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Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Nails - Part II

How many days had Jonathan wandered looking for anyone? Had it been weeks? Months? Years? He certainly had lost count and had no conception of the passage of time. He wasn’t wearing a suit anymore, but had picked up some casual clothes somewhere along the way. He had given up trying to shave so now he had a full beard and his hair was shoulder length. Each day he awoke and spoke the names of those he loved – hoping that somehow by calling their name they would appear. At first, he had limited his chant to his immediate family – his wife and his children. But soon, he had expanded to his parents, his sister and two brothers, and his in-laws. Eventually, he was calling out the names of everyone he knew. It was as much a matter of maintaining his sanity as it was anything else. He wandered from city to city, calling out the names of those he knew and loved, but secretly hoping that he would find anyone at all. It was somewhat of a ritual, now, though because he had long since lost any hope of ever seeing anyone again. He hadn’t admitted it to himself yet, but Jonathan knew in his heart of hearts that he was totally alone in the world.

It was just about the time that Jonathan was ready to make that confession that he heard a sound in the distance. He was leaving the city limits of a small town in the Midwest and in the distance he could faintly but clearly hear the sound of a large, heavy hammer hitting a nail. Jonathan was both scared and excited as he ran toward the sound.

When he was about 150 yards away, Jonathan pulled up short because he finally saw what was causing the noise. From this distance he could see that there were three men there. One was lying down, with his arms spread wide. He was lying on something, but Jonathan could not tell from this distance what it was. Whatever it was, though, the other two men were nailing him down to it! He couldn’t believe his eyes, so he rubbed them to make sure he was not hallucinating. No, it was real. They were nailing his left hand down to whatever it was the man way lying on.

“STOP IT!” he yelled as he ran towards the three. They paid him no notice, but moved from the left hand to the right hand and continued hammering. As Jonathan quickly closed the gap, he yelled again “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP!” He did not even slow down as he plowed shoulder first into the man with the large hammer, sending the man sprawling across the ground and the hammer spiraling up into the air. Both the man and the hammer landed about 15 yards away. Jonathan himself tumbled as a result of the blow but quickly pulled himself up so that he could take a run at the second man, who was still holding the large nail to the third man’s wrists.

Suddenly Jonathan realized and wondered at the fact that the man was not fighting to free himself. As he walked up to the two, he stood in shock and awe as he realized what he was seeing. It was a classic crucifixion scene like he had seen played out so many times during Easter passion plays. This scene, however, was not a play and was not fake. The man lying on the cross was naked and was literally being nailed down, but he gave no resistance. His body was bruised, battered, and bloody as if he had been beaten. There was a crown of thorns in his head just like he had seen in the pictures. The man was clearly in agony. Jonathan didn’t recognize him, and he certainly did not look like the paintings of Jesus that he had seen all his life. He looked at the two men, who were dressed as Midwest farmers. The one he had tackled was standing up and retrieving the hammer.

“What is this, what is going on?” Jonathan demanded.

The man holding the hammer simply walked back over to the cross. He did not, however, return to his hammering. Rather, he held the hammer out for Jonathan to take and simply said

“Finish it.”

Jonathan was horrified, but he held his composure, knocked the hammer out of the farmer’s hand, and simply said “No, this is insane.” Suddenly the two men were gone. Only Jonathan remained with the man lying on the wooden cross. The man looked at Jonathan and even though he was battered and disfigured, he could see clearly the love in his eyes.

“Jonathan.” His voice was strained through the pain, but when he said his name, Jonathan knew who he was. It was like a parent calling out a child’s name. But how could this be? How could this really be Jesus? Jonathan’s head swam and he thought he would faint, but when Jesus said his name again he recovered his senses.

“I don’t understand” he said. “What is happening?”

“You must complete the task, Jonathan. It is for you that I do this.”

“No… you can’t… not for me… I’m not worth it!”

“Yes, Jonathan, for you. Even though you are the only person in the whole world, I must die for you.” Tears began streaming down Jonathan’s face. “Now take up the hammer and finish it.”
Slowly, Jonathan reached down and picked up the hammer. He held it over his head and hesitated.

“No” he whispered again, but the loving eyes of Jesus said what his voice did not…

“Yes.”

Jonathan close his eyes and let the hammer fall. With the deafening sound of the hammer hitting the nail, Jonathan’s mind flashed to his childhood. He could see himself bullying little Sally from next door. Laughing as he pushed her down. The tears continued rolling down his face as he raised the hammer again. This time, when the hammer fell, he saw himself as a teenager in Algebra class, cheating on a test. Each and every time the hammer fell, he saw himself again and again in some act of disgrace or evil. Jonathan cringed at things that he had long since forgotten. To the world, Jonathan was a good man… but at the same time he was not a good man. So many hidden sins. So many secrets. So many memories. Arguments with his wife… little acts of indiscretion… compromises of his integrity.

As he moved from Jesus’ hands to his feet, Jonathan said weakly “I did this to you?”
Jesus did not respond.

By the time Jonathan completed nailing his feet, he was weeping uncontrollably. He walked over to the head of the cross and began lifting the cross. Jonathan strained as he raised the human-laden cross and set it into the hole in the ground especially prepared for that purpose. When the cross was fully raised, Jonathan approached Jesus and began kissing his bloodied feet. He was still weeping and as his face became covered with the blood from Jesus’ feet, he simply said “I’m sorry” and he collapsed into a sobbing mess at the foot of the cross, covering his face with his hands in shame and sorrow.

Jonathan had no idea how long he sat there. It may have been minutes or hours or even days, but it wasn’t until he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder that he uncovered his face from his hands and looked around. The cross was gone, but Jesus was standing next to him. Jesus reached down and gently lifted him to his feet. He was fully clothed in white linen. He seemed to glow and a gentle, loving smile was on his face.

“Jonathan,” he said, “do you love me?”

Jonathan wasn’t exactly sure why he was asking the question and suddenly he remembered a similar scene from the Bible… the gospel of John if he recalled correctly. The correct response if he was not mistaken was “Lord, you know I love you.” But as he started to say it, Jonathan noticed on the horizon a large crowd of people making their way toward the two. At this distance, he could not make out who they were, but they were definitely headed that way. Jonathan pointed towards the crowd and opened his mouth to ask about them, but he hesitated as Jesus said it again.

“Do you love me, Jonathan?”

The crowd was now growing closer. They were still generally too far away for him to distinguish faces for the most part, but out in front of all of them were four that he could clearly distinguish even at this distance. It was Gena and his three children. He wanted to rush to them, but he wanted to stay with Jesus. He was torn, but for the moment anyway, he stayed.

“Yes, Lord, I love you.”

Once more Jesus asked the question. “Jonathan, do you really love me. Do you love me more than these? Do you love me more than anything else in all the world?”

The question cut to his soul. His time in solace had made Jonathan keenly aware of how much he loved his family. He would do anything for them. He looked up and could clearly make them out now, walking toward him. He could make out others as well. In fact, he knew them all. It was all those whose names he had been calling each day. Everyone in his sphere of influence was now coming his way. He was somewhat taken aback by how many there were, but he quickly realized that over the last days and weeks he had grown to love them all – even in their absence. Yes, he loved them all. But did he love them more than he loved Jesus? He realized now what Jesus had done for him. He never really realized it before. He never really comprehended that it was because of him that Jesus had to die. He was grateful for that. He was even more grateful that death had not contained him. It was true. He did love Jesus and he loved him more than all these. Jonathan turned from the approaching crowd and looked at Jesus.

“Yes, Lord… I love you even more than these.”

Jonathan’s family was only about 100 yards away now. Jesus looked deep into Jonathan’s eyes and replied… “Then feed my sheep.”

Jonathan sat up in bed with a gasp. His face was sweating – or was it tears? He looked over at the alarm clock, which was glowing a dim blue in the darkness of his bedroom. It was 3:30 a.m. His wife was sleeping peacefully at his side. Was it a dream? And yet it seemed so real. Could it have really happened? There was no denying that it at least felt real. He could remember the days and weeks and months of wandering aimlessly and alone, but now he was back in his bed as if nothing had ever happened.

A dream - that is what it was. It was a dream. But it was also real to him and he knew that he would never be the same as a result. He would be a better father and husband. He would be the spiritual leader of their family. He would not be defined by the office, but rather would be defined by the savior. He would stop running from his calling. He would teach his family and his friends the truths of scripture. He would take a stand.

Jonathan raised his hand up to wipe the sweat – or was it tears – from his face. Only then did he realize that he was grasping on to something tightly. So tightly in fact that his hands were white. Slowly, he opened his hand to reveal what was inside – two small miniature masonry nails.

It was a dream… right?

Note: Even if you were the only person on the Earth, Jesus would have still died for you!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Nails - Part I

The Nails
Copyright 2009 Joel Dison

Jonathan stood perplexed on the sidewalk facing his large, suburban home. It’s well-manicured and professionally landscaped yard a testimony to the success Jonathan had experienced over the last few years as a financial advisor. It was not the product of his handiwork, of course, because his long hours at the office gave him precious little time to work in the yard. Rather, his wife, Gena, had long since hired a gardener for that task.
Jonathan was perplexed because he couldn’t remember driving home today. He remembered every detail of his busy day at the office, but then everything seemed to fade out until he found himself here, staring blankly at his house. He stood there limply holding his leather briefcase at his side. His medium-priced suit was wrinkled from his long day and his power tie hung loosely around his neck to reveal that the top button of his shirt had been unbuttoned. How did I get here he thought to himself.
Even as he stood there staring at his house, he somehow knew that the house was empty. He didn’t know why, but he knew there was no one at home. Usually when he came home, the house was busy with the carefree activities of his three children – all under the age of 12. Usually when he came home, his wife was busy cleaning, or cooking, or helping with homework, or something equally as domestic. Today, however, Jonathan was keenly aware that there was no stirring in the house.
Jonathan usually didn’t bother with that stuff. Typically when he came home, he would retire to the shelter of his study to recover from the pressures of the day. He didn’t know that Gena had long since discovered his secret hiding place where he kept a bottle of Wild Turkey. One drink a day. That’s all, just one, but he felt it was necessary to dull the pain. He knew his pastor would probably frown on him for it. In fact, as a deacon in his small Southern Baptist church, he was supposed to refrain from alcohol altogether. One drink a day though didn’t hurt anything, did it? After all, he wasn’t an alcoholic and he never got drunk. One drink, that’s all.
Jonathan was home earlier than normal today. It was normally dark when he came home – even during the long days of summer – but not today. Jonathan turned and shielded his hands as he looked at the sun. It was still two or three hours above the horizon. What time is it he thought as he looked down at his watch. He was even more perplexed as he saw that the face of his watch was blank. It contained no markings and no hands to indicate the time of day. Jonathan then scanned around the quaint suburban street and suddenly realized that none of the houses had any activity. Jonathan dropped his briefcase and slowly walked to the edge of the street. As he scanned the houses up and down the street, he noticed that they all seemed dark and silent. In fact, there was no one in the neighborhood at all. There were no cars passing by on the street. There were no kids playing in the yards. Not even the sprinklers were running. It then hit him that even the neighborhood pets were gone. Harold’s chocolate lab was usually wandering the neighborhood playing with the kids. Bob’s crazy chow was usually barking incessantly at anything and everything from behind his fenced prison. Nothing. Not even a bird… Where are the birds?
Jonathan turned back and looked at his Ford Excursion. He had been meaning to trade that monster in for one of the new hybrid jobs or even something a bit more practical like a small or mid-sized car, but had not gotten around to it yet. He bought it out of pride a few years back when all his buddies were buying the big SUVs. He had to buy the biggest and the baddest there was. Of course he didn’t really need it.
Not sure exactly what was going on, Jonathan decided that he needed to head back to the office to try and figure things out. That was Jonathan, all right… everything could be figured out by going to the office. It is where he typically went whenever he and Gena had a fight. There had been several times he even spent the night there. Today, however, he just needed to clear this fog in his head and find out why the world had suddenly gone empty. He walked over to the SUV and climbed up into the cockpit, but when he inserted the key and turned the ignition, nothing happened. That’s odd, he thought, the battery shouldn’t be dead. But when he then went to the garage and the same thing happened to his wife’s minivan, he knew something was wrong.
More confused than ever, now, Jonathan took to the street, walking right down the middle of it towards what he knew would be activity and civilization. His office was 20 miles away. He wouldn’t be able to walk all the way to his office, but there was a major shopping center about 5 miles away. For lack of anything better, he decided to head in that direction. At first he walked very casually, but then he came to the first major cross street. Looking up and down this major road, he realized that it, too, contained no activity. A dull fear was creeping into his head, so he turned down this road and began a slow, steady jog. By the time he reached state highway 10, full blown panic had set in. Where are all the people? Where are the cars?
By this time Jonathan was running at a full sprint. As he crested a small hill just prior to the local commerce and shopping center, he all but collapsed from over exertion and lack of breath. He stood there with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath as he looked down into the valley below. The shopping center was like a ghost town. No cars. No people. No nothings. There was a cool breeze blowing across the street and Jonathan startled as an empty cardboard box rolled past him coming from nowhere going to nowhere. It was the only movement he had seen since he awoke from his dazed state in front of his house.
Jonathan’s immediate thoughts were that his pastor was finally right… the rapture had come and he had been left behind. But wait a minute…. If the rapture had come, he wouldn’t be the only one left behind. There would be others. Where were the others? No, this wasn’t the rapture, this was something else. Surely he could find someone somewhere who could tell him what was going on.
Hours of wandering found Jonathan in the dark sitting under a tree at one of the town parks. He was tired, scared, confused, and could think of nothing but his family. Why had he ignored them so? Why had he spent so much time at the office? Right now he would give anything if they would just show themselves. Where could they be? Where could anyone be? Jonathan sat there remembering many things about his family. He was distraught, though, that most of those memories came with the realization that he had not been the father and husband that he should have been. How many birthdays had he missed because of a big project at work? How many school plays should he have attended but didn’t. He thought about the blonde receptionist at work that he so playfully flirted with on a daily basis. On more than one occasion, she had made it clear that he could take things to the next level. He never did, but he couldn’t help but admit to himself the fact that on several occasions he gave it very serious consideration. If the opportunity had truly presented itself, he probably would have caved in to the temptation. As he drifted off to sleep, he was softly sobbing to himself. He had never felt so alone – or so ashamed.

Jonathan startled himself awake. Expecting to find himself in his own bed, he quickly realized that he was still lying under the same tree in the park. His suit was now disgracefully wrinkled and dirty as well. Jonathan took off his coat and his tie and dropped them on the ground. He left them there as he walked away, once again in search of anyone.
Realizing that he was hungry, Jonathan walked into a convenience store and grabbed a package of donuts from the shelf and a carton of 2% milk from the refrigerator section. When he reached into his pocket to pull out his wallet, he realized that there was no one to take his money. Not knowing what else to do, he returned his wallet to his pocket and walked out the door.