I am a soldier, and a soldier must understand the importance of control. As a centurion, he is duty-bound to maintain control over the legionaries under his command. As an occupier, he learns to effectively repress and control the masses. And as a representative of Rome, he is expected to control his personal feelings, doubts and convictions. Yet, despite the weight of these responsibilities, he must freely surrender control of his own destiny for a small parcel of land promised by an emperor who may — or may not — be divine.
But such thoughts are better kept to oneself.
Sadly, not all soldiers will collect the emperor’s endowment. Certainly, Scipio will not. Barely a lad of eighteen years, he was cut down yesterday during a routine suppression of a mild uprising near the west gate. Inexperienced in battle, he removed his helmet for a moment, seeking relief from the blazing sun. A stone hurled from the city wall caught him unaware, and he forfeited his life. The criminal responsible was quickly apprehended and sent to the Procurator for trial, but it was too late for poor Scipio. His period of service was finished.
It was early morning when the call to muster echoed throughout the barracks. It seemed a trial had been held during the night, prompting an unscheduled execution. A crowd was already gathering along the route from the Praetorium to the west gate, and the stench of civil unrest was in the air. I asked if Scipio’s murderer was among the accused, and I was assured he was. This was good. I yearned to see that cruel face twisting in agony before death sealed those accursed eyes forever. Before this day was through, justice for Scipio would be served cold upon the executioner’s tree.
But what was this? As the death procession crested the hill upon which I was standing guard, the object of my hatred was not present among the condemned. I watched them pass, unable to accept the truth being revealed by my own eyes. In the lead, instead of Scipio’s assassin, hobbled a man unknown to me. Upon his head rested a crown of thorns, a unique form of torment I had never before witnessed. Many in the crowd bowed their heads in solemn reverence as he passed, and whisperings of “Son of God" floated through the air. Very strange, indeed.
To dispel my confusion, I pulled a straggling centurion to the side for questioning. I was shocked to learn Pilate had seen fit to release Scipio’s murderer and condemned this other man to death in his place. In hushed tones, the centurion further confided that this man had done nothing illegal, but Pilate had bowed to the demands of the locals to protect his standing with Caesar. The entire affair was purely political and a travesty of Roman law.
My head was still spinning as we passed through the western gate and approached the sullen slopes of Golgotha. What of justice? How could the system to which I swore my loyalty execute an innocent man yet let a murderer go free? I turned my back on the scene, unable to watch. My comrades could be heard partaking in the casting of lots, but I had no appetite for gambling.
As the ominous clang of hammer against nail rang out, something sticky and warm splattered across the back of my neck. I touched it tentatively and discovered my fingertips stained with crimson. I had been splattered with blood numerous times in battle, but these few drops sickened my heart.
Then, as if responding to a call, I turned to look at the stranger on the cross. To my shock, he was looking straight at me.
“Father, forgive them,” he pleaded. “For they know not what they do.”
My eyes moistened, my vision blurred. I was scarcely aware of the gathering clouds until the rain began cleansing me of blood and sin. As rivulets of red ran freely from my sandals, the earth groaned and quaked, shaking me mercilessly from my heart to the recesses of my soul.
“Truly,” I proclaimed to all who would listen, “this man was the Son of God.”
At that moment in eternity, I took back control of my destiny.
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