Dear brother Saul.
I recall the day you came all the way from Tarsus to visit us at the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem with your father, a fellow Pharisee and one of us, to be taught by us in preparation for your initiation into membership of the Council here in Jerusalem.
Let me say that I was impressed with your zeal for the traditions of the fathers, and you took a great liking to our brother Zerah, whose fiery devotion to our traditions remains unsurpassed to this day, and brother Saul, I was able to see very clearly that he was your role model and even in your youth you have every desire to be just like him.
But it was also brother Zerah's devotional zeal which, I'm very sad to say, made him the ringleader who successfully persuaded the crowd to have one man in particular, crucified, although according to my opinion, he was innocent of any wrongdoing and therefore not deserving to die at all. I have examined him myself by asking him questions during the night, so that we can discuss matters without any disturbance. Not only was his answers so graceful, but he also raised issues concerning the things of our spiritual standing with God, and not on what we do or the traditions we keep.
Then I also watched him do some amazing things, like bringing sight to a man born blind - on the Sabbath. This is when I became convinced that God was with him, for as the man who had received his sight himself testified, no man can give sight to the blind except God be with him. However, this enraged brother Zerah, who insisted that no one who claims to be God's prophet breaks the Sabbath. And he was right, of course.
But it was when this man brought a dead man back to life at a nearby village of Bethany that made such a miracle the last straw for brother Zerah. He actually believed that the whole of Israel will turn against the Sanhedrin to follow this one man, brother Jesus of Nazareth. It was then that brother Zerah stirred up a riot among the crowds to having him sentenced to death under the Roman procurator Pilate.
As brother Jesus of Nazareth hung on that cross, I heard him cry out, "ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
As I stood there, I began to mutter where he left off -
"Why are you so far in saving me,
so far from my words of groaning?"
Then I recall that which came to my mind, and I muttered:
"Many bulls surround me,
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I'm poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men have encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet,
and divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing."
I then also recall muttering under my breath:
"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
and yet we consider him stricken by God,
smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all."
Then I recall the words he himself spoke while we were alone that night:
"For God so loved the world
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believes in him
should not perish
but have everlasting life..."
From that moment, brother Saul, I began to cry, publicly and without shame. His innocence shone so brightly, even in his sufferings, touched my heart. I just wept as I stood in front of that cross.
Then not long afterwards, we were in this large upper room in Jerusalem, a gathering of about 120 of us. What's more, there were women among us, including the mother of brother Jesus, some of her friends - and this Canaanite woman with her young daughter. A story goes that Jesus did not hesitate to heal her daughter of some...some infirmity. Now as you know, brother Saul, we Israelites, and particularly us Pharisees, have a rule that there must be no mixed-gender assembly in worship. At the Temple and at every synagogue, men assemble at one place, women at another. Furthermore, our wives were looked on as just our property, here to bear our offspring. This was endorsed in the last of the Ten Words, which says that one shall not covet his neighbours possessions, which includes his wife.
Then to be in the presence of a Gentile was an abomination, and contact with such a one would have defiled us. Let alone a Gentile woman like the one who sat next to me, who would have been the lowest of the low, and practically an abomination to any Pharisee. No Gentile would be allowed to enter a house of an Israelite, likewise, no Jew would enter a Gentile's house. We Jews are by nature very nationalistic. And even among us Jews, we as Pharisees looked upon the shepherds of sheep as pariahs, social underlings, along with the publicans, who had betrayed us by complying with the Romans in exhorting taxes to pay these Romans, and their cohorts, the sinners. We Pharisees stayed well away from these people, lest we become defiled by their presence.
But that day in the upper room, things were very different, and things will never be the same again. We all sat there each and everyone of us under a deep, heart-searching conviction. Conviction of our sin, our iniquities, our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failings. And our strong hold on our traditions, our religion, our nationality, our gender divide, our social classes - had all crumbled to dust and blown away like chaff in the wind. We were all in it together - all of us falling short of God's glory and the sudden realisation that we are all in need of his mercy, regardless of who we are.
That was why, brother Saul, I wept when I stood at the cross. The very innocence of this Jesus of Nazareth caused everything I hold dear to become as nothing, as I already explained.
Then as I sat in that room, the daughter of the Canaanite woman turned and cried out, "Mummy!" Her mother then broke down into tears and wept uncontrollably as I put my arm around her to give some comfort. This Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown her so much love as he healed her daughter, had pierced her soul, washing away what must have been a huge pile of sins, guilt and shame. Her home town was Tyre, way up north of Jerusalem, in the Phoenician province north of Galilee. After her daughter was healed, she decided to leave her home to search for this Jesus, but by the time they arrived here in Judea, this Jesus who she was seeking had already died.
She was homeless here in Judea, as no innkeeper would accommodate a Canaanite woman, so I took her in with her daughter until she was ready to return home to her house in Tyre.
Now, brother Saul, I am convinced that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah we were waiting for. Contrary to popular opinion, he did not come to defeat our Roman oppressors and liberate Israel. That sort of Messiah -King is he who our brother Zerah is waiting for and expecting. No, rather this Jesus of Nazareth had done something much more important. He came to liberate our hearts from sin and its guilt and has given us the capacity to serve and worship God from within our hearts, and not just from the tablets of stone which God formerly used when Israel was set free by Moses from the Egyptians.
Now, brother Saul. You are still young and you have yet much to learn. But you have this fiery zeal and enthusiasm for our traditions of the fathers. Your ambition is to keep the Law of Moses perfectly. Therefore Caiaphas, the High Priest had set you under the tutelage of brother Zerah, whose own zeal will in no doubt rub off on you. But let me warn you. If you mention this Jesus of Nazareth to brother Zerah, he will get cross with you and he will instruct that he was not the Messiah we were waiting for, as he did not set Israel free from our Roman oppressors. But I would also ask you, dear Saul, to consider everything I wrote here. This Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. And there is much talk of him rising from his grave three days after he died on the cross. If this is true, and I don't think there are any reasons for doubting, then it will be the same Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth who will one day return to reign as the true King of Israel, on the throne of his father David.
With much fatherly love,
your elder and brother in the Sanhedrin,