Friday, April 06, 2007

THE CENTURION by Dan McNamara


I know men. As a young man, I entered the ranks of the Roman Imperial Army. Rome had expanded itself from a fishing village on the tidewater to the greatest empire the world had ever known. To the farthest corners of the earth was brought a civilization of marble temples, coliseums, roads, bridges, and aqueducts. With it came philosophy, education, Roman gods, Roman law....Roman justice. Rome became the world and the world became Rome. I've known men, petty and small, struggling for her power as Rome sank in despotism.
In cruelty and arrogance, the Roman Legions blundered into Palestine and laid the dust of battle in a sea of blood. She had tried to subdue a people with a history and civilization more ancient than her own. In Rome's lust for power it had grabbed a thorn. We were the strange invaders in a strange land, far away from home. We were hated more than ever when we marched into Jerusalem, bringing the new procurator, Pontius Pilate. We were in constant peril from zealot cowards who would strike and run. It fell upon us to stop these rebellions at all costs. So, we turned the hills of Judea into a forest of crosses and dying men.
All that I ever knew and believed in was shattered one dark day as I arrived at the Great Judgment Hall of Pilate and saw a man being scourged. They said his name was Jesus. I remembered listening in disbelief to all the miracle stories of him that were told up and down the countryside. The "Son of God" they called him, a "man of mercy". And now this man was being unjustly accused by the temple priests of a meaningless charge. Some of my men saw it as a chance to strike back at these Jews. They lashed him with a fierceness and fury I'd seldom seen before. They seemed frenzied as they beat him with their hands and spat on him, calling him "King of the Jews". Emerging from this blind rage was a marred shadow of a man. And yet, he was strangely silent, as though some purpose was set before him. And silent still, as we led him away to be crucified. A strange throng had gathered as he was nailed to the wood, some hating and some mourning. I began to see that this man, Jesus, was very different.
I've know men in the carnage of battle. I've seen them fallen, dying in bitterness of soul, cursing their enemies in the name of their gods. But this man...this Jesus...was no common man. I watched him there, his naked body, tortured and bleeding, his mouth cracked and dried for thirst. He cried for mercy for these enemies and said, "Father forgive them. They do not know what they do." I, who had glorified justice and scorned mercy, now saw the strength of this man, forsaken by God and by man, who asked nothing for himself. I was astonished.! But that strange crowd of mockers and haters seemed not to notice this one, so noble, so righteous.
Most bewildering of all was when, for the last time, he lifted himself on the wood and cried, "It is finished...Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!" He bowed his head and then gave up his spirit. I tell you I know men. Of all the men that have ever died, when could it be said that a man had power over his own death? That a man could simply die at will? I've watched many hang on this Roman instrument of torment. For days they would plead for the mercy of death. Only this man had power to lay it down of himself!
In deepest sorrow of heart, I knew I had consented silently to death of innocence. Suddenly, as darkness filled the skies and the earth began to tremble, I was compelled. His power and virtue were far beyond the weakness of men. I said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" Matthew 27:54

Image taken from here.

4 comments:

Richard said...

Good story. Brings to mind the closing line from a short story called The Cold Equations:

"I did nothing to deserve to die. I did nothing ..."

KayMac said...

do you know who wrote it?

Arlene said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

It is a sci-fi story written by Tom Godwin. First appearing in Astounding Magazine in 1954.

I read it in a sci-fi collection (whose title escapes me at the moment - and I won't be able to recall until I get back to Ottawa)