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 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, O reader, he was not entirely recovered from the picture of the Christ before the Gate Beautiful as it had been given by the Egyptian; and, besides that, the very calmness with which the mysterious person confronted the mob held him in restraint by suggesting the possession of a power in reserve more than sufficient for the peril. Peace and good-will, and 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 were 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 seek ye?”
“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.
With this friendly speech he kissed him.
“Judas,” said the Nazarene, mildly, “betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss? Wherefore art thou come?”
Receiving no reply, the Master spoke to the crowd again.
“Whom seek ye?”
“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! Nay, while the officers were making ready with their ropes the Nazarene was doing his greatest charity- not the greatest in deed, but the very greatest in illustration of his forbearance, so far surpassing that of men.