Oh, you’re leaving, are you, friend? That’s fine, that’s fine. You’re going to the Passover feast, then? Well, be careful now, be careful. There’s a particularly nasty man out there from Tarsus hunting down people like you, who follow “the way.” People are starting to disappear, they say…
Go with you? I don’t want a knife between my ribs, but thank you. I’m sure somebody still remembers my face in that city, I don’t care how many years it’s been. And besides, I … I mean no disrespect, friend… but I don’t understand you all. You go down there to the temple, side by side with people who are remembering Moses, but you talk only of the Rabbi. And you say so such peculiar things about him.
“The Christ,” you tell people, “died in your place.”
I confess, that still makes no sense to me.
I was even there the day he died and—
Yes, that’s right, I was there. It was while I was still a guest of Pontius Pilate. In his dungeons, I mean. In the months before, I had done my best to stir up the zealots all around Judea, and we were ready to kill the governor. I wanted to be the one to do it. It was no problem to my conscience. I had killed before. And the flaming man had murdered my three cousins. I was going to make him ache for it. We had it all planned out. We were going to storm the Pretorium. And we weren’t going to fail this time.
But guards caught wind of it first. Three Centurions beat me senseless in my bed and hauled me off to Pilate’s dungeon. You should have seen the governor’s snarling, bloodthirsty face when he captured me.
He left me rotting there for a month. I figured he was going to parade me out and kill me when there was a crowd. So I prayed for my freedom. For one more shot at revenge against the brute.
And then came the loudest day I had ever heard in Jerusalem.
We couldn’t see the crowds from inside the prison, but we could hear them. We could feel them. Rabid beasts they were. Screaming and hollering threatening to revolt. “My children! Those are my children,” I taunted the guards. You’d never have thought Roman soldiers could look so scared.
Then the crowd starts chanting something all together, and the prisoners turn to me and say, “did you hear that?” I listen more closely, and there it is, plain as day. They are shouting my own name.
They stop. It gets quiet for a second as if they’re all listening to someone. Then, after a moment, they start chanting again.
“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
My cell opens and two guards step in and haul me outside into the sunlight. I try to fight them, but they’re too strong. They toss me to the ground. I just close my eyes and beg them for the sword. Anything but the cross. See, I had witnessed crucifixions before, friend, and I wouldn’t have wished that on anybody. Not even Pilate himself. So I find myself begging for mercy and bracing myself for pain.
But it doesn’t come. Nothing comes.
When I open my eyes, I see the guards have walked away from me and were holding someone else: turns out it was your Rabbi. They’ve already stripped him of his clothes and his skin is draping off him like loose cloak.
And they’ve got him pressed against the cross with iron spikes lined up to his wrists. Then comes the sound of rock on metal. And then the man’s screaming out in agony while his blood spits out from his limbs. And the crowd responds by hollerin’ in a drunken rage like it’s a Roman festival to Bacchus the wine god.
“Crucify Him,” they’re still shouting as if they hadn’t already begun pounding holes in the man. Animals, they were. I suppose it was only right that I had called them my children.
I stand up and scan the crowd and there’s Pilate, overseeing the whole thing. We lock eyes, the two of us, but I don’t see anger there. Just fear. Like he knows he’s doing something he’s goin’ to answer for. And in that moment, I know two things: that he’s not going after me, and I won’t kill him. Because this man being nailed to the post… he was bleeding enough blood for both of us.
So I start to push my way toward the back of the crowd. Nobody tries to stop me. They’re all watching your Rabbi, some laughing, and some crying.
“What’s he done?” I finally ask. “What’s he done?”
And can’t one of them tell me his crime. He hadn’t stolen anything or killed anyone. He’d never threatened the gorvernor. He was a holy man. Probably never violated the Sabbath!
All of a sudden my mind get’s foggy and my stomach goes all sideways as I think to myself, “that’s your cross, Barabbas.” And an insane part of me wants to go pull him down and take my rightful place as a knave and a wretch and a thief.
But all I can do is stand there and weep like a fool child.
You keep telling me he didn’t stay dead, friend, and I don’t know how that can be, but I hold onto it anyway because it’s my only hope. But I still cannot fathom what you all mean when you say that man died in your place. Because I was there, I tell you.
And Jesus of Nazareth died for me.