In fact, it seemed that he was having to do that a lot these days. Every time Ectonios stole something, the original owner and any other people who happened to be there at the time came running after him to try to bring him to justice. And that was exactly what was happening now; he had just been at the marketplace and taken a handful of gold coins from the livestock trader. It probably wasn't all that much--Ectonios hadn't had time yet to sit down and count it--but it was something, possibly enough to support him for another week or two.
He looked behind him and saw the livestock trader, a large and burly man, close on his trail, his rage fueling his body and giving way to furious shouts. Ectonios was almost inclined to snicker to himself; the trader probably thought that he actually had a chance of catching the thief. But he knew that he was the best at what he did; he had never been caught, and as far as he was concerned, he never would be.
Still running past the various obstacles that stood in his way, Ectonios ignored the oncoming opposition and looked ahead. The sight he saw brought him gladness: a large crowd. It wouldn't be hard to lose his pursuers inside it. He was fairly sure that none of his them had gotten a good look at his face, so once he was among everyone else, they would be hard-pressed to recognize him. He tucked the small bag of coins inside his cloak, and then, running on the last leg of his journey toward safety, he ducked into the crowd of people standing around and seeking to trade their items. As soon as he was among them, he stopped running; running would make it obvious that he had something to hide. Ectonios smiled slightly to himself; he was probably safe now. Quickly, carefully, he peeked above the heads of those gathered and looked in the direction he had just come from. He saw the livestock trader, still standing there, but confused, not sure of where the thief had gone, and no longer able to chase him. In a moment, the trader ran off in another direction; whether to continue the search or to give up and go back to his post, Ectonios didn't know. But he didn't care. He had not been found; he had won.
Now that the immediate threat was gone, Ectonios slowly and cautiously made his way out of the crowd, trying to look inconspicuous. He slightly pushed past people, throwing out various pleasantries and requests for pardons to make himself seem like a normal, respectable citizen. Once he was out, he continued at a steady pace back to his home on the other side of the city. He mentally congratulated himself at another job well done.
At that point, while he was still walking, Ectonios had a strange thought. One that rarely occurred to him, and thus was all the more puzzling. For the first time in quite a while, he considered what he had just done. A part of him almost seemed to say that it was not right to steal--but no, that was irrelevant to him. He had done it many, many times now; that was how he had come to be so good at it. In his mind, stealing was perfectly okay.
And yet, he still couldn't shake the feeling. Why did he have this moral sense all of a sudden? He hadn't followed anything of that sort since--he thought back--since he had been a child or in his early teens. His mother had always taken him to the temple on the Sabbath, to worship and sacrifice to the LORD. Now he remembered--The Ten Commandments! They had been recorded in the Scriptures, and had often been read by the priests. Though he wasn't sure, he seemed to remember that one of the commandments was that people were not to steal.
But it didn't matter now, he told himself. He hadn't been to a temple on the Sabbath for years, since he was a child. He wasn't even sure anymore if he even believed in the LORD; for a while after he had taken up stealing, Ectonios had told himself that he was still right with the LORD. Now, however, he had dropped that pretense and all care for such things. After some brief thinking, he determined that if the LORD did exist, He must no longer care for Ectonios, because of all the evil things he had done. Yes, that had to be true.
Ectonios sighed to himself. What had caused him to think of this all of a sudden? Things had been so simple in those days; his mother and father had always taken him to worship, and he had taken it for granted that he was a good person and would be going to heaven when he died. However, as he had grown older, things grew more complicated. Questions arose, and he became unsure of such things, yet didn't usually care to try to figure them out. Things had become especially complicated in recent months, with the appearance of this Jesus person. Ectonios hadn't seen Him in person, but he had heard of the man's teachings and doings--who in Rome hadn't heard of Him? He thought it was strange what he had heard about Jesus; was it true that the man had the audacity to claim himself as the very son of God? To preach salvation, and forgiveness of sin? Forgiveness of sin.
Ectonios looked up. His feet had carried him to his home. Upon realizing this, all thoughts of spiritual questions dropped from his mind, as he made his way inside to count up his new fortune.
Pulling the small bag out from his coat, he spilled the contents out onto his table. Several small metallic shapes, each imprinted with Caesar's likeness, fell out of the bag and were counted accordingly. When Ectonios had finished counting, the total came to seventy-three denarii. Seventy-three! It was certainly more than he had expected, more than he usually got. He smiled and mentally congratulated himself on making another week's wages.
The next day, Ectonios returned to the marketplace once again. This time he had no intention of stealing anything; it would be foolish to do so again so soon, since the trader from yesterday would still be suspicious and watchful for thefts. This time, Ectonios came simply to spend some of his well-earned fortune from the day before. He browsed around the various stalls set up, searching for nice things to buy.
Look at that!, he said to himself. A large, plump pig for twenty-six denarii--that could be enough to cover each meal for a day or two. He turned his head in another direction and saw a trader of linen and fine clothes. A very fancy robe, richly adorned and beautifully woven, for thirty-three denarii. Both of them were very fine items. But as Ectonios looked around at all the activities around him, he noticed something that caught his eye even more.
A man was paying for his trade with a cup. Not just any cup, it would appear, but a fine golden chalice, laced with silver and studded with jewels on the outside. What a nice and valuable cup--surely it was worth much more than Ectonios had right now, even more than what the trader was selling for it.
Ectonios wanted it.
He quickly forgot all of his logic about how foolish it would be to steal at a time like this. From a distance, Ectonios carefully watched the trader, an elderly and somewhat frail man, handling the fortune he had just received. The man polished it, seemed to admire it visually, and then tucked it away inside his cloak so he could resume business. Perfect; he was no longer keeping an eye on it. This would be a perfect opportunity for Ectonios.
Carefully, the thief snuck up behind the trader, preparing to make his move. Fortunately for him, another customer had come already, turning the trader's attention away from the recently acquired chalice. Ectonios waited patiently. He watched and waited constantly, searching for the right moment. And then, moving on instinct, his stealing reflexes kicking in, his arm shot out and he grabbed the cup. Then, also almost automatically, his legs started running, carrying him far, far away.
"Stop!", Ectonios heard. "Thief! He stole my cup! Somebody stop him"
Ectonios paid these remorseful cries no attention; he never did. All he did was continue running, making his escape as quickly as possible-
"Aha!", came a cry from in front of him. Ectonios suddenly stopped moving, noticing that his path was obstructed by a large, muscular, familiar-looking man. It was the same livestock trader he had stolen from yesterday.
"Aha!", the trader repeated, grabbing Ectonios on the arm and holding him with a firm grip. "You're the same thief who stole from me yesterday, aren't you?" A mixture of victory and vengeance covered the trader's face to produce a satisfied grin. He raised his voice and called out to all the citizens around, "Somebody summon the Roman guards"
Then he turned back to Ectonios. Ectonios noticed that the other trader, the one whom the cup had belonged to, had now come up behind him as well. He felt fear well up inside him. He had always escaped before--would he be able to this time? If the Roman guards were being summoned, would he be executed?
His thoughts were interrupted by the livestock trader, still with a firm grip on his arm, speaking once again. "Now, as long as you're not going anywhere, I'd like you to return that cup to the man standing behind you." His words were gentle, as a mere suggestion, but the tone of his voice and the pain in his arm left no doubt in Ectonios's mind that it was a command. "And while you're at it, why not hand over the money you swiped from me yesterday"
Ectonios had a plan. It was a very rash plan, one that he had just thought of on the spur of the moment, but it was perhaps his only chance at escape. Slowly, he raised his arm, as if he were going to return the cup. The trader's grip on his arm loosened. Then, acting quickly, Ectonios reared his arm and flung it forward, thrusting the golden cup into the trader's head. The large man let out a cry of pain, and instinctively let go of Ectonios's arm. The thief took off running once again.
His initial feeling was relief. His plan had worked. He hadn't been sure if it would work--he didn't know how heavy or hard the cup actually was--but apparently it was enough to cause hurt. Ectonios looked behind him as he ran. Just as he expected, the livestock trader was once again pursuing him, with the other trader following close behind.
They were getting closer. Ectonios looked behind him and saw that they were probably only a few cubits away. Normally he was a good runner; he had to be, since he always needed to make quick escapes. But from what had already happened, his legs were getting tired, and he was losing strength. Within a few moments he was forced to slow down, and his pursuers caught up to him. The large man came up in front of him, and the older man to his side.
"Now I've got you!", said the large man. "You're tired now--don't try to escape! And don't think you can pull that same trick again"
Ectonios wasn't listening. He desperately needed to escape, and quickly. Even though the trick had already been used, he once again raised the cup to strike with it--but this time, he struck the older man, who happened to be closer to him. The old man let out a gasp of pain and fell to the ground. Ectonios once again tried to run away-
"Stop!", shouted a loud, commanding voice from not far away. Ectonios looked up. Two tall, muscular men stood in front of him, wearing armor and brandishing weapons. Hadn't someone called for the Roman guards before? Obviously, they had come. Ectonios didn't know what he would do.
"What is the trouble here?", one of the guards inquired. The large man pointed to Ectonios and spoke up. "This man has stolen from our marketplace two days in a row now! And just a moment ago, he slew this innocent man"
"Slew?", Ectonios repeated. "What? No, he can't be dead"
"He was old and weak.", the large man commented, bending down toward the other man's limp body. "His heart beats no longer"
Ectonios felt a chill rise up inside of him. What had he done? He had only wanted to get away, he never wanted to kill anyone--despite the gradual hardening to moral values that he had previously undergone, he knew that killing was most certainly wrong.
"He shall be brought before the judge, and punished accordingly!", the guards shouted, coming closer to Ectonios. One gestured to the golden cup and asked, "Is this what he stole"
The large man confirmed it.
Before he knew it, the golden cup was being torn from Ectonios's hand by the strong grip of the Roman soldier. Crestfallen, not for the loss of the cup but for the fact that he had been caught, Ectonios saw the cup being handed back to the livestock trader. Then the Roman soldiers quite forcefully took hold of Ectonios and brought him on the way toward the judge.
"Ectonios of Athens, now living in Rome.", the judge announced at Ectonios's trial the next day. "You have committed theft and murder. Is this true"
Ectonios knew that there was no point in trying to escape any more. There had been several people to witness the scene, and all possibilities of escape would be blocked by guards. He felt irrepressible guilt and shame rise up in his soul as he spoke the words. "It is true"
"Then, Ectonios, you will be punished.", the judge announced. "Such crimes are certainly worthy of death. Based on requests from the murdered man's family, and from the witness of the act, the court has ruled that no punishment less than crucifixion will be acceptable"
Crucifixion? This was terrible! That was the very worst possible way one could die! He had heard all the horrible stories about criminals who had been sentenced to such a death. The thought of such a thing happening to him made him unbearably fearful and nauseous. But what was he to do about it? He had already established that there was no possible escape. And somehow, even though crucifixion was such a terrible experience, he somehow felt that he deserved to die for what he had done. No, he would not try to escape. He would have to endure it, however terrible it might be.
The judge made one final comment. "The crucifixion is to be held in a few days, during the Passover feast. Guards, I trust you to keep Ectonios in prison until then."
He still remembered the details of how it had all happened just a few days ago. Now he sat in a cold, hostile jail cell, on the day that he had been told he would be killed. The cell was underground and he was not totally sure what time of day it was now, nor what time of day his execution was to take place. As far as he knew, he could have almost a full day left, or he could have only mere minutes. He had no idea.
As Ectonios sat against the hard, bare wall, he began to think about all that had happened recently. He had killed a man, but he accepted it now. Not to say that he meant to condone it as if it were not wrong, but he realized what he had done, and knew that there was no way to take it back. He felt deep remorse now, and though he knew that the pain of his death would be great, he understood that, if anyone should have died, it was him.
On that note, his thoughts turned back once again toward spiritual things, and what he had learned as a child. He knew that the LORD must certainly hate him now; he had stolen several times, and he had taken a life. He thought back through his past and realized that those were not the only bad things he had done. He lied when it suited him to do so. He had gotten drunk from time to time when under pressure, and he had slept with a few different women. In fact, he seemed to have broken all of the LORD's commands that he could remember.
Then he remembered Jesus. Jesus, the most controversial man in all of Rome, possibly in all the world. The man who called himself the Messiah. The man who preached assurance of salvation, and forgiveness of sin. Ectonios thought about this. He knew he had committed many, many sins. But what if this forgiveness thing was true? What if, even now, with only a very short time until his death--what if he could still be forgiven, and still be saved?
"You. Murderer.", he heard. He looked toward the cell's entrance to see one of the Roman guards who had escorted him here in the first place. "Get up. It's time."
The guards were leading him to where he was to be crucified, a place called Golgotha. Ectonios had said nothing. Many thoughts were racing through his head, mostly the same ones that he had already been through a thousand times. He felt apprehension and sadness, of course, but he couldn't ignore the thoughts he kept having about Jesus. He had never even met the man, but he couldn't stop thinking about Him. What was it about Jesus? Was He truly the son of God?
As they were walking, the guards were talking to each other, making light conversation as anyone might do with their coworkers. "Another one to be crucified.", one of the guards remarked. "He's the second we've had in two days. What do you know"
"It just shows you what a corrupt world we live in.", the other guard replied. "But at least this one isn't as bad as the one we brought in yesterday"
"Most certainly not. Jesus of Nazareth--claiming to be the son of God! I'll be glad to see Him crucified"
At this mention, Ectonios became alert. "What did you say?", he asked frantically. "What about Jesus"
The guards both eyed him strangely. It was very uncommon for prisoners to converse such with their guards. But perhaps they felt that the dying man deserved to be granted one last request; whatever the reason, they let him speak.
"You want to hear about Jesus?", the guard asked him. "We arrested him yesterday and brought him to be crucified"
"But not before he was flogged and whipped.", the other guard added.
Ectonios was shocked. "What?", he asked. "Why? What did he do wrong"
One of the guards looked at Ectonios like he didn't know anything. "You don't know much about the man, do you? He was claiming to be the son of God"
"Well, yes, I know that!", Ectonios continued. "But He was healing people, and doing miracles, and forgiving sins! Those aren't worthy of death, are they"
"Look, the man claims Himself as the Messiah, which is, of course, straight out blasphemy. He's a heretic and needs to be killed." The guard paused, then added, "Besides, I don't think you're in much of a position to be questioning what's worthy of death and what isn't"
Ectonios ignored the insult to himself and continued inquiring. "But what if He really is the son of God"
The guards were getting irritated now. They stopped walking and turned back to face Ectonios. "Why are you sticking up for this man? He cannot help you now, and He is receiving a lot worse punishment than you are. If I were you I'd shut your mouth, unless you want to be charged with blasphemy too"
"Stop!", one of the guards commanded. He gestured for Ectonios to come forward just a little bit more. Then, when they were all in the desired location, the guard said, "We're here." He pointed to Ectonios's right. Ectonios looked where he was pointing and saw it. Huge, menacing, a symbol of utmost terror and pain. A tree cut, shaped, and formed into an implement of the worst possible torture. It was the cross.
"Carry it to the hill.", the guard instructed.
Ectonios's journey to the hill was brutal and torturous. A few times he felt like he wouldn't be able to make it, but he completed the journey successfully. He knew how ironic it was, that he was making such a journey that would only aid his captors in his death. But, just as before, there was nothing he could do.
They pierced each of his hands with a metal spike, and put one through both of his feet. Excruciating pain surged through his entire being; he was now fastened to the cross. He cried out in pain as they raised the cross, with him still on it, upright and placed it so that it would stay like that. The process, for the most part, was complete. He knew that sometimes still-living bodies were left here for hours or days; that was one thought that really disturbed him. He knew, however, that at this point he would be dead sooner or later.
Despite the terrible pain, he looked around him. There was an incredible commotion coming from the ground to his right. He saw that there were two other crosses in addition to his, and strangely enough, the man next to him was still being tortured and taunted by the spectators on the ground. Wasn't the cross enough? And if anyone, why weren't they doing such to himself? Surely this man's crimes were not worse than his own!
"Save yourself, King of the Jews!", mocking people cried out from below.
"If you can, then come down from that cross"
"Some savior.", one remarked, followed by a cruel, scornful laugh.
Savior?, thought Ectonios. He had been told that Jesus was being crucified as well. Was this Jesus next to him?
From this right, past Jesus' cross, another taunt was heard. To Ectonios's surprise and outrage, even the other criminal was mocking Jesus! "If you saved others, why can you not save yourself"
Despite his own great pain, Ectonios felt the need to protest this mockery. He turned toward the other criminal and said, "Do you not fear God even in your death? We both deserve to die for our sins, but this man has done nothing wrong"
Then it came to him. He had just realized the answer he had been subconsciously seeking all along. The reason that he never had fulfillment in his past life was because he was living in sin; he needed to get back to God. And this Jesus--He hadn't done anything wrong. He had healed people, and performed miracles, and fulfilled all the ancient prophecies--surely he was the son of God!
"Jesus", said Ectonios, finally seeing the truth. Slowly, the man turned his head towards Ectonios. His whole body was nearly unrecognizable; he had been beaten and tortured so much that He almost didn't look human anymore. When Ectonios saw his face, it was a face filled with pain and sorrow, but still containing hope, love, and especially forgiveness. "Jesus", Ectonios repeated. "Do not forget me when you return to your Kingdom"
Jesus smiled, inwardly rejoicing despite all the shame. "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise"
Ectonios smiled. It was true! Even though he had done so much evil, and would never have a chance to make up for it with good, he was forgiven. Jesus had given him joy, even as he was going to his death, and hope--hope of paradise.
The rest of Ectonios' life is indescribable. He bore great pain as he hung on the cross, pierced and bruised, for hours. He felt his heart almost sink again when Jesus gave up His spirit and died--put to death by the ones He had come to save. Ectonios saw and felt much sorrow, but he still held on to the renewed hope that Jesus had given him.
After several hours, a few Roman guards came by to make sure everything was running smoothly.
"Look.", said one of them. "Jesus is dead"
"Already?", the other one asked, surprised and disappointed. "They usually last much longer than that"
The first guard shrugged. "Might as well just finish off the other two now." He walked over to Ectonios's cross. Taking a sharp, hard weapon, the guard smashed it against Ectonios's legs a few times. The pain was unbearable; Ectonios cried out in anguish. After several blows, his legs were broken.
Ectonios knew what this did. As long as his legs were still intact, he could still push up on his chest, and would still be able to breathe. But now that they were broken, he would have a much harder time of such. The guards did this when they wanted someone to die quicker; Ectonios struggled to breathe, but could no longer--soon, he drew his last.
Suddenly, all the pain was gone. He felt no more hurt, and was no longer hanging from the cross. Instead of total darkness, he saw unfathomable light. And in the midst of it all, he saw Jesus.
"Welcome, Ectonios.", Jesus spoke. "I had been seeking you out for a while. I am glad that you decided to trust in me and be forgiven of your sins. We were just rejoicing over your repentance." All the shame had been wiped away from his face; it now bore only a pure, holy love. "Welcome to heaven."
Author's Note: Most of this story is embellished, but what is known of this man comes from Luke 23:39-43. I made up the name Ectonios.