THE OIL PRESS by Stan Brown Jeremiah was breathless as he hurried toward the house on one of Jerusalem's seven

hills. He tried so carefully not to turn his ankle on the rough cobbles, but in an instant of inattention he stumbled and almost fell as he pitched forward, scrambling to regain his balance. He had heard the others were having supper together, and was not sure if it was by invitation only or if he too might be welcome. In either case Jeremiah was bold enough to try and attend. Those whom Joshua had selected to be his closest disciples made up a special group. Yet, Jeremiah reasoned he had been traveling with the Teacher almost as long as the others had. He felt close enough to warrant a special invitation. “I want to be his friend," Jeremiah repeated through panting breaths. "I feel he is my friend, and that if I need him he would even give up his life for me. That's how it is with friends; real friends. At least, that's what he's been teaching us." At last the house was before him, its cut limestone walls looking ghostly in the moonlight. He started up the outside stairway leading to an upper room where they had often met in secret. The owner was a sympathizer, and was preparing supper for them that night. That much he knew, but the big question was whether they would invite him in when he appeared at the door. He chilled at the thought of knocking and making himself known. After all, if they had wanted him they would have said so. He stopped and then backed down the several steps. "Maybe if I wait here in the shadows outside the house I will meet Joshua and the others.” He recalled that the Teacher had been going to Bethany for sleep, and I could join them on the road. It was late and Jeremiah's eyes burned from the long day, climaxed by his running up and down hills to get here. He he would just sit down by the house, and take a short nap while he waited. The cold, stone cobbles were a poor bed, but the discomfort faded rapidly as he lost consciousness. It was the crowing of a cock, or maybe the barking of a dog that roused him. His lips whispered an obscenity as he shook the murk from his head. "I must have fallen asleep! Have I missed them?" Jeremiah pushed himself upward, pressing his back against the stone wall and hooking his heels against a cobble. His mind raced ahead. “I’ll wager they went to the garden of Gethsemane, the place of the olive oil press. Joshua often went there to pray.” Immediately there followed a reluctance to go there. He thought, "It's a spooky place, and the only way to it is through the tombs of the Kidron Valley." Burial areas were not to Jeremiah's liking, nor were they for most people. They were places to be avoided. He could go all the way through the city and come in around from the north, trying to avoid most of the valley. However, that would take too long and he'd probably miss them again. The quickest way was right along this street, past the house of the High Priest, over the crest, and down the steps that would take him smack into the midst of the tombs. "Through the valley of death is the only way for me to get to Gethsemane." He was on his feet and hurrying in that direction even as these thoughts replayed in his mind. The trail went down stone steps to the narrow road leading along the dry wash. The moon was lower now, catching with its eerie glow those graves on the farther, eastern side of the valley. There rising up in the darkness was the ugly monument to Absalom, David's son. It marked the path that moved up from the wadi to intersect with other trails that come in from the north. Absalom, son of David. He died opposing his father's kingdom! What suffering the father had experienced from that rebel lad. Jeremiah's progress toward his goal was arrested as thoughts of his own son took over. "Who suffers most," he wondered, "the son gone wrong, or the father who feels the crushing pain of dreams denied?" He was speaking half aloud now as he picked up his pace. "I suppose that

kind of fatherly grief haunts many of these hillside tombs. Whenever I am near here it seems as though I still hear the voice of David weeping in agony, 'O Absalom, my son, my son! If only I had died for you, my son, my boy, my boy!’" It was good to be leaving those tombs behind, with their premonition of pain and death. The road was rising quickly, and soon he took the path that led to the garden of the oil press, Gethsemane. Jeremiah stopped and listened for some sound of his friends, some sound of the Master teaching, or praying, or laughing, or planning. Anything to let him know he had arrived in time to be with them. All was still, except the wind sighing through the olive trees. The tardy disciple slumped down beside one of the trees in the old orchard. The wind was blowing through the branches, and it sounded like a chorus of voices speaking, telling what they had witnessed before he arrived. "Here among our starlit branches the Master came to pray, while in Jerusalem among the stones the people went to sleep. People like you Jeremiah, people like you. And in between prayers and dreams the disciples came and went, came and went, their flesh so very weak, their spirits so very confused. You missed what he said at the supper and here in the garden; you missed it. His words still echo on our leaves and rustle down upon your ears with the night breeze. "He said this to them, Jeremiah. 'If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall receive it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit. Then, only then, you will be my disciples, when you keep my commandments. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. As I remain in my Father's love, so you remain in mine.'“ Jeremiah’s heart was pounding now as more of the Master’s words were carried on the restless breeze through the olive branches. "Pray with me, that you may be spared the hour of testing. My heart is breaking with grief, so stay awake with me while I go over there to pray." "Father! Father! Take this cup away from me. Abba! Abbal All things can be done by thee. If it be possible let this pass by me! Yet, not my will, but as you wilt. Upon the earth my blood is spilt." The wind increased and became a moan, "Did you see, there upon the ground where his sweat of anguish fell? It became great drops of blood and caused the earth to cry out, 'Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem what have you done! You killed the messengers of God.' The voices of their blood cry out to heaven from the ground!’” Jeremiah listened intently as the wind continued. "There was an angel. You were not here to see how it came from heaven to bring him strength. You were not here to see the heavenly glow that urged him to pray at length. Your friends did not see it either. They slept, as you did. He called you all his friends, but you could not stay awake for him. You slept, while he prayed. "We tried to get their attention; we called out, 'O wake! Awake you sleepyheads! Be with your Master in his time of sorrow. Hurry, share these precious moments, for he will not be with you tomorrow."' Jeremiah leaped up, and began racing about between the trees, looking to see if the disciples might still be there, hoping his fantasy had been wrong. "Who is it?" cried a voice out of the darkness. It was the supervisor of the oil press. "Who comes to my orchard so early in the morning?" "I am looking for the Master," responded Jeremiah. "Is he here? Am I too late?" The two men now drew close enough to see each other and speak quietly. "They have been gone only a short time. I hesitate to tell you what happened, it was all so sudden. I was sleeping, and was wakened by the Master's voice. He was saying, 'Are you still taking your ease? The time is here for betrayal. Get up and go with me to face our betrayer."' "What happened then?" asked the late comer. "I could hear the scraping of heavy feet upon the trail, and the light of torches appeared among the trees. The odor of pitch penetrated the night air; the rumble told of an angry crowd. They stood there face to face, the betrayer and the High

Priest's servant leading that band of soldiers and Temple authorities. They stood there facing the Master and the others, armed! Armed, mind you, against Joshua! Ha! Armed with swords and clubs! And behind them were some elders and Pharisees. I could not believe my eyes! "The Master said, 'Judas, would you betray the Son of Man like this? Judas, did you come to pay my love with such a kiss?' "The betrayer almost jested as he pulled away from the embrace, and said, 'Rabbi, hail! Now is the hour to call upon the legions of angels you said you had at hand!' "Then Joshua spoke to the crowd, 'Friends,' he called them, of all things. 'Friends, who is it that you come to see?' They shouted his name! He stood there like a sacrificial lamb, stupidly unaware, yet he was so very aware. 'I am he.' "'Take him, now!' someone yelled, and he said, 'Do you take me for a bandit? Have you come with clubs and swords? I was with you in the Temple and you listened to my words. I healed your loved ones and you shouted praises to God! What has happened?' "Then Peter leaped in front of the Master with a shout, slicing wildly at the High Priest's servant, cutting off his ear. Joshua had blocked his aim, shouting, 'Peter! Put your sword away! Those who use the sword will die the same way!' "That's when all hell broke loose. It was as if someone had thrown a stone into a covey of quail. The disciples ran, scattering in every direction, as though acting on a prearranged signal. They ran into the dark fringes to be lost from sight, and the soldiers surged forward grabbing the Master and binding his hands." Jeremiah's face now showed the shock of having lived the events vicariously through the orchard-keeper's description. He spoke, "You say they scattered to the hiding places of the earth, they ran like frightened children run, they deserted the master who gave them life and purpose? I can't believe it!" "Hurry now," cautioned the orchard-keeper, "and you can see the procession. It hasn't been that long, and they may still be in sight across the valley. You can see him taken over Kidron's death-parched slopes." Jeremiah ran through the trees, ducking their low branches, until he came to the place where he could see across the valley to the Temple complex. The long wall stretched across the brow of the old city as if to retain it, keeping it from sliding down among the graves. There in the distance was the procession of torches just reaching the top of the steps he himself had come down. He wondered what would have happened if he had met them on the way. He knew, of course, he would have pulled to the side and remained anonymous. The cluster of men leading their prisoner disappeared behind the compound wall of Caiaphas' house. Jeremiah heard himself speaking, "Where are you, my teacher, in this forsaken hour'? What will they do with you now? Will Jerusalem again kill the messengers of God? Would I, who slept when you needed me'?" He sat down, bent over his knees and clasped one wrist with the other hand across his shins. He was rocking slowly, back and forth, and began to sing. It was a song that flowed spontaneously with a nondescript tune, as Jeremiah stared at the spot where the torchlights had disappeared. "I wanted to follow through the dark I wanted to take and stand beside I wanted to from the I wanted and give the and the him Master haunted night; road he took when others forsook.

shield the Master words of betrayal and spite; to be his sword and shield him my life on the battle field.

I wanted to ride with the Master

into the Kingdom of glorious light; I wanted to bow at His mercy seat and sing with the choir around his feet. But instead I fled from the Master saving my life by holding it tight; I never was there to hear his plea, to watch and pray when he needed me. Will I ever have with the Master another chance to set it right? I long for the Day of redeeming love when he will return from the heaven above." The song faded, for he was not sure where to go with it from there. It was time to go home, to try to catch a few more winks of sleep before the day dawned with its usual responsibilities. Perhaps he would see the others later, and find out from them what really happened in the orchard that night. He rose, feeling as if the oil press had been closing down upon him and squeezing the life juices from him. Maybe he'd have another chance to set it right, another time to follow the Master. -fin-

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