Tuesday, October 23, 2007

5th Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Dies on the Cross (The Good Thief)

He has died at last. I am glad for him. I also think he is fortunate. He can suffer no more. His pain is at an end whereas mine continues. Of course, he was beaten more than I was. Strange, though. Why has he died first? Perhaps it is a silly question because it will not be too long before I also die.

Crucifixion is a terrible punishment. It is so agonising. The Romans have refined its cruelty to a fine art. Who else would have thought of including a small wooden peg on the upright in order to help their victim lift himself slightly and draw a breath into tortured lungs? Can you imagine the torture of putting pressure onto nailed feet in order to relieve the excruciating pain in writs that have also been impaled by their nails? The Romans hammer the nails into the small space between the wrist bones, not only because the nails thereby pierced nerves, causing indescribable torment, but also, because the wrist bones can then bear the weight of the body, death comes more slowly. People do not bleed to death on a cross, not normally. That is why it is possible for them to hang there for several days, suspended between heaven and earth as a symbol of having been abandoned by God and by man.

Until now, I had never considered all that was suffered by those whom I saw crucified. Now I share their agony. I also know that as the Sabbath is dawning, the priests will not want our three bodies to remain on our gibbets. Jesus is already dead, but my companion and I live on, gasping for breath. People do not always realise that it is suffocation that kills on the cross, not the nails. As the victim hangs there, becoming progressively weaker, it becomes harder and increasingly painful to make the effort to lift oneself up that tiny distance that will make breathing possible.

My companion and I are still alive. The soldiers will have to do something to hasten our deaths. That is what I am dreading even more than the fact of death itself. I have already suffered enough. I do not want them to break my legs so that breathing becomes impossible. I do not want to suffocate. I want to live. I want to be whole and strong again.

How differently I would live if I had my time over. I would make different choices, wise in foresight, not in hindsight as I do now. I would ‘act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with my God’. It was mere greed that led me to a life of crime. I never saw, really saw, the effect on others of my actions. For sure, I saw with my eyes what I had done, but I did not see with my heart, and that makes all the difference. If I had learned to see with my heart, I would see the troubles of others and would be sympathetic to their struggles as they try to live through each day.

Jesus could see with his heart. That is why he was different from other men. He could see with his heart…almost as if he had eyes in its pumping, warmth. That is why he knew what it was to be compassionate, sympathetic, understanding, caring, forgiving…all the things that I never was.

Yes, my companion and I deserve the punishment that we have received. We both did wrong. We only ever learned to love ourselves, not others and, in our selfishness, never used our hearts as organs of true sight and insight. We are here on our crosses, nailed here by our own selfishness.

Yet Jesus, even in the extremes of agony, could see others and feel for them. His own pains did not mask those of others. I saw him provide a carer for his mother. I watched him give a mother to his orphaned friend. Even though bystanders taunted and mocked him, he prayed for forgiveness for them. How could he have been so generous and forgiving?

His words pierced my heart with a sword sharper than any carried by a soldier. I turned to Jesus, perhaps still selfish, because I asked for myself, yet perhaps, for the first time in my life, seeing things as they should be. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom”.

He slowly turned his head towards me, his eyes filled with pain, pushing himself upwards so that he could breathe and speak to me. “This day, you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom”.

God bless,
Sr. Janet