Updated: Oct 23, 2018
Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story about the Roman guards at Jesus’ crucifixion. I imagine him drinking at Sloppy Joes in Key West, talking to other patrons and this subject came up. It’s an interesting thought and no one really knows. Imagine the possibilities of what they said and did. -M.R.
Mathew 28:11 "while they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers."
Where does a Roman soldier go when Pilate and the chief priests praise you for a job well done? To the bar! Why not…The wine shop was on the way back from the celebration with the chief priests of the Pharisees. With all the congratulations and the experience of executing a prominent person, it was time to let loose… to let off some steam.
Near the barracks of the Roman guards, their favorite night spot supplied many hours of relief from the stress. The owner of the wine shop treated the soldiers well and gave them everything the soldiers wanted.
The last soldier in the door was talking and slapping the back of the soldier in front of him. Their excitement was noticeable. Three of the four Roman soldiers entered the wine shop, setting their heavy armor on the floor. They were excited, tired and weary from their trip to see the Pharisees and Governor Pilate. Their execution of the man they called Jesus, and the two thieves took a lot out of them, especially with all the onlookers. Along with their armaments, they carried the garments the soldiers took from Jesus.
The first soldier eyed the owner of the store and motioned for him to bring drink. The three soldiers sat down without making too much sound. The wine house was empty because of the early time of the day. Normally the shop was filled with Roman citizens eating pizza and drinking. It was a privilege to meet at the tabernaria and have a good time and place to unwind.
The third soldier looked across the short legged table, “that was weird. A lot of people came to watch.”
The other two nodded their heads. “The women wouldn’t leave him,” the first soldier said.
“What was so important about him?”
“His followers abandoned him fast. I don’t care. We have a lot of money to burn. They gave us two years’ salary to watch that guy die,” the second soldier said with a grin.
“And put up with the crying from the women. It almost wasn’t worth it,” the third soldier said, finding his spot and laying down at the table.
The Wine-seller delivered wine for the three soldiers to drink. The each picked up their cup.
The second soldier said, “It has been quite a day. Let’s drink. This is a treat. I want to live it up.”
“We had fun, right? We mocked him like nothing before,” the third soldier said.
“We did. They are followers of Christ. They mock our gods. I have no remorse for killing him.” The second soldier looked at him with disdain.
“You know he didn’t do anything except tell the truth and they didn’t want to hear it,” the wine seller said.
“The people wanted him dead and we did it right. I never played with a dying man like that before. It usually takes a long time for them to die. This Jesus died quicker than the others,” the second soldier said.
The three men raised their cups and drank. The third soldier finished before the other two and slammed the cup on the table. “Another,” he yelled at the Wine-seller.
The first soldier finished and with a soft touch he sat the cup down, “he was so calm.”
The other two looked over at him, “What’re you talking about?” the third soldier asked. “Don’t drink so fast. We have time and nowhere to go.”
“He was talking and yelling. It sounded like he apologized for us,” the second soldier said.
The Wine-seller was listening to their banter. After several minutes and cups of wine he walked up to them to provide another round, “rumor is you killed Jesus.”
The first soldier looked up at him, “how do you know his name?”
“I followed the procession yesterday,” the Wine-seller said. “I heard people talk to him and call him that name.”
“I don’t care.” The third soldier said, “I heard the procession was brutal. Many thought he would die before reaching the cross.”
“I thought he was dead when we got there for our shift. The women would not leave his side. I don’t understand what he did to be that important,” the second soldier said. “I agree, I don’t care either, as far as I’m concerned he deserved to die.”
“The men in attendance called him the ‘son of god.’ Why would god allow his son to go through what we put him through?” the first soldier said. “He should have got himself down if he were the son of god.”
“Yeah… if he’s truly the son of god, he shouldn’t die,” the second soldier said. “Why are we talking about them? We’ve killed a lot of people. Let’s have fun.” The second soldier glared at the Wine-seller trying to make him leave the table.
“We were doing our job. They paid us well,” said the third soldier. Looking at the other two he smiled and raised his cup. “To us!”
The fourth soldier walked into the wine house. He looked around and witnessed his three fellow soldiers. He walked to their table and shoved the third soldier. He turned and recognized the fourth soldier. “You made it,” he said.
“Where you been?” said the second soldier.
Holding the purple tunic he won casting lots for Jesus’ clothes the fourth soldier circled the table and looked at the Wine-seller. “It looks like you’re making money this morning,” he said to the Wine-seller.
“It’s been good.” The Wine-seller looked at the men sitting at the table, and then back to the fourth soldier, “they asked for it.”
“That they did.” The fourth soldier agreed. “How about a cup for me, I’m parched.”
The Wine-seller walked to a separate room and returned with a cup filled with wine. He placed the cup in front of the fourth soldier, “is it true you heard his last words?”
The fourth soldier grabbed his cup and drank, and then lowered to the table, “my friend I will swear to Caesar that he is the King of the Jews.”
The Wine-seller stepped away from the soldier, his eyes widened, “I’m surprised you recognized that.”
“Why is that? I believe in no god, but what I saw was not normal. He had to be a god.” He looked at the Wine-seller, “Are you a Jew?”
The man looked away from the soldier, “yes.”
“How much do you know of this man that calls himself the King of Jews? Why do the leaders of the Jews mock him?”
The Wine-seller shook his head, “I don’t know. I found this man a few days ago walking along a road outside Jerusalem. I listened to what he said, and it made sense…what he said. I heard Jews are waiting for a Messiah to return them to the greatness of the old days…the days of King David. But, this man says he is the King because prophesies are coming true.”
“What do you mean?”
“The casting of lots,” the Wine-seller said, pointing at the purple tunic. “It was said a long time ago that you would cast lots to take his garments.”
The fourth soldier’s eyebrows rose, “I knew it. Something wasn’t right with Jesus, as you call him. He treated the two thieves’ next to him with kindness, knowing their fate, they accepted his words. I never saw that before.”
“I knew it,” the first soldier said. “He was so calm.”
“He had a way about him. I heard he was coming and I had to see him. My wife and I raced down to the street among the onlookers and critics. No one could stop it from happening. One of his followers, Judas, turned him in to Pilate. You know Pilate didn’t want to mess with this?” said the second soldier.
The fourth soldier nodded his head, “Yeah, I was in the court when Pilate asked the Jews why they wanted him crucified.” He looked away, then back to his cup, grabbing it and raising it to drink. “Pilate tried to save him, but they kept pressuring him. I was there. Jesus wouldn’t defend himself. All he said was that the people threatening him were the sinners.”
“That they are,” the Wine-seller said. “I believe the critics will die a worse death.”
“Well…we were paid a lot by Pilate and the Pharisees to carry out the crucifixions.”
“Judas will find out that his lack of faith separated him from Jesus and our God. That separation will haunt him forever. I feel liberated of the yoke, of the laws of Moses. The Gospel of Jesus is my belief.”
The first soldiers shook his head and said, “He was calm. He was in control.”
“Yes he was in control. He seemed to be tormented. I couldn’t tell if it was because he knew he was going to die or was it because of something else. He kept mumbling something about his father.” The fourth guard glanced around the table, the second and third had their heads on the table sleeping. Empty wine cups in front of them. He wondered if they felt the same as he did. Something was different, something happened at The Place of the Skull.
“What’s wrong,” the Wine-seller asked.
The fourth soldier shrugged, shook his head. The first soldier looked at him trying to process an answer.
“The Jews didn’t know.”
“We didn’t know what?” the Wine-seller asked. He walked around the table and picked up the empty cups.
“Who he was, they didn’t know Jesus. Pilate didn’t want to kill him. He told them that he didn’t have a grievance against him and they told Pilate that he broke their law by calling himself the Son of God. I think he is,” the fourth soldier said.
“That’s because, as I now understand it, the book of Moses said the messiah would return to rule over Israel as the King of Israel, as the great kings of old did”
The first soldier said, “He was so calm.”
The second and third soldiers started to awaken. The Wine-seller brought their cups back filled. The four cups filled with special wine sat on the table untouched with the four soldiers staring at them.
The fourth soldier looked at the other three, and then up at the Wine-seller. “The writing on the cross said he was the King of Jews in all the languages. It upset the Jews. I think Pilate was mocking the Jews. It makes sense, now. They wanted him dead.”
“We got him good. I stabbed him a couple times to help the process,” the second soldier said with a slight smile.
“Yeah, that crown of thorns made him bleed. They taunted him as he walked. It must have been humiliating,” the Wine-seller said.
“We didn’t care. His death was certain for him according their law. We don’t have any responsibility for that,” the second soldier said. “They demanded he should be crucified.
How does that relate to us? We did our job and we have our payment. If he was a god, then why didn’t he save himself?”
The first soldier straightened and looked at the sad faces, “why are you sad?”
He turned and looked at the first soldier, “I’m certain he was innocent. Did you see what happened after he died? I saw how they had sudden remorsefulness. It was amazing to see the loyalty of the women and his mother. His followers watched from a distance, not trying to intervene. It was him. He was who he said he was.”
“I don’t care, he asked for it. Those Jews wanted us to kill him. We did. They paid us and now it’s time to celebrate and move on,” the second soldier said.
“He mocked our gods, they wanted him dead,” the third soldier said, raising himself to a sitting position.
“You do what you want. You were there and what you saw didn’t change you? I wasn’t there and Jesus changed my life. I’m no longer a Jew. I’m a follower of the King of Jews, Jesus Christ,” the Wine-seller said.
The second soldier raised his dagger to the stomach of the waiter. “Why would you do that?” the fourth soldier asked.
“What are you doin, we are celebrating…sort of…take your dagger away from him,” the fourth soldier said.
“He was so calm,” the first soldier said.
The fourth soldier pushed himself up off the floor and stood up, pushing the full cup of wine to the center of the table. He turned toward the second soldier. “The fact is you will not see the good of his promise. I guess it means that I changed my beliefs witnessing his death. I don’t understand what he did, but they said things about him I believe.”
“Is that why you’re sad?” The first soldier said. “He was calm before he died. He told the thief he would see him in the new kingdom. That spoke to me…that a common thief would be with Jesus.”
The second soldier watched the two soldiers next two him and shook his head. He survived another day and wanted to celebrate with the money they were given. “Why are we talking about this?”
“He was calm. The most calm I’ve ever seen anyone.”
“Yeah, this is bullshit. Where you sellin the clothes you won?”
The second soldier shrugged and looked at the Wine-seller. “I have a relic to bear witness that I was there to kill the liar and the thief,” the second soldier said. “I don’t care who they say he was.” He raised the garment he won from the other two as he drank from his cup.
“You were just lucky,” the third soldier said.
“He was so calm,” the first soldier said.
The other two nodded, suddenly solemn.
The Wine-seller looked around at the three soldiers. His focus shifted from soldier to soldier,
“they said he was set up. That he was innocent. You killed an innocent man?” the Wine-seller accused.
The second soldier tuned toward the Wine-seller, “Who cares… not me. What are you accusing us of? They paid me well,” the second soldier responded. “The judgement was already handed down. We did our job.”
The third soldier stretched his neck to see the fourth soldier and Wine-seller, “Yeah, I was glad to do it. They would have sent me out of town for some battle. Who knows what would happen. I didn’t want that,” the third soldier said. This was good for my status, he thought.
“You’re guilty of killing an innocent man,” the Wine-seller said. “Don’t you have responsibility?”
The soldiers stopped and looked at the Wine-seller, “What makes you say that? You want to end up like him?” the second soldier said. “We did what we were told to do. We only have the responsibility to carry out what we’re told to do. You’re the wine server, just keep your mouth shut and serve. We haven’t responsibility for anything that happened.”
The Wine-seller slunk away from the table. He saw the reticence in their eyes.
“He was so calm,” the first soldier said.
“I hope you don’t suffer peripeteia because of your comments about Jesus the Son of God,” the Wine-seller said.
The third soldier drew his dagger and put it to the throat of the Wine-seller, “I could kill you right now and be justified. You don’t bad mouth the decisions made by the governor.”
The first soldier stood and grabbed the arm of the third soldier and lowered it from the throat of the Wine-seller.
“Yeah… that’s bad. You know we would be paid well to eliminate opposition of the Pharisees and the governor,” the second soldier responded. Looking at the door, three men and a woman entered the wine house. He watched the attendant walk to the new patrons and whisper to them. They nodded and walked out.
“Why’d you do that,” the first soldier said to the Wine-seller.
“I didn’t think they would want to be here now, with the four of you sitting here.”
“He was so calm,” the first soldier said, taking a drink from his cup and biting into his food.
“Maybe it’s because he knew what the outcome was before he came before the governor.
Maybe his life was to be the blood spilt,” The Wine-seller said, watching the soldiers.
“Which one of you saw him breathe his last?”
The first soldier grabbed his cup and drank from it. The two soldiers sitting next to him looked at him, “it was me. He was so calm.”
The fourth soldier thought of the cross and all the people he witnessed killed in the past, on different crosses. Something moved him to think he hadn’t seen it at all. He looked at the three soldiers sitting with him that had witnessed the death of the two thieves and the man they called Jesus, the Son of God, and the King of the Jews.
“Don’t feel bad. We did our job. He was calm wasn’t he?” said the first soldier.
“Why do you keep saying that? I’m going to end you if you say it again,” said the third soldier.
“I can’t help it,” said the first soldier. “There was something about him unlike the others we’ve seen die.”
“I know what you mean. He was who he said he was,” said the fourth soldier.
“Drink your Posca. You don’t know that,” said the second soldier. “It’s impossible to know that.”
“Yeah, I don’t believe what you’re saying. I didn’t feel anything…he looked like the rest,” said the third soldier. “His followers didn’t last long. They abandoned him fast…it’s funny…they thought they were next.”
“The thieves knew,” said the fourth soldier.
“That’s crazy. That’ll get you killed. You’re an idiot,” said the third soldier.
The second soldier shrugged his shoulders. His eyes narrowed looking at the fourth soldier,
“So what. What’s wrong with you? He got you?”
He nodded. The Wine-seller grinned, “See…it’s not too bad. He’ll take care of you.”