Suddenly the crowd drew back. Many did not want to see what was going on. They were dumb. They had never dreamed of this. The gentleness with which He bore all the torture, the scorn, the death before His eyes, this heroic calm weighed like a mountain on their hard hearts. Those who had formerly despised Him now wanted to hate Him, but they could not. They were powerless before this overwhelming gentleness. What a sound! That of a hammer beating on iron! “How the blood spurts!” whispered someone. Two hammers hit the nails, and at each blow heaven and earth trembled. The crowd held its breath, and not a sound was heard from the town. Nothing but the ringing of the hammer. Then suddenly a heartrending cry was heard in the crowd. It came from a strange woman who had pushed through it and sank to the ground. The mass of people drew away more and more, no one would stand in front, yet each stretched his neck so as to see over the others’ heads. They saw the stake lifted up and then sink again. The captain’s orders could be heard plainly and clearly. Then the cross stood up straight. At first the long stake was seen above their heads, bearing a white placard. Then the cross-beams appeared on which trembling human arms were seen, then the head moving in agonising pain. Thus did the cross with the naked human body rise in the air. Slowly it rose, supported by poles, and as soon as it stood straight the foot of the cross was set so roughly in its hole that the body shook with a dull groan. The wounds made by the nails in the hands and feet were torn open, the blood ran in dark streams over the white body, down the stake, and dropped on the ground. And from the lips of Him on the cross this loud cry was heard, “O, Father, forgive them, forgive them! For they know not what they do.”
A strange murmur arose in the crowd, and those who had not understood the cry asked their neighbours to repeat it. “He asks pardon for His enemies? For His enemies? He is praying for His enemies?”
“Then—then He cannot be human!”
“He forgives those who despised, slandered, scorned, beat, crucified Him? When dying He thinks of His enemies and pardons them? Then it is as He said, He is indeed the Christ! I always thought He was the Christ. I said so only last Sabbath!” The voices grew louder. Schobal, the old clothes dealer, pushed about in the crowd and offered the Messiah’s coat for twenty pence.
“If He is the Messiah,” shouted a Rabbi hoarsely, “let Him free Himself. He who wants to help others and cannot help Himself is a poor sort of Messiah.”
“Now, Master,” exclaimed a Pharisee, “if you would rebuild the shattered Temple, now’s the time. Come down from the cross, and we’ll believe in you.” The man on the cross looked at the two mockers in deep sadness, and they became silent. Suddenly a passage in the Scriptures flashed into their minds: “He was wounded for our transgressions!”