Summary: A first-person dramatic monolouge for Good Friday based on what might have been the thoughts of the centurion guard at the foot of the cross.
A View From The Cross: “Father, Forgive Them”
Good Friday Meditation – 2005
Dr. Bill Nieporte, Pastor, Red Bank Baptist Church
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Claudius. You can call me Claude. I am a professional soldier in the Roman army. I enlisted as soon as they’d take me and I have worked my way up through the system to earn the rank of Centurion. That’s equal to what you might call a Lieutenant in your military.
My regiment was on crucifixion detail when Jesus of Nazareth was place into custody. I was his constant companion from the early hours of the morning when the Jewish leaders brought him to Pilate, till the very end, when he breathed his last breath.
The Jewish leaders had all sort of accusation about Jesus. They said he was an insurrectionist, a rebel, a criminal, and a blasphemer. They claimed he was a threat to their stability and the stability of the Roman Empire. For hours Jesus was bounced back and forth between the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate. It was Pilate who finally gave the order to have Jesus executed, but like a good politician he did his best to exonerate himself from any responsibility.
When Pilate gave the order – my men and I began preparations to include Jesus in that day’s crucifixion line up. Including Jesus, there were three men who would be put to death that day.
Crucifixion is a dirty, rotten business. I can still remember my first crucifixion. I was what you might call a “Private”. I was newly enlisted in the army and ready to conquer the world for the sake of the Roman Empire. There was no way I could have imagined that this kind of detail would be one of my duties. By time it was over, I was sick to my stomach. The nightmares lasted for weeks. The guilt of what I had done made me an emotional wreck affecting everything – my marriage, play time with our newborn son (Claude Jr.). It was awful.
Our army didn’t have any psychologist and psychiatrist. We had a commanding officer who basically said: “It’s your job. These men are criminals – enemies of the Roman Empire. Just do it and stop talking like a wimp!” He threw a couple of colorful words and phrases in there too – but since we are in mixed company, I won’t repeat them.
My commanded was right, though. These guys were our enemies. We have blessed them with culure, civilization, order and structure. We had brought them the majesty that is Rome. Yet all they could do was gripe and complain and look for ways to make our lives miserable. It was my job to teach these folks a lesson and the cross was our symbol to them of what would happen to those who opposed us. I actually started looking forward to crucifixion detail in an odd sort of way. It was my job! It was my job to put these people in their place. It was for the good of the Roman Empire. It was for the good of those who watched these torturous executions. It reminded them to stay in their place and not to get too uppity. And the more cruel and heartless I could be, the more likely the cross would be a deterrent to other insurrectionist.
By the time my men and I had taken responsibility for Jesus, I had mellowed a bit. I had officiated over several dozen crucifixions; I was becoming rather indifferent to the whole matter. When it came to crucifixions, I thought I had seen it all. And here’s a little secret the politicians don’t like hearing: As a deterrent the cross wasn’t working. In fact, the more crosses we hung – the more rebellious the people became.
Like I said, the cross was dirty business. It was designed to be the most humiliating and degrading of all deaths. Roman Citizens were never executed on a cross. If a Roman committed a crime punishable by death – he was beheaded. That was a more instantaneous and merciful way to die. The cross was reserve for the slaves, foreign criminals, and political enemies. It was for those we considered the lowest of the low and the worse of the worst. Crucifixion was a slow, lingering, painful way to die.
Jesus must have done something pretty bad to warrant this kind of treatment – though for the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what that might be. Though strong and resolute, Jesus remained mostly humble and silent during all the court proceeding. He didn’t offer any sort of defense. He didn’t argue or plead for mercy. I am a soldier. I know a little bit about courage. I can tell you that it takes a lot of courage to put up with the kinds of things that Jesus was dealing with without loosing your composure.