Read Episode 1 HERE.
The years passed and I rose up the ranks. I had taken part in a few military campaigns, but in the end, I was reposted to Judea – this time as a captain.
I found that the land had begun to grow on me and I no longer found their customs as grating as before. I even had to admit that I had a grudging respect for a people who, despite their subjugation, clung tenaciously to the God I felt had abandoned them.
I was in Jerusalem, on my way to Syria to report to Prefect Quirinius. I had stopped over to replenish the supplies of my regimen.
The city was full, the Jews in the midst of their annual Passover Feast. There were people and animals competing in sounds – bellows from bulls, shrieks from children and shouts from men. I would spend two days in Jerusalem and then proceed.
After the Passover, I was on a busy street. Some of the Jews were on their way back to their various towns. Then I heard the anguished cry of a woman.
“Yeshua! Yeshua, where are you?”
I turned and was shocked to see Mary, her face full of fear as she looked around. Her husband was with her, holding her hand and trying to calm her down even as his lips were pressed tight in worry.
I rode toward them. “Mary…Joseph, what is the matter?”
Joseph looked at me, recognition filling his face. This time there was no suspicion, only concern. “Our son, Yeshua…we cannot find him.”
Mary had tears running down her face. The years had not served to dim her beauty but enhance it. Even in pain, she was lovely. My heart cracked within me.
“When last did you see him? How old is the lad?” I asked.
“He is twelve,” Joseph answered.
“He was with us only yesterday at the home of my brother in law,” Mary lamented. “I thought he had gone on with his cousins to their house. They say they have not seen him. Oh Joseph…where could he be?” She began to weep.
“Describe him to me,” I said.
They did. I nodded even as I inwardly thought that the task would be hard, seeing as they had described almost every Jewish boy of that age.
“He has his mother’s eyes.”
My eyes snapped up and I saw Joseph give me a knowing look, his eyes boring straight through me to the hidden places of my heart. Then, between us a silent message passed. We both loved the same woman, but only one of us had her love in return. We both knew who that was. As I nodded, it was both an acknowledgment of what he had told me, and what I had to accept.
“I shall help you look,” I said. “I will help you find your son, Mary.”
As I turned, I vowed within me that I would make it a point to never see her cry again.
Yeshua was found two days late in the Jewish Temple, conversing with scholars and priests. I had sent out scouts with instructions to look for him. When news was brought that he had been spotted, I mounted my horse and rode toward the Temple.
I got there just in time to see Mary and Joseph emerge with the Lad. He was a boy of ordinary looks: dark brown wavy hair, gangly frame at the cusp of manhood, but with a regal and bearing that spoke of a confidence beyond his years. Mary looked tired but relieved, as did Joseph. They were so engrossed they did not see me as I sat on my horse a ways away. But their Son stopped and raised His eyes to meet mine. I felt a jolt go through me.
Even from where I stood, I could see the clear amber of Mary looking at me. But there was something more to that Look. There was a wisdom and compassion I couldn’t explain. And…sorrow? I could not tell. All I knew was that this Lad was special.
And then I understood.
His mother was never meant to be mine. No matter how I yearned for her, her story was so deeply intertwined with His that I had no place in it as I would have liked. All was as it should have been, as it should be.
I sighed and turned away, sure I would never see her or her Son again.
Twenty-one years passed.
I was now a Centurion in charge of my own legion. Life had proven to be fleeting. Soldiers came and left, some to death and others to reposting. Politics was still a dirty and treacherous game and I was glad to be removed from it. I found my senses sharpened and honed even as I sought to harden anything soft within me. I dreamt of Mary far less often. Her face began to fade into the recesses of my memory and I willed myself to forget her. I let myself think only of Rome, of her glory and service to my emperor. I had let thoughts of love die. I had to, so I could live. The alternative was too much to bear.
These were perilous times, with Emperor Tiberius sequestered by choice on the island of Capri and Sejanus ruling in his stead. There was suspicion and tension everywhere, with Romans afraid to do or say the wrong thing for fear of repercussions from the every increasingly paranoid Emperor. The new governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate was no different.
He was a politically astute man, toeing the line of diplomacy and Roman strength in this region. He had quelled protests before and was on a tightrope, politically speaking.
One of the main issues of the day centered around an itinerant self-styled Rabbi, a Yeshua of Nazareth. This so-called ‘Son of David’ travelled around the countryside, preaching and supposedly healing the sick. I had even heard outlandish stories of Him raising the dead and even feeding a crowd of thousands with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and fish! Ridiculous, I thought.
I had had Him followed and watched and could see no reason for worry, no cause for alarm. His gatherings were generally peaceful and non-subversive. He hadn’t challenged the power of Rome, as far as I knew.
Indeed, I had even been told that when asked about the issue of taxation, he had enjoined the crowd to ‘render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’. Oh, how I had laughed as I imagined the pinched and pruned faces of those Pharisees, the parasitic lot who reveled in fleecing their own kinfolk even as they espoused their brand of ‘righteousness’. The hypocrites.
And then, the trouble began.
It started with this Yeshua being welcomed into Jerusalem with all the fanfare of a King! I had my men ready and stationed for signs of rebellion. They stood among the jubilating crowd, watching for the first sign of an uprising. There was none. I found myself breathing easier. I had no quarrel with this man and I really was not eager for any unnecessary bloodshed.
We did have to round up a bunch of thieves, one of whom had killed a Roman citizen, a Barabbas. I had him thrown into a cell, ready for trial and certain crucifixion.
By the time the sun had gone down, the powers that be rose to fan the embers of doom. I was woken in the dead of night with word of a looming crisis involving the Chief Priest, Pharisees and Sadducees, something that could degenerate into full-fledged riots. A criminal had risen up, they said, one who challenged the power and authority of Rome. He hid in a garden with his followers, they insisted, making his plans. He claimed to be the Son of God, they said. I cared little for their religious claims – but a threat to Rome was a threat to Rome.
I girded my sword, gathered my men and we were off to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Written by Sifa Asani Gowon