Marcellus: A Soldier Set Free

My name is Marcellus. As a boy growing up, I lived in Croton on the southern edge of Italy. My sister, Adoria, is four years older than I, and my brother, Sextus, is eight years older. The three of us were always close despite our age differences. My father, a fisherman, had hoped that Sextus would join him in his fishing business, but Sextus had his heart set on becoming a legionnaire. As soon as he was old enough he signed up with the army. Adoria married when she was fifteen and has a son and a daughter. Whenever I would visit the children, they would always run to greet me and give me the biggest hug ever. Of course, I couldn't resist and would sweep them off their feet to give them a big squeeze back.

I had always wanted to be just like my big brother, so when I reached the age of sixteen, I joined the Roman Legion also. After three months of training in Italy, I boarded a ship to join the Roman Garrison in Jerusalem. I had been on the sea helping my father with his fishing boats since my early boyhood so traveling across the Mediterranean was an exciting adventure for me. After landing in Caesarea Maritima, I traveled to Jerusalem to find my Roman Cohort where I would join five hundred other fellow legionnaires.

Twenty years have come and gone and I am still serving my country. After ten years in Jerusalem I was promoted to sergeant and transferred to the century in Capernaum. I decided to celebrate my tenth anniversary of duty in Capernaum with a visit to the marketplace to mingle with the people. I thought I might find a little something for the children of my niece and nephew. Even though my sister's children are grown now, I still think of them often. Sometimes I think maybe I should have had a wife and children of my own. Then again, maybe not, as my life in the military may have been too hard on them.

When I arrived at the marketplace, it was crowded since the fishermen had just unloaded their day's catch into wooden bins. Women selling figs were under the shade of their makeshift booths and they cried out to me to buy as I passed. A blind man, who was also crippled, sat alone on a flat rock alongside of a fruit stand waving his cup in the air. I stopped to buy some grapes then placed the change I had received in his cup. The sound of the coins in his cup brought a smile to his face and to mine.

I hadn't seen exactly what I wanted to buy for my niece and nephew's children, but I kept looking. In the shops were carved wooden whistles, small earthen vessels, and beautiful sashes. Since many of the women were wearing the sashes, I picked out one made of purple for my niece's daughter and carefully folded it to fit in the fold of my garment. I couldn't decide on what to get my nephew's son, and then I saw the perfect gift. It was a leather string with a medallion of two nails bent in the shape of a cross. I bargained a little with the man in the booth until we settled on a fair price, then I placed it in the fold of my garment along with the purple sash.

By this time, the sun was high in the mid-day sky, and I was hungry. So I began making my way towards a large fruit stand away from the shore line. As I pushed my way through the crowds buying fish out of the wooden bins, I felt a tug on the sash around my waist. I reached for my money pouch, but it was too late. It was gone.

When I turned, I saw a young boy quickly making his way through the crowd. Thinking it was he who stole my pouch, I stopped him and shook him, demanding that he give me back my money. But he acted like he didn't know what I was talking about and lifted his hands. People were looking at me now, wondering why I was shaking him so. He looked innocent enough, so I let him go. At least I still had the gifts.

Needing a drink of water, I headed toward the well. A man, older than I, was at the well drawing up some water in a bucket. As I neared he offered me a cup of water. As thirsty as I was, I accepted. Then he spoke, "My name is Andrew, and I saw you shaking that boy."

"My name is Marcellus. Yes, I thought he was the one who had just stolen my money pouch. But he looked so innocent and lifted his hands to the sky, so I figured that maybe I was mistaken. I was hoping to get a couple of pieces of fruit before heading back to the quarters, but now I'm just glad for a cool drink of water."

"Would you care to have some of my lunch? I have more than I can possibly eat."

Normally I would not have accepted such an offer, but Andrew had such a friendly manner that I could hardly turn it down. He motioned for me to sit with him under the shade of a nearby olive tree where he opened his cloth wrap and handed me half his bread and cheese. We were both hungry, so at first we quietly ate. Something about the good food improved my disposition, so I asked, "Andrew, tell me about yourself."

"I do some fishing with my father, but I spend most of my time with the Christian churches in Galilee."

My heart began to race as I asked, "Are you a follower of Jesus the Christ?"

"Yes, I was one of His twelve apostles when He began His ministry."

My first impulse was to somehow excuse myself and leave, but Andrew seemed so sincere that I decided to stay and tell this apostle about my encounter with Jesus twenty years ago. Haltingly I began my confession, "I was a part of the Roman cohort that took Jesus to the Praetorium where Pilot sentenced Him to be crucified."

"You soldiers were very cruel to my dearest friend."

"Yes, that is true. I wanted to be like the seasoned soldiers, so as they began to mock Jesus and beat Him and spit on Him, I, too, spit in His face."

There was a moment of silence as Andrew looked away, but I had to tell someone what I had done, so I continued, "After I spit, I thought about my brother, Sextus, and my sister, Adoria. If either had known, they would have been appalled. Then I felt so embarrassed and so ashamed. Still I followed along to Golgatha as one of the soldiers who would control the crowd for the crucifixion. My feelings of guilt increased as Jesus hung on the cross. Instead of lashing out at those tormenting Him, He said, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'"

After a moment of silence Andrew said, "Jesus would have forgiven you too, for that is who He is."

"I'm not sure I understand how He could do that, but you must help me, for the sorrow I have felt since that day is breaking my heart."

Andrew didn't say anything right away, but when he turned his face towards me, I saw compassion, not hatred, in his eyes, and he said, "Marcellus, there is forgiveness if you are willing to confess your sins and believe that Jesus is the Son of God."

"You have heard my confession, and I do believe."

"Marcellus, this day your sins are forgiven."

His words echoed through my mind, "This day your sins are forgiven." Then I remembered, these were the words of Jesus twenty years ago. Finally I was able to receive the forgiveness that He offered me and it was because of Andrew that I understood.

Based on Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:34.

Copyright 1997 by John C. Westervelt

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