This story will appear in a more-polished form in Our Stories, Too: More Tales from the Bible’s “Extras”. But I wanted to share it with you all now. Have a blessed Resurrection Day.
I sat at the edge of the crowd in the temple courtyard, listening to the teacher. The elders were trying to corner him but he resisted them at every turn. He started into one of the stories he was famous for – the ones we all knew meant something, but could never quite figure out what he was saying. This one was obviously against the temple elders, and even I could tell he was calling them unfaithful and wicked. I laughed to see them murmuring among themselves.
Jacob knelt beside me and I grimaced. I was supposed to be working. He caught me again. I don’t know what it is about this teacher. I can never concentrate when he’s around. I did have three more purses than I had when I started, but, still, with this crowd, and as long as I had been out, I should have had several more. But he didn’t ask.
He picked up a pebble from the ground and tossed it in the air. “There’s a caravan coming from Egypt. They seem quite burdened down with all their supplies. Meet me at the Tower of David at the fifth hour. We’ll help lighten their load.” He stood and turned to go, but looked back over his shoulder. “And don’t get distracted by fancy words. You have work to do.”
I nodded and watched him slip into the crowds, then turned my attention back toward the teacher. A huddle of the Pharisees’ disciples moved toward him. They pushed one man forward. He nodded at the teacher. “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth; and you don’t care about other people’s opinions. So, tell us what you think: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
How did they come up with all that and who did they expect to fool? Even I, who lived a life of lies, was ready to knock them all down.
But the teacher didn’t flinch. And he didn’t really answer them. He asked them to look at a coin and tell whose image was on it. Caesar’s, of course. He tossed it back to them. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. And give to God what belongs to God.”
He continued teaching, often being questioned by one religious group or another, but always seeing through their deceptions and never getting caught.
A passerby bumped me. My hand instinctively covered my purse. In doing so, I snapped out of the trance the teacher held me under. I glanced at the sun and swore under my breath. I should have been at the tower an hour ago.
I sprinted out of the temple and pushed against all the pilgrims trudging into the city. As I approached the meeting place, I could see Jacob pacing, watching for me. I skidded to a stop beside him.
He saw me, grabbed the collar of my robe and shoved me against the wall. “Where have you been? They’re almost here.”
I brushed his hands way and shrugged. “But they aren’t. We have time.”
“Have you studied them? Do you know your target? Do we have a plan?”
I shook my head. “Plan: brothers fighting. We already have that going. My target: I’ll just pick someone. I’ve done this enough.” I started toward the gate.
He grabbed me by the shoulder, spun me around, and shoved me against the wall again. This time I smacked my head so hard I saw stars. “You can’t do that. You’ll slip up. They’ll catch you. And with a target this size, they’ll crucify you. Is that what you want?”
I laughed and pushed him aside. “So it is angry brothers. Good plan.”
“I’m not joking. I’m calling this one off. It’s not worth it.”
I glanced toward the gate. Half the Egyptian company was already through. I set my foot behind Jacob’s and pushed him. He landed on his back. I ran toward the gate, taking in the scene before me. I spotted three purses I knew I could cut. I fingered my knife, getting it into position. My first target made eye contact with me. No good. Two more steps and I was alongside my second target. In one motion, I sliced his purse and side-stepped a dog in my path. As I tucked the purse in my belt, a hand grasped my arm. I tried to twist free, but one of the Egyptians had me. He pulled me close to him and held a knife to my throat. Without thinking, I drove my knife into his side and fled.
I heard shouts and footsteps behind me, but I ducked in and out of shops. I rounded a corner and ran into a stack of grain sacks. I gathered my wits and slipped behind them just as my pursuers turned the corner. I heard them pass me and turn the next corner.
I counted to thirty. No one came back so I slipped out. My first mistake was not leaving my purses I had gathered tucked somewhere safe. My second mistake was to go back to the gate – but I had to know what happened to the man I stabbed.
I didn’t see him, but guards were ushering the Egyptians toward the city, probably to meet the captain. As I turned to slip away, Jacob shouted, “There he is.”
I spun around. Two guards held him against a wall. I ran, but a group of bystanders wrestled me to the ground. I tried to feign innocence and ignorance but the guard found the purse in my belt – and the others I had tucked into my shirt at the temple. I couldn’t explain why I would need so many purses, especially one filled with Egyptian coins.
I guess Jacob didn’t fare much better because we were put side by side in stocks in the in the inner prison.
My wife came, bringing me food to last several days. She fell on my neck, sobbing. I didn’t know what to say to her. I apologized, but I knew my words won’t comfort her heart nor feed the children. I should have stayed in the forge, but I was so miserable, and Jacob promised me so much. In the end, she left the basket at my side and walked away without looking back.
Jacob spent all night cursing me for me for rushing into the situation and I blamed him for double-crossing me. It didn’t matter when, a couple of days later, they took us to be whipped – forty less one lashes each.
They made me watch as they beat Jacob. He collapsed at twenty and six. I made it to thirty and two. When I woke, I was back in the stocks with Jacob beside me. Thankfully, he was too weak to say anything.
He had plenty to say the next day when they led us out for our final punishment: Jacob and me and one other man. I just glared at the soldier who dropped the wooden beam in front of me. He laid his whip across my back. I took the hint and picked up my burden.
The crowds we hailed a week ago for the income we would gain from them, now mocked and spit on us. A few of our tormenters even threw stones and rotten food.
We started the slow march out of the city. Jacob staggered along behind me, cursing me with every step.
The man in front of me stumbled. I lowered my burden to wait for him, but was greeted with another lash across my back. I maneuvered around him and saw a soldier grab an onlooker to carry the fallen man’s cross. He stepped in line behind me. At least I didn’t need to listen to Jacob anymore.
They drove us up the hill like a line of cattle. My wounds ripped open from the strain of the weight of the beam on my back. I could feel the blood running down my legs. Each step took every ounce of will to move. My mind told me to just stop. And I should have – there was only worse pain at the end of the journey. But the lashes I received when I slowed kept me moving.
When we reached our destination, the guard beside me struck me on the chest with the handle of his whip and nodded toward the side of the road. I let my burden drop. I wanted to fall on the ground, too, but the thought of being any closer to that thing than I had to be made me ill. I stood by the side of the road, eyes to the ground.
I heard a scuffle down the line and looked up to see what the commotion was. Several women knelt around the man beside me. They were crying and trying to wash his wounds. But their activity didn’t match what I heard. I glanced further. Jacob’s spot was empty. Several paces away a group of soldiers wrestled someone to the ground. They lifted him to his feet. I wasn’t surprised to see Jacob.
Two soldiers grabbed his feet and two his arms. They carried him back to his place, slammed him on the beam and hammered his hands in place. He screamed and fought with every blow. It took four soldiers to hold him in place. As they moved to his feet, the world around me started spinning then went black.
I feel them moving me and I wake. Fear grips me. I’m naked. My clothing lies in a pile at my head. I try to struggle but the soldier pins my right arm down with his knee. Others hold my legs and my other arm. I feel the cold point of the nail on my hand. I determine not to cry out, but as the hammer hits the nail a yelp escapes. I’m prepared for the next and hold my breath. They may kill me, but I will not give them the satisfaction of a reaction. I almost break when they drive the nail into my feet.
The centurion reads my conviction, “Murder and theft,” and attaches the verdict above my head.
They read the sentence of the man beside me, “King of the Jews.” The High Priest argues with the centurion about the wording, but they push him aside. I look at him for the first time. It looks like the Romans gave him everything they could. I don’t think even his own mother would recognize him. Serves him right – causing trouble with the Romans – proclaiming himself king for us. Who needs a war just to put a different tyrant on the throne?
The time has come. As a boy, I would come watch as they executed criminals. I loved to stand on the side and mock them as they were lifted into place. Once I started working with Jacob, though, I avoided these roads as much as I could. I knew one day….
They lift me and drop me into place. My head jars, my teeth sink into my tongue, and a curse escapes. My struggle for life begins.
I push up on my feet to gasp for air, but the pain is too much so I slump again. The seat is just low enough that the nail pulls at my arms and I can’t breathe fully, but not low enough for me to just give up. I push up again for another gasp of breath and settle into the rhythm of hanging onto life.
The crowds focus their attention on the man beside me, throwing dirt at him. For some reason the Jewish leaders have all taken an interest in him and have gathered for the show; rather surprising since Passover begins this evening.
One of them calls out, “You saved others. Come, now. Save yourself so we might believe.”
The crowds join in, shouting “You said you could destroy the temple and build it again in three days. Well, come, then, step down from there.”
Jacob joins them and I even threw a few insults at the man myself. I know I’ve done wrong, but at least I never hurt anyone – well except that one accident earlier this week. But it was an accident. I didn’t mean it. He, on the other hand – he’s trying to start a war. Besides, cursing him somehow makes me feel better.
Then I hear him speak. Softly. I can hear the pain in his voice, but no anger. None. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
I hear that voice. I know that voice, even through the pain. I look closer and I can see the man he once was – when I was listening to him just a few days ago.
What would have happened if, that day, I had followed him?
Jacob calls to him, “If you’re the Christ, save yourself. And us.”
The Christ. Of course. That’s who He is. How did I not see?
I look at Him again. He is fighting for breath just like me – but not like me. He isn’t angry. He isn’t afraid. He doesn’t fight back, even when they mock Him.
I hear Jacob again and I can’t hold back. “What are you doing? We’re getting what we deserve, but this Man has done nothing wrong.” I turn to the Man. “Please, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
He looks me in the eye. For a time, the pain is gone. I can’t hear the crowds. I see only the Man. “I promise you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Then it all comes back. Nothing has changed. I still am on the cross. I still struggle for every breath.
But everything has changed. I no longer am afraid or angry. Tears stream down my cheeks. But, somehow, they are tears of relief.
The sun darkens as if it’s midnight. I hear the screams and panic from the crowd. The soldiers light torches.
Then the Teacher calls out again. “Father, why have you forsaken me?” The soldiers rush to give him wine, but he refuses.
I expect a host of angels to come and rescue Him. But nothing happens. We fight for life. And we wait in darkness and silence.
He cries out again, “It is finished.” In the torchlight, I see Him slump forward. An earthquake rattles every bone in my body, tearing my flesh against the nails.
Then the sun appears and all is quiet.
The solder nearest the Teacher declares, “This man was the Son of God.”
I must agree.
And I wait. Fighting. They come and break my legs so I will be dead before nightfall and the start of Passover. I hardly feel the pain anymore, but I can no longer push myself up to get a breath. The end is here. My fight is done.
I am ready.
Mark 11:27; 12:13-34
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(c) Deborah Gatchel 2016. If you like it, please share it. Don’t copy it.