I was a young Centurion under Herod’s rule. I lead the 60 soldiers of my centuria as we slaughtered the male babies in Bethlehem two years of age and younger. I was in charge of carrying out Pontius Pilate’s cowardly verdict aimed at appeasing the jealous Jewish elite in Jerusalem. I selected five men from my centuria who had accompanied me in Bethlehem and we carried out the task of crucifying a man named Jesus.
Once we had him in our custody, I stood by as my soldiers beat and mocked him. I couldn’t stand his stoicism and lost myself, striking him as well. Since he would not speak, we spoke for him, “All hail, king of the Jews.” I decided that since he was so mighty, he could carry his own cross. He seemed intent on something else; something beyond our comprehension. It made me and my men furious even though we didn’t know him.
I normally don’t do this, but I nailed this man to the cross myself. The nails felt as if they pierced my own skin but I ignored the pain. I mindlessly joined my men gambling for his garments. We crucified him on the third hour. It became eerily dark from the sixth through the ninth hour. Then, there was an earthquake. I heard a report to the Jewish leaders that the veil of the temple had ripped from top to bottom. I know those whose dead friends and relatives appeared to them around this time. They spoke of accompanying them back to their graves.
Someone approached me with an order from Pilate for Jesus’ body. I pierced his side to be sure he was dead. He was. The blood in his heart had already coagulated, and water together with blood flowed down my sword, over my hand, and onto the ground.
I began to shake as I considered all that had transpired. I looked up to him and spoke the words that emptied my soul of all I was, “Surely, this was the Son of God.” My men and I have been filled with remorse to this day. Strange. I felt we committed a greater sin in killing that one man than all the children we slaughtered in Bethlehem. That’s a distinction of conscience I wish upon no one.
It’s 2012 and I still walk the ground you’re standing on. I have different memories in each new body. My original memories dawn on me as I age and realize who I was. First, memories of having been a soldier haunt me. I feel an instinct of violence and an ability to carry it out. Then, I'm horrified as I realize I slaughtered babies and crucified the Christ. I remember he died for me even though I raised my own hands against him. The man I once chased and slaughtered is my new king. His peace settles upon me.
I still meet my soldiers from time to time. Though we don’t have the same bodies, there is still a recognition between us. They are Roman soldiers in different skin and cultures. They silently recognize me as their old Centurion. My men and I will join Christ when he returns. Meanwhile, he has sentenced us to remain on earth, living life after life, bound by covenant to forbear violence against all; even those deserving. We are called to forbear as we are ridiculed and despised by those who are much like we were. In some lives, we are murdered or put to death. However, our sufferings are nothing compared to the comfort he gives us and the assurance that we are his.
To what end do our lives continue? We don't know. It's only for us to obey. We are not earning our salvation. Jesus won that for us and his Father long ago. What could we hope for after mocking and killing the Lamb of God? We thank him everyday for his mercy. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
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