12 mini-meditations based on what each of the 12 apostles might have been thinking as Jesus hung on the cross. I’ve taken some creative liberties with identifications.
What am I? Just what kind of pathetic excuse am I really? After everything I’d said – I thought I’d be up for it. I thought I was better, stronger, braver than all the others. I thought he thought that as well – he called me his “rock”. Some rock I turned out to be. Mud more like. I did try – I was the only one who managed to get a sword out in the garden. But he didn’t want that. I should have known, shouldn’t I? I’d made that kind of mistake often enough – misjudging what he wanted of me. I would have fought for him then … or would I? I don’t know now – I didn’t have the guts to stand up for him in the courtyard when it was only the servant girls, did I? And he knew! He knew that’s what I would do! I can’t see any way back from this.
But what am I thinking? There is no way back or anywhere else now. No future, because he’s dead, or as good as. All the big dreams, all the miracles, come to nothing. I suppose if I keep my head down I can go back to fishing. But then, I’m not even as good at that as he was.
Fishing for people, that’s what he said we’d be doing, me and Simon. Or I should probably say “Peter” now that’s what people seem to be calling him – Jesus had a bit of a thing for nicknames. Not that he ever gave me one, mind you. Or included me as much as some of the others. I could have been with him last night in the garden, but, as usual, it was Simon and the Zebedee brothers. Sometimes it did hurt that I was ‘the other brother’, the one who got left out, but then, none of us were able to help him when the guards came for him. We all ran away just the same when Jesus gave us the chance. It shouldn’t have ended like this. There was never harm in Jesus, he never turned anyone away. Why did they hate him?
I’m still glad I did my share of people-fishing: bringing people to Jesus was a bit of a thing for me. I brought Simon in the first place, then there was the boy with the loaves and fishes, and those Greeks who came to Philip.
Nobody would thank me for bringing them to him today, but I hope they’ll all remember that they met him once, and saw what he did and heard what he said. I’ll certainly never forget him.
James, son of Zebedee
I can’t believe we said it, now, I really can’t. How could we have been so stupid? “Let us sit at your right and left hand in your kingdom” we said. Well look who’s at his right and left hand now. Then he made that remark about drinking the same cup as him – is this what he meant? This horror? Just the thought that I might end up like that makes me want to be sick.
We always thought he was preparing us for special treatment: me and John – and Simon of course. ‘Sons of thunder’ he called us. We left behind a good living on the boats, and dad was devastated, but we thought it was going to be worth it in the end, for top jobs in the new kingdom. Then after that day on the mountain – I still don’t know how to describe it: some of heaven broke in then, and Moses and Elijah… After that day it all began to unravel. And here’s where it ends with blood and screaming.
At least it’s not us today choking to death on crosses. But if this is all there ever was, if this is the end Jesus was aiming at, what did it all mean – the light and the cloud and the voice? Where did all those miracles come from? And where are we going to end up?
John, son of Zebedee
I didn’t think I could love Jesus any more but here we all are in utter shock at what’s being done to him, and he’s worrying about us! This is just tearing my heart out watching him suffer so horribly and knowing that there’s nothing, nothing on earth we can do to stop it until he’s dead. And he knows that too, but still he said “here is your mother” Of course she can live with me. Of course. What this must be doing to her I just can’t imagine.
But then none of us could have imagined this three years ago, when we left the nets and followed Jesus. It all seemed so bright and exciting then. He was doing such great things, wonderful things, so full of grace and truth and hope and love. I think in the end it was the love those Pharisees couldn’t cope with. Even when he was defying them, you could see he loved them and they didn’t know what to do with it. They denied the love of God, so the only answer they had was hate, and today hate wins. I want to believe that love will have the last word, that the darkness won’t overcome the light. Please God, let it be so.
“Follow me” he said, right back at the beginning. And there was something about him – after seeing and listening to him, I really though he was the one Moses and the prophets had been writing about. So I followed, and all that long time since. He showed us so much, so many possibilities of what life could be, so much of what God’s kingdom is supposed to look like. I still remember him teasing me before he fed those crowds and crowds of people with a few scraps of bread. And more prophecies seemed to be coming right when foreigners started asking to see him – the nations coming to God’s light. It all felt so right!
So in the end I asked him straight out “show us the Father” and he said we just had to look at him – that if we’d seen him we’d seen the Father. But that can’t be right, can it? Look at him now, nailed to a cross like the worst kind of criminal – he’s dying under a curse, according to the prophets – how can we see God in that? How could God possibly let that happen to his servant, his anointed one? We must have been wrong. Jesus seemed to be fulfilling so many of the prophets’ words, but they didn’t prophesy this disaster, did they? Did they?
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I asked. I remember that vividly. I thought I was being clever. Philip was so awestruck – it woke up all my cynicism, but it didn’t deter him. “Come and see” he said, so I did. And it was good – very, very good.
Every time Jesus taught it was as if he’d unhooked a weight from my soul, or loosened a belt that was too tight. Not that I’d even really noticed the weight till it was gone, but it was so good to let it go.
He completely turned around how I felt about life – the old sarcastic, jokey ways were blown away like dead leaves in the wind. True, it was always good to see Jesus run rings around all those people who came to him with their supposedly tricky questions. But he never did it to score points, just so that maybe they would learn to see God better. And I always remembered that they used to be me.
He should have known, though, that they would never let go of power, not even to grab hold of life. And now it’s costing him his life. Something good came out of Nazareth, but they won’t be seeing him in Galilee again.
I did tell them. Not that it’s the least bit of comfort now, but I did tell them. “Let’s go too, so that we can die with him.” I said. And now look – he’s dying, and they’ll be coming for us next. He talked about us going where he was going, and when I pressed him on it, he said that he would show us the way. No, he said he was the way, and the truth and the life.
It was always hard to understand what he was getting at when he was teaching. Somehow one minute everything would be clear, and the next the meaning would slip through your fingers. It wasn’t rational, it wasn’t reasonable. But there were still those occasional flashes, that feeling that just beyond the reach of my brain there was a wonderful truth. That’s why I stuck with him, but it was becoming more and more obvious how it would end. I can’t believe Jesus didn’t see this coming. It’s almost as if this was his plan, but how on earth did he expect … oh, I don’t know. None of it makes any sense now. Running away feels horrible, but it’s the only sensible thing to do. This is the end of everything for Jesus and I don’t see any point in ending up the same way. If only I could believe that anything good could come out of today.
It was marvelous while it lasted, I must admit. So good to feel that I belonged – was chosen, even – by this rabbi. Me, the collaborator. Me the one everyone shunned and whispered about behind my back. I couldn’t believe it at first, but he just kept on looking me straight in the eye, hand held out in welcome. I could tell by the looks on some of the others’ faces that they weren’t so keen, but I didn’t care. Me a tax-collector that those Pharisees had declared outside the covenant, drawn back in, reconciled, restored. Yes, it was marvelous. Even when Jesus started getting on the wrong side of the Pharisees himself because he was including other outsiders. Touching the unclean, associating with Gentiles and sinners – what they call sinners, anyway. Samaritans, even. I saw the looks on their faces when Jesus spoke to them like a human being, an equal, and I knew just how they felt.
But they finally got him, those people who love their purity so much. Hypocrites! So afraid of contamination, so determined not to open their eyes and hearts to the real world that they’ve ended up being murderers, the worst of the lot.
Where now, though? I can’t go back to the Romans, even if I wanted to, and I don’t expect much welcome back home. I’m back on my own, I suppose.
James, son of Alphaeus
I’m just an ordinary guy. My dad’s Alphaeus, or was, anyway, and my mum’s Mary – the last I heard she was with some of her friends stood watching Jesus on his cross. It comes to something when my old mum has got more courage than I have. But I never asked to get mixed up in anything as horrible and dangerous as this. I always wondered why Jesus wanted me to be one of his special twelve. I’d have been quite happy tagging along with the crowd, but Jesus was very certain he wanted me – he said he’d prayed about it and was sure his father had told him – he meant God, that’s how he talked.
After that my mum got involved, and she brought some friends along, and they started helping out, keeping Jesus supplied as he moved from place to place. When some of the others argued about who was the most important, I stayed out of it. I knew it wasn’t me. But just sometimes I caught Jesus looking at me and it was like a knife, like he could see through me like clear water and knew exactly how I thought and felt, but somehow, at the same time, thought I was amazing. He almost made me believe it, too, those times. He didn’t deserve this. It’s so hard, So hard.
Please call me Thaddaeus. My real name’s Judas, but I don’t think I’ll ever use that again – I’d hate anyone to think I’m that Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus. This is all so unreal – none of us thought it would come to this. It should never have happened. Of course Jesus always walked a fine line ever since he gathered up the twelve of us, and he had some hard words for the establishment sometimes. But I’ve heard them say far worse about each other, and it’s like water off a duck’s back to them, so I don’t understand what’s happened. Mind you, Jesus wasn’t just talk, he really delivered. The others have a lot to say about their faith but you won’t find their money where their mouth is. Perhaps that’s it – Jesus was a threat because he showed up their so-called faith for what it really is – a lot of empty words.
But then even we didn’t get it a lot of the time – how often did he give us that look, and patiently try again. Thinking back now, he tried to tell us about this, as well, but we were too caught up in our grand ideas and our silly arguments to really listen. I wish we could go back and start again, but it’s too late.
Simon the Zealot
Simon’s my name. Not the Simon, the great Simon, the one who’s always at the front when there’s anything going on. I’m the one they call the Cananaean, at least when they’re being polite. The zealot, they normally call me, and I admit it: I was a bit of a hothead. I got fed up with sitting around complaining about the Romans – I decided to start making things happen instead of just talking about it. When Jesus picked me to be one of his twelve I thought this was it, finally. The stuff he was doing, the miracles, walking on water, all of that, he obviously had the power from God. This was our big chance.
But the words didn’t match up. Some people talk big and act small but Jesus acted big and talked … well, strange. It didn’t make sense. Not at first, but eventually it did. The idea that it takes a great strength not to resort to violence, to fight for what’s right, but with words and example … and even love. I don’t know what the lads I hung around with before would think on me using words like love: “not impressed” wouldn’t cover it.
Anyway, “not impressed” doesn’t cover it for what I did today, either. I don’t reckon anyone’s going to call me a zealot for running away just when Jesus was up against it. It wasn’t even me who pulled the sword when they arrested him – it was the other Simon.
I don’t know what I’ll do now. Going back to the old lot isn’t going to do any good – Jesus was our best chance, and now he’s gone – but I can’t see what else to do.
He knew. Somehow he knew. He knew what I was going to do, and like a complete fool, I did it. And he called me “friend” even then, even while I was kissing him to mark him for the guards. Why did I do it? Why did he let me do it? How can I undo it? If only I could go back in time and change it all. I tried to stop it – I tried to tell the chief priests that it was all a horrible mistake, that I’d changed my mind, but they didn’t want to know. They’d got what they came for. They used me – I let them use me – and now they don’t care about me any more than they care about him. I shouldn’t be surprised – if they can kill the most amazing man ever, why should they care about a traitor like me? What possessed me to betray him? How could I ever have thought it was the right thing to do?
God, are you there? Are you what Jesus said you are, a God of love? That parable Jesus told about the servant with the ludicrously immense debts, that’s me, that’s my debt. Never payable, only forgiveable. And he said that’s what you’re like – endlessly forgiving.
Does that include me?