As promised, another poem for Good Friday. The footprint on the accompanying picture, incidentally, has nothing to do with yesterday's post. Rather it is part of a (currently incomplete) way of the cross.
Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, the men crucified either side of Jesus are unlikely to have been common criminals or petty thieves. Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for those the Roman Empire saw as a threat to itself, and let us make no mistake, Pilate may have washed his hands, but Jesus’ message of equality for the poor and freedom from oppression was definitely a threat, even if it was preached in love and peace and without violence. It was a threat to the empire, in the same way that Ghandi’s peaceful march to the shore to make salt was a threat to the British Empire in India, and the same way Martin Luther King’s demand for equality was a threat to the establishment in the USA, but I digress.
The point is this, those who are with Jesus in his final moments of human life, those who take up their cross and carry it with him, those who do not abandon him even when all his closest friends have fled, are not just any old criminals. In all likelihood, they were Zealots, the Jews who had taken up arms to try to expel the Roman occupiers. They are those who, at least in part, share his convictions. They share his convictions of freedom from oppression, even if they have chosen the wrong route, to try to share their message, resorting to the violent tools used by the oppressors themselves.
Small wonder, perhaps, that it is to one hanging on a cross beside him that Jesus promises, “You will be with me in paradise”. The ‘repentant criminal’ may not have fully understood the gospel, in the face of hatred and hardship he may have resorted to those same tools of violence, he may not have lived a full and true life of love; but he knew that standing against oppression was worth dying for, and he did.
“Today you will be with me in Paradise”
Abandoned by those he shared his life with
Abandoned as they run away in fear
Abandoned but not yet alone
Those you might not expect remain near
He offered love and consolation
But there is a challenge in being his friend
Take up your cross and follow
Walk this road with me to the end
But somehow when it came to the moment
It was others who were at his side
A man of love between men of violence
As he suffered, as he died
Those other nail-scarred hands
Whose wounds cut just as deep
Whose pain is just as real
Whose friends look on, whose families weep
A fighter against injustice
The courage of a cause that is right
Standing firm in the face of aggression
How sad he chose weapons to fight
To fight against oppression
He chose the oppressor’s way
He raised his hand in violence
He let night be stronger than day
Can love be preached with a sword?
Freedom brought through the barrel of a gun?
Injustice can’t be beaten by violence
But with love the battle can be won
But he saw in that other a hero
A shared conviction, and message to tell
A different route of humble innocence
Let me walk that way as well
The same message against oppression
A shared truth they both believed
Give life to the poor and the outcast
Thus a gospel of truth is weaved
Did he realise in that moment
As violence scarred his flesh
That another way was better
Was it too late to start afresh?
A violent death expected
Maybe a violent death justified
He too chose weapons of destruction
So from violence had no place to hide
But he embraced the other’s innocence
With arms stretched wide on that tree
When you come into your kingdom
Please, Jesus, Remember me
You too have seen the injustice
You too have paid the price
The answer, ever loving
Today, join me in paradise