April 10, 2009 coin
He could not give them back. Though he tried, once his mind let go of it, the coins just fell to the ground, rolling into the corner, some of them. One made its way down the steps of the temple and landed at the feet of a beggar boy. Still, they belonged to him; thirty silver coins, their imprint being burnt into his hands, the ridges of sheckles pressed against the fleshy pads under his thumbs.
"I have accused an innocent man", he tried to tell them, but they had already set the millstone to turning and the grain was already caught in the crushing. No turning back such a stone. And so he turned away from the temple and hanged himself.
My shoulders sink down closer to my heart thinking of Judas. Heavy, heavy sins no thinking soul would commit. I convince myself of this, that he was ill, that he could not have known the seriousness of what he was doing, and once the reality of it hit him, his gut turned to fire and he could no longer breathe with the heat. My devotion to the Master should confidently curse him for what he did. Instead the sinner in me wants to embrace him and weep. I would take the coins from him and change the course of history, freeing the prisoner, and in so doing I would curse the whole of mankind. It is a good thing the Powers did not care. A good thing because I need Jesus. I need him to lay himself on the scale against my heavy weight. I need him to oversee the large canvas being painted by every breathing soul, from yesterday until the last tomorrow. I need his understanding of justice. I need his blessed mercy. I need his footsteps to walk in.
A few years back, on a frigid winter night I rolled from my bed and buried my head in my pillow, worn out from lack of sleep, confused at the depression that had fused itself to my body and frozen the synapse healthy people don't even know is happening in their brains. Quivering in the stillness of that night, I begged God to hear me.
"Are you there?" I whispered into the pillow. "If you are there, do you know what I am feeling? And if you do, why do you let it continue?"
These are the pleadings of a child, like Sophie when she sat in her mama's lap realizing the doctor was about to stick a sharp needle into her leg, confused as to why any caring person would do such a thing.
I do not hear angels, I am sorry to say. I do not hear words whispered in personal revelation from my good sister angels. I wish I did. It would alleviate a lot of mistakes for sure. And I do not have a burning in the bosom either. But that night I heard something. What I heard there, at the side of my bed, was a replaying of a Sunday School lesson from years before. Steve Geary was teaching. I remembered him asking the question: "What does Firstborn mean?" Answers rose from the class...the firstborn son of God the Father; the first born son of the virgin Mary. These we all knew. Why would these thoughts come to me at the side of my bed on a January night? Then, quietly, I heard my own voice answer. Firstborn; it means my own sins, my mistakes and weaknesses, as well as the suffering I may not have called upon myself: these all were experienced in actuality before I ever felt them. They were first born by Him, there in the Garden, when his brothers had fallen asleep in their vigil. Born in that place of crushing, where blood spilt from open pores, where throbbing pain turned to constancy, and where the greatest burden had to have been the loneliness he felt at bearing it alone. Knowing my own personal struggle was completely familiar to someone else made the bearing of it less solitary. That someone knew exactly how I felt was comforting, like we are suddenly excited when someone from our home state is at the large conference in New Jersey. The sharing of familiar things endears others to us. I knew someone knew exactly how I felt, and it made me breathe deeper knowing I was not so alone in this. All this aside from the actual mathematics of payment, of ransoming, of covering the wage for opening the door back home. This was Jesus. This is Jesus.
There is the imprint of a coin burnt into my palm, one I used to sell him to the suffering. I would shake the scars off if I could. Instead, I imagine him lifting my hand in his, him opening my fingers to expose the sin, then laying his own wounded hand atop mine. I feel his goodness rush through me. Sweet, steady breath of heaven, filling my lungs and invigorating my mind.
I cannot give it back, my coin. I cannot say how I know this: but I believe he is OK with that. I am a debtor. He is grace.