“And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.” v. 24
I never was very successful at gambling, but today I lucked out. Usually, when we cast lots in the barracks I end up losing the shirt off my back. I just can’t seem to get those things to land in my favor. So after awhile I decided games of chance were best left to the older, more experienced soldiers. This afternoon, however, I was feeling lucky.
As I said yesterday I had cross duty after the “morning exercise” with that Nazarene. I was still pretty shaken by the whole thing, trying to figure out what this man had done to unleash the rage of two kingdoms. How could such a gentle character end up in so much trouble? He must have really angered the gods. Or maybe it was some kind of set up. Yeah that had to be it. He must have been taking the fall for somebody else. He had to be.
Anyway, I spent the afternoon trying to push my sensitivities to the back and focus on doing my job. We marched him through the streets, keeping our eyes open for sympathizers who may try to interfere. But it seemed like, aside from a few old women, this guy didn’t have a friend in the world. I watched him stumble through the streets with that cross beam on his back. Talk about carrying the world on your shoulders. This guy sure seemed to be. I had to get a bystander to carry it for him, and tried to ignore the man’s kids crying as he left them behind.
Finally, we arrived at the usual spot along the highway, affectionately named “The skull place”, or Golgotha, and began the messy part. This whole crucifixion thing is pretty gruesome work. It usually takes several of us to hold the prisoner down and shut him up while we fasten him to the cross. But Yeshua creeped me out. Even through the blood and torn flesh he seemed in control of himself, and to some extent, everyone else.
The other two screamed like pigs but this Yeshua character was as quiet as a lamb. Oh don’t get me wrong. He was in real pain. I’m surprised he made it this far. But when I saw how intentionally he laid his arms out and braced himself I was stunned.
The rest of the afternoon, I stood there trying to make sense of this whole thing. Here’s a guy taking in more hate and mockery than you can imagine. He just took it all in, as if he were guilty of every evil in the whole world. The two guys on each side had the usual looks of hostility and fear, as they drowned in their own body fluids. But Yeshua seemed more concerned with the people around him. I just about lost it when he looked me straight in the eye, then looked up to the sky and said something like, “Father, forgive them…” Who was he talking to ? I’ve heard some crazy things from prisoners on crosses, but never anything like that. Was he praying to the gods for me? I found myself feeling for the guy again, so I looked away. That’s when I decided to take a gamble.
A few of the soldiers were shooting lots for his clothes. The only thing worth gambling for was his robe. You could tell it was handmade. They laughed when I said I wanted in, but they were as always, happy to see what they could get from me. I threw in half expecting to lose my shirt, again, but for the first time in my life the lot fell in my direction! “I won!” I shouted to the utter amazement, and curses, of my competitors. “The gods are with me today!” I kept telling myself.
“Well, rookie, put it on and see if it fits!” One of the older guys snarled half jokingly. So I thought, “Why not.” I was pleased to see how easily it slipped over my armor. For a moment I pranced around in my new prize while the soldiers enjoyed some comic relief from the gruesome duties of the day. Then I heard something that stopped me in my tracks.
From the cross on the left I heard, “Yeshua, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Then from Yeshua, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” I couldn’t move. Standing there dressed in the robe of Yeshua I witnessed more mercy and love than I knew was possible. The robe seemed to shrink as I felt strangely embraced in it. How could a man so completely rejected love a common thief so freely. How could such an object of wrath emanate such love?
Suddenly standing there in that robe, I felt as if I were wearing more than a garment. I knew that I had spent my life killing but today I felt as if I had murdered a god. I felt condemned and yet strangely loved at the same time. I felt so unworthy that I tried to take the robe off, but I couldn’t get it off. It had come on so easily, but now it was like it was holding me and would not let go. Then one of the soldiers came up from behind and said, with a chuckle,
“Hey rookie, that robe has a great big blood stain on the back! Looks like you won’t be wearing that anywhere. That blood stain will never come out. “ The he walked away from me laughing and shaking his head. “Looks like you won the shirt off his back! Ha ha ha!”
I just stood there dressed in Yeshua’s robe. The blood stain was strangely comforting to me. Then I noticed the sky begin to darken. It was as if the gods themselves had stopped running the universe in honor of Yeshua, as if he were one of their own….