by Bradley J. Alger
“In nomine Minervae…” Marcus said as he stood amongst the crowd of people staring upwards towards the top of an unassuming house. He knew that there were Jews gathered in there mourning the death of a supposed sorcerer or preacher, but they were speaking his own language, a people who did not speak the language of the empire. But, somehow, they were speaking Latin, and he could hear what they were saying.
It was only fifty or so days before that a rabble rouser had been taken outside the city with a couple of common thieves and executed. He was crucified. For the longest time, Marcus didn’t think much of the ways that the great empire had disposed of its criminals, but there was something about that one crucifixion that stuck out to him. There were too many strange things that had happened. He remembered the earth shaking as if Neptune himself were about to crack it open like an egg. He remembered the sun going out, somehow Sol had extinguished his light in an act of mourning. Some people had said that the man that was crucified that day among the two thieves was possibly another son of Jupiter.
Marcus doubted that. He knew the stories, the legend of the mighty Hercules, the man so strong he carried the great three-headed hound of Hades on his back. A man so strong that he killed the Nemean lion with his bare hands. That was a son of Jupiter, like that long-haired savage the Jews always talk about. The children of the gods were men of power. Part of him joined in with the crowd and told that man if he were truly sent by the gods that he could take himself down from the cross. But he didn’t.
But here they spoke of this man coming back from the dead. That never happened in the ancient legends. Once someone went to the kingdom of Pluto, they stayed there. Cerberus made sure of that. But he couldn’t help think that there was something else about that rabble rouser. There had to be or else what he could hear happening in this upper room would not have been happening.
Eli grew up in Nazareth some thirty years ago, but had soon moved to Jerusalem, the city of the great king, when he grew up and wanted to be a stonemason. He remembered his childhood in that village in the middle of nowhere, and he remembered that there was a boy named Jesus whom all the other boys were compared to. He used to hate him. He couldn’t fathom how this boy had done nothing wrong while everyone else, especially this boy’s brothers, had done almost everything wrong.
But the Romans had to intervene. The philistines come again, the brutal, bloody, conquering savages had to intervene. It was them coupled with the pharisees, the people that Eli, as well as almost everyone else, looked to as arbiters of truth and justice, but then Eli stood and saw this Nazarene get beaten so badly he barely looked like a human.
He was in Jerusalem when he saw the man named Jesus come into the city of David to roaring, deafening applause, and he was still in Jerusalem hours later when almost everyone who had cheered for him had been frothing at the mouth like a rabid beast, demanding that he be crucified.
Along with the rest of the crowd, Eli left. And now he was here, standing on the street with countless other people, staring up at this relatively unassuming house, listening to however many people were gathered there, speaking Hebrew. However, he also saw a great many people around him say to the others that they heard them speaking in their own tongues. Egyptian, Syriac, Greek, Latin. Somehow, everyone was understanding them.
Marcus stood there, dumbfounded. Without thinking, he turned around and left, bumping into a Jew as he left.
“Watch it, ashoq!” he barked out. He had been part of the crowd as well.
“I am not your oppressor,” Marcus said. “I just do as my commander instructs. Do you understand what they’re saying?”
“I do,” the Jew said, still scowling at Marcus suspiciously.
“So do I,” Marcus said. “Come with me, I’ll buy you a drink.”
“I don’t want your money. That doesn’t make up for the suffering your kind has put my people through,” he said.
“Please, I need to talk to somebody about this. What’s your name?” Marcus asked.
“Eli,” said the Jew.
“I’m Marcus. Now come with me, there’s a tavern just down the road.”
Without responding, Eli followed the roman, knowing full well he ultimately didn’t have a choice. He had been subject to the common practice of a soldier, tired of carrying their own kit, forcing any random passerby to carry it for them far too many times. He learned that arguing with his gracious governors was fruitless, often heaping upon him consequences that only truly monstrous people could think of. He had learned that from traveling towards Jerusalem and seeing on both sides of the road forests of people nailed to crosses. Some of them were barely alive while others were rotted so much that not even the scavengers would pick at the bones. However, the only thing that Eli wished he could’ve done was make one final offering at the Temple before he followed this random soldier, there were many things he hadn’t brought before God. Although, Eli did notice that the man was not in his standard military dress; he had been wearing a plain white tunic rather than the bright red tunic that they all wore when they were on duty. Perhaps he didn’t have any ulterior motives.
Eli didn’t feel right at all following this gentile into the tavern. He had been raised to not get involved in this kind of debauchery, and seeing the drunken revelers slumped over the tables inside the tavern made him feel sick.
“Please, sit,” Marcus said as he pointed to a small table in the corner of the dark room.
The barman had given Marcus something to drink but Eli said he didn’t want anything, and so
sat at the table empty handed.
“What was happening at that house?” Marcus asked the Jew.
“I don’t know,” Eli answered, clearly feeling very uncomfortable simply by just being in a place such as that. “But the people there were in mourning. They were grieving a man your people killed.”
“I remember that,” Marcus said. “I wasn’t there. I had only arrived here yesterday with the rest of my century. People were talking about a sorcerer that was scourged and crucified. Some even say he was a demigod.”
“A demigod?” Eli said with a slight and sarcastic chuckle. “Like your Hercules or that wild man Romulus that somehow founded this oh so gracious and benevolent empire?”
Marcus didn’t respond, but he looked down at his drink feeling a slight pang of guilt.
“He was no demigod. His name was Jesus. He was a friend of mine growing up.”
“He was, he was one of those people who could never seem to do anything wrong. We all picked on him because he was so perfect. It was probably a bit of envy we had. ‘Why can’t you be more like him?’ was a common phrase around Nazareth when I was a boy.”
“This was the same man that we had crucified?” Marcus asked.
“You may have to narrow that down,” Eli snapped. “You Romans have a penchant for nailing people to trees if they burn your bread or speak ill of Caesar.”
Marcus sighed in a faintly frustrated tone. “Anyway,” he said.
“Why did you take me here?” Eli asked.
“I wanted to know about the man those people in the upper room followed,” Marcus asked. “You know him.”
“Alright,” Eli began, “I did know him. But I didn’t follow him the way that his disciples did. I was friends with him when we were teenagers, and after he left to preach, I only saw him every now and then.”
“Did he seem like a miracle worker when you were children?” Marcus asked.
“No, not like he did before he died. But when we were children, there was something strange about him. He never did anything wrong. He never could do anything wrong.”
“There were some of my countrymen and fellow legionaries that said he was killed for treason.”
Eli slowly shook his head, avoiding eye-contact with Marcus. “It wasn’t treason. Do you know anything of the tribes of Israel?” Eli asked.
“Not much,” Marcus answered.
“Well, long ago, a man named Israel had twelve sons and through the passage of time, their descendants formed groups called tribes. The tribe of Issachar, the Tribe of Reuben, the Tribe of Judah, and it goes on. Eventually, God made the tribe of Judah the tribe where all future kings would come from after King David. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. He wasn’t killed for treason. He was meant to be the king.”
“Then why was he killed?” Marcus asked. He almost felt foolish for asking such a question, but it was valid for him. The Roman Empire put so many people to the cross that they barely register them anymore, it was almost like a way of life for them.
“The Sanhedrin, in their infinite wisdom, demanded that Pilate kill him. He didn’t think he needed to. He found that there was nothing that he had done that would have been deserving of such a harsh punishment. You probably know that. But they kept demanding that he crucify him. They were so venomous about it that they stooped to telling him and everyone else crimes that Jesus did that were plainly false, but Pilate could take no more and he sent Jesus into their hands, and they killed him.”
“Answer me this,” Marcus asked. “Why would your court murder an innocent man?”
“Because of what Jesus claimed he was,” Eli said. “For centuries, our people have been oppressed by one kingdom and one empire after the next. The Assyrians, Philistines, Babylon, Rome. God promised to send someone to finally liberate us. He promised to send someone to break the chains of our servitude. The Messiah. Jesus said that he was the Messiah. But almost nobody believed him save for a very small number of people. We all thought that the Messiah would be a second David, but the prophets said that the Messiah would be a suffering servant, and that was what Jesus was. The servant who suffered for us. He said he was God in the flesh.”
“Do you think he was?” Marcus asked.
Eli sat there, deep in thought. “The more I think about it, the more I think He was.”
Bradley J. Alger is an aspiring writer and a Christian Counseling student at Northeastern Baptist College and he lives on campus in Bennington, Vermont.