Eternal Reflection – “The Witness” (Part 1) by Pastor Carl W. Mann, II
Matthew 19:25-26 (KJV) “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
“Were you There,” you ask? Was I There?! Yes, I was There! Why do you ask? I mean, why do you ask me? After what I witnessed, something tells me – we were ALL There!
I was born in a world that was troubled and tiresome. Being born of Anatolian descent, privileged to be a Roman citizen, and reflecting my father’s massive build and strength, only promoted the purpose for which I was created.
My father was a stone mason who evidenced the physique of one who worked with stone. The muscles in his arms, back, chest, and legs were massive. His hands were calloused and coarse, yet his touch was comfortingly tender. I was always fascinated with how he could handle the rough-hewn stones with such deliberate determination yet grasp my young hand with a tempered tenderness that made me feel both secure and special.
I loved to roam the honeycombed hills of my homeland. The landscape reminded me more of what I imagined the surface of the Moon to be; for, surely as I looked on the Moon at night, it resembled my homeland. Many of our homes were carved in rocks, and the towering boulders that scattered the landscape presented a beauty that was otherworldly. I was a dreamer.
While I loved my father, I did not desire to remain with him in working with stone. When the opportunity for me to enlist in the Roman army arose, I quickly availed myself of it. After all, this would be my chance to see “the world,” perhaps. My father reluctantly sent me off. He challenged me to make sure I always tempered my strength with a sensitive touch. You can only imagine how difficult that would be for a Roman soldier! Nonetheless, I remembered my father’s challenge.
I excelled in my role as a soldier of Rome! My size and strength boded well for me. When Tiberius ordered us to join the Judean ranks to supplement the need to squelch the Jewish uprisings, I gladly made the transition. I looked upon my new assignment as a welcome relief. Having become battle-hardened through my 20 years of service, I viewed serving under the jurisdiction of Pontius Pilate as a vacation compared to where I’d been.
I wish my father had lived long enough to see me elevated to the stature of Centurion. Although I hadn’t forgotten his challenge, being an “agent of death” brought experiences that seemed to overshadow and harden my heart. I had few opportunities to handle people with a “tender touch,” and the ability to do so seemed to disappear a long time ago.
I had few friends. One of my closest was another Centurion; for, we were taught, and encouraged, to only fraternize with those who were our peers – NEVER our subordinates. He was an interesting guy. While I was a dreamer when I was young, he still was! What I mean by being a “dreamer,” is that as the landscape in which I was raised seemed to be more “otherworldly,” making it easier to keep my imagination active while I lived there, my friend was able to do so in the barren, seemingly “God-forsaken” Judean land.
He was particularly intrigued by a local Jewish Rabbi by the name of Jesus. It seemed that this Rabbi had the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils, and speak with an authority that was “otherworldly.” My friend had been stationed under Pilate’s governorship for a good while. He had his family with him, owned a home, and even had his own slaves.
He told me that one of his slaves, he called them “servants” because he considered them part of his family, became seriously ill. In fact, my friend was concerned that his slave was going to die! So, my friend told me, he went to the area he heard that Jesus was last seen to see if Jesus could help him. Sure enough, my friend said that he met Jesus coming down the road. Of course, Jesus being a Jew, stopped when He saw my friend with a squad of his soldiers approaching.
My friend told Jesus who he was, and said he told Jesus that he believed He had the authority to heal his slave. When Jesus offered to go with my friend to his house, my friend told Jesus that his soldiers obeyed his commands; therefore, he believed that the “spirits of sickness” would obey the commands of Jesus.
I have to admit, when my friend was telling me this, I thought, “Yea, right! I thought you were smarter than that!”
My friend said Jesus told him to go home and “see” what he believed. So, when he returned home he found his slave healed and going about his day like nothing had ever been wrong!
Now, everything my friend told me was fascinating, BUT what really got my attention is when he told me he called Jesus “Lord.”
It’s important for you to understand that my friend was the only man in my unit that I was not strong enough to out-wrestle. He was stronger than me and was a man I looked up to. In fact, he reminded me of my father because he was strong, big-built, with calloused and coarse hands. I was with him once when we were surrounded by children in the market place. I would have quickly sent them on their way, but my friend reached out to several of the children and began to pat them on their heads. I was reminded of my father when I saw how tenderly my friend touched them.
I asked, “You called Jesus Lord?” “I mean, we have no lord, or king, but Caesar! Why would you call Jesus Lord, for God’s sake?!”
I’ll never forget his response – “That’s exactly the reason! I believe He is the Son of God.”
When my friend told me that, I honestly thought he had lost touch with reality! Nonetheless, he was my friend who had saved my life in battle more than once, so I just logged his words in my mind and decided to humor him with a feigned nod of understanding.
After this conversation with my friend, I also became intrigued with Jesus, the Jewish Rabbi, who my friend believed was the Son of God. Because of the crowds His presence seemed to gather, I dispatched squads of my soldiers to “watch over” the people to squelch any disturbance that might arise. Governor Pilate was adamant about keeping the peace in Jerusalem!
You asked me, “Were you There?” That question started this whole conversation. Yes, I was “There!” Before I tell you about that, however, I must tell you that I lost my friend before I got “There.” About two weeks before I got “There,” another Jewish uprising took place. I was called upon to send two of my squads to join two squads of my friend. When the fighting was over, I discovered that my friend had been killed. It is reported that he jumped between a flying spear and a young child that was not part of the rioting. His soldiers said that he picked the child up and became the child’s shield. I miss my friend.
We caught the one that threw the spear, and I couldn’t wait to participate in his crucifixion! I asked to be the Centurion-in-Charge of the execution. I wasn’t about to miss that opportunity! I wanted to be able to witness his pain as my men drove the nails in his hands and feet. I wanted to stand under him as he hung on the cross and make sure that his torture lasted as long as possible! It wasn’t going to be the first execution I carried out, BUT, I intended for it to be the most memorable one. The name of my friend’s murderer is Barabbas.