Thursday Extra: Two Famous Men

Two famous men, both wanted, both guilty. By the end of the day one will be dead, the other never more alive. The first guilty man wakes, sits up, feels the weight of the chains on his wrists. The second guilty man has not slept and so does not wake. He just sits up, sighs, rubs his sagging eye sockets and digs deep, looking for some crumb of courage to help him through this day. The first guilty man is an optimist, he has a hunch, a confidence unbefitting of his situation. Surely something will happen this day to change the course of his history, to open up an unseen door. The second man has no confidence. He has seen this happen many times before. It always ends in darkness and despair. He has no crumb of optimism, no modicum of hope. None at all. The first man hears a key rattle in a door. The second does too. But it’s not his door, or the other man’s. Further down the corridor a third man is led away. Silently. A crowd roars somewhere in the distance. As the second man stares at the blood under his splintered finger nails he hears a muffled voice pronounce some kind of sentence.

The first famous man sees his door swing wide. But no soldier enters, he creeps towards the opening. A hand beckons, he grins through broken teeth and walks free. The second famous man sees his door swing wide and is dragged from within. He tries to look his best but it’s difficult when he is at his worst. There is no stopping the soldiers as they whisk him down the corridor, elbows scraping the walls, feet dragging in the dirt. Outside the sun blinds him as they heave a burden onto his shoulder. He is shoved and starts to walk. Not far away the first famous man stands and watches. No burden on his shoulder. No chains or much sign he was ever a prisoner. Just one or two bruises. He follows at his own pace. Up ahead the second famous man has no choice, he has to walk that path, at someone else’s pace. Dread in every footstep.

Three nails sets him upright. He only wanted to make things better, change things. That’s why he left his weary mother and joined that ragtag army in the hills. He wanted some justice, freedom from evil oppressors. Now the oppressors have him here, high and lifted up; while they gloat at his failure. Among the crowd down there he can see the other famous man, the murderer, free. No nails through his wrists. No pain wracking his body. Why is it not him up here? Why is he standing there safe and smiling? The man on the cross gasps for breath, can smell the fear and the blood and sweat all around him. He hears the jeers and the sound of spit hitting dirt. Folks seem to be hurling insults at the cross beside him. He mutters something in response, and a jolt of pain sears his body as he does his best to look. A crucified stranger is speaking to him, his eyes and mouth swollen with the bruises. The strange man makes a promise and there is something about his words. Up here, with the death and the crows, there is the sound of hope. The two dying man exchange the slightest of nods. Suddenly the world is a different place. They look down at the other famous man, the murderer, standing free, his eyes narrowed as he stares up at the crosses. Eventually he turns and walks away, scratching his head. Did he see it too? Did Barabbas see the reality about the man who has replaced him on that cross? Or is his head just itching. Little by little the men on the crosses die.

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