MARY ON CALVARY. PART 1.
The palms which the children of the Hebrews had cast beneath the feet of Christ still strewed with their green tufts the rugged road of Bethania; the echo of the valley of cedars 1 still muttered the dying sounds of those cries of triumph and joy, with which the daughters of Sion had saluted the King who came to them poor, when Jerusalem was deeply moved by a new event of great and sad importance.
The princes of the priests, the senators, and Pharisees sought to get possession, even at the price of gold, and without shrinking from domestic treason, of a great criminal, who, as they said, placed both religion and the state in danger. This man must indeed have been very dangerous, since these honourable personages had bound themselves to an extraordinary fast to lay hold of him, 2 and had indeed distributed on this occasion some alms throughout the city with sound of trumpet. The Pharisees, those conscientious Jews, who plundered none but the uncircumcised, and who would have " left their neighbour at the bottom of a pit on the sabbath-day, though they would have speedily drawn out their ox or their ass, had undertaken to spread among the people—whom it is so easy to make impression upon, and to deceive— frightful reports and vague rumours, which had thrown them into a kind of feverish anxiety, from which they could not free themselves but by a fit of ferocity. Things being thus prepared, a well-armed troop were seen, one evening, coming down from Mount Moria, in which were some senators, and which was commanded by the captain of the guards of the temple; 3 the troop of servants of the princes of the priests came after, and at the head of this battalion, which marched on with a measured step by the light of those large lanterns which the Asiatics fix upon long poles, to raise them up high, and of some resinous torches, was a man with a low forehead, an irresolute look, and an abject countenance, whose girdle was swelled out with gold robbed from the poor, 4 to which he already added in imagination the thirty pieces of silver which he was to earn, by delivering up to the princes of the synagogue—too Jewish to pay for his treason beforehand—his master, his friend, his God! For it was the son of David, the triumpher but a few days before, Jesus of Nazareth, the great prophet of Galilee, at whose voice-greedy death gave up his prey, and whose commands the winds and the waves respected, whom the ruffians of the chief priests and the Pharisees were going in search of upon the Mount of Olives, whither he retired at night after teaching in the temple, as St. Luke relates. They had not dared to arrest him in open daylight, because they feared some resistance on the part of that multitude of disciples who came to hear him early in the morning beneath the porch of Solomon.
The armed troop, headed by the Iscariot, crossed the ravine where flows the Cedron, that torrent of dark waters, 5 which witnessed the passage of King David, when he fled with a handful of faithful servants from the rebels in the pay of his son Absalom. While the soldiers of the temple followed, silent and savage, along the banks of the torrent in which their torches were reflected, in order to reach the heights of Gethsemane, and while the night wind shook the dishevelled tops of the willows, which were soon to see Judas hanging upon one of their branches,—a punishment too light for such a traitor, but which is continually increased by the undying contempt of successive generations upon the globe,—a sad and solemn scene was passing in that garden of olives where the worthless apostle went in search of his master on purpose to destroy him.
After praying a long time, on his face on the ground, and undergoing that frightful agony which covered his divine forehead with a sweat of blood, Christ had risen up with submissive resignation to the awful will of his Father, and quite prepared to drink the chalice of bitterness to the dregs. He raised up his large, soft, and piercing eyes to the starry heavens, the stars of which told that it was midnight, and high in which shone the moon, that fair lamp of the firmament, whose useful light is blessed by the children of Abraham in their prayers; 6 she was then at the full, and cast a sheet of resplendent light upon that austere passage, where the dark mountains stood out from the limpid blue of heaven. Jerusalem, half-drowned in shade, and splendidly lighted up in places, sent forth afar the aromatic perfume of the rare plants of her gardens, and waved in the breath of the breeze her clusters of palm-trees, out of which arose white towers of marble. The silence was profound on the side of the mountains, but a slight murmur arose from the bottom of the valley:—Jesus suddenly started. There they are, he thought, and he slowly moved towards the place where he had left three of his apostles, whom he had chosen from all the rest to share his solitary night-watch. Alas, fatigue, or the lulling breath of the wind which made the grey foliage of the olive-trees rustle, had gradually made these negligent sentinels fall asleep. Jesus beheld them asleep for a moment with a holy feeling of grief; he had announced to them that his death was near, that the hour of peril was come, and they were asleep—they, his kinsmen, his friends, his chosen disciples, to all appearance indifferent about his danger or his death! 0 the vanity of benefits of ties of blood and friendship! They were awake enough on Thabor at the hour of the glorious transfiguration, but they slept in the hour of trial and distress!
A confused noise was heard in the hollow path which led up to the little village of Gethsemane; and soon the glare of torches shone upon the trees. Then Jesus, leaning over his apostles, who were still asleep, said to them in a low but deep voice, " Arise, let us go! Behold, he that hetrayeth me is at hand! " He had hardly pronounced these words, when Judas and his band arrived. Coming up to Jesus, with boldness in his eyes, and the smile of hypocrisy on his lips, he pointed him out to the hostile troop who were in search of him, by giving him that sacrilegious kiss which has taken his name. It was the signal agreed upon. Jesus Christ received the traitor with kindness, and said to him with meekness which pierced to the quick, " Friend, whereto art thou come ? "
Whereto was he come ? .... He was come to earn the thirty sides of silver of the synagogue. Avarice, which is a cold and calculating passion, commits ten times more crimes than violence, and much blacker crimes.
Judas had not time to answer this embarrassing question, for all the rest advancing, fell upon Jesus and laid hold on him. Then anger arose in the heart of Ben-Cephas, 7 the prince of the apostles; he drew his sword, and struck with it one of the servants of the high priest; but Jesus, restraining that arm which was the only one raised in his defence, commanded that the sword should be returned to its scabbard. " How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done ? " The Lamb of God desired to be immolated for the sins of the world.
Then was heard in this enclosed spot mingled sounds of hurried footsteps, broken boughs, and cries of alarm; and a number of men were seen leaping over the low wall, scarcely three feet high, 8 which surrounded the garden: they were the disciples flying away! . . .
The hostile troop, after binding Jesus like a criminal, returned by the road to the Holy City, and went in the direction of the stone bridge which the Asmonean princes had thrown over the Cedron; but the people of Jerusalem, who had come out in crowds, already occupied it, and tradition relates that Jesus was dragged through this channel of water; which accomplished to the letter the prophecy, " He shall drink of the torrent in the way." The sacred footsteps of our Saviour, and the impression of one of his knees, are marked in the bed and on the stone margin of Cedron; at least this is asserted by the Christians of Jerusalem, who still show them. After ascending the hill of Sion, they entered Jerusalem by the Sterquilinian Gate, and repaired to Caiphas, the high priest, where the scribes and ancients were assembled. The chief priests and scribes then asked Jesus if he was the Christ. "HI shall tell you," our Saviour meekly answered, " you will not believe me." " Art thou the Son of God ? " asked Caiphas. " I am," replied Jesus. "He hath blasphemed!" cried the high priest, rending his garments. " He is guilty of death I " said the scribes and Pharisees.
" Then did they spit in his face," and they struck him with their fists, and gave him blows, while they cried out to him, in derision, "Prophesy, Christ, who is it that struck thee?"
During this time Peter, who had sworn to die rather than abandon him, denied him thrice in the court of the high priest.
1 Valley of Cedars, tho ancient name of the valley of Josaphat.
2 This anecdote is found in the Toldos, published by Huldric, p. 56 and 60.
3 This office is known by the gospel, which often speaks of these captains of the temple, who must be distinguished from the Roman commandant, who kept guard with his cohort round this great edifice to prevent crowds, and those disorderly acts to which the multitude might give occasion. These captains of the temple necessarily were Jews, and were taken from the priestly families; to them were confided the care and the keys of the temple, to provide for the safety of the treasury and the sacred vessels: by right of his birth this officer had the liberty to enter into all the counsels of the priests.— (Basn., liv. i. c. 4.)
4 "Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor ? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and having the purbe, carried what was put therein."—(St. John xii. v. 4, 5, 6.)
5 The Cedron is a torrent which runs down the valley of Josaphat, between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. It was called Cedron^ because it has its course in deep and dark places; its Hebrew name signifies tenebroaus fuit,
6 The day of the new moon is a festival day for the Hebrews; the women abstain from work, and the devout fast the preceding day. After reciting a number of prayers in the synagogue, they take a repast, at which they are very merry. Three days after, the Jews assemble on a platform, where they look steadfastly at the moon, and bless God by a long prayer for having created it, and for renewing it, to teach the Israelites that they ought to become new creatures: " O moon! blessed be thy Creator, bleb»ed be He who made thee! " and then they jump three times, as high as they can, and say to the moon, " As we leap towards thee, without being able to touch thee, may our enemies rise up against us without reaching us! . . . ."—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 16.)
7 Peter Ben-Cephas (Peter, son of Peter); it is by this name that the prince of the apostles is known in the East.
8 The garden of Gethsemane or of Olives, at the foot of the mountain of that name, is surrounded by a wall three feet high; its length is two hundred paces, by a hundred and forty broad. There is a rock in it, forming a reddish-coloured cave, where it is said the three apostles fell asleep.—(Voyage de Jesus Christ, 44 voyage.) Its name of Gethsemane is derived from the goodness of the soil; in Hebrew Gethsemane signifies " fertile valley." * Josephus, Ant. Jud., liv. xviii. 0. 4.