THE NAZARENE: SLEEPERS ON DUTY

 

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Tonight the woods are so silent, a man could hear himself think. Whispered conversations were on other nights most difficult but tonight, it is as though the world waited with bated breaths enraptured by the scene before them. No wind howled. Branches and leaves were still, and no animal moved.
The sleeping man grunted, slapped himself, and without waking, shifted his weight to a more comfortable position. From the half smile on his face, a careful watcher could deduce that his dreams were peaceful and his mind was entirely oblivious to the current discomfort he and his two partners shared.
He grunted and shifted again, finally attaining a modicum of comfort and began to snore softly.
Minutes passed, and then
“Simon, Simon” a sharp voice called out roughly.
Hands belonging to the owner of the voice grabbed at him but the sleeping man grunted again and turned away from the source of the disturbance.
“Simon, Simon” the voice called again, a little louder.
The sleeping man began to curl into a ball.
“Bread, master. Bread” he muttered.
Not a moment later, a sleepy voice, softer and higher pitched than the previous two rumbled
“More wine please.”
“Simon” the first voice called again, and slapped the bearer of the name firmly, in the face.
Simon jerked awake, complaining of the intrusion.
“More wine please” the second sleeper muttered again.
Simon looked around while waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The first thing he saw were two red eyes situated inches away from his face. The eyes were attached to a round unremarkable face, and were blotched and swollen as though scratched repeatedly, or had just undergone a particularly rigorous tear shedding session. Such was its roundness and softness that but for the thick growth of beard that hid the mouth, one would be forgiven for considering the owner a child. It was a face forgettable in every regard until you looked into the eyes. None who had ever looked into those eyes walked away worse than when he came.
The man with the red eyes moved away from Simon and was now attempting to rouse the wining dreamer, the urgency in his voice unabated. Simon crawled from his makeshift stone pillow and woke his third companion.
When all three sleepers were awake, the red eyed man looked at them. He was not happy.
“Was it that our beds of straw ached our backs that we left the inn to come here? Are stone headrests suppler than feathers?” The red eyed man asked.

His audience lowered their eyes.
“No master,” the winer murmured
“Why then do you sleep? The days are short, and the shepherd would soon be seized from the sheep and then the sheep would scatter.” He said “Have I not told you that you ought always to pray, and not sleep?”
Simon stared down at his knees, utterly ashamed. The red eyed master did not often berate his disciples, and this was not the first time Simon had been rebuked for inappropriate sleeping.
“Lord, were sor…” the third disciple began to say but the man they called Master was having none of it.
“Sleep not my friends, rather pray for yourselves and for your friends that you fall not into temptation; for the hour is come when.” He stopped talking
The woods had ceased to be silent, and urgent, hushed whispers were being carried down through the silent wood.
“Do we have to comb through this Ill-fortuned bushes before we find him?” A strident voice asked
“What guarantee do we have that he is here? What sort of man leaves the comfort of his bed to come sleep in bushes just after a feast?” Another asked.
“He is not sleeping I tell you. He’s plotting to destroy our temple and to overthrow our ways” came the angry voice of the first man.
“No. They say he is a man of prayer. Perhaps he prays” A gruffer voice said “it is bad luck to interrupt a man when he is praying.”
Praying?” The first voice asked. “To what god, pray tell, for no Man of God would keep company with adulterers and prostitutes and thieves and the scum that follow him.”

“He performs miracles”
“Tricks, I tell you.”
“They are no tricks. My cousin was healed of the palsy.” The gruff voice answered.
“Then he heals with the power of Baal. I have heard him say he is before our father Abraham. He claims to be God and asks that we call him Lord.” The first voice said.
“Satan take him and his miracles” Another agreed.
In the clearing, of the four men, only the master seemed at ease. The other three fumbled with their over-garments and struggled to wrap their sandals securely.
Simon took from beneath a nearby shrub a shiny knife and mentally geared himself up for a fight.
The source of the noise had finally reached the four men, and the little clearing which they occupied was bathed in light from numerous torches and lamps.
“Who goes there?” Simon called out, the quiver in his voice belying his attempt at bravery.
“We seek Jesus of Nazareth.” said a man whom Simon recognised as one of the guards of Benjamin the Pharisee.
“He is not here, he” Simon began but at that moment, Simon recognised Judas, one of the inner circle, as he stepped forward to hug the Master.

Jesus smiled at Judas
“Friend, Is it with a kiss you betray me? He said, even as he embraced him and patted him on the back.
Stepping out of the embrace, the master turned to face the mob
I am Jesus whom you seek.” He said, at ease.
The words seemed to hit the men like a punch to the head, and several of them fell senseless.

 

 

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