It was a day much like any other day. He probably kissed his wife and kids good-bye as he headed out the door. "Another day, another denarii," he might have muttered to himself as he trudged through the streets. This was the part of his job he dreaded the most.
People treated him as they would a leper. Men would turn their backs on him as he would walk by. Women would quickly move to the other side of the road imploring their children not to look at him. Young boys would hurl insults at him, daring him to use his authority. Perhaps it was his skill with a whip that made him infamous. Maybe it was the cold stare that emerged from underneath the helmet. Or was it the sword that he wore at his side that repulsed the people so. Yes, they treated him as they treated a leper...but at least, for the leper, they had empathy
He was a Roman Centurion, and he represented everything bitter and vile to the people of Jerusalem.
All of this he endured each day as he made his way up the odd-shaped mountain outside the city. As he journeyed he began to mentally prepare himself for another day when he heard the sounds of sorrow coming from the city. The sounds grew louder as a crowd began to make its way up the hill.
"His name is Jesus," laughed one of his fellow soldiers. "Some radical that was supposed to become King of the Jews. But the best part is this: he said he could rebuild that temple in three days if someone tears it down! What a nut!"
"Jesus," thought to himself. He had heard of Jesus. He had heard that he performed magic that rivaled Jupiter. During his time in Jerusalem he had hoped to catch sight of him and witness his power. Now, it seemed, his chance was gone.
These thoughts are brought to a grinding halt for the crowd is near. In front is a soldier leading a man carrying a large, jagged crossbar. Behind him is a procession of sobbing women with only a couple of men sprinkled throughout the crowd. As they draw near to the place of execution, the crowd divides revealing a beaten, bloody man stumbling towards him.
"They almost beat that guy to death," he exclaims aloud. "This won't take long."
He and three other soldiers quickly seize the man and bring Him down on top of a second jagged post. The Centurion recalls how sickening this process was the first time he participated in it. But he's done it enough times now that he has become almost calloused to the agony involved. He firmly holds the man's feet in place while the others prepare the agonizing task of nailing the man to the tree. The sound of metal striking metal is drowned out by a mixture of screams and the cracking of muscle and bone. The Centurion can feel the muscle in the man's calf nearly bursting through the skin as he writhes in agony.
With both hands permanently affixed, the soldiers move to the man's feet. As the Centurion looks up his eyes are met by the man he is helping to kill. Though he is certain the man is enduring a torture unlike any other, he senses a peace in his face. He quickly looks away as the hammer finds its mark...
...and the cross is lifted into place.
With everything finished except the waiting, the Centurion begins to analyze the crowd. He sees a crowd of women immersed in sorrow trying desperately to comfort a slightly older lady. Also present is a young man barely out of his teens. From above him the Centurion hears Jesus say, "Woman, behold thy son," and to the young man, "Behold thy mother."
"His mother," the Centurion thinks to himself? He doesn't see many mothers on this hill; the embarrassment and humiliation are too much for them to bear. He watches her weep and reach up for her son as though she might be able to comfort him. A lump grows in his throat as his thoughts wander to memories of his own mother.
There are others in the crowd teasing and taunting the dying man. He has seen this happen before...but not by a man's own kind. The sights and sounds makes him angry.
His thoughts are interrupted by one of his fellow soldiers. "Hey, are you playing or not? I know it ain't much, but these clothes will feed my family for three days!"
He merely shakes his head. He is not interested in gambling for clothes. Instead, he is interested in knowing more about what he saw in the eyes of a man about to die. He looks skyward, and once again his eye's are met by Another. He stares at the man hanging above him. His face is covered in blood; his muscles convulsing with each passing moment. Yet he senses the same peace again in his eyes.
Their gaze is interrupted by one of the men being crucified next to him. He pays little attention to their conversation as he ponders what it was he saw. He seems to be in trance for hours when he notices that the sky has grown exceedingly dark for that time of day. In the distance he hears rolls of thunder; thunder the likes of which he has never heard. An overwhelming sense of dread comes over the Centurion. As he looks around him he sees the same concern on the faces of the soldiers and the crowd.
Filled with a terror he can't explain he once again looks skyward and again his eyes are met by Another. The same peace is there...but only for a moment...as this time the peace is interrupted by a scream of despair and words he doesn't understand.
And then He is gone.
Immediately the ground began to shake; rocks split in two. And the Centurion is left with the same confession that some day the whole World will make...
"Surely this man was the Son of God!"