The Good Centurion by V.I. Ysaye
A novel about the pious Roman Centurion of Capernaum, who built the synagogue for the people of the town. After Jesus heals his dying slave, Centurion Lucius Viator risks his life and career protecting the startling young rabbi. More
Lucius' first impression of Jesus of Nazareth was bemusing. Several days after learning of the young rabbi's arrival in Capernaum, Lucius walked down to the quay after lunch, as was his custom, hoping to get a chance to engage in banter with the fishermen. The day was chilly and he was wearing an undyed woolen robe, drawn with a simple leather belt, over his red tunic. No boats were queued up for weighing, but there was a gang of laborers hard at work offloading cargo from a large boat. When he asked where the vessel had come from, the captain, who looked like a Greek sailor who had just stepped off one of those red-painted urns depicting the adventures of the Homeric hero Ulysses, smiled and answered him, “Hippus, centurion. A load of mined precious stones for overland transport up to Damascus.”
Hippus was a Greco-Roman city, one of the Decapolis, on the opposite corner of the Galilee from Capernaum. The inhabitants were mostly merchants and traders, exporting raw materials mined from the countryside farther east. The fourth largest detachment of the Tenth Fretensis Legion in Palestine, after Capernaum, was garrisoned there, solely to collect taxes, as the Tetrarch Philip had soldiers to keep the trade routes clear of bandits. “How is the Optio Titus?” he asked, referring to the lieutenant in command of the reduced detachment of forty men.
The captain shook his head. “Thinks he's the emperor of all that he surveys,” he said with an air that suggested no further explanation was necessary.
Titus did indeed have a well-deserved reputation for a vain-glorious attitude that went back to their years together in Acco. While other officers drilled their men and set them to construction projects, he constantly staged his century in parades through the city streets, with trumpets blaring and drums pounding, placing himself at the front in a burnished chariot. His nickname in the Legion was “Optio Gloriosus,” an allusion to the comic satire by Plautus, only in this case rather than about a mere miles, mocking a junior officer.
“Tell him the Centurion Lucius of Capernaum sends his obeisance,” he replied.
The captain laughed heartily and was about to say something, but the moment was broken when the ropes of a winch offloading a crate snapped and the box fell and split open on the wharf and sent a wash of amethysts surging like a garish wave across the stone.
Lucius stepped back to avoid the glittering flood and, as he did, turned to see the new rabbi from Nazareth walking toward him, smiling. He wore his hair long, on his shoulders, in the manner of the rural Galileans, and a beard that did not hide his full mouth. A thin nose rose to limpid olive eyes that took the silver light of the overcast day and returned it as something more than mere light. He could have been Syrian, Phoenician, Greek, or Cappadocian. But, in any case, he would have been remarkable. It seemed to Lucius that he was looking into a face he had long wanted to see, the one that would appear to him when finally ceased to waver and let go of his Roman gods for the Jewish one. The eyes were filled with compassion and authority, easily an authority he had never seen in any dux's eyes, and he would never have dared to meet them had they not captured his first.
The Nazarene knelt and scooped up a handful of the purple gems and held them out to Lucius, saying in Greek, “The vine of these grapes has been divided among the nations.”
Lucius smiled back at him and quoted from the Nevit'im of the Torah. “When you are pulling the grapes from your vines, do not take up those which have been dropped; let them be for the man from a strange land.”
Jesus laughed gently and reached out and took Lucius' right hand with his own ....