Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18
This is day 6 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Today, let’s meditate on the soldiers who carried out the orders to crucify Our Lord.
Corrupt priests used their influence with the Roman governor of Judea to push him into consenting to the crucifixion of Jesus. This roman governor, whose name was Pontius Pilate, tried to avoid committing this murder, but in the end, he yielded to the pressure from the priests and ordered it.
Who carried out the order?
Roman soldiers scourged Jesus until He was so weakened, probably from loss of blood, that He fell repeatedly on His way to Golgotha. Roman soldiers put a purple robe around his shoulders and a crown of thorns on His head and beat Him and mocked Him. Roman soldiers impressed Simon of Cyrene into forced service to help Jesus carry His cross.
They drove the nails, pulled the cross upright and cast lots for His robe. It was a Roman soldier who thrust his lance into Jesus’ side after His death and was drenched in the blood and water that flowed from it.
What of these men who were just following orders? How, other than as pawns on the stage of history, do they play in this drama?
These were hard men; harder than we can comprehend. First century warfare was man to man; hand to hand. Roman might was based on an infantry formation called the Roman Phalanx. This phalanx required steel nerves and total dependence on the man next to you to hold his place.
Roman soldiers fought as units who depended on one another for their lives. They also, as the Roman peacekeepers in this dusty outpost of Judea, were charged with the bloody business of putting down uprisings among the civilian population. When Pilate ordered the death of worshipers in the Temple, “mingling their blood with their sacrifices,” it was Roman soldiers who did the killing.
They were probably sick of the Jews and their uprisings and God-talk.
The Passover season was almost certainly a dreaded, disgusting time for them, with its crowds, high tensions and boring religious practices. When these men thought of “religion” they associated it with temple prostitutes and wild high drama. Fun stuff.
These religion-besotted Jews with their shalt nots and insistence on taking a day off every week didn’t even follow an entertaining God.
Roman soldiers, as soldiers everywhere, were probably early risers. But the ruckus these hoity-toity Jewish priests raised about the nondescript miracle worker from Nazareth not only disrupted their morning, it most likely got them out of bed early. It cheated them of the slower convivial start to their day.
Instead of enjoying their breakfast with their friends, they had to scourge this Jew.
They were good with the flagellum and whip. They’d scourged lots of people. It took strength, physical endurance and skill to wield the flagellum so that its metal ends dug through the skin and into the muscle below without actually tearing into the vital organs beneath.
Scourging a man almost to death in this fashion was hard, physical labor. This Jesus was to them just an unnecessary piece of work that was forced on them by these impossible people and their insulting religious demands.
Their cruelty with the crown of thorns almost certainly had nothing to do with Jesus directly. He was just a job of work to them. But they were angry. They almost scourged Jesus to death in their anger. Then, they tortured Him with their mockery and cruelty.
Jesus was not a person to them. He was an addition to their workload and a disgusting annoyance. Truth be told, the devil-driven rage they vented with the whip and later with the crown of thorns was probably aimed more at the priests and the whole Jewish people than at Jesus.
They faced a hard, disgusting task that day. They had to execute two criminals by crucifixion. When Pilate added Jesus’ name to the list, that only increased their workload again. The other two men they were charged with executing were strong enough to carry their crosses. But the soldiers found that they had overdone the beating they gave Jesus.
He had lost so much blood that He couldn’t carry the cross. He fell repeatedly, until finally they had to force an onlooker to help him.
These Roman soldiers were hard men. Callous and cruel men. But they evidently weren’t spiritually dead men, at least not all of them.
Two people converted on that hill that day.
The first was one of the thieves. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, he asked Our Lord. His reward for this simple act of faith was what we all long to hear; Today you will be with me in paradise.
The second convert was one of the hardened Roman soldiers.
What was it that caused this soldier to exclaim, Truly, this man is the Son of God?
How did he hear the Holy Spirit, speaking to him? God’s own Levitical priests and the Roman Governor would not hear this Spirit of God, even when, in the governor’s case, he was warned explicitly.
Why was this hardened soldier who had helped drive the nails the one who listened to that small, still voice?
How many of the soldiers and thugs who go out to torture, attack, rape, kidnap and murder Christians in the world today are turning their backs on the call of the Holy Spirit while they do it?
This Roman soldier was not a thug. He was part of a disciplined military unit of professional soldiers who depended on one another for their lives. But he stepped away from the groupthink of that unit and saw Jesus for Who He was. This same soldier had participated in the torture, degradation and ultimately, the murder of Jesus.
Yet the Holy Spirit gave him eyes to look past the blood and gore and into truth of Who he was dealing with.
Those who attack Christians and murder them also know. The things they do are condemned first by the natural law that informs all of us that torture, rape, kidnapping and murder of innocence is wrong. There is no ameliorating explanation that can alter the wrongness of these things. There is no reason or excuse or idea that can ever make them right.
Those who attack Christians because they are Christians are also condemned by the voice of the Holy Spirit, speaking inside their consciences, telling them to stop.
It is a simple fact, and an ugly one, that the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians who demand these atrocities send other people to commit them.
Every hand that throws a rock or lights a fuse or lifts a gun against Christians is the hand of the Roman soldiers wielding the whips and driving the nails all over again. Persecuted Christians are Christ crucified, right in front of us. Those who carry out the persecution with their own hands are His executioners.
We need to pray for these executioners of the Body of Christ. Pray that they will put down their weapons and turn away from this blood sin they are committing against the Son of God. Pray that they will tell the corrupt priests and cowardly politicians to go to hell alone.
Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 6. Please pray it and ask others to join you.
Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of the Church of Jesus Christ, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained. Guard with special care our Holy Father, the Pope, and our bishops, priests, all our religious and lay people, and especially the children. Saint Michael, watch over us during life, defend us against the assaults of the demon, and assist us especially at the hour of death. Help us achieve the happiness of beholding God face to face for all eternity. Amen. Saint Michael, intercede for me with God in all my necessities, especially for the conversion of the world,that from pole to pole,dateline to dateline,all will call out Jesus' name. Obtain for me a favourable outcome in the matter I recommend to you. Mighty prince of the heavenly host, and victor over rebellious spirits, remember me for I am weak and sinful and so prone to pride and ambition. Be for me, I pray, my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty, and above all do not forsake me in my last struggle with the powers of evil. Amen.