The Petronius Pronouncement
By Glenn A. Hascall
A monologue looking at the crucifixion from the perspective of a Roman
PETRONIUS: I would have gladly chosen any other duty. A more physically
demanding assignment would have suited me well. But I was Petronius, Roman
Centurion - a leader of a hundred. I was to set an example for my men to
follow and I was to lead even in the most difficult situations.
Take Skull Place for example. I must admit that I had seen men die,
placed brutally on similarly jagged timber. I tell you this so that you
will not think me overly lenient. No, there were times when I even took
secret pleasure in the proceedings - because I reasoned that justice was
I was not wholly unfamiliar with the man in the middle. He seemed to
me to be a delusional religious zealot who delighted in instructing the
masses in new religious philosophy, but he had never caused any serious
trouble for the Roman government. In fact, as a Centurion, I had been made
aware of special healings that took place at his hand. It was said that
this man performed the miracles for those outside his nationality, including
a soldier who sought his help in the midst of a household emergency.
On the day of the crucifixion, some of my men were playing games of
chance for the opportunity to take the man's clothing. I stood apart from
my men and watched the painful ordeal as the teacher's life receded like
a pool of water in the midst of drought.
I read the notice above his head, "King of the Jews". I admit that,
at the beginning, I had laughed along with the rest at this most absurd
notion. There was no king of the Jews, nor would there ever be, if my government
had its way.
Women were weeping as they watched from a distance. One of his ragamuffins
approached with a woman. The man spoke from his position above me instructing
his 'disciple' to look after the woman. This was the man's mother? In truth
she did not appear to be significantly older than the condemned one, yet
a notable weight made both mother and son seem weary beyond their years.
As the day proceeded, the other two men, who would soon die for their
crimes against Rome, began to speak to the man. One ridiculed, the other
The composure of the man in the middle was remarkable. He spoke words
of comfort when he was reviled. He asked forgiveness for those who insisted
his life be forfeit. He was asking forgiveness for me.
Unlike my fellow soldiers I watched while I waited. Perhaps it was
a matter of age. For most of my men this was simple blood sport. They were
still at a place where they could think only in terms of mortality visiting
those not fortunate enough to be young - or Roman.
As I watched, one of my soldier's offered a sponge filled with a vile
form of vinegar wine to the man, I found myself agreeing with Pilate; this
man had done nothing worthy of death, nor did he deserve the cruel sport
of my comrades. But I was charged with obedience and no one had sought
my council in this matter.
In times long past remembering, I had willingly placed the spikes for
murders, anarchist, as well as those seeking to overthrow the rule of Rome.
I had raised the hammer and struck hard and sure. This man did none of
the things that made me zealous for Roman justice. It was the Jews theselves
who insisted that he be crucified.
He looked at me several times that day and it seemed that he peered
into the very depths of my being. I felt somehow defenseless in the center
of his gaze. This was something I had never previously felt.
His breath became very labored and the work of crucifixion was finally
bearing its dismal fruit. He would push up with his feet so he could breathe.
Then the pain of the spikes piercing his feet caused him to slump.
The pain would then move to his hands and wrists. In this position
it was impossible to get a full breath - so the process was repeated until
he could no longer find the strength to push up again.
Then he said three words that I shall never forget: "It is finished."
It was then that he died.
I discovered a tear coursing down my cheek, then another. I was ashamed
at this fervent expression for a dead teacher - one whom I had not known
in life but had come to understand in his death.
"Surely this was the Son of God." I was amazed that I had spoken out
loud but I knew beyond questioning that it was true.
Then the sky went black and the earth trembled beneath my feet - raindrops
intermingled with my tears on that most unusual of days. Most unusual indeed.
It had been reported that graves opened and the heavy curtain separating
the Jewish people from the Holy of Holies in their temple was torn in half.
It can be said in utmost truth - I have never before that day or since
that time experienced anything like the power of the gaze of God's Son.
I have been told that my proclamation was one shared by his disciples.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Before that day I had no special interest in this man - there was simply
duty and obedience to the law. Crucifixion was the most dishonorable way
to be put to death and I did not savor the moment of his death. But, what
I will always remember is that when I stood face to face with the truth
- I was never to be the same again.
Copyright 2003 by Glenn A. Hascall
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