Something about this bothers me. I had governed over many crucifixions, but never had I seen a crowd overrule Pontius Pilate like this one did. And for what reason? Normally agents of Rome never yield to their subjects, especially Pilate. I wish he had not given me this order. Then he washed his hands of it. I wish I could wash MY hands of this, but that’s above my paygrade.
I don’t know how they expected him to carry his cross the whole length after being flogged with metal shards. When he fell from exhaustion on the trip to the hill, I found the first able bodied spectator I could and hand on my sword’s sheath I compelled him to carry the wood the rest of the way. We were going to get this done. It can’t be over quick enough.
The prophet’s body was a mess. The holes in his skin were so deep you could see the blood fill and retract with his heartbeat. Many men may not have been able to walk after the beating he took. It was as if a red rain had followed his every step down the long stone path. I have seen a flogging and I have seen a crucifixion, but I had never seen one lead to another so quickly. The crowd was just not satisfied. So many holes and so much blood! And it’s my duty to order 3 final holes once we arrive on the hill. And what for? Because he riled up some local religious scholars? We let them keep their gods when we occupied their cities – it made for a less abrasive rule. But catering to their whims seemed a little brash to me. Our fort was on the highest hill and our legion housed inside more than 5 thousand of the fiercest men alive. We have no need for peace with these “pharisees”. The prophet had quite a following of people, but so few of them ever carried weapons. If someone was going to raise a sword against us, it surely wasn’t this man.
The prophet seemed to be talking to himself while the men held his arms to the wood. He cried out with every swing of the iron, but he didn’t grovel or beg for mercy. Without a cloud in sight, the mid-day sun turned his crimson blood to a bright red. The bottoms of his feet were black and sliced open from the journey without sandals. As a man of war, I have seen cruelty. But this, this is one awful way to go.
The holes were dug and the judged were raised vertical. The prophet’s hole must have been a little shallower than the others as his final home was a bit higher than the criminals that surrounded him. My men had crudely made a sign with his own blood mocking him and placed it atop his cross. “The King of the Jews” it read, and I did not stop them as the crowd roared in approval.
The deviant to his right shouted out for the prophet to save them and before I could shut him up the other to his left responded to him, “We deserve this, but He has done nothing wrong. Remember me when you come into your kingdom, Jesus.” Between labored breaths the prophet responded to the man on his left and fell silent again. I felt my face flush with his answer. How could someone being killed so painfully and slowly be so confident to say he will soon be in paradise? Something was different about this one.
If the things they’ve said about him are true, surely he will lift himself off of that cross. “A man of many miracles.” I heard over and over for months. But the man we just lifted 90 degrees did not show the signs of a man defiant of his end. This man that had just affixed my soldier’s ear back to his head with his bare hand seemed willing to die. Was it for the satisfaction of the crowd or had he just given up?
My soldiers had removed their helms and were casting lots for the prophet’s garment. Normally, they would split the belongings up, but the prophet’s coat was woven as one whole piece, without seam and it was all he had. Never before had it occurred to me how demoralizing it must have been to see soldiers gamble over your clothes as you bleed to death.
Then suddenly, the sky turned dark in an instant. An odd, cold wind blew through the valley. The crowd’s blood lust eerily, quickly calmed. I heard the prophet speaking to his god as he always did, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Then, he murmured to himself and his head fell to his chest. I ordered one of my men to prod him and offer him a drink, but he did not respond. He was gone. Quick for a cross, but not for what he had been through before it. With the silence of the crowd and the inexplicable darkness, I felt almost as though something or someone was judging us all harshly. Fear crept into my armor. It was the first time since the day of my first battle.
Due to the popularity of the prophet and his controversial end, Pilate had ordered his tomb sealed and guarded. Under our supervision, his family had retrieved his body and laid it to rest. My men and I rolled a large boulder into place in the natural slope before the entrance. No one was going to get near his body. We can’t have a religious uprising because his body goes missing.
An obviously innocent man was just sentenced to death by a mob and he went willingly. I don’t get paid to care, but something about all of this just seemed so much more significant than the crowd allowed it to be. It is a day I am thankful is over.
TO BE CONTINUED…