Daily Archives: April 24, 2011

Trouble in River City the Centurion’s Easter: An Empty Tomb, Duplicitous Politicians and a Lingering Question

What springs from earth dissolves to earth again, and heaven-born things fly to their native seat.
Marcus Aurelius 

The pounding on his door awakened Longinus before he expected on this day after the Jewish Passover. He was hoping perhaps beyond hope that the worst was over and that in a few days he could take his soldiers back to the confines of Caesarea and away from the troubled city of Jerusalem. He was tired of this duty and longed for service with a real Legion with real Roman soldiers. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and went to the door of his quarters in Fortress Antonia.  He opened the door to find his Adjutant Marcus with a look of near panic on his face.

He asked the young officer to come into his quarters and take a seat at his table. He took a wineskin and poured the contents into two cups. He asked Marcus what was so urgent and frightening that he had to be at his quarters well before the duty day began. The young man took off his helmet to reveal a crop of blondish brown hair common to the Tyrol in the northern part of Italy and told an almost unbelievable story. He explained that there was trouble at the tomb of the itinerant preacher named Jesus. The two guards from their unit who had relieved the previous watch at the tomb had evidently fallen asleep and there had been a break in.  They claimed that they had been overcome when some kind of angelic being who had descended in front of them and some of the women who had been at the execution site previously.  The story seemed preposterous but Longinus could not believe that they had fallen asleep on duty either as such could be punished by a death sentence.  Adding to the confusion was a report that two of the preacher’s “disciples” had reportedly entered the tomb and claimed that the body was gone as had some of the women that had been there at the crucifixion.  It was unbelievable but yet in light of the strangeness of the man and his execution.  Longinus had the Adjutant bring the two soldiers to him along with the Sergeant of the Guard to explain what had happened.

The two soldiers, one a Samaritan and the other a Greek had good reputations in the unit. Neither had given him cause for concern and the terrified expression on their faces as they explained what happened gave Longinus reason to believe them. Yes it was possible that they were lying but Longinus believed their story. I found that not to believe them and their story that they heard the angel or whatever it was tell the women that the preacher had been raised from the dead. Longinus was not much of a believer in miracles angels or any sort of magic hocus pocus purveyed by seers, magicians or fortune tellers but here he was believing this outlandish story because to disbelieve would mean that there was a serious breakdown of discipline by two outstanding soldiers. He had some soldiers that he wouldn’t believe for an Athenian minute if they told him such a tale but he believed these men and he again thought of his words as the preacher hung dying on the cross on that evil hill.

Longinus went to Pilate’s headquarters when he and the other Centurions were participants in a meeting with the High Priest and his representatives and two of Herod’s people.  The meeting reminded him of a meeting of criminals.  The High Priest and his representatives were livid and Herod’s henchmen voiced their displeasure regarding the lapse of the Roman soldiers that allowed this to happen. Longinus spoke for his men and said that as improbable as it was that he believed their story. That only made the non-Romans angrier; he almost thought that they were engaging Pilate in some histrionic episode in order to force Pilate to do their bidding. They insisted that Longinus’ soldiers had to have fallen asleep and or that they had conspired with the preacher’s followers to remove the body from the tomb. This angered Longinus to the point that he interrupted their ranting to defend his men’s honor. Pilate finally ordered Longinus and the High Priest to be silent.  He asked the non-Romans to step outside while he conferred with Longinus and the other Centurions.

Pilate explained his dilemma. He was afraid that if he sent the High Priest away by supporting his soldiers that there would be a revolt in the streets. He had seen the tumult on the streets by the supporters of the High Priest when he tried to release the “King of the Jews” and felt that this would be worse for security. He advised the Centurions that while he had no reason to doubt them or their men that he had to placate the High Priest and Herod in order to avoid chaos, chaos that could lose him his job if he wasn’t careful. Likewise he did not feel that he had the manpower in the city to handle a full-fledged revolt and that he would have to call for reinforcements from the Legions based in Syria, something that he was loathe to do as this would get back to the Emperor.

Longinus thought back to the day of the execution.  Pilate had agreed to place a guard at the tomb at the urging of the High Council. Longinus had argued against placing any soldiers at the tomb as he felt that since the “King of the Jews” them man that he had called the “son of God” was dead that Rome’s obligation was over. The whole thing reeked of politics, Longinus was overruled by Pilate who explained that Roman soldiers needed to guard the tomb because the High Priest who Longinus detested as much as Pilate insisted that Jesus’ followers would attempt to steal the body and claim that he had been raised from the dead to lead a revolt against the Council and eventually Rome itself.  Added to the Judean witches’ cauldron was Herod, the corpulent and corrupt “King” of Judea.  If Longinus detested Pilate and Caiaphas he hated Herod and all that he stood for, it made him wonder why Roman lives and treasure were spent to solve the problems of this God-forsaken land which he believed would still be trouble two millennia from now if the world lasted that long. Longinus believed that as long as Rome allowed the High Council and Herod to rule the region by proxy that the troubles would never end. He believed that it was only a matter of time before these people, led by the Zealots would revolt as they had against the Seleucids nearly 200 years before. He knew if that happened that Rome would crush the revolt and not leave as much as a house standing.  He hated this occupation and all that it stood for, especially when he saw a good man, an innocent man killed for no good reason other than the politics of it all. It sickened him.

When he was done explaining his decision to Longinus and the other Centurions he called the now quite irate non-Romans back into the proceedings.  He told the High Priest and Herod’s men that he would disciple the soldiers involved and he would assist them in finding just what parties removed the body from the tomb.  In the mean time he would suppress any stories coming from the soldiers about this supposed “resurrection.”  The High Priest and Herod’s men agreed that this would suffice and thanked Pilate for his time and effort. Longinus and the other Centurions quietly seethed as this took place. When the non-Roman parties had left Pilate ensured the officers that no action would be taken against the men and that he would not actively assist the Jews in trying to find the perpetrators of the event. He then let the officer know that they would remain in Jerusalem for another week to allow the multitude of pilgrims to leave the city and then they would return to Caesarea.

Longinus left with the others and met his Adjutant and stepped into the court of the fortress. He was very unhappy with the deal that Pilate made with the High Priest and Herod.  He felt that he had dishonored his soldiers and the unit for the sake of political expediency. He felt ashamed of the Empire for what Pilate had done in cooperating with these people from beginning to end during this affair. He would not forget.

That night he felt compelled to walk to the empty tomb.  In the darkness he looked into the sepulcher aided by a lantern. He saw the grave cloths where they remained; the large stone was rolled away and the seal that had been placed on it was broken.  He looked for any evidence to suggest that his soldiers had fallen asleep but could not find any.  Nor did he see how anyone could have stolen the body and gotten very far without being seen by anyone. Convinced by what he saw he set down in the tomb and thought about this man.  He looked at ground where the body had been placed.  In the dim light he noticed what appeared to be some thorns.  He reached down He would have to find out more about him if he truly was the son of God.

He walked back to the fortress when he went to the Officer’s Mess and had the steward pour him some wine. He drank quite a few before the evening was out and then went to his quarters where he lay down exhausted and perplexed by the events of the past few days.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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