The Roman Soldier

“Who’s up first today, Artemis?”

“Some Jew,” I answered. “Man, am I tired of these guys with their strange laws and their goofy ideas. This one says he’s the king of the Jews!” My head tilted back in laughter at this ludicrous thought. How could the Jews have a King? After all, weren’t they our prisoners? Captives in their own land, that could never happen to us Romans. King indeed. Ha!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Artemis, chief of the guard in Jerusalem. It is my job to keep the Jews and everyone else in line. There are many legionnaires here in Jerusalem, and they all answer to me.

Today I will discipline this Jesus of Nazareth. Already my cat of nine tails is soaking in a vat of goat’s blood. When the leather thongs are nice and soaked I will roll the strips in bits of broken glass and pottery, then set the scourge in the sun to dry. Already bits of sharp metal have been imbedded in the strips. There is no greater weapon of punishment than my scourge, except maybe the cross.

Ah, the cross. What a great method of torturing a man until he dies. There really is no finer instrument to humiliate and degrade a man before his death. Well, at least this Jesus will just have to be flogged, he won’t have to undergo the cross. Lucky him.

Well, it’s time. I walk out onto the Court of the Pavements. There in the middle of the court is a tall pole with a ring on top. Jesus’ hands will be tied together, then the rope will be pulled through the ring on top of the pole. He will hang there, with his feet just barely touching the ground. Then I will take over.

I really do enjoy this part of my job. I hate these Jews. I hate their land, I hate their food, I hate everything about them. If this guy really is their king, I’ll show him exactly how I feel about his kingdom.

I raise the cat of nine tails and let it fly toward Jesus’ exposed back. The leather strips wrap all the way around his body and the bits of metal and pottery begin to bite into his flesh. Many inexperienced men will just pull the whip back at this point. I have done this often enough to know that if I tug a bit first, I get more of his flesh on every lash. I tug, then pull the whip back. Bits of Jesus’ flesh fly off the leather as it returns to me. His blood splashes on my face and I am elated. A good shot! I look around the crowd and see grown men retching as they see the torment I have inflicted.

Again and again I raise the whip and let it fly. Unfortunately, I can only hit him thirty-nine times. It’s the law. That’s okay, long before I get to thirty-nine we’ll have to turn Jesus around so I can concentrate on the front of him. There won’t be enough sound flesh left to beat on his back.

After I am done, we cover him with a purple robe. After all, he is royalty, isn’t he? The robe will sink into his wounds and soak up his blood. When they take the robe off later his wounds will reopen. Most men die at that point. But this Jesus seems to be a pretty strong man. Maybe he’ll survive. In the meantime, I need dinner and a nap. I wonder if that pretty barmaid is busy tonight…

What is all the ruckus going on outside? I must have fallen asleep. Oh well, the barmaid will be there tomorrow, too. I head outside to the shouts of “Kill Jesus, give us Barabas!” Barabas? These people want Barabas instead of Jesus? Barabas is a traitor to the Romans and the Jews, so why would they want him?

“Come on, Artemis! We’ve been called back to duty. We’re going to crucify that Jesus guy!”

That’s not right. We whipped him, he’s supposed to go free. Like I said, this is a crazy country.

We place the cross on Jesus’ back and he starts off down the steepest street in Jerusalem. Obviously, some of my friends have had a little fun with Jesus. He has a crown of thorns stuck on top of his head. He has lost a lot of blood. His face is so bruised and swollen that if I didn’t know who he was, I wouldn’t recognize him. He’s pretty much a walking corpse by now.

He stumbles, so one of my men grab a black man from the crowd and make him carry Jesus’ cross the rest of the way to Calvary.

Calvary, “the place of the skull.” It’s a pretty creepy place, I must admit. Maybe that’s why they chose it for crucifixions.

Jesus is thrown to the ground and I take an eight inch spike and drive it through his right wrist. Right through the middle of those two bones in his forearm. The pain is excruciating for the victim. For me, the thrill is amazing!

I pound a spike in his left wrist then grab his feet. I place one foot over the other and drive a twelve inch spike right through the tops of his feet. We pick the cross up and drop it down into a four foot deep hole. Jesus is well on his way to death now.

Some of my buddies are gambling for his cloak. I don’t want it. I don’t need any souvenirs from this rotten place. I just want to go home.

Jesus raises himself up on the spikes in his feet and asks one of his followers to take care of his mother. That’s a touching sentiment. Most men are just consumed with dying at this point.

He’s looking right at me now. That’s right, king, die!

“Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing,” he says.

I’ve had men shout curses at me from the cross. Heard them cry out to God for help. I even saw a man cry like a baby until he died. But I’ve never had a man forgive me for killing him. His eyes are still staring at me. Eyes full of compassion for me, like he feels sorry for me. Why should he feel sorry for me? He’s the one who is dying, and I did it.

He lifts his head once more and says in a loud voice, “It is finished! Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

His head drops to his chest and he is dead.

Suddenly, the earth begins to shake, the sky grows dark, and people begin wailing. I realize right at that moment, in an instant, that this Jesus really was the king of the Jews. He really was the Son of God. What have I done? I have killed God’s Son. What kind of fool am I? What now? Surely God is going to avenge His Son’s death!

“Surely this man was the Son of God…” I whisper.

I will carry the guilt of what I have done forever. But I will also remember that before he died, Jesus forgave me. I will worship Him and follow his teachings. I wish I had learned of my mistake earlier…

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