Friday 29 March 2013

The Penitent - An Easter Story

"Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
IT WAS so hard to watch, but I did not turn away.
I wanted to share these last moments with him – the man I loved – no matter how painful.
So I kept my ears and my eyes open –– even though they were filled with horrors.
I saw them drive the nails into his wrists. Heard him scream. Watched, as they hauled his cross into position.
I missed nothing.
Everyone told me I was a fool to love him.
“Don’t you know what he does?” They scolded. “Don’t you know how badly the authorities want to get their hands on him?”
My women friends shook their heads, clucked their tongues.
“He’s a vagabond!”, they’d say. “A criminal! There’s no future for you there. Why don’t you find yourself a decent man, a steady man? Someone from a good family. The longer you stay with him, the harder it will be for you to put your life back together when it all goes wrong – and be warned, woman, it will go wrong!”
And, they were right. It did go wrong. Horribly wrong.
I told him over and over again: don’t go into Jerusalem at Passover. There are too many unfamiliar faces; too many eyes; too many soldiers. But he would go.
“Pass up an opportunity like this?’, he laughed, holding me at arm’s length, looking into my eyes. “Not likely!”
And, he went.
It’s grown cold on this hill-top. The sun’s disappeared and the wind is rising. Two more crosses have gone up. Two more tortured bodies. Two more screaming mouths. I don’t recognise the man in the middle, but the other is Dumachus.
Him I know.
He is a bad bastard. Cruel. Violent.
“Dead men tell no tales!”
That was Dumachus’s motto. Out there on the desert road. The robbed and beaten travellers begging for mercy through broken teeth. Mercy? Hah! Dumachus had none.
My man tried to save them. He pleaded for their lives. Dumachus just laughed. He enjoyed killing – it gave him pleasure.
Listen to him now! Taunting the stranger.
“Hey, Rabbi! They say you’re the Messiah. God’s son! So how about giving us a bit of help? Come on, get us down from here. Save yourself. And if you can’t do that then, Hell! At least save me and my friend!”
Messiah? Son of God? What in Heaven’s name is Dumachus talking about?
I squint against the darkening sky. The soldiers have nailed some sort of notice above the stranger’s head, and – Oh Dear Lord! I thought it was his hair – but it’s a woven circlet of thorns. The soldiers have pushed it over his forehead like a crown. The blood has flowed down, covering his eyes.
His eyes.
My man, Dismas, is speaking into the wind.
“Shut your mouth, Dumachus! Show some respect. You know how we got here – and why. You killed all those people for no good reason – and I, God forgive me, I didn’t stop you. What they’ve done to us here is no more than we deserve. But this man: this man has done nothing. Nothing that warrants this. Leave him be!”
The stranger inclines his head towards Dismas, and smiles.
I can read what the soldiers have written now. “Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews”
Dismas is speaking again. Speaking to this Jesus.
“Remember me,” he’s saying, “when you come into your kingdom.”
Those eyes, again. Staring out through the blood and suffering of our broken world. No pain in them, no anger. Just a gaze of boundless forgiveness and infinite love.
“It will be so”, he says, so softly I can hardly hear him. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Dismas nods weakly. Tries to smile. There’s no more strength in his arms.
I cannot bear this. I cannot.
But Dismas is looking down at me. He’s struggling to speak.
“Did you hear that, my love?”, he gasps through gritted teeth, fighting now for every breath.
“In Paradise.”
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times of Thursday, 28 March 2013.


Anonymous said...

Why do you assume that the two others who were crucified were simple robbers? Originally Barabbas was to be on the third cross. One of the Resistance movement and a hero to the crowd - I doubt that they would have been appealing for a mere robber to be exchanged for Jesus. Is it not more likely that the other two were his fellows in the Resistance?
For that matter were not the words of the dying 'thief', in the part where he acknowledges that the authorities were in their right to execute him, thus absolving the authorities of any blame, a later interpolation?
After all, Jesus' teachings about forgiveness and turning the other cheek were an embarrassment for the authorities once they had become officially Christian, which was OK so long as it changed nothing affcting their ultimate power?

Chris Trotter said...

This is how the scene was described in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 23, Verses 35-43)

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This is the biblical passage out of which the legend of St Dismas, the penitent thief, has grown.

ak said...

Beautiful, boy, you continue to exceed.

Meanwhile in other news, Francis kisses the feet of prisoners, women and muslims for the first time, and lays into "managers".

What a timely resurrection of hope.

Can one dare to imagine that the lumbering 2000yr-old steamroller of evil is back on track?

Progression towards Paradise or an early April fool's?

Anomie territory still, but with a major whiff of optimism in the dawn.

Michael Wood said...

Lovely post Chris. There is some wonderful stuff in there - hope, the comfort of connection with others in dark times, and the value of simple kindness.

One day you should think about collating your biblical adaptations.

Happy Easter!

Anonymous said...

Didn't you hear? "Easter's off - they found the body". (Tom Scott Masserkade, Massey University Capping Mag a long time ago).