Well, that is a cliffhanger … but not as bad as it could have been.
I’m not even sure where to start this week, so I’ll start with history. Caligula did indeed order that a statue of him be placed in the temple in Jerusalem. It never made it that far; wind of it reached the public, who protested, and the new Roman governor (Pilate’s replacement) refused to install it in the temple out of fear of a rebellion. Sources are hazy on what happens next; some think that the current King Herod, a friend of Caligula, convinced him to forget the idea. The other and more likely story is that Caligula died before he could take action against the new Roman governor.
The events of this episode are fictitious, although they are directly pulled from an earlier incident in Pilate’s life in his governorship of Crete, where in protest to his reinforcement of Roman law, locals knelt and bared their throats, welcoming his soldiers to kill them all. Naturally, Pilate saw the political ramifications of taking such an action and ordered his men to stand down. It’s interesting how they are blending all Josephus has written about Pilate, along with references from other secular sources, and making them major plot moments in this series. There is a danger in people believing this is what really happened, but … the narrative is so strong I can forgive them some historical maneuvering.
This episode really is about Cornelius and Claudia most of all, but primarily Cornelius. I thought the scene where he broke down and cried in Mary’s arms was powerful … and it is not coincidental, in my mind, that this scene should play out in the aftermath of the recent church basement shooting. “You killed her, didn’t you?” Mary asks him, before taking him in her arms. Powerful messages of love, of forgiveness, unfolded on our screen for twelve weeks… often contrasted with the unforgiveness of the Romans and the High Priests. Here, it was no less profound. Cornelius and his new found passion and zeal for Jesus, eager to spread it wherever he goes and wanting Claudia to experience the same spiritual freedom… and both Pilate and Caiaphas effectively ending their marriages. The only difference is Leah is dead, and Claudia will be there in body but not in soul.
The writing has contrasted their marriages from the beginning, highlighting not only the different approaches between how the women handle their powerful husbands but also how their husbands respond to them. And strangely, out of the two, I think Pilate loves his wife more. Caiaphas has reached the end; his fundamentalism will no longer allow his wife to try and control him, to go behind his back, to challenge his authority. So, by the end, Leah is dead… and the question floating around our heads is whether the zealots killed her, her family killed her, or her husband had it done. Either way, her rebellion is met with violent punishment. Claudia also rebels and is slapped (literally) back into place. She considers freedom in running away, only to realize that she has nowhere to go, no allies, and no chance of escaping Pilate. And he, fanatical psychopath that he is, can’t understand what has changed, or why she can’t stand the sight of him. He has a deluded belief that he can fix their problems by forcing her to stay with him. Violence… threats … all contrasted with Peter and Mary contrasting the Centurion who murdered their friend, and forgiving him all.
I liked the struggle of the disciples to determine what to do, about the statue’s arrival in Jerusalem, because I think it is a powerful reminder that while our primary focus as believers is to spread the gospel and live it out through our actions, we cannot abandon a society given to violence without our intervention. When pondering where Jesus would stand on many modern issues, we must remember that He always championed the downtrodden, the persecuted, the lost, forgotten, abused, and defeated. It is our purpose to champion them in His physical absence, using methods he would have used. The peace-activist Ghandi once famously said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
That, I think, is where the power of this series truly lies, in its illustration of the disciples as being like Christ. They lived what they believed and … look at the incredible result, at the spread of faith, at the conversions, the freedom in their lives from the hatred that plagues the households of Caiaphas and Pilate. If Christians acted like it, if they believed it and lived it like the disciples did, what might our nation look like? Our world? Those are deep and uncomfortable thoughts to ponder, from primetime, even if the history is muddled at times. On that note, Centurions were forbidden to marry at that period in history. Caesar Augustus believed men would serve the empire better without wives and families, so until a Centurion finished their contracted service to Rome, they could not legally marry. Some took common law wives (such as probably is the case with Cornelius) and as soon as their service time was up, the marriage was ratified and legalized in Rome.
So, we reach the end, and … what happens next? Will we ever know the fate of Cornelius and Claudia? We know that Peter, at least, lives a good long while yet…