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Duplicity, Politics & Betrayal: A Centurion in Jerusalem

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This is the final part of my Holy Week prequel for my series on Longinus the Centurion. It deals with the night that Christians now refer to as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. 

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

judas-30-pieces-of-silver

The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius, please pour each of us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”
A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Duplicity, Politics and Betrayal: A Centurion’s Thursday Evening in Jerusalem

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This is the final part of my Holy Week prequel for my series on Longinus the Centurion. I should have published it last night but forgot.

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

friedrich-overbeck-pilate-and-herod-resolve-their-differences-and-pilate-hands-jesus-over-to-herod-s-jurisdiction

The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

judas-30-pieces-of-silver

“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius, please pour each of us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”
A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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New Troubles: A Missing Body an Empty Tomb and Sleeping Soldiers The Story of Longinus the Centurion

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This is the third chapter of the redone second part of a trilogy that I have been writing about the Roman Centurion known as Longinus who was at the cross when Jesus was crucified. I have tried to weave other characters from the Gospel narratives, including the Centurion whose “beloved servant” was healed by Jesus an account mentioned in both Matthew and Luke, where the Greek word for servant “pais” is only found in these accounts and is different from the word commonly used in the New Testament “doulos.” The difference leads to some interesting and potentially powerful understandings about the people that Jesus interacted during his earthly ministry.

The links the to preceding chapters are shown below. I will be doing a final section to the trilogy dealing with what I imagine happened later to the men in the narrative. The reason I am doing this is because I believe that many Christians cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be the Roman occupiers of Judea in a time where they were hated and deep divisions, religious, cultural and political complicated the lives of Roman officers like the Centurion known as Longinus.”

Part One: A Centurion in Jerusalem 

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row

Duplicity in Jerusalem: An Official Visit and 30 Pieces of Silver

Part Two: An Unenviable Mission

The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

The Morning After a Most Unsettling Crucifixion: The Story of Longinus the Centurion

I do hope that you enjoy the series and that it and the Gospel narratives challenge you whether you are a Christian or not. I know from my time in Iraq serving with our advisors to the Iraqi forces that what the Roman officers dealt with was more difficult than any of us could imagine, unless you have been a soldier or officer of an occupying power.

Peace and Happy Easter…He is Risen!

Padre Steve+

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 Optimo, or second in command Decius, 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. They like the other officers had seen events that they could barely explain. some of those events had troubled Longinus in a manner in which he was not accustomed.

Longinus took a wineskin and poured the contents into two cups. He asked Decius 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 Decius bring the two soldiers to him along with the Sergeant of the Guard to explain what had happened.

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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. He threatened them and promised a light punishment if they only told the truth, but despite this they stuck with this outrageous story.

Longinus was not much of a believer in miracles angels or any sort of magic hocus pocus purveyed by seers, magicians or fortune tellers. that being the case 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. The terror on their face as they told the story led Longinus to believe that they had to be telling the truth as improbable as it was.

Longinus again thought of his words as the darkness enfolded the city and the earth quaked preacher hung dying on the cross on that evil hill two day before.

Longinus went to Pilate’s headquarters when he and the other Centurions, including his friend Flavius 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 the presence of Herod Antipas, 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 Pilate now called the 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 thought and for a brief moment admired Pilate’s duplicity. Pilate the consummate politician had again found a way to defuse the situation. As much as he despised the deal it was better than trying to deal with a full fledged rebellion with so few troops available in Jerusalem.

Longinus left with the others and met Decius and Flavius 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.

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That night he felt compelled to walk to the empty tomb with Flavius. In the darkness they looked into the sepulcher aided by a lantern. They saw the grave cloths where they remained; the large stone was rolled away and the seal that had been placed on it was broken. They looked for any evidence to suggest that the soldiers had fallen asleep but could not find any. Nor did either see how anyone could have stolen the body and gotten very far without being seen by anyone. Convinced by what they saw they set down in the tomb.

They sat silently and wondered. Finally Longinus asked Flavius. “You believe in this Jewish God, what do you think?”

Flavius sat for a moment staring silently ahead at the stone wall of the tomb. Finally he spoke “My friend, I believed something was different about the Galilean when he healed my servant, even though I’m sure that he knew that my servant was more than a servant to me.”

Longinus thought for a moment. “Friday morning I would have told you that the man was a simple but probably misunderstood Jew. Tonight I do not know.” He paused. “Perhaps he is the son of God, or whatever I said on that hill.”

“I believe that he is some kind of God my friend, one who may change all of our lives.” Replied Flavius.

“My friend, I really do not know what to believe anymore. Let’s get out of here and get back to Antonia, at least we can drink there.”

Longinus looked at ground where the body had been placed. In the dim light he noticed what appeared to be some thorns. He reached down and picked up the crown of thorns that had been on the Galilean’s head.

Flavius looked at him and said “the crown, how fitting that it was left here.”

“Somehow fitting. Maybe we should take it? Who knows maybe it will be worth something someday?” Responded Longinus.

“Maybe so my friend, maybe so. But maybe you should keep it to remind you of him.”

“No you take it. I have the Galilean’s blood on my spear. That is enough a reminder for me.” Longinus handed the crown of thorns to Flavius and they walked into the night out of the tomb, their path lit by their lamp.

They walked back to the fortress when both men went to the tavern in Officer’s Mess and had the barkeep pour them each an ale. He drank quite a few before the evening was out, Flavius leaving before him. he remained alone for hours and then went to his quarters where he lay down exhausted and perplexed by the events of the past few days.

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Duplicity in Jerusalem: An Official Visit and 30 Pieces of Silver

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This is the final section of the prequel to my historical fiction series on Longinus the Centurion. The other chapters of the series can be found at the following links. Have a blessed Easter Triduum.

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row 

Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Holy Saturday Special: A Centurion Reflects on a Days Work

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

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

friedrich-overbeck-pilate-and-herod-resolve-their-differences-and-pilate-hands-jesus-over-to-herod-s-jurisdiction

The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion. I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

Judas' 30 pieces of silver

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius pour us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly  “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”

A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

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

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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Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Russian Orthodox Icon of Longinus the Cenurion

This is the first 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 other two installments on Saturday and Sunday.  

It was another ignominious day in the life of Longinus the Centurion. Posted to the troubled outpost of Judea he commanded a unit composed of locally recruited troops mostly Samaritans and some Syrians. How he wished that he commanded elite troops of the Italian Cohort or any of the European Legions stationed in nearby Syria.  Normally he and his men were posted to the Roman capital of Judea Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast of Judea, though his troops were not elite the location was not bad so far as amenities, especially for Judea.

However, today’s mission was another distasteful assignment away from Caesarea back to the always troublesome city of Jerusalem.  Since the Jewish Passover was coming and with it thousands of Jewish pilgrims from around the world were in the city and in there was always the potential for trouble. Longinus had heard around the headquarters that tensions in Jerusalem were increasing due to the presence of some itinerant preacher from up in Galilee which according to the agents and spies in the city allegedly had healed the sick, raised the dead and restored sight to the blind. Evidently he had even stirred things up on a previous visit by chasing money changers out of the Temple. Longinus had to admire that, this Jesus was pretty ballsy. Since the worldly and seasoned Longinus didn’t think much of religious zealots, Jewish or otherwise he could only chuckle when thinking of some bumpkin raising hell in the Temple and pissing off the religious elite.

He led his unit as part of the mixed Cohort which provided security for the Imperial Legate, Pontius Pilate. He remembered a previous mission where Pilate had posted the Imperial Standards with the Image of Caesar as God outside the Fortress Antonia very close to the Jewish Temple caused a riot and Pilate had the Standards returned to Caesarea under heavy escort the next day.  This time there was a rebel named Barabbas who had been causing no end of trouble and Pilate had sentenced him to death.  But then the Jewish High Council brought Pilate another case, the case of this itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed to Longinus and the other Centurions present that the case was a simple religious disagreement that the Romans should not get involved in. However Pilate took the case fearful of the threat to his job if he allowed another “king” to live.  Yet Pilate had found this Jesus innocent but caved to the pressure of the mob, even ignoring the pleas of his wife Claudia to spare the preacher.  Pilate was a typical politician and cut a deal which allowed King Herod, the Sanhedrin and himself to meet the demands of their various constituencies or in the case of Pilate his boss to end this Jesus of Nazareth problem once and for all.

On the day before the Passover one of the preacher’s own men turned him in to the Council for the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver. That alone proved to Longinus that this Jesus was no threat to anyone. The Temple Police brought Jesus to the Sanhedrin which condemned him to death, but since they were not authorized by the Roman administration to carry out the death sentence they took the case to Pilate. Longinus saw Pilate use every trick that he could to make the decision the responsibility of someone else and if Longinus had been Pilate he would have told those religious types to pound sand and get the hell out of his headquarters, but he was a soldier not a politician with greater aspirations like the legate.

Instead Pilate complicated his life and those of his fellow Roman officers in charge of their local troops. One Centurion had the duty of supervision the torture of this Jesus. The troops were brutal, Samaritans and Syrians they hated the Jews and torturing a Jew for any offense was just too much fun, but for the Roman officers it was unseemly and lacked the honor of a true battle against other soldiers. After the brutal scourging with a barbed whip those soldiers placed a rough hewn “crown” of thorns on the unfortunate man’s head and robed him in purple to mock his claims to be a “king.” Longinus felt that the whole exercise was a cruel joke but the order had been given and by Roman law had to be carried out. After the scouring Pilate tried one last time to get out of killing this man offering to spare him for the life of Barabbas, a man who was a legitimate terrorist threat to the Empire’s interests in Judea. Instead the weak willed Pilate caved and spared the life of the terrorist for a man who couldn’t even control his own people. It was sad what was done in the name of the Emperor.

When final sentence was pronounced Longinus was assigned to the crucifixion detail.  Normally with such inflamed passions he would have assigned much of his unit to the task of the execution and related security measures. However it seemed that the usually surly population had little interest in stopping this execution of one of their own. With that in mind Longinus took just four soldiers with him to conduct the execution, security did not seem to be a problem. After a rather tumultuous parade through Jerusalem where the condemned man was heckled and abused they arrived at a hill just outside of the city called Golgotha, the place of the Skull. Longinus felt that the place was grotesque but it did work for the execution. Any visitor to the city would see the condemned man as well as two common thieves who were being executed at the same time.

His men performed the execution in the prescribed manner and he allowed the men to divide the condemned man’s clothing among them. For three hours the men along with a number of observers those that were obviously mourning the scene including a woman that appeared to be the itinerant preacher’s mother and a young man who he might be one of his followers. They were balanced out by a group of hecklers who mocked the condemned men, especially the preacher. Even one of the common thieves joined in the heckling. Yet in spite of this the preacher responded with grace and love to those who mocked him in his dying hours offering forgiveness to his men and promising eternal life to one of the condemned men who hung on either side of him.  The only real trouble came when some of the Council members noticed that the placard above the preacher said “The King of the Jews.” They immediately send men to Pilate to change the wording but Pilate finally told them to pack sand saying “I have written what I have written.” Longinus kept his silence when he heard this he and the other Centurions arrived back in Caesarea and had a chance to share drinks and a meal in a local pub.

It was an unusual day, the skies grew black as noon approached and the preacher made a number of chilling statements from his place on the cross the most poignant being where he cried out “my God my God why have you forsaken me?” That struck Longinus, this man was not really guilty of anything in Roman Law but was being killed and Longinus was part of the process.  A tear came to his eye when the preacher cried out “it is finished” and died.  Without thinking he called out to his men and to those remaining at the site “truly this man was the Son of God” drawing the ire of those cheering the execution and the bewilderment of those that appeared to be there to support this man. So when a runner came from Pilate came to order the deaths be speeded up to accommodate the religious traditions of the Jews he was relieved. His men broke the legs of the men on either side of the preacher but when they came to the limp body of the preacher they found that he was dead. Just to ensure that this was the case he had a soldier drive a spear into the side of the man. Blood and water flowed from the wound. The man was dead and the job was complete. Another Centurion came with a detail of soldiers to remove the bodies and to ensure the security of the preacher’s tomb, yet another concession to the religious people.

Longinus was glad that the day was done. He cast a glance at a number of women and one young man that remained. They obviously were his friends and the older women might have even been the preacher’s mother. He shook his head marched his troops back into the city and reported that the mission was complete when he reached Fortress Antonia.  He felt hollow inside and hoped beyond hope that time could be altered to allow him to save the many before it ever got to this point.

Arriving at Antonia he joined a number of fellow officers and as they chatted about the day he felt his anger and frustration rise. That preacher didn’t deserve to die and it was too bad that he could not be restored to life. But the Centurion in change of the Tomb Guard detail reported that the body had disappeared from the tomb. Longinus was tired. He hoped that it might be true. He asked the bartender for another drink and wondered just what was going on in this hellhole called Judea and he thought again “truly this man was the Son of God.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: Longinus is the name attributed to the Centurion at the Cross during the crucifixion by early church tradition. Likewise this is true of Claudia the wife of Pilate. This story is simply my versions of what might have happened that fateful Friday when a Centurion named Longinus became an actor in a play that he could not imagine.

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The Paradox of the Passion: Reflections on Palm or Passion Sunday

I celebrated a quiet Palm Sunday liturgy this morning.  As I read the scriptures, especially the Passion Narrative of Mark the Evangelist I was moved in a way that I have not been for some time and found that my time of prayer following the readings and the recitation of the Creed was perhaps more impassioned on account of all the suffering and injustice that I see in the world.  As such I wondered what to write and thought about the story of Longinus the Centurion who was according to tradition the Centurion at the foot of the Cross of the day of the crucifixion.  I went back through a number of articles that I wrote last year about what I imagined a soldier and officer of his time might imagine in such a situation and I will repost those articles on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. However today I decided to go back into my archives and repost with a few modification a more theological reflection on this Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians around the world. 

“Although we praise our common Lord for all kinds of reasons, we praise and glorify him above all for the cross. Paul passes over everything else that Christ did for our advantage and consolation and dwells incessantly on the cross. The proof of God’s love for us, he says, is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Then in the following sentence he gives us the highest ground for hope: If, when we were alienated from God, we were reconciled to him by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life!” John Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

“God speaking to Luther: “Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. … Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from His father… not knowing whither he went. … Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man… but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Cost of Discipleship

Palm or Passion Sunday always is a day that invokes mixed emotions in me. It is the last Sunday of the Lenten Season and in modern times has become a juxtaposition of two events, the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where he according to all four Gospels was greeted by crowds of people who lined the street with palms as Jesus riding on a donkey processed from Bethany and Bethphage where he had been staying with Lazarus into Jerusalem and the narrative of the Passion.  As such it is a roller coaster ride in our experience of walking with Jesus in the most difficult times.

This particular occasion is the Sunday where the disciples of Jesus are confronted with the reality that our earthy expectations of him do not meet the reality of his condensation to walk among us fully Divine yet fully Human but one too well acquainted with suffering, rejection and shame.  He shatters our expectations that he will bless any particular political or social ideology that we allow to take pre-eminence over him, even those that invoke his name. Thus our liturgy brings us to this strange day where in a sense we are confronted with celebrating the entrance of the King and in the next breath cursing him and betraying him to those who torture and crucify him.

In the Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgy the observance is divided between the Liturgy of the Palms which takes place outside the Church Nave either outside the church building or in the Narthex in cold or inclement weather.  After an opening collect and reading of the Gospel passage from one of the synoptic Gospels, which one depends on which of the three year liturgical readings that the church is in. Following the reading of the Gospel the congregation led by choir, acolytes and clergy process into the church reciting the words of Psalm 118: 18-29 or singing a hymn such as “All Glory Laud and Honor.”  Once the congregation is in the church the Liturgy of the Word continues and when the Passion Gospel is read and specific roles may be assigned to members of the congregation, while the congregation remains seated through the first part of the Passion the congregation stands at the verse where “Golgotha” is mentioned and remains standing.

The liturgy takes the congregation on an emotional and spiritual roller coaster.  As the congregation begins outside the following is read:

When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” Luke 19:29-40

It is hard when you read this passage and be caught in the reenactment of this procession not to feel the excitement that must have accompanied that procession.  It has the feeling of a victory parade but this road ends in a manner that those present, those seeking an earthly king and Messiah who would drive our the Roman oppressor and restore the kingdom to Israel would not expect with some of them perhaps playing a role in the drama that would take place later in the week.  I particularly like the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Blessèd One.
Refrain

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.
Refrain

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.
Refrain

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.
Refrain

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

During the Liturgy of the Word one of the following is read, either Isaiah 45:21-25 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the second being the Song of the Suffering Servant.  The Psalm is Psalm 22 where the Psalmist foretells Jesus’ anguished cry from the Cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?”And then we have the New Testament reading Philippians 2: 5-11, the hymn to Christ is read:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This year the Passion Narrative is that of Mark (14:1-15:47) but I find the passage in Luke 22:39-71 and 23:1-49 (50-56) to be more dramatic.  The three parts of Luke’s narrative that stand out in this narrative for me are Peter’s denial of Jesus, the interaction of Jesus with those crucified with him and that of the Centurion:

“Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.”

Peter’s denial is in large part because he has had his illusions about Jesus shattered and the fact that he had not understood the message up to that point.  As Bonhoeffer says “Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ.”

Likewise Jesus interaction with the condemned thieves that were crucified with him:

“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Mark (15:25-32) records that interaction in this manner:

“It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.”

The final passage from this narrative that strikes me is the moment of Jesus’ death on the Cross:

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Mark records that event in Mark 15: 33-39. In Mark’s account the reaction of the Centurion (15:39) to the death of Jesus is even more salient than the account of Luke.

“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

The darkness of this is event is perplexing to those who want to find God in some place where he is untouched by human suffering to them the Cross is folly for what kind of God would submit himself to such ignominy but as Martin Luther wrote “He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore, he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly. For they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross, evil and the evil of a deed, good. God can only be found in suffering and the cross.” It is in the contradiction of this week that we come to know God, not a God who seeks not the righteous or the powerful, those who seek the power of an earthy kingdom backed by an ideology of power which tramples the weak, but rather those who will simply walk in the footsteps of Jesus the Christ who rules by serving the least, the lost and the lonely.

The liturgy of this day be from any of the Passion narratives takes us to the heart of the Gospel as we led by the writers through the triumph of the entrance into Jerusalem, to the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the abandonment of him by the disciples and the denial of Peter.  As the writers lead us through his trial, conviction, scourging and trek to Golgotha we see the gamut of human emotions and reactions to Jesus and we know that we can be there as well in any of the characters simply because we are human and capable of compassion or betrayal.  As Jesus is on the Cross it is not the religious or upstanding that remain with him.  He is left with his mother, the other Mary and John the beloved.  He is shown compassion by a thief and recognized as the Son of God by the Roman Centurion, a gentile serving an empire oppressing the people of Israel and whose governor had pronounced the sentence of death upon him.  In this liturgy we have been taken from the heights of exhilaration in the triumphant entry to the depths of despair felt by his disciples that Friday afternoon. It is in this time that we realize how right Dietrich Bonhoeffer is when he writes “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

It is the Centurion for which I have the greatest affinity in this story. He is a soldier and in the words of so many soldiers who have obey orders carried out the sentence upon Christ by crucifying him and then as the life ebbs out of Christ’s crucified body exclaims “surely this was a good man” or in other accounts “surely this was the Son of God.” That is the cry of a man who knows that he has executed an unjust sentence, the reaction of a true penitent, the reaction of a man who comes to realize even before many of Jesus’ closest followers understood.  According to tradition the Centurion was named Longinus who left the service of the Imperial Legion, was baptized by the Apostles and was martyred under the orders of Pontius Pilate by soldiers of the unit that he had once commanded.

It is important for the Church not to lose this identification.  The Church is not to become enmeshed and co-opted by those who attempt to use the Gospel to promote ideologies foreign to it as is the temptation in times of crisis.  As Jürgen Moltmann notes:

“In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian… The Christian life of theologians, churches and human beings is faced more than ever today with a double crisis: the crisis of relevance and the crisis of identity. These two crises are complementary. The more theology and the church attempt to become relevant to the problems of the present day, the more deeply they are drawn into the crisis of their own Christian identity….Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one belongs oneself.” The Crucified God [pgs. 7, 19]

Nor is our task is not to attempt to invent “crosses” for ourselves in acts of pseudo-martyrdom but simply to be faithful in loving Jesus and our neighbor as Bonhoeffer noted “Must the Christian go around looking for a cross to bear, seeking to suffer? Opportunities for bearing crosses will occur along life’s way and all that is required is the willingness to act when the time comes. The needs of the neighbor, especially those of the weak and downtrodden, the victimized and the persecuted, the ill and the lonely, will become abundantly evident.” The mark of the Christian is not to blindly give his life for a cause or be consumed by the false “messiah’s” promoted by politicians, pundits and even preachers captivated by the lust for power and glory.

As we walk through the mystery of Holy Week together let us renew our faith in the Crucified One and not be conformed to those things that seek to turn us from the way of discipleship and the way of the Cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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