Friday, April 10, 2009

A Centurion's Regret

I can't tell you how many of these I've done before. We're damn good at it. Our Roman system of justice has to be one of the best. Fastest for sure. You commit the crime and we'll have you hung out to dry before the sun goes down tomorrow. You'd think it would slow down, but we still have a few of these every week. I've become pretty calloused to the whole thing really; it's my job. But this one gave me a real uneasy feeling.

I came in late; they had me across town in the early hours. By the time I got to the yard this guy was hardly recognizable. I had to look twice to be sure it was a man. They'd been givin' him the works. One of the guys made a crown out of some thorny rose bramble and they jammed it on his already bloody head. When they loaded that rough wooden beam onto his shoulder he collapsed under the weight and it was then I saw his back was raw; not a bit of clean skin was visible. Even though they were laughing it up, I overheard the men saying how little fun it had been. Not like usual; this one didn't put up a fight. They said that when they looked him in the eye, even spittin' in his face, he didn't look mad at them. He looked sorry for them. Like he didn't blame them at all. I tried to find out what it was he'd done, but none of them really knew; something about saying he was king? King of the Jews? I don't know.

Well I didn't have to do much. They got him out of town to the usual spot, and he gathered quite a crowd. People of all kinds; even the Jews; some of the important ones from the synagogue, with all the robes and hats, and women crying. Lots of women. I saw what they meant when they put the nails in his hands and feet. He let 'em do it without a bit of struggle; like he wanted to be there. Or if he didn't want it, he knew it had to be done.

My job was to keep a watch in case anything happened. Like what, he's gonna come down off that cross? Not likely. We make sure of that, but we also make sure they last as long as possible.

Couple other guys were up there too; a couple common criminals, spoutin' off like filthy punks. I could put a spear through 'em myself if I knew I wouldn't hear about it later. I just minded my own business and listened to as little as possible. One of those wretched punks was yellin' somethin' at him; "If you are the Christ, then save yourself and us!" and all of a sudden the other punk changed his tune. " You idiot! Don't you get it? Have you no fear of God? You and I deserve what we're gettin'! This guy did nothin'. He's innocent, ya hear? Leave him alone!"

They both got quiet and that second one said in a real serious tone "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

I stopped walking just a few feet away 'cause that guy they called Christ looked up. I wanted to hear what he said. I had to step closer; his voice was thin but calm; "Assuredly I say to you...." He's lookin' right at that punk! "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

A chill ran down my spine as he finished those words. Something in my heart felt like he'd ripped a piece right out, leaving it exposed to the wind that just kicked up, putting dust in my face.

What was going on here?

Look, I wanna be clear; there were other people around that heard and saw what I saw. It was the middle of the day and had been a pretty nice one up until then; that's when the sky turned as black as if night was falling. Like the sun itself didn't want anything to do with what was happening out there. I couldn't hear a single bird, not even a crow. No dogs barking. No music, nothin'. Just that miserable wind; where did it come from? Nothing felt steady under my feet. Was it my legs, or was the earth trembling. I had lost my focus and wasn't paying attention until I heard him speak again. He lifted his head up like he was talking to the dark clouds above him and cried out like it was the saddest, most painful thing he'd ever done. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." And then, the life went out of him.

The women who'd remained behind were weeping liked they'd lost their best friend. Or their only child. I couldn't help myself. Tears streamed down my dust-covered face and I wiped my arm across my eyes so nobody'd see. I had to turn the other way. I felt ashamed. I was a part of something terrible here. All I wanted to do was run home and hold my wife, hold my children, hide somewhere dark where the light would never find me. Where my shame and sadness would never be known. Nobody could hear me say it under my breath, but I knew it with all my heart; "Certainly this was a righteous man."
(A.McDavid, interpreted from the gospels)

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