Summary: Dramatic monologue in the form of a letter written home by the Centurion who crucified Jesus.

"A Soldier’s Letter Home"

Dr. Bill Groover

Copyright 1997

From Claudius, son of Marcus, Legionnaire in the Imperial Army of Caesar--former Legionnaire in the Imperial Army of Caesar. To my beloved parents and family in Neapolis. May this letter find you in good health and prospering.

Please forgive me if you feel I have brought shame upon our household, but I have resigned from Caesar’s army. I trust after reading my story you will agree I did the only thing I could. This decision was not made suddenly, but after almost two months of constant heart searching, anguish, and desire. I do have plans of returning home, for I have work there to do--telling people about the change I have experienced. But first, I must remain here for a season. There is much I must learn.

Please listen lovingly to my story as I explain the history of why I left the Imperial Army.

I volunteered for duty in Judea like many other soldiers, expecting adventure and rewards. The promise of a parcel of land to call my own upon retirement was indeed appealing. I looked forward to my career with hope and anticipation. But from the very first, I hated this country. I wondered why anyone would fight for this god-forsaken wilderness. The countryside was rocky and barren, nothing like the beautiful green hillsides of Southern Italy. And we all hated the Jews. We called them ignorant little people, too dumb to remember the name of but one god.

I was determined never to volunteer for anything again. I would spend my time, almost serve my sentence, and retire.

But three months ago I volunteered for a detail.

The Jews were going to have another of their endless holidays. "Passover" they called it; we called it "pass out" because of the number of them who would celebrate by getting drunk. We were going to be on alert anyway--there was always the treat of an uprising, but especially during holidays. Pilate had announced plans to crucify three prisoners, just to remind the Jews who was in control.

One of the prisoners was named Barabbas. He had killed one of our soldiers, so we all wanted to be on the execution detail that got to kill him. I was angrily glad when I was selected. Then I was just angry when Pilate decided to play politics with the Jews.

The Jewish Priests brought a prisoner of their own to Pilate, a traveling holy man named "Jesus." It was obvious the Priests were jealous of this man’s following and reputation. It was claimed that he was the Son of God and a miracle worker who could heal the blind and deaf, and even raise the dead. Pilate hoped he could have this Jesus beaten and that would satisfy the Jews, allow them to feel powerful, and force Jesus into retirement.

Since I was already on execution detail, I was there at the barracks courtyard when the beating took place. I enjoyed watching these beatings when I first came to Judea. I hated the Jews so much for forcing me to be there that I felt like all Jews should experience the whip. But after seeing several whippings, I lost my stomach for such. You need to understand exactly how brutal these affairs can be. A veteran soldier, an expert with the whip, will take a nine thonged whip and administer thirty-nine lashes. Forty lashes is the maximum allowed by law. At the end of each of the nine thongs is a piece of sharp metal or broken bone, carefully affixed in such a way as to dig into the flesh of its victim. Once the leather is laid across the prisoner’s back and the end pieces have dug into the flesh, the soldiers know exactly how to jerk the whip back so as to tear the maximum amount of meat from the bones. You can imagine what a bloody mess these beatings become and why even a soldier such as myself had seen all he wanted after only a few of these scourgings.

So Jesus was sent to be scourged. And I watched. I watched first as the younger troops took out their frustrations on him. Since the Jewish Priests charged him with claiming to be a king, the troops gave him a crown, made of thorns, some of which were almost two inches long, and a reed for a scepter. They laughed and mocked him and spat upon him. I took no part in this merriment; when you’ve killed as many in battle as I, and have come as close to being killed as I, you no longer mock your enemies.

After the beating, Pilate wanted to release Jesus. The Priests insisted he be crucified. So Pilate turned to the crowd to let them make the decision (good Roman democracy!). To his surprise the crowd called for Barabbas to be released and Jesus to be crucified in his place. And it was so ordered.

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