This is the third chapter of a prequel to my series on Longinus the Centurion, who according to tradition was the Centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus. Today is how I imagine that the Centurion would deal with receiving orders to prepare for the execution of a condemned terrorist.
The next morning a messenger knocked on the door to Longinus’s quarters in Fortress Antonia. He told Longinus that Pilate wanted to speak to him and to report as soon as possible to Pilate’s headquarters in the fortress.
Longinus, who had been discussing the day with Decius in order to ensure his soldiers were ready for any contingency but also conduct some training was bothered by the request. He had discussed the situation in the city and about Jesus in particular the previous afternoon with Pilate and figured that unless there was some sort of incident that he would meet again later in the day to discuss the latest events.
Instead Longinus, was being ordered to report to Pilate again and it was interfering with his conduct of military business. Longinus hated dealing with politicians and diplomats and though he respected Pilate who he felt to be as decent of man as any politically appointed diplomat as any Pilate was still not a military man. He did not always understand military matters.
Longinus looked at the messenger and asked: “Tell me. what would the Governor need of me at this hour?”
“Centurion,” the messenger replied. I was only told to have you report as soon as possible.”
Bothered by the lack of detail Longinus told the messenger to go and tell Pilate that he would be there shortly. He then looked at Decius, and shook his head. “My friend, I am afraid that I will be delayed. Take care to conduct today’s training and be ready in case any trouble arises.” With that he put on his armored breastplate and cape and left the room.
When he arrived at Pilate’s headquarters the Governor greeted him cheerfully. “Centurion, it is good to see you.”
“Likewise sir…” Pilate stopped him before he could continue.
“I don’t suppose that you know why I called you here do you?” Pilate asked, irritating Longinus who feeling even more irritated by Pilate’s levity kept his feelings to his self and simple replied: “No my Lord, your messenger only told me to report here, he did not give me a reason.”
Pilate smiled. “It was with good reason, had he done so I am sure that you, like any other Centurion in the province would have found some “pressing military duty,” isn’t that what you call it? to avoid coming here.” He paused for just a moment and before Longinus could respond continued: “Of course I know the answer, you need not say anything and I suppose if I was in your position that I would feel the same way.”
Longinus knew this was the case and had no answer to Pilate who continued.
“Centurion, this week will unfortunately be a week where we must conduct some rather unpleasant business, less than soldierly business but necessary.” Pilate paused again and motioned for Longinus to take a seat at his desk and Longinus did so, looking about the room and noticing Pilate’s civilian staff and several soldiers assigned as his personal bodyguard.
Longinus, decided to hasten the length of the visit and asked: “My Lord, may I ask why I am here? After all I do have pressing military business to attend to.”
Pilate immediately caught the sarcasm in Longinus’s words and smiled. “Centurion, you amuse me, because I know how you military types think. You see I may not have served with a Legion, but I have served with enough officers to know that you would rather be fighting the enemies of the Empire than doing police work, but we are in Palestine, not the Teutonic Forrest.”
Longinus stared back at Pilate and said nothing.
“Centurion, this week we will dispense justice to three Jewish prisoners. Men of your unit will conduct the crucifixions this Friday.”
“Yes my Lord.” Longinus’s muted response spoke more than any protest could.
Pilate continued. “Centurion, I want you to see the prisoners and in doing so know in your heart why this must be done. These men are violent criminals, and one of them is the infamous Bar-Abbas.” Longinus looked at Pilate, and asked “the insurgent who has attacked and killed our soldiers and officials?”
Pilate nodded and replied “so you know why this is important, in an environment as volatile as Judea we cannot let a man like this remain unpunished, it would only encourage more men to rise up like him.” Pilate smiled and continued. “We cannot forget how the Jews rose up and overthrew the Seleucid rulers underestimated these Jews when that Judas Maccabee fellow led that bloody revolt.”
Longinus replied “No we could not let that happen on our watch.”
Pilate nodded in agreement and continued. “So you understand Centurion, it is an unpleasant duty, but mind you history will thank us for it, as will any God that you believe in.” Pilate finished by telling Longinus to visit the prison for himself and begin to choose his soldiers for the crucifixion detail with care.
Longinus rose and saluted Pilate, turned and left the room without another word. He was not happy but proceeded to the dungeon where he met the Jailer of the Fortress, a rather obese and dirty looking man named Alexander, a Roman citizen of Greek origin hailing from Antioch.
When Longinus reached the dungeon he immediately noticed the stench and again realized why he was a Legionnaire and not a policeman. The prison was dark, and by Palestinian standards dank and moist smelling of human excrement and body odor.
“Well Centurion, welcome to my kingdom” said Alexander, a smile pressing through his grimy face.
“Thank you Alexander, where are the condemned?” asked Longinus icily.
They are in the cells to your left. Bar-Abbas is in the first and the other two, neither as notorious as he are in the next cell.”
“What are their names?”
“Dismas and Gestas, they are violent criminals of their own accord, but they were only out for personal gain. I think that one feels some remorse, but the other seems to be a rather hardened and unrepentant man.” The words came effortlessly to the unkempt jailer
“Thank you warden, I will see them now” said Longinus as he turned to look over these men as quickly as possible so he could return to his unit.
He walked past Bar-Abbas without making eye contact and went to the second cell. The two prisoners could not appear more different. One, seemed to accept his fate while the other looked at Longinus without remorse. After about a minute Longinus asked their names. The remorseful looking one answered, “I am Dismas, I stand condemned for robbery and murder. I accept my fate Centurion.” The other prisoner glared at his mate and with hatred in his voice and eyes said to Longinus “I am Gestas, and I am not sorry for anything that I did you Roman swine.”
Longinus stared back saying nothing, his continued lack of respect for such people seemed vindicated. He turned to the other cell and looked at the burly prisoner in it. “So you are Bar-Abbas?”
The prisoner snarled “So what is it to you Roman?”
Longinus began to feel better about his mission. “Well, Bar-Abbas, it seems that you have killed one too many of my comrades and it is I who will get to exact justice on you.”
Bar-Abbas smiled an evil smile and said, “The Roman that can kill me has not been born.” He laughed at Longinus who stood silently for a moment. Then, quietly Longinus replied, “We’ll see about that.” With that Longinus motioned to Alexander the Jailer to let him out. The jailer unlocked the door and Longinus walked up the steps and into the courtyard of the fortress where his unit was practicing battle drills.
Calling Decius to his side, he said. “We have a second mission this week, the mission of executing some dangerous prisoners, including Bar-Abbas the insurgent.”
“Bar-Abbas sir?” replied the junior officer.
“The same, but we have to wait until Friday. It seems that our governor wants to make a show if his generosity to the people here. If it was up to me I would have killed them in the dungeon and been done with it, we could have said that they died of the plague.” Longinus looked at his assistant and then continued “Of course that is not how we Romans do things, they will be executed in public to show these Jews that they cannot engage in such conduct, but it will only build more resentment.”
“Sir, are you saying that our methods are wrong?” asked Decius.
“Young man, look around you. You know the history of these people. They will continue to rise up until they regain their independence or we kill them all.” He paused. “That is their history and they can do no other. After all, if they were occupying our homes, establishing their God in cities and forcing our people to serve them how would we respond?”
Decius nodded his understanding and looked at the Legionnaires practicing close combat tactics that might be necessary in a pitched battle if the city was to erupt in revolt.
Longinus continued “Decius, choose a squad of men as the execution team and another as the escort. The rest of the Century is to be trained to maintain a secure perimeter and ensure that no Jews attempt to interfere with our mission.
“Sir, where is the execution to take place?” asked Decius.
Longinus motioned to a hill visible just outside the city walls. “Over there, that barren hill. The locals call it Golgotha.” He paused. “Fitting name, the place of the Skull. I perfect place to kill people that don’t want us here wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled and continued, “don’t answer, it is a rhetorical question.”
His assistant nodded and Longinus gave the order “Carry on with training, let me know which men you think should be on the execution team later tonight.”
Longinus turned and walked away wondering what else might happen, after all, the best laid plans of men sometimes don’t work out. He silently cursed under his breath the day that he was assigned to this place, which despite its history and splendor seemed forsaken by the Gods.