The Petronius Pronouncement

By Glenn A. Hascall


A monologue looking at the crucifixion from the perspective of a Roman Centurion.




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 being satisfied.
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 did not.
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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