Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Perfect Lamb

by David Edgren



Once there was a boy named Rufus. Rufus lived with his family on a small farm a few hours walk from a large city. Of all the things Rufus loved to do, his favorite was to spend time with his best friend, Sammy.
Sammy wasn't a person like Rufus. Sammy was a lamb. He was the prettiest lamb Rufus had ever seen and Rufus loved to play with Sammy. They spent as much time together as they could every day. Sometimes they would play cat and mouse and Rufus would chase Sammy all over the farmyard and when he caught him they would fall into a heap and Rufus would hug Sammy tight. Other days Sammy and Rufus would go on long walks together over the hills and through the fields, exploring every cave and peak they found. Rufus loved Sammy and Sammy loved Rufus. They were the best of friends.

One day Rufus and Sammy were picking flowers for the kitchen table when Rufus heard his father calling. They gathered the flowers they had picked and ran home. When they arrived, Rufus's father met him on the front porch. He said, "Rufus, I need to go into the city today. And I need Sammy to come with me."
"Can I come too?" Rufus asked.
"I'm sorry Rufus, no one is allowed into the temple until they are 12 years old," Father answered.
The temple. Rufus had heard all about the temple. That was where parents went to pay for the sins of their family. And they usually paid with… "Dad No!!" Rufus almost shouted at his father, "You can't take Sammy! He's my... He's my..." Rufus began to cry, "He's my best friend."
Father placed his large hand on Rufus’ shoulder. "Rufus you know I must take a lamb so sins of our family can be cleansed in the eyes of God."
"But, why Sammy?” Rufus blustered. “Take another lamb. We have lots of lambs.” The tears were streaming down his cheeks now, but he didn’t care. “Why do you have to take Sammy?"
"God asks us to bring the most perfect lamb we have.” Father said, slowly moving his hand through Rufus’ hair. “I have looked at all of this years lambs, and Sammy has the most perfect coat and the best build.” Gently cupping the back of Rufus’ head, father knelt down and looked into his son’s eyes. Father’s eyes were wet too. “You know our lambs better than anyone. Can you think of another lamb more perfect than Sammy?" Father asked.
Rufus hung his head. "No," he whispered. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He slowly sat down on the front steps, dropped the flowers and put his arms around Sammy. He held Sammy tight and cried into his perfect coat.
They sat there for a long time—Rufus and his best friend, Sammy. While Father got ready for the journey into the city, they sat there. As Father ate his breakfast in the kitchen, they sat there. As Father put on his boots, they sat there. Finally Father came through the front door and quietly said, "Rufus, it's time. I must leave now."
Rufus gave Sammy one last hug and then stood. He didn't look at father. He just said, "Sammy is ready to go," and walked into the house. Rufus' father put a pack on his back and then picked up Sammy and laid him across his broad shoulders. Sammy's front legs hung down in front of Father's chest, his soft little body rested against the back of fathers' neck. Father descended the front steps and headed down the long driveway.
Inside the house, Rufus watched through a window. A few seconds after they left, Sammy bleated loudly. Rufus ran to the front door. Tears streamed down his face. He threw the door open, leapt onto the front porch and stopped suddenly at the top of the steps. He could see Sammy-lamb resting on Father’s shoulders as they weaved down the lane. Rufus' heart fell. He crumpled into heap sitting down heavily on the steps. Rufus collected the flowers he had picked with Sammy and began to sob. He missed Sammy so much.

Father picked up his pace. At a fast pace, it was a couple hour’s walk into the city and he wanted to be there by midday. Father’s long legs took large powerful strides.
Two and a half hours later Father entered the city gate. He had been to Jerusalem a number of times before and was prepared for the crowds. It always amazed him that so many people would want to be so close together. People bustled all over the city streets. Father could hear a lot of shouting and merriment as he walked toward the temple. He fought his way through the crowds and finally arrived at the temple entrance. He paused, collected his thoughts and made his way into the outer courtyard.
There were a lot of things going on in the temple courtyard. Tables, covered with various kinds of animals, lined to edges of the courtyard. Father walked up to a table dedicated to buying and selling lambs. He lifted Sammy from his shoulders and sat him on the ground. The man came around the table and studied Sammy. "Very nice," he said. "In fact, one of the best I've seen in a long time. He will definitely be used for a special sacrifice. Twenty-five," said the merchant.
"Twenty-five?" questioned Father. "I though you said he was remarkable. At the market he would be worth at least forty!"
"I have not paid twenty-five in over two weeks," said the vendor. "But, this is a unique animal. Twenty-eight. That is truly as high as I can go."
Father was bothered. He never liked these temple vendors. They always got away with more than anyone outside the temple walls. "Thirty-five, my friend. Surely that is not to much to ask from such a wealthy temple and for such a perfect lamb."
The vendor stalled. He rearranged some items on his table. He wrote some numbers down on a slate with a piece of chalk, rubbed them out, and wrote more. Father decided the vendor was putting on a very good show. He opened the cash box and made as if he were counting to see if he had enough money. Finally the vendor spoke, "I do believe you would rob God. Thirty is as high as the temple will go. Thirty. Take it or leave it."
Father was outraged at the insult. Rob God? Surely the only man being robbed was a farmer from outside the city. And the only man doing the robbing was a vendor who swindled for a living. Father spoke, "Agreed. Thirty it is."
The vendor counted out thirty dirty copper coins and gave them to Father. He then lifted Sammy and placed him in the small enclosure where he kept the lambs. Sammy would now be cleansed and blessed by a priest and then sold to a person who would use him as a sacrifice or to the temple for one of the ritual temple sacrifices. Only the best lambs were used for the temple sacrifices. Father noticed the vendor kept Sammy separate from the other lambs. He was a special lamb indeed.
In the middle of the courtyard sat the moneychangers. This was always the part father hated most. First he always got less than the animal’s true worth and then he had to trade the underpayment of copper coins for the cleansed temple coinage. Father approached a moneychanger and placed his thirty coins on the table. The most infuriating thing about the money changing was that you didn't even get a say. The temple set the conversion rate and it was final. The coins were quickly counted by a well-trained eye. An eyebrow went up, "Must have been quite an animal." A small heap of shiny new coins was placed next to the thirty. "Twenty-three, my friend. Have a nice day."
Father took the temple coins and headed back to the side of the courtyard the lambs were in. He took caution to go to a different stall than where he had sold Sammy. He was not about to deal with that thief again. "I would like the best lamb you have," father said—as all temple goers were required to say. Never would you ask for anything less than perfect for your sacrifice to God. If you couldn't afford a lamb you took a less valuable animal which was also perfect.
"Thirty-five temple coins," said a nasal voice.
Father looked up in astonishment at the vendor. The price for a perfect lamb had gone up. Last year it was twenty-five. Father had planned to talk the vendor down to twenty-three. But at a cost of thirty-five, there wasn't a chance. Without a word, Father went back to the moneychangers. "How much for 12 more temple coins?" He asked in frustration.
"20 coppers," came the quick response.
20 coppers. Father only had 14 left from the last sheering. He needed those for the next two weeks food for his family. Angrily father stormed to one of the many tables where perfect doves were sold. "How much for two perfect doves," he nearly shouted.
"20 temple coins," said a small boy—obviously the vendors son.
The boy reminded Father of Rufus. Father was ever so glad Rufus was not here. This would have broken his heart. Father had traded Sammy for two doves. He decided he would not tell Rufus. Too frustrated to haggle, Father placed 20 temple coins on the table and the boy handed him a cage that held two average looking doves. Father was beyond argument—he took the doves and headed toward the line for the altar.
After the sacrifice had been made Father made his way out of the temple. He stopped at a moneychanger and placed the three remaining temple coins on the table. The coins were refunded one for one. Father soberly took the three coppers and put them in his moneybag. Making penance for the sins of his family was always such a draining and humiliating experience.

Father left the temple and headed back the way he had come through the city. As he walked toward the city square, he noticed a large crowd. The people were shouting and cursing. Father decided to investigate. He pushed his way into the middle of the crowd until he could see what was happening. A man was being flogged. Tied to a wooden post fixed into the ground, the man was being whipped by two Roman soldiers. They were taking turns.
The people in the crowd nearest the flogging were counting the lashes 12, 13 . . . This man was a criminal, Father realized. Having no desire to watch a man being beaten, Father pushed his way back out of the crowd. As he was leaving the town square, the loud counting spread through the crowd. He could hear the numbers being shouted as he walked up the road. The shouting stopped at thirty-nine. The “whipping of death” it was called. Forty was the number of lashes said to kill a man. Thirty-nine was given to those who were wanted alive, but fully beaten.
Father stopped at the next doorstep and took off his pack. He sat on the steps, under the shade of the building, and retrieved his lunch from the pack. Unwrapping a small loaf of bread, some meat slices and some fresh butter, he made himself a sandwich.
As he was eating, the crowd around him seemed to be growing. Father realized the crowd from the city square was moving toward him. He stood next to his pack and finished his sandwich. He could see a procession of people coming his way. Roman soldiers cleared the street. As they came closer, Father recognized them as the two soldiers who had been beating the criminal. Behind the soldiers came three men, each carrying a large plank of wood. It didn't take Father long to realize these three men were going to be crucified. The wood they carried was the upper-beam of what would become each man’s own cross. Men to be crucified were often forced to carry their cross-beam through the city streets so people would know what happened to anyone who broke the law.
The first criminal to pass Father was well built and carried the beam on one shoulder. He smirked at people who made remarks and spat back at people who spat at him. The second man was not so bold in manner or built in stature and quietly carried his cross-beam across both shoulders. The third criminal was struggling to bear his beam. He dropped it once and a soldier kicked him and told him to pick it up. By the time the criminal reached Father, he was holding the beam in front of himself with both arms and stumbling like a drunk. He leaned too far in one direction and the beam slipped out of his grasp, falling to the ground. He bent to pick it up.
This was the man who had received the 39 lashes, Father realized. He was covered in blood. His back and legs were a mess of torn flesh. His left cheek had a tear in it. Evidently a whip had gone astray. The man repulsed Father. The criminal tried to pick up the beam. A soldier kicked him. He fell on top of the beam. He tried again to pick it up and fell to the ground, exhausted. He was nearly dead.
The soldier shouted with a snarl, "Pick up the cross, Jesus of Nazareth," and gave the prisoner a mighty kick. The criminal tried to stand, but fell over. He tried again and stumbled toward the crowd. A woman stepped out of the crowd and held him up. She was crying. Father watched, unable to pull his eyes away. The criminal whispered some words to the woman and she stopped crying.
There was no way this nearly-dead man would be able to carry his beam. The soldier guarding him walked over to where he stood and pushed him up the road. He shouted, "keep walking, my king. I'll get someone else to bring your walking stick!" He laughed and then turned to the crowd. He pointed directly at Father and shouted, "What is your name?"
Father turned to see if there was anyone behind him. Mysteriously, in a crowd of hundreds of people, he was standing alone. People continued backing away as Father stuttered, "S-S-Simon."
"Well S-S-Simon,” mocked the soldier, “you look like a strong country boy!" The soldier pointed at the cross-beam and shouted, “pick up that beam and carry it to Golgotha. Pick it up, NOW!"
Father knelt and picked up the blood soaked cross-beam. He placed it across his shoulders and carried it just as he had carried Sammy a few hours ago. Blood was running off of the beam and down his neck, arms and back. He quickly caught up with the stumbling criminal and they marched to Golgotha—the place of the skull.

The death procession exited the city through the gate Father had entered just a couple hours before. Nothing felt familiar to Father. Where there had been busy bustling people moving to and fro, now there was one angry mass of humanity surging after three stumbling criminals. Where there had been the soft warmth of Sammy’s little tummy on the back of Father’s neck, now there was rough splintering wood sticky with still-warm blood. Where there had been a purposeful temple-bound pace to Father’s step, now there was unsure stumbling after the executioner and the condemned.
The soldier in front of Father pushed the prisoner along. “Get moving, Jesus! We’ve got more on our schedule today than your little crucifixion,” the soldier shouted. The badly-beaten prisoner, Jesus, was putting every bit of his concentration to staying on his feet. Father followed behind as the prisoner slowly advanced.
Jesus, father thought to himself, Jesus of Nazareth. He was sure that was the name of the teacher. His boys had gone to hear Jesus of Nazareth tell stories, one day not so long ago. Could this be the same man? Father had heard only good things about this Jesus. The boys—Rufus and his older brother Alexander—had come back overwhelmed with excitement about the stories they had heard. They couldn’t stop talking about what they heard and saw—or what they said they saw—they said Jesus healed people. Sick people, deaf people, blind people, lame people. Father wasn’t too sure. Only God could heal such things. But, they were children and children saw what children wanted to see!
Jesus stumbled again. He landed on his hands and knees. The soldier kicked him in the ribs. Father could hear the air rush out of his lungs with the sudden blow. The soldier pulled his foot back for another driving kick. A shout from the head of the procession gave him pause. “Get that man up! We’ve got to get this thing done!” The shouting soldier must have been in charge—Jesus’ soldier quickly dropped his foot to the ground and lifted Jesus to his feet. “Move it Messiah,” he laughed scornfully and gave Jesus a push.
This was the Jesus the boys had gone to see. Father had heard the talk—people in the market, around the well—in the common places where people could talk about such things. There was a lot of talk about this messiah. Messiah’s came and went, but this one—this Jesus—was different. He didn’t want or offer power. He asked for nothing more than a listening ear and offered something strangely compelling—a kingdom, not of this world. Father had listened to the talk. But, until now, he hadn’t given it much thought.
They were approaching the top of a hill. Father recognized Golgotha—he had seen other men crucified here. It was within view of the main road into Jerusalem, which made sure the maximum number of people saw those being punished for their disobedience. It was a deterrent that worked—people thought twice before disobeying the Roman laws and soldiers. Crucifixion was a terrible way to die.
The soldier pointed toward a long beam of wood—much longer than the one Father was carrying. “Put the cross beam above that one,” the soldier grunted at Father. Letting the beam slide down one shoulder, Father cradled it in his arms and lowered it to the ground where the soldier had gestured. As the beam thudded to the dirt, Father quietly stepped backward. He was scared the soldier would keep him involved in this ghastly event. He turned his back to the soldier and casually walked into the approaching crowd. He had done it! He was out of sight and hopefully out of mind of the soldiers.
It was time to go home. Father didn’t want to watch a crucifixion. He started working his way deeper into the crowd. Father heard the sound of a large hammer striking a spike. He looked over his shoulder without meaning to. Another metal on metal clang filled the air. Two soldiers were holding the cross beam in place while a third drove a huge spike into the piece of wood, fixing it to the one beneath. Again the hammer struck the huge nail. It continued sinking in to the wood. The soldier with the hammer was in a rhythm now, the clangs coming like heartbeats. Father stared, mesmerized.
In no time the spike was fully embedded in the wood. “Bring the condemned,” the soldier with the hammer shouted. Jesus was pushed toward the cross. Two soldiers pulled his arms and legs—stretching him out to match the wide reach of the cross. Nails were driven into his wrists and ankles. Father flinched with every clang of the hammer.
The three crosses were lifted upright and knocked forward until they dropped into holes prepared for them. As Jesus’ cross thudded into the deep hole his body convulsed with shock. Soldiers jeered, men cheered, women wept. Father could hear so many sounds. The ringing of the hammer still pounded in his head. Soldiers panted, exhausted from the effort of the task. People murmured to each other. The occasional taunt was slung at the crucified trio. And when the insults hit their mark, one of the criminals would lash back at the crowd with some cutting retort.
Nailed to the cross above each man’s head was a piece of wood with the charges against them written on it. Father read only the one above Jesus. It said, “King of the Jews.” Those were the only words Father could read. The others must be the same thing in other languages, Father thought.
Jesus hung on the middle cross. He was much worse off than the other two. They had not been whipped before hand. They still had strength in them. Jesus hung limp and listless. He struggled for every breath. The cross was designed for this—once a man had lost the strength to lift himself, which every breath required, he suffocated slowly. Jesus wasn’t hurling angry retorts at the crowd. Father wasn’t sure if it was because Jesus was too weak or because he didn’t want to reply.
“You saved others,” one voice shouted from the crowd. “Save yourself, Messiah!”
Jesus said nothing.
Another voice rang out, “You said you are the Son of God! Surely God wont let His Son die on a cross! Call to Him!”
Jesus remained silent although his body convulsed with a sob. Is Jesus crying? Father wondered.
A priest stepped forward, clearly wanting to be seen to speak, “You said you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.” He spread his arms wide, mimicking the crucified Jesus. “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
Then the lights went out.
At least that’s what it looked like. It was midday moments before and now it was like midnight. The sun was simply gone. People began to scream. Some ran. Some stood still. Some fell silent. But they all wondered what this could mean.
In the darkness, Jesus’ voice rang out from the cross in a plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Moments before the lights went out, the high priest in the temple lead Sammy across the courtyard. He had made a careful inspection of all the lambs available and chosen Sammy—he was a remarkably unmarked lamb. Sammy was the most perfect lamb the priest could remember seeing.
He led Sammy to the altar in front of the holy place. A curtain usually separated the holy place from the courtyard, but today it was open so the people could see this special—day of atonement—sacrifice. They would be able to watch as the forgiveness of the people of Israel was secured and assured.
The High Priest lifted Sammy onto the altar. He stood with his back to the temple, his face to the waiting crowd. One hand rested on the nape of Sammy’s neck, the other reached under the altar and grasped a knife. He lifted the knife high in the air and said the required prayer.
As the High Priest said “Amen” he brought the knife to the underside of Sammy’s neck. The people crowded forward, anxious to see. The knife touched the soft skin of Sammy’s throat. The High Priest had done this hundreds of times. It was a simple cut. One quick tug of the knife and the lamb would die, the people’s sins would be forgiven and the crowd would rejoice.
Just as he was about to draw the knife toward himself, a horrendous noise erupted behind him. It was a tearing, ripping, earth shattering sort of noise. Before he could turn around, a collective gasp came from the large crowd as they all drew in a breath at once. It seemed, to the High Priest, that he felt a gust of wind caused by the sudden intake of air. His eyes darted from face to face in front of him. Eyes the size of plates. Mouths hanging wide open. Hands clasping hearts. He saw them all in a rush. What only took a second seemed like hours.
The High Priest spun around in slow motion, the knife still in his hand. It took a moment for his mind to register what he was seeing. The holy place was no longer divided from the most holy. The curtain required by the Lord—the curtain that protected the people from seeing the holy of holies—was torn in two. All that was holy, all that was sacred, all that was off limits except once a year, stood exposed to the masses of gawking people.
The High Priest began to shake uncontrollably. They should be dead, he thought to himself. I should be dead! We are staring into the holy of holies—the very presence of God. We should all be dead. But, we are not. What has happened? The knife fell from his hand and crashed to the marble floor of the temple. The noise of it was like a sudden clap of thunder.
Then the lights went out.

Sammy jumped down from the altar. The darkness was not a problem for him. He spent every night outside and his little eyes knew how to see in the dark. He made his way through the screaming surging crowd. He dodged through the people, dived between legs and jumped over low objects. Moments later, Sammy was outside the temple charging down the city street Father had walked twice today. Sammy headed for the city gate.
It took a few minutes to work his way through the panicked people, but Sammy soon emerged from the city. He skidded to a halt—now that he was in the open, outside the city—and got his bearings. It only took a few seconds for his internal homing beacon to kick in. All animals seem to have an innate ability to find home. For Sammy, it was simply a matter of heading toward the place where he knew he was loved. It was a long run and took a bit longer in the dark.
About three hours later Sammy turned off the main road and went between gateposts he recognized, even in the dark. He bolted toward where he knew the house—and Rufus—should be. Then the lights came back on. There was Rufus! Sammy skidded to a halt and let out one long “baaaaa.”

Rufus sat on the front steps. He hadn’t moved from where he sat this morning when Father picked up Sammy and walked away. The darkness had been surprising at first. But, after a few minutes of silence and darkness Rufus became accustomed to it and actually preferred it. He felt dark and silent inside too. He’s dead. Rufus thought sadly. Obviously the sun quit shining when Sammy died. The sun loved Sammy too. He liked that thought. Everybody and everything should love Sammy. And they would if they knew him, he thought. A weak smile crossed his sad face in the darkness.
Then the lights came back on. It was bright—really bright. Rufus realized it was the middle of the afternoon. The Sun was glaring directly down the drive into his eyes. Then he heard it. “Baaaaaa.”
Rufus jumped to his feet. He knew that voice better than his own. It was Sammy! But it couldn’t be, he remembered. Sammy was surely dead by now. Another bleat burst forth in front of him. Rufus shaded his eyes and looked down the lane.
There, to his total surprise, was Sammy.
Sammy saw Rufus and broke into an all-out run.
Rufus couldn’t believe his eyes. His ears had been right. It was Sammy. Rufus started running too. Moments later there was a collision of boy and lamb flesh in the lane as Rufus scooped Sammy into his arms and they spun around in joyful circles. It was too good to be true. But, true it was.
Sammy wriggled out of Rufus’ grasp and started doing a playful dance in the grass alongside the driveway. Rufus chased him—and laughed.
Later, the two friends sat together on the porch. Rufus sat on the top step. Sammy, on the bottom step, rested his head on Rufus’ knee. Rufus alternated between patting Sammy’s head and his perfect coat. And his mind wandered.
“What happened, Sammy?” Rufus asked aloud. “Did you get away?” Rufus thought about this for a few minutes. If Sammy had somehow escaped from Father, he would still need to make a sacrifice. He would return and, probably, take Sammy to the city tomorrow. That was too painful for Rufus to think about for very long. So, he tried to think of other scenarios. But, every course of events he came up with ended in the same way. There was one undeniable fact—Sammy was alive. And this fact led Rufus to the repeated conclusion that Father would take Sammy away again.
Rufus hugged Sammy tight hoping that, beyond reason, there was some way—some way he could keep Sammy.

When the lights came back on, Father stood facing the three crosses. He hadn’t moved. As the people who fled in panic receded into the city, Father, and those like him, stood in awed silence. The darkness had seemed to last forever—it was so dark and deep—and yet finished so suddenly it was hard to be sure it had been dark at all. Once the crazed crowd was out of earshot, Father could hear the slow agonized breathing of the crucified men. The long silences between forced breaths were punctuated with the occasional groan or whimper. The darkness made little difference to the men’s suffering.
Moments after the sun returned, everything seemed to go back to normal. It was as if no one wanted to consider what the darkness had meant or what had caused it. A group of soldiers stood guard near the crosses. One held up Jesus’ robe and said, “I’d like this one for myself.” The others argued and they cast lots to choose the lucky person.
Jesus inhaled a sharp gasp and whispered what seemed to be a prayer, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
One of the crucified men snarled something under his breath, glaring at Jesus. The criminal on the other side of Jesus replied, “Do you even know who you are talking to?” He paused to take a ragged breath, “We deserve our punishment! But he has done nothing wrong.” Then, fixing his eyes on Jesus, he said, “Jesus, please remember me when you reach your kingdom.”
Father pondered this thought for a moment. This criminal must know something of Jesus’ teaching. He knows about the unearthly kingdom Jesus often spoke of.
Father’s thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Jesus, “My kingdom—yes, you will be there with me, my friend. I promise.”
There was such surety in Jesus’ tone. He meant it. Both Jesus and the criminal slumped forward again, staring at the ground. There was a sense of peace between them. Father could feel it.
A man stumbled to the foot of Jesus’ cross. He was crying. “Oh my Jesus,” He sobbed. “My sweet Jesus!”
Jesus spoke, “John, call my mother. She stands on the hill behind you.”
The man turned and gestured to a crowd of women. An older lady made her way toward them and stopped a few paces off. It seemed she could bring herself no closer.
Jesus said, “John, look after her as if she were your own mother.” The man nodded and sobbed his agreement. After another agonizing breath, Jesus lifted his eyes to the woman. “Mother, take John to be your son.” The woman, tears glistening on her cheeks, nodded and slowly walked back to the group she had come from.
Father was amazed. He is dying, he thought, and yet he is concerned for his mother and friend. This is no ordinary man.
Time seemed to drag into eternity as silence overtook the crowd and the three crosses. Breath after ragged breath accompanied the occasional whimper and more frequent outcry as muscle spasms and oxygen depletion competed against the will of each crucified man. Every breath was excruciatingly painful. And every breath was life and death.
Jesus’ head listed to one side and he moaned, “I am thirsty.”
A soldier dipped a sponge in a bucket of wine mixed with vinegar. Impaling the sponge on a spear the soldier hoisted it up to Jesus. As the scent of it registered in Jesus’ nostrils he jerked his head away. The soldier followed Jesus’ face with the sponge, pushing it against his mouth.
Jesus tilted his head back against the cross and stared into the sky. “It is finished,” he said with an almost triumphant tone. Then, in a agonizing shout, Jesus proclaimed, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”
His head rolled to the side and rested against his chest. The remaining air rushed from his lungs and his body slumped forward, hanging from the nails. Jesus was dead. A tear tracked its way down father’s dusty cheek.
Nearby, a roman soldiers said, to no one in particular, “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” Father couldn’t help but agree. Such a man should not die on a cross, Father thought to himself. Jesus was no criminal. He was what he said he was—God’s only Son. Father felt a sense of relief at that thought. And Father suddenly realised he could go home. It was over.
Father turned, walked to the road that led home, and began the return journey to his family. He thought as he walked and walked as he thought. He had so much to tell his loved ones. So much had changed. And yet, he didn’t know what was different now. Jesus was dead. How could he be God’s Son and dead? How could a dead Messiah lead people to his new kingdom? Was there any hope? What did it all mean?

The thinking made the homeward journey pass like a moment and soon Father was rounding the last corner and heading down his own driveway.
He noticed Rufus running toward him from the house. Father wasn’t really concentrating on Rufus. His eyes were studying the stones on the path. He couldn’t get his thoughts straight. How would he explain all he had seen today?
Rufus approached father and asked, “Father, didn’t you take Sammy to the city today?”
The question took Father by surprise. The situation in the temple seemed ancient history. So much had happened since then. But, the memories now flooded back into his mind. He had traded Sammy for two doves. Rufus would be heart broken. He wouldn’t tell Rufus the whole story, he had decided. The memory fresh in his mind now, Father answered Rufus. Keeping his eyes on the pebbly path Father said, “Yes Rufus. You know I took him.”
Rufus blustered, “Didn’t you make a sacrifice for our family? Are our sins forgiven?”
Father was confused. He glanced into Rufus’ eyes and then away. He was afraid Rufus would read the truth in his face. “Of course I made a sacrifice, Rufus. That’s why I made the long journey.”
“But Father,” Rufus interrupted, “how could you have? Sammy is here.”
Father noticed, now, that Rufus was holding a lamb in his arms. “Rufus, that’s not Sammy. It can’t be. I took Sammy to the temple. I sold him to the temple traders. I . . . I . . .” Father stumbled over his words.
“Father, this is Sammy,” Rufus said with certainty. “Did you make a sacrifice? Did you?” Rufus didn’t want Sammy to go back to the temple tomorrow. He wanted Father to say he had made a sacrifice, that Sammy was free to stay home—to stay alive.
“Yes, Rufus . . . I made a sacrifice. I,” Father attempted to continue.
Rufus interrupted again, “But Father, this is Sammy. Did you sacrifice a different animal?” Then an idea—a previously impossible idea—rushed into Rufus’ mind. “Father, did you find a better lamb?”
Father stopped walking, stunned. He fixed Rufus with a long hard stare. He looked down at Sammy and studied him for a long moment. He reached out and gently stroked Sammy’s perfect coat. Then Father smiled and looked into Rufus’ eyes as his own eyes filled with tears, “Yes, Rufus. Yes! I found a better lamb!”
Father wrapped his arms around Rufus and Sammy and the three of them stood there for a long time. A very wonderful long time.