Meditation on the Centurion for Good Friday

Author’s Note: This meditation was written on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

A Meditation on the Centurion: For Good Friday

I had heard many thing about the man Jesus of Nazareth — I had heard stories of his miracles, how he healed the lame, cured the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead! I thought nothing of it — I know it was people making falsehoods to entertain themselves.

But today, I met Him! I met Jesus of Nazareth!

I helped crucify Him…

The day began like any other. We were brought three criminals to execute on Golgotha — one of them was Jesus.

I saw Him from a distance. He looking like a walking, often stumbling, wound. He wore a cap of thorns on His head, and I saw the scourge marks on His body. He was completely covered in blood. I wondered how He had strength to move — for I knew it must have been extremely painful to make any kind of motion. They had forced a man to help carry His cross, because He was too weak to do it all by Himself, and they did not want Him to die on the way.

They brought Him before me. I didn’t even think. I just did what I had always done.

First, I stripped Him of His robes. He did not cry out, but he winced from the pain. All the wounds on His back had been reopened, and He began to bleed profusely.

Most prisoners are very reluctant to be executed. Sometimes, I literally have had to thrown them down upon their cross.

But He — ever so humbly, ever so patiently — slowly laid Himself down upon the hard wood.

Then, I knew I would have to nail Him. I was surprised at His countenance — it was filled with blood and sweat. I could tell He was in complete agony, but there was something more to it. There was a loving gaze in His eyes, beneath the blood.

I wondered at what His crime was — what was it they had convicted Him of… that He deserved to die in this manner.

But then, caught in my reverie, I heard the people and my fellow soldiers yelling at me, “Nail Him! Crucify Him!”

I head the other prisoners being nailed to their crosses — they cried out in pain, but the people simply laughed at their suffering.

So, with the nail and hammer in hand, I stretched out His right arm upon the beam. I looked at Him —

Our eyes met.

I cannot describe what I felt. I knew in that instant that there was something different about this man — something… extraordinary.

He looked at me, and seeing the nails in my hand, He nodded His head and closed His eyes.

My heart was racing — my hands were now shaking so badly that I could hardly hold the nail on His wrist.

I couldn’t stop — I had to do it. The voices of the crowd had drowned away in my mind — and I could only think of Him.

I raised my arm and hoped that I would hit the nail. I closed my eyes — I didn’t want to look.

Bang!

I opened my eyes — the hammer had hit — the nail had pierced. His wrist was now covered in blood.

I repeated my movements — I hit the nail again and again. Each time it drove deeper into His flesh — but He did not cry out.

He only winced with pain.

After the nail had pierced completely, I ordered my fellow soldiers to nail His other hand and feet.

I did not desire to nail Him again.

Again, He was nailed, and I could only watch as the other soldiers mocked Him and spat on Him as He was being nailed to the cross. The spectators did not help either — they shouted at Jesus and insulted Him as He laid there motionlessly.

Then, a sign came. A fellow soldier brought it forward. It said: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

“What is that?” I asked the other soldier.

He merely snickered and replied, “His title…”

The soldier took the sign to the head of the cross.

“Hail, King of the Jews,” he laughed, as he nailed it above the criminal’s head. Then, he spat in Jesus’ face.

I almost could not look — it was too gruesome.

Then, they lifted Him up. I helped to put the cross in its correct post — I did not want it falling over. I could not bear that!

So, He hung there —- Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Many of the Jewish priests and religious leaders came and mocked Him. They told Him to come down from the cross if He truly was the Son of God.

Then, I heard Him cry out —

“Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do.”

It was too much — I tried to hold back the tears.

I did not know who this man was — but I knew He was innocent of any crime.

He hung there for three hours — form midday until three in the afternoon. Some of the other soldiers cast lots for His clothes, but I did not want to.

Finally, He said —

“I Thirst.”

I immediately took a sponge, soaked it in some of my wine, put it on a reed, and pressed it to His lips.

I wanted to do anything to help ease the pain — even if only for a moment.

Some of the people nearby said He was calling for Elijah, one of the Jewish prophets. I took no notice. I only wanted to help Him.

Finally, His hour came! I marveled at how He had managed to live so long, considering all of the blood He had lost and the suffering He had endured.

He lifted His head — raised His eyes to Heaven and said —

“It Is Finished! Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit.”

Then, he bowed His head and died.

At that moment, I knew — I understood who He was.

“Truly,” I said aloud, “this man was the Son of God!”

Some of my companions were going to rebuke me, but there was too much chaos.

Apparently, the curtain of the Jewish temple had split in two, and the Jewish leaders were in frenzy.

We were ordered to break the prisoners’ legs so they could die quickly.

One of the soldiers was going to break Jesus’ legs, but I told him, “No! He is already dead!”

The soldier looked at me in disbelief, so I took up my spear and pierced Jesus’ side.

Immediately, water and blood came flowing out.

And everyone was now convinced that Jesus had already died.

Most of the people left — some went away wailing and beating their breasts.

But — a small group came forward. There were several women and three men. One of the women said to me, gently touching my hand —

“Will you please,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “help us take my Son down?”

She lifted her eyes to Jesus, and I knew she was His Mother.

I wanted to comfort her in her sorrow — to console her — but I could only agree to help. To do whatever I could for her and for Him.

Two of the men helped me take His body down, while the third supported His Mother. I gently took out the nails that had pierced His hands and feet, and the men placed Jesus’ body in His Mother’s arms.

Whatever heart I had left broke at that moment.

I saw the Mother gently hold and rock the bruised and beaten body of her Son — just as a young mother would hold and rock her newborn baby. She held Him tightly and her tears fell upon His blood-covered face.

Then, with all of the motherly tenderness in the world, she kissed His forehead and pressed Him close to her heart.

Her soft fingers wrapped around His head, and she slowly lifted the cap of thorns out of His wounded skull.

As she placed it beside her, I saw that some of the thorns had pierced her gentle fingers, and her hands were now covered with blood.

The men finally convinced her to let them bury Him. She simply nodded her head at their request, and relinquished her Son’s body to their devoted arms.

I watched quietly as they carried Him off to a nearby tomb. I wished to follow them — or, at least, return to the city.

But, I could not.

His Sacrifice has left me too humble to move.

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Musing on God the Son

Author’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series of musings on Each Person of the Holy Trinity. This musing is on God The Son. Read the Musing on God The Father and the Musing on God The Holy Spirit.

Once again, how to begin?

Knowing, loving, and serving God The Son is the ongoing journey of Christianity: to (attempt to) understand Christ’s relationship with us as His Church, and to love and serve Him as members of His Body – as His adopted brothers and sisters.

But, let us muse instead on the relationship between The Father and The Son, for how can we ponder The First Person without thinking of The Second? The Two Persons are infinitely connected by Their Eternal Love, which begets the Third Person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ identity as The “Son” (as He as revealed to us, and inasmuch as we understand the word in our modern culture) is inherently derived from His Relationship to The “Father” (again, inasmuch as we understand the word):

Love creates our identity (who we are) and binds us inseparably with our beloved, to the point that we would not exist without the beloved. A husband without a wife does not exist. A wife without a husband is a nonentity. Thus a husband and a wife could look in each other’s eyes and say “Thank you for creating me” without fear of idiocy. Husbands are created by wives. Love makes our identity dependent on another.

All identity is created by love. The identities of “husband” and “wife” are merely good examples of this fact. The truth is actually all-encompassing. Consider how the identity of everyone in a family is created by their loving relation to one another:

You cannot be a father or a mother without a child. Thus, in a typical paradox of love, the child creates his mother, for prior to the existence of the child the “mother” did not exist. The child creates his father in the same way, and none would deny that it is the mother and father who create the child in the physical act of love. — “Love Creates Us”

Again, the terms “Father” and “Son” have been revealed to us, because through their use, we can begin to understand the Mystery of the Trinity, though we will never be able to comprehend it fully (in this life).

So, why would God use the terms “Father” and “Son” to describe the relationship between The First and The Second Persons of the Trinity?

Because, the relationship between a father and a son, either Divine or human, I would argue, is based on three points:

  • Inheritance
  • Reflection
  • Love

There obviously are other aspects, but these three all tie in with each other. And, again, this is a crude way to define human and Divine relationships, but we must work with what we can.

INHERITANCE

Because a son inherits from his father. Historically, the firstborn son inherits his father’s property, title, and so on. More modernly, he might inherit his father’s business, debts, etc. Whatever belongs to a father will belong to his son. Across the ages, though, the eldest son inherits the father’s responsibilities at his death. He must become the head of the household; he must look after his widowed mother and fatherless siblings; he must look after whatever his father has left him (property, debts, instructions in his will).

Likewise, Jesus inherits many duties from His Father: He is sent by the Father, as He tells us many times in the Scriptures.

I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father [Satan]… If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. — John 8:38, 42

He also ‘inherits’ His Divine Authority from The Father: “He (The Father) gave Him (Jesus) authority to execute judgment, because [Jesus] is the Son of Man” (John 5:27); and “But even if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.” (John 8:16)

Thus, because The Son inherits His Authority from The Father, He is able to act as a proxy for The Father.

Recall the Parable of the Wicked Stewards: When the harvest time approached, [the landowner] sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. He sent another group of slaves; and they did the same. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. –Matthew 21:33-40

REFLECTION

Consider the idea of the proxy – someone whom you send on your behalf to complete a task which you cannot. In an essence, this person is able to speak and act for you – with your equal authority. He (or she) is allowed to act as you, seemingly, – as a ‘second you,’ as it were.

Jesus – God The Son Incarnate – is able to act as The Father’s “proxy” not only because He is Equally God, as The Father is; but, because He is a reflection of the Father – His Second Self, as it were.

Today, we might say that The Son is the “spitting image” of His Father.

Jesus does not simply do things for His Father – He does things like His Father.

A few years ago, my theology teacher used me and my dad as an analogy of this Divine Resemblance. My dad and I have similar mannerisms, similar personalities, similar senses of humor. So, when my theology teacher met my dad at a parent-teacher conference, she could definitely see the resemblance between us. Using this as an example to the class, she said she could see my father in me, and me in my father; and that by knowing one, she knew the other.

So it is with The Son and The Father (although on a Divine and humanly incomprehensible level):

If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? —John 14:7-10

LOVE

As discussed above, our identities as “parent” and “child” come from love. Similarly, Jesus’ relationship with His Father is also characterized by Love – such a Love that we can only imitate in our limited human capacities, for it is a Love we cannot comprehend, though we see it working in our lives.

This Love between The Father and The Son is so powerful and immense, The Holy Spirit proceeds from it.

It is out of Love for His Father and for us that Jesus becomes man, dies for our sins, and rises again. It is out of Love for His Father and for us that Jesus continues to reveal Himself and make Himself present to us again each day – through prayer, through the liturgy, and so on.

But, here is the point we must take away: we are also called to share in this Love – to imitate it and reciprocate it as best as we can.

For Jesus tells His Apostles and us: “Just as the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; abide in My love.” (John 15:9)

But, then only three verses later, He says: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

So, Jesus is inviting us – asking us – challenging us to Love one other as The Father Loves Him, and as He Loves The Father.

This is an impossible challenge for us while we are in this life, but we must ask for God’s Grace to attempt, in every human way that we can, to share in this Mysterious, Divine Love by loving God and neighbor:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. –Luke 10:27