The rope from the gallows bit into the neck of the condemned, tearing through flesh and cutting cartilage. Full of the yeast of death, the face swelled up like blue dough with tongue protruding. Then the twitching stopped.
Thrashing, sweating and choking, he woke to discover it had been a nightmare. He should have just passed on from there on Charon’s ferry to hades (not that he had the penny to pay for the ride though) instead of having to relive the awaiting horror all over again. For someone who doled out death, fear gripped his soul at the confrontation that was ahead of him. It was all going to end today, his past, present future were going to collide in a most unpleasant manner. Looking out of the slit in his cell room, he tried to take in as much of the sun as he could for the last time.
It was time! Footsteps scrapped the stony floor of the prison towards his cell, keys jangling. His heart started beating faster, a frightened bird flapping wildly against an incarcerating cage. Involuntarily, he urinated on himself, the warm urine not helping in anyway with the cold fingers of dread that flooded his soul and made him shiver. Knowing he was not ready, endlessly, the tears poured. He was disgusted with himself. He was supposed to be strong, but here he was whimpering like a sissy. In his mind’s eye, he had always played the scene of how he was going to die a hero, sod the Roman pigs.
The door opened and rough hands tied his behind and with a black strip of clothing covered his eyes. Roughly, they shoved him along, prodding him with spears and swords. As they got to the courtyard, he heard running steps and someone in a guttural voice whispered something in Latin, that language he had come to abhor with every cell of his being.
All of a sudden, there was a twist in his tale and he could not understand what was happening. Swearing and hissing without concealed venom, one of the guards loosened his hands and tore the strip of blindfolding. The jailbird opened his eyes and saw baleful eyes flooded with hatred staring at him. However, what he noticed more was that the sun was just beginning its weary journey westward, slowly divesting itself of its colourful robe as it made towards twilight’s haven. It was the most glorious sight he had ever seen, one that he never thought he could see again.
“You can go,” the highest ranking soldier hissed, holding a scroll which he glanced at now and again with incredulity. The previously condemned man did not need a second bidding. Though the whole thing was now incomprehensible to him, he shuffled and ran towards the open gate, falling and getting up in the process before they changed their fickle minds. It was the last soldier at the gate that shined some light into the darkness of his confusion.
“The Nazarene took your place!” he said with disgust.
Exhilaration unabated, he stepped into freedom still bemused. He was an insurrectionist and a murderer. He deserved to die but just like that, he was now free! Getting to the marketplace, he grabbed a wineskin and hot bread filled with cheese from Rueben, an old friend who kept looking at him like he were a ghost he quaffed the sweet wine and felt warmth replacing the coldness that had engulfed him earlier on.
“You need not fear, it is me, Barabbas,” he said, laughing deliriously with the wild joy of a man that had escaped the gallows.
Realization kept dawning as he drank and asked himself questions. How did a peaceful pacifist pay his price? How did a merciful preacher he had heard so much about give freedom to a merciless, rabble rouser?
Just then a very thick, noisy crowd passed by him and in the midst of them was the Nazarene. Eyes swollen, lips bruised, skin hanging in bloody strips, the man staggered under the weight of a roughly hewn cross, a crown of thorns on his head. It was the messiest sight even a murderer like him had ever seen. No man should ever be treated this way, he thought. Such punishment should not even be reserved for animals. It was punishment so severe and intense. The man caught his eye and the former prisoner could have sworn that the man knew who he was, but there was no trace of bitterness, no sign of hatred. Amazing, all he could see on the man’s face beneath the mask of pain was peaceful resignation to his fate. It almost seemed like he willingly accepted the hellish torment purposefully. The question plagued the erstwhile prisoner like a swarm of hornets, “who readily dies for another without rancour?”
Wiping his mouth and dropping the wine skin, he followed the crowd to Golgotha and it was on the way he fully understood. The Nazarene had been substituted for him. A surreal exchange had taken place and he had gotten life for death. As the spear pierced Jesus’ side and he dropped his head in death, Barabbas crumpled unto his knees weeping. He had gotten away lightly, without even a slap on a wrist and he knew he would never leave his life anyhow again. His undeserved freedom had been bought at a stiff price. The crucified man had paid it all, ALL!