Jesus in Jerusalem, part 2

I’ve been working on a series of stories for liberal religious kids, and here’s another story from this work-in-progress. This is very much a Unitarian version of the Easter story (betraying my own religious background; I was born a Unitarian, just before merger), in which there is no thought that Jesus might be God; this, as you will see, changes the story from the traditional version. In the book, this will follow a story about the events of Palm Sunday (“Jesus in Jerusalem, part 1,” not yet complete). Note that this is still a rough draft.

Jesus in Jerusalem, part 2

Copyright (c) 2006 Dan Harper

On that first day in Jerusalem, Jesus did little more than look around in the great Temple of Jerusalem; the Temple that was the holiest place for Jesus and for all other Jews. Jesus couldn’t help but see that around the edges of the Temple there were people selling everything from goats to pigeons, and other people who would change money for you, for a fee. Besides that, Jesus saw all kinds of people coming and going, taking shortcuts by going through the Temple, carrying all kinds of gear and equipment and baskets. But on that first day, he and his followers just watched all this, and then left.

The next day, Jesus returned to the Temple. He walked in, chased out the people selling things, and upset the tables of the moneychangers. Needless to say, he created quite a commotion! and a crowd gathered around to see what this stranger, this traveling rabbi, was up to. Once the dust had settled, Jesus turned to the gathered crowd, and quoted from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Isaiah where God says, “My Temple shall be known as a place of prayer for all nations.” Jesus said it was time that the Temple went back to being a place of prayer. How could you pray when there were people buying and selling things right next to you? How could you pray with all those pigeons cooing?

His followers and many other people thought Jesus did the right thing in chasing the pigeon-dealers, the moneylenders, and the other salespeople out of the Temple. But the way he did it managed to annoy the powerful people who ran the Temple. It made them look bad. They didn’t like that.

In the next few days, Jesus taught and preached all through Jerusalem. He quoted from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Leviticus where it says, “You are to love your neighbor as yourself.” He encouraged people to be genuinely religious, to help the weak and the poor. Jesus also got into heated discussions with some of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, and he was so good at arguing that once again, he made those powerful people look bad. Once again, they didn’t like that.

Meanwhile, other things were brewing in Jerusalem. The Romans governed Jerusalem, and they became concerned about Jesus. They realized that when Jesus rode into the city, he was welcomed by a crowd of people who treated him as if he were one of the long-lost kings of Israel. That made the Romans worry. Was Jesus planning some kind of secret religious rebellion? How many followers did he have? What was he really up to, anyway?

Jesus continued his teaching and preaching from Sunday until Thursday evening, when Passover began. Since Jesus and his disciples were all good observant Jews, after sundown on Thursday they celebrated a Passover Seder together. They had the wine, the matzoh, the bitter herbs, all the standard things you have at a Seder.

After the Seder, even though it was after dark Jesus and his followers went to a garden to sit for a while. All his followers fell asleep, but Jesus himself was restless and depressed and stayed awake. He had a strong sense that the Romans or the powerful religious leaders were going to try to arrest him for stirring up trouble, for agitating the people of Jerusalem. He didn’t regret anything he had said or done, for after all what he had said was the truth; but he was restless. He didn’t know how or when he might be arrested, but he was pretty sure it would happen sometime soon.

As it happened, Jesus was arrested just a few hours after the Seder while he sat in the garden, while his followers were still sleeping. Jesus was put on trial that same night, and he was executed the next day. The Romans put him to death using a common but very unpleasant type of execution known as crucifixion. He died on Friday, when the sun was about to go down.

Because the Jewish sabbath started right at sundown, and Jewish law of the time did not allow you to bury anyone on the Sabbath day, Jesus’ friends couldn’t bury him right away. There were no funeral homes back in those days, so Jesus’ friends put his body in a tomb, a sort of cave cut into the side of a hill, where the body would be safe until after the Sabbath was over.

First thing Sunday morning, some of Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to get the body ready for burial. But to their great surprise, the body was gone, and there was a man there in white robes who talked to them about Jesus!

This whole story happened two thousand years ago, so we’ll never know quite what happened. But what might have happened is that some of Jesus’ other friends had already come along buried the body. Jesus’s followers must have been disorganized and confused that morning, and though they all were upset Jesus was dead, they also worried that one or more of them might be arrested, too, and even put to death. The burial must have taken place in secret, and probably not all the followers got told when and where the burial was.

So by the time some of Jesus’ followers had gotten to the tomb, others had already buried his body. Some of Jesus’ followers began saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, and after that several people even claimed to have spoken with him. All of his friends were so sad, and missed him so much, that they wanted to believe that he was alive again.

But you could say that Jesus did live on through his teaching. What he taught about the power of love has changed the world. He taught that we should love all people as we love ourselves; and if you can really live your life that way, you’ll find that your world will be changed, too.

7 thoughts on “Jesus in Jerusalem, part 2

  1. Maury Johnston

    I really liked your rendition of the story for children. My only form of constructive criticism would be that I would suggest that you delete the theory which follows the sentence about his body being gone and them meeting a man there who was talking about Jesus. (After all, that’s where Mark, the earliest gospel story, left it hanging [Mark 16:8]). Or at the very least (maybe even preferably), you could include that particular theory among a number of different theories, all of which have their adherents, but none of which can be proved; this only adds to the intriguing mystery of the man and his message! Kids like mystery. Mystery is also the vehicle for numinosity impinging on our daily routines. Can’t you imagine children wondering later on after they read your story, “Gee, what REALLY happened to him (or his body)?” Ending like you did about the importance of his message living on was nice.

  2. Administrator

    Maury — Thanks for the feedback — very helpful.

    I’m not sure I agree with you that “kids like mystery.” Depends on the child, and depends on which age you’re talking about. I tend to write these stories thinking of real 8-12 year olds I have gotten to know in Unitarian Universalist churches over the years — whom I have found to be fairly literal. You write: “Can’t you imagine children wondering later on after they read your story, ‘Gee, what REALLY happened to him (or his body)?'” Yes, I can imagine that — in fact, it really happens with the children I’m thinking of — so my decision has been to address the very real questions of children into the story. And trust me, if a Unitarian Universalist kid doesn’t like the ending, he or she is quite likely to say, “That’s just stupid, here’s what I think happened….” — as ten-year-old Holly once said to me in a Sunday school class.

    I decided against providing a number of interpretations for this particular story for a different reason. Children here in the United States will already have heard those other interpretations, but it is very unlikely that they will have heard the interpretation I give (an interpretation which I heard as a child from my Unitarian mother, who probably got it from her Unitarian mother). One of the things I have learned as a religious liberal is that often I am forced into stating things more loudly than I would like, simply in order to be heard over the surrounding din of popular religion — this, alas, is one of those moments.

  3. Jess

    “So by the time some of Jesus’ followers had gotten to the tomb, others had already buried his body. Some of Jesus’ followers began saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, and after that several people even claimed to have spoken with him. All of his friends were so sad, and missed him so much, that they wanted to believe that he was alive again.”

    I think this is too literal. I find the power of this story in its bare bones to be the miracle aspect, which you don’t leave room for. There are UUs who believe in the physical resurrection (though I’m certainly not one of them. . .) – for them it’s an outright falsehood to say that his body was buried. And the tone here is that we know the “truth” about what happened, which no one really does.

    My kids respond much more to mystery than to a tale like this with the mystery stripped out. Poetry always seems to inspire deeper reflection than straight narrative.

  4. Administrator

    Jess — Fun to hear your kids are more open to poetry than the many literal-minded UU kids I have known! Every child is different….

    You write: “Poetry always seems to inspire deeper reflection than straight narrative.” No doubt about it, I’m not a poet! At my best I manage to do journalism or documentary work, though like the “New Journalism” I write from the first person singular point of view.

    You also write: “There are UUs who believe in the physical resurrection… for them it’s an outright falsehood to say that his body was buried.” Very true. But they can find lots of kids books about Jesus that present their point of view, whereas I haven’t seen my point of view in print. I’m writing for a pretty specific, narrow audience here.

  5. Jess

    Dan – I think you can leave that particular point open ended and still get your message across. I guess I don’t think it really matters that we tell our kids what exactly probably happened to Jesus’ body – it’s the teachings of his life and his example that really matter. By taking the mystery of a possible physical/spiritual resurrection out of the story completely, and by stating as seeming fact that someone buried him in secret, the sense of awe is also removed.

    By not saying one way or another, you’ll inspire more discussion and questions. I feel that the way you have it written now, it tramples over any possibility for exploration of what different people believe – even in your own congregation, undoubtedly – which seems contrary to basic UU philosophy.

  6. Administrator

    Jess — I hear you. I get that you really really really don’t like my version of this mid-20th C. Unitarian (not Universalist) version of the Easter story. I’ll bet by now you have heard me, too, and get that I’m not going to change the story’s ending. One of the delightful things about a non-creedal religion is that even with two such different views about the Easter story, we still get to be part of the same religion. It may not be very comfortable, but it’s pretty cool.

  7. Jess

    It is cool. But I don’t think our views about the actual story are so different – more how we choose to tell it. I think miracles are important, especially to children, regardless of whether or not they really happened.

    More over at my place, to avoid cluttering up yours. :)

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