Kaleidoscope: the Crucifixion as viewed by the Centurion
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!
I’ve really come to hate this job. Especially the festivals. And now more than ever before.
It’s a pain anytime a higher-up comes into town, but with Pilate here, we all had to be on our best behavior. And my men are not exactly given to good behavior. Can you blame them, really? I mean, who wants to be in Palestine? Some of the youngest ones have big dreams of making it to Rome one day, but they’re only kidding themselves. Others used to be in Rome but got kicked out here for being drunk and belligerent all the time. Now they teach the young ones to be drunk and belligerent.
As for me, well, I kind of fell into this job. I was one of those young ones once, kidding myself with dreams of glory. When it came down to it, though, with my background and family reputation, I could have been a mercenary in Rome or a centurion here. So here I stayed. I’m just not that courageous.
I’m also not a great disciplinarian, which should be obvious to you by now. But honestly, most of the time we don’t have to be. Rebellions are rare, and we’re never really involved with them. Most of these Jews either go along with the system with their heads down, or find a way to make themselves rich, like that little Zaccheus guy. So the Jews aren’t happy, but they mostly keep to themselves and deal with their own kind.
And then there are the festivals, especially the Passover. That’s where I really start to have trouble with my guys, and with the Jews. Some of them are bound to get all uppity, and then my men have to round them up, and they tend to take their job description a little loosely. And I haven’t really taught them the discipline they need, so things can get a little out of hand.
I was OK with it all until a few years ago. That was when John was doing his thing down at the river. I was one of the senior soldiers, not yet a centurion, and I went down to keep order. But he really got to me. People started asking him what they should do to inherit eternal life. Zaccheus was there, and the advice to him was, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you,” which was funny, because everyone knows that’s how tax collectors make their real money. And I just got curious: what would he say to someone like me?
So I asked John, “What should we soldiers do?” The guy didn’t even blink. He said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” And you know, I thought that was right and proper and fair—nothing too crazy. But, see, extortion is what we did all the time. Because that was how we made our real money.
Not long after that, I was made centurion, and the first thing I did with my new power was to make sure my group was assigned to the neighborhood of the temple. I was surprised how many of our own people hung out there. They couldn’t go all the way in, of course, but so many Romans and Greeks really respected the Jews and their ascetic way of life that they spent a lot of time in the courtyard listening to the priests and the scribes. The Jews call these Greeks and Romans “God-fearers.” I was intrigued. I was sad when John was executed. And then this Jesus guy came along.
You know that story in your own way, but as for me, well, I was just confused. I was just starting to learn something about the Jews, and then along comes this Jew who starts putting it all a different way. It wasn’t new stuff, as I understand it—but the way he used it was fresh, and electric, and above all, challenging. I’m sure that’s what did him in.
So along came another Passover weekend, with Pilate in town. And they brought in extra legions to keep the peace, because there was a lot of buzz this year that the Zealots were going to try something big. It seemed like they were all waiting for a signal that never came. When something finally did happen, it was a mob demanding the death of Jesus. I didn’t see that one coming.
You know, just a few weeks ago, he could have been exactly what the Zealots needed. One word from him, and all that extra security wouldn’t have been nearly enough. We’d have had tens of thousands of Jews calling for Caesar’s head, let alone Pilate’s. Instead, at first, it was just another Passover weekend, with a few skirmishes and a whole bunch of scheduled crucifixions. And Jesus of Nazareth became one of them.
I don’t know how else to describe what happened at that man’s death except to say … well … I don’t know who I am anymore. Forgive me—this is a side none of my men will ever see! But … seeing him there … a man who could have been king of a newly restored Israel … and he just let them do that to him. If he’d had a wife and kids to provide for, I think he still wouldn’t have fought back. He wouldn’t fight for anything. He looked so weak and helpless … and … strong. And dignified. It was almost a suicide, really. And it’s like my tongue just took over. When Jesus died, I said, in a strong, clear voice, “Surely this man was innocent.”
But no more slip-ups like that. I can’t let that kind of thing compromise my life. I’ve almost got enough saved up to retire and enjoy my grandkids. And let someone else do this job. I’ve really come to hate it.