He trembled now as he stood on the Skull Hill, watching some of his men hammer nails into the hands and feet of the good man who had saved his servant’s life. The Centurion took off the ornate helmet that signified his rank and station, dropping it on the ground near his feet. He couldn’t watch this spectacle anymore.
He shouldn’t be here, he thought. Captain of one hundred men, his place should have been somewhere else marching against real and worthy opponents. He recalled his battles against the Picts in northern Britain and the barbarian tribes in Dacia. That is where he was meant to be, not serving as a glorified policeman in the streets of Jerusalem – not overseeing the murder of an innocent man.
The Centurion recalled his first encounter with Jesus. Called to make sure that the crowds flocking to see Jesus didn’t riot, the captain became mesmerized by Jesus’s words.
A few weeks later back at his home in Capernaum his young servant Joshua became deathly ill. Having earlier been notified that Jesus had entered town, he rushed to find him.
Jesus sat in the square speaking to his followers. As a gesture of respect, the Centurion removed his feathered helmet and knelt on one knee. Jesus stared at him with eyes that penetrated his soul, as if he already knew why the captain was there.
He said, “I have a beloved servant who is dying, Lord, whom I know that you can save.”
The Centurion was in awe that Jesus knew the servant was male and immediately understood his power. “I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, Lord. I know you only have to say the word, and the boy will be healed.”
Jesus turned to the others and exclaimed, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” The Centurion felt tears running from his eyes as Jesus spoke more to his followers and then looked down upon him saying, “Go home; your faith has healed the boy.”
There were no words to say, he the supposedly powerful leader humbled by this holy man so modestly dressed and unassuming. The captain of 100 men got to his feet and raced home, finding his other servants rejoicing and carrying the seemingly now healthy boy around the courtyard. One of his servants turned to him and said, “It’s a miracle!” The Centurion knew this to be true.
In another world he would have followed Jesus, laying down his sword forever; however, the Centurion knew he could never leave this life due to obligations and expectations. He did know in his heart that Jesus was more powerful than Caesar, even more powerful than his many Roman gods.
Now on the Skull Hill he learned that Jesus was indeed human and watched him slowly dying. When two women in black accompanied by a simply clad young man tried to approach the cross where Jesus suffered in the afternoon sun, his men blocked their path. The captain saw the women crying and knew that the one with such a radiant face was his mother.
He stepped forward and grabbed one of the soldiers by the arm. “This is his mother and her friends; let them pass.”
All the soldiers moved back at his commands, and as the women and man started walking toward the cross the mother turned to him and said, “God bless you.”
The Centurion quivered inside, feeling the blessing and knowing it came through her son from up above. He walked over to where his helmet lay on the ground, lifted it up, and reluctantly placed it on his head. His authority would be needed to see this moment through in case some of the soldiers would try to arrest the women and the man.
They stood looking up at Jesus, the mother falling to the ground and raising her arms to the sky. Jesus said something to her, and the Centurion struggled in vain to stop crying because with all his power there was nothing he could do for them.
Three days later he sat in his courtyard staring up at the blue sky. Joshua came to him with a tray of bread and fruit and a goblet of wine. Every time the Centurion looked at the boy he knew the truth about Jesus. “Thank you,” he said.
“Why do you look so sad, master?” asked the boy.
“Nothing, Joshua, go now, please.”
“Yes, master.” Joshua left him alone listening to the birds in the trees and feeling the ache inside him that would not go away.
He recalled how when Jesus died that the sky went black, that the earth shook, and the rain came down in torrents. He made sure that Jesus’s body was treated with respect afterwards, that it was released to a wealthy Jewish man who had secured a tomb for a proper burial.
The Centurion also recalled how members of the Sanhedrin had approached him expressing fear that someone would steal Jesus’s body and claim that he had risen from the dead. He was asked to place a guard at the tomb, which he reluctantly agreed to do.
He heard the gate open and Flavius, one of his soldiers, approached him. “Sir, I have news.”
“Jesus’s body is gone.”
The Centurion jumped up. “But the guard….”
“We were there, sir. No one came in or out, but somehow the huge stone at the entrance of the tomb had been rolled away.”
“That’s imposs-ible,” he muttered but then grasped what had happened.
“The Sanhedrin is asking that we conduct a search,” Flavius said.
The Centurion sat down, sipped his wine, and nodded. “Yes, conduct a search at once.”
Flavius left quickly and the Centurion stared up at the sky. He knew that where Jesus was going no one would ever find him.
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