The Centurion And The Crucifixion

EXCRUCIATE: to cause great agony, enormous pain
(Latin: ex: out of, from / cruciate: cross / “from the cross”)

Crucifixion detail…the centurion truly abhors
the task. His scar-laden body bears testament to
his willingness to give his all for Rome; no more
loyal soldier serves Caesar. This odious duty he must do.

To maim, to slaughter in battle the true enemies of Rome,
wreaking unspeakable carnage, causes this centurion no concern,
but to nail a man to the cross, to listen to him suffer and moan
in agony for days dying, such as this makes his conscience burn.

Knowing such men are convicted criminals of the worst sort who
deserve death by crucifixion allows him some inner comfort.
“Centurion, to you goes the honor of ridding us of the Jew
Jesus, that rabble-rouser who has created such great discomfort

for Jewish leaders and Rome alike.” “For what crime
does he deserve to be crucified?” “The Jewish Sanhedrin
sentenced him to death for blasphemy, but Pilate two times
tried to spare his life. Jesus could have gone free, but in

his stead, the Jews freed Barabbas, a lowly criminal well-known.
Pilate sentenced Jesus to flogging, a punishment as befitting
his crime against Caesar - advocating not paying taxes to Rome,
with crucifixion added only because Jewish leaders kept insisting.”

The centurion proceeds to where the soldiers have been scourging
the Jew Jesus. The man sits slumped on the floor, his beaten back
draped with a scarlet robe, now soaked with blood from his flogging,
his head bloody with a crown of thorns driven into his scalp. No lack

of brutality is evident in their torment of this man. They now place
a staff in his right hand, and taunts of “Hail the king of the Jews!”
fill the air, as they continue the severe beating that has his face
almost unrecognizable. The centurion glances, then looks anew.

“Why I have met this man!” recognizing him as the Jew who had
conversed with him, the one who had somehow cured his knee.
“He teaches only love and kindness. Nothing done by him is bad
enough to deserve this.” A soldier, “As Pilate orders, so must it be.”

Reluctantly, the centurion leads the small detail along the path of stone
leading through the walls of Jerusalem toward Calvary, where loss
of life awaits. Jesus, made weak by his great blood lost, is thrown
to the ground by the 100-pound weight of the crossbar of his cross.

“He is too weak to carry his patibulum. You there, you will carry
it for him,” as the centurion picks Simon of Cyrene from the crowd
lining the way. The 600-meter walk goes slowly, as Jesus must tarry
and stumble along. Arriving upon Calvary, the centurion, once proud

to be Roman, feels ashamed at his part to play. Nails, seven inches long,
and one centimeter in diameter, are driven through Jesus’ waiting wrists
into the patibulum. The crossbar is lifted onto the stipe where it belongs,
with Jesus’ feet being nailed to this upright post. Jesus speaks during this,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The centurion wonders, “What manner of man is this?
Most men beg…or curse. He asks forgiveness for us who
crucify him.” The soldiers gamble for his robe, as if nothing is amiss.

The centurion goes and sits on a low wall. The slow, suffering dance
of death has begun. With his arms pulled upwards and his body’s weight
sagging, breathing is difficult. To draw a breath and stop the advance
of arm pain, muscles must push against the nailed feet, hold, then wait

as pain in the feet and legs builds to unbearable…then slump he
must, allowing the wrists to again support his body. This grotesque ballet
of lifting the body to inhale and sagging to relieve the growing agony
usually lasts for days. But this crucifixion isn’t usual, as all will soon see.

The hours pass agonizingly slowly. Then, Jesus calls out,
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Suddenly, the sky darkens unto night; wind, lightning allow no doubt
as to whether his plea was heard. The Roman soldiers grow panicky.

“This is unnatural! It is pitch black at mid-day. There is a storm,
yet no rain falls.” “Calm yourselves. Light some torches. This
shall soon pass,” assures the centurion, restoring order. But, the warm
sun remains hidden for three hours, as a sign for Man not to miss.

The centurion walks to the foot of Jesus’ cross, which stands
some nine feet high. Looking down from above, Jesus seems to see him.
“I thirst.” The centurion, greatly moved, shouts a command.
A sponge soaked with wine vinegar is raised to Jesus’ parched lips, then,

as the centurion stands, observing him, Jesus announces,
“It is finished.”
Soon following,
“Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

With that, Jesus simply bows his head and dies. An eerie feeling
chills the centurion to his marrow. “He died of his own free will!”
The soldiers, having broken the legs of the others for hastening
their death by suffocation, now come to Jesus. “He is already still.”

To confirm that Jesus is dead, a spear is thrust through his right
side into his heart. Water and blood pour forth. “This man
was not much of a man. He died so quickly, before the first night.”
The centurion, “He was the best man who ever lived since time began.”

The centurion walks away, unsure…but knowing nothing is the same.

[This is the third of a trilogy of poems/storoems. The others are
“The Aftermath Of War” and “The Centurion And The Jew”.]

Harry Edward Gilleland      04.06.03