PART II CHAPTER 17: THE TRUTH
Tell the truth and shame the devil.
The truth shall set you free.
---Jesus (John 8:32)
If the truth doesn't save us, what does that say about us?
---Lois Masterly Bulldog
There was a small hole in the cell wall, made by previous prisoners. Through it Timotheus could see into the judgment hall of the praetorium and could faintly hear the proceedings there. The judgment hall was an immense room, opening onto an outdoor platform in front of which all Jerusalem seemed to be gathered. Center stage stood Pilate. The Nazarene stood at his side clad in a purple robe and with a crown of thorns on his head.
“What are you lookin’ at now?” asked Lucas.
“I’m watching the trial. Quiet!” Timotheus’ mind eyes and his ears were all fixed upon the quiet stranger in the next room. He listened intently to the ensuing dialogue:
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Are you saying this of your own initiative or did others tell it to you?”
“Am I a Jew? Your own people have delivered you to me. What have you done?”
The prisoner was silent.
“You are a king, then?”
“You said that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.”
“What is the truth?”
The truth! If only he, Timotheus, could know it!
What kind of man this Nazarene?
Who spoke of truth so bold
And seemed to fear not Pilate
Or the thriving throng so cold?
Was he a king? Perhaps. He might even be the long-promised Messiah. All Timotheus knew was that somehow his every hope and dream seemed to culminate in this one man. If only he could be sure!
Meanwhile, in the praetorium itself, Manaheem was also impressed. He had seen many trials in his life, but none like this one. At first, he thought, ‘why doesn’t this man defend himself?’ But then he seemed somehow to know the answer to his own question. This man seemed somehow to embody the essence of pure innocence itself. Truth seemed to be shining out from him and to be its own answer. In one sense he seemed to need no defense, although in another sense he seemed to be demanding an answer from the heart of every man. Was this a glimmer of the spiritual truth for which he, Manaheem, had been searching all his life? Did spirituality and the meaning of life somehow lie bound up in this one man? No, he thought, it’s impossible. But somehow he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind. Perhaps, he thought, this man doesn’t really want to defend himself. Perhaps he wants to die. Perhaps he’s even supposed to die. Perhaps it’s part of some broader Divine design.
Suddenly the thoughts of both men were strangely interrupted by cries of “Barabbas! Barabbas!” In the din, Timotheus thought he heard his friend’s jocose, yet sinisterly haughty reply, “Good enough!”
Manaheem too thought he heard something coming from the insurrectionist who earlier had asked him to put in a good word for him, but to Manaheem, it sounded strangely like a shout of victory.
Now the cry was changed to one of “Crucify him!” “Crucify him!” It grew to an intensity that shook the praetorium, even as the reality of its message shook both Manaheem, in the praetorium, and Timotheus, watching through the hole in his cell wall. Was Pilate going to let them do this thing? Manaheem just shook his head, sighed, and accepted his earlier thoughts of this being a part of a plan of some sort. But, it really bothered Timotheus.
Now the beggars could hear the sound of footsteps approaching. It was to be their turn to be tried.
As they were being led into the judgment hall from the rear, Timotheus caught sight of the Nazarene being led down the front steps. His back looked like a raw piece of meat from the beating the soldiers had given him earlier, and blood was pouring down his cheeks from the crown of thorns, which was pressed into his head. He glanced back, and Timotheus noticed the deep pain in his eyes.
At their trial, Lucas did a good job of lying. “We just came there to ask alms of the shopkeeper and found him stabbed and the other man standing over him.”
Timotheus could stand it no more. As pictures of the Nazarene filled his mind, he blurted out, “It’s no use, Lucas. Why don’t you just tell them the truth – that we were in on it?”
“What? Are you crazy?”
All eyes were now fixed on Timotheus. “It’s the truth,” he answered. For once he had told the truth, and, in spite of his impending fate, he felt good.
They were sentenced to death by crucifixion.
They were taken back to the cell to await their fate. On the way Lucas scoffed: "Why did y' have t’ tell 'em? We could have gotten away with it. Do you realize how painful it is to be crucified?"
Timotheus' head was bent. "Sorry, Lucas. I didn't think they would sentence us so severely just for being accomplices. But, I just couldn't keep lying about it."
PART II CHAPTER 18:
FREEDOM AND SUBSTITUTION
And Abraham took the ram, and offered him up…in the stead of his son.
But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
---Paul (Romans 5:8)
He could hardly believe his ears. Was it really he whom the crowd was calling for? How could this be? Perhaps he had more sympathizers than he realized. Were they really going to set him free? After all his schemes and pleadings had failed, this was too good to be true. But it was true. A soldier came over to him, untied his hands, and said: “O.K. you’re free to go.”
He was certain he was happiest man alive at that moment. As he began to descend the praetorium stairs, he chanced to look back and see there the strange looking man in the black tunic. He leaned toward him and cupped his hands. “Whatever you did,” he said, “thanks. Thanks a lot.”
But,” the man uttered, “I did nothing.”
As he strutted past the cheering crowd, he felt overwhelmed with the wonder of the moment. Then he sighted his two partners in crime being led by the soldiers to their fate. The older mendicant was scoffing at the younger one unmercifully. But Timotheus only stared at the ground, lost in thought.
The words of the one and the thoughts of the other were interrupted by Barabbas’ gleeful words. “Hey, fellows! Guess what? I’m free! I’m free!” The two stared inquisitively. “That’s right! You know the custom. One criminal is freed each year.--well, they wanted me, Barabbas!”
“You lucky bum!” scorned Lucas.
As they were being led onward, Timotheus found himself becoming angry and resentful. Why did some people get all the breaks? What was the use? Where had this blubbering insurrectionist, or the mysterious Nazarene, or anyone or anything else gotten him? He was fainthearted, frustrated and infuriated. He wanted to let loose the amalgamation of confusion and resentment that was boiling inside of him. So he yelled--a long piercing yell. Sighting Barabbas haughtily departing, he added at the top of his lungs the words so recently spoken by Lucas, “You lucky bum!” The hills echoed the words.
This served only to heighten the pride and rapture which Barabbas felt, a rapture, however soon to fade into nothingness at the realization of events too rapidly transpiring. The people had demanded death for this one upon whom he had built his final hope of insurrection. His cause had met its final doom. Yet, the stranger at the court seemed to be dying for some noble and just cause above and beyond that of insurrection. What a way to die!
Meanwhile, Deborah and the children had not heard what happened. News traveled slowly in those days, but it did travel. Finally, she received a visit from one of Barabbas’ old customers. “Well, ma’am,” he said, haltingly, after the usual greetings, “I happened to be passing by the praetorium the other day, and as I passed by the front holding cell, I saw your husband inside. I guess they finally caught him for that try at insurrection. Several people who were there when it happened told me they recognized him. That sure was a foolish thing he did, tryin’ to go against Pilate.” As tears began coming to her eyes, he caught himself. “Oh, sorry ma’am, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I know how much you must be suffering.”
“That’s quite all right, John. Thanks for telling me.” She remained calm until the man left, but then she started to cry. The children tried to comfort her.
“Don’t cry, Momma.”
“Yeah, at least we know where Daddy is.”
“Yeah! We can go see him, can’t we?”
“Of course,” she agreed. “Let’s go see your daddy.”
As they were walking along the lane that led from their house to the main street, their saddened faces to the ground, they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Looking up, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Was it really he?
Seeing them, he called out to them. “Deborah! Children!”
“Barabbas! Is that really you?”
“Daddy! Jason, it’s Daddy!”
“Daddy! Daddy! Is it really you, Daddy?”
They met and they hugged him, one by one.
“But what happened? I heard you were in jail.”
“I was. But they released me.” They started walking back home as they talked. “You know the custom of releasing one prisoner every year at Passover. Well, they chose me. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t get over it. I certainly don’t deserve it. But I’m sure glad. You don’t know how glad I am to see you all again, especially you, my dear.”
“The same here.” They stopped to steal a brief kiss. This time the children were silent.
“But I thought you were going to remain in hiding. How did they catch you?”
By this time they had almost arrived at the house. “I’ll tell you inside.”
“I’ll get your slippers, Daddy!”
“No, I want to.”
“I’ll get the water and help wash your feet.”
“I wanna help wash Daddy’s feet.”
Deborah cleared her throat loudly and yelled, “Now, children, there’ll be no bickerin’ over who does what. I’ll just assign someone. Daddy’ll be here with us now for good, I hope. So there’ll be plenty of time for all of you to get his slippers and wash his feet. For now, Caleb will get the slippers, Jason will bring the water and Ruth will help wash Daddy’s feet. How’s that?”
Barabbas sighed. “You’re the perfect peacemaker, Deborah!” He kissed her again.
“And I’m going to make you the best lunch you’ve ever had.”
“At least it will be the best lunch I’ve had in a long time.”
By now Jason had brought the water and Caleb the slippers. “O.K. Ruth, he’s all yours.”
Deborah went to the kitchen and hurriedly started pulling things out. “I’ll try to hurry as much as possible, but you know this was quite unexpected.”
“That’s all right, dear. Take your time. I’ve gotten quite used to waiting for my meals.”
Soon the meal was ready.
“Wow! This really is a great lunch! Deborah, you have outdone yourself.”
They ate in silence for a while, Barabbas savoring every bite. Then, Deborah again brought up the question of his capture. “Do you want to tell us now how you were caught, dear?”
“Really Deborah! I would prefer to wait till after lunch. I’m not at all sure, either, that it’s something the children should hear. So, I’ll wait until after they’ve gone to play as well.”
“But, Daddy, I wanna hear about your capture.”
“Yeah, Daddy, why can’t we hear?”
“Now, children, if your daddy says you shouldn’t hear about it, then you shouldn’t hear about it. Now that’s that, and not another word about it!”
When the children were all at play he sat with his wife in the living room and gave a huge sigh.
“What’s the matter, darling? Don’t you want to tell me about it?”
“Oh, it’s not that. It’s just that I feel so ashamed. I’ve sinned greatly, Deborah. I don’t know if God can ever forgive me.”
“For leading the insurrection? You were only doing what you thought was right. I know that I was against it at the time, but I’ve come to realize that you did have some reasons for it. I mean, with the ever-rising taxes, and all--”
“Oh, Deborah, how kind of you to say so. But I’m not talking only of the insurrection, although that was bad enough. I did kill a man in the fighting, but I guess that could be chalked up to the casualties of war. What I’m talking about is what happened afterward. I was out of money, hungry, and tired of living on berries and roots. So I decided to commit a robbery. All of my men were against it. They all decided to try going home. I thought that too risky at the time since I was the leader and undoubtedly recognized by many people.”
“But a robbery, Barabbas! You know better than that. And, didn’t you think that would be risky too?”
“Perhaps I wasn’t thinking too clearly. But I worked out what I thought was a perfect plan. I enlisted the aid of two street mendicants and we robbed the cloth shop. Most people were out paying tribute to a new self-proclaimed king who was riding into town. So we would have gotten away with it. But the shopkeeper resisted my efforts to tie him up. I kept getting more and more infuriated. I don’t know what came over me, Deborah, but before I know it, I was plunging my knife into his chest. I killed him, Deborah. I killed an innocent man! His piercing scream is what alerted the roman soldiers and brought about our arrest.”
“Oh, Barabbas! How could you ever have done such a thing? It’s not at all like you. It’s not like the Barabbas I know.”
“I’ve asked myself that question a million times since. I’ve excused the killing of the soldier in the rebellion as part of the insurrection attempt. But perhaps one killing softened me to be able to kill again. Oh, Deborah, I feel terrible when I think about it. I was so happy to be free, but now that I’m here and thinking about what I’ve done, I know I don’t deserve my freedom. I’m a robber and a murderer. How could they have chosen me to release? Why didn’t they choose him? He didn’t do anything worthy of death?”
“Who? Who are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the Nazarene who claimed to be king. I believe his name is Jesus.”
“You mean Jesus the prophet? The children and I went to see him to see if he could tell us when you’d be home. He didn’t make any specific prophecy, and yet I found his words very comforting and enlightening.”
“Well, he’s the one who should be free--not me! And they’re crucifying him now.” Suddenly he stood up. “Deborah, I’m going to Mt. Calvary.” He started toward the door.
“But, Barabbas, why? You just got home. Why are you going out already?”
“I must go, Deborah. I must see this man who is taking my place.”
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