I met him in a low lit bar long after 1 in the morning. He didn’t want our meeting to be publicised. But he did want to tell his side of the story. Before they ended him. Oh, and they would end him. He was sure of that. He mentioned it a couple of times in the interview. He wanted that documented, writ large, because he’s an astute guy and is well aware that he may go down in history as the bad guy.
‘It’s not fair,’ he tells me, not quite sounding like a petulant four-year-old, ‘people judge you on a few bits of fake news. Factoids. They think they know you because a rumour spreads and the rumour becomes news then hard fact. And by the time that happens it’s way more juicy than the truth, so who cares about the truth anyway. The truth’s dull and grey, little more than a smudge of festering road kill, by the time it makes the news.’
He smokes incessantly as we talk, I guess I’ll be stinking of it for the following 24 hours. His left eye twitches occasionally as the blue wisps drift upwards and claw softly on his eyeball. He has a chip on his shoulder, he admits. He’s come from a tough warlike tribe of folks, from Italy. The Samnites. A tribe who battled the rise of Rome and lost. So a bunch of folks who know what the brunt of a Roman fist feels like.
‘You see, that’s why I got him, in a way that those money grabbing Sadducees missed. I’m like him. Okay I have a certain amount of power and influence, but I come from a people who know what it is to be punished by the Emperor and his cronies.’
He glances around quickly as he says that last word, just in case one of the Emperor’s cronies is lurking by his shoulder. I smile at the notion that he was like the man he so readily gave up for ridicule, beating and murder.
‘The Roman way is built on violence and fear,’ he said, before tipping back his drink and indicating that I buy him another if I want more of him.
I buy, he sucks on his cigarette and talks on.
‘I only mete out brutal justice because it’ll be delivered on me if I don’t. It’s ancient history. One man rules from on high, with his fist around everybody else’s throat. Put a foot wrong and your history, so you do what you’re told. And that was Jesus’s problem. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t play the Roman game. Wouldn’t play anyone’s game as far as I could tell. Wouldn’t explain himself, barely said three words to me. It didn’t have to end that way, I wasn’t angling for that, I’ve sent too many wannabe Messiahs to that death of three nails. I’ve had enough of it. I know you may not believe it but I have. A man can come to the end of his bloodlust.’ For a moment I think he’s going to drain his glass again, but he only lifts it, stares at his muddy reflection in it and places it back on the bar. The butt of his cigarette glows between the fingers of his left hand, like a tiny flare, a meagre call for help.
He stubs it out on the bar, scarring the polished surface, and reaches for something else, dips his manicured hands into a silver bowl of ice and water. One hand then the other.
‘They say this one is different. You’ve heard the talk on the street? That he’s somehow come back? That he did it all for the good of mankind? Well, if he did then I don’t understand it. But if it’ll help me, I say why not? I’ll have a slice of that pie. But I doubt it’ll keep me from paying the price, Rome will no doubt demand its due. They say people cry out to the heavens when they get desperate, don’t they? Well I can feel the panic swelling in this chest of mine. I’m no Messiah, I have no calling to die. I really hope I don’t go down in history too soon.’
He dries his hands carefully. Meticulously. Then tosses the cloth away, no thought for who might clear it up.
‘They say he refused the drugs you know, the ones they offered him to dull the pain of execution. Why would a man do that? Not make it easier for himself? He could have avoided the whole thing all together. It’s a strange thing. Can a sacrifice like that really make any kind of a difference? Will people still look to it in a thousand years? Has the world shifted a little?’
He drains his glass. Shifts off his stool, preparing to go.
‘We claim the mighty Roman machine will last forever. Who knows? Maybe some other kingdom will stand instead. Maybe he’ll still be walking the streets with his nail scarred hands. What do you think? Have I read him wrong?’
Mark 15 vv 1-15