Thursday, 05 April 2012
Hour after hour, the morning wore on as the wrangling continued. A faithful sentinel, the Centurion was attentive to all that transpired before him. Pilate alternately shuttled between the palace’s porch facing the assembled throng, and the judgment hall where he was rarely successful in pressing Jesus to answer the indictments against him.
From the very beginning, the governor suspected the Jewish authorities had nothing of substance against this harmless man. They had their own vindictively private reasons for wanting this man dead. But they were using the serious charge of treason as a cover for their jealousy and rage. As this conviction grew, the governor more aggressively explored avenues for Jesus’ acquittal and release-a release to which he knew the Jewish rulers would never willingly agree.
Longinus’ position at the door of the palace allowed him to observe the vitriol hatred of the leaders intensify as their compatriots worked the crowds, whipping their emotions to a white hot fury. His cautious, patient and keen observations were irresistibly moving him to the same conclusions of his master when he finally heard Pilate declare; “I, as well as king Herod, have found this man guiltless of all charges against him. Therefore I will scourge him and let him go.”
At this, the throng and their leaders became more and more unruly and boistrous,clamoring repeatedly for Jesus’ blood. “Let him be put to death! Let him be put to death! Crucify him!”
“Why-What crime has he committed that warrants his death?” inquired Pilate. Again, the crowd that was quickly becoming a mob cried out;“To the cross with him! To the cross!”*
In that instant, one lone voice sliced through the air and furor, arresting the attention of everyone; “We have a law that says he ought to die because he has made himself out to be the Son of God!” Here it was again -- the recurring connection between this Judean Rabbi and Caesar’s divine title; The son of God.
His many years of soldiering permitted Longinus to detect the imperceptible tensing of Pilate’s body as he abruptly turned upon his heel, retreating to the relative safety of the palace. As he whisked past him through the doorway, the soldier saw that the blood had drained from his master’s face and for an instant, there was not just fear, but abject terror in his eyes. Longinus had seen that look before-in battle, upon the faces of seemingly invincible foes that he and his regiments would later crush under their feet. In that fleeting glance, the Centurion knew Pilate had been defeated. As Plautius’ fateful remarks resonated in his head, Longinus immediately ordered four of his soldiers to prepare a place of execution for this hapless victim.
Pilate charged across the hall. Still trembling, he snapped; “By the gods, Who are you?! -- Where are you from?” As before, he was greeted with silence. Exasperated, he tried again. “Do you not know your life hangs in the balance, and only I alone stand between you and death?” Longinus was both stunned and awestruck at Jesus’ response. It was measured, calm and steady as if by his skillful hands, he was bringing some routine project to a satisfying and successful conclusion. Through bruised and bloodied lips the ironic reply came; “You, Sir, have no dominion over me, but that given you by the divine power from above.”
Attempting to regain his composure, Pilate hesitated at the doorway to the porch, and then turned to Longinus: “Have the prisoner scourged!” Stepping through the portal, he once again faced the unruly crowd outside the hall. As Longinus forwarded his master’s orders, and his men set about this dreadfully brutal task, he knew Pilate’s best efforts to free this man would ultimately end in futility. Not even the lashing which at that moment was reducing Jesus’ body to a single mass of quivering bleeding flesh could sway this bloodthirsty mob. They wanted Jesus dead and nothing short of that would do, period.
The scourging was accomplished and Jesus was led out of the hall onto the porch attired in a robe found by the soldiers, along with a crown of thorns which they had thrust upon his head. Pointing to the prisoner who had been flayed beyond recognition, Pilate boldly announced “Behold your king!”. The comeback was immediate; “We have no king, but Caesar! Let this man be killed -- nail him to a cross!” Pilate was incredulous; “You would have me kill your king and not release him?”
Their reply shook him to the very core of his being; “Let this man go and you are no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone who claims to be a king is the enemy of Rome!” Thrust into an impossible circumstance between what he knew to be right and what was expedient for his survival as the governor of Palestine, Pilate dejectedly sat upon the judgment dais. Washing his hands, he declared; “I will not be responsible for the blood of this innocent man.” And with that, he pronounced judgment upon Jesus, charging Longinus, the Centurion with his immediate execution.
Death upon a cross, an incredibly vicious and grisly form of punishment, was reserved for the most base of humanity; slaves, rebels, violent criminals and the most despicable enemies of Rome. This man, raised in the plain home of a carpenter from Galilee, was obviously none of these. Through the long hours of this whole ordeal, the quiet, but confident strength of the Nazarene had piqued Longinus’ curiosity. Some of the answers to the many questions he had asked surprised him, but he was beginning to understand why the religious establishment was so anxious to be rid of him!
* Much of the dialogue in this story is a mixture of phrases from the following translations of Scripture; New International Version- NIV, Today’s English Version- TEV, Living Bible- LB, New English Bible- NEB, Phillips, Jerusalem Bible, plus various other paraphrases. I used the following texts of the Gospels primarily as the basis of this story; Matthew 26:57-27:54, Luke 22:54-23:47 and John 18:12-19:30.
What is it that ‘attracts’ people to a public execution, or at least ‘appeals’ to certain people? If you had been Longinus, could you have gone through with your task? What do you think will happen to Longinus in the conclusion of this story?