picture and a deeper reality. There is a lot more going on than is immediately apparent on the surface. Why were the disciples amazed, and why were “those who followed” afraid? Afraid for Jesus, or afraid for themselves?
It suggests to me, that Jesus was seen as a very controversial figure and quite dangerous, threatening to the authorities and possibly to others as well, as his words and actions challenged and undermined the stability of the status quo. That may seem obvious. But when I think of the disciples’ amazement and the people’s fear it draws me beyond the “facts” of the narrative into the emotion and sensation of experiencing that reality. What was really going on here? What is the story behind the story?
I have continued to read John Dominic Crossan’s Birth of Christianity, and the figure that is emerging of Jesus, in his detailed and painstaking analysis, is of a peasant leader who challenged the oppression and exploitation of Imperial Rome and the collusion of those Jewish authorities that supported it. Again, this is not a surprising conclusion – in a way it is right there in the Gospel stories (for those who have eyes to see), but it is the palpability of the amazement and fear that I am sensing in this short verse that opens the third act with such a striking image.
They were on the road. Going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead of them. They were amazed. Those who followed were afraid.