Two men in their pants. It doesn’t look promising. They are clearly prisoners – both have their hands tied behind their backs, and the same rope is used for both – they are tied together. They have their backs to us: this, together with several other details, tells us to keep moving. The guard who holds them (with boots over his hose – he’s respectable enough) gestures towards the rear end of a white horse, while looking towards someone else – maybe it was supposed to be the man on the brown horse, but the eyeline isn’t quite right. He’s clearly asking advice, or giving instructions: follow that horse. And in the bottom right-hand corner of the detail, we see the hand of the man who, three days ago (Lent 16), I said we would follow. He too gestures upwards, towards the rump of the white horse, effectively. So: it is time to go.
I only gave you the first half of John 19:17 the other day. This is it in full, together with the following verse:
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
These scantily clad men are the ‘two other,’ and in the same way that the artist belittled the carpenter in Lent 17 by having his hose fall down, the authorities in Jerusalem have stripped these two men nearly naked to humiliate them on the way to their deaths. The effect is in no way comic. Look at them closely – we will see them again, but they will not look the same. One is old – grey hair and beard – the other, younger, with a full head of light brown, shoulder-length hair, not unlike Jesus’s. You should also note the cut of their underpants, as, for some inexplicable reason (I have my ideas) this will change. They become known as the two thieves, the ‘Good’ and the ‘Bad’ – but more of them another day. For now, it is worthwhile pointing out that they appear in all four of the gospels, suggesting that they are important. Like John, in the verses quoted above, Matthew and Mark both mention them at the time of the crucifixion, but Luke (23:32) introduces them earlier. After discussing the crowds following Christ – including the ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ we mentioned yesterday, he goes on to say,
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
Here they are, then, being ‘led with him, to be put to death,’ and over the next few days we shall see where they go.