Do you read newspapers? Have you ever read stories on criminals? If you want to read more on this topic, let me tell you a real one about my friend.
My friend was a criminal sentenced to death. His case was actually shocking to people. Many, among whom were historians, who directly or indirectly knew of his life, wrote it down. Perhaps you have also heard of him, or even met him. Anyway, he was executed horribly and shamefully. “His crime list” was long and grave. Up to this day, people are still debating the death penalty imposed on him. I don’t know your opinion on this case, but allow me to briefly tell you a few things so you can make a judgement for yourself.
First of all, my friend lived in a society deeply divided into classes. People were categorized into the rich-the poor, the righteous-the sinful, the blessed-the cursed, the honorable-the contemptible, the ruling-the ruled. My friend was a casual man and liked to take care of guys who were seen as wretched, poor, homeless, disordered, wicked, untrustworthy, and worthless. Then one day when he was eating, drinking and listening to them, some self-righteous people criticized him of not knowing how to keep his social reputation. He gently responded to them: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” They began to hate him.
Another day, when traveling through town to bring healing to the sick and injurred, he met a man whose right hand was withered. Moved with pity, my friend said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did, and his hand was restored as sound as the other. But the people who wanted to protect the law of the day of obligatory rest, something like Sunday, were filled with rage. They talked to one another to find ways to destroy him.
Perhaps you also want to hear this story: One time, he was passionately talking about the love that God always has in store for the miserable. His audience consisted of all kinds of people who had ‘complicated’ histories: wretched, poor, prostitute, cheater, low-self esteem, hopeless… Having an opportunity to hear of a merciful God as such, a hope of restarting a new life was once again illuminated in their hearts. Then some nobles showed up with a contempting attitude upon these ‘complicated’ people. My friends kindly reminded them: “Be alert lest they enter the kingdom of God before you!” Thus they had one more reason to hate him. Perhaps they did not view his words as a kind reminder but as an insult against their ‘holiness’.
Another event, while healing the blind, the lame, the deaf…, he saw rich business people unjustly exploiting their own fellows right in the place reserved for prayer and charity. He got so sad! Then he became upset. He overturned their tables, saying: “This is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” The number of his ennemies increased.
One morning, he was sharing stories about his loving Father with his audience who were poor, uneducated, and lack of faith. Suddenly, there was a group of leaders dragging a young woman to him and said: “This woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. According to the law, we must stone such women to death; what then do you say?” This law was carried out very strictly to keep the society in order. No one had ever dared to oppose it. My friend felt deeply sad about this but did not respond to their question. You know, they did not agree with the image of God that my friend tried to present to everyone because that God is so gentle, so merciful, so forgiving, and so loving, without any condition. A God like that does not have an imposing power on people. Such a God is no good for ruling. Such God is not satisfying the kind of eye-for-eye justice burning in their heart. Thus they forced him to give an answer to their question. Deeply sad, but he tried to please them. He said: “”He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” I don’t know if he was joking, but they all left. They did not seem to be very pleased.
The guilts of my friend are still more. Another time, he met a blind man from birth. Those were with him asked my friend if his blindness was a punishment from God related to his personal sin or his parents’ sin. My friend stated clearly that it was not the correct cause. Then he used earth and saliva to make mud. He put the mud on the man’s eyes. He told him to wash the mud off in a pool nearby. Immediately, the man was able to see. But he did not know who had cured him. After this, people recognized the man and asked what had happened. He described it. They knew right away it was my friend. Unfortunately, that day was the day of obligatory rest, and so he violated the law once again. Why could he not wait until the next day to heal this man? Why was he so hurried in doing this healing? Clumsily forgetful or fully voluntary? In any case, the list of his ‘crimes’ was longer.
Let me quickly tell you one more crime he committed. There were a few times, when talking about the loving God, my friend kept claiming that God was his Father. His Father sent him into the world to make known his unconditional love for everyone. Some people thought he was mentally ill but most thought he was mentally sane because what he said to them was very logical, wise and accurate. He could even know the thoughts of their heart. So, to them, he was not mentally ill but he had blasphemed against God whose name they even did not dare to call directly. How could the almighty God be present in a man like him? What made him different from them? He also ate, drank, rested, worked, got tired…, just like them. Perhaps the only difference was that they had never seen him hate anyone. But what is special about it anyway? Each time when he stated that he was the Son of God, they got so furious and wanted to kill him at once. This attacks their religious belief. As for them, God can only be the Supreme Being, but never an intimate Father like that. No, no, and no! This crime cannot be forgiven! He must die!
The story is long already. But please allow me to tell you one more detail since it is very important. When people who suffered poverty, illness, sin, bad habit, betrayal, despair… met my friend, even only one time, they were sticking themselves to him. Without him, they did not know where to go. He welcomed them and cared for them as they really were. He was the only one who showed them the little light left in their dark souls. Although he did not agree with their ways of living because he said they were damaging to them and their relationships, his words were like reminders, so sincere and gentle that they did not feel insulted or excluded. On the contrary, they realized how much he loved them. They started to renew their life. Their frozen hearts were once again warmed up. It was things as such that they followed him as their only hope. It happened that they even decided to make him their king. So he had to run away to hide himself from them. He did not want to be king to rule over them. He only wanted to be a friend to journey with them. That’s all. Failed to become his subjects and ‘forced’ to remain his friends, they could only do one thing: following him each day to have an opportunity to hear his voice and to receive new life. They went wherever he went. The number of followers increased each day. His tenderness and his invitation to love invisibly made him a star in the midst of life full of brokenness caused by hatred and selfishness. Well, at this point, you can name one more crime on him. In the eyes of those in power, he was becoming a big threat. The love of the people for him effectively gave him the crime of “attracting the crowd”. He no longer had the right to live.
The list of his guilts is still long. But I will not take more of your time. Finally, they set him up and arrested him. Some were paid to give false witness against him. He was sentenced to death. Since he had committed ‘special crimes’, they offered him a favor of dying the most painful and shameful death. He died! He died a lonely death. Those who had followed him to be cared by him hid themselves. He died a heart-breaking death, seeing his beloved Mother seeing her beloved Son being killed. He died a death full of shame but void of hatred. Before his last breath, he still prayed to his Father: “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing!” He died a death of poverty to console the poor and lift up their dignity. His tomb belonged to someone else. He died! A large stone was rolled against the door of the tomb. Many guards were put there to watch his tomb to prevent unexpected things to happen.
He truly died. How sad! All hope was gone. Dead end!
He died. But you know what, a man like him often creates surprises, even after having died. People found out that the door of his tomb was widely opened on the third day. His body disappeared. It was a fact that many guards were put there to watch his tomb to prevent someone from stealing his body. While everyone was wondering about this, his friends said that he just came to visit them. They witnessed: when he was still alive, he had said he would rise again or come back to life after three days. How do you think about this? Do you think it has a good foundation? I have never heard of such a thing. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But, I found one thing very interesting: all the people who said that they had met him alive after his death were willing to die to witness for what they said. And, as a matter of fact, they, not one but thousands of them, had sacrificed their life for their witness. Their blood was shed. And, I have believed.
Joseph Viet, O.Carm.
Movie: The Passion of Christ, posted on Youtube by angelicfaith101
Song on same theme