The Legend of St. Longinus

Today’s Journey Through Scripture Readings: Ezra 1-2; John 19:23-42

31 It was the Preparation Day and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath, especially since that Sabbath was an important day. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of those crucified broken and the bodies taken down. 32 Therefore, the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who were crucified with Jesus. 33 When they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead so they didn’t break his legs. 34 However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 The one who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows that he speaks the truth, and he has testified so that you also can believe.36 These things happened to fulfill the scripture, They won’t break any of his bones. 37 And another scripture says, They will look at him whom they have pierced. (John 19:31-37, Common English Bible).

Nowhere in Scripture are we told the name of the man who pierced Jesus’ side at the foot of the cross in today’s lesson. Nowhere in Scripture are we told the name of the man who stood at the foot of the cross and said, “This man was certainly God’s Son” in Matthew (27:54) and Mark’s (15:39). Neither do we know the name of the man at the foot of the cross who said, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” in Luke’s Gospel (23:47). So, it might be safe to say, we don’t know who these men were.” Or, do we?

It is important here that I state, some of this information is based on Christian tradition. Other parts of it are based on legend, coming from books not contained in the Bible but written during the biblical era. Most notable among them is The Gospel of Nicodemus. I am not saying any of this is true. At best it is conjecture.

Church tradition says all these men are one in the same. And, according to the legend coming from, the before mentioned Gospel of Nicodemus. Not only were they all the same man but this man had a name, “Longinus.” Pilate sent Longinus and his men out to Golgatha to ascertain if the men on the crosses were dead. If they were not, Longinus’ orders were, to break the men’s legs, leaving them no way to press up to take in more air. As a result, they would die quickly.

Tradition says that when Longinus and his men arrived, it was moments, perhaps even seconds before Jesus actually died. Longinus and his men inspect the scene and quickly they discover all three men are still alive. Jesus says he is thirsty. A sponge full of sour wine is raised to him and Jesus dies. As he does so, Longinus gives his “Scriptural” public profession of faith, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” Tradition also holds, at this moment St. Longinus became a Christian and soon joined the disciples.

Knowing the other two men are still alive, Longinus orders their legs broken. When they arrived at Jesus’ cross, it was pretty apparent Jesus was already dead. So, instead of breaking Jesus’ legs, they decided to pierce his side with a spear. I would guess this was certainly easier than breaking legs.

Legend says Longinus was suffering from an eye disorder. The possibilities range from something along the lines of pink eye all the way put to Longinus being fully blind. I find the latter difficult to believe. How could one be blind and be a solider? When he pierced Jesus’ side and a mixture of water and blood poured out, some hit Longinus in the eye and he immediately had sight.

If the legend is even close to true, Longinus would have good reason to follow Jesus.

The legend continues by saying that Longinus became a hunted man as he violated the Roman policy on matters of faith. Longinus is said to have retreated either to Greece or to his native Italy (depending on the legend read) to be ahead of the persecution. It did, however, catch up with Longinus. Eventually, the Romans tracked him down but when they found him they didn’t recognize him and Longinus feeds the men dinner. He quite literally wines and dines them. The next morning Longinus reveals his real identity. The men sent for him didn’t want to arrest him and encouraged Longinus to make a run for it. Longinus insisted they arrest him. He told them it was their duty. Back in Jerusalem, where trials and executions have always happened quickly, happened quickly once again as Longinus was sentenced to die and Roman soldiers carried out the task.

Is the story true? Perhaps parts but I doubt all of it. I have little difficulty believing this is all the same man. I have no doubt the blood of Jesus healed the man. The big picture things are easy to see and understand. The smaller picture, not so much. Still, it is the unconfirmed story of a man who wanted to serve Jesus Christ in the world.

The legend is of one who lived his life as a soldier and in an instant, everything changed for him and he went from soldier to disciple. What would it take to make you a disciple, an agent for change?

Have a great day in the Lord,

Copyright 2018, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved

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