It was a warm late spring evening in Jerusalem. Saul was hurrying down a narrow cobblestone street, jostling his way through the crowd on his way to visit his close friend Rabbi Abram. His head was bowed in deep thought as he scurried along. An old man inadvertently stumbled across his pathway and lightly bumped into him. Saul looked at him scornfully, as if the event would unnecessarily delay his meeting with Abram. He continued on his way with even greater haste.
Upon arriving at Abram’s small two-room house he left his sandals at the door and stepped into a cramped poorly lit room with a low ceiling. It served as both a kitchen and dining room, dimly lit by an oil lamp at one end of a rickety oak table. The flickering light gave the room almost a ghostly aura. The two men customarily shared an evening meal before launching into a lively discussion of politics and religion. This night the meal was ready to eat when Saul arrived. Like the surroundings, it was simple.
Abram motioned for Saul to sit down on one of two short wooden benches which bracketed the small table as he took a leg of lamb from a spit where it had been roasting over a stone hearth. The aroma of the hot lamb made Saul’s nostrils swell. He raised his head to catch a waft of it as Abram passed by him to set it down on the table along with two loaves of freshly baked unleavened bread, some dried figs and red wine ... a meal now all too familiar to Saul.
“As always, the dinner smells great,” Saul commented.
“I’m sorry it’s the same menu as last time, but you know I have to prepare everything myself.”
“So do I, but my meals are never as good as yours,” Saul responded. Abram chuckled and sat down across from Saul, as was their custom.
The flickering light from the oil lamp made the creases on Abram’s aging face seem even deeper. Saul had grown fond of the old man and always enjoyed his insights and usually good humor. But this night things would be different.
Saul was greatly upset the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, had executed a Jewish teacher from Galilee during the recent Passover holiday. It took but a few minutes into the meal before he asked Abram what he knew about it. Abram summarily dismissed the incident as unimportant, noting crucifixions were not unusual in Jerusalem.
“I know they’re not unusual,” Saul said indignantly, “but that’s not the point. I want to know if you think it’s right for a pagan ruler to execute a Jewish teacher?”
“Of course not! But in this case it might have been the right thing to do.” Saul flinched. Abram’s answer took him by surprise.
“Why would you say such a thing?” he demanded.
“The man he executed was dangerous! The Governor probably did the right thing in this case.”
Saul wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his robe and took another bite of roasted lamb he pulled from the bone in front of him.
“How do you know that?” Saul shot back.
Abram poured another cup of wine for the two of them. He now realized Saul’s concern about the crucifixion was genuine and deserved a better answer. He stopped eating briefly while he attempted to explain what he knew about the event.
“Alright, Saul, here’s what happened. The man you’re so concerned about was a popular preacher from Galilee named Jesus. He came to Jerusalem just before Passover with a gaggle of followers who proclaimed he was ‘King of the Jews,’ which obviously was a preposterous claim. On his first day in the city he entered the Temple courtyard where he upset several tables belonging to money exchangers, accusing them of turning God’s temple into a house of thieves! As if that wasn’t bad enough, over the next several days he publicly railed against all of us — Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and priests — anyone with power or influence in Judea, claiming we were enemies of God and Israel.”
“Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t think being a critic of our leaders justifies execution at the hands of a pagan governor. In fact you’ve been critical of our leaders many times. What makes this man so different?”
Abram took a sip of the red wine and then looked squarely into Saul’s eyes.
“You’re right. I have been critical of them at times. But I don’t go to the Temple every day and air my complaints in public like this man did.”
Saul stiffened his short frame as he expressed outrage at the justification Abram just gave for the crucifixion.
“Look, Abram. Here’s what you’ve told me so far. This Galilean teacher came to Jerusalem, staged a protest against the government and our leaders resented it. That’s politics, Rabbi! I still don’t see how what he did justifies a Roman crucifixion!!”
The intensity of Saul’s questioning wasn’t unusual. He always pushed an issue until he was satisfied. It’s the kind of man he was. But this time seemed different. Abram leaned back, folded his arms across his broad chest and with a steady low voice once again tried to explain why he wasn’t upset about the execution of Jesus.
“Saul, you miss the point. The issue isn’t his specific criticisms of our leaders. What this man was doing in the Temple could have incited a riot right under the eyes of the Roman army that watches our every move. It could have led to a blood bath.”
“Well, then, did the Roman authorities execute him for trying to incite a riot? Was that the reason?” Abram now was growing exasperated with Saul.
“Quite honestly, Saul, I don’t know why they executed him, so I really can’t answer your question.” Brushing aside his dinner, Abram said emphatically, “Now let’s talk about something else!”
Saul didn’t relent.
“Rabbi, why are you so reluctant to discuss my concern about pagan rulers killing Jewish teachers? Of all people, I thought you would be upset by this.”