He picked up two handfuls of steel spikes from the bench. With calloused hands he placed all but one in the leather pouch he wore around his waist. He felt the forged body of the single nail, knowing its purpose, being an instrument of its purpose. The sharp point at the end of the tool he placed against the delicate flesh at his wrist, between two blood vessels. Briefly he heard the cries of agony and a shiver coursed through his bones.
He placed the spike with the others and tested a hammer on the bench for weight. The tools of his trade, hammers and nails. He built nothing and he destroyed much.
"I heard they have three prisoners for your crew today," a voice behind him said. He turned to face the deep baritone. An old friend graced the threshold between the two rooms of his home.
"Had two... and then they added another."
"All criminals, no doubt," the friend added.
"Two are thieves. The other is some kind of political dissident, a blasphemous holy man. I caught some of his trial. It was difficult not to be aware of it. These simple Jews are all excited about the claims of this man. Some think he is sent by their god. The leaders of their temple think he deserves death for supporting such an outrageous claim."
"These Jews are always up in arms about something."
He clenched the hammer in his fist and shook his head. "No... this is different. I can justify the crucifixion of a murderer, even one whose illegal actions have led to the death of another. If this man had led some sort of revolt, an uprising that led to Roman deaths as a result... then I feel this action is understandable and I can still rest my eyes at night. I wish I was ignorant to everything that has happened here the last few days."
"Would you prefer to be one of them?" His friend asked. "Not necessarily the condemned, but those out there in the streets. They believe more in some invisible god than they do in the government which holds authority over them. We could crush them in an instant and yet they don't respect our strength. Consider this, you could be a servant in the house of a vicious master, instead you come and go as you please. You are a free man with a decent trade. You have little to complain about."
The hammer fit into his belt. The spikes jingled together in the pouch. He left the presence of his friend and walked into the dusty streets of Jerusalem. He would join the throng heading out to 'The Place of the Skull'. Staying to the outskirts of the crowd he witnessed cruelty on the parts of some, compassion from others. A bystander was forced to help one of the condemned. He figured the man unable to carry his burden was the political prisoner, the one the pious Jews hated. Once he caught a good look of the man through a break in the crowd. The condemned wore a crude crown, twisted into shape, made of vines and thorns. His face was bloodied. His back was torn open.
He reached the rise outside the city, where the execution would take place, ahead of the soldiers. He stood for a moment and looked out over the gray sky. He felt an uninvited fear gnaw at his soul. The scene from the Praetoium, earlier in the day, filled his mind. He could still hear the unruly crowd's chant of 'crucify' amid the sobbing background of those who felt a closeness toward the condemned. He had watched the high priests incite the onlookers into a frenzy. Why did they hate this man named Jesus with such intensity? Why did men who deemed themselves holy seek such a horrible outcome?
The soldiers came over the crest of the hill. They whipped one of the prisoners. The one who had faced Pilate and the crowd, earlier in the day, took up the rear. He fell and the guards shouted vile curses at him as he struggled to return to his feet. Wooden beams were thrown to the soil. Hammers began to pound the spikes through human flesh and bone.
The executioner, as he thought of himself for the moment, began to perform his task. He tried not to see the faces of the victims whose wrists he would impale on the beam. He swung the hammer, torn tissue and blood filled his sight. The one to be crucified cried out, or did he, the executioner never allowed their torment to reach out and touch him.
The hammer swung again, and as it did his eyes met the eyes of the condemned, a communion he never allowed. The one with the crown of thorns stared at him, consumed him, forgave him. The one who the crowd chanted against looked into the core of his being and saw his depths.
"Get on with it," one of the soldiers shouted and the executioner swung the hammer again, completing the task.
The wooden masts with human sails were raised into the gray sky. The executioner studied the palms of his hands. They were stained with the blood of those condemned. When all was finished he would return home, try his best to wash the scarlet memory away, share a meal with a friend and attempt to get some rest. The soldiers and those assigned to the chore moved away from the scene. He hesitated to join them. A woman sobbed. A young man held her against him.
He turned back toward the three dying men, heard pieces of conversation between the one named Jesus and one of the criminals. A peel of thunder broke through a brief moment of silence. Darkness gained a foothold where light had once ruled.
"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."
In that moment, despite the horror of his actions, the executioner fell to his knees. He was unsure what emotion had taken control of him. He noticed a soldier move slowly away from his troops. "Surely this man was the son of God," the centurion softly stated.
And with a tormented heart the executioner understood his folly.
copyright 2016 - Donald P James Jr