THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 5

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

After the lavish food was served, the guest clustered themselves to their own private fellowship either in whispered conversations or laughing out loud merriments; at the same time, being entertained by two pairs of half naked black skin Nubians wildly dancing to rhythmic drum beats. Cornelius retreated to the open balcony where he continued to formulate his arguments to convince the governor.

“Ah! There you be, Centurion.”

Cornelius turned to find the Lady Procula approaching with that pretty young woman in tow.

“My Lady, how may I be of service to you?”

“Oh, no Centurion, it is I who is to be of service to you.” Turning to the young woman at her side, she exclaimed in mirth, “this lovely child had boldly requested to be reacquainted with yourself in regards to a marriage proposal promised her by you.”

Both women laughed mirthfully at the confused expression of Cornelius’ face.

“Be at peace, Centurion, for I am in jest… though I fear that there may be some truth in this marriage proposal. I will let this child explain. Mmmm?” She walks away chuckling.

Still confused and somewhat perplexed, Cornelius and young woman stood there watching each other. Uncomfortably, Cornelius broke the silence.

“I am afraid I am in a disadvantage, my lady. You seem to know me but I…”

“Ah, Cornelius, since you seem to have forgotten me, then I should not rely on you remembering your promise to marry me either, now that we are older!”

Amused by Cornelius’ confusion, she goes on teasingly, “Maybe, this will help… in a garden, under an old willow tree at my father’s estate in Athens.”

Recognition lit up Cornelius’ eyes, as he grasped her hand, “Pheobe!? Is it really you? You must forgive an old friend for not recognizing you immediately when my last memory of you was that of a mischievous little girl who helped me steal sweets from the kitchen.”

“So you remember me after all,” laughed Pheobe.

“How is your father?” asked Cornelius.

“He is well. And your father?”

“He, too, is in good health, thank the… the Lord. He still keeps up with news in the Senate, despite having retired from being magistrate. How do you come to be here in Palestine?”

“My father is a distant cousin of the Lady Procula, and he thought it would be a good idea for me to learn the basics of managing a household from her. So I accompanied her and her husband here as a companion,” replied Pheobe. “Congratulations on your various victories abroad. I… that is, my father has followed your career as best he could,” she said shyly. “Is Jacob still with you? I remember he had the most wonderful stories about his god,” asked Pheobe.

“Yes, he is still with me, especially now that he has a chance to come back to his homeland after all these years,” answered Cornelius.

Their conversation went on about family and the past. Then they were interrupted by a sudden loud cheering in the main room.

“The entertainment seems to have livened up,” murmured Cornelius. “Shall we go in to watch?”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 3

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

The prison guard opened the cell door and Cornelius found John as before calmly waiting for him.

“Peace be with you, Cornelius. It is good to see you again.”

“I must beg your forgiveness. For I have sought the one of whom we spoke and neglected to see to your release.”

“That as it should be,” smiled the Baptist.

Then there was a knock at the door and one of his disciples peered in and said, “Your messenger has returned, master.”

“Let him enter.” Seeing that the messenger hesitated when he saw Cornelius, John said, “Do not fear. What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ ” [Luke 7:22]
Clearly, Cornelius knew who sent the message. John the Baptist bowed his head in a moment of silence and then lifted his head high with a knowing smile. Then he looked at Cornelius and said, “Again, that is as it should be. My task is done. Soon, I shall go to be with my fathers.”

“What talk is this? I have come to secure your release. This night during the celebration I shall persuade the governor to request a boon from Herod Antipas of which he cannot refuse.”

“Nay, Centurion. My task is completed. I must diminish so as not to take away what is rightfully his.”

Then Cornelius could hear faint trumpets blaring through the small dungeon windows.

“The governor is arriving. I must go. When we next see each other you will be free.”

“You will see me, but not as you expect. Farewell!”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch8 – part 2

MEETING FACE TO FACE – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It wasn’t so dark because of the stars and moon. Surefooted, Jesus confidently led him up to the top of the hill. Cornelius looked all around. The lake was shimmering at the East. Some miles North, Capernaum and Chorazin were clearly lit as cities should at this time of the night. The ragged outline of the highlands West and South are quite distinct against the night sky. Jesus went over to a lean-to and gestured for him join him.

“I come up here as often as I can to commune with my Father in Heaven.”

Cornelius had so much to ask but somehow he just did not know where to begin. He again thought how plainly he looked but yet there was a presence about him. Then, like he knew what was on his mind, Jesus spoke first.

“Yes… I am the one that John told you to seek. Not much to look at, am I?”

“Well, now that the subject was broached. I half expected you to look more kingly in appearance.”

“So did many of the chosen. They expected a King David or King Solomon, regaled in majestic glory. How easily they forget. Do you know the story of how David was chosen to be king?”

“Yes… of course, I do recall. I should have known.” Cornelius chided himself because the whole story of David had always been his favorite. This part of the story went like this.

King Saul had disappointed God again. So, God sent the Prophet Samuel, to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse to choose from his sons to be anointed king. When the eldest was presented, he was tall, handsome and an accomplished soldier. Even to Samuel, the eldest would make an ideal king. He would have anointed him right there and then, but God stayed his hand. In Samuel’s ear he was told that ‘God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’ [1 Samuel 16:7] Six more sons were brought before him by Jesse, all were rejected. When asked if there was another son, Jesse sent for his youngest who was out in the fields with the sheep. When he came before the prophet, he was but a youth with a face that showed the red glow of good health and was handsome. By all common sense, this was not a lad that would be entrusted with ruling the land. But God chose him.

“And what a king he became, so much so that my Father in Heaven made an eternal promise that his line will rule forever.”

“They say the Messiah will come as a conqueror bringing justice and freedom.”

“There will be a time when all things will be judged then cast into the fire. And yes, the Messiah will be there with sword in hand.” Then Jesus saw the concern in Cornelius’ face. “I know you must report what you heard to your superiors. Do not fret, Cornelius, it is not what you fear. I have not come to condemn but to save.”

“I have surmised what you are saving us from, my question is how are you going to save mankind? What exactly are you going to do? And what can I do to be part of it?”

“You and my disciples will have tasks but what I have to do only I can do.”

“What is it exactly you have to do?”

“The task that I do is written. John had set you in the path of Isaiah. I urge you to continue down that path. Seek out the answer in the one who was my Father’s mouth in the last days of Hezekiah. Then you have a choice to make.”

“You could not just tell me straight, could you?”

“You have strong faith like I told the people. But your faith came to you because of a process of how you gained knowledge. That process started when you listened to your tutor’s first story of the Scriptures. My Father in Heaven once told Joshua before he brought all of Israel across the Jordan after forty years wandering in the wilderness, ‘This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.’ [Joshua 1:8] Follow this same path, Cornelius.”
Cornelius and Jesus spoke late into the night until the pale morning light came creeping over the horizon. They both went down the hill together. Simon Peter and the rest of the Twelve were waiting for them. They broke bread together and then Cornelius said his farewells. He started to ride away, but then he pulled his horse’s rein to a stop and slowly turned. Jesus and his companions were still there watching him. Jesus raised his hand real high. Cornelius too raised his hand and he felt elated inside. He wheeled his horse around and rode at a trot. He was eager to get home and open those books.
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch8 – part 1

MEETING FACE TO FACE – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

It was night when he rode up into their camp under the same copse of trees. The men around the fire all stood up but none walked over. Cornelius slowly dismounted and raised his hands up to show that he came in peace. He called out the traditional greeting of offering peace.

“Peace be also with you, Centurion.”

Cornelius turned to see the big fisherman and Levi, the former tax collector, emerge from the tent.

“I am pleased to see you again, Centurion.”

“Likewise, Levi.”

“Oh no… my friend. I am now called Matthew. The master named me so.”

Peter reached out his big hand and they shook hands. “I am Peter. The Master had chosen to meet you up there.” He gestured toward the same hill where Jesus gave his sermon. He calls to the tent, “Simon!”

Simon came out of the tent obviously livid.

“Simon here will be your guide.” Simon Peter faced the Zealot and said, “The Master suggested it.”

Simon reluctantly went to the fire and picked up a fiery brand. “Come Roman, follow me.”

They had to cross the creek with the limited light of the torch but Cornelius managed it with just wetting one of his sandaled foot. The Zealot lead him to a foot path which they followed up the hill. For a long while they did not talk. When they reached a level spot, the Zealot suddenly turned around to confront him.

“What do you want with the master, Roman? You are not wanted here!”

Cornelius was not caught unaware. He expected it. Though he had no weapon, he knew Simon could not best him in close quarter fighting alone. But there could be others nearby in the dark. Cornelius started moving slowly to the right forcing Simon to go right as well; circling each other.

“It was he that called me, Zealot. Now, tell me this. What are the Zealots intention with the rabbi? Do you think you can make him king to rally the people?”

That touched a nerve with Simon, he crouched like was ready to pounce.

“How did you do it, Zealot? How did you get the rabbi to choose you to be one of the Twelve?”

The Zealot stopped circling and then stood straight. “I did not! When Jesus called me, I was so proud but then deep down, I really knew there was nothing to be proud of. But yet he chose me. I will not betray him.”

“Peace,” said a voice in the darkness. Then Jesus walked into the light. “Greetings, Cornelius. It is a good night to be about. Is it not?”

“Good evening, Lord. It is truly a very good night.”

Jesus placed a hand onto Simon’s arm. “Thank you, Simon. I will take it from here. Come, Cornelius. Let us walk up in the dark.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 2

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

Cornelius and Jacob rushed into the house. They found the physician grinding some herbs for a potion he was preparing. He looked at them shaking his head.

“How long?”

“He will not survive the night.” He handed the potion to Jacob, “This will help him with the pain. I am sorry, Centurion. But this is as far as my skills can go.” Then he left the room.

Cornelius sat at the edge of the bed. Trax was unconscious and burning to the touch. He then took the cloth that was laying on Trax’s forehead and dunked it into a waiting basin of water and put it back on his feverish head. Cornelius have been on many deathbeds of comrades and friends before but watching Trax like this was heart wrenching for him.

Flavius entered the room, “I am sorry, sir. I know how fond you are of him.”

“He is like a son to me.” He whispered.

“Well, he is now in the hands of the gods.”

Then hope sprung up in him like he never felt before. “No, Flavius… not the gods, but one God!” He called out to Jacob and Cestus. “Take the horses, ride out to the teacher. Implore to him to heal the lad. Quickly now. Go!”

They did not hesitate. As Cornelius heard the horses galloping away, he again sat on the edge of the bed and offered up a pleading prayer to the God of Abraham for the very first time.

“Who is this teacher that you sent them to seek? And what can he do?”

Cornelius relayed to Flavius about Jesus and what he had witnessed. Flavius was understandably skeptical.

“And you think he will come and wave his hands over Trax… and then he will sit up like nothing happened?”

“Yes! I really do.”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch7 – part 1

THE HEALING – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w
For the next two hours, Jesus expounded on this same theme by presenting what the people already knew through their traditions and everyday beliefs then elevated their point of focus to go beyond from what they normally do to that of what would truly please God. There were a lot of hard lessons to swallow in that sermon on the mount. Cornelius was not sure that much of what Jesus exhorted is attainable. In one part, he talked about loving the enemy and pray for those that persecute you. Cornelius could not help but look at the face of Simon the Zealot. He was almost sure that he would reject this teaching off hand and walk away. At first, Simon gave the teacher a questionable look. Then he looked down as if to contemplate on it. With his eyes closed, he subtly shook his head. Cornelius wondered if that was regret written on his face. Then Simon lifted his head determined to hear more. Jesus was truly a master teacher.

When Jesus finished with sermon, the hillside again erupted with people talking in amazement. As Jesus and the twelve made their way through the praising crowd, Cornelius motioned to Jacob and Cestus that they should return to their horses. As they were climbing the hill, it was Cestus who broke the silence.

“Never in my whole life, have I ever heard anything like that before. I do not know what to make of what I am feeling. On one hand, I feel a sense that everything I have done was wrong. While on the other, I sense there is hope for me yet. I… I cannot explain it.”

Then a noise of shouting people behind them made them turn around. They saw on the opposite hill from them a man fighting his way through the crowd. He was screaming something but it could not be heard from where they stood. The crowded parted avoiding to be near him. Cornelius saw that he was making a beeline towards Jesus who was already crossing the small stream in the bottom of the hill. Cornelius’ first thought was that this was an assassination attempt against the rabbi. So, Cornelius and Cestus raced back down the hill to get between Jesus and this man. They plowed through the crowd, jumped the stream then stopped where Cornelius gauged where the assassin was heading. Then he heard the man’s croaking shout, “Make way! Unclean! Make way!”

Cornelius and Cestus were both aghast when they saw that the would be assassin was a leper heading their way. They quickly jumped out of the way as he painfully hobbled through. Cornelius gagged at the passing smell of sweat, unbathed odor and rotting flesh. The people were cursing him, throwing stones and hitting his back with long sticks. Soon, he crumpled to the ground under the barage. The leper was decrepitedly thin and bony. He noticed that the rags that clung to his tortured body were once the clothing worn by a rich man. A thrown stick snagged the cloth that covered his face revealing it filled with bloody festering sores and a nose that had rotted away. The anger and shouting increased and so did the bombardment. They were going to kill this man. Cornelius was about to intervene when a large burly shape came roaring in and swinging his staff in a mad violent circle. The people stopped their beating and backed away, forming a circular clearing, from this bear of a man. It was Simon Peter, the fisherman. Then behind him the crowd parted to let another man through. It was Jesus.

He calmly walked over to the giant and placed his hand on his arm. He looked up at him half-scoldingly and said, “Peter…” He didn’t have to finish the sentence. The big man returned a half grin and a shrug. Jesus smiled shaking his head and then turned his attention to the leper who slowly and painfully got up.

He took two steps forward and then like he realized who he was facing threw himself on the ground and asked, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The crowd simultaneously gasped as Jesus did the unthinkable. He unhesitatingly reached down to help him up and softly said, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

What Cornelius witnessed was beyond anything he had ever experienced. What at first was a leprous creature lying on the ground with a flesh eating disease was now a whole man standing before Jesus restored to full health. This was no trick. The process of the healing took place as Jesus touched him until he straightened up. The disciples surrounded the man, removed the rags that he wore, and covered him with a robe. Jesus and the disciples led him to a large tent among a copse of trees a short distant away. The people were in a festive mood. There was dancing and singing.
It was late in the afternoon when they returned to the house. Porcius and Flavius were there waiting for them.

“Where have you been? I have sent some men to look for you.”

“What is wrong?”

“It’s the boy! He is dying.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch6 – part 6

SERMON ON THE MOUNT – Hills South of CapernaumCG-book-cover-w

So, another question rose in his mind, “Who are the recipients of God’s blessing in Jesus’ sermon?”

Again systematically, Cornelius went down the list: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful and the pure in heart; the peacemakers; and the persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

What amazed him was that Jesus revealed a concept within a series of riddles that just turned his sense of reality upside down. Jesus’ ten riddles expound on who truly are the recipients of God’s blessing and Cornelius does not fit with any of them. He came from a world that does not consider them successful. As a Roman, with the expanse of the empire covering most of Europe, Africa and Asia as a testimony, he was brought up to make something of himself not value meekness or to be poor in spirit. He was taught to push himself to the front of others, to promote oneself, and climb the ladder to success even over the bodies of his fellows. For him, the way to inherit the earth is to get ahead. Yet, herein lay the paradox. In the eyes of God, it is the meek, not the proud, who will inherit the earth. It is the poor in spirit, not those who are self-sufficient, who are in the kingdom of heaven.

Cornelius always knew that there was something lacking in his life but he could not put his finger on it. The words of Jesus may be what he sought especially the last riddle that appealed to him in some way but even that he could not peg down. The last riddle calls one to rejoice and be glad, not when things are going good, but quite the opposite. In fact, it challenges the one who is being persecuted to be happy regardless the pain they are feeling and knowing full well that he will not taste the rewards in this lifetime. He would have loved to meditate on this concept some more but then he heard Jesus’ voice again.

He opened his eyes and saw that Jesus was again addressing the crowd to listen. He spoke to them of how, as the chosen people of God, they should boldly shine out to the world and be that beacon to bring people to Him. A number of people called out to him asking who he was. His response to them was…
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [Matt 5:17-18 NASB]

Cornelius found it interesting that as the people clamored for him to identify himself as the Messiah, he would not entertain them with a direct answer. The people, who were probably cajoled by the zealots, desire a fighting leader like in the days of the Judges. But Jesus emphasized that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. If Jesus is the promised Messiah, then there are things based in the Law that he has to accomplish first. In many ways, this is how the true Messiah would be revealed.

“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”   [Matthew 5:19-20 NASB]

This declaration surprised Cornelius even more. Though it mirrored the riddles that Jesus started with, he openly emphasized that the best of them, the teachers and lawyers of the Law, failed to live up to it. And he challenged the people to live better than them if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cornelius felt both relieved and concerned at the same time. He was relieved because these were not the words of a man who would ally himself with the shortsightedness of the zealots. Jesus wanted to bring change to the people but it was clear to him that Jesus will do this from the inside out. The concern was that Cornelius want him to succeed but his last statement polarized him from the religious leadership. Sure enough, as he searched the crowd, he saw them gathered together whispering to each other casting angry glances at the teacher on the rock.

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