This is the second of a series of three Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday stories that I wrote last year and am doing again this year. It is what I image that the commander of the Roman Soldiers in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus must have been going through during that time. The Centurion according to Church tradition was named Longinus who later converted to the Christian faith and by some accounts died as a martyr. Much is legend but still the story of Longinus the Centurion appeals to me as someone who has served in the military for many years and been a company commander in the Army. I will post the final installment on Easter Sunday.
The horrible day was over and the night had passed. The sun rose over the escarpment overlooking the Jordan River casting a red glow in the east as the city awoke to the Sabbath morning. Longinus rose as always when his adjutant arrived at his quarters in Fortress Antonia with his breakfast. He preferred a private breakfast and this was typical for the area, a cup of the local tea, a plate of figs a loaf of bread with honey and since they were in a major city a portion of mutton procured from a local butcher who was more interested in earning a living than completely avoiding contact with the gentile Roman legionnaires. Longinus invited the young officer to sit on a small chair beside the table which served both as his dining table and office desk.
They discussed the impending return to Caesarea and the needs of the soldiers as well as the case of a soldier caught drunk and disorderly stumbling around the outer court of the Temple. The Temple Police apprehended the man and returned him to the watch officer of the fortress. It was embarrassing but not atypical of the locally recruited Samaritans. Sometimes Longinus wished that he was back with an Italian Cohort or even with the elite Imperial Guard, but even in those units individual soldiers would still do stupid things. After discussing the matters he dismissed the officer and rose from his chair. Longinus took the cup of tea and a piece of the bread and walked to the small window which looked out across the city and he could see the rocky crag called Golgotha now devoid of crucifixes where he supervised the executions of the two criminals and the man called by Pilate “the King of the Jews.”
It was the last that bothered him; while Longinus had seen or supervised numerous crucifixions he never enjoyed them as did some of his brother officers. Occupation duty anywhere but especially here was difficult on soldiers. The troops were not the elite of the Empire, many of the officers were cast offs from the Legions and the duty itself drained officers and men alike. They knew that the Jews hated them their Caesar and their taxes. Violence against soldiers posted to remote outposts was not uncommon; the Jews of the Zealot party had no compunction about killing Roman infidels and felt that dying to free their land was an honorable thing to do. They could be brutal both to the Romans as well as other Jews that they suspected of collaborating with the hated occupiers. Longinus hated them and treated them as terrorists whenever he encountered them, they were not soldiers and they had no honor He hated them and their land, he longed for the culture and peace of the home provinces of the Empire.
There was something unusual about the man that Pilate called “the King of the Jews.” Longinus took a sip of his tea and took another bite from the honey covered bread and shook his head. He had no idea why a man who did not seem to be violent whose followers melted away the moment this “King” was arrested by the Temple Police. He gazed upon the sunrise as the sky began to lighten. He thought about the women and the young man who stood nearby the cross the day before. He thought about the blood and the water and his remark to his men as the man died “truly this man was the son of God.” He hadn’t thought about it much until now. He knew that he would have to think some more on this subject but he had too much to accomplish today. There was still the possibility of violence in the city and one never knew what the Zealots were up to. Yes he would be busy. He took another sip from his tea and dressed for his meeting with Pilate and the other Centurions.