We suggest that you begin reading the Centurion series from the beginning.
I hate Passover. Talk about a threat to national security. All those people packed into Jerusalem – you can hardly move. The air is thick with resentment and the heat is stifling. Then there’s the smell. Not just of sweat. Blood. All those countless animals being slaughtered in their temple. I hate it. If I had my way we’d make them all stay home. Bar the gates to Jerusalem and be done with it. But I’m just a centurion. What do I know? So we bring in all the garrisons – soldiers on every corner, just to remind them who’s in charge. My troops are stationed at the eastern gates. I like to get up in the watch tower so I can see when trouble’s brewing.
It had been a slow morning, but I knew things would start getting noisy in the afternoon. Up they come from the villages, singing their endless songs, and glaring at us as they enter the city. I was keeping an eye on the gate, when one of my men grabbed my arm and pointed outside the city. When I saw what he was pointing at, I thought to myself, “Trouble.” So I quickly put a squad together and left the city to meet it head on.
As we marched down the road, I got a better look at what my man had noticed. There was a large crowd bunched together in the middle of the long line of pilgrims, and there was a lot of movement – I couldn’t figure out what was going on. We got closer and then I saw what it was. Some of them had cut down palm branches and were waving them as they walked. These people! They know they’re not allowed to display any national symbols. We’ll supply the symbols: Roman symbols. I ordered my squad to double time it, and as the crowds parted in front of us I got an even clearer view. They weren’t just waving branches: they were also laying them down in front of a mounted figure. Some people were taking off their cloaks and laying them in the road as well. I had a flashback to all those victory parades in Rome, which threw me for a moment.
Shaking my head to clear it, I steadied my men, and prepared to break a few heads to remind these peasants of the rules. Then I saw the center of all the fuss and almost laughed. Some scrawny guy sitting on an ass. And the crowds were acting like he was nobility or something. But I didn’t see any weapons. No one was glaring at us. So I relaxed a little. Just a little.
I was about to order my men forward to break up their little parade when they stopped anyway. All eyes were on the guy on the donkey. So I looked at him too – and he was weeping. He said something I couldn’t quite catch, and then the party was over. People started dropping their palm branches, picked up their cloaks, and followed him into the city. They didn’t look like much of a threat anymore. They looked confused more than anything. They certainly weren’t singing. So I ordered my men to stand down, and we marched back in behind them. I looked at the man on the donkey. Nothing about him really struck me as being different from the others.
Who was he?
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.