The Woman at the Cross

Painting: The Three Marys

She stared at the man on the cross. Romans. Only the Romans would do this. Blood dripping. She could see the lash marks curling across the sides of his ribs from his back. Disgusting dogs Worse than dogs. Dogs had honor. She shuddered and lowered her eyes, avoiding the sight of him. She’d heard a rumor that Pontius Pilate the Roman Prefect had actually found him innocent at the trial and it was really their own elders who’d decided he needed to die anyway.

Dark clouds had rolled in without her noticing, covering the sun. It looked like a thunderstorm coming. The air felt heavy and there was a greasy yellow tone to the light. Stormlight. She wrapped her arms around herself and edged closer to the group of women nearby. She knew one of them was his mother. How can she stand it, watching? But here she was, waiting. For what? None of them knew what was going to happen next, but the tension was palpable. They were all waiting for something to happen.

This man, this Jesus bar Joseph, was the one people had said would save them from the occupiers and restore their nation, their own kingdom, where they would be answerable only to themselves. He had worked miracles, given speeches on the sidewalk, been announced by Crazy John. But clearly they were wrong. Look at him. Helpless. Dying. No savior he. And yet, she wondered.

His eyes. He had the kindest eyes she’d ever seen. She remembered him standing in the square saying he was sent to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to set the oppressed free. Well, they were certainly the oppressed. She glanced sideways at the sword and dagger hanging from the belt of the nearby soldier. The soldiers missed no opportunity to “keep order” as they called it.

And the miracles. She’d heard of the healings this man had done–great, unexplainable things. She’d even seen one in person. She had watched, transfixed, as he reached out his hand and touched a crippled woman. The woman got to her feet slowly and shakily, hanging on to Jesus’ hand. She took an uncertain step, and then another, then paused and stretched up on her toes. She swayed for a moment, and the crowd held their breath. Was this the healing that wasn’t going to take? The one that would expose him as a fraud? The woman looked like she was sinking to her knees, but then with a joyful shout, she launched herself into the air, off the ground, gleeful. She landed with clap of her hands, and whirled around to face Jesus. Jesus grasped her hand and sent the woman on her way, dancing.

His eyes. She stared at him in awe and Jesus’ eyes caught hers through the crowd. Embarrassed to be caught staring she lowered her eyes and pulled her scarf closer around her face, but not before she’d seen him smile and wink at her.

There was a time long ago when she could have approached him to speak to him. In the ancient days, women could appear in public, do business, buy and sell, and have lives outside their fathers’ or husbands’ homes. There were female prophets, judges, women of business and standing. But those days were long gone. Most women were now not even literate; it was not important for them to read the Law; they just had to believe what their fathers and husbands told them of it.

But her father believed in the old ways and had taught her to read for herself. She knew what the old scrolls said about a savior coming, a Messiah, who would be born in Bethlehem, become a refugee, heal many people, and lead them all to a victorious nationhood. Was this the one? She knew he met all the qualifications, but, miracle working abilities aside, he was so mild. He didn’t seem much like a warrior. She saw the kindness in his eyes and the judgement in the eyes of the Pharisees and elders. She had heard Jesus call himself the Lamb and she thought about the old story of the ancients fleeing Egypt, saved after painting their door trim with the lamb’s blood; the same lamb they roasted and ate for every Passover since. This Jesus claimed to be the son of God. Blasphemy surely. Or insanity. Unless it were true.

But now look at him. Miracles long behind him, he was nailed to a Roman cross outside the city. Dying. Dying along with their hopes and dreams. But hadn’t she also heard him say he would die, but would rise again? Or was that the temple? Neither made any sense. It wasn’t possible. Tears gathered in her eyes. It was hopeless.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Jesus move slightly and lift his head. She tensed and looked up. Was something going to happen? He lifted his head and seemed to look right at her. This time she didn’t look away. His right eye twitched once. She was startled. He kept looking at her and again his eye twitched and a corner of his mouth lifted. That time she was sure. He’d just winked at her. What in the world–?

Thunder rolled and rain began to pelt down. She shivered. The crowds at the execution site started to disperse, people hurrying back down the hill toward shelter. The little knot of women didn’t move. She moved yet closer to them. One of them grasped her arm. “Did you know him?” she asked tearfully.

She shook her head no. Yes. I don’t know him. But I feel like I do. Thunder crashed, then suddenly died away and the rain softened. A loud cry rent the sudden silence.

“Mashelem!”

Finished!

Jesus slumped over. She could no longer see his battered chest rising and falling, however slightly, with his shallow breaths.

It can’t be shelem. There was too much missing!

A wail came from the knot of women as they mourned. The sound followed her as she turn and slowly walked back home in the falling rain.

She couldn’t sleep. When she closed her eyes, all she could see was the dying man winking at her. That tension she’d felt Friday, that feeling of waiting was still with her. Did the Romans still think there might be an uprising? Was there another scapegoat they could collar and execute? She worried about her father, their neighbors, the members of the opposition groups. Today was the day after the sabbath and she knew some of the women were taking sacred spices to Jesus’ grave. She wanted to go with them, although she hadn’t been invited. She left the house silently and walked toward the rocky cemetery at the edge of the city. She found the group of women near the gate and joined them without a word. With swollen eyes, they silently nodded at her. She realized these were some of his closest friends and paused, feeling like an intruder. One looked back at her and as she hesitated, extended her hand. “Come with us,” she said. “It’s fine.”

They trudged slowly down the trail to the large tomb in the hillside. She didn’t know what they expected to find, but the gaping hole in the tomb made them pause. The boulder that should have been blocking the door was lying to one side. They stopped and stared at the doorway, then Mary –she thought it was Mary, at least– took a deep breath and cautiously entered. She returned almost immediately and gasped, “He’s gone!”

Gone! She felt sick. Romans. Now they were robbing graves. Sick. A rustling behind them made them turn quickly. A man was approaching from the far side of the cemetery. She squinted at him. He was Jewish, at least, not Roman.

“Shalom,” he said. “You look confused. Can I help you?” They gaped at him. Was this the caretaker of the cemetery? Surely not. Surely it was…she looked at him closely. Those eyes. Those kind eyes caught hers, and he winked.

Laughing Jesus

Mashelem: http://www.chaimbentorah.com/2017/08/word-study-it-is-finished/