Bernice: Why Does She Care So?

My name is John. My work as a trader had taken me from my home in Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem, sixty miles southeast. I had spent the week at an inn while buying and selling. On Friday I awoke to the smell of porridge being cooked in the kitchen. The innkeeper there served a hearty breakfast. When I sat down at the table and looked out the doorway, I could see people swarming up the narrow street, all going the same direction. As I began to eat, I asked the innkeeper, "Where is everyone going?"

"Have you not heard? There are to be three crucifixions today."

I was not sure I had the stomach for such a thing, but with time on my hands I followed the crowd to about a hundred feet from the top of the hill. I stopped, but the noisy crowd pressed in close to yell jeers and shake their fists at the men who were to be crucified.

A young woman who was alone stopped next to me. She appeared to be in her early thirties, just a few years younger than my own daughter. Her eyes were fixed on the center cross. I studied her beautiful face. The lock of hair showing from under her hood was coal black as were her eyes. Her smooth complexion radiated beauty in itself. Her features were delicate. I wished she would smile. But she didn't. Her face was set in a grimace that pressed her lips together so tightly that they had lost their color. I was struck by the vise grip of her hand where she held the hood covering her head and part of her face. Her knuckles were white.

As a grandfather I might view a crucifixion once in my lifetime, but why would a young woman put herself through such an ordeal? I sensed a kinship with this one, like my feelings for family. I needed to know more.

"Shalom, my name is John."

Her eyes moved to meet mine, "Shalom, I am Bernice."

There was silence for awhile as she looked at the ground, then she looked up. Her eyes welled up with tears, "How can they do this to Him? It is so unfair."

Her gaze returned to the One being laid on the center cross. Who could He be that she cared so much? Those around her taunted Him, "You saved others. Now save yourself!"

As I glanced back at the center cross, I could see a hammer, held by a soldier, being raised above the hand tied to the wooden beam. For the first time, the crowd turned deathly still. Next there was a ring of metal against metal as the hammer met the nail. Every muscle of the One laid on the cross quivered in pain. I looked away.

My new-found companion began to cry uncontrollably. Almost instinctively I took her into my arms, as if she were my own daughter. All of her small body shook with her sobs. I wondered if she could breathe. My gentle hold firmed as tears flowed down my cheeks too. Many minutes passed before her regular breathing returned. With my right arm still holding her, we turned to look up the hill. The cross now stood erect.

"Bernice, who is He?"

"He is my brother."

I caught my breath. My insides drew taut. Her eyes were wet, but she seemed composed.

"I want to go to the foot of the cross, but my mother, who is there now, instructed me not to come here. I have never disobeyed her before."

"I have a daughter like you. Would you like for me to take you to your home?"

"No, Jesus would want me to stay until He dies."

How could she hold up to such a gruesome sight. This cruel death would be slow. The least I could do was wait with her.

"Are there brothers and sisters besides you and Jesus?"

"I have four brothers and two sisters, all younger than I. Jesus and I have always been close, not just because we are the oldest, but because we share the same spirit."

"Did you play together as children?"

"Yes, Jesus would save the wood scraps and carve them into blocks for me. He kept them in a basket under His carpenter's bench. He even invented a special game that only He and I played called Jerusalem's Temple. He would help me lay out the temple buildings and the walls with the blocks. He had learned the dimensions at school. I wish I could have gone to school at the synagogue with Him, but I am just a girl."

"When my father died, not long after the birth of Simon, I was needed to help with the children, so I never married. As a teenager and, yes, even in my twenties, I would ask with a smile, 'Jesus, can we play Jerusalem's Temple?' With just the two of us in the shop, I would place the blocks while we talked."

"Do you still play your game?"

"Not very often. During the last three years, He has been traveling to other towns with His disciples."

While we were talking, dark clouds had begun to gather. Jagged lightning streaked from the clouds to the earth and was followed by deafening thunder. A cold rain began to spit into my face. Bernice gripped my hand as she moved closer to the cross.

Jesus appeared to be in excruciating pain. He had to push Himself up on the cross just to get enough breath to speak. In the crowd was an older woman to whom He spoke saying, "Woman, behold your son."

With more labor to breathe, He said to the man next to the woman, "Behold your mother."

Bernice's breathing was as troubled as Jesus' when He looked at her and said, "Someday we shall be together in Jerusalem's Temple."

His body strained one last time for air, then He cried out, "It is finished!"

At His words, Bernice loosened her grip on my hand. Her lips, which had been white, were now red. Color returned to her knuckles. As she relaxed her hold on her hood, it fell to her shoulders. A gentle wind blew through her hair adding to her beauty. I then knew that Jesus would keep His promise and that someday they would be together again in Jerusalem's Temple.

Based on Mark 6:3; John 19:26-27.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

Return to Table of Contents