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The Forsaken Stream

In the deserts and the dry mountains of southern Israel, just as it is in the heartland of the tropical South America, it is all about water. Water is life, whether in a wet country or a dry.

In Israel, in the remaining part called Judaea (which was incorporated in the larger province Syria Major) that Roma governed with a highly volatile system of local autonomy and imperial oversight, most people despaired of a political solution and sought God’s mighty hand of deliverance for their Roma-ruled nation.

And who was God’s mighty hand? The long-awaited, long-promised Messiah, of course! The Messiah would come as a conquering hero and kick out the hated Romans and rule over the whole world from Jerusalem. In his reign streams of gold would flow in the holy land—everyone would be rich!

Every Jew would enjoy the bounties of his own vineyard and abundant flocks, and no end of sons to bear his name.

All the men would be handsome and all the women would be beautiful! The land would blossom as the rose, and the deserts and wildernesses would produce the fig tree and the date palm and every manner of pleasant herb and plant.

Unhappiness and dearth would be banished forever from God’s paradise on earth, Holy Israel. The Temple would be rebuilt (thanks to King Herod it was already being rebuilt in the most glorious way).

Taxes and poverty would be abolished. Disease and sickness and old age would flee away. No one’s shoes would wear out. It would be happiness and peace without end once the Messiah the King came to rule His people—a continual Jubilee!

They didn’t realize that it is all about water. Water is a conquering, unstoppable force, but it can also be as gentle as mist and dew—yet it is the same water. That was their fatal error of judgment.

In Israel’s path of destiny two streams diverged from a single river: most people followed one river, which was the Kingly Branch, while very few chose the smaller branch, the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah and David.

The disciples of Yeshua the Nazarene came to the place that their Master appointed. It was the place where they had seen a man carrying in a jar of water—which was a slave woman’s job, to be sure. How could they miss the place with a clear sign like that?

But why all the secrecy and the use of a sign? Why didn’t they meet in John’s house in Jerusalem—wouldn’t that have been more convenient? Yes, but they all knew the Pharisees and the chief authorities of the Temple, not to mention the Herodian party, were actively conspiring to arrest Yeshua. Since reports of Yeshua’s raising a man from the dead in Bethany had captivated the people in the whole country, they couldn’t freely come and go as before. No, their presence in Jerusalem at the Passover had to be secret, or they were obliged to seek a secret chamber as they would no doubt be raided by temple guards trying to take Yeshua by force when the crowds were not around him to witness the event and protect him.

Entering, with Yeshua coming a little later on, as he had told them, they were surprised to find the door unattended. The water-carrying servant was no where in sight. No slave came to wash their feet either! What kind of household was this? They wondered. Milling about in the entry did no good, so they decided to go up the stairs.

Entering, they were all impressed by the size—it was evidently a rich man’s dining room--and they were pleased, for apparently it had been prepared in every detail for their Passover feast.

“Truly worthy for our Teacher and gathering!” Philip observed as he threw himself down on a couch. Of course, he had slept on the ground with the same Master, night after night, and endured many a day of tramping the dusty roads of Judaea—but at last the privileges due his discipleship were beginning to show themselves.

“What worthy man donated the use of the chamber?” inquired another pleased disciple. “He should be rewarded somehow by the Master for his benevolence!”

“It could have been a lesser room, and the money might be saved to feed the poor!” harumphed Judas of Iscariot, who cared nothing for the poor.

James and John? These whom Yeshua called the “Sons of Thunder” eyed the chamber approvingly too. After all, they had chosen themselves to be chief among the disciples and let everyone know, including the Master, that they expected to be seated on his right hand once he acceded to the Kingdom.

Simon Peter, however, was one who demurred. He preferred the open spaces, the clean air of the country, the smell of fish and the sea water of the great Lake of Galilee.

He didn’t like the crowded city and its noisy life, which never ceased night or day. Give him the peace of a fisherman’s life any day over life in the fleshpots of the great city! As for precedence, he was self-assured and need not fight for position, since he was his own master and knew he could hold his own if challenged.

Let the sons of Zebedee fight it out with others for the right hand seat—he was bigger than such squabblers! As long as he had his boat and a sea to fish in, a good wife to cook what he caught and didn’t sell, and remained able to earn his bread and butter, life was good!

Of course, now that he had chosen to render his services to the Nazarene teacher, he had many new things to think about—which wasn’t altogether good—for he didn’t like thinking overmuch about life--knowing it could spoil a good digestion after the best of meals.

When people came inquiring this and that, he answered like an ordinary fisherman. He put them off with a show of countrified ignorance, and if that didn’t suffice, then evasion.

If they still persisted, then he told them something from his stock of big fish stories—usually that did it, and they left him in peace. But if the fellow still wouldn’t mind his own business—usually one of those over-religious types like most Pharisees with their friends the nit-picking tribe of scribes and lawyers-—then he did what a man had to do and planted his fist square on their noses along with a swift kick in the belly and another encouragement in the behind to send them flying on their way!

As for robbers and such on the highways, he could deal with that too, for he carried a sword stuck into his girdle. Usually, all he had to do was strike off an ear or two and they lost all interest in robbing him and went their way and he went his.

Forgetting about his dirty, smelly feet (how many cow droppings had he stepped in that day, it could not be counted!), Peter glanced at the room and scarcely saw it.

It had a roof overhead to keep out the rain, didn’t it? Four walls, yes? A door to enter and exit? A floor, a table and furniture. What did it matter how it looked anyway? He didn’t require anything fancy. What he needed was to rest his feet a bit after the long walks in the country from Bethany to Jerusalem and from the Mount of Olives in the procession hailing Yeshua as the Messiah. With a loud sigh he sank down on the nearest couch.

He was hungry too and desired the feast to begin immediately.

With good food in his belly—the Passover lamb, the wine, and the bread—he felt he could forget the recent rather upsetting events—the raising of Yeshua’s friend, Lazarus, from the dead and the great joy and equal amount of consternation that event had raised in the people.

He could feel the boiling anger Yeshua’s miracle had aroused in all his enemies—the Pharisees and their allies—and didn’t like the dirty looks they cast him and the others for following Yeshua.

In the hubbub of voices and movements, as the disciples selected out where they each wished to lie at table, questions went unanswered and remarks unheard by most.

Only one voice could be heard easily above all the others—that of the disciple who was treasurer for the band and bore the money purse on his girdle into which gifts from supporters went.

“I suppose that John must have his usual spot by the Master’s right!” grumbled Judas Iscariot, as he dispossessed the son of Tolmai and took the couch by Yeshua’s left. “And where is the slave to wash my feet? What kind of house is this without any decent respect for honored guests?”

The other disciples (except Peter who was fast dozing off) agreed noisily. They all hated having to smell their feet while dining. The streets were filthy with so many thousands of sacrificial lambs and bulls about for the Temple service and no one would think of dining first before having his feet washed.

Just then the Master quietly appeared in the chamber. One moment he was absent, then the next he was lying down on a couch at the head of the table. That was his way, they knew.

He came and departed without any fanfare or fuss—which characteristic offended a number of the disciples, who wanted to see trumpets blown and maidens strewing flowers from baskets to precede them and the Master as they toured the towns and cities.

And why shouldn’t he ride in a chariot? Why must he insist on walking everywhere he chose to go?

Why, the only time he rode anything was when he entered Jerusalem on a a colt, the foal of a donkey! It was hard to swallow—such a humble showing for the Messiah entering his royal city of Jerusalem as the people shouted “Hosanna”!

A minute or so passed, and yet the Master made no sign for the feast to begin. Their feet had now begun to smell in the air as it grew still—what a thing to spoil their enjoyment of the holy meal! What was to be done? Where were the servants to do the washing? Hadn’t the Master arranged for any to come? It was an unthinkable lapse of due tradition and propriety.

Even John, who lay with his head closest Yeshua’s bosom, was glancing about uneasily. Once he darted a glance at Yeshua, who didn’t seem to notice. But no one said a word about the grave omission—the one thing lacking in the preparation for the feast—-for what could they think had gone wrong?

Was their Master so lacking in sense?

They had noted his negligence in many details of propriety—such as working miracles on the Sabbath and exceeding a thousand paces on the same day—not to mention sometimes foregoing the ceremonial washing of hands before eating—had he now added the washing of feet to the ancient Mosaic customs he wished to do away with?

Someone started the opening bars of a popular Passover psalm just to break the growing tension, but after a few half-hearted attempts to get it going, it died pathetically.

It grew so quiet in the chamber in those moments that they could hear the city’s movements through the thick stone walls.

People were supposed to be gathering in their homes for the Passover feast by this time, but you could tell many thousands hadn’t yet found a place to celebrate in the vastly over-crowded city. Where they would find a room was anyone’s guess. Most would have to seek a spot outside the walls and camp in the open.

The now dozing fisherman’s rude, coarse snore cut gratingly across the room, and several disciples looked his way with disgust. Didn’t he mind that his feet stank badly, worse than any others in the room?

Suddenly, the Master did something unexpected. He rose up, drew off his outer robe, putting it on his couch. Then he went out of the room, returning a moment later with a water pot and a basin. Around his waist was tied a towel.

What was he thinking of? everyone except the sleeping Peter wondered, aghast.

Kneeling at the feet of Matthew, he poured water in the basin and began to wash his horrified and speechless disciple’s feet. After he wiped them, Yeshua continued with James, son of Aphaeus, who was equally put out but could not say anything. Judas, brother of James, Philip, Simon the Canaanite, (also called the Zealot), James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John, they too had their feet washed and wiped dry.

Thomas, hoping the Master would pass him, shrank back as Yeshua approached him too. Shame rose red in his face as Yeshua washed each dirty foot and dried it carefully.

The moment Yeshua let go, Thomas instantly pulled the foot back under his robe immediately. He looked as if he might say something, but it got bottled up, and he looked as if he might explode.

Judas Iscariot flinched and closed his eyes, after they rolled upwards, as it came his turn.

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Jude looked as if he might weep. Bartholomew (Son of Tolmai) first looked like a statue, he grew so rigid. He actually stopped breathing until Yeshua finished, and then he gasped and started coughing and had to be pounded on the back.

Philip smiled crazily, as if he still couldn’t believe what was happening. Then his face grew solemn to the point it looked as if a beloved family member had died, followed in turn by a look of bewilderment as he shook his head and looked about for some recognition of what he was thinking in the others.

At the last he came to Peter. The fisherman, feeling the touch of water, awoke with a start and nearly kicked the basin out of Yeshua’s hand.

Will you wash my feet?

“What I am doing, you don’t understand,” the Master replied, “but you will understand later.”

Peter drew up his feet with horror. “You shall never wash my feet!”

Yeshua paused to look at Peter, not with sadness but with some approval as the others gazed at Peter with mixed anger and guilt.

“If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”

Hearing this, Peter’s face flushed and he thrust out his dirty feet practically in Yeshua’s face, crying, “Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head!”

Yeshua, as he began washing Peter’s feet, said, “He who is washed need only to wash his feet, for he is clean otherwise, and you are clean, but not all of you are clean.”

Finished with Peter, Yeshua put away the basin and towel and returned and put on his robe and lay down.

The disciples, including Peter, were all staring at Yeshua, while avoiding glancing at each other. What next would this remarkable Master of theirs do and say? They had expected an ordinary Passover feast, but this one was going totally opposite to holy tradition.

Yeshua, fixing them with his characteristically tender and affectionate but attentive gaze, looked as if he was going to teach them something, maybe a parable or two.

They knew that look of his, and they held their silence out of respect—though not always, for a couple disciples were whispering to an attendant from the household who had come wondering if they needed their feet washed, having just remembered that the slave girl who normally took care of the guests and household members had been sent away that evening to her family’s house for the Passover.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” Yeshua began, in his usual highly annoying way of asking questions whose answers they thought they knew beforehand.

He did not give even the quick-tongued Peter time to collect his thoughts and spout out something.

He looked at them, smiling unexpectedly when they thought he was going to reprimand them for having failed to care a whit for each other and for Him. “You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash another’s feet—“

That was the dreaded sword thrust! Imagine that--He was requiring them to take the slave's job of washing people's dirty feet!

Here they were disciples struggling to gain a modicum of respect in decent society as Yeshua's followers, but if the word got out that they had to wash feet, they would be considered laughingstocks! Never again could they expect anyone to show them the least respect or deference--that was what He was bringing them to!

Most felt highly offended, shocked, and dismayed by their Master's latest pronouncement. Yet some were sober enough to realize that the Lord had just put his finger on their terrible lack of love for each other!

And what was worse, they had all forgotten their Lord and Master, who surely was deserving of having his feet washed by every single one of his disciples! Gradually, the realization spread in the room and every face turned red, except Judas Iscariot’s, who shrugged because he had expected Yeshua to say something rude of this sort.

“For I have given you an example,” Yeshua continued, “that you should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither is he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them..”

“What nonsense the Nazarene is spouting now!” thought Judas Iscariot, staring at Jesus with bored, ice-cold eyes.

“He expects us to be lowly servants? How can that be sensible? We are followers of the Messiah of the Jews, a great people, not someone who washes feet! This is absolute proof he is not fit for the throne of King David if he intends to humiliate us all like this! It is unmistakable proof I was sorely mistaken in him. These last three years of my life—thrown away on a pretender! His miracles—well, what good are they if he refuses to act like a king and doesn’t want to render us the honor we should have as his disciples and followers? I’ve had all I can take from this Nazarene! He is good for nothing—let the priests have him and do what they want with him!”

The River Branch of the Suffering Servant Messiah had flooded the chamber by this time, but Judas was riding the crest of another stream flowing parallel to it, that of the Kingly Messiah.

The current was so strong, in fact, that in minutes he would be swept right out of the chamber and toward the Temple, where he had business with the chief priests, having decided at last, thanks to the outrageous foot washing.

Meanwhile, in a nearby blacksmith shop in the Antonio Fortress, nails were being forged, hammered, and stuck in a much-used nail-board for the next crucifixion (there was always need for more nails, for under the Roman administration there was always a "next crucifixion"). Sixteen was the number of each nail-board--two nails for the condemned man's hand, and two (the longer size) for his feet. Three sets of nails, for the Romans liked to crucify in groups of three--when they weren't crucifying thousands in one mass lot.

When finished, the blacksmith sent the new nails on their way, via a Syrian soldier assigned there for the next crucifixion. Carried to the hill outside the walls named for a skull, the nail-board and a hammer were set on the ground. The soldiers (mostly Syrians, traditionally arch enemies of the Jews, now dressed in Roman gear) sat down or stood about, waiting to do their duty to the emperor and the Roman people that their home country now served and worshiped in place of Syria's gods.

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