A Good Friday Short Story
Black clouds billow across the bleak sky. Distant thunder rumbles beyond Jerusalem. The sun dies overhead. Spiked through, Jesus hangs, bleeding, chest heaving, gasping forgiveness to the murdering ilk gathered round beneath him.
Bitter laughter erupts to the left of Jesus. A thief’s hoarse voice says, “Save yourself and us, Messiah!” The last word oozes sarcasm even as another rivulet of blood drips down the nose of Jesus.
“Enough, Uzzi—you blaspheming fool!” This strained voice comes from Jesus’s right—the other thief. “Death deserved is ours, not his.” A deep breath, then, “Jesus, my name … is Asa. Please …” Another breath. “Please remember me!”
Messiah’s eyes creep right, find Asa there—a thief, yes, but penitent, grasping forgiveness. A surge of life swells within Jesus, and he parts blood-wet, ragged lips. Words come, haggard, whispered at first, unheard by either thief, but then Messiah’s voice strengthens and smooth-spoken syllables follow:
“Asa,” says Jesus, “you are a sinner, yes?”
“Eh?” says the penitent thief, yet reaching for hope.
The Christ-man shakes his head, sighs deep, then goes on: “A sinner? You’re a sinner. Because Adam and Eve chose to eat some God-forbidden fruit in a garden centuries removed from us, yes? And because of your own poor choices throughout your life? As in, all this sin that has created a great gulf between you and God, with no way for you to get across? You understand, yes?”
“What in Hades does he go on about?” mutters the first thief, Uzzi the blasphemer, still hopeless in heart.
Ignoring that one, Jesus says, “Asa?”
“Oh … I …” says the hoping thief. “Yes … Yes, of course. I am a … sinner, as you name me.” He heaves for another breath. “But what is all this you say … about a gulf between God and me? This I do not understand. Did God … Did God not make me … in the divine image?” Another thick breath. “Did he not call humanity … call me ‘very good’ at creation? … Am I not yet … yet a reflection of God’s image … despite my sins?”
Jesus purses his lips. “Mm, a reflection, yes … now horridly marred—by sin.” Messiah shakes his head, so sharply that drops of blood, sweat, and spit spatter off the tangled hair of his upper lip. “Sinner. That, I am afraid, is your label, Asa—not ‘very good.’” Jesus swings his face leftward. “You as well, of course, Uzzi.”
A mumbled curse from that thief, and so Messiah’s head swivels back to Asa, who can only stare at Jesus, eyes blank, mouth hanging half-open, raspy air emitting as he scrapes deep in his soul to find words in reply.
Finally, as Jesus gazes onward at him, Asa whispers, “I … I only want you to remember me … when you come in your kingdom.”
Those ragged red lips of Jesus slip down into a grim frown. “Sorry I am, Asa. Yet hope remains. Listen carefully and hear me well. First, you must know and admit your sinfulness and how only the Savior—who I am—can bridge the chasm between you and the salvation that will allow you to live with God forevermore in paradise.”
Now Asa’s eyes close—clamped down like a carpenter’s vise, so tight that surely he sees a glittering rainbow of stars behind his dirty, drooping lids. Does his head—nay, his soul—ache at the words of Messiah, causing this barely breathing bag of bones more pain than even the Roman dogs have inflicted upon him?
“Much to mull, yes,” Jesus whispers. “Our time, it is short. Rather than lead you down some twisting ‘Roman Road’ to salvation—heh—let us take a shorter trail, then.”
A grunt from the left, Uzzi growling: “What the—”
“Ah-ah-ah,” Jesus interrupts, eyes drifting to the mean-mouthed one. “Want you to add to the ledger of your sins, man? Plenty long enough it be already, eh? Much parchment and many buckets of ink used for your account, so silence your slivered tongue and let Asa hear the good news of my gospel.”
“Good news, you say?” Asa ventures.
Jesus looks back on him. “Yes. Yes … of course it is. So the short version, as I said: Firstly, you are a sinner separated from God because of your sin. Secondly, you require a Savior to deliver you from these sins and to allow you to be forgiven by God, lest you find yourself damned by Yahweh for all eternity. Thirdly, I am said Savior, the very Divine Essence itself, sent from beyond by God with the purpose of being slaughtered upon this cross to save sinners like you from the wrath of God and—”
“Hold … Hold a moment!” Asa cries out, then pulls in a throaty breath. “You are saying that … God sent God to save sinners from … God?”
A raspy, clipped sigh from the Savior and then, “Asa, time is short! I must needs preach this gospel to you before your breath or mine expires. So … again, thirdly, I am said Savior, dying for your sins by bearing them all as a sacrifice here on the cross this very moment, in keeping with the picture of the Law’s requirement for blood to atone for sins, like the plaintive Passover Lamb you’ve heard about since boyhood. This all fits together neatly and well, like a perfectly cut mortise-and-tenon wood joint, yes?”
Asa’s empty eyes ogle Jesus, mouth again hanging half-open, no words forming.
“And then …” Jesus declares, lifting his eyes to the stygian sky,
threatening a storm of unknown fury. “Confess you are a sinner in need of a
Savior—again, I am he. Then repent, as in turn from your wickedness to the pure
ways of a righteous God—also me, but let us not split trinitarian hairs now.
Time is indeed short, and it sounds as though you do not know your eternal
destiny if your life were to cease this very day. Likely so for us all, eh?”
A snarl now from foul-mouthed Uzzi, but on Jesus goes: “Next, declare that I am Lord in your life even as you believe that I will die on this cross. Oh, and I will also be resurrected to life, which you must also believe, but as it has not transpired yet, I will offer a pass to you for that part.”
Now a grunt from Asa, then he mutters, “Jesus Christ!”
“Yes?” Messiah says, but his tight smile proves recognition of Asa’s meaning. “So, finally, all that done, you simply receive me into your heart as Lord and Savior—and saved you will be.” Jesus drinks in one last, great breath, then cries, “Now … it … is … finished!”
Uzzi snorts out a bitter laugh, even as Asa’s head lolls low.
“I just …” Asa whispers. “I just wanted to be with you … in your kingdom.” He gulps for air. “I believe! … I do believe … you are more than man, but I … I don’t know what you just said about some … some magical moment of mental assent. … My heart—it only burns with desire … to be with you. Please … Jesus … please.”
Asa’s eyes slide to his left, take in the bloody pulp that is the Corpus Christi draped from meat hooks on the cross. Messiah’s head has sagged to the side, eyes unblinking and fixed heavenward even as crackling bolts of light serrate the sky overhead, booming thunder on their heels.
Another snort of laughter from Uzzi, who says, “Dead … Dead he is! And so are we, Asa—you fool!”
As Asa looks on at the lifeless eyes of the one called Messiah, he feels a tear slide down his cheek. “I …” he whispers. “I only wanted … to be with you … in your kingdom, Jesus … in paradise with you. Was that … Was that … so hard … so much to ask?”
Another jagged flash rips the sky’s fabric. Deafening thunder follows as heaven’s only answer to the penitent thief.