From the perspective of a Roman Centurion at Jesus' crucifixion.
|See my hands? They look clean to you, do they not? But they are dirty - filthy with the blood of an innocent man. I have washed them raw. Still I see the stains. The stains of my sin - my sin of helping to torture a man to death.
I was there, you see. I saw it all. Worse I was part of it. I followed as this man tried to carry his method of execution up a mountain, bruised and whipped raw, a crown of thorns digging into his flesh, his cloak soaked in his own blood. I prevented people from trying to help, but I did not stop those who cursed at him, slapped him, even spat at him as long as they didn’t stop him from moving forward.
When he collapsed, unable to continue, I helped seize a man from the crowd to help the one they called Jesus carry his cross. I didn’t care about him. I just wanted to get this over with.
As we continued to push him and the other criminals forward, I heard whispers in the crowd that this Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I shook my head at the idiocy. If he was the Son of God, could he not end this himself? I thought perhaps this man did deserve to die to make such a claim.
The most astonishing thing was he didn’t cry. He didn’t scream for help or mercy. His eyes were filled with pain, yes, but a determination as well as though this was something he had to do. Why be so determined to die in any manner, let alone crucifixion? I didn’t understand this man at all.
When we reached the top of Golgotha and laid the criminals down on top of their crosses, I took out my hammer and nails to pound them into Jesus’ flesh. Before I swung my first blow, he turned his head toward me. With my hammer in the air, I met his eyes. I froze. Still I saw the pain and determination, but other things as well: sadness and compassion, forgiveness even. I knew they were meant for me.
Choking back a groan, I tore my eyes away and forced my hammer down. With each blow, Jesus stiffened, but made no sound. The other two criminals however screamed and writhed, making their nailings more painful and difficult.
By the time I finished, my stomach writhed like the two criminals, and with every ounce of will I succeeded in not puking.
The screams only increased when we raised the crosses, only this time, not just the criminals, but from the crowd. Some were cries of despair, but most were cheers of joy.
To my shock Jesus responded by turning his gaze to the sky and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The crowd silenced, but only for a moment before they resumed their insults with even more furor.
My compatriots then sat below Jesus’ cross and cast lots for his clothes. I didn’t participate, too interested in the crowd. It made me nervous. It continued to grow and people continued to hurl curses and insults at Jesus. Many screamed, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross if you are the Son of God.” Some of the Jewish teachers mocked him saying things like, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!”
Jesus didn’t respond.
One of the criminals added his own insults, but the other said, “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.
“Jesus,” he added, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
With the same expression he had given me earlier, Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
An ominous and eerie silence covered the land. Even the crowd silenced. It was if the entire world had stopped. The sky darkened, as if the sun had simply disappeared. The temperature dropped so low, I saw my breath. I shivered both from the cold and terror.
Jesus stiffened and called out in a voice so strong I wanted to cover my ears, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”
A man stepped forward with a sponge full of wine, but none of us tried to stop him. Others yelled, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him!”
Jesus cried out again, and died.
A rending sound came from deep within the ground. Not a second later the earth shook with such force, rocks split in two and drove many to their hands and knees, me included.
I glanced up at Jesus’ body and said, “Surely, he was the Son of God.”
They say Jesus died for a singular purpose, that all our sins are now forgiven so we may never know death ourselves.
I want to believe that, more than anything.
But how can I forgive myself, to no longer see my hands stained with blood?