We suggest that you begin reading the Centurion series from the beginning.
When we got back to the barracks Tuesday night I sought out the centurion who had put the tail on the scrawny guy. “Any more excitement in the temple today?”
He looked thoughtful, and rubbed his stubbly chin. “Not really. But it was an interesting day, nonetheless.”
“Go on then,” I encouraged him, which he did.
“My little spy came and told me that Jesus fellow was heading back to the temple. I sent him back to follow him and to listen to what he was saying – with instructions to come and find me if he heard even a hint of any revolutionary nonsense.”
“I took my post and looked down, waiting for him to arrive. The chief priests had stationed some of the temple guard in the big courtyard, and when Jesus entered they moved towards him. He just strode right past them, with a dozen or so of his followers. The guard tailed him as he crossed the courtyard and I lost sight of him as he made his way into the inner courts.”
“It all seemed quiet enough and the boy didn’t come back until later that afternoon. After listening to his report, I kind of wish I could have been there myself. You know I’ve got no time for these chief priests – keeping us out of the temple, looking down their nose at us as they parade through the streets. I think Pilate’s a fool to let them dictate what we can and can’t do – are they part of the Empire or not? And as for the Herodeans, well, they’re just a bunch of slimy sycophants. Anyway, sounds like Jesus got the better of them all today – showed them up for the hypocrites they are. And him from a backwater area like Galilee. He didn’t win any friends today, I can tell you.”
“So? What happened?”
“Apparently he was teaching the people, when the temple elite showed up to confront him about his behavior yesterday. They wanted to know who gave him the authority to act as he did – because, of course, only they have authority in the temple. He asked them some question, they conferred for a minute, and then came back to say they couldn’t give him an answer. So he said he didn’t have an answer for them either. Then he told a story that the boy said he didn’t really understand, but obviously the chief priests did, because he said they looked daggers at Jesus when it was done. He thought the temple guard were going to arrest Jesus on the spot, but the crowd made it clear they wouldn’t let that happen, so with a sweep of their robes they all left. Ha! I wish I could have seen it.”
“Was that it then?”
“No. The subject of taxes came up. Which usually does not bode well, as you know. Some of the Herodeans came with a question of their own. They asked him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not.” He slammed his hand down on the bench. “This is exactly why we should be able to enter the inner courts – so they don’t have a safe place for their seditious talk.”
It was my turn to be thoughtful. “Tough question. If he says ‘no’, then they can march him out and turn him over to us for sedition – then we take care of him for them. If he says ‘yes’, well, he’d sound like a Herodean, and I imagine that wouldn’t go down too well with the crowd. So, what did he say?”
“First, he called them on what they were doing – he could see through their little game. Then he said, ‘Give me a denarius.’ Genius! The guy’s a genius.” I looked at him blankly. “Don’t you know nothing about these people? They only have one god. And a prohibition against idols – which they consider to be false gods. The ignorant fools.” I still didn’t get it. He shook his head. “You got a denarius on you? Pull it out. Whose picture is on it?”
“Caesar’s, of course.”
“What’s inscribed on the coin?”
I looked down and read, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus.” Then I realized just how clever an answer Jesus had given. “The image of the divine emperor.”
My friend smiled. “Exactly. What they would consider to be an idol. Which begs the question: what are they doing with one in their holiest place, eh?”
“They tried all kinds of other questions, but it sounds like he answered them all. And then he left, and my little urchin came and gave his report.” He took a big gulp of wine, rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth and said, “You know, I kind of like this guy.” But then his face hardened. “But he’s attracting a lot of attention, and that could mean trouble. And I’m not having any trouble during Passover.”
As I turned in for the night, I thought to myself, “This Jesus is making some very powerful enemies. He’d better watch his back.”
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.