I’m a career soldier. Left the family farm when I was 12 – ran away to join the Legion. That was a great disappointment to my father, let me tell you. But I wasn’t too upset about that. I’d spent my childhood being a disappointment to that man. And he liked to take out his disappointment on my flesh. So, I figured if I was going to get a beating, I might as well get paid for it – and see the world while I was at it. So the army it was.
I’ll admit I’m not the brightest star in the sky – if my mother had one saying for my lack of smarts, she must have had a hundred. “One sandwich short of a picnic” was her favorite. So, I knew I wasn’t going to rise through the ranks by impressing my commanding officers with my ‘sparkling wit’. But there’s one thing I’m really good at – obeying orders. That was about the only thing my father gave me, besides the bruises. So, when an officer said “Jump!” I said, “How high?” Don’t ask questions, just do it. I know how to take orders. And that does get you noticed eventually. So it’s taken twenty years, but now I’m a centurion – a hundred men under my command. And I’m the one giving the beatings these days.
I’ve served the Emperor faithfully. I’ve shed blood all over the Empire: mostly theirs, but some of my own. We’ve brought peace to thousands – whether they wanted it or not. And after every successful campaign we marched back to Rome and entered the city to the cheers of the crowd, banners waving proudly, our general at the head of the column, riding his finest horse. And there we presented Caesar with his victory, and once more pledged allegiance to him, the Savior of Rome, our Lord, the Son of God. Glory days indeed!
But then they sent me to Judaea – to Jerusalem. And I’ve spent the last five years in the worst post of my career. These people are crazy. They just don’t get it. They refuse to accept that they are a conquered people. So I’m still shedding blood. Although it’s no longer at the point of a sword on the battlefield. Now it’s hammering spikes through their wrists and ankles on a cross, and then hoisting them up so everyone can see the price of refusing to accept Caesar as Lord. Usually it only takes a week or so of crucifixions for people to get the point – no pun intended. But these Judaeans – I’ve been doing it for five years, and we still can’t make crosses fast enough. Especially during their Holy Days. Like this past week. We always have plenty of crosses ready made for Passover. Because that’s when the messiahs show up.
Seems these people have a myth about some prophesied leader who’s going to set them free from ‘the tyranny of Rome’. And every year, some wannabe shows up with a handful of followers, tries to knife a few of my men, and thinks that’s going to start the revolution. Sometimes they’re just religious nuts – I almost feel bad stringing them up. Almost. Other times they’re bandits, trying to up the stakes a bit. Every time, they end up on one of our crosses.
So this ‘messiah’ goes by other names too. Like, “Son of Man”. Or, “Son of David.” Even “King of the Jews” – which, let me tell you, does not sit too well with old Herod. But the name Rome has the problem with is “Son of God.” Because there’s only one of them – and that’s the Emperor. And Caesar does not do competition. So I’ve strung up plenty of messiahs in the five years I’ve been here.
Why I am telling you all this? Because it happened again this year. Another Passover week in Jerusalem. Another messiah. Only this time it was different. I’ve crucified hundreds of men. But none like that one.
And for someone who never asks questions, believe me: I’ve got a bunch of questions now.
This is part of an ongoing historical fiction series leading up to Easter. It features the story of Jesus’ path to the cross from the perspective of a Roman Centurion. It was written by Sean Gladding, the author of The Story of God, The Story of Us. This series will be posted as a daily devotional. We hope this narrative stirs deeper reflection on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ final days.