by Steven Burch
Author's Note: This paper was originally done for an English class I was enrolled in. It is not completely accurate Biblically as to times and places, and some of the events are contrived. Hope you enjoy it anyway!
It was a sunny morning in Iconium, arid and dusty. The golden sunlight and the gaiety of a city coming to life mocked at the forthcoming injustice by the religious hierarchy.
Standing erect in the prison courtyard was a single beam of wood. The axe marks of the woodsmith had long ago been worn smooth by the numerous bodies of the less fortunate souls who had been lashed to it. Near the top of the beam was a smaller cross-member which would hold the judged man's arms aloft while he endured the lashes of the whip. The whip itself was a marvel of intricate pain: six leather strips, and each had bits of bone tied into the ends. These strips were in turn fastened to a wooden handle which was bound in leather. With a practiced hand, this whip could reduce a man's back to pulpy flesh.
As I stood in the gathering crowd, fragments of conversation imposed themselves into my thinking. "Yes, I know why they are whipping him," replied a merchant to a cobbler. "The elders of the synagogue have declared his teachings blasphemous and contrary to the laws of the fathers. He claims that these laws were fulfilled and done away with by that man named Jesus, who was crucified over a decade ago."
So very well did I know of these teachings. He, this condemned man, was raised at the feet of the finest instructor of Judaic law; how he was at one time a Pharisee, the strictest sect of Judaism ever. This man was also a member of the all-authoritative Sanhedrin, the ruling body of elders who governed what was left of the once great nation Israel. I also knew of he persecution of the Christians, those believers of the doctrine that anyone, even Gentiles, can be saved by grace -– and had no need to keep the law! That is was not necessary to keep numerous laws -- that the promise of the ages was by grace, not works.
"I hear this criminal forsook all his training," replied the cobbler. "That he too is now one of these Christians, and that he teaches it is not necessary to keep all the laws -- which he himself was expert in, and now he goes from city to city, country to country, and teaches this doctrine of grace. This is that which infuriates the elders of the synagogue. That a man need not even be circumcised! Not to mention all the traditions of the elders, which are beyond number -- curse them all!"
The traditions of the elders and the innumerable laws of man, never found in any of the sacred scrolls. Yet when one was broken more punishment was given out by the elders than if one had broken an actual commandment of God. For anyone to stand up against the elders was standing up against God Himself. For they, or so they said, had been given divine authority over man. The religious hierarchy had become a business I thought -- extracting obedience and exacting punishment on a people who sought truth from these leaders. Yet when someone did come teaching....
The talking became silent, as now the man to be whipped was led out into the courtyard. His eyes squinted with the infusion of the bright sunlight into his eyes. He was tall and powerfully built. His eyes now filled with a knowing that this morning's incident was nothing more than a pebble on a country lane. He seemed to be seeing so much further than the present moment or circumstance. As his charges were read, he held his head slightly higher than level, a bare smile on his lips.
Abruptly, the Roman soldiers spun him around and tied his hands to the crossbeam. His tunic was then ripped open to reveal the muscular back. It seemed odd to me that Romans, the curse of the Israelite nation, were the very ones the elders used to carry out their own religious decrees.
The whip-master came forward, the bone chips tied into the strands of the whip not sensing the victory of the elders over the judged man. However, they obeyed by piercing into his back. His blood trickled out slowly at first, then just as it quickened, the second stroke bit into him again. His back wept crimson tears, yet he remained silent.
I knew there would be one less lash than the legal forty. For if they miscounted, his tormentors were liable for whipping by him. How odd I thought, “justice” in whipping a man who had harmed no man, only helped.
Not much of his golden skin remained visible now. With only a dozen lashes left he stood weaker, now supporting himself somewhat by the rope on his wrists. A boy about thirteen asked his father, "Why are they beating him?" "He spoke against our law," the father replied. "He said even the Gentiles could be saved, by grace!" The boy replied by saying, "We know they are dogs, don't we father?"
The whipping over, the man hung by his wrists, barely conscious. A soldier cut the rope, dropping him to the earth and dust. As I walked back to the synagogue I knew that I had cast my vote against an innocent man.