How far away that lost day now appears.
And how late that fatal hour,
When brutal Roman soldiers dragged me to their cruel dungeon tower,
Still struggling in chains of rope and rough fetter.
I, Raffio the late, an inhabitant of Nazareth,
Known to dear family and friends as an adept thief. Now await my deserved death. As a Nazarene, I had spoken many times with the devoted Carpenters Son, now as I hang impaled alongside Him in pain and sorrow. I also eagerly await His coming nation.
But forgive me for I quickly depart from my recital.
Foolish was I in my choice then of many false friends,
That introduced me to pliant thievery and gross wickedness.
Yet many times did I not see Him and witness with wonder,
The manifold miracles He performed without worship or whisper.
How I wish now that then with Him I could quietly confer,
Of those wonderful saving sights and sounds.
But for me today it is forever too late, for now, I share a stinking cell with others like myself. Who also await their fearful fate?
But as I lay on torn mat and vomit marked hay,
I see Him with a bruised bleeding face and clothed in a mock purple array.
Then the early morning light strikes the gloom of that fateful day,
When the world will commit its most terrible sin,
My tired and bruised eyes again settle upon Him!
And across a crowded cell, our eyes meet in instant recognition,
Offering to each other friendship assurance and hope. But never suspicion.
Then coarse calloused Roman hands laughingly slap, and poke,
My face as I am headed and kicked with another of my ilk,
To stand and await my deserved fate,
From he: the mighty Pontius Pilate.
Then in this pit of so-called Roman justice – this theatre of pain,
He alone stands, bloodied, beaten, and bruised. Today upon this city His image will forever remain.
Then when judgment is passed from Pilate’s bloodless lips,
We are dragged to Golgotha cruelly beaten through streets by clubs and stinging whips.
Now mocking crowds stare, laugh and rudely gesticulate,
As we stumble alone and afraid but always aware of our coming fate.
By now the weary weight of each cross, fashioned in splintered wood,
Leaves a blistering tattoo upon my skin already stained with dirt spit and Blood. Then visible through His soiled silk robe stretched upon His aching back,
I see the bleeding whelps caused by that cruel lash, revealing rivulets of His Precious blood that all sinners must seek and wash,
Away all corrupt sin.
So that from this day onward they will be born sacrificially by Him.
And only then will He utter those agonizing final words “It is finished”
How weighty the weight of pitiless pain,
That across our weakened bodies is brutally lain.
Then through dust blinded eyes and weeping sores,
We stumble alone and devoid of all friends. But cursed by bitter foes!
Then He turns with an excruciating effort to me to speak,
But sadly precious promises are dashed from His lips by a striking fist placed upon his displayed cheek.
Then as I weep I glimpse in the mob of seething anger,
Mary Magdalene. My own darling mother. And the wife of Joseph: Mary His mother.
Now three weeping embracing women, joined together in sorrow, Sadly and Tragically wait for the dawn of another tomorrow.
That will when it dawns offer nothing but perpetual lasting sorrow.
But then the tall Cyrenian is hauled from the pack,
To take upon his fresh shoulder that punishing rack.
I see the miraculous image of a little girl.
Her face surrounded by a bouquet of innocence.
And from her beautiful loving eyes, none can renounce,
Her youthful love for Him who dared bring her back from the land of the dead!
When He intoned those saving words to her “Talitha cumi”
Heard by so many on that May morning and least of all by me!
Then through that parade of pain to the waiting hill,
Did not I curse and cry? Yet from His swollen lips words were sparse and still.
Then sweet Veronica offers a prepared silken napkin,
To heal His bruised face. How wondrous that forever it will leave a lasting spiritual stain.
Then all too soon,
At the striking hour of noon,
We three are roughly posed upon a waiting splintered cross,
That soon we will be hoisted high. For all to see and loudly hiss.
Suddenly the descending hand-held hammer offers searing pain,
To already damaged carpals, bruised metatarsal bones and ripped skin.
This hour we three are now raised high, naked and shamed.
Today have we not been paraded punched and blamed,
To be finally exposed from a nailed crucifix.
Then we are grotesquely displayed,
To languish and squirm in agony until it is eagerly asked: “Have they now died?”
Many times during those tortured hours I turned to Him.
I recall once a small bird,
Upon His crown of thorns rested,
Then flew towards God’s heavenly mausoleum,
With blood-stained feathered sternum.
By now the crowd have forsaken this so-called “stage of shame,”
Their morning’s enjoyment finished – how sickening – and all performed in His cherished name.
Now under a threatening dejected darkening firmament,
The Temple entrance will be rent – the dead will rise then stumble. Each wearing a mud-stained vestment.
Now I beg any citizen of this province: Is this finally the end – for I?
Suddenly through a blood-filled right eye
I see an opaque vignette:
Of my darling mother, and surrounded by weeping women-and His mother.
Standing by her side, almost obscured,
Is she the little girl He claimed back from the land of the departed!
Now she watches the emotion upon His face.
That forever to her will offer love and peace.
Now the swearing and blasphemy of the crowd is heard in crescendo.
‘If thou be Christ, save thyself and us,’ screams he on my side.
But I silence him saying: “Dost, not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deed: but this Man hath done nothing.”
Then turning to Him I whisper [Jesus]:
“Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.”
“Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
Then proclaiming to all He cried: “It is finished.”
‘Jesus King of the Jews,’ as they derided Him, was first to expire on the hill that fateful hour, and for that, I rejoice and concur.
Then at the point of my own painful deathblow,
Did not through my weeping eye see her, that little girl walk forward and stand below His blood-stained cross.
Then looking up at Jesus she kissed His foot and placed her little finger upon that sharpened nail, then raising her eyes she looked at me and smiled.
Then walking away she received a precious love – that for her – will never fail.
The girl, for I know not her name, was the final face I looked upon before deaths curtain descended upon me.
Now, I Raffio, sojourn and rejoice in Paradise.
With Jesus my true friend from Nazareth,
and with many others saved believers from earth.
And of course that little girl of whom He once spoke too long ago:
“Little girl, I say unto thee, arise.”
And this is the testimony of Raffio of Nazareth.
Like many other students of the Bible, I have long been interested in the inferior role that the two thieves performed in the final hours of Christ. His death, of course, was the greatest miscarriage of Justice the world has known. And did not Pilate himself publicly proclaim: “I find no fault in Him.”
Yet the world, as of then, looks away from His special saving gift.
Good thief, bad thief or good cop and bad cop. To me, this popular scenario is as relevant today. Perhaps in our age more than ever.
Each of the two criminals, because that is how the Bible refers to them, or malefactors who were placed on each side of Jesus remain forever fixed in our minds. Some commentators suspect there may have been other felons crucified that day with the Lord. Perhaps as many as five.
In Northern France, the five figure depiction of the crosses is very much depicted in prominent ancient town squares.
What is history is that each of the inspired authors of the four Gospel accounts of the last agonizing hours of Jesus comment upon them. This is indeed interesting and does confirm these malefactors either; two or four were crucified that fateful day on the hill.
But it falls to Doctor Luke to record the moving six verses in chapter 23:39-43. That we all know and love so well.
For some reason, tradition always names them as Dysmas: the good thief and Gesmas the quirky one. This seems to have originated somewhere in the early church.
However only Matthew and Luke give us the full story.
Personally, I never have been comfortable with these adopted names, they sound to me more like a pair of performing elephants as seen in Circus Hoffman.
Incidentally, in Mel Gibson’s controversial film The passion of the Christ, the director calls for both eyes of the bad thief to be gouged out by a cryptic black crow. This certainly is symbolic!
Again it is fact that Jesus expired before the other two (John 19:32-33), so for the three terrible hours when hanging on the cross some dialogue between Raffio and the Lord would be expected.
Both men would know that death would arrive hopefully before there legs would be smashed as a final Roman act. But not to Jesus. This was of course predicted in (Numbers 9:12 and Psalm 34:20).
As regards this stanza, I had to enter with some caution into the world of speculation.
This offered me the possible scenario that the (good) thief Raffio was himself a Nazarene.
In fact, we do not know from where he hailed from. So why not I suggest from Nazareth?
And if as I suspect he had known Jesus as a boy and walked with Him as a young man, then he would have been familiar with the family of Jesus.
Perhaps even both mothers conversed on washing day or on the way to the market. Life in that far of age was very family orientated.
Protocol was much more rigid than today’s preferred open life style.
I also think that Raffia, along with Jesus and others, would have been held in a squalid Roman holding cell before trial. That would take them both from the Praetorian to Calvary. Recognition of each other might have resulted early that fatal morning. For Jesus, it would have been a long painful night. Also, it is quite possible that perhaps Raffio was one of the disciples who were attracted to the preaching of John the Baptist. I suggest he knew Jesus before he fell away and into a life of crime. We cannot be sure but neither can we dismiss any offered speculation without examining every possible clue that is offered to us.
And what of that delightful young girl that Jesus certainly raised from the dead. This is one of the most charming miracle stories that is recounted for us in Mark 5:41. But beware of modern Bible translations of how Jesus addressed the little girl. In my opinion modern translators butcher these gentle words that Jesus uttered to her. This remains totally unacceptable to me. Mark informs us in the same verse that her age was twelve. But for the sake of this stanza, I see her as looking much younger in appearance.
Raffio may well have been there to witness this significant miracle himself and who knows how many more. I suspect that it made a lasting impression upon him. The Bible informs us that many doubters were astonished when she returned from the dead and walked and perhaps demanded food. I also suggest that for this little girl her life was forever changed (and perhaps Lazarus).
She may well even have accompanied the crucifixion parade up to the hill. She may even have waited with those weeping women domiciled at the foot of the cross. Her distress at what she saw at what was being inflicted upon Jesus must have been so painful for her. As it would to any other sensitive little girl.
The tiny reference to the small bird is of course the Robin. As a boy, I first heard this enchanting story from my late mother. The anecdote is that as the bird became tangled in the crown of thorns upon the head of Jesus its wee chest was torn. Just look at any Robin today and you can still their distinctive chest marking for instant identification.
I also find it interesting that Jesus in His wonderful promise to the thief proclaimed:
“Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” and not purgatory!
Do you recall the old Negro spiritual hymn:
“Lord, remember me when thou comest in to thy kingdom.”
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