An interesting insight into what
may have been...
By Danny Hotea
As was my custom,
I rose early that day to pay homage to the gods by prayers
and burnt offerings. To which I vowed my obedience on
that fateful morning, I cannot now remember. There were
so many. Leaving the place of worship, I endeavored
to sit quietly and read the creeds of Rome as written
by the emperor himself. It was my duty not only as a
centurion, but as a Roman citizen, to understand the
purpose of almighty Caesar and Rome. However, just as
I began pouring over the open scroll, a nameless messenger
came panting with word from Pontius Pilate, governor
of Judea, ordering my garrison to his palace immediately.
I arrived with three hundred men as if by flight. The
sun had hardly risen, and the airheld an unseen weight,
as if to distinguish this day from all others. The men,
all clad in leather and metal with swords swaying from
their belts and spears stabbing at the sky in protest
of their unusually early arousal, wobbled restlessly
in rigid formation, awaiting my command. The sound of
spiked sandals scraping he stone palace floor echoed
down the long, stone hallway adding tension to mystery.
They undoubtedly supposed that I knew the reason for
it all. But I didn’t—until another messenger
came with another scroll describing our purpose exactly.
Jerusalem was a place known for its concentrated reserve
of mindless zealots. And I had experience in stamping
out the feeble efforts of disorderly vagrants and disorganized
militias meant to unshackle the Jews from Rome’s
iron grip. One in particular came to mind as I read
the final sentence of that day’s orders. It was
the most recent and pathetic uprising. A small army
of poorly armed religious rebels managed to assassinate
an insignificant gatekeeper in the governor’s
palace. The idea that a handful of superstitious peasants
could overthrow Rome was ridiculous and, if it weren’t
so sad, it would be laughable. Their leader had been
a thin, sweaty man with hardly any beard, balding head
and shifting eyes. A Jew. A brainless dreamer suffering
from resentment. His name was Barabbas. He was hardly
a match for Rome. I caught him in the streets attempting
to hide beneath a vendor’s blankets after his
pitiful militia had been butchered and left for the
dogs. I was his judge and jury. And since only Romans
have the right to a trial, I stuffed him in a smaller-than-
sual cell after the garrison had their day’s exercise
of beating him with rods and slapping him with gloved
fists. That day had another experience for me altogether.
As we pushed our way into the Praetorium hauling the
scourged offender to the platform, where another Man
stood, the mob sang out in a chorus of hatred, "Crucify
Him!" The governor addressed the riotous masses
with careful words, offering them a choice between the
bloodied and uncondemned Man now occupying the platform
with him, or the pathetic zealot, Barabbas, who had
failed an attempt to destroy Rome. Immediately they
sent out blood-curdling screams consenting to he murder
of the One and the release of the other. It was apparent,
by their screams, that this Man had not offended Rome.
He had offended the Jews. A messenger interrupted the
procedure, which was doubtlessly an urgent matter, after
which I was signaled to bring Him into the governor’s
inner court. The conversation that took place proved
this Man’s character. He spoke only when questioned
and claimed that the governor’s authority was
given to him by the Offender’s Father, which made
little sense to me at the time. When He said He was
a King, I wondered whether Barabbas, the sweaty zealot,
had similar thoughts. But, all in all, this Man had
authority incomparable to any I had seen before. This
fact was startling considering I had seen the Caesar
and all his delegates more often than Pontius himself.
What seemed like moments later, my garrison had elbowed
their way through the riotous crowds to the place of
execution, hauling two offenders of Rome and One offender
of the Jews. His head had been crowned with thorns,
no doubt a torturous invention of the guiltless soldiers
in my garrison. His beard replaced with bleeding flesh.
His back opened wide by a Roman scourge to an infectious
environment full of illness bred in the hearts of vehement
enemies. Yet, it seemed that these were the slightest
of His pains judging by the weight of grief He bore
on His countenance. His visage carried an eternal load
of unfamiliar burdens. As was my custom, I drove the
first nail into the left wrist of each offender inaugurating
their torturous departure from this world and instructing
my garrison how to proceed with the crucifixion. The
two vagrants wrestled pathetically against the soldier’s
grip that held their filthy arms against the knotted
wood, spitting out blasphemies against the gods of Rome
and sprinkling our faces with bloody specs of mucus.
But they could do little more than wiggle their palms
and claw at my wrists with their broken nails until
the iron spike impaled the wrist and its owner’s
arm was pinned against the wood, twitching like a wounded
animal. I often delighted in the sound of their ear-splitting
screams and hellish moans that filled the air and the
sight of their epileptic convulsions of agony as their
crosses were set upright. It became somewhat of a drama
to which I looked forward with secret pleasure, even
more than the gladiators and the chariot races where
countless men had lost their lives to entertain Rome.
I could hardly keep from smiling, at times. But this
Man, although He was innocent, displayed no reluctance
in placing His arm against the wood. His eyes fastened
on the soldier holding His arm and on me, His sadistic
executioner. I expected the typical reaction as the
iron penetrated His skin. But this Man was not typical
in any sense of the word. Instead of spraying my face
with spittle, He groaned and looked away, scrapping
His thorny crown against the lumber behind His head.
Unlike the other two, this Man did not moan in melodies
of agony as the cross sat upright, disjointing its resident.
Tears ran down His scabbed face as He viewed the masses
streaming past the foot of His cross. Their venomous
words struck the air like frothy waves pounding some
seaside cliff. And, unlike the other two, whose hoarse-voiced
cursing baptized each passerby with vulgar threats and
swollen words of every sort, He spoke kindly to a few
standing at the foot of His cross. Had He not been a
Jew, I would have been compelled to defend His dying
reputation for sheer sympathy’s sake. At the instant
before He died, the sky blackened as if it had been
split open like a carcass and all its guilt bled out
onto the clouds. The earth convulsed, shaking and tossing
my men and I like mere toys. At that instant I knew
this Man was no mere Man. He wielded an exclusive power.
The image of Rome, as if it were a colossal statue carved
of iron, lay in heaps beneath His cross as a mound of
chaff vulnerable to the slightest breath of wind. The
sight of His emaciated corpse stabbed at my conscience.
Had I done wrong? If not, then why such agony of heart?
I was bleeding now and my zeal for Rome poured from
the bowels of my heart like the streamlets coursing
from His side and brow. He had slain me; not I Him.
His naked body, reduced to shards of stinking flesh
hanging lifelessly on the cross, seemed more alive than
I did standing with my hand-polished helmet and Roman
embroidery hanging like empirical curtains from my shoulders.
I was ashamed of myself. I turned away toprevent my
tears from being noticed. Regret welled up in my soul
and poured out onto my cheeks with burning tears. I
tried desperately to compose myself to no avail. Once
more, I turned to look at Him, and my knees betrayed
me to the ground beneath. My forehead kissed the ground
in an unguarded slump. I gritted my teeth and formed
the words, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"
I have never been the same since.