A Cross for the Charlatan Formerly Known as the King of the Jews

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The following is the sixth of a series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. A warning: this is just a wacky exercise of creative writing that asks the question, “What if it had all happened like this?”

Chapter 6

Chuck spent most of the next morning busily chopping wood, measuring planks and assembling nails and ties. He worked tirelessly, without stopping, as if he was avoiding having to think too hard about what he was doing.

Yes, this new project bothered him. This didn’t seem consistent with the Jesus he knew. This wasn’t exactly what he’d signed up for.

He knew how to plan and execute successful military campaigns. He knew how to inspire and motivate men and women. He knew about weapons, armaments, security paraphernalia.

But he didn’t do torture.

And this Roman method of execution known as crucifixion was nothing but torture, according to Chuck. A cruel and unusual punishment.

The orders from the top had been to prepare three crosses, and to find a place just outside the city walls to hang three men. The command had a chilling effect among the citizenry.

They didn’t know exactly who the three condemned figures were, but there were plenty of wild guesses and rumors.

Chuck had briefly argued with the ranking officer who brought him the news. “I thought Jesus said something about overturning the ‘eye for an eye’ law,” he shot out. “Has he changed his mind already?”

The officer was surprised to hear Chuck’s resistance. “This bothers you? But Guantanomo Bay didn’t? Firebombing Dresden was acceptable?”

“I thought we were going to do things differently in this operation,” Chuck countered.

“Things change,” the officer said. “But don’t worry. This is an anomaly. Jesus wants to make a public statement here. Things will return to normal eventually.”

Chuck didn’t believe that.

He obeyed the orders anyway.

And that Friday afternoon, on a small hill called the Mount of the Skulls, the rebels led three men to their custom-made crosses.

The first was a two-bit common criminal named Barabbas. He was in Roman custody when Jesus invaded Jerusalem, but he had such a long rap sheet that Jesus didn’t dare set him free. The dungeon was getting a little cramped, so the decision was made to free up some room. And Barabbas’ fate was set.

When the crowd saw Barabbas, they roared with delight.

“It’s about time you got what you deserve!” shouted a merchant who’d been terrorized by Barabbas.

“Glad to see the new administration is getting tough on crime,” a voice was heard to say in the crowd.

The second man led to the hill was a weaselly fellow whom the crowd immediately recognized as one of Jesus’ original disciples. Judas looked worse than he ever had, eyes ringed with terror, hands nervously twisting.

“Where’s Jesus?” he shouted as he was being stretched on the cross. “I want him to forgive me! Tell him that I beg his forgiveness …. tell him, somebody tell him!”

Judas’ cries of agony were lost in a roar of cheers, as the crowd caught a glimpse of the third and final victim. It was none other than King Herod himself.

He was being forced to carry his own cross, an impossible task given the physical shape he was in. A mocking crown of thorns sat askew on his head, sending a constant stream of blood down the side of his face. A rebel soldier cracked a whip behind him, forcing him forward.

Herod stumbled up the hill slowly, which gave the crowd plenty of time to heckle and harass him. He had never been a greatly-loved king, but neither was he despised either. As Chuck watched on, he grimly wondered how much of the abuse was purely show for the new king.

At the top of the hill, Herod was stripped of his clothes, which were then flung to the eager watching crowd and torn to shreds. The soldiers laid him down on the cross, and nailed his arms and feet to the wood. A sign was affixed to the cross above Herod’s head, which read, “The Charlatan Formerly Known as the King of the Jews.”

Then they hoisted the cross up.

It was a bloody scene, worse than what Chuck had expected.

The men died slowly. So slowly that most of the crowd had thinned out before they finally succumbed. Chuck noticed, with some irony, that none of the other disciples showed up for this public event. Neither did Jesus.

Judas was the first to expire. At his moment of death, a look of satisfaction froze on his face.

Barabbas died not long after, choking and roaring expletives.

But Herod was calm, even peaceful. He seemed to take his death in stride. It was something every king had to be prepared to do eventually. It was one of the hazards of the job. At one point, he looked down at some jeering men and said in a pleading tone of voice, “I’m one of you, don’t forget that. I’m a Jew. I’m proud of you all. But this won’t last. Caesar will crush you.”

When Herod was no more, Chuck looked up at him and muttered under his breath, “Truly that man may have sold his soul to the Romans, but nobody deserves to die that way.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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