The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
"And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart and said to them: Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed, to the chief priests, and to the Scribes, and they shall condemn him to death. And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and to be scourged and to be crucified, and the third day he shall rise again." (Matt, xx, 17-19.)
Many times He had foretold His death. For before Him all His life, was the remembrance of that awful tragedy of the cross. While in spirit we are with Christ let us look around. We are now in Jericho, a rich priestly city of the tribe of Benjamin, built by the first Canaanite settlers at the place, where one of the finest springs in the world bursts forth from the desert sands, making the wild deep desolation of the Jordan valley bloom and blossom like a paradise in the dreary dry wastes of sand. To the east, about three miles, the Israelites crossed the Jordan " the descending," when the waters piled up and left the river-bed dry. There on Tuesday, January 6th, more than three years before, John the Baptist had baptized Christ, when he pointed him out to his followers as the expected Messiah, when the Holy Ghost came down on Him, when the Father's words proclaimed him his Son, and his public ministry began with his fast of forty days and nights.
Now let us turn to the west. There before you rises the harsh Lenten mountain, showing the different strata of limestone rocks, one piled on. another, water oozing out giving life to a few green plants near the foot of the rocky hill, while at your feet bursts from the sand the spring of cool life-giving waters Eliseus changed from bitter to sweet. Tip that rugged mountain, now almost hollowed out with caves, holes and habitations of the thousands of recluses who there did penance. The day after his baptism Christ crept on the first plateau, suffering his first temptation, and on the highest summit repelling the onslaughts of the demon. There for forty days and nights he lived and kept his Lent.
Not a living thing could exist on that mountain. Bleak, bare, rugged, harsh are the limestone rocks, while far below you stretch the valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, only the irrigated gardens of Jericho, and the winding thread of the river are green, lined with vegetation. During that awful Lent, when Christ showed us how to fast, in twenty minutes he might have gone down and drank at the famous spring at the foot of the mountain. But for us he did not, for he wished to show us how to suffer the miseries of this life. The temptations of Christ have been explained so many times, we will not now stop to expound them. But the spring of fresh, cool water before the eyes of Jesus during his fast, when the horrors of thirst were a hundred times more severe than the want of food, have not been touched on by writers on Christ's temptation.
Leaving Jericho, Christ and his followers went up through the deep ravine, dry in summer, but down which trickles a stream of water in the winter and spring. Along the sides of the valley, in sheltered nooks, some times carved out of the living rocks are human habitations. They remind you of the houses of the Cliff-dwellers in the West. On the right they passed one of the places, where the Essenes had a house. To that monastery Zachary came to pray for an heir. For to have no children was the greatest calamity which could happen to a Jew, and every mother hoped and prayed that she might become the mother of the long looked for Messiah. Here Zachary remained for three months ; afterward he went back to his home on the side of the hill, about four miles to the northwest of Jerusalem, now occupied by a church. God heard his petitions, and gave him the " greatest man born of women," John the Baptist.
Coming out of that hospitable home of Lazarus, Christ met his twelve Apostles and the seventy two disciples, Where they stopped these three nights we do not know. All Jews were hospitable to the pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem to the great Feasts of Israel, and we suppose they found lodging in the village houses. Perhaps some of them rolled themselves in the blankets they carried with them on their journeys, and slept outdoors. For this was then customary, and is followed even in our day. People carried with them a basket filled with straw and two blankets which they rolled around them at night, and this was their bed. You will find the same custom in California and Oriental countries. Such was the bed Christ told the man he healed to take up when he said to him, "Take up thy bed and walk." (Matt. ix. 6.)
Coming out of Lazarus' house, Christ turns to the right, and passes along the little street. He went two blocks to where it meets the main road leading through the village from Jericho to Jerusalem, and ascends the latter .to where another path leads to the right up towards the summit of Olivet. These were not roads over which a carriage could pass, but simple paths, rough and narrow, out of which at present it seems a stone had not been picked for thousands of years. There may have been chariot roads over which Romans passed on the way to Jericho and the Jordan valley, but little sign remains of them to day.
Up this path to the right went the Master and his followers. Stone walls lined each side of the road inclosing gardens. In a little depression higher up, in about fifteen or twenty minutes they came to a still smaller village called Bethphage, "The House of Green Figs." It is nearly halfway between Bethany and the summit of Olivet. There and in Bethany the priests lived when they came up from Jericho while waiting for their turn in the Temple services.
"And when they drew nigh to Jerusalem, and 'were come to Bethphage, unto Mount Olivet, then Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them : Go ye into the village that is over against you: and immediately you shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them and bring them to me. And if any man say anything to you, say ye: The Lord hath need of them, and forthwith he will let them go. Now all this was done that the word might he fulfilled, which was spoken by the prophet, saying: Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold thy King cometh to thee, meek and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of her that is used to the yoke. And the disciples going did as Jesus commanded them." (Matt xxi. 1-6.)
The prophet Zacharias had foretold this incident hundreds of years before. They found the ass tied to a grape vine, as Jacob, born 2,199 years before, on his death-bed, blessing his sons, foretold:
" The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations. Tying his foal to the vineyard, and his ass to the vine, O my son. He shall wash his robe in wine, and his garment in the blood of the grape. His eyes are more beautiful than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk." (Gen, xlix, 10. 11.)
They had just come over the top of a shoulder of Olivet. From there you see the little village of Bethphage to the northwest, as the Saviour said, " Go ye into the village that is over against you." Near this footpath was discovered in 1877 a sculptured stone covered with figures, representing the resurrection of Lazarus, and showing one of the apostles being sent into the village, which the inscription calls the village of Bethphage. Where Christ mounted the ass now stand a church attended by the Franciscans.