The First Thief
When I was a youth, my mouth was always getting me into trouble. When I was young man, I was still having a hard time biting my tongue when necessary.
Now, wait a minute! You told me if I bought you a few drinks you'd stay and listen to my story. Don't worry; I have a tab at this bar...drink up! And order as often as you like! Just give me a chance to regale you with the my tale, as you agreed to a few minutes ago. There is your scotch, so I'll begin again...
As I was saying, I had a habit of mouthing off when it would have been better to shut up. As a matter of fact, my lack of tact put me in the position I am in now.
I was born, in Israel in the year 3 BC...sit down, damn you! We have an agreement! I am not insane or a danger to you, unless you try to leave. I will follow when you leave this bar and I will kill you if you do not keep up your end of our bargain. I could be up, behind you, break your neck and be gone before the staff or customers would even notice. Now calm down and drink and listen. I don't want to be interrupted again.
As I said, over two millennia ago, I was born Silas ben Judah, in a collection of homes too small to be called a village, just outside of Jerusalem. My father, was a very minor Temple official; hence, our humble dwelling. From what I can remember of it, my early childhood was pleasant. My father, however, ran afoul of the Roman tax collectors and was taken to prison. My mother was furious, and passed this emotion down to me, that the Temple did little to help him or us through that very trying time.
Needless to say, the rest of my childhood, to put it bluntly, was fucked. Losing my mother when I was only 10 made it worse, which I would have never thought would be possible. In those days, an orphan with no close relatives, either lived down the streets or was taken as a slave. I decided I was going to take the former alternative. This began my life as a thief.
I did that to make a living for over 20 years and I never got caught. Picking the pocket of a passing stranger on a side street in the Holy City turned out to be my undoing. If he'd been a regular mark, I might have escaped with only stripes on my back and broken fingers. Unfortunately, the bastard turned out to be a very alert Roman citizen; bad news, indeed.
It meant a cross for me.
I often laugh cynically when I read a modern Bible. You seem surprised I read the Book. Well, my short-term friend, I do...looking for clues, you see. But I'm getting ahead of myself. But still! The Bible is full of inaccuracies when it comes to how the Romans treated the people of Israel. Apologists back then were trying to get Roman converts so they couldn't very well go on about the atrocities and total contempt they had for our ways. All the talk about our masters worrying about Passover? Allowing a prisoner free? Posh! All they had were three watch-words: “Order! Order! And 'Order'", again!
They beat me well and threw me in a filthy cell. I heard, through what I now think of a “The Dead Mens' Broadcasting System”, that on the morrow, to mock Passover, one hundred crucifixions were planned. There was even going to be a guest “star”: Yeshua ben Yosef, the Nazarene. He had been heralded by some as being the Messiah, who would lead us out of bondage...but he was getting a cross, just like the rest of us street trash.
I went to hear him speak, you know, a while before I made my mistake. He was telling us (a quite large crowd) that he was Yahweh's Son, how believing in him granted you eternal life and God was love.
I thought him either misguided or insane. He was obvious not completely incompetent, as he spoke well. But “God was love”? Oh, yes! Yahweh loved Mother and me so much that Father was taken from us! Where was this “love” when my mother propositioned the wrong man, just to put food for her “precious prince” and herself on the table, and was taken out and stoned to death as a harlot? I remember I spat on the ground and left...
On that hot midday before Passover, they marched us up The Hill of the Skull. They were going to set us up in a delta-formation. This so-called Messiah was going to be at the front point. I and another thief, whose name escapes me after all these years, were on his left and right, slightly behind him.
Oh, I'm getting ahead of myself, again. You are probably wondering how a man would still be around after he had been crucified. Well, it went like this: we had to carry our cross pieces on our backs, with our arms already tied to them, all the way from the prison. It is a fact that ben Yosef had to carry his entire cross the whole distance; the Bible is right about that situation. He did get some help just as we were leaving Jerusalem but otherwise he shouldered the heavy load all the way to his place of execution.
But back to my situation: when the soldiers had set my burden into the upright and raised me into the air, I felt my cross tilt slightly to the left. I wasn't in any frame of mind to give this much credence as I was already trying to take my weight off my arms by pushing up with my toes on the miniscule foot-rest. It took time for a rest to go up. Ben Yosef was one of the latest as they had to cruelly nail his wrists as well. A moment later, with the Sun at its height, he was swung up in front of me.
I was, even as the waves of agony flooded through me, shocked by how much damage to which the man had subjected. I could seethe right side of his back quite clearly. He had been scourged to the point that, in some areas, the bones of his ribs showed. He was covered in blood and the crown of thorns on his head made even more blood drip down his face. I had seen crucifixions before but I had never seen anyone who had endured so much before the final act.
Myself? I was attempting to stop myself from suffocating. Later scholars were correct: bearing your weight on your arms for a long period paralyses your diaphragm and you suffocate. I was beginning to wonder what was the point of trying to live. The whole exercise was to make me suffer and die...there would be no other release. I could tell from the moaning and grunting about me that I was not suffering alone; this was cold comfort, definitely.
Considering my situation, it's not surprising that I became angry. I was not one to go “gentle into that good night”. I had probably been angry most of my life and it flared up one last time.
There were some mourners on The Hill, that early afternoon. The Nazarene had quite a large number. One, an elderly but hale-looking woman, was crying inconsolably. There were another woman and four men taking turns holding her. The men, in spite of a heat, had their heads covered with only their noses and eyes showing. Even in my dying state, I noticed that they were eyeing the soldiers nervously.
Time passed...an eternity it seemed. A group of Temple officials approached which to my knowledge had never happened before...after all, Passover was only hours away. Plus, the Pharisees and their ilk usually stayed away from what they considered an unclean place. I was surprised again when they began to berate the man crucified almost right in front of me.
“You say you could save all of Mankind's souls back you can not even save yourself! If you are the Messiah, perform a miracle right now: get down from the cross... even I will believe and follow you then!”
There are other catcalls of roughly the same type from their group. His mother then began to wail, needing even more comforting. The males with her did their best to shield themselves from the officials as if they were afraid they would be recognised.
As I said, my anger got the best of me. I pushed myself up as best I could and croaked, “Yes, Messiah! Get down from the cross! Better yet, why don't you save us all? If you are the Son of God, surely that would be easy for you, you stupid bastard!”
I was utterly shocked when the other thief spoke to me (I had assumed he was already dead). He said, weakly but angrily: “Leave him alone! You and I deserve what we are getting....he has done nothing!”
He then took a moment to catch his breath again and said to the other, “Remember me, Lord.”
Ben Yosef turned his head slightly with great effort and sighed, “Truly, I will tell you this: today you will be with me in Paradise.”
He then looked at me. When he addressed me, there was infinite sadness in his pain-filled whisper.
“You have my love and my forgiveness...but you may not have that from my Father...”
He then turned his attention to his mother and the others. He addressed them, more in gasps than actual speech, a few times.
Suddenly, he spoke out in an almost-normal voice, “My God, my God! Why have you forgotten me?”
Another moment passed, then he called out again, “Father, into your hands I give myself!”
He finished with, “It is over...” and sagged completely, obviously dead.
Soldiers were going about breaking the legs of the ones that already dead and were heading in my direction. For some reason, ben Yosef was pierced with a spear.
That is when all chaos erupted...
The sky darkened suddenly; it was if the Sun had been snatched from the heavens. Lightning began to lick down continuously with the accompaniment of deafening thunder. The previously pale blue sky was now covered in clouds so dark they were almost completely black. From these ominous apparitions came a downpour, the likes I had never seen in our relatively arid country. I began to believe that I would be spared any more torture as I expected lightning to hit me at any moment.
Through all this noise, I became aware of a nearly-subsonic rumbling in the distance. I could tell it was getting closer. I realised what it was: an earthquake.
This had just dawned on me when it struck. I had never experienced one before so powerful. Everything shook violently on the Hill. The Roman soldiers could not keep their feet. Several of the crosses fell over.
As I told you before my cross was not sitting straight up. Thus, mine began to topple almost immediately. It fell to the left and struck the ground hard enough to break the cross piece in half. Myself? I felt like I was broken in half, too. Then I found that my arms were free. In the total confusion, I was able to crawl far enough away so I could allow myself to roll into a depression, out of sight. I then smacked my head against a stone and knew nothing else for a time.
When I awoke, I found that I was under a body of one of the soldiers. His armour was partially melted and still quite warm; I decided he had been killed by a lightning-strike. His sword was intact so I took it. It was full dark as I crept away.
I thought to myself, as I scrambled down the Hill of the Skull, What manner of man's death brings about such violence in the sky and on the Earth? Could he have been the Messiah?
I pushed thoughts aside. I had more pressing problems to look after now...mostly involving getting as far away from Jerusalem as I could. I knew if I was caught by the Romans, they wouldn't bother with torture, it would just be a quick but painful death.
Go ahead, drink that other shot in front of you. You aren't falling asleep, are you? Notice how I have matched you drink-for-drink and show no effects? Alcohol. the elixir of forgetfulness, does not effect me. I do sleep but guess what I always dream about during thos restless times. Remember our deal; my story is not quite finished.
So what did I do after I left my homeland? I wandered for a very long time. As for a money, I stuck to theft...it was what I knew and I gained more and more experience as time went by. It seemed like I could enter almost any building without ever announcing my presence. As the years piled on, I began to notice the reasons for a my success: I did not age, I could suffer almost any injury without losing my life and people seemed to usually ignore me. As a matter of fact, most wished to have nothing to do with me.
Ah! A proof! For example: remember I told you that I have a tab at this bar? Do you notice I have been tipping the waitress very lavishly in cash whenever she comes to our table. Have you noticed the expression on her face? It is loathing. It is the same look you were giving me until I offered to buy you drinks all night.
I bear, my “friend”, what I refer to as “the Mark of Cain”. I am one of the few people to ever speak to Jesus Christ on the cross and when I did, I mocked and cursed him. Yahweh has made me pay ever since. I have never had luck making friends since that day nor can I find a woman to be with me unless I pay her. I've had to move numerous times, change my identity and pretend to age on more occasions than I can count. I have slipped through the ages, watched empires rise and fall and seen so much injustice and cruelty that my experience on the cross is insignificant.
Oh, I am wealthy and am able to travel the world...but always alone. I come here to Montréal frequently. I lived in what became France for a century so I enjoy being among these “colonists”. One rule I have made is that I will not steal anything while I am in this city. Actually, with the amount of money I have now, I seldom perform my “art”.
As it turned out, I am not totally alone, although I get little satisfaction from that fact. Two years ago, I was sitting, drinking coffee, on the patio of a Paris bistro, when something caught my eye. A few tables over, a very large man was doing exactly the same thing as I was. What drew my attention was, when he was being served, the waiter looked at him the same way most people looked at me. I picked up my cup and walked, stiff-legged, to his table.
He was well-dressed, with wide shoulders and a powerful-looking frame. I took him to be at least in his late 50s, as his hair and beard were both grey going to white. He turned his dark eyes on me and a look of recognition flashed in them, though we had never met before then.
“Well, 'brother', at last we meet after all those years,” he rumbled in a cynical and tired manner. “You may sit.”
I did so, looking him over most carefully. He was dressed more then just “well”. The suit, pants and the silver-headed cane he had one hand on outclassed anything that I would wear. As a matter of fact, I had grown to enjoy wearing T-shirts, jeans and expensive running shoes. He had a swarthy Levantine face and he radiated what I decided later was great wisdom and power. I found that I had taken a dislike for the man already.
“There have been many changes in the world over the last two millennia, don't you agree,'brother'?” he asked of me.
He was speaking Aramaic which I had not heard in centuries. For a moment, I was speechless. Finally I replied, “Call me Silas. You are as I am? What is your name?”
He took a quick sip of his café au lait and responded, “Over the years, I've had many names, as I know you have. I knew of your existence long ago but never sought you out as I knew I would not like being in your presence. You feel the same way towards me, don't you?”
“I am more... I guess the word would be 'attuned'...to the supernatural then you are; perhaps, it is only because I was older than you when our in-common 'mistake' occurred. Even I do not know the true reason. I will not tell you my name that I am using at this time as I do not wish to see you again. I wanted to meet you face-to-face only out of curiosity because I knew it would be an unpleasant experience. Like you, though, I have much penance to do. So, I decided that letting you know you were not the only truly cursed human on the planet might make you feel more at peace.
“The name the legends usually give me is 'Ahasuerus' aka the Wandering Jew. I am portrayed as everything from a Pharisee to a cobbler. Actually, I was a horse-trader. That day, I had been working hard to get ready for the Passover; that is, finish up any jobs I had left off earlier in the week. I was in a foul mood.
“A procession of condemned men, prepared for crucifixion were being marched by. I saw one dragging the entire cross and realised it was probably the Nazarene I had heard about: a convicted blasphemer.
“I was leaning on my gate, my eyes fixed on him. I felt no pity even though he had been treated terribly. As a matter of fact, when he stumbled in front of me, I flicked him with the whip I had a my hand.
“'Go quicker, pack mule of Nazareth!'” I yelled at him.
“As a soldier roughly stood him back up, he looked at me, directly in the eye, and replied: 'I go, but you will wait until my return.'”
He sighed with infinite regret.
He went on, “So here I am, like you, waiting for The Day.”
He gave me a speculative look and asked, “Have you tried to finish yourself?”
“Yes. I once even tried a revolver, high-calibre, under the chin. It was loaded and I had test fired it only moments before but when I squeeze the trigger, it failed. There have been other times I have tried; all to no avail.”
“It has been the same with me. We cannot avoid The Wait. You must know by now it is useless to try. We will exist until He returns then we will be judged. The Pit will seem like Paradise after this endless torture of loneliness.
“I am leaving now. Don't try to follow me...like you, my curse gives me the ability to get lost in crowds. I leave you with one more thought: I'm of the opinion that the Messiah will return after the next War. The symbolism in the Book of Revelations suggested this to me. I then believe the Final Resurrection will occur plus the Final Judgement. With that, I must leave you as I find you extremely repellent.”
And, as he said, he was gone and I never saw him again.
Well, you are gravely drunk now, which is good. Tomorrow, if you remember me at all, you will think I was insane but generous. I have to do this every now and then...that is, tell someone my story. I have found I can only tell it to madmen or drunkards. The last several times I have done it this way as some mentally ill people have strong religious views and turn violent when you tell them something that does not jive with their beliefs. I've had to seriously hurt some, mainly so they would not draw unwanted attention to me.
I'm going to leave you now. I hope you enjoyed the scotch. Have more if you wish and, if there is a bill, just sign the name “Silas” on it. If my words have helped you look at your life in a slightly different way, I will be content for now. I doubt that I will have that effect but there is always the first time...
My last words to you will be a paraphrase of the last words in the Bible; think on them.
“Yea, verily, come soon, Lord Jesus."