Maybe we “think” we can understand and appreciate the Centurion’s statement of Faith, but I would suggest that it is truly impossible without experiencing what he did. This man was not one of Jesus’ followers; look what happened to them. They scattered, as Jesus told them they would. Except for John, none of them stood before the cross facing Jesus as this Centurion did. They were afraid; he was performing his duty. They were troubled; he was calm, cool and collected, or at least he appears to be. We cannot know just how many executions he had seen or in which he participated. How many men had he scourged less violently than his compatriots scourged Jesus? How many had he tied to the cross, hearing them scream their innocence while today, he watches an innocent man, silently and without uttering a word, being nailed to His cross? How many criminals’ legs had he broken after watching them suffer for the prescribed amount of time? How often did he feel justified in executing men who deserved to die? What does he feel today as he watches this innocent man’s passion from beginning to end?
These thoughts may seem gruesome to consider but they are not nearly as gruesome as the reality to which Jesus gave Himself—freely and innocently—for me, the guilty one. It’s all about God, or so we say about our Faith and celebrations of the Eucharist, but today… it’s all about ME.
I can judge Judas for his betrayal. I can disapprove of Peter’s denial and abandonment of Jesus. I can wonder at the other apostles’ fear and scattering during this climax of Jesus’ life. I can admire John for his perseverance and love for Jesus but can I truly appreciate the Centurion’s witness of Faith without walking with him through the whole ordeal of Jesus’ Passion and Death?
If I were alone in the world in my sinfulness, if everyone in the world was righteous and justified before God except for me… He would have done the same for me alone. Maybe something similar was going through the Centurion’s mind as he stood facing Jesus breathing His last. It’s worth it for us to enter into the scene with him so that we, too, can utter, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”