Simon knelt in the dust and wept convulsively. He sobbed as though a demon pressed his chest from the inside, demanding its freedom. And why not? The Great One was gone: Yehoshua, the backwater carpenter's son, a self-proclaimed champion the Greeks called Iesous, a man Simon himself called Master and friend. Simon cursed under his breath. He cursed the Romans--as well they deserved!--but lavished most of his oaths on the bastards of his own race. The elders of the Jewish Sanhedrin were still crowing over their role in the execution of Yehoshua. It made Simon want to vomit. Here were a people who met their own hero, yet couldn't toss his body to the dogs of Rome fast enough. Simon punched the very ground. The awful world crushed his heart like a rock. You sons of whores, he thought. You filthy, wretched rats among men. You're unworthy of such as him.
Like a rock, he thought, laughing perversely. How vividly he remembered the night Yehoshua punned on Simon's Aramaic nickname, Kephas, saying, "I'll build my church on this Rock." But now the Master was dead, and Simon had no idea what he meant, other than to poke fun at Simon's admittedly stone-hard head. All he knew in this moment was that he and his people were damned. Never again would any man live who might lead the Judeans in successful revolt against the Empire. Was Yehoshua the long-foretold Messiah? Simon no longer knew nor cared. Was he a prophet? Would Jerusalem be free of these arrogant occupiers in Simon's lifetime? It seemed more unlikely than ever. So why, if only one of Yehoshua's handful of prophecies could come true, did it have to be the one in which Simon denied even knowing the Master? Why that one? His shoulders heaved at the memory. A keening wail escaped his lips. Belief itself had one foot in the grave.
Some said the Messiah would vanquish the Romans, but that was not to be. Already the weak and women were grasping for some way to talk themselves down from the agony of Yehoshua's death. The poor man was still hanging from nails, his blood puddling at his feet, and these sheep were trying to say cheer up, it wasn't really that bad! The Lord must've needed him in Heaven! You have to take the bad with the good! Oh, their empty little prayers and lamentations! Here were people who'd never even met Yehoshua, didn't know that joyous light in his eyes, didn't get his sarcastic sense of humor or listen when he pleaded for change. Now they embraced him like Jerusalem's son. "Oh, that poor family," they gushed. "Our prayers are with them. Amen." Too late! Simon thought. The man is gone! His body reeks on Golgotha! What good was prayer now? What good was prayer ever? If Adonai had a plan, it certainly didn't include protecting His chosen people or even the great, no, the singular man who dared to call Him Daddy.
No death is a blessing, Simon thought. No loss is a miracle. That thought awakened the memory of Yehoshua's arrest in Gethsemane Garden. Simon was so outraged, so shocked by the outright audacity of those who'd accost such an innocent Jew, that he'd lopped off a Roman soldier's ear. Then something happened Simon would never forget: Yehoshua went to his knees in the grass and held the wounded soldier's cheeks, whispering comfort in pidgin Greek. The soldier--no more than a teenager, really--calmed immediately. Lucas swore the ear grew back when Yehoshua touched it, but what absolute nonsense. Not that Simon could see that side of the Roman's head from where he stood, mind you, but honestly, wasn't Lucas a doctor? How could he make such a claim? It wasn't like Lucas to lie, but the whole thing reeked of silliness. It did seem strange, however, that neither Simon nor Yehoshua had been charged with assaulting an officer.
There were fools who believed Yehoshua would rise up to Heaven and intercede for the Jews. Others believed he was the scapegoat for centuries of sin. Simon wanted none of such talk. It was more of the same, always the same, people making up fantasies to take the edge off gruesome reality. Here was reality: the stinking, gory corpse of the greatest man Judea had ever seen, his wounds spilling vinegar, a crown of bloody thorns on his head, his back flayed and crimson. His throngs of sycophants gone now, hiding in their crude homes with doors barred. Soon it'd be dark, so if someone didn't take Yehoshua down off that cross in the next hour or so, he'd be hanging there all Sabbath like the carcass of a goat. What a horror. The only proper response was absolute grief. Once again the universe reminded Simon of its will toward malevolent unfairness. There was no Messiah. The Romans were right: gods were many but small, distracted by petty squabbles and, ultimately, useless.
There was something about Yehoshua that rose above it all. Even Simon in his misery was unable to forget it. He had seen something precious. There was something in the Master that would live for all time. In the longest of nights, in the blackest of griefs, when tragedy struck so hard the world shook on its foundations, there would still be that candle of kindness. There would still be the man who saw past race and station and pettiness, who chatted with Samaritan harlots and traitorous tax collectors. There would still be that history, unshakeable and true, of a man who loved beyond love. There would still be his grace in the world, his Christ-ness, long after his death, and no man or devil or king could ever change that.
Simon, the man they called Peter, ever mindful of Yehoshua rolling his eyes at the ostentation of Jewish prayer, said no more about the Master that day. He went home to his wife and hearth, ate a meal, carried his sulky little girl to bed. He kissed her gently on her flushed cheeks and rested his hand on her chest to feel it rising and falling. Death did not undo life. Death did not undo Yehoshua's life. And for all King Solomon's wisdom and power, he was wrong when he said there was nothing new under the sun. Yehoshua himself was that new thing, a miracle if ever there was one. Simon wondered if that new thing, that ultimate love, would somehow last, often faltering, yet ever returning to a suffering world.