Letters From Golgotha, Pt 1

Simon of Cyrene

Sculpture depicting Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross of Jesus to Golgotha.

The following is a”letter” inspired by the experiences of an eyewitness to the crucifixion. It is excerpted from a sermon entitled “Letters From Golgotha,” which I presented in August 2010.

Simon.

To my father,

The strangest thing happened to us today. The boys and I were headed into town so we could be at the temple in time for the morning sacrifice, to catch a couple of the priests’ lessons, but before we arrived, we were stopped in the street by soldiers to make way for some prisoners on their way to be crucified. The first two men being led out were unremarkable except for the fact that they were charged only as “robbers.” I didn’t think Romans executed people for petty theft, but I overheard someone saying that they were actually rebels. Robbery was just the only charge the governor, who I’ve heard has a reputation for brutality, could make stick.

That third man, though… Father, I’ve seen plenty of crucifixions. It seemed every town and village we passed through on the way here had at least one or two going on. I explained to the boys that this was the price we paid for doing something against the Romans and that, when Messiah comes, we won’t have to fear their brutality anymore, but I thought that, after two or three, I had seen everything. But I had never seen anyone so beaten, so bloodied as this man.

I told Alexander to not look, and I tried to cover young Rufus’ eyes with my hand. But for some reason, I just could not pull my own eyes from this man. There was just something magnetic about him.

Maybe it was the charge against him. The placard read, “king of the Jews.” I thought it was strange, so I asked someone standing there. They said that he was Jesus of Nazareth and that he had claimed to be the messiah. Immediately, I recognized the name. This was the guy who people had been talking about all week. Apparently, on Sunday, when he arrived, the whole city had been in an uproar, thinking He was about to restore the kingdom. When we got here Tuesday, everyone was talking about how he had driven out all the merchants and such from the temple courts and then sat down and started teaching. They said he had done miracles, and I think we actually saw him – well, the crowd around him – on Wednesday.

The man I asked said, “So much for being the messiah.” But as I watched this Jesus… maybe it was the way he carried himself. The first prisoner was cursing and yelling, struggling against the guards and railing against the people. The second was sobbing, begging for his life. Now, I have seen this kind of stuff who knows how many times before in people being led to be crucified. But Jesus didn’t fight or cry. Instead, despite the blood and even the fact that he could barely walk, there was an indescribable dignity about him.

And then there were his eyes. Instead of anger or desperation, they were filled with what I can only describe as love and determination. And when he looked at me, I felt that they pierced to my very core. It was as though he knew me. I mean, maybe it was just my imagination, but I think that, as he stumbled and fell that last time, he actually looked into my eyes and saw my very soul.

At any rate, it was about then that the guards became sick of waiting for him. He was apparently holding up the procession, and you know how they’re always in a hurry to crucify people. I think the Romans enjoy the specter of death a little more than is healthy or even natural. So they removed his cross, and the centurion ordered me to carry it for Jesus. Of course, I tried to explain that I had my boys, but that Gentile wouldn’t hear anything of it. He grabbed me and threw me that way. So I told Alexander to watch Rufus and follow as closely as they could, and then I picked up that cross.

It was heavier than I expected. Probably a hundred pounds or so. And rougher. I think I’ll be pulling splinters for a year. And talk about blood! The thing was covered! At first, I couldn’t figure out where all of it had come from, but as Jesus struggled back to his feet, I realized that his back was completely raw. In fact, I knew then that it was absolutely amazing that he was even conscious, let alone walking at all.

Well, we made our way through the streets to a place just outside of Jerusalem that they call Golgotha. I guess it kind of looks like a skull, but I didn’t notice. All around us, the crowds were jeering, throwing stones, and spitting. Talk about disgusting. But Jesus was silent the whole way. And when we reached the place where they were going to actually crucify him, as they took the cross from me and prepared to pound those nails into his wrists, I swear Jesus looked at me and mouthed the words “thank you.”

Father, I know that this is going to sound strange. And maybe that’s why I just had to write to you. But as they raised Jesus up into place, I found myself absolutely transfixed. And as the soldiers cast lots for his clothes and the priests – the priests! – were taunting him mercilessly, I could not help but re-read that charge against him and think to myself, “This man was the king of the Jews.” But somehow, that didn’t seem right. And then it dawned on me. It should have been, “This man is the king of the Jews.”

I know you don’t think too much about all this spiritual mumbo-jumbo. I can’t say I ever did before, either. But Father, as I stood there at the foot of that cross today, I knew that this wasn’t the last that the world would hear of Jesus. And I knew, somehow, that how I choose to respond to him will affect my life forever.

Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do about all this. I hear Jesus’ disciples are still in town. Maybe I’ll go look for them after the Sabbath.

At any rate, give my best to Mother. We’ll see you soon.

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