The Supreme Council gathered around me, for that is what my accusers called themselves—The Supreme Council. As though a group of captives forced into servitude could convict me based on their lies. Though pressed upon by so many, the moon’s light provide illumination enough for me to see faces: Titus and the young man whose uncle lived in Damascus — Onesimus and the veiled woman by his side. To a man and woman each one spoke harshly of my character.
One after another stepped forward to give false testimony against me.
“I heard him say, ‘We should love our enemy. Pray for those who treat us with contempt.'”
“The lad claimed we should do good to those who hate us.”
“Yes, yes, and yet with his very hands he took a life. Why I heard him confess to as much.”
“‘Bless our enemies,’ he said. Why I dare say the owner’s nephew feels not blessed.”
Others stepped forward making similar accusations and yet none of their testimony agreed, for one claimed I made such a statement soon after being tossed into the cargo hold. Another swore I spoke such words after the fire broke out. The only agreement in any of the statements was the lie that I had confessed to killing Rastus and regretted that ship’s owner had not been in his bunk at the time — that I meant to set the slaves free by taking the life of the one who held them captive.
All at once the purpose of their plan became clear: they intended to gain favor with the owner in hopes of securing their freedom.
“Is this true?” asked the crew’s foreman. “Did you steal aboard with hopes of dispatching the cargo?”
I said nothing for I recalled how the Teacher had been hauled before Pilot and King Herod and tried on false charges. My Lord’s silence stood in contrast to the lying accusations hurled at him. I could do no better than to do as my Lord had and keep my tongue. To speak was to give life to their lies.
“Are you not going to answer?” asked Onesimus.
Still, I said nothing.
“Do you not hear the allegations these men are bringing against you? If you are innocent defend yourself. If not, your silence confirms your guilt.”
Taking a deep breath I prayed for strength to speak words of truth. “Slaves shall be set free,” I answered, “but not by my hand or the hand of any man. My Lord Jesus himself has set free those enslaved. He alone liberates the oppressed and to punishes the wicked.”
“He speaks in riddles so as to conceal his guilt,”one of my accusers said.
“What say you to this?” asked Titus.
“Only that I offer mercy, for that is what my Lord desires.”
Herodes stepped forward, his face flush with anger. “Why do we need any more witnesses? You have heard his foolish talk. The lad is possessed by a spirit.”
“A spirit yes and that of my Lord, for his Spirit testifies and confirms the truth. His Spirit convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness.”
“What are we to make of such babbling?” asked Herodes. “The lad is not in his right mind?”
“What is bound on earth is bound in heaven and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. If I forgive you, then you are truly forgiven. And I do forgive you, everyone, just as my Lord forgives me.”
“Enough! You shall not forgive me.” Herodes turned to the pilot. “Perhaps you can get to the truth.”
The pilot now dressed in a robe, I suppose to keep off the chill, asked in a more gentle tone. “You follow the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” I replied.
“That may be a problem, for all aboard follow Caesar.”
I matched his stare, hoping to present courage, though I felt sure he knew my heart was melting with fear.
“You have been accused of many things. Are you not going to answer?” He gestured towards mid-deck where the rabble continued shouting accusations at me. “See how many things they are accusing you of?”
Still, I made no reply. Only chewed on my lip while offering a prayer to my Lord for mercy.
“You killed the owner of the aid of the owner?”
“Was that your own idea before you heard the charges or after?” I asked.
“Am I a god that I should know such things?” the pilot replied. “These slaves, your own people, handed you over to me. What is it you have done that would prompt them to turn against you?”
“My kingdom is not of this world,” I answered. “If it were, I would fight to prevent my arrest. But my kingdom is from another place.”
“You? A king?”
“A servant in a kingdom, yes. Born as a man, like you, was I, but now I have been born again. I came onto this ship is to testify to this truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to the one who is the Truth.”
“Truth? What is truth?” the pilot replied. Turning to the crowd he said loudly, “I find no basis for a charge against him. Other than the accusations of mere slaves, there is no evidence he killed Rastus or that he intended to stab the owner of the ship. I will release him to sentries to be flogged and then return him to the hold.”
They all answered, “No! Hang him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked the pilot.
But they shouted all the louder, “Hang him!”
When the pilot saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead a mutinous uproar was spreading, he held up both hands before the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood. He is yours to do with as you please!”
All the slaves answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“Do you really mean to hang a man on the testimony of men without rights?” the pilot asked them.
“Hang him!” they shouted. All the louder they shouted, “For the life of Rastus hang him!”
“Very well, for the life of one man, I shall allow some of you to go with the crew tomorrow to gather timbers.” Returning his attention to me, the pilot said, “I wash my hands of this matter. Your life is in their hands, now.”
In a surge, the crowd rushed me. Some spat in my face. Others pronounced curses upon me. One of the crew tied a linen strip over my eyes, leaving me blind. While two sentries held me upright, others took turns hitting me with their fists. For some time the beating continued. When at last the sentries released me. I slumped to the deck. Unable to see from where the blows came, violent men kicked me until I could not lift my arm to protect myself. Only when I sense my spirit ebbing did I offer this prayer: “Lord, forgive them.”
A moment later a great weight was lifted from me and I passed from pain into a realm of pleasure and peace.