One more breath
Pushing through bone shattering pain for one more breath focused me quick as I looked to my right. This was nothing like the gang initiation I’d endured. It was far worse.
“Make a statement to the world. Show them we’re not going to take it anymore.” No matter how hard my brother mocked me. This was not the statement I expected to make.
“He was conceived in sin.” The religious community turned their back on me as I looked for hope. I fought zealously for their right of belief and practice. Now, to them, I was nothing. I’ve been called a failure forever.
“Always pushing the boundaries. Doesn’t look like much without the fancy clothes.” The ladies and friends jumped ship when I got cornered. I’m used to being abandoned. I’m used to being on my own.
Years ago, manhood grabbed me like a viper and held on as I drank the poison of proving myself. Others who got in my way didn’t last long. I was fevered with ambition. Writhing with rage.
“Why don’t you study like your brother? Why can’t you work at something respectable like your uncle? Why do you try so hard to change the things that can’t be changed?” Mom had her expectations. They were just different than mine.
Getting caught in the act was a shock. Samuel and I planned so carefully. The execution was swift. The prize claimed. We were sure there were no witnesses. And yet, here I was. Fighting for breath. Paying the consequences.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” The good book had its own expectations. Far beyond me. You had to know my neighbours. No boy should suffer the things I did. Bent. Bruised. Broken. Someone had to pay. I just didn’t expect it to be me again.
The gasp beside me dwarfed my effort. I could hear it above all the shouts and chants coming from below. His shoulders had already dislocated from his effort to hang on. The carnage the authorities had worked out on his face and body made him unrecognizable.
“Save yourself and us!” The contempt and venom flowing from the slathered lips on the other side of the battered victim added volume to the mockery of the crowd watching us suffer. It was a desperate plea and a missile of ridicule rolled into one gasp.
I had one problem. I’d heard this man talk to his mother. I’d heard this man forgive those threatening to end his life. I’d heard him calling on God. And now I was hanging onto living because I couldn’t resist watching the way he was dying.
A man can only take so much watching someone innocent being abused. I called past him. “Don’t you fear God since you and I are under the same sentence? We’re getting what we deserve. This man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
The soldier with the vinegar sponge pressed it against his bloodied lips and then squeezed it hard against mine. “It won’t be long, dead man,” he snarled.
I looked afresh at the form tacked firmly beside me. His suffering had to be worse. One inch thorns pressed deeply into his skull. Flesh stripped away. Beard yanked from his face. Beaten and disfigured. What could anyone expect? How could he forgive and talk about love? All my life I’d been fighting for love. How could I find it in the darkest place possible?
I pulled up again. “Remember me in your paradise.”
Those eyes burned with life as they looked my way. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
His last shout was a gasp of triumph.
Nothing scared me after that. The sun disappearing at mid-day. The earth shattering and shaking around us. The screams of the crowds scattering. The hammer they brought for my legs.
I don’t know what I expected. It was more like falling asleep and waking to the greatest sunrise I’d ever seen. The love I longed for during a lifetime was warmer, richer, fuller. And somehow I knew I’d never be alone again.
The words settled on me in new ways in this world. “You made a statement to the world. You showed them they don’t need to take it anymore.” “You were conceived in sin and born into grace.” “You can now love your neighbour as yourself.” “On earth you were the last. Here, you are the first. Welcome home, beloved of your Creator, brother of your Redeemer. Shalom.”
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