The Last Prayer

I am an old man. I became a rebel against Rome, a Zealot, when I was young, for I am a Jew, and the Jews have no god but the Most High, the God of our Father Abraham. We will never submit to any other king. But now the last of us who rebelled are going to die, and I wonder … whether we are right. It seems that the Most High has abandoned us, and I can’t help thinking of my fellow Zealot, Simon, who joined the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. I wonder … was he right? Was Jesus the Messiah? There was so much evidence … so many reports of miracles, of Jesus himself being resurrected from the dead … but then, so we were told, he went up to Heaven and told his disciples to “spread the word to the ends of the earth” about forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in him. Yes, to the Gentiles too. And what good has ever come to Israel from Gentiles? What do they deserve from us but the point of a sword?

If Jesus was the Messiah, why didn’t he restore Israel’s freedom? Conquer the Romans in the power of the Most High? Lead us in a war against the oppressors?

We had a sacrifice for sins. We had a priesthood. Most of our priests were corrupt, true, but they served their purpose. What else was there for Messiah to do but liberate us from Rome? I and many fellow Zealots thought that if we fought for Israel, surely Messiah would come and fight for us. But we are now only a few hundred, here on this lonely mountain called Masada, and tomorrow or the next day the Romans will finally breach the wall. We will not be here for them to conquer, however. A plan has been made for us to kill each other. The cursed Romans will find only a pile of corpses, and enough food to have sustained us for a long time. We want them to know we aren’t doing this out of starvation, but out of defiance. True Jews will have no king but the Holy One of Israel.

But why has Messiah not come? The light of my people Israel is about to be extinguished. The Chosen People are about to be annihilated. Where are You, Messiah? Why have You abandoned us, Most High, All-Powerful One? My heart is about to burst from the terrible losses in battle, the terrible evil I have already seen done to my people. Most High, rescue us, we beg You!

But there is no response from Heaven.

The last time I saw Simon, he was rock-solid in his faith in Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah. Yet Jesus had shown no desire to overthrow Rome. He had told his disciples to walk the second mile for a Roman soldier – that is, if compelled by Roman law to carry a soldier’s pack one mile, the disciples of Jesus were to carry the pack another mile. On one occasion, Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion. I wonder how he felt about that as he hung dying on a Roman cross.

Jesus told his disciples to pray for their enemies, Simon said. How do you win freedom by praying for the good of your enemy, I asked, and Simon said that all will die, and only those who allow faith in our Messiah, the Jewish Messiah, to change them into pure souls will be allowed into Heaven. Jews or Gentiles, he claimed. I almost hit him.

I almost despised Jesus while he lived. But I went to hear him several times, and he was a strong man, strong in spirit! He had courage! He stood up to the corrupt priests, and they could never trap him in words, which they are good at. He turned their words back against them. I came to admire him, but he did not act like one who would lead Israel to victory in battle. In fact, at one point he was so popular that many of us decided to make him king. But he eluded us, and our hasty plan fell apart.

There is something that tears my heart as I think about Jesus of Nazareth: I owe my life to him. With several other Zealots, I was involved in the assassination of an enemy of Israel, right in Jerusalem. Usually we get away with these things, but I was caught, and witnesses testified in spite of the risk to themselves. So I was sentenced to death. It would have been a Roman cross for me, but … Jesus was arrested. Pilate found no cause of death in him, and according to tradition offered to release Jesus. But the insane crowd demanded that this man Jesus, who had never wronged anyone, be crucified, and in accordance with tradition another prisoner was released. Set free. I was that prisoner. My name is Barabbas.

I wish I could talk to Simon again before I die. Maybe … maybe I will talk to … Jesus. If, mad hope, if somehow beyond belief, he was raised from the dead … if against all logic he is our Messiah … maybe … even now … maybe he will hear me. It was said that he spoke to a thief who was crucified beside him and promised that thief would be with him, with Jesus, in Paradise that very day … so maybe… maybe he will hear me … Simon said that Jesus claimed that all kinds of sins would be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit of God itself. Simon said Jesus healed a paralyzed man to prove to the priest that he, Jesus, had the authority to forgive sins. I have sinned, oh, Most High, I can see my sins now as never before. I have done evil in Your sight, Most High, but the Temple and the sacrifices are gone now, destroyed by Rome. How can this sinner be justified in Your eyes, Most High? Unless Jesus …

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