We asked a myriad of voices to engage the crucifixion as if they were one of the characters present and write from that perspective. We gathered last week for an amazing collective of perspectives that ranged from a diverse, colorful eclectic group of people gazing at the cross. We will post each character and their angle as we approach Easter. Enjoy!
What is truth? That’s a great question. I don’t know. That man, Jesus of Nazareth, whom his own people seem intent on having killed, has brought up that question for me again. It is easy for me to live day by day ignoring that question. I have so much official work to do, so many distractions that fill my day, I don’t have time for questions of truth. Frankly, I don’t like that question very much. But this man has forced the question on me. Why? Why do I care? I do not even know this man … this Jesus. Moreover, I don’t even know why he’s here. I hadn’t really paid much attention to him as he wandered around Judea. He seemed to have run ins with the religious leaders of the Jews but I can understand that. I actually quite liked his obstinacy, I honestly wish I had the same ability to see into their hearts and get at what’s really bugging them.
But now he’s done that same thing to me. He’s peered right into my soul and got at the thing that really bugs me. He made me face the question I have tried to avoid … what is truth? We Romans are very pragmatic. Yes, we have our philosophers and our poets. Yes, we enjoy some theatre, but our true strength is our might and our ability to keep some kind of peace throughout the empire. If we spent all our time talking about truth we’d end up like the people we’ve conquered, who were too busy soul searching to put up much of a fight.
But he has pulled me out of that pragmatism and forced me, at least for the moment, to face the question of truth.
He said, everyone who knows the truth listens to him. So, either I can dismiss him by saying he is just wrong, a liar. Or he is crazy, one of those messianic leaders who claim they are going to overthrow the Roman Empire (as if that were even conceivable). Or … he is who he says he is. If he is wrong, or a liar, what can I say against him? What truth do I posit to contradict what he says? If he’s crazy … but he’s not crazy. I’ve seen a lot of crazies who claim power (some of them succeed and become emperors …) but he doesn’t seem like that. I mean, he just stood there, and looked at me. Really looked at me. And there was love in his eyes when he looked at me. So, he’s not crazy. But … if he is who he says he is … what does that even mean? Who is he claiming to be? The Jews say he claims to be their king, but they reject that claim. When I asked him if he was a king he sort of affirmed it, saying that he was born to be a king. But then he says that his kingdom is from another world. What the hell does that even mean? Maybe he is crazy. But … there is that look … that love in his eye. It is a look that says he knows me, knows everything I’ve ever done, all the rape and murder I’ve allowed in the name of the Empire. He knows all of that and still … he loves me. It’s that look that tells me that he can’t be crazy. If he’s not crazy and I cannot say he’s a liar … then I’m stuck back at my original question again, what is truth?
And then there is the other thing he said. He claimed that my power, my authority, has been given me “from above.” What does that mean? Clearly my authority comes from Rome, from the Emperor.
Also, the Jews seem to have some authority over him. Is that authority given them from above?
This Jesus seems to assume that he has a close relationship to this authority “from above.” Maybe that is the “kingdom not of this world” he was talking about … Anyway, if he does have a relationship to the authority above, why would it or him or they give authority to the Jews who want to kill him and to the Romans who have the might to kill him? That makes no sense to me. He’s got to be crazy … right? But there is that look again. There is also his posture. It was not defensive and yet it was grounded. It was weak and yet it somehow made me nervous. It put me on the defensive … me, a Roman who holds enough power to crush him without blinking. And yet, he put me on the defensive.
And there is that question again, “what is truth?” It is that question, my inability to answer that question. Actually it was my inability to accept the answer to that question, that led me to hand him over to be crucified. In my heart, I knew that he spoke the truth (I know it even now). I knew I should listen to him. I knew that he was more than a man. At the same time, I knew he was different then the Roman gods, so hungry for power, so bloodthirsty, so devious, so capricious. Was he a different god? A Jewish god? But the Jews say they have only one God.
I don’t even know what to do with those questions. Nevertheless, deep down, I knew I should listen to him. But if I listened to him, if I acknowledged that he was or had the truth, what would that mean for me? I know what it would mean … it would mean giving up everything I worked for. It would mean giving up my position and my power, my wealth and my property. It would mean a rejection of the Roman way of life. It would mean a rejection of the Empire and an allegiance to a new kingdom and a king whose authority comes from another place. In sum, it would mean giving up my life. Not just metaphorically either. Rome does not do well with rejection. I know what they do to those who don’t conform. I would end up just like that man out there on that cross. I would end up just like he is, bloodied, bruised, broken, weak, exposed, pleading, crying. And yet, even now, I bet he has that look of love on his face.
Anyway, I can’t think about that. I had to get rid of him, I did. As long as he was around I would face that question of truth. And if I let that question get at me, I’d be forced to face consequences that I just could not handle. No, it’s easier just to go back to my distractions, my official duties, my life as a Roman … a powerful Roman. Once he’s dead (hopefully soon) I can put this behind me. I can forget that look, that face. He’ll be dead and buried and I can get back to the life that I’ve made. I won’t have to bother with truth.