By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 23 March 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Simon "Kepha" (Aramaic for "rock") Bar-Jonah joined with the others in singing the second part of the Hallel (Psalm 114:1 - 118:26). The fourth cup of wine had been poured and blessed at the end of the Passover Seder, a ritual feast he -- like many Jews -- knew well.
But questions about the future most likely held his thoughts even as he sang: "I will praise you: for you have heard me, and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders refused has become the head cornerstone" (Psalm 118:21-22). After three years of gathering support across Palestine, the battle for kingship surely approached. The crowds in Jerusalem for the Feast of Unleavened Bread so rejoiced in their coming only days ago.
The others clearly felt the same. After the hymn concluded the Seder, conversation about the coming kingdom turned anew into a heated argument about what office each deserved. Their rabbi, Yeshua (Jesus), calmed them all by assuring them they would each dine at his table in his kingdom and sit as judges over the people.
As he often did, the rabbi wished to pray on the Mount of Olives, one of three peaks east of Jerusalem. It offered the best view of Solomon's Temple where, in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle, lay the Ark of the Covenant. There the God of Israel dwelled.
But when they left the house's upper room, Yeshua warned vaguely of a coming test of their faith in him. This surprised no one. No kingdom is established without risk and bloodshed. Speaking what all felt, Kepha promised, "Rabbi, I am ready to follow you, both into prison and to death… Though all turn against you, I never will!" (cf. Luke:22:33; Matthew 26:33)
Yeshua replied Kepha would indeed deny him before a rooster crowed that night. Though gentle, his words struck Kepha like a blow, and it only hurt worse as the others added their own reassurances that they, at least, would be faithful.
The rabbi then shocked them all by asking that they carry money, sacks, and swords as they went out. He had always sent them out without any of these, trusting God and kind hearts would provide whatever they needed. He said tonight they must fulfill scripture prophecy. What did he intend to do?
Two swords were found, and Kepha made sure he kept one of them. Whatever happened, he assured himself he would be ready to act regardless of the cost. He would prove himself.
A full moon guided their way as the 12 men exited the city after midnight and crossed the dry wadi bed of Kidron in the Valley of Josaphat before walking towards the mount, with its burial caves cut into the white chalk and gray flint of the ridge. Like usual, they stopped at the quiet Garden of the "Oil Press" ("Gethsemane") at the foot of the mount.
Leaving behind the other disciples, Yeshua took his most devoted with him further in: Kepha and the two sons of Zavdai (Zebedee), Ya'aqov (James) and Johanan (John). This preferential treatment soothed Kepha's wounded heart a little, but only at first. For the rabbi loosened his self-control and his moonlit eyes shone with wrenching grief, which he himself admitted.
"Stay here, and watch with me," Yeshua asked, and so they did (cf. Matthew 26:38). They saw their teacher, the long-awaited scion of King David, gradually melt fully in sorrow under the olive trees. Kneeling became prostration as he prayed face down in the earth. The hearts of Kepha and the others followed into his gloom, though unintended moments of sleep left them briefly bewildered upon awaking.
After one such nap, Yeshua softly scolded them and urged them to pray to be spared the coming test of faith. As he spoke, a crowd of religious leaders and temple guards came, and Yeshua greeted them. Kepha's fellow disciple Yehuda (Judas), who had left the Seder long before its end, stepped forth from the crowd to kiss the rabbi's cheek to identify him for the guards. Yeshua asked Yehuda why he would betray him with a kiss.
Betrayal. The idea pierced Kepha's groggy mind. While others wasted precious time asking Yeshua what to do, Kepha raised his sword and sliced off the right ear of a nearby man named Melek (Malchus), a servant of the high priest.
But the rabbi told him not to fight and tended to Melek -- healing him! It all made no sense. Courage fled Kepha and the "rock" ran away.