Servant Girl in Courtyard
Luke 23:45-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27
Soup & Scripture March 2, 2016
He sold me short. ‘Thought because I was a servant I was stupid – and deaf, too! ‘Didn’t take much to realize the man wasn’t from here – the way he talked! That accent! What a give-away he was from Galilee, just like that rabbi Jesus. They sound like country hicks.
Not that the guy was saying much. More like he was skulking around in the shadows of the courtyard, except when he couldn’t stand the cold any longer and sidled up to the fire to thaw out his rough hands. I thought to myself, he must do some kind of manual labor to earn a living. (‘Could’ve sworn I got a whiff of fish….)
I was the gatekeeper at the high priest’s house that night. (Unusual for a woman to be gatekeeper, no less at night, but there you have it.) The man stayed outside, kept his distance at first, while his companion, one of the rabbi’s followers, greeted me. I know the companion, because he knows the high priest, and has been here before. He entered, then retraced his steps, went outside and got the other one, who must be his friend. The man looked so intensely uncomfortable I couldn’t resist asking, “Aren’t you one of the rabbi’s disciples, too?” (Mostly I said it to watch him squirm; I knew the answer to my own question.) Silly man, he denied it. Not a very good actor, either. He could have brushed off my comment with a simple “No.” Instead he emphatically denied knowing that rabbi Jesus.
The inner open-air courtyard, around which the rooms of the high priest’s house are arrayed, was unusually crowded that night. Everything was unusual – a little “off.” The place should have been quiet at that late hour, with no visitors and everyone asleep but the guards and gatekeeper. Instead, things were jumping – police and servants filled the courtyard outside, as the elders and chief priests met inside, interrogating the rabbi. Such things usually occur during daylight, not the dead of night…. Strange things were afoot.
The frightened man with the rough hands tried to blend in, but set himself apart by being more curious than anyone else about what was going on inside. We were all somewhat curious, of course. Word had spread fast among us servants that our friend, Malchus, the high priest’s slave, had been attacked by one of the rabbi’s followers. The chief priests, elders and Temple police had gone to the Garden of Olives earlier in the evening to arrest the rabbi. One of the rabbi’s disciples had whipped out a sword and sliced off Malchus’ right ear! Those who were there said the rabbi then bent down, picked up the ear, and put it back on Malchus’ head! When the contingent came back and passed through the gate I noticed the blood on Malchus’ right shoulder…. He didn’t look injured, though, and I had wondered what happened.
‘Must have been quite a scene out there. We even heard there was a streaker! Apparently a young follower of the rabbi was underclothed. Maybe he’d been sleeping when word came that a mob with torches and clubs was hauling his master away. ‘Must have wrapped the bed linen around himself and headed out. When someone grabbed him in the melee, the sheet came right off and he was left standing there in his all-together, for the split second before he tore away. (If they put up a wanted poster, it’ll have to be of his tail feathers!)
As time dragged on in the courtyard, with no sign of the group inside breaking up, others approached the supposedly secret follower with the rough hands. Each time someone fingered him as one of the rabbi’s disciples he’d deny it, more and more heatedly until finally the third time he really came unglued, swearing up a storm. ‘Guess he was afraid he’d end up at the pointy end of a sword himself.
That was at about the third watch of the night; when the cursing stopped a rooster crowed. That sound and a sight that followed are now seared in my memory. I caught a glimpse of the rabbi looking out of the room where they held him, into the courtyard. I followed his gaze and it landed on the man I believed to be his disciple, despite all the protests in the world. They exchanged an intense look – love and sorrow on each face. In the disciple’s eyes I also saw the horror of realization and deep remorse; in the rabbi’s I saw the pain of deep disappointment and forgiveness. Then they were both gone: the rabbi to his fate, and the disciple into the night, where he cried and cried and cried….
I had heard about Jesus of Nazareth previously, on the street and back at the house. He got very different reviews depending on the person to whom I spoke. I realize that as part of the high priest’s household I have a bias toward his point of view. But what I heard and saw that unusual spring night and the couple days after has me wondering. I can’t help but think the rabbi was on trial inside and his disciple was on trial outside. The rabbi was convicted, but ended up victorious, and the disciple got away, but not really. Don’t sell me short just because I’m a servant. I’m definitely smart enough to ask: Who was that rabbi who passed through my gate??
This snippet from the Passion story reminds us of two things. In the words of the Presbyterian Bible commentator William Barclay, the first is this:
“The penalty of sin is to face, not the anger of Jesus, but the heartbreak in his eyes.”1
The second is Jesus’ command to Peter, after he predicted his denial at the Last Supper:
“…[Y]ou, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
· #1: Let us strive not to sin, but when we do, let us feel our Lord’s heartbreak, and turn back to Him again.
· #2: Let us then humbly use our hard-won wisdom to strengthen our brothers and sisters in their journey of faith.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham