Beneath the Cross

Who would he have been, then, beneath the cross?
On that day they led Jesus, abused and bloodied,
to the crucifixion site,
would he have been a Roman soldier?
He could have been.
Being a member of the Emperor’s military
gave him a certain prestige and power.
And though, right now, he was assigned to the fringe
of the empire, to keep the peace,
advance in rank was possible with better pay.
A good job as jobs go.
Mockery was not his thing but he did his share,
stripping him down.
An odd fellow of few words, he hardly seemed
a threat but who was he to question
the man’s own chief elders.
We’re all born to follow orders
and when we don’t there’s hell to pay.
Jesus should have known better.

Would he have been an Elder of the Nation?
He could have been.
A doctor of the law, he had worked hard to bring
at least a modicum of peace to his land,
finding ways to cooperate with the Roman
oppressors for the benefit of all.
Not always easy, this subservient role, placating
and requesting by turn,
to keep the temple functioning smoothly
and the priests happy,
striving always for adherence to Moses’ laws.
He naturally frowned upon any challenge to
this hard-earned but always fragile world.
Jesus’ claim that “not one stone will be left upon
another”, referring to the temple buildings,
might have been overlooked
as a childish exaggeration of some kind,
but combined with his other defiant acts,
acts in which he has seen himself
as having a superior authority and power,
too serious a threat.
Jesus should have known better.

Would he have been Simon, the Cyrene?
He could have been.
Even with no choice, he would have been okay
with carrying the heavy cross,
the very cross the Roman soldiers intended
to hang Jesus’ body on.
He had come to Jerusalem with his two boys
to celebrate the Passover
and to catch up with Jesus and his disciples.
He had heard about what it costs to become a follower,
how Jesus said you must deny yourself
and take up his cross and follow him.
He was certain, as he labored under the weight,
the sweat dripping from his brow,
that Jesus did not have this scene in mind
someone like him, following behind, carrying
an actual cross on the way
to Golgotha and a criminal’s death.
The irony did not escape him as he plodded along.
Nor did the sadness.
He wondered again:
shall the righteous ever prevail?

Would he have been Mary Magdalene?
In spirit, he could have been,
for he was captivated by her loyalty and devotion
and lively curiosity. She cared to the end
and then some.
There were several women named “Mary” involved
in those final days but none more noted
than the Mary identified with a small village
along Galilee’s Sea.
She, with the others, had witnessed Jesus’
crucifixion and had gone to the tomb only to find
it empty. She was among the first to report
to the disciples that Jesus had risen.
In the latest of the gospels, John writes
that Mary alone recognizes and talks with
the ascending Jesus with an
electrifying message for Peter and the other men:
“I have seen the Lord!”
In this solitary declaration, Mary Magdalene herself
delivered the igniting spark, turning
Christianity from a small Jewish sect into a vast
institutional power.
For centuries the church misidentified her as
the repentant prostitute
but many other stories exist outside the Bible
that speak to Mary’s prominence.
One was that she was favored by Jesus
over his male disciples.
In others she’s seen as Jesus’ lover and the
mother of his child.
Mary Magdalene, is a figure to reckon with.
As history sees it, reverence,
and celebration,
her due.

Would he have been Joseph of Arimathea?
He could have been
For his action speaks volumes.
Going to Pilate to obtain permission to remove
Jesus’ body not a normal procedure
to begin with,
then carefully taking the body down from the cross
and wrapping it in a linen shroud
and transporting it to a special tomb,
all acts of kindness and respect,
just the sort of thing a wealthy follower of Jesus
would do.
Two Biblical accounts tells us Joseph is a member
of the very Council that put Jesus to death.
A third account makes no mention of it.
Either way, Joseph’s reputation was on the line,
and he comes through
and then
as quickly disappears
a bit actor in a much larger drama,
but his part well-played.

So here he is, beneath the cross, imagining them still,
the Roman soldier, the elder, Simon,
Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary Magdalene,
something of each of them in him:
always wanting to do a good job no matter what,
keeping everyone happy
and everything under control,
doing what he’s told to do,
following only reluctantly,
sometimes saying one thing and doing another,
and mixed in with it all,
an awareness of his capacity to love unsparingly
the Forsaken One
who has come to life.


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