It was about noon and the sun should have been high in the clear sky, but instead the land was covered in darkness. Standing in the distance I could tell accusations and taunts were being hurled at the man on the cross. Unlike others I had seen crucified, this man was different, at least he behaved differently for he did not respond to any of the vile cries. I moved closer.
“You think you are god? Then save yourself!” one man yelled at him.
Though he was high in the air, many tried to spit on him, their best attempts landing on his bloody feet.
“Save yourself and us if you are so almighty important!” one of the men hanging near him had joined in on the taunting.
In spite of all the taunting, he held himself quiet. There were times he spoke quietly to a group of women huddled nearby and cried with them, and here were times he ignored them, looked up, and cried. But his tears did not appear to have been borne out of his own pain for it seemed that somewhere, deep down inside of him, he felt compassion on those around him. He wept because of their vile curses. He wept because of their ignorant rants. He wept because he knew they did not know what they were saying.
The last thing I remember about him before he died was the look on his face as he glanced to the heavens and said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I still don’t fully know what he meant, but I think I know what he was feeling, for his face told a story of complete trust in the midst of utter abandonment. This was a man, for whatever reason, who had found himself betrayed by people (I found out later it was one of his closest companions) and condemned to die by the religious leaders on the basis of false charges. Most people in the city knew he had been a teacher of love, bringing aid to the downcast, and not an insurrectionist. I know he also taught many other things, most far beyond my ability to understand, but for all I could tell, he was a good man who had been unjustly treated by those in power; but he challenged the elite, and that was enough to condemn him.
My friends and I often went to the crucifixions, but that day as I left the hill of death, I vowed never to return to that place. I realized that day it was wrong taking pleasure in the deaths of others, even if they might deserve it. Love does not seek the harm of others, it doesn’t rejoice in someone’s downfall; rather it seeks to understand and finds ways of helping. I, of all people, should have understood that. My friends and family were not part of the Jewish elite; we were not part of the Roman occupation; we were just second-rate citizens with a long history of being trampled down for no reason other than our station in life.
I think that might be why I understood that man’s face as he hung dying on the cross. In the midst of affliction, continually feeling the contempt of those who thought themselves better than I, I had been taught to trust in God. Somehow (and it was never easy), I was taught to rely on God’s gracious love and his promise of a better future life, even in the midst of unjust treatment. When I was younger I never understood how my parents believed so unflinchingly in God’s grace, and even now I’m not sure I understand but I’m beginning to realize it is a much better way to live than rebelling and trying to battle the oppressive forces arrayed against me.
If God is anything like the being I have been told he is, he holds every moment of my life, the good and the bad, in his hands. I may not understand why he allows evil to come my way and envelop my world, but that isn’t the point; the point is to trust him in the midst of the struggles of this life, for if I don’t trust him then, when can I trust him? Trust means I give up my right to know the reason for a thing, substituting obedience for knowledge. I realize there may be times I wonder if God has left me alone, much like that man on the cross crying as he looked to the sky, but trust means even in those moments I must hold onto his promises. I only hope others think the same as I.
I wonder if there will be people in the future, maybe even thousands of years in the future, who will find themselves oppressed and belittled? I wonder if they will be told the story of the man on the cross who in the midst of his final abandonment chose to trust in a future he could not see while living in the present where he was not free. I wonder if those people will gather strength from him and choose to live their lives in obedience to his will. I wonder if they will be strong and live in hope. I wonder.