He hangs between earth and sky, a thing from which men turn away their eyes. The prophet had once mourned the fall of Jerusalem, lamenting “look and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow”; but now he hangs there, outside the city, cast aside as one too impure to be within its walls, the very one for whom Jerusalem was built, the one for whose worship the temple existed. But when he came unto his own, his own received him not; when he came to cleanse the temple, so that it could be a house of prayer for all nations, the very ones who were supposed to bring the people to God, seethed against him in hatred and plotted to kill him.
And now their hour had come. When God would not be tamed to their advantage, they strung him up between earth and sky, and believed that two beams of wood and a handful of nails represented the victory of their chosen way. They did not know that he wore the thorns of Adam’s curse as a crown upon his brow, they did not care that the trilingual sign above his head declared him to be king. They would not have this man to rule over them, and that was the end of the matter. Soon he would be ended, and that would be that. In other words, they did not understand anything that was happening that day.
But he did. He knew exactly what was happening, and why, and every particle of his pain was part of his purpose. God knew what it was to be forsaken by God. God, pure and perfect, tasted the full awfulness of sin, drank to the very last drop the cup that had been prepared for him – fire in his veins and the agony of every hell pressed down upon his soul. The immortal took on death. There was no passion like his passion, there was no compassion like the compassion of the one who died for the very sake of those who had rejected him.
But still there was no limit to his love. One hung beside him, likewise crucified, but this one suffered for his own crimes. He was not a good man, and no one cared for his fate. But, as pain stripped his illusions away, he saw something that the “righteous” of Israel were blind to. And, like drowning men are prone to do, he grasped at it. “Lord!” he cried with his struggling breath, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus didn’t have to answer. Locked into unimaginable pain, with everything he was locked down into the struggle for the salvation of humanity, what strength did he have left to comfort a criminal? But he did. With unimaginable love he reached through his pain to speak out his promise. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” he said.
And still his compassion has no limits.