Last Minute Reprieve
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
I sit here in my jail cell contemplating my last night. Most people don’t know when or how they will die. It sneaks up on them, but I know exactly how I will die. Tomorrow I will hang on a cross. I wonder if death will bring relief from my ever present regret. My thoughts are interrupted from the yelling outside.
“Barabbas! Barabbas! Release Barabbas.” The people chant over and over again.
What? Why would they want him released? He is horrible. He is trouble.
“Hey, did you hear that Skinny? They want to release me!” Barabbas begins clinging his cup against the chain that tethers him to the ground and then he begins beating his chest like an idiot.
We both get quiet as we hear footsteps. It is not the time for our daily food allowance.
“Well, well, well, today is your lucky day, Barabbas, you are the Passover prisoner.” He bends down and unlocks his shackles. “Come with me.”
Barabbas winks at me as he struts off. I force myself to swallow the vomit in my throat. Tomorrow will be my last day, all hope of being released is gone.
As I lay down, I take comfort in knowing this is the last time I must relive my crimes. The familiar regret washes over me until sleep finally comes.
“Get up! Come with us.” The Roman soldier shouts in my face.
I shake myself awake and it is hard to keep up with all the directions. They drag me up the stairs and the air turns fresh. The sun kisses me with warmth. My eyes have a hard time adjusting to the brightness and they shove me to the ground for not moving fast enough.
“Let’s cast lots for the King's clothes!” The toothless guard shouts.
My eyes begin to focus as I turn toward the most horrific scene. I wonder if they will beat me up like this. This man is unrecognizable. His flesh looks like raw meat and trails of blood pool underneath him. Maybe he is already dead.
In comes another prisoner and he looks over at me and raises his fist then points his finger in my direction as if to say he will face death better than me. I forget him and turn back to the battered man on the floor.
“Stand up.” They yell and I get to my feet just in time for the two soldiers to drop the cross onto my back. The sheer weight of it knocks me to my knees.
The toothless one laughs and the burly one picks up a giant crown of jagged thorns. “Wait, we need to give our King a crown? We can’t have him going in front of his loyal subjects without being dressed properly, can we?”
I turn my head away when they ram the crown onto his head. I hear him gasp in pain. I look over at him again and see little rivers of red flowing down his forehead making their way down his neck. Before I look away, his eyes meet mine, well, one of his eyes meets mine, the other is swollen shut. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. There is something so different about his eyes.
The guards line us up in the order we will march to Golgotha. I bring up the rear and in doing so, I am able to take in the whole death march. Our leader gives a haunting warrior cry to the crowd as he starts our death parade. His voice cracks just a tiny bit and I know he is just as scared as I am.
It takes me a minute, but I begin to see some of Jesus’s followers sneaking in and out of the crowd. Their worried faces pop up between the line of spectators. They follow us. There is one particular woman keeping pace with us. I see her head keep bobbing up and down. She finally gets ahead of the crowd enough to look back and see Jesus, I watch her face and her eyes fill with tears the moment she sees him. She scrunches them closed in anguish. She quits moving and I lose her in the crowd.
I catch snippets of conversation from the crowd as our pace slows down.
“Did you know he healed my bother? He was born blind, but now he sees better than I do.”
“This isn’t right, he is innocent.”
A man points his finger at Jesus yelling, “It is blaspheming what you are doing, I tell you, blaspheming, calling yourself the Christ. You should be ashamed of yourself”
Some people spit and snarl curses at him. Jesus staggers a little under the weight of the cross and drops to a knee. I don’t think he can carry the cross any farther and one of the soldiers realizes it too. He grabs a man from the crowd, “You, carry his cross.” The man bucks up and tries to resist touching Jesus’s cross. He must be one of his followers, you can tell he doesn’t want anything to do with being a part of killing Jesus. The guard reaches for his sword and the man reluctantly steps forward to take the cross from Jesus.
As we start again, regret floods my mind..there is not one single person here to see me die.
I see the spot ahead, our destination. Just a few more feet. I suddenly feel the urge to keep walking, I’m not ready to take my last step.
They take our crosses from us and drop them to the ground, they lay us down on top of them, and they begin to take measures to secure us to our crosses. The sun blinds me when I look up at the hammer high above my head, I turn my head and brace for the impact. Jesus is facing my direction. He looks at me. I hold his gaze as the nails pieces through my skin. They move over to him next.
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus says.
What? He finally speaks, and it is of forgiveness? They just drove nails into our hands and feet. If he could forgive them, could he love me? Could he forgive me?
I smell death coming and the fear attacks me. How long will it take? I try and calm myself, no luck. They raise our crosses.
The crowd gets braver and begins shouting and taunting Jesus? “He saved others, let him save himself. If you are really the Messiah, save yourself.”
At this point, the rebellious criminal on Jesus’s other side says, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us too.” He demands of Jesus his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Before Jesus can answer him I come to his defense, “Don’t you fear God for you are under the same sentence? We are being justly punished for what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
I turn to Jesus, wanting him to know I get it, I know who you are! “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
He turns to me as much as can and says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In my life, I have never been in the right place at the right time, but today, just hours away from death, I have come alive. I finally see. I see hope, I see forgiveness, my regret is gone. My end is truly my beginning.
I am fascinated with the thief on the cross for many reasons, but mainly because I believe we can take the thief out of this story and replace him with ourselves. I may not have committed a crime here on Earth punishable by death, but compared to Jesus and his Holiness, I am just as guilty and undeserving as the thief. The forgiveness of Jesus is the ultimate gift.
I think it is important to picture yourself walking to the cross with Jesus, see him dying for you and your sins. Let your old life die on the cross beside him so that you may begin to experience his Kingdom on this Earth.
There are only one of two ways we can respond in this life in light of the cross. We accept his love or we reject it. We are all thieves. Which one are you?