Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prisoner

He  languishes in his cell. He has a history, he has a name, yet neither of them seem to matter anymore. He did what he did because it was the only thing he knew how to do, and he is not sure that even now, knowing the consequences, he would be able to do any differently. A man must stand up for himself, or else be sucked down and eaten up. There are no reprieves, no second chances, and, sooner or later, every man’s time is up. He can feel the fear in his stomach, corrosive as acid, but he will hold his bravado to the last (he hopes).

He has never been a thinker, he always prided himself on being a man of action, who didn’t give those paralyzing second thoughts any headspace, but now, in his little, miserable cell, there is nothing to do except think. A man can only rage for so long before his body is too exhausted to keep fighting. So he lets his mind wander across his memories: the swift gladness of success, the contentment of comradeship with other outcast men, the heady knowledge that he was a hero to some and a reviled name to others: the timid law-abiders, the soft cowards he despised. He saw himself as a man who fought for Israel’s freedom; the fact that he also fought for the booty and the spoil, and the hot pleasure of violence – surely that was secondary?

He had not known his own name, growing up as he did on the tattered outskirts of society, so, with rough irony they gave him a name: Barabbas, son of the father. It was a good name to play with and fight with. He tasted its nuances as he sat and waited, wondering how much time he had left.

But something was different this morning. Even here, under the heavy layers of stone, he could hear the noises of a crowd, an angry crowd, shouting out over and over again. He tried to make out the muffled and distorted syllables. “Crucify him!” they seemed to be saying. He shuddered; when it is your own flesh facing the nails and the long, slow agony, such bloodthirstiness seems a lot less appealing. And then he heard a word he could not mistake, they were crying out his own name. What? Why should the Jerusalem mob be crying out for his death? It made no sense, but he felt the bile in his throat and cringed into the corner of his cell.

There was a heavy tramp of footsteps which could only mean a full contingent of Roman guards. Was this the hour of his death? Wordlessly, they opened the door, beckoned to him and led him up the stairs and corridors to daylight. And then they released him!

What was happening? A few sentences from bystanders explained the situation: that man up there on the platform, Jesus of Nazareth,  still and tranquil despite the ropes around him, was going to be crucified in his place. The choice had been made, he would live and Jesus would die. He gazed, and he wondered. To his own surprise, the hard, tough man found himself crying.

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