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The View from the Cross

St. John of the Cross drew a sketch of Jesus on the cross looking down from heaven—from God's perspective. Most renderings of the cross are straight on—like a photographer capturing a moment in time. Rarely, you see a painting from the foot of the cross, but I cannot recall a sketch or a painting from the perspective of either one of the thieves who were literally hanging on their crosses to the left and to the right.

Imagine how Jesus looked to them. Was Jesus a complete stranger to them before that dreadful day? Was what they knew about Jesus merely the jail gossip blabbered in the holding cell as they awaited their previously determined executions? Were they inpatient about getting the miserable existences over with because some guy’s fate was being considered by Pilate himself? The guy in questions hadn’t even done anything truly criminal they say, and seemed like all he had to do was say He wasn’t, in fact, the king of the Jews and he could be set free. They may have despised a man who wasn’t doing anything to help his situation meanwhile they were stuck in limbo.

Were they forced to become more conscious of their own fates as the guy had been beaten half to death, probably in an effort to knock some sense into Him, moved so painfully slow. He offered some relief from the usual shaming and degrading they expected from the people watching their execution since the crowds seemed only intent on spewing all their hatred on Him.

Whack, bang, whack—these two men knew what it felt like to be nailed to a plank of wood and in the midst of the agonizing venture to push breath into their lungs by plunging all their body on the nails piercing their feet. Did they distract themselves from their own suffering by trying to figure out who this Jesus was, why he brought in such a different crowd, how these otherwise dignified women could endure the sights and small of a place like this?

In the most unlikely circumstances both thieves were able to view Jesus. Their perspectives of Him were totally different. I imagine Jesus wounds were much more gorey than their own. They were in the best position to consider what He prayed to God about the brutal soldiers and others who seemed entertained by stripping, mocking and brutalizing other humans. They heard His request that God forgive His captors which was antithetical to how they most likely felt about the same people. The reason Jesus gave may have dumbfounded them, too—because they don’t know what they are doing.

Through they saw from Jesus, they came to opposite conclusions. One their joined in mockery of Jesus—demanding, like the others, that He show who He is by jumping off the cross. On the thief went further and chided that Jesus save him, too. Jesus’ response of no response by ignoring this thief attests to the fact that his words were mere rhetoric, for if he really believed that Jesus could get him off the cross-perhaps He would have done it right then and there.

The other thief looked from the opposite side of Jesus face and came to a different conclusion. He asked Jesus if he would remember him when Jesus came to his kingdom. He seemed to grasp that Jesus was claiming to be King in another kingdom far beyond the Roman Empire. He wasn’t asking to be taken from the cross but to be taken into that kingdom that he believed Jesus reigned because He was unlike any other man he had ever met.

The recording is very specific that these two thieves hung on one side and the other with Jesus in the middle. They represent the response that every human will make. What is your perspective of the cross?

 

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