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A criminal in ancient Judea receives a reprieve from his death sentence, without realizing Who it was that was to die in his place.


Submitted:Nov 23, 2013    Reads: 11    Comments: 2    Likes: 1   


The sun was headed towards it destination in the west. It shone down upon the arid region, its rays responsible for the fading heat of the day.

Under the glowing orb, a feral dog roamed across the dry plain, panting to keep cool. It gave a growl as it heard voices yelling from just outside a grouping of dwellings. Its acute eyes perceived what it thought it might have seen before. If so, there would meat to scavenge after a while. It decided to wait for the outcome.

"Die, you dog!"

The valiant warrior led his men into battle with the oppressive occupying force. He confronted one of the enemy soldiers who nameless to him other than he was the enemy. Enemies were to be destroyed.

"You will not keep us enslaved anymore! We shall live as free men!" he shouted and took on the other warrior, who raised his sword in defense. Their blades clashed against each other, as they parried and jabbed. He blocked a jab that would have pierced him through his heart and then pressed his foe to take the defensive. He took a swing against the enemy and struck his foe upon the arm.

"Ouch, you idiot, watch what you're doing!", the opposing soldier yelled.

He looked sheepishly at the soldier and brought himself out of the moment.

"Sorry David, I was getting too excited," he apologized.

"That's why I don't play soldiers with you, Joshua, you always play too rough," David said, rubbing his arm. "That may not be a real sword, but it can still hurt."

"Sorry," he repeated and glanced over at the other soldiers. It looked as if it would be a draw, with neither side able to gain an advantage. Of course, it was always a matter of opinion as to who was gaining an advantage when sword blades were actually blunt sticks. The "battle" was beginning to dwindle when they heard a familiar woman's voice yelling.

"Caleb, Benjamin, Joshua! Dinner's ready!" the boys could hear their mother calling them. Joshua's two brothers took off for home, with Joshua trailing behind.

"Slow down!" he shouted as he ran hard down the dusty road to catch up, passing several one story, flat-roofed houses and the local carpenter. After another moment, he arrived at the door to their home.

"What took you so long little brother?" chided Caleb. Joshua bristled at his older brother's teasing. It annoyed him at being called "little", even though he was a bit short for his age. Caleb was only a year older and Benjamin another year older than that. He was about to retort when their mother stepped into the doorway, looking stern.

"You boys go wash immediately," she said, and then her features softened, "Your father is home."

At that news, the boys yelled in excitement and ran to wash. Just as quickly they ran back to the house. Joshua had missed his father something terrible. He had been away for a long time, and Joshua still was not certain for what reason. When his father was home, Joshua sometimes heard his parents speaking softly through the privacy curtain that separated them from their sons as they slept. He thought that sometimes he could hear distress in his mother's voice. It was a mystery that he could not decipher.

When they got back to the house, their father was standing in the doorway. He was a strong-looking man with a slightly weathered countenance. His broad beard was speckled with gray and his mouth was creased with a smile. Somehow Joshua knew that his father did not smile often, but that he reserved his smile for his family. Though strong, his father was not an overly large man, yet he managed to encompass all three of his sons up in a hug. They all began asking questions at once, which the road-weary man good-humoredly struggled to answer with the same speed.

The barrage of questions slowed as Benjamin asked him, "Was the trip a success, father?" Their mother was standing in the doorway at this point, and it seemed that concern crossed her face. Father glanced towards her, and then turned to his oldest son.

"Yes, son, the trip was a definite success. Very successful indeed."

"Abba", said their mother, using a word that meant father, "The meal is ready." Joshua did not found it unusual for his mother to call his father Father, for that was actually his name. He had been borne with a different name, but his paternal nature had earned him the name Father as rendered in one of the two common tongues spoken in their region. The boys found it highly amusing that they could refer to their father by his name, which was Father, as if they were equals, something that would result in immediate discipline for their friends should they attempt the same with their own fathers. They also thought it was funny that he had "Son of the Father" as a surname.

He heard his parent talking low again that night. His mother seemed upset, and it also seemed that his father was trying to calm her about something. There was definitely something being kept secret.

Later that week, he would find weapons that his father had hidden. Yet, he respected whatever secret his father was keeping. Whatever it was, he trusted that it was right.

_____________________________

The revelation concerning his father's leadership in the insurgency was not shocking. He had suspected it might be the case for some time. Now that he was no longer the short nine-year old he had been, but a growing, if a bit gangly man of twelve years, his father thought it was time that he was told what was happening.

"They will never willingly let us free, you understand," his father said to him, "It is our sacred duty to hurt and destroy our oppressors. There is no shame in it, they are not the legitimate government, they are invaders."

"And invaders must be stopped," replied Joshua. His father beamed at his understanding. The boy (no, he must think of himself as a man) felt pride at being told these secrets of men. His brother Benjamin must already have known, Caleb maybe never did, he was dead from a plague two years past.

"The time will come when you will have to decide how best to serve the cause of your nation, my son," his father continued, "You brother Benjamin has already begun to run errands for the cause. I will not force you to do anything, the decision must be yours."

"But Father, what other decision is there to make? Surely our enemies must be opposed," he replied, a bit bewildered.

"My son, not everyone agrees with us. Some think that we should use what little political influence our people have to gradually win more freedom. A war of words instead of swords you might say," Father replied and then smiled at the next statement, "Still others are very content to pray that we will be delivered."

"But what do you think?" Joshua asked him.

"I think a man who will pray but not do what he personally can needs prayer himself," Father replied.

There was a time of silence as Joshua pondered his father's thoughts. He agreed. A man that would not act was a coward, maybe even a traitor to his people.

"I will not just pray, my father."

The man named Father and his youngest son stood looking at the setting sun. In the stillness an unspoken pact was wrought. It was a day that cemented the future of the son to the mission of the father.

_____________________________

The light and door jerking open woke him from his dreams and brought him forward over twenty years to reality. Joshua had not gotten to sleep very easily and was annoyed at being awakened. "It's not as if anyone can just fall fast asleep in this filthy hole!" he thought. The dreams of childhood were fading rapidly, and the reality of the now was quickly filling his mind. It was good days he wished he could recapture; yet there was almost nothing he would do differently.

He saw that it was not just the jailer, but some soldiers as well. He was not surprised, he had expected to see them eventually. He felt fear as he contemplated what this meant. He was accused of inciting a riot and murder. To him, his actions were just what the accursed soldiers deserved, but when you fail in rebellion, you usually don't get a chance to try again. The authorities would make sure of that.

"The governor wants you, scum," said the jailer to him.

"Why don't you ask him to come here? I was contemplating making some breakfast," he laughed, but his grin faded when two of the soldiers stepped into the small cell. The taller of the two men looked down at him.

"One more word and I will cut out your tongue, you dog. The governor didn't tell me not to do that."

He got up. Surrounded by the five soldiers, he didn't really have much of a choice. He was kept in the lower levels, so it would take a few minutes to reach the entrance. He wondered if there was a chance he might be beheaded, that would be quick. However, he had little real hope of that. The law demanded that criminals of his caliber received the slower form of execution, death of the most excruciating kind.

He had heard that people sometimes see their lives flash before them when faced with death, and it seemed that things were moving slowly and he was receiving visions of his past. Old faces seemed to appear and recent events clearly unfolded to his mind's eye.

He could see the festive atmosphere of the city in which he had arrived. He remembered the final meeting with the others before the fated day. They had agreed that this was a time to take action, hoping that other malcontents would join them. Some did, many were dead because of it. What they had intended to be at least a wounding of their enemies had been just a minor bruise.

He brought his mind back to the here and now. He should be trying to figure out a way of escape, but one look at the guarded posture of his guards and their armament told him the hope was hopeless.

The manacles on his arms and the shackles at his ankles clanked in the dark corridor. He knew that other prisoners were watching the group as they passed, wondering when their own time to die would come. He knew that some looked on him with anger and/or disappointment. Some had begun to whisper that maybe he, Son of the Father, was to be the deliverer they had been seeking, but now…

It had been a failure when it should have been a success. Someone must have tipped the authorities off, that was all that he could determine happened. To his mind he should have been a prisoner of war, but the local authorities considered themselves the law, so the killing of the soldier was called murder and the surprise attack was viewed as nothing more than a riot. Which he supposed that was all it had amounted to, but to him, it was war and it did not matter if it was done on a battlefield, in an ambush, or through public upheaval.

If only he could have died in the incident instead of dying like some sort of common criminal. As "Son of the Father", he surely was not living up to his father's reputation. To many people, some remembering his father's reputation, he was known by his surname more than his given name. Did he even deserve to be called it anymore? He hoped his father would forgive the shameful way he was going to die. Perhaps he could find a way to at least injure a soldier or goad one of the men into at least killing him before they took him to the place of execution. Perhaps if they beat him first…

Before he could think of any suitable insults, the group stopped, not far from the door to the outside. A high-ranking soldier entered and walked toward Joshua. Were they going to read the death sentence now? He should have known they wouldn't even bother to actually bring him directly before the governor, he wasn't a citizen after all.

The soldier looked at him with contempt and he returned the look the same. If he were going to die, he was not about to let his oppressors think that they could intimidate him. The man was holding some sort of paper, and he cleared his throat.

"By this written order of the governor, you are hereby cleared of all charges and to be pardoned. You will be released immediately."

Joshua looked in confusion at the man as Joshua's chains were unlocked. The man that had delivered his message of pardon motioned towards the door. He noticed that there seemed to be a lot of commotion just beyond.

"Just be glad your people's feast is occurring. The only reason you are being released is so the governor can give you rabble a treat. You were one of two options he gave them for release, although," he paused and laughed, "I think the only reason he offered you is because he thought there was no way they would choose you over the other man. Your people are a fickle lot. He seemed pretty surprised when they picked you instead."

Joshua could not believe his luck. He had forgotten about the custom of releasing a prisoner at this time of the year, but he had not heard of it being done in exactly this manner. He did not know the man that was to die instead of him, but he didn't care. All he knew is he had been given freedom, and he planned on making full use of it. If only his father could see him, the Son of the Father now. They could have celebrated by renewing their efforts against the oppressors together.

There was no point in considering that further, though. He did not know why the governor wanted to free the other prisoner, whoever he was. Either way, Joshua was filled with overwhelming happiness to be free. After all, person can't win through death, can he?

He stepped towards the light at the open door. The air carried the scents of the city to his nostrils: animals, woodsmoke, burnt lamp oil, human sweat, spices. It had never smelled so sweet.

He did not even give a second glance to the other prisoner that had been rejected in favor of him. "What does it matter?" he thought, "It's not like he's taking my place of his own free will. Isn't he a law-breaker too?"

As he stepped out before the people, some of his friends saw him and shouted his surname, "Son of the Father" in the Aramaic tongue.

"Bar-Abbas!"

Copyright © 2008 By Peter Wesson





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