Thursday, March 29, 2018
Lenten Book Club 2018 - "The Thief" chapters 31-36...
Well. We knew this book would be ideally suited to Lent, did we not? I knew when I picked up this last segment over the weekend that it would be a tearjerker, and it did not disappoint. Let's dive in. I suppose.
We pick up on Crucifixion day. UGH! Oh my gosh, I was bracing myself as I read, as I'm sure you were too. Nissa wakes up determined not to abandon Dismas during his hour of need, and she carries through. She finds the men as they are given their crosses to carry up to Golgotha, and stays by Dismas's side. Other people gather to throw stones and spit at them. I mean, really? No matter what they've done (or you think they've done) aren't they suffering enough already? I even feel bad for Gestas at this point! Nissa protects Dismas as much as she can from the cruelty of the bystanders.
Longinus is there too, and he does what he can to straddle the fine line between doing his job, but doing it with compassion. When Jesus falls, he ropes in Simon of Cyrene to help him out.
During all of this, I could literally FEEL the agony. We want this suffering to end for these men, this terrible burden of carrying heavy wooden crosses up a hill when they've already been physically weakened by a brutal beating. But we know that when they arrive at their destination...their worst suffering is still yet to come. I was having a difficult time sitting still while I was reading, this was all so palpable to me.
Up on the hill, Dismas extends only forgiveness and love to all. He is at peace, and says that doing this, taking Nissas place, is the best thing he's ever done. This moment, combined with the descriptions of them all being nailed to the crosses...this is where I lost it. They hadn't even gotten to Jesus yet, and I was a sobbing basketcase. The inhumanity of death by crucifixion had never been more real to me.
Longinus compassionately tends to Jesus. Nissa does not leave Dismas's feet. Jesus dies first, and when a priest demands proof that Jesus is dead, Longinus pierces His side with a lance. The blood and water that pour forth completely convert his heart that Jesus is the son of God. He finally does something that he couldn't bring himself to do before - he forgives Nissa. He has Marcellus hurry along the deaths of the two thieves, in order to shorten their suffering.
Meanwhile, we learn that Gestas had betrayed both Nissa and Longinus before he died. Longinus is arrested for treason, and he urges Nissa to immediately leave Jerusalem.
But, of course, she doesn't. She heads to Gehenna, where the bodies of Gestas and Dismas are taken. She does not want their bodies to be left for the wild animals. While she is hiding, waiting for her opportunity, she encounters the hanging body of Judas.
Nissa gives Dismas, and even Gestas, a proper burial, and while she is doing this, it begins to rain. Her heart has been changed by Dismas and Longinus's witness, and she begs God for forgiveness, and prays for the first time in a very long time. She heads home looking for Cedron, and encounters Gilad, our other evil G person from this story. When he tries to get money from her, suggesting that she can pay "in trade," Nissa puts into practice the defense moves Longinus taught her and successfully kicks Gilad's ass. I had a very proud Girl Power moment right there.
*virtual fist bump*
She finally finds Cedon hiding at the Temple with his friends, and they're all confused. Jesus is dead, and thus they are all convinced this means that he's not the Messiah they were waiting for. They were ready for revolution, and He let them down. Nissa does what she can, but leaves discouraged by their attitude.
She hustles to the prison to try and find Longinus. She finds Marcellus, and convinces him to sneak her in. Naturally, Silvanus catches them, because he is a squirrelly evil person. Her and Longinus are taken to Pilate.
Pilate has no more sympathy for Longinus. He sentences him to death, and for Nissa to be given to the Sanhedrin. And we all know how compassionate THEY will be towards her. Suddenly, somebody rushes in with news. Jesus's guarded body has disappeared. This has a big impact on Pilate.
He is a man devoted to the Greek gods, and fears that this mysterious God of the Jews could potentially strike him down. He releases both Nissa and Longinus.
I was surprised by this! We actually have a happy ending for Nissa and Longinus. They have no money, but they love each other, and they have their faith, and they agree to figure out a way to share their lives together.
They head to the tomb. There is a crowd gathered there of Jesus's followers, but also Cedron, Marcellus, and Cornelius, another Roman centurion. They are the believers of the early Church.
So, WOW. This book had a powerful, powerful impact on me this Lent, and especially this Holy Week. The scene on Golgotha will never leave my head whenever I meditate on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and when I attend the Good Friday liturgy. I am speechless. The author so realistically set the stage of us being bystanders on that journey and seeing the events unfold. I was SOBBING. Sobbing. Each step, each nail, each breath of agony, I was there. We were all there together.
I may re-read this book every Lent, it had that big of an impact on me. I am SO GLAD we chose this to read for the book club this Lent, and I would absolutely love to gather *your* thoughts on the end of this book!
We'll have another book club this summer, how does July sound? We're going apologetics this time, and we'll chat about it as the date draws closer!