I didn’t go to bed happy that night. In fact, I hadn’t gone to bed happy for as far back as I could remember. Before the breakup my unhappiness was caused by depression I couldn’t figure out. In the days following the breakup, I was too heartbroken to go to bed happy. And after getting over the breakup, most nights I just felt too alone to really be happy. (Let me be clear: we never went to bed together while together; there’s just a big difference between being texted, called, or told “goodnight,” by someone you care about, and going to bed with no goodnight wishes at all.) And this night was one of those lonely nights.
I had gotten off work at 10:45. I was supposed to leave by 10:30, but since I was responsible for closing, and since the safe wasn’t balancing, I had to figure out why. This had put me fifteen minutes over, and I figured it meant a questioning the next day at work, since we are trying to not go over on budgeted hours allowed. All I had wanted to do was get home, make a cup of tea, change out of my work clothes, and relax in some peace and quiet. I was sadly mistaken when I was about to pull into my driveway at 10:47. My roommate’s girlfriend’s car was parked in my spot, so I subsequently parked in the street in front of our mailbox. A very excited, “Hey Jay, how’s it going?” proceeded from his girlfriend as I opened the door to see them sitting close together on the couch watching an episode of Psych. “It’s going,” was all I could bring myself to say in response. And in fact, the jealousy that overcame me in that moment was enough for me to lock myself in my room, skip changing, skip my tea, and fall onto my bed.
As I drifted off to sleep, the following thoughts kept me company, “You will never have someone who wants to be that close to you.” “You will forever be alone.” “God is holding out on you.”
* * *
When I came back to consciousness, I opened my groggy, angry eyelids and had no idea where I was. In fact, I was lying in the middle of a deserted dirt road that smelled like animal droppings. Something in my mind told me I’d been dropped off at some point in history, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall which. The desertedness of the streets reminded me of my loneliness which did nothing to assuage my anger. If a sheep walked down this road right now, I’d kick it over.
I finally stood to my feet, shaking off the dust and the confusion regarding my current situation. Seeing the Tetris-block shaped buildings lining the street, complete with flat roofs, did nothing to help me place myself in any specific historical locale, despite my love of world history. I think current situations have frustrated me to the point where my mind is becoming useless.
I looked up. The sky was a clear shade of light blue—in fact there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The breeze was chill, and judging by the sky’s shade, and lack of a view of the sun, I reasoned that it was only the first few hours of daylight. I hope it gets warmer as the sun gets higher.
The lack of life despite the seeming size of the city struck me oddly. Where is everyone?
Just then voices interrupted my thoughts. I turned toward the source to see a man dressed in a lavishly decorated robe who had three others with him, one—clearly a woman—dressed in a brown shawl with a green head covering, and two others covered in beggars rags. The rich man was holding one of the beggars, while the other walked with the help of the woman. Just beyond them was another man holding a tin cup in one hand and a staff in his other hand that rattled as he knocked it against the ground.
“Why are the streets deserted?” the rich man asked.
“They have gone to the trial.” The second man shook his cup and rattled his staff. “Alms for the blind?”
“Trial? Whose trial?” the rich man asked.
“The young rabbi from Nazareth. They are wanting His death.” The staff rattled again.
“It cannot be true!” the woman exclaimed, letting go of the beggar and approaching the blind man in a fit of frustration.
“Alms?” the blind man said, holding out his cup, unfazed by her approach.
“What has He done?” the rich man asked again, as the woman looked at him in desperation.
“Nothing I know of.” He shook his cup. “For the blind? For the blind? Help for the blind?”
The plink of a coin satisfied the blind man, and drew my attention away from their interaction.
Young rabbi from Nazareth? Why does that sound familiar? I glanced down, and for the first time recognized that I was no longer wearing my shirt and tie I had angrily not changed out of the night prior, but was dressed instead in a plain brown robe, tied at the waist with a tan rope, and had sandals for shoes on my feet. And then it hit me. I went back like 2,000 years. This is Jerusalem and the rabbi is Jesus.
And then my anger returned. Why here? Why this? Why couldn’t I have gone back to the Exodus or the battle of Jericho—taking out my anger on some Canaanite sinners—or even go witness the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar? Why couldn’t it have been something cool? I don’t want to witness the greatest injustice in the history of the world. I growled under my breath in frustration.
Not knowing what else to do, I followed the man and his female companions as they headed towards the trial.
* * *
When I reached the destination, I no longer wondered why the streets were deserted. The courtyard I found myself on the edge of was packed full like sardines in a can. In addition, the violent noise filling the place made my ears hurt.
“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” filled the air.
By the time my eyes reached the front of the crowd, I saw what they were yelling about. Two men, both dressed in long brown robes stood shackled on each side of a soldier-looking man who was reading a parchment. Both men had thick brown beards and short cropped brown hair that stood in stark contrast to the bald, beardless soldier between them. The man on my left had a yarmulke on His head; the man on my right had scars on his face. The man on my left was standing there calmly, though I could see His mouth moving slightly, and He did seem to be shifting back and forth between His feet. The other man scratched at his shackles and tried to break free of them, though otherwise he stood motionless.
The soldier raised a hand, letting the parchment fall out of his grasp, and the shouts of the crowd for crucifixion grew quiet. Then he spoke, questioning the crowd, “Why? What has this man done wrong?” He gestured towards the man on his right, my left. “I have found in Him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore, I will have Him whipped and then release Him.”
Instantly, the crowd erupted again. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
The noise of the crowd crashed into my already frustrated head. I don’t want to be here. I want to be back in my quiet bed. I want to be alone with my thoughts. I don’t want to be in the midst of this raucous crowd. “Shut up, you idiots!” I yelled, but my cry was immediately drowned by their shouts.
Then I had a realization. This is Jesus. The same one who supposedly loves me. The same one who has withheld a woman from me despite being all good and all powerful.
My voice joined the crowds. “Crucify Him!”
I watched as someone brought a bowl of water to the soldier guy between Jesus and the one who I realized was Barabbas. That soldier is Pilate, I realized, amidst my shouts for crucifixion.
Pilate raised his hand again, and the crowd grew silent. I did too. He reached both hands into the bowl of water and washed them in front of the crowd. While rubbing water over his hands, he announced, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves.”
The crowd shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
Pilate removed the chains from Barabbas and let him join the crowd. He called a group of soldiers up and gave them custody of Jesus.
They led Jesus away, and the crowd dispersed, most content to go about their day. I, despite not caring about this time period, decided to follow the soldiers who had Jesus. They took Him to the military headquarters, and once there, shackled him up to a post in what I assumed was their flogging station.
I wasn’t the only one there. Some religious-looking men had come, and several women—who were bawling their eyes out—and a good handful of other various people as well. Only the women seemed upset. I certainly wasn’t upset. Well I was, but I wanted to take it out on the man now just wearing a white tunic, who was tied to the post.
It was his fault I was mad. He’d never given me anything I wanted. He’d said, “Ask and it will be given to you,” but it was bull crap. How many times had I wanted and asked for companionship? And how many times had it been denied me? And how many of my peers seemed to find it so easily, but never with me? It was aggravating.
And now Jesus’ tunic was removed. A soldier slapped the yarmulke off his head, and laughed, muttering something about Israel’s God. All Jesus now had on was a piece of clothing around his waist. The first whip stroke fell, and how I wished I could have been the one to apply it.
It caught in His back. Just above His waist, directly between his sides. The soldier pulled back, and it broke free, pulling chunks of flesh out and a ton of blood as well. Jesus let out a loud groan, exhaling and then inhaling instantly, between clenched teeth. A scream of protest broke out from a woman nearby. I actually heard a laugh leave my mouth. He deserves it; the fraud.
A whole crowd of soldiers surrounded Jesus. All of them were holding whips and clubs and other various flogging instruments. Another whip stroke came down, slicing open His side. He yelled in pain again. In reality, it was hard to see Jesus through the throng of soldiers who were waling on Him repeatedly with different instruments of torture.
Another and another; again and again they fell. This went on for the better part of thirty minutes. As it went on, the blood pooled around Him; He slumped against the post, lacking the strength to stand. More of His body was bleeding than was not. Flesh dangled in strips—bloody strips—and He looked more like something from a horror movie than a human being.
I couldn’t look at His body any longer. Even though I was happy about the happenings, the sight—mixed with the smell—of blood was sickening. I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t look. The women were no longer standing, but now laying—sprawled out—on the ground, crying loudly. Even the religious leaders couldn’t look—their proud smirks now wiped away.
Finally the whipping stopped. The soldiers released him from the post and His arms flopped to the ground. He lay there motionless, the only sign of life being the flayed flesh that rose and fell as He breathed.
The soldiers draped a purple sheet over Jesus, and He clutched at it tightly. They brought out a chair, helped Him into it, and arranged the purple sheet so it looked like a robe, covering all of His bloody wounds.
A soldier came over holding a circular ring of greenery. He held it gingerly, but when he got to Jesus, he set it on His head, and they hit it with a club. Lines of blood streamed down His face as the thorns jammed into his skull.
Then the soldiers spoke. “Hail, King of the Jews!” They hit Him on the head several more times, and hailed Him repeatedly.
I felt another chuckle leave my throat.
The mocking by the soldiers continued for some time. Finally, it stopped. A soldier approached and said, “The crosses are here. Time to go.” They ripped the sheet off His body and He screamed in agonizing terror. The blood flowed, and He lifted His eyes toward the sky weakly, as tears mixed with the blood flowed down His face.
“Finally, feeling my pain,” I muttered under my breath, as they placed His tunic back on Him.
* * *
An hour later we were outside the city on the edge of a cliff. By we, I mean myself, the religious guys, the crying women, the soldiers, Jesus, two other condemned men—wearing shackles and showing marks of a flogging that took place earlier than Jesus’—and a whole crowd of other people.
The trip had been slow. Jesus had been forced to trudge the half-mile carrying the wooden beams of His cross, despite having lost what had to have been most of His blood. The beating didn’t cease as the journey continued either. Eventually they pulled another guy in to carry His cross for Him because it was taking too long. I had muttered, “For the supposed King of the Universe, He sure is weak and slow. I thought He was supposed to be all-powerful.”
But now we were at Golgotha. Jesus was laying—now stripped naked—on the rugged cross, as the soldiers stretched out His arms to position His hands in place. The only piece of clothing He had on was the crown of thorns jammed into His brow.
The sky was still clear, and the position of the sun showed it to be nine in the morning. It was another reason to be frustrated. A beautiful spring day totally commandeered by the execution going on in front of my eyes.
I heard the thud of a hammer fall and my gaze was drawn back from the sky to Jesus laying on the wooden beams. Another hammer thud. Jesus cried out in pain.
I didn’t have a chance to add my thoughts, because the fancily dressed religious leaders beat me to it. “He saved others; He cannot save Himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.”
My voice joined in as I stood over Him as they nailed His other hand to the cross. “You saved others. You never saved me. Did You really save them? Enjoy dying!” I spat, and I watched, and laughed, as it landed on His bloody body.
And then they put a nail through His feet. Thud, thud, thud. He moaned in pain as the hammer fell and the nail travelled further into His flesh. While the blood on most of His body had coagulated by this point, His arms and legs now dripped.
The soldiers raised the cross, and dropped it into a hole in the ground. When it hit the ground at the base of the hole, His whole body shuddered, and He cried out in pain.
The religious leaders cried out again, “Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He has put His trust in God; let God rescue Him now—if He wants Him! For He said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”
“Forget that,” my voice cried out. “If He saves Himself, He’s just selfish. I’ll believe if He saves me, and does good to me.”
Above His head a sign was written: “Jesus the Nazarene: the King of the Jews.” The two crosses on either side of Him could read it.
For this reason, both criminals were screaming, “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
Passerbys cried, “Ha! The one who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross!”
Jesus inhaled deeply, and said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
It stopped me mid-taunt. Forgive me? Surely He doesn’t mean me. I haven’t done anything. Besides, and I verbalized this, “I don’t want Your forgiveness. I just want Your gifts.” My thoughts resumed, as I spat at Him again, He’s obviously talking about the people here; I’m not even supposed to be here.
It was at that moment that my attention was drawn away from Jesus’ mangled body, and the taunts and jeers faded to the background, and I noticed a woman kneeling face down on the ground crying. I had not seen her before. She was noticeably separate from the women who had huddled close to Jesus’ cross.
I moved closer to her, still fed up that I was even here, as I saw her lift up her head and shout at the criminal on Jesus’ left. “Dismas, where’d I go wrong? I raised you better than this. Guilty of robbery and murder? I told you that Barabbas was bad news. And how he got released today and you didn’t is wrong!” Tears rolled down her cheeks. She turned her face toward Jesus and yelled angrily, “I hate You! You’re dying when the ruiner of my son was supposed to die!” She turned around to face the religious leaders, who were still intermittently mocking. “It’s your faults my son is up there. He could have been freed if you hadn’t brought this man.” She pointed at Jesus.
They ignored her.
She turned back to face her son, “What did I do wrong?” She dropped her head back down and wept.
I watched, and understood perfectly. My parents had said the same to me about my best friend when I was growing up, and while I ended up listening to them, he had failed to heed similar advice, if he had even received any, and now I have no idea where he is or what he’s doing.
The man hanging on Jesus’ right drew my attention back to the spectacle in front of me. “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
Dismas answered slowly. “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we are getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He turned his head toward Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Jesus spoke. “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
The priests close enough to hear shouted, “Blasphemy! He’s hanging on a tree. God has cursed Him. Neitther of you will end up in paradise.” Pointing fingers specifically at Jesus, they said, “Will He never quit? Even in death He refuses to stop blaspheming.”
Dismas’ mother screamed, “Don’t trust Him. He’s facing the same punishment as you. He’s just as guilty as Barabbas obviously.”
“Yeah,” I yelled. “Why promise something no one can prove as true? Get him off the cross and he’ll really be saved, and we’ll all believe.” I paused before adding, “But You can stay; You don’t need to physically save Yourself to prove anything.” I chuckled.
* * *
Several hours passed. The breeze on the air made the crucifieds’ flayed flesh wave slightly. Clouds formed high up in the atmosphere and then disappeared. The sun was shining brightly, and shedding warmth on everyone still around the scene.
The soldiers were still there. The women following Jesus were still there, and Dismas’ mother also. A robe-clad man wearing a yarmulke was kneeling with the women in front of Jesus’ cross. Most of the religious leaders had disappeared, though a couple were still around, snickering to each other.
I had thought about nothing but leaving for at least the past hour, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to move. It made me angry. My time was wasting. Jesus was wasting my time. If He hadn’t been up there, everything would be better, just like Dismas’ mother had cried out. And since He was up there, I was mad at Him. He claimed to be all-powerful, but really? What kind of all-powerful being allows Himself to be hung up on a cross?
“I hate You,” I shouted.
I probably would have kept going, but Jesus’ voice cut me short.
His voice was not strong at this point in the ordeal, but it sounded compassionate. “Woman, here is your son.” He paused before adding, “Here is your mother.”
Dismas’ mother screamed. “You take care of Your mother? You’re cruel! Here I am, almost all alone, and my son is dying. His older brother was murdered as an infant like thirty years ago in Bethlehem, but You don’t care. You dare to offer my son hope, and offer Your mother hope, but here I am to suffer alone? You’re not a good teacher. You’re a hateful, selfish, liar!” She cried again.
At that moment the sky went totally dark. It wasn’t that clouds covered the sun; it was like someone turned off the sun. The temperature dropped slightly in that moment as well, so that the breeze brought a chill to my skin.
I couldn’t see anything at this point. And as time dragged on, my vision didn’t improve. It was as if I had become blind. Though based on the shouts and screams of terror from those surrounding me, I knew it wasn’t just me. The darkness kept me glued there.
Jesus cried out in agony as well. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
“Forsaken You?” I jeered, blotting out the other insults that were being hurled at Him in that moment. “I’m trapped 2,000 years in the past. And if I was in the time I’m supposed to be in, I’m trapped in Missouri. And regardless of where I am, I’m as lonely as crap. I’ve been flushed down the toilet by everyone in my life.”
Jesus groaned in pain, and His groans continued for the next several hours.
In my mind I wondered why He was groaning. No one’s doing anything to You now. The pain is over. You’re just up there now until You die.
He screamed. He wept. His teeth started grinding. He groaned again.
“You weren’t acting like this an hour ago!” I yelled. “What has changed?”
He kept yelling, crying, and grinding His teeth.
* * *
Finally, Jesus did something different. He spoke audible words. It was a very simple statement. Two words. “I’m thirsty.” It was the weakest I’d heard Him yet throughout the ordeal.
A shuffling of feet was heard move toward the cross, and a soldier’s voice said, “Here You go!”
Several seconds later, Jesus shouted in a voice that was totally opposite from the one I heard a few seconds prior, “It is finished!” He yelled it out in a voice that pierced through the darkness.
Then, weakly again, He spoke, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”
The ground started shaking. The sun returned, and it made me blink. Jesus’ body was still. His head had fallen forward, blood still dripping from the thorns in His head. His eyes were open, staring blankly forward, right at me.
It scared me to death and I tried running away. One step. Two steps. The earth was rolling. My foot fell, as another shake reverberated the ground, and it threw off my balance and I fell. My head crashed against a stone on the ground.
* * *
I awoke in a sweat. In fact, it would be an understatement to call it a sweat. My bed felt like a pond. When I opened my eyes, I realized that my blurry vision was due to lingering tears.
What have I done? I took a deep breath. Why was I there? Why did I act like that? I always imagined I’d rescue Him, not join in with the others. I wept again.
My head hit the pillow again, after I flipped it over, and I tried to return to sleep so I could forget those images.
While I have slept since then, the images are still engrained in my mind.