Through the Eyes of A Thief
So this is it, then. I'll die today. I always thought I would die in some horrible, painful manner, but surely crucifixion must be the worst death. I suppose such a horrible death is fitting for someone who's done the horrible things I have.
The Roman soldier raises his hammer with a hateful face and brings it down heavily. The large nail tears through my flesh. I grind my teeth together. I feel like screaming. Or crying. Or both. No. I won't give the soldiers that satisfaction. He raises his hammer and brings it down again and again, driving the nail through my hand and into the rough wood of my cross.
Maybe, maybe if I can think of something else I'll be able to pull my mind away from the pain that's threatening to overcome me. Slowly I turn my head away from the soldier. Though my eyes are blurry I can see the other thief being crucified. His face holds more hatred than those of the Roman soldiers surrounding him.
I've heard of him before. He was supposed to be one of the best thieves in the Roman Empire. I was good, too. I've only been caught once. That was the capture that led me here.
The first nail is in. The soldier is moving around me, blocking my view of the other thief. Now he's pressing the cold steel against my flesh. I grind my teeth together again, anticipating the pain I know is coming. It will be better, at least a little, if my head is turned the other way, away from him once again.
A muffled cry escapes my lips as the nail pierces through. If I can open my eyes and see other things then I will focus on them. But the pain is too much! It is blurring my eyes, making it impossible to see. I close my eyes again and try to slow my rapid breathing. Now...now I will try again. I can see a little better this time. It sounds as if many people are here now, all making noise. I look forward as well as I can from my position on my cross that is laying on the ground.
Perhaps I cannot see better this time, for surely I can't be seeing right. I can't be seeing Him.
Much was said about Him by everyone the past few years. It was said He could heal the sick. I even heard once that He could bring the dead back to life. But I cannot forget the things I heard people say after they had seen Him or heard Him speak. One man spoke to me once of this man called Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth.
"I felt so ashamed," the man had said. "It seemed like He could see all the wrong things I've done. He could see them, yet it was so obvious that He offered forgiveness. Forgiveness for even me! He says He is the Son of God, the Messiah!"
I had laughed at that man. "You are a thief, William. Just like me. Just like all of us." We were sitting in a dark alley that day. It was a place known to all of the thieves for miles around, and there were always a few criminals hiding around it. "And you, of all people, have never cared about that fact! Besides, what matters it to you if you are forgiven? Or, for that matter, who this man is? Let him say he's the Messiah, but that is for Jews."
William shook his head slowly. "Something makes me think it isn't. You don't understand. You didn't see Him."
"And I don't care to!" I had tried to act like I truly didn't care. The truth was that I was horrified of the possibility of seeing this man. This was not the first testimony I had heard, and almost everyone had said they felt ashamed for their wrong deeds. I knew the wrong things I had done, and deep down there was a part of me that wanted to be ashamed. I had done my best to kill that part of me that yearned to be something more than the sinner I was. Talk of this Jesus always made that part of me try to come out. So I avoided Him.
Why is He here?
They're laying Him on a cross now and gathering nails to use. How can this be? Surely there must be a mistake! I close my eyes. My mind must be playing tricks on me. I've never actually seen this man personally. I must be mistaken. It can't really be Him.
I slowly open my eyes. I must turn my head to see Him. It's beginning to throb with the pain, so I move it slowly. He is being crucified between the other thief and myself. But it is Him. Somehow I just know that it's Him.
The nails are being driven into his hands. They are going to raise my cross into place. I must somehow look into His eyes. This could be my last chance. For some reason that I cannot understand, my heart longs to look into His eyes. But His eyes are closed, and the soldiers are preparing to lift my cross. But no, they are detained. I have a few more minutes.
His eyes remain closed. I know the pain He is feeling as the nails are cruelly hammered in. Yet He doesn't make a sound. His face holds so much sadness, and though it is drawn and weary, I can tell He is young. I am only 28, but he cannot be any more than 5 years older than me.
Please, please open your eyes!
Slowly His head turns toward me and His eyes open. Our eyes meet and I gasp. Just looking into His eyes makes it difficult to breath, for His eyes hold so much in them! Pain, deep grief, and loneliness are there. They somehow meet with rebuke and true, ultimate justice. Yet, at the same time, His eyes hold love, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Those eyes burn like fire and I must look away.
The soldiers have come back, ready now to lift my cross. The other thief is already up and facing the large crowd. So many people have come. Slowly my cross is being lifted and I can already feel my weight begin to pull on the nails in my hands. Once again I turn my mind to that man. Jesus.
Suddenly I wonder at His appearance. Not only is He being crucified, but His face is swollen, as if He's been hit many times, and patches of his beard have been ripped away. A ring of thorns woven together is wrapped around His head and cutting into Him, causing blood to stream down His face and making His hair matted. Does this man not claim to be the King of the Jews? And this is His only crown. His body is covered with blood as well. It is obvious that He was severely beaten, for the open wounds are criss-crossing His back, arms, and chest.
Again I wonder, how can this be? I've only ever heard good things about this man. He is no criminal. Why is He being treated this way? What is the cause of His suffering? The other thief and I have begun our slow death, and rightfully so, even as this Jesus of Nazareth, who appears to be innocent, is lifted to begin His. No words, thoughts, or emotions can describe the torment my body is feeling. Yet my mind seems to be torturing me equally as much. His powerful gaze is etched into my thoughts, before me and haunting me both when my eyes are closed and when they're open.
"Father," He says softly. He looks over the crowd, the soldiers, with obvious love. He pauses to gather breath and continues, "Forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Forgive them? Forgive the soldiers that are killing Him? I cannot think, for I do not know what there is to think anymore. I am in awe of this man. But no, He is not a man. Truly, He must be what He says. He is the Son of God.
This realization is nothing short of terrifying. I am next to God's Son! Surely He must see all the horrible things I've done. I feel more ashamed than I ever have. But the one question I have asked myself since I saw Him now comes to my mind with more force than ever.
Why is He being crucified?!
Was the answer spoken? I know it wasn't, yet it is ringing through my head as clearly as if it were, but I don't know why and can't begin to explain or understand it. I have a strange feeling that the answer did somehow come from something outside of me. Or someone.
I turn my head painfully to look at the cross beside me. His head is already turned and our eyes meet for the second time. Once again I must look away.
My head turns back toward the crowd that has gathered, and for the first time I notice them all. They're mocking Him. Such a large crowd has come and they're all mocking Him. Soldiers, spectators, even priests. Everyone. No, not everyone. A small group weeps for Him. No one will weep for my death, yet I've always known it would be so. But only a small group weeps for God's Son.
I look beyond Him to the other thief. He is straining to lift himself on his cross. Filling his lungs with air he looks over at Jesus of Nazareth with scorn. "If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us," he says, his voice filled with contempt. He falls down on his cross again, his body jarred by the impact of his weight hanging on the nails in his hand.
Straining, I pull myself up on my own cross, knowing this is the only way my lungs with get enough air to talk with. I look over at him. "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?" I ask, struggling to hold myself up. My muscles are quivering with the effort, but I must continue. "And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss."
I lower myself on my cross again as gently as I can, then look over at Jesus. He is still looking at me. For some reason I can meet His eyes longer this time. How can His eyes hold so much love? Love for me. I've done so many wrong things, how could I ever be forgiven? Yet the very thought of being parted from Him forever is more torture than even this crucifixion. Something in His eyes give me hope and strength. Strength even to speak to Him.
"Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." My words are a whisper, so faint and frail sounding, even in my own ears. It is a plea, for I know that this is the one thing I wish more than anything else. I fear that He will simply look at me with scorn and turn away from me forever.
He is still looking at me with kindness and love, perhaps even more than before if that is possible. Slowly, quietly, He speaks.
"Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
Can I have heard right? How can this be true? My heart longs for it so much, but can it really be true?
But His eyes make all my doubts leave. I, the worst of sinners, have been forgiven! My heart fills with joy and peace that washes over my entire being. Even the pain of crucifixion cannot stop my joy.
Today, and forever, I will be with my Lord, my God, my Savior, in paradise!