When the view is not what is important.
Crucifixion of Jesus by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting ca. 1490
It was a fine view from his raised position although his mind was not on it; His vision kept blurring, would clear for a short time then blur again. Had he looked, he would have been able to see for miles and miles, taking in the rugged grandeur of the countryside, shimmering in places in the heat haze. Though the view might have been described by some people as a spectacular vista, it was not at the present time his focus of attention, even when his sight was clear and he would have been able to survey it.
Turning his head, he could still make out the city wall to his left and craning his neck around further, on either side of him and slightly behind, were two other men, the only others who, like himself, were above the heads of the crowd on the hillside and he wondered briefly again why he could see over them all.
For some strange reason, what he most noticed from his elevated situation were the small details of how people looked from above, even though he was only about a man’s height above them they looked quite different. The womens heads were covered in headscarves of various hues. Most, of course, of un-dyed grey but, dotted here and there around him, were blues, browns and blacks. Only a few well heeled, observers had yellows, reds or greens. A lot of the men had covered heads too, mostly the older ones with thinning hair wanting to keep the sun off of their bald pates. Then there were the younger menfolk with full heads of hair, a few blonde or red headed, mostly dark or black haired. And at various places throughout the crowd and around and below him, were helmeted heads.It was in these small, insignificant features that he found the greatest distraction, assuaging the pain much more than surveying the wide vista before him.
It had been only a short distance out from the city, to the vantage point from which he was now surveying the scene in the moments his vision was clear, nevertheless it had felt like a very long journey. He had stumbled often along the way, adding to the bruising and cuts he already had, bloodying his knees and hands and the dirt of the street caking on into the cuts and sticking to him in the drying blood. He had been carrying a heavy load and after one fall had had to be helped to lift it, and to carry it to the final destination, from where he now looked down.
Something, or rather someone, below caught his attention. He had to concentrate hard to focus on a small group, huddled together in the milling, noisy crowd he overlooked. It was hard to make them out. His mind was playing tricks on him now and his eyes were not focussing properly but, gradually, blinking away the red veil that seemed like a sheer curtain in front of his eyes, he was able to discern three women, clinging tightly together with a man hovering protectively over them, fending off the crowd from closing in around them. Why were those women shorter than everyone else? Then he realised; they were on their knees.
In all the hundreds of people, there was something familiar about these three as they stared up at him, through the heat and the dust and the noise. It would come to him, eventually he would know. While he tried to think who they might be, he let his head tilt back. There was something above his head, a sign perhaps but what did it say, he couldn’t read it from this angle, even if his eyes had been working properly. There was something behind his head too. Something hard. Something wooden that pressed against his headband and when it did, it hurt him with a thousand tiny pinpricks. In that pain came a moment of clarity, he knew who the people were below him. He couldn’t see clearly enough to recognise them by sight but he perceived their identity. His mother and her sister were there. He thought the third woman was the follower, Mary, and the man was his friend and companion these last years, John.
As he stared down at them wondering why they were there, the red veil seemed to thicken before his eyes. His other senses were dimming too. He could hardly hear the tumult of the thronging people any more. The pain was receding too, ebbing away. Suddenly, without warning, everything was crystal clear. In the sounds around him, he could pick out individual voices. The red veil was ripped from in front of his eyes, letting him see with pin sharp clarity, even though the sun was hidden behind thick, dark, almost black, cloud.
He sensed pain growing even more intense by the moment, or was it just that his dulled senses were returning and with it the exquisite, excruciating pain. He could feel again each piercing; each nail through hand and foot and each of a thousand tiny thorn’s pinpricks around his head. Tilting his head back and looking up, he uttered just 3 words that only those closest could hear. “It is finished” he said. Then for just an instant of time, he could see with crystal clarity and hear every word, every murmur of those around him. An there was a odd sound, a discordant note. What was it he could he hear, it came to him; the clicking of dice.
Parting his lips to take another breath, it didn’t come. His head fell forward, chin lolling onto his chest and he slumped limp and lifeless from the high, wooden cross, held aloft now only by the nails driven through his hands and through his feet.
The sign over his head, that he had been unable to see to read was no longer the pale mockery of Jesus that the Pharisees had intended. Now, ironically, it had become more true than even a prophet might have foreseen. It read “King Of The Jews”.