The exercise

Mark 15:16-20

“and they began to salute him, ‘Hail King of the Jews!'” v. 18

“Well, men I have a special treat for you today!” The commander blared in the kind of sarcastic tone only a military commander can master. We stood there a little unnerved as he went on.
“It seems these mewling Hebrews are bickering again, only this time they’ve handed over one of their Prophets for a little exercise.” 

Whenever our commander says “a little exercise” he says it with a sadistic bite that let’s us all know, somebody’s about to get a beating. I have to be honest, I kind of enjoyed these “exercises”.

I’ve been stationed here in this dirty place for six years now. I patrol the streets of this flea infested country and do what I can to keep peace. I haven’t seen my family or my home in forever, and with all the angry stares I wonder if I ever will again.  I have to watch my back every minute if I don’t want to find a dagger between my shoulders in some alley. 

I don’t speak Hebrew, but curses sound the same in any language. Don’t these fools know we’re here to improve their lives? If only they could see the glory of Rome and her gods, they would want to evolve out of this obsessive, intolerant religion of theirs.

So you can understand my sheer enjoyment when they bring us a piece of Hebrew flesh to butcher.  This one, they say, thinks he’s some kind of king. These Jews and their kings! What a joke. The commander speaks as they bring in the “King”

“Now men, we’re going to have a little coronation today. Just remember we have to keep this one alive because he has a full day ahead of him.” We all knew what that meant. Another stinking body hanging beside the highway. He would be crucified with the others.  

 “let’s get started.” We all had a good laugh watching the commander dress up “His majesty” in a robe and parade him around while we bowed mockingly. Then one of the Centurions made a crown  of thorns and slammed it down on his head with such force blood literally spit out in all directions. There he stood in the center of the pavement while we shouted, “Hail King of the Jews!” For the next hour or so we took turns unleashing our rage on him. He just stood there and took it. This was my chance to unload on these Hebrews and I meant to enjoy every moment of it. But I have to admit this Jew was a little different than most.

Most of the time they either fight back or they scream for mercy. I was kind of hoping he would too. But he just seemed to absorb it all. After awhile I stepped back to let some of the younger recruits get a few punches in, while I tended my knuckles. That’s when things became a little weird. I made a crucial mistake in my business. I started to feel for the guy. And I began to notice to looks on our faces, and what I could see of his.

Years ago when I was a young boy I saw a pack of wolves tear apart one of my father’s sheep. Today reminded me of that. We were a pack of wolves tearing apart an innocent sheep. This is why it’s not advisable to think too much at one of these exercises. Thinking leads to feeling and feeling makes you vulnerable. It’s best to keep up your guard or that lamb might get too close, then you’re done for.

I watched him in the midst of that pack. It was like he literally absorbed our hate for this people and their god. I found myself sinking back to the perimeter of the mob. All I could do was watch them toss him back and forth, sending his blood spattering on their faces. There wasn’t a man there who wasn’t covered in his blood.

I found it easier to stand in the back ground and join the chanting, “Hail King of the Jews!” but I found myself losing my sarcastic edge. I just kept saying it and watching him. “Hail …King…of the Jews!” Hoping this frenzy would soon end I chanted with an unexplainable sense of empathy, like I was starting the believe it. “Hail…King….”

Why was I weeping now? “Hail King…” My heart felt weak. I feared being noticed, so I made my way to an outer room. I looked down at my bloodied hands trying to understand what was happening to me. Weeping broke into a torrent of unexplainable sobs. I’ve done these “exercises” a hundred times. But this time I couldn’t escape the eerie feeling that something really terrible and powerful was happening.

Regaining my composure, I rushed back to the pavement, hoping no one saw my reddened eyes. The frenzy had stopped. The commander ripped off the mock robe and dressed him. All the soldiers stood there exhausted, some smiling, others maybe a little shaken. As they led him out I just stood in the back repeating those words, hoping no one would notice the change in my tone. “Hail King of the Jews!”

I spent the next hour cleaning up and trying to shake myself back to normal. I had been assigned to the execution in the afternoon. I tried to prepare, but nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.


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