The merciful soldier


Compassion and discipleship

Jesus said “I am thirsty”.  And “one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink” (NRSV, John 19:28; Matthew 27:48)

Crucifixion was in origin an Oriental punishment and the Romans probably learnt it as a result of their trade with Carthage, the great commercial city in North Africa.  This had been founded by colonists from Phoenicia which now comprises modern Lebanon and parts of Syria and Israel.

Among the Jews in Our Lord’s time the normal method of capital punishment was by stoning, and when Jesus predicted that he would be killed by the Gentiles his meaning was clear.  Crucifixion was universally regarded with horror and revulsion, and the Romans themselves restricted it to criminals and slaves.

It is remarkable that the Gospels show the utmost simplicity and restraint in recording the Crucifixion of Jesus.  This is probably because crucifixions, which were always held in public as a deterrent to others, were an all too familiar sight in the Roman Empire.  Indeed, they were so familiar that Jesus could take the preliminary cross-bearing to the place of execution as symbolic of the self-sacrifice which he required in his disciples if they were to be true followers of him (Mark 8:34).

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