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Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Centurion

This appeared in my third book, Learning to Lean.

They brought Him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of a Skull) (Mark 15:22).

I haven’t slept for two days. His eyes still haunt me.
The governor handed me the placard. “Nail it above his head when you’re done crucifying him,” Pilate ordered. I smirked as I read it. “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”

‘King,’ I sneered.

I hate this dung-hole called Palestine. Hot, thirsty and dripping sweat, when we finally reached the hilltop I was not a little angry. We nailed him to the cross and hoisted it upright. He groaned as it rocked back and forth before settling into the hole we’d dug for it. I ordered soldiers around the site perimeter for protection, and I sat on the dirt a few yards from the three crosses.

And watched.

And waited.

And then I remembered I’d forgotten to place the placard. I cursed under my breath, pushed myself to stand and grab a ladder. The top rung bounced off his shoulder as I climbed toward the top. When I was at eye level I stopped, sneered at him, and shoved the placard in front of his face.

“What d’ya think, Jew? Quite the king, are ya?”

I spit at him. My saliva dripped from his cheek and caught in his beard. How I despised that Jew.

And that’s when I saw his eyes. They didn’t look at me. They looked through me. Deep into me. I froze, unable to move or even to look away. His eyes, they weren’t angry. Or vengeful. They were – how  can I describe it – they were love. And sadness . . . sadness not for himself, but sad it seemed for me.

Love and sadness. For me?

We stared at each other a long time, until he freed me from his gaze. I slowly climbed the last two rungs, hammered the placard above his head, and quickly descended. I avoided his eyes as I passed him.

An hour crawled into two. Then three. I wouldn’t look at him, except to steal a glance from time to time. But our eyes never locked again. They didn’t have to.

Four hours. Five. At the sixth hour he suddenly cried out so loudly, so sorrowfully, it startled me to my feet: “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani.” Then he trumpeted a shout of . . . of victory – more triumphant than I’d ever heard even from our most decorated soldiers on the battlefield. His words pierced the heavens: “It is finished.”

I watched him release his last breath, slump forward – his body held only by the nails – and die.

It was then I remembered his eyes. I still remember them.

And I knew, no – I know . . . “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”*

*Mark 15:39

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