The Roman Soldier
I felt lead to right this fictional short story after a conversation myself and a close friend and brother in Christ had while on a long car ride. We wondered what it must have been like to be one of the Roman soldiers that executed our Savior. Now that we are so close to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ I think it is important that we remember most of all what he was born into this world to do and what Christmas is really about.
The Roman Soldier
The leather ribbons sliced through the air, the barbs at the end of the whip whistle each time just before meeting there mark, the bare back of yet another Jew strapped to the scourging post this morning. The Lictors competed with one another trying to inflict the most damage with each strike of their flagrums. Young Cato felt dampness on his feet and looked down to see he was being splattered with the Jew’s blood, he stepped back. Executions didn’t bother Cato anymore at this point, even at his young age he had been on duty for hundreds already but this one was getting to him. There seemed to be no crime involved that didn’t sit well with Cato. He had over heard the Prefect questioning him. The accusations seemed mainly to do with the Jews superstitions and religious laws. The Jews had insisted he was a rebel of some kind saying he was claiming to be King but Cato had seen many rebels executed and this man certainly was no rebel.
“Why would Pilate have us do what the Jews should do themselves?” Cato thought.
Cato had heard gossip from the slaves at the Praetorium that this man had healed people; they said he was a teacher but he believed little of what he heard from slaves. Out of all of the Jews and rebels Cato had seen scourged this may have been the only one that did not beg for them to stop. They released him from the post and threw his clothes back over him just long enough to drag him inside and then they unclothed him again. He kneeled naked and quivering before them on the stone floor, one hand made a bloody print on the floor as he steadied himself. His ribcage and spinal column were partially exposed where the flesh had been torn back by the Lictor’s whip. He had no words for them, he just stared. His gaze almost seemed to have weight to it; it was as if you could feel his eyes upon you somehow.
Claudius came with a scarlet robe. “Let’s give the King his Royal Robe!” Claudius said in amusement. Lucius brought a crown of thorns and drove it down onto his head. “Don’t forget his crown!” He said. Some of the thorns were two inches long and one pierced his eyebrow completely and blood streamed down his face into his beard. While he moaned in pain and shook from shock he still made no pleas for his life as the countless others had. “If this man is the leader of a rebellion, as the Jews say, and claiming to be a King why does he not fight as all the others?” Cato thought.
The Jew stared into Cato’s eyes and what he saw stirred his very soul, he saw pity, he was looking at them with pity in his eyes, not for himself but in some strange way it seemed he pitied them. He saw something else as well, something he didn’t want to believe or even acknowledge to himself.
Claudius forced a long staff into Cato’s hand and said “Give the King his staff!” Still locking eyes with the Jewish teacher Cato stepped forward and held out the staff, after realizing the Jew wasn’t going to play along he had no choice but to grab his free hand, it was shaking and clutched tight to his chest and dripping with blood. He opened his clenched fist and fastened his fingers around the staff. He then quickly retreated from the man’s mesmerizing gaze. Many of the soldiers kneeled to him and mocked him as if he were their King. Cato had seen this same routine before, they often tormented rebels this way that conspired to drive out the Roman army stationed here. Normally Cato played an active role but something about this man stopped him from doing that. The soldiers pledged their undying allegiance to Tiberius Caesar and spit in the Jew’s face. The men were astonished when he did not retaliate in the least bit, not even with curses as they had seen all the others do. They began to see in this man something very different. Cato began to see several others in his company take notice of this. “Why does he not get angry?” one said. “Why does he stare at us like this?” another said. “Why does he not even beg for death?” Claudius yelled.
The Jewish man’s gaze began to be more than some of them could bear. His eyes and facial expressions should be full of anger and hate instead something unimaginable was in his gaze, Love. He looked at them like a very hurt parent might look to there child.
Claudius grabbed the staff from the Jew’s hand and smashed it over his head in an effort to make him react but the Jew only endured the blow, falling to his side for a moment but then returning to his kneeling position and refocusing his loving gaze on his abusers. Then another took the staff and pounded him again on the head, he fell to his back this time only to endure it then return to the same position once again. Still no curses flew from his lips, no pleas of mercy, only a gaze of mercy and love for his tormentors. The soldiers could take no more. They forced him to his feet clothed him and began the walk to
Golgotha. The soldiers shared looks of confusion and concern as they went. “What
kind of man is this?” Cato thought to himself.
The teacher had to be steadied on his feet as they went, his legs quaked under him. Claudius shouted at Cato to seize someone from the crowd to carry the cross. Cato thought this was very strange of Claudius and wondered if the man’s peculiar loving gaze had softened him. They put the cross on another man’s back and continued. A crowd had gathered, scornful shouts and curses came from some. They said “Save yourself if you’re our Messiah!” others called to him lovingly, and shouted at the soldiers “You are killing the very son of God!” When Cato heard this he became alarmed. “How could this be the son of one of the Gods?” Cato thought. The men in his company exchanged concerned looks when they heard this also. They would have taken no notice of this statement if it hadn’t been for the strange loving gaze the man had given as they attempted to torment him. Now they entered a crowd that knew him well, some were certainly his family as they screamed in mourning for him and grabbed for him. They wiped the blood from his eyes. Their horrified looks told the story of their immense love for this man. “Surely this man is a teacher as the slaves had said, with so many coming to mourn him.” Cato thought.
The Teacher stopped briefly to speak to the crowd that had come out for him.
Cato could barely make out what he was saying to them for he was several strides away but he was certain he heard him say “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves.”
“What kind of man is this?” Cato thought.
Arriving at Golgotha Cato ran to fetch him Wine and Gall, this would deaden the pain of what was to come next. He held it to his lips but after just a small taste the teacher spit it out and refused it. Normally men gulped from the cup to make them forget the incredible pain they were in and the pain to come.
Again the thought returns to Cato’s mind. “What kind of man is this?”
He was disrobed again and the cross was laid on the ground before him, the soldiers had instinctively encircled the teacher because this part was always a struggle. They had found even the weakest most beaten men were able to summon immense strength once it was time to do the nailing. The soldiers stood frozen, the crowd behind fell silent as they watched the teacher slowly stagger to where the cross lay sat down on its beam, he reclined back staring at the sky. Never had the soldiers witnessed a man surrender himself to the cross this way.
Cato had the spikes and hammer in hand but stood motionless stunned by what the teacher had done until he felt the gaze of the teacher fall on him, this time the teacher’s gaze was that of determination. As Cato made his way to him the teacher spread his arms across the beams. Cato caught a glimpse of Claudius’s face as he went. This murderous executioner of hundreds possibly thousands stood in awe, mouth agape a single tear streamed down his cheek, he saw Cato take notice and quickly wiped it away.
“What kind of a man is this?” The piercing thought came again to Cato.
A sign was handed to Cato with an order directly from the Prefect to nail the sign to the cross. It read “King of the Jews.” When they saw it several of his fellow soldiers began to cast lots for his clothes. After mounting the sign, Cato put the first spike to the teachers hand; the teacher looked into Cato’s eyes and nodded, as if he was already forgiving him.
Cato moved with quickness he had never moved with before, nailing the other hand and his feet to the cross. Something inside him suddenly wanted desperately to shorten this mans suffering as much as he could.
The cross was raised and the real agony began as all the weight was placed on the teacher’s shoulders. A tearing could be audibly heard as his joints where pulled from there sockets. A sick feeling came over Cato as he replayed in his mind the teacher’s words to the Prefect during his interrogation, the gaze he gave them as they tormented him, the loving calls of his followers that claimed they were killing the son of God, and his words to them to “not weep for him.”
“What kind of man was this” There the thought was again, Cato could not escape it.
Hours had passed the teacher panted and gasped for air now, the weight of his body hanging from his hands served to constrict his lungs. He pressed down with his legs pushing on the spike driven into his feet to raise himself to take a deep breath so he could speak. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do!” He said before his legs collapsed again. The crowd gasped. The soldiers looked at each other again. “Surely we have slaughtered an innocent man today.” Cato thought sickly. Cato had never witnessed such forgiveness in a man; even a man of God would surely wish death on his executioners!
His mother wailed in mourning as what appeared to be a friend of the teacher tried to console her. Again he pressed down on his impaled feet and said to her “Mother here is your son, son here is your Mother.”
He hung there panting and moaning for some time. Blood poured from the teacher’s feet as he raised himself yet again getting another breath.
“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He cried out.
At this the crowd gasped and some said he would call on God and they would all be killed. The Jewish priests began yelling for him to bring himself down off the cross.
The teacher looked to the sky and yelled out “It is finished!” Then the teacher collapsed completely lifeless.
The ground immediately began to tremble, then to quake; rock fell people shrieked and ran. The sound of buildings falling in and screaming could be heard coming from the city. The sun went dark like a candle being snuffed out. Night fell while it was still mid-afternoon. Cato and the other soldiers were terrified of what their fate would be because now there could be no doubt. They had surely executed the Son of God!
Cato looked upon the now dead teacher and the blackened sky with the ground still shaking and screamed aloud “What kind of man is this?”
A voice from the crowd answered his question.
“He is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the very Son of the Living God!”