My name is Marcus Justus Loginus. I am a centurion of the Sebastii cohort based at Herod’s fortress in Jerusalem. It’s our job to keep the peace. Not an easy task when it’s Jewish festival season. Hundreds of thousands of people flock from all over the country for their celebrations – and there’s almost always trouble. They get together and sing their songs of freedom. Let them sing – there’s no hope of them getting freedom any time soon, not while we Romans are here – but it doesn’t stop them trying! We know it’s coming now – we’re used to snuffing out any rebellion before it has any chance of getting going. The ringleaders are arrested, whipped and then crucified. This generally nips the trouble in the bud.
Crucifixion is horrible – the guy who came up with the idea must have been really warped. It’s so horrible we can’t use it for Roman citizens. No, it’s the slaves’ death – reserved for them and foreign rebels. Sends out a message to everyone that they need to behave. Anyway, we dealt with three of them that day. Two of them were pretty standard – they were bandits and murderers. Caught red-handed. They were shouting and cursing and screaming blue murder as we crucified them. But there was something different about the third man. We were expecting another man, Barabbas, who was another murderer, but then this bloke Jesus appeared. He’d been arrested in the middle of the night, hastily tried and sentenced to death because he claimed to be king. We all know there’s no king apart from Caesar! I don’t think Pilate, our governor thought that Jesus was any trouble really and he tried to have him freed, but the local rulers weren’t having it. They wanted rid of Jesus no matter what and they promised him trouble if he didn’t give in. So Pilate agreed. The rulers stitched him up, if you ask me. He was an innocent man.
Well, of course, as soon they heard Jesus had claimed to be king – and, rumour has it that he says he’s the Son of God, the lads in my troop had a field day – twisted together a crown of thorns and forced it on his head, dressed him up in a robe and then bowed down, saying, “hail, King of the Jews!” – this was on top of the normal insults they threw at their prisoners. They then whipped him extra brutally – we’re from Samaria, you see. Samaritans hate Jews, especially those who think they’re kings. I suppose you could say the way we treated him was sick, but we knew no different. Normally our victims shout and scream and curse, but he never said a word, you know. Nothing. He was silent. Wouldn’t rise to our abuse.
So, after mocking and beating him, we led him out to Skull Hill, just outside the city. He was too weak to carry the cross himself, so we got someone from the crowd to carry it for him. And we crucified him – with those two bandits. When he was up there, people hurled insults on him. The other people we were crucifying joined in too.
All the while he said very little. And the words he did say will be words I’ll never forget. As we were nailing him to the cross, he managed to say, “Father, forgive them. They don’t what they’re doing.” Wow. I didn’t think much of it then, but the more I think of it, the more it amazes me. Here was a man who was innocent, who’d been brutally treated and mocked, and crucified, uttering words of forgiveness to the very people who’d put him there.
At about noon, something really strange happened – the sky went pitch black. It was spooky. That sort of thing is a sign of doom. Somehow, I knew that this darkness was to do with Jesus. Something was going on that was bigger than the death of a common criminal. It stayed dark for about 3 hours, and then Jesus gave a loud cry and died.
I’d watched him all that day. He’d gone through such horror, it was unimaginable, and yet never once did he rise to bitterness or anger. Amazing! I’ve watched many men die, and I can tell you there was something different about him. He was no ordinary criminal, no ordinary man. I knew he was special, so I cried out, “Surely, he was the Son of God.”
“Father, forgive them,” he said. “Father, forgive them.” God knows the terrible things I’ve done; the blood on my hands. I don’t deserve to be forgiven, and yet that man, Jesus, forgave all those who killed him. That includes me. Could it be that I’ve been forgiven too? That all the terrible things I’ve done in my life have been wiped away? Could it be that I can have a brand new start, that these bloodied hands might be able to be clean once more?