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    Detail from Lisa Toth's illustration for the story The Way to the Cross by Lew Wallace.

    The Way to the Cross

    By Lew Wallace

    April 1, 2021

    In his much-loved novel Ben-Hur, Lew Wallace tells the story of two boyhood friends who come of age during the Roman occupation of Judea: Messala and Ben-Hur. On reaching adulthood, the two men’s ways diverge. Messala, a Roman, becomes one of the oppressors, while Ben-Hur, a Jew, joins the fight for independence from Rome.

    Betrayed and sent to the galleys by Messala, Ben-Hur vows revenge. Eventually regaining his freedom, he wounds and bankrupts Messala in a fateful chariot race. Not long after, the talk in Judea is of a new leader of the Jewish people, Jesus of Nazareth. Many believe the miracle worker will be their political savior, and Ben-Hur recruits freedom fighters to back him in an uprising against Caesar. But the destiny of this messiah is far different than the military triumph Ben-Hur imagines.

    The streets were full of people going and coming, or grouped about the fires roasting meat, and feasting and singing, and happy. The odor of scorching flesh, mixed with the odor of cedar-wood aflame and smoking, loaded the air; and as this was the occasion when every son of Israel was full brother to every other son of Israel, and hospitality was without bounds, Ben-Hur was saluted at every step, while the groups by the fires insisted, “Stay and partake with us. We are brethren in the love of the Lord.” But with thanks to them he hurried on, intending to take horse at the khan and return to the tents on the Cedron.

    To make the place, it was necessary for him to cross the thoroughfare so soon to receive sorrowful Christian perpetuation. There also the pious celebration was at its height. Looking up the street, he noticed the flames of torches in motion streaming out like pennons; then he observed that the singing ceased where the torches came. His wonder rose to its highest, however, when he became certain that amidst the smoke and dancing sparks he saw the keener sparkling of burnished spear-tips, arguing the presence of Roman soldiers. What were they, the scoffing legionaries, doing in a Jewish religious procession? The circumstance was unheard of, and he stayed to see the meaning of it.

    Lisa Toth's  illustration for the story The Way to the Cross by Lew Wallace.

    Lisa Toth, The Way to the Cross

    The moon was shining its best; yet, as if the moon and the torches, and the fires in the street, and the rays streaming from windows and open doors, were not enough to make the way clear, some of the processionists carried lighted lanterns; and fancying he discovered a special purpose in the use of such equipments, Ben-Hur stepped into the street so close to the line of march as to bring every one of the company under view while passing. The torches and the lanterns were being borne by servants, each of whom was armed with a bludgeon or a sharpened stave. Their present duty seemed to be to pick out the smoothest places among the rocks in the street for certain dignitaries among them – elders and priests; rabbis with long beards and heavy brows; men of the class potential in the councils of Caiaphas and Hannas. Where could they be going? Not to the temple, certainly, for the route to the sacred house from Zion, whence these appeared to be coming, was by the Zystus. And their business – if peaceful, why the soldiers?

    As the procession began to go by Ben-Hur, his attention was particularly called to three persons walking together. They were well towards the front, and the servants who went before them with lanterns appeared unusually careful in the service. In the person moving on the left of this group he recognized a chief policeman of the temple; the one on the right was a priest; the middle man was not at first so easily placed, as he walked leaning heavily upon the arms of the others and carried his head so low upon his breast as to hide his face. With great assurance, Ben-Hur fell in on the right of the priest and walked along with him. Now if the man would lift his head! And presently he did so, letting the light of the lanterns strike full in his face, pale, dazed, pinched with dread; the beard roughed; the eyes filmy, sunken, and despairing. In much going about following the Nazarene, Ben-Hur had come to know his disciples as well as the Master; and now, at sight of the dismal countenance, he cried out, “The ’Scariot!”

    Slowly the head of the man turned until his eyes settled upon Ben-Hur, and his lips moved as if he were about to speak; but the priest interfered. “Who are you? Begone!” he said to Ben-Hur, pushing him away.

    The young man took the push good-naturedly and, waiting an opportunity, fell into the procession again. Thus he was carried passively along down the street, through the crowded lowlands between the hill Bezetha and the Castle of Antonia, and on by the Bethesda reservoir to the Sheep Gate. There were people everywhere, and everywhere the people were engaged in sacred observances.

    It being Passover night, the valves of the Gate stood open. The keepers were off somewhere feasting. In front of the procession as it passed out unchallenged was the deep gorge of the Cedron, with Olivet beyond, its dressing of cedar and olive trees made darker by the moonlight silvering all the heavens. Two roads met and merged into the street at the gate – one from the northeast, the other from Bethany. Ere Ben-Hur could finish wondering whether he were to go farther, and if so which road was to be taken, he was led off down into the gorge. And still no hint of the purpose of the midnight march.

    Down the gorge and over the bridge at the bottom of it. There was a clatter on the floor as the crowd, now a straggling rabble, passed over, beating and pounding with their clubs and staves. A little farther and they turned off to the left in the direction of an olive orchard enclosed by a stone wall in view from the road. Ben-Hur knew there was nothing in the place but old gnarled trees, the grass, and a trough hewn out of a rock for the treading of oil after the fashion of the country. While, yet more wonder-struck, he was thinking what could bring such a company at such an hour to a quarter so lonesome, they were all brought to a standstill. Voices called out excitedly in front; a chill sensation ran from man to man; there was a rapid fall-back, and a blind stumbling over each other. The soldiers alone kept their order.

    It took Ben-Hur but a moment to disengage himself from the mob and run forward. There he found a gateway without a gate admitting to the orchard, and he halted to take in the scene.

    That there would be some signal exhibition of astonishing force beyond the natural, Ben-Hur believed, and in that faith waited.

    A man in white clothes, and bareheaded, was standing outside the entrance, his hands crossed before him – a slender, stooping figure, with long hair and thin face – in an attitude of resignation and waiting.

    It was the Nazarene!

    Behind him, next to the gateway, were the disciples in a group; they were excited, but no man was ever calmer than he. The torchlight beat redly upon him, giving his hair a tint ruddier than was natural to it; yet the expression of the countenance was as usual all gentleness and pity.

    Opposite this most unmartial figure stood the rabble, gaping, silent, awed, cowering – ready at a sign of anger from him to break and run. And from him to them – then at Judas, conspicuous in their midst – Ben-Hur looked – one quick glance, and the object of the visit lay open to his understanding. Here was the betrayer, there the betrayed; and these with the clubs and staves, and the legionaries, were brought to take him.

    A man may not always tell what he will do until the trial is upon him. This was the emergency for which Ben-Hur had been for years preparing. The man to whose security he had devoted himself, and upon whose life he had been building so largely, was in personal peril; yet he stood still. Such contradictions are there in human nature! To say truth, the very calmness with which the mysterious person confronted the mob held him in restraint, by suggesting the possession of a power more than sufficient for the peril. Peace and goodwill, love and nonresistance, had been the burden of the Nazarene’s teaching; would he put his preaching into practice? He was master of life; he could restore it when lost; he could take it at pleasure. What use would he make of the power now? Defend himself? And how? A word – a breath – a thought would be sufficient. That there would be some signal exhibition of astonishing force beyond the natural, Ben-Hur believed, and in that faith waited. And in all this he was still measuring the Nazarene by himself – by the human standard.

    Presently the clear voice of the Christ arose.

    “Whom do you seek?”

    “Jesus of Nazareth,” the priest replied.

    “I am he.” At these simplest of words, spoken without passion or alarm, the assailants fell back several steps, the timid among them cowering to the ground; and they might have let him alone and gone away had not Judas walked over to him.

    “Hail, master!”

    With this friendly speech, he kissed him.

    “Judas,” said the Nazarene mildly, “do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss? Wherefore have you come?”

    Receiving no reply, the Master spoke to the crowd again.

    “Whom do you seek?”

    “Jesus of Nazareth.”

    “I have told you that I am he. If, therefore, you seek me, let these go their way.”

    At these words of entreaty the rabbis advanced upon him; and, seeing their intent, some of the disciples for whom he interceded drew nearer; one of them cut off a man’s ear, but without saving the Master from being taken. And yet Ben-Hur stood still! While the officers were making ready with their ropes, the Nazarene was doing his greatest charity.

    “Suffer you thus far,” he said, and healed the wounded man with a touch.

    Both friends and enemies were confounded – one side that he could do such a thing, the other that he would do it under the circumstances.

    “Surely he will not allow them to bind him!”

    Thus thought Ben-Hur.

    “Put up your sword into its sheath; the cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” From the offending follower, the Nazarene turned to his captors. “Are you come out as against a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple, and you did not take me; but this is your hour, when darkness reigns.”

    The posse plucked up courage and closed about him; and when Ben-Hur looked for the faithful they were gone – not one of them remained.

    The crowd about the deserted man seemed very busy, with tongue, hand, and foot. Over their heads, between the torch-sticks, through the smoke, sometimes in openings between the restless men, Ben-Hur caught momentary glimpses of the prisoner. Never had anything struck him as so piteous, so unfriended, so forsaken! Yet, he thought, the man could have defended himself – he could have slain his enemies with a breath – but he would not. What was the cup his father had given him to drink? And who was the father to be so obeyed? Mystery upon mystery!

    Directly the mob started to return to the city, the soldiers in the lead. Ben-Hur became anxious; he was not satisfied with himself. Where the torches were in the midst of the rabble he knew the Nazarene was to be found. Suddenly he resolved to see him again. He would ask him one question.

    Taking off his long outer garment and the handkerchief from his head, he threw them upon the orchard wall and started after the posse, which he boldly joined. Through the stragglers he made way, and at length reached the man who carried the ends of the rope with which the prisoner was bound.

    The Nazarene was walking slowly, his head down, his hands bound behind him; the hair fell thickly over his face, and he stooped more than usual; apparently he was oblivious to all going on around him. In advance a few steps were priests and elders talking and occasionally looking back. When at length they were all near the bridge in the gorge, Ben-Hur took the rope from the servant who had it and stepped past him.

    “Rise, son of Judah, and go with us. The judgment has been given. The tree of the cross is already at Golgotha.”

    “Master, master!” he said hurriedly, speaking close to the Nazarene’s ear. “Do you hear, master? A word – one word. Tell me –”

    The fellow from who he had taken the rope now claimed it.

    “Tell me,” Ben-Hur continued, “Do you go with these of your own accord?”

    The people had come up now, and were asking angrily, “Who are you, man?”

    “O master,” Ben-Hur made haste to say, his voice sharp with anxiety, “I am your friend. Tell me, if I bring rescue will you accept it?”

    The Nazarene never so much as looked up or allowed the slightest sign of recognition; yet the something which when we are suffering lets the onlooker know of it, failed not now. “Let him alone,” it seemed to say. “He has been abandoned by his friends; the world has denied him; in bitterness of spirit, he has taken farewell of men; he is going he knows not where, and he cares not. Let him alone.”

    And to that Ben-Hur was now driven. A dozen hands were upon him, and from all sides there was shouting, “He is one of them. Bring him along; club him – kill him!”

    With a gust of passion which gave him many times his ordinary force, Ben-Hur raised himself, turned once about with his arms outstretched, shook the hands off, and rushed through the circle which was fast hemming him in. The hands snatching at him as he passed tore his garments from his back, so he ran off the road naked; and the gorge, in keeping of the friendly darkness, received him safe.

    Reclaiming his handkerchief and outer garments from the orchard wall, he followed back to the city gate; thence he went to the khan, and on the good horse rode to the tents of his people out by the Tombs of the Kings.

    As he rode, he promised himself to see the Nazarene the next day – promised it, not knowing that the unfriended man was taken straight away to the house of Hannas to be tried that night.

    The heart the young man carried to his couch beat so heavily he could not sleep; for now clearly his renewed Judean kingdom resolved itself into what it was – only a dream. It is bad enough to see our castles overthrown one after another with an interval between in which to recover from the shock, or at least let the echoes of the fall die away; but when they go altogether – go as ships sink, as houses tumble in earthquakes – the spirits which endure it calmly are made of stuffs sterner than common, and Ben-Hur’s was not of them. In plainest speech, he was entering upon a crisis with which the morrow and the Nazarene would have everything to do.

    Next morning, about the second hour, two men rode full speed to the doors of Ben-Hur’s tents and, dismounting, asked to see him. He was not yet risen, but gave directions for their admission.

    “Peace to you, brethren,” he said, for they were of his Galileans, and trusted officers. “Will you be seated?”

    “Nay,” the senior replied bluntly, “to sit and be at ease is to let the Nazarene die. Rise, son of Judah, and go with us. The judgment has been given. The tree of the cross is already at Golgotha.”

    Ben-Hur stared at them.

    “The cross!” was for the moment all he could say.

    “They took him last night and tried him,” the man continued. “At dawn they led him before Pilate. Twice the Roman denied his guilt; twice he refused to give him over. At last he washed his hands and said, ‘Be it upon you then;’ and they answered, ‘His blood be upon us and our children.’”

    “Holy Father Abraham!” cried Ben-Hur. “A Roman kinder to an Israelite than his own kin! And if he should indeed be the Son of God, what shall ever wash his blood from their children? It must not be – it is time to fight!”

    His face brightened with resolution, and he clapped his hands. “The horses – and quickly!” he said to the Arab who answered the signal. “And bid my servant send me fresh garments, and bring my sword! It is time to die for Israel, my friends. Wait outside till I come.”

    He ate a crust, drank a cup of wine, and was soon upon the road.

    “Where would you go first?” asked the Galilean.

    “To collect the legions.”

    “Alas!” the man replied, throwing up his hands.

    “Why alas?”

    “Master” – the man spoke with shame – “master, I and my friend here are all that are faithful. The rest follow the priests.”

    “Seeking what?” and Ben-Hur drew rein.

    “To kill him.”

    “Not the Nazarene?”

    “You have said it.”

    Studying the mass, it seemed the whole world was to be represented, and in that sense present, at the crucifixion.

    Ben-Hur looked slowly from one man to the other. He was hearing again the question of the night before: “The cup my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” In the ear of the Nazarene he was putting his own question: “If I bring rescue, will you accept it?” He was saying to himself, “This death may not be averted. The man has been traveling towards it with full knowledge from the day he began his mission: it is imposed by a will higher than his; whose but the Lord’s! If he is consenting, if he goes to it voluntarily, what shall another do?” Nor less did Ben-Hur see the failure of the scheme he had built upon the fidelity of the Galileans; their desertion, in fact, left nothing more of it. But how singular it should happen that morning of all others! A dread seized him. It was possible his scheming, and labor, and expenditure of treasure, might have been but blasphemous contention with God. When he picked up the reins and said, “Let us go, brethren,” all before him was uncertainty. The faculty of resolving quickly, without which one cannot be a hero in the midst of stirring scenes, was numb within him.

    “Let us go, brethren; let us to Golgotha.”

    They passed through excited crowds of people going south like themselves. All the country north of the city seemed aroused and in motion.

    Hearing that the procession with the condemned might be met with somewhere near the great white towers left by Herod, the three friends rode there, passing around southeast of Akra. In the valley below the Pool of Hezekiah, passageway against the multitude became impossible, and they were compelled to dismount and take shelter behind the corner of a house and wait.

    The waiting was as if they were on a riverbank watching a flood go by, for such the people seemed. Half an hour – an hour – the flood surged by Ben-Hur and his companions, within arm’s reach, incessant, undiminished. They went by in haste – eager, anxious, crowding – all to behold one poor Nazarene die, a felon between felons. Studying the mass, it seemed the whole world was to be represented, and in that sense present, at the crucifixion.

    The going was singularly quiet. A hoof-stroke upon a rock, the glide and rattle of revolving wheels, voices in conversation, and now and then a calling voice, were all the sounds heard above the rustle of the mighty movement. Yet was there upon every countenance the look with which men make haste to see some dreadful sight, some sudden wreck, or ruin, or calamity of war. And by such signs Ben-Hur judged that these were the strangers in the city come up to the Passover, who had had no part in the trial of the Nazarene and might be his friends. 

    At length, from the direction of the great towers, Ben-Hur heard, at first faint in the distance, a shouting of many men.

    “Hark! They are coming now,” said one of his friends.

    The people in the street halted to hear; but as the cry rang on over their heads, they looked at each other, and in shuddering silence moved along.

    The shouting drew nearer each moment; and the air was already full of it and trembling, when Ben-Hur saw the servants of the merchant Simonides coming with their master in his chair, and his daughter Esther walking by his side; a covered litter bearing the Wise Man Balthasar was behind them.

    “Peace to you, O Simonides – and to you, Esther,” said Ben-Hur, meeting them. “If you are for Golgotha, stay until the procession passes; I will then go with you. There is room to turn in by the house here.”

    The merchant’s large head rested heavily upon his breast; rousing himself, he answered, “Speak to Balthasar; his pleasure will be mine. He is in the litter.”

    Ben-Hur hastened to draw aside the curtain. The Egyptian was lying within, his wan face so pinched as to appear like a dead man’s. The proposal was submitted to him.

    “Can we see him?” he inquired faintly.

    “The Nazarene? Yes; he must pass within a few feet of us.”

    “Dear Lord!” the old man cried fervently. “Once more, once more! Oh, it is a dreadful day for the world!”

    Shortly the whole party was in waiting under shelter of the house. They said but little, afraid, probably, to trust their thoughts to each other; everything was uncertain, and nothing so much so as opinions. Balthasar drew himself feebly from the litter and stood supported by a servant. Esther and Ben-Hur kept Simonides company.

    Four soldiers went with him as a guard against the mob, who sometimes, nevertheless, broke through and struck him with sticks, and spit upon him.

    Meantime the flood poured along, if anything more densely than before; and the shouting came nearer, shrill in the air, hoarse along the earth, and cruel.

    “See!” said Ben-Hur bitterly. “That which cometh now is Jerusalem.”

    The advance was in possession of an army of boys, hooting and screaming, “The King of the Jews! Room, room for the King of the Jews!”

    Simonides watched them as they whirled and danced along like a cloud of summer insects, and said gravely, “When these come to their inheritance, son of Hur, alas for the city of Solomon!”

    A band of legionaries fully armed followed next, marching in sturdy indifference, the glory of burnished brass about them the while.

    Then came the Nazarene!

    He was nearly dead. Every few steps he staggered as if he would fall. A stained gown badly torn hung from his shoulders over a seamless undertunic. His bare feet left red splotches upon the stones. An inscription on a board was tied to his neck. A crown of thorns had been crushed hard down upon his head, making cruel wounds from which streams of blood, now dry and blackened, had run over his face and neck. The long hair, tangled in the thorns, was clotted thick. The skin, where it could be seen, was ghastly white. His hands were tied before him. Back somewhere in the city he had fallen exhausted under the transverse beam of his cross, which, as a condemned person, custom required him to bear to the place of execution; now a countryman carried the burden in his stead. Four soldiers went with him as a guard against the mob, who sometimes, nevertheless, broke through and struck him with sticks, and spit upon him. Yet no sound escaped him, neither remonstrance nor groan; nor did he look up until he was nearly in front of the house sheltering Ben-Hur and his friends, all of whom were moved with quick compassion. Esther clung to her father; and he, strong of will as he was, trembled; Balthasar fell down speechless. Even Ben-Hur cried out, “O my God! My God!” Then, as if he divined their feelings or heard the exclamation, the Nazarene turned his wan face towards the party and looked at them each one, so they carried the look in memory through life. They could see he was thinking of them, not himself, and the dying eyes gave them the blessing he was not permitted to speak.

    “Where are your legions, son of Hur?” asked Simonides, aroused.

    “Hannas can tell you better than I.”

    “What, faithless?”

    “All but these two.”

    “Then all is lost, and this good man must die!”

    The face of the merchant knit convulsively as he spoke, and his head sank upon his breast. He had borne his part in Ben-Hur’s labors well, and he had been inspired by the same hopes, now blown out never to be rekindled.

    Two other men succeeded the Nazarene bearing cross beams.

    “Who are these?” Ben-Hur asked of the Galileans.

    Now I know that he who first goes yonder with the inscription about his neck is what the inscription proclaims him – King of the Jews.

    “Thieves appointed to die with the Nazarene,” they replied. Next in the procession stalked a mitered figure clad all in the golden vestments of the high priest. Policemen from the temple curtained him round about; and after him, in order, strode the Sanhedrin and a long array of priests, the latter in their plain white garments overwrapped by abnets of many folds and gorgeous colors.

    “The son-in-law of Hannas,” said Ben-Hur in a low voice.

    “Caiphas! I have seen him,” Simonides replied, adding, after a pause during which he thoughtfully watched the haughty pontiff, “and now I am convinced. With such assurance as proceeds from clear enlightenment of the spirit – with absolute assurance – now I know that he who first goes yonder with the inscription about his neck is what the inscription proclaims him – King of the Jews. A common man, an imposter, a felon, was never thus waited upon. For look! Here are the nations – Jerusalem, Israel. Here is the ephod, here the blue robe with its fringe, and purple pomegranates, and golden bells, not seen in the street since the day Jaddua went out to meet the Macedonian – proofs all that this Nazarene is king. Would I could rise and go after him!”

    Ben-Hur listened, surprised; and directly, as if himself awakening to his unusual display of feeling, Simonides said impatiently, “Speak to Balthasar, and let us be gone. The vomit of Jerusalem is coming.”

    Then Esther spoke.

    “I see some women there, and they are weeping. Who are they?”

    Following the point of her hand, the party beheld four women in tears; one of them leaned upon the arm of a man of aspect not unlike the Nazarene’s. Presently Ben-Hur answered, “The man is the disciple whom the Nazarene loves the best of all; she who leans upon his arm is Mary, the Master’s mother; the others are friendly women of Galilee.”

    Esther pursued the mourners with glistening eyes until the multitude received them out of sight.

    The demonstration was the forerunner of those in which, scarce thirty years later, under rule of the factions, the Holy City was torn to pieces; it was quite as great in numbers, as fanatical and bloodthirsty; boiled and raved, and had in it exactly the same elements – servants, camel-drivers, market-men, gate-keepers, gardeners, dealers in fruits and wines, proselytes, and foreigners not proselytes, watchmen and menials from the temple, thieves, robbers, and the myriad not assignable to any class, but who, on such occasions as this, appeared no one could say whence, hungry and smelling of caves and old tombs – bareheaded wretches with naked arms and legs, hair and beard in uncombed mats, and each with one garment the color of clay; beasts with abysmal mouths, in outcry effective as lions calling each other across desert spaces. Some of them had swords; a greater number flourished spears and javelins; though the weapons of the many were staves and knotted clubs, and slings, for which latter selected stones were stored in scrips, and sometimes in sacks improvised from foreskirts of their dirty tunics. Among the mass here and there appeared persons of high degree – scribes, elders, rabbis, Pharisees with broad fringing, Sadducees in fine cloaks – serving for the time as prompters and directors. If a throat tired of one cry, they invented another for it; if brassy lungs showed signs of collapse, they set them going again; and yet the clamor, loud and continuous as it was, could have been reduced to a few syllables – King of the Jews! – Room for the King of the Jews! – Defiler of the temple! – Blasphemer of God! – Crucify him, crucify him! And of these cries the last one seemed in greatest favor, because doubtless it was more directly expressive of the wish of the mob and helped to better articulate its hatred of the Nazarene.

    The opportunity was going; the minutes were bearing it away; and if lost! God of Abraham! Was there nothing to be done – nothing?

    “Come,” said Simonides when Balthasar was ready to proceed. “Come, let us forward.”

    Ben-Hur did not hear the call. The appearance of the part of the procession then passing, its brutality and hunger for life, were reminding him of the Nazarene – his gentleness, and the many charities he had seen him do for suffering men; the miracle of Palm Sunday; and with these recollections, the thought of his present powerlessness stung him keenly, and he accused himself. He had not done all he might; he could have watched with the Galileans, and kept them true and ready; and this – ah! This was the moment to strike! A blow well given now would not merely disperse the mob and set the Nazarene free; it would be a trumpetcall to Israel, and precipitate the long-dreamt-of war for freedom. The opportunity was going; the minutes were bearing it away; and if lost! God of Abraham! Was there nothing to be done – nothing?

    That instant a party of Galileans caught his eye. He rushed through the press and overtook them.

    “Follow me,” he said. “I would speak with you.”

    The men obeyed him, and when they were under shelter of the house, he spoke again:

    “You are of those who took my swords and agreed with me to strike for freedom and the king who was coming. You have the swords now, and now is the time to strike with them. Go, look everywhere and find our brethren, and tell them to meet me at the tree of the cross making ready for the Nazarene. Haste all of you! Nay, stand not so! The Nazarene is the king, and freedom dies with him.”

    They looked at him respectfully, but did not move.

    “Hear you?” he asked.

    Then one of them replied, “Son of Judah” – by that time they knew him – “son of Judah, it is you who are deceived, not we or our brethren who have your swords. The Nazarene is not the king; neither has he the spirit of a king. We were with him when he came into Jerusalem; we saw him in the temple; he failed himself, and us, and Israel; at the Gate Beautiful he turned his back upon God and refused the throne of David. He is not king, and Galilee is not with him. He shall die the death. But hear you, son of Judah. We have your swords, and we are ready now to draw them and strike for freedom! and we will meet you at the tree of the cross.”

    The sovereign moment of his life was upon Ben-Hur. Could he have taken the offer and said the word, history might have been other than it is; but then it would have been history ordered by men, not God – something that never was, and never will be. A confusion fell upon him; he knew not how, though afterwards he attributed it to the Nazarene; for when the Nazarene was risen, he understood that his death was necessary to faith in the resurrection, without which Christianity would be an empty husk. The confusion, as has been said, left him without the faculty of decision; he stood helpless – wordless even. Covering his face with his hand, he shook with the conflict between his wish, which was what he would have ordered, and the power that was upon him. 

    “Come; we are waiting for you,” said Simonides, the fourth time.

    Thereupon he walked mechanically after the chair and the litter. Esther walked with him. Like Balthasar and his friends the Wise Men, the day they went to the meeting in the desert, he was being led along the way.

    From Easter Stories.

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