Rome was not near; Rome was far away. But then again Rome was not far away, for Rome was the world and Rome could hear.
As in so many other places, great and small, the citizens of Jerusalem knew about Rome. Rome was everywhere. The emperor might well be holidaying on the cliffs at Capri, but the long arm of Roman law was none the weaker for that.
The Moneychangers at the temple gates knew it; Caesar's image glistened at them from the offerings of the people. The High Priests and the Sadducees knew it; they struggled to keep the balance between the traditions of their people and the demands of Rome. The ordinary people knew it; daily they found themselves press-ganged into working for their conquerors. Pilate knew it; his reports must never cause the Emperor the slightest concern, there was more than his job at stake. Rome was not near, Rome was far away; and then again Rome was not far away, for Rome could be very near indeed, and Rome could hear.
Jerusalem was filling up. It was Passover. A tricky time Passover, for it unearthed memories of great triumph and future hope. The national myth could be a potent force. Given a careless spark, there could be trouble. The soldiers were alert. These feasts attracted all sorts of fringe elements, gangs that could so easily disturb the Pax Romana.
One troublemaker was already in prison awaiting sentence; a robber named Barabbas. Funny name that Bar/abbas. Someone said it meant Son of the Father, in the Jewish tongue. Well that's these foreigners for you.
Now there was another buzz in the air. Some chap had arrived to something close to a hero's welcome. There had been some kind of welcoming party for him, waving of branches, shouts of "Hosanna" and "Son of David", whatever all that meant. Honestly, if these people could see a proper victory parade in Rome! They’re pathetic. Apparently some early arrivals in the city had brought news that this Jesus had raised someone from the dead. That was enough to get the crowd excited. Their heads were full of confused ideas about some kind of "King figure” who would come and save them. They were forever clutching at straws.
Still Pilate knew he could not ignore the cry from the streets. Sharp ears and swift decisive action could always avoid the necessity of an embarrassing report to Rome. Not only the cry from the streets, of course: Palestine was an odd sort of place with a religion quite unlike Rome. The place was steeped in traditions that governed every area of life. The main Jewish parties, Pharisees and Sadducees, exercised an anxious vigil over the balance between Rome and Judaism. It would be very unwise to be deaf to their observations.
What was it that high priest Caiaphas was so fond of saying: “It is better that one man die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed?" Shrewd man, it made a lot of sense to sacrifice one Hothead to keep Rome quiet. Still it might not come to that especially now that one of the fellow's disciples had started showing signs that he might be willing to betray him. Pilate would watch his back; he would wait and listen.
But time and events do not always allow for the preferred option. Over the next few hours Pilate's ears were assailed by cries that demanded an answer. Whatever welcoming party there had been for this man, had simply melted away. Thick and fast the cries came: “Not this man, but Barabbas", "If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you", "Crucify Him, Crucify Him", and, most alarming of all, " we have no king but Caesar". They were serious, they wanted him dead and they knew just how to make Pilate nervous.
Still, even if he did have to compromise yet again with these people and bend to their wishes, he would have his own say. Pilate arranged for the cry of Rome to be pinned above the victim’s head. No! He would not change it. There it stayed for all the world to see: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
The city was quieter now; there were no longer any cries from the streets. In Jerusalem, God's city, his people were going home. What had had to be done, was done. Now it was time for Passover. Time to pray.
So it was that there were very few to hear the final cry of that day, a day that had known cries of all kinds. This cry came not from the crowds, nor from the Jewish hierarchy, but from the man on the cross. Strangely, in spite of his weakness, it sounded for all the world, like a cry of victory. "It is accomplished" he said and bowed his head. Few heard it in the holy city, the city of the prophets, but in time Rome would hear it, and Rome was the world.