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I haven’t much time left. Breath comes hard. Death is near, I hope. No one who knows me is surprised to see me end this way, on a Roman cross. I’ve been stealing, cheating and robbing all my life. Even when I was a boy, I’d run through the market, snatching fruit from the vendors. While other boys studied in the synagogue and learned a trade, I was becoming an accomplished thief. I could steal from anyone, anytime, anyplace.
I never knew my father. I wish I had never my mother. I learned early to trust no one. No one cared for me. If I had not stolen, I would have had nothing. I have even stolen from the Roman soldiers. I could steal anything and get away with it. Too bad for the Romans. I always hated them. Too bad for everyone else too. I hated everybody. There was no one I could trust. I believed I would never be caught. I mean, I’ve been caught before, but they could never prove anything. I believed they never would. I was wrong. Here I hang, condemned to die on this cross. A sign posted above my head announces my crime to all who pass: “Elirab or Jerusalem, thief.” Two others hang here with me. Matthan, a thief like me. I have encountered him professionally on a few occasions. I preferred to steal under the cover of darkness; but Matthan could swindle you in broad daylight. The one in the middle I never knew.
He is Jesus. Some have called Him Messiah. Others say He’s a magician. He raises people from the dead. The priests seem to hate Him, all right. He caused some trouble in the temple. I was familiar with some of the money changers He chased out. But what was His crime? The centurion posted a sign on His cross announcing, “ Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It must be a crime to be a king now.
I am dying. Some people die in bed, surrounded by those who love them, who soothe them in. their pain and draw a cover over them for comfort. I figured out a long time ago there would be no one at my side when my time came, speaking words of comfort or easing my fears. The people at. a crucifixion have no words of comfort. It’s all mocking and abuse. Scolding, berating, insults. It’s to make us an example. I realized I am afraid to die. Nobody comes down from a cross alive. Not that I have much of a life to come down for, but at least I know what it is. I do not know what will happen to me when I die.
Tomorrow is the Sabbath, so this afternoon they will break my legs and I will no longer be able to breathe. I thought, “I am going to die. I don’t want to die. I am afraid.” Then I thought that maybe Jesus was a prophet. Maybe He would work a miracle. Maybe He would say the word and we would be surrounded by the armies of God like Elijah of old. He would save us all. For a moment, I actually hoped. But Jesus didn’t look like He was in any condition to save anyone. The soldiers had beaten us all, but Him. I’d never seen work like that before. The soldiers mocked Him. “Save yourself!” The chief priests reviled Him, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself.”
I could see my brief hope was empty. I joined in, “If you are the Son of God, get down from the cross. Let God deliver you now!” Matthan taunted Him the same way. But I stopped. Then, as Matthan continued his scoffing, I rebuked him, “Don’t you even fear God? Don’t you see that we are being punished justly, but this man has done nothing wrong? How can you continue to ridicule Him?”
Then the darkness came. At midday it was like midnight. It was eerie. This Jesus must be more than a man. He must be the Messiah. Jesus was dying. He would go to God. He would go, and I would die alone. He would leave me, after all. I couldn’t bear the thought.
With all the strength I could muster, I turned to Him and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” He was the King of the Jews. I was a thief, but a king can pardon a thief if he wants to. He said, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Some people die in bed, surrounded by those who love them, who soothe them in their pain and draw a cover over them for comfort. But no one ever died with Him at his side, speaking words of comfort like that, or easing his fears so completely.
He died a few minutes ago. The soldiers haven’t noticed yet. Before long they will come and break my legs and I will die. But I believe what Jesus said. I am the voice of faith. And I believe He has gone ahead to paradise, and that I will be there with Him. Very soon now.
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