Masada (Part 3)

 

(continued from Masada (Part 2))

His offer cut deep. In that moment—yes, that very moment—I realized the amount of manipulation that I had engaged in while trying to satisfy my own pride. The means of exorcising my demon became obvious. Submission to Ronen’s sound judgment (that I should not climb Masada while I was peeing blood and running a fever) was the only way to repent. Submission is a scary word in the modern context, conjuring images of inferiority, giving-up, and weakness. Is that the way it is used in the Bible, though? Not at all. The Greek verb submit (hypotasso) does not innately convey inferiority, but instead it is used to denote a voluntary placement of one’s self beneath the leadership of another. The Greeks used it to describe the arrangement of military troops—men who could hardly be characterized as weak.

An argument could be made that submission is the ultimate control over one’s self. It is an arrangement in which we, as uniquely formed individuals, are given the opportunity to place ourselves beneath the leadership of another. This cannot be achieved through force or coercion by any outside power. It is achieved only through exercising our own free-will. Refusal to submit is rebellion against the power requesting submission. How could I stand on Masada and not contemplate that epiphany? The rebels who occupied Masada refused to submit to Roman authority, and that was a choice that they were freely able to make…but not without consequences.

Historically, the popular relevance of Masada pivots upon one central fact: the palace-fortress was overrun by Jewish rebels in 66 A.D., and their ill-fated rebellion eventually resulted in the death of nearly one thousand men, women, and children. The rebels were of a specific group called the Sicarii. Josephus Flavius, a contemporary Jewish historian, charged that the Sicarii were the more extreme Zealots. These individuals were not politicians or diplomats; they were killers bent on achieving reform through violent means. They were not innocent sheep awaiting slaughter at Masada. By 73 A.D., the Romans had decided that the Sicarii of Masada had outstayed their welcome. They stationed a Roman legion around the fortress and built an earthen ramp that allowed the Romans to gain entrance to the fort via a battering ram. According to Josephus, upon entry, the Romans were confronted with nothing but corpses. The rebels had killed one another (including their family members) to avoid the punishments that would be dispersed by the Romans. For the Sicarii, the alternatives to suicide were bleak. If they had been alive when the Romans stormed the fortress, atrocities worse than death would have enveloped them. Enslavement, torture, and rape were very real concerns for the Sicarii. For people who lived and died by violence, the choice to kill one another likely seemed the best option; submitting to the Romans was unfathomable.

There I stood with my feet planted where they had murdered each other rather than submit to the vile punishments that awaited them. What type of people were they? Were they the kind that would stand up to bullies as children? Did they defy their parents and teachers with their willfulness? Did they believe themselves invincible? Did they ever let their pride and their arrogance convince them that they had a right to do whatever (kill whomever) they wanted? I began to contemplate exactly what I wanted to rebel against in life. If I choose not to submit, then it should be because my rebellion is in favor of something worthy, noble, and beautiful. My mini-mutiny against Ronen, however, was just selfish, childish, and spiteful. In my heart, I recognized some peculiar affinity between myself and the Sicarii, and there is no pride in that confession.

By now, I hope that it is rather obvious why I declined Pastor John’s invitation to return to the bottom and hike up. The fact of the matter was that I was indeed quite ill, and Ronen was right. Hiking Masada out of defiance had the potential to do me a great deal of physical harm. I didn’t want to take a stand for something so foolish. I returned to the moment at hand where Pastor John was waiting for my answer.

“No,” I said to John, “I don’t need to hike it.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” I said. “God’s giving me an opportunity to so something almost as difficult. I have to apologize to Ronen.”

And I did. I went and found Ronen and planned to offer some sappy excuses for my childish behavior, but all that came out when I met him was, “Sorry,” and I extended my hand. Ronen not only took my hand, but he pulled me in and gave me a solid Israeli hug with a slap on the back.

“How do you say stubborn in Hebrew?” I asked.

Den,” he said, and then we laughed.

His behavior was more Christlike than anything I had modeled that morning. With his kindness, I was forgiven. My struggle with submission proved to be the means of climbing my own Masada that day.

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