Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Handout (04/14/11)
TITLE: Wow, I Almost Never Got Here!
By Noel Mitaxa
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Barabbas taught my brother Zeke and me all about breaking laws, and we were quick to learn. But here I am; and I’m still pinching myself…
I recall my legs being viciously smashed, but now I don’t even limp as I stroll along streets where the values run counter to all I was ever taught.
Gold was once more important to me than anything else; but here, gold is so unimportant that it’s used for building roads!
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself, because I want to tell you how I was up so close and personal on the day that changed the course of history…
Three of us stood out against the sky that day, while the crowd jeered at our agony. Most of their abuse was hurled at the one between Zeke and me; coming from a cluster of religious leaders in all their fancy robes. They were thrilled that he was dying, beaten to a pulp, to disrupt them no more. Strange how religious types overlook their own hypocrisy: they will die for their beliefs; but they will kill - or arrange for the killing - to protect those beliefs.
They had obviously framed him through a cunning mix of politics and religion, for despite my excruciating pain, my street smarts sensed no trace of guilt or cover-up about him.
Peering down through a strange daytime darkness, I noticed the obvious execution attendance regulars; and this time it was our blood they were baying for.
Those I was expecting were nearby: the families and friends of our victims. Some appeared vindictive, “eye for an eye” types. Others, relieved to see us punished, were drawing some closure at justice being done. Still others, knowing that our deaths would not bring their loved ones back, silently wept at seeing more human life wasted.
Roman executioners – experienced, efficient, cynical and clinical – were alert to any disturbance. Yet a small group of men and women with the most reason to disrupt simply gaped up at their leader. Their red-eyed weeping was the grief of helplessness bereft of any sense of direction.
Crucifixion was a prolonged and incredibly brutal way to be executed. Having our feet and hands nailed to wooden beams and being raised vertically introduced us to unremitting pain. Trying to lift the weight from our feet by pulling on down our hands produced searing agony through our whole upper bodies; as our heads throbbed and our legs cramped.
Shifting back onto our feet transferred the pain right up through to our hips; yet to relax again was to relive the previous upper body torture.
With sweat stinging into our eyes, flies added their own indifferent, incessant irritation.
Twitching and writhing, we tried to scream for relief or understanding; until deep breaths became increasingly difficult. Our physical agony continued, now overlaid by the onset of gasping panic. Inevitable suffocation was taking hold.
Zeke felt cheated about the mob choosing Barabbas to go free instead of the man between us; who was being mocked as a Messiah; so he echoed the abuse: “If you’re … the Messiah; save yourself … and us!”*
Yes, we’d been arrested along with Barabbas; but Zeke was way off target. “We’re getting … what we deserve … this man is innocent!" I gasped across at him, before turning to my right: “Jesus, remember me … when you enter your kingdom.”**
He could reach no closer, but his fingers gestured towards me, and I felt the disarming warmth of his glance, as he hoarsely whispered in reply: “I tell you truly … today you will be … with me in Paradise!”***
Soon afterwards he yelled something about completion that I couldn’t understand. Then he slumped forward and he was gone.
The religious types wanted Zeke and me to be dead before sundown, so they ordered the soldiers to snap our legs! Talk about hypocrisy - no execution residue was to spoil the next day’s festival!
Then, suddenly I was here – just as Jesus promised…
And though I’ve had no time to qualify as their equal, I’m now on first-name terms with people who have plugged into God’s grace to change our world!
Just think; if that mob had chosen Jesus to go free, Barabbas would have been crucified between Zeke and me. I would never have met Jesus, or received his offer to be here….
Isn’t that amazing?
Author’s note: I’ve shaped this entry around a memorable line from Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?: “there’s a grinning ex-con walking on golden streets who knows more about grace than a thousand theologians.”
There is also a special irony in the mob’s response when Pilate cynically offered them to choose between Jesus – the Son of God - and Barabbas/Bar Abbas; whose name could easily sound like “Son of the Father.”
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