You don’t know me, and my name is not important. I was never mentioned in the story that millions, if not billions have most likely read by now. I didn’t play a major role, nor was I involved directly with the events that transpired that day. All I know is that I have been trying to erase the memories, with no success. The things I witnessed, relentlessly haunt my dreams every night. I haven’t slept in what feels like years, although the truth is that it’s only been a few months. Forgive me if there are parts of this story that are confusing. I know I will never understand what I saw, but nevertheless, I will attempt to describe everything I can to the best of my ability.
It was early one morning, and I realized something significant was happening as the crowd began to grow larger and larger. People were running past my house yelling for us all to follow them. There had been reports that a celebrity was in town and something major was going to happen. It wasn’t very often famous people passed through, so I assumed all the commotion must be related to that. At the time, I wasn’t working on anything very important, so I decided to go have a look for myself. I told both my girls to say inside and wait for their mother to return.
I started off after the crowd not really knowing what to expect. Before I even reached the palace courtyard, I was stopped by the throng of spectators. I pushed and squeezed my way forward, trying desperately to reach the front where something was going on. As I moved closer, I could hear voices arguing. I stopped once my eyes fell upon the scene in front of me. The temple priests were arguing with someone I recognized immediately. Pontius Pilate. Beside him stood another man whom I had never seen before. His hands were bound and there was blood dripping from a cut underneath his eye, as if someone had punched him. His demeanor struck me as very odd.
He wasn’t fighting against the restraints. He wasn’t screaming defiantly at the crowd. He merely stood there silently, even as the priests shook their fists and yelled at him. Pilate spoke to the man briefly, but I wasn’t able to hear their conversation. Pilate looked perplexed as he turned back to address the crowd. He asked what we wanted to do with the man who called himself King of the Jews. I started to ask the woman standing beside me who that was when the crowd erupted into cries of “Crucify him!” She began to scream so loudly that spittle flew out of her mouth. She had the look of a wild animal on her face as she joined the crowd in chanting those two words over and over. “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
The crowd began to press in even more, and I decided I needed to get out. I fought against the surge until I was once again toward the back of the mob. The chaos went on for several minutes and then word made it to the back that they had released Barabbas because of the festival, and they were going to crucify the man known as Jesus. I knew of Barabbas. He was a convicted murderer. I had not heard anything about the other one except for the rumors that he had healed the lame and made blind people see. I couldn’t imagine that would be cause to crucify someone. Maybe there was more to the story than what I had heard. At first glance, the man didn’t appear threatening, or in any way, evil.
The soldiers took Jesus over to the area in the courtyard that would make even the most hardened criminal’s flesh crawl. The scourging post was known to all, and it was a very clear reminder that crime was not tolerated. I had never witnessed anyone being whipped, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to hang around for this one. At first, I thought maybe this was just a way for Pilate to have the man punished, and the crowd would be satisfied. Maybe just a few lashes, and everyone would go home happy. As they stripped the clothes away from his body, the soldiers sneered and hurled insults and curses at Jesus. It was soon apparent that this was not going to be a normal beating. They chained him to the post, and the horror began.
When I realized what kind of whip they were going to use, my heart sank. I heard stories of criminals being subjected to a flogging of this nature, and not surviving due to the extreme loss of blood. I should have walked away after the first lash, but I didn’t. Something compelled me to stay. At first, the crowd cheered with every swing. The soldiers took turns, each time laughing as flesh was ripped away from the body of Jesus. It was like they were competing to see who could inflict the most damage. After twenty lashes, the crowd began to look away from the horrific scene. I saw people crying. Some were pleading for the soldiers to stop. Only a handful of the mob were still cheering them on. I fought back the urge to vomit and continued to watch.
When it was over, the man that had earlier stood before Pilate had been reduced to what I can only describe as a pile of meat. Blood poured out of every part of his body. He was unrecognizable. I’ve been told no one has ever been beaten that severely since. I was hoping the torture was over, but I was sadly mistaken. The soldiers unchained him and shoved a crown made from thorns into his skull. They wrapped a purple robe around his body and continued to mock him. Even though Jesus could barely stand on his feet, the soldiers punched and kicked him unrelentingly. We followed them as they once again stood before Pilate. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but again the crowd cried out for the man to be crucified. I was shocked. They had just witnessed the most violent beating in history, and yet they wanted more.
Several men appeared carrying a cross, and I knew the day was going to get a lot worse before it got better. The soldiers picked Jesus up from the ground where he had just fallen, tore off the robe, and placed the cross on his back. I’m not sure how, but he remained on his feet even after they let go and the entire weight was upon him. His legs trembled, but he didn’t fall. It was difficult to see his face because of all the blood, but from the looks of his expression, the pain must have been beyond intense. I felt a drop of water on my hand and looked up, expecting to see rain falling. It wasn’t rain. I was crying, and I had no idea why. As the soldiers began to prod Jesus forward, I wiped the tears from my face and followed the crowd.
I could tell, with every step, it was becoming more difficult for Jesus to carry the cross. He would stumble, but stay on his feet. Solders punched him and struck his body with wooden poles the entire time. People from the crowd were cursing him and throwing rocks. Children, following the example of their parents, hurled insults and threw whatever items they could find lying along the street. At one point, Jesus fell with the cross slamming him to the ground. I could still see blood pouring from his wounds. I had no idea how the man was still alive. The soldiers grabbed someone from the crowd, and forced him to help carry the cross. I noticed two women following close behind the soldiers. They were very distraught and kept reaching out as if they could help Jesus in some way. I wasn’t sure who they were.
The closer we came to the place of the skull, the darker the skies became. I can’t explain the different emotions that surged inside my heart. I still wasn’t convinced that this man had done anything wrong. Some we’re saying he claimed to be a king, above Caesar, and that alone was enough for the death penalty. Others said he went all over performing witchcraft, and he needed to be killed. If he was such a bad person, why was he not yelling and screaming for mercy? No human being could go through such excruciating pain and abuse without at least begging for their life. Jesus said nothing. By that time, I was weeping uncontrollably, and I couldn’t figure out a way to stop. It didn’t make any sense. I was crying over a stranger, someone I had never met. I felt as if I was on the verge of experiencing something that would change my life forever. I couldn’t explain it.
We reached our destination, and the soldiers placed the cross on the ground. They threw Jesus down and stretched out his arms. Smiling, the soldier drove long spikes through each wrist. With every pound of the hammer, my body cringed. The two women I noticed earlier were nearby, on their knees, screaming for them to stop. Two other soldiers stood in front of them so they wouldn’t interfere. A man stood beside me, watching everything quietly. I asked him who the women were and he said one was the mother of Jesus. I immediately thought of my daughters and couldn’t begin to imagine seeing one of my children endure such agony. After they were finished with the wrists, they drove a much longer spike through both feet. They lifted the cross and dropped into the hole.
Two other men were crucified on either side of Jesus that day, but I didn’t know their names. I wanted nothing more than to run home, hug my wife and children, and try to forget everything I had just witnessed. An irresistible urge pulled me forward, and I walked slowly toward the cross. As the wind began to stir with increased fervor, and the sky transformed into a blackness I had never seen before, I looked up at the man they called Jesus. He hung there with his head down, his breathing labored. Blood poured from the crown in his skull and the uncountable wounds that covered his entire body. I wanted to say something, but the words kept getting lodged inside the back of my throat. What words could I possibly speak that would mean anything to this man who had been beaten so badly that he didn’t even appear human anymore.
Then his eyes opened.
A chill rippled the flesh down my spine, and my heart skipped a beat. For several seconds, I couldn’t breathe. I expected him to look at me with accusation, as if I had been the one to nail him onto the cross. I expected him to curse me for being there, for watching as he was beaten and tortured, and I did nothing to help him. I expected him to look at me with burning hatred. What happened was something I could never have expected.
I recognized love inside those eyes. Love that I had never experienced before in my life, and haven’t since. How was it possible? I dropped to my knees, weeping. Even though I didn’t have any part in his execution, I heard myself repeating “I’m so sorry” over and over. Through my tears, I saw compassion and mercy coming from the eyes of one who had every right to curse me. I see that same look every night in my dreams. I wonder what could possibly possess someone to endure everything that he did, and still give love.
You don’t know me, and my name is not important. Since that day, I haven’t been the same.
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