This stage is filled with characters. Executioners, Haters, Criminals, Gamblers, Soldiers, Insulters, Sinners, and a Messiah. We know from other texts that there were others there as well. A weeping mother, a disciple whom Jesus loved, and other unnamed people. It was the culmination of a long drama that unfolded over thirty something years all brought to this captivating moment.
Of all of the people who are there at the Skull, our own unnamed presence is implied. The old Southern Gospel song says, “While he was on the cross, I was on his mind.” It’s hard to say where we might be in that crowd.
Would we be there to take advantage of the situation so that we could get whatever we could from the dying man?
Would we understand what was going on, but just stand around gawking without any personal involvement? Maybe even getting bored with it and going home?
Would we sneer at him, doubting that he could do what he claimed, cynically and sarcastically rejecting him?
Would we mock him, reveling in the obvious irony of someone claiming to be Messiah hanging on the tree?
Would we read the words above him, and remain unchanged?
Would we make demands of him and then when he does not respond as we thought he should, feel self-assured and smug in our knowledge? Even if we were in great pain at the time?
Would we turn to him, finally having our eyes and hearts opened to he sacrifice being made right before our eyes?
Would we believe him and be ready to follow him everywhere?
When I look at the crowd around him in this text, I see that the world hasn’t changed very much. All these characters still find their way to the cross to participate in the eternal sacrifice. I know who I would hope to be … who I ought to be. But I notice that the one clear voice of repentance in this scene is hanging nearby on his own cross.
The truth is that we’d like to be watching and giving Jesus a standing ovation, high fives, and awesomes … then head home to take a nap in our recliners. Modern American Christianity has come a long way from self-sacrifice to self-service. And woe to the church leader who doesn’t provide the services expected. We so seldom contemplate that the one who followed Jesus into paradise that day began his journey while being executed on a cross.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
What would Jesus remember about this man? He knew what was in a man. I have no doubt that he knew to whom he was speaking .. understood the journey of this man’s life that led to this moment. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t, as it turns out, even a good plan. But this is where he is when he comes to faith. And this is what Jesus is to remember.
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
You are in this crowd someplace. From your vantage point, what would you like to say to Jesus?
Thanks for reading,