CHAPTER XXXVII. THE CONDEMNATION. Part 2.
|James Tissot "Behold the Man (Ecce Homo)"|
Pilate, therefore, came out to give them audience. He seated himself on the top of the steps, with his guards and servants. Two steps below him stood the Pharisees and the Doctors. The crowd remained at the bottom of the stairs, and Jesus, with His hands still bound, and surrounded by His executioners, was at a little distance between the crowd and His accusers. His Mother and the friends—men and women—who accompanied her, were ranged behind a statue of the Emperor, which concealed them from observation, and whence they could see everything.
"Well," began Pilate, austerely, "what is the accusation against this Prisoner?"
There was silence. Then one said:
"We have found this Man perverting the people. We have judged Him guilty of death. We wish you to confirm our sentence."
Stumblingly they uttered these words. Their tongues had become mute. They had forgotten what they wished to say, and moved about uneasily.
"That is no cause—" began Pilate.
"He forbids giving tribute to Caesar, saying that He is Christ the King," ( St. Luke xxiii, 2.) cried a loud voice.
Pilate descended a few steps.
"Art Thou the King of the Jews?" he asked Jesus.
"Thou sayest it," answered our blessed Lord.
Pilate looked at Him intently—at that bound form, that mud-caked garment, that bruised face, that brow, those eyes. ... A feeling of unrest stirred in his bosom. He returned to his seat.
"I find no cause in this Man," he said. (St. Luke xxiii, 4.)
His accusers had by this time collected their senses. One of them began a long and skilful discourse, in which he cited all the crimes that had been imputed to Jesus, as also the depositions of the false witness.
"This Man," he ended, theatrically, "who appears before you now in so humble a guise, is a disturber of the public peace. He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place. (St. Luke xxiii, 5.) Yes, from Galilee even to Jerusalem have the crowds followed, crying out Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed be the King who cometh in the name of the Lord!" (St. Luke xix, 38.)
"Is he a Galilean?" asked Pilate, eagerly.
"He is of Galilee!" they answered.
"Conduct Him, then, to Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, who is now at Jerusalem. It is the right of Herod to judge Him."
A murmur of disgust arose from the crowd, and the Pharisees and Doctors muttered angrily. Pilate, however, having given his sentence, arose and went into his palace. Weak and of little discernment, he grasped at this means of delivering himself from a most difficult affair—and he seized the opportunity of making Herod his friend by thus deferring to his judgment.
The cortege resumed its march. Some of those who loved Him began to hope, seeing Jesus sent to Herod. Magdalen whispered: "It is said that Herod is much less severe than Pilate." But Mary made no comment. Jesus was accused of sedition.' That was enough to convict Him.
The coming of the Saviour pleased Herod. For a long time he had been curious in His regard, because of the prodigies that were related of Him. He even hoped that this Man, in order to save Himself, might work a miracle in his presence. He questioned Him in many ways. Our Lord said nothing. The chief Priests and the Scribes stood by, earnestly accusing Him. But still the Saviour uttered no word. Jesus, so patient toward the sinner, so merciful to the woman of Samaria and the woman accused of adultery, so mild and clement even toward Judas who betrayed Him, had no word for this great one of the earth.
For He saw in him a heart devoid of all feeling; a soul dead under the weight of the world's riches; an intellect stifled by sensual pleasures, and the wretchedness of a selfish life.
He did not answer Herod, and Herod, angered at His silence, mocked Him. And Herod's soldiers mocked Him. And when they were tired of the sorry sport, Herod dismissed them, saying:
"Put upon Him the white robe of royalty and send Him back to Pilate, that he who is the governor of all Judea may pass what sentence he will upon Him."
For which exchange of courtesies Holy Writ tells us: "Herod and Pilate were made friends that same day; for before they were enemies one to another." (St. Luke xxiii, 12.)
What a price was paid for your soul and for mine!
It was clear now that since Herod had not acquitted Him, Jesus was lost. And the Mother followed as she would follow unto the end. She faced the woe; she took the cup of sorrow to her lips and drained it to the dregs.
The troops set out again for the house of Pilate. When one of his servants brought him the most unwelcome news that the multitude had come back again with the Prisoner, he was much disturbed.
For Jesus was accused of treachery, and Pilate was ambitious. He paid court to the Roman senate. Nevertheless, when he came forth for the second time to receive the High Priests, the senators, and the people who would not enter the praetorium, he was more firmly convinced than ever of the innocence of Jesus.
"You have brought this Man before me, charging Him with attempt to excite the people to revolt. And yet, having examined Him in your presence, I find nothing guilty in Him, nor Herod more than I. I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him." (St. Luke xxiii, 16.)
Magdalen and Jezel trembled. "'But if He is not guilty, why punish Him?" cried the young girl, with the fiery judgment of youth.
The people remained silent.
"It is customary, at the Paschal festival, to release any prisoner for whom you, the people, have a special desire. Take your choice, therefore, Who shall be released to you—Jesus, the Prophet, or Barabbas, the murderer? You may have either one or the other."
He waited complacently for the word that would release Jesus and relieve him of further responsibility. But Claudia Procula, leaning forth from one of the golden-latticed windows to discover the cause of the great commotion, saw Jesus upon the steps. Almost overcome, she called a servant to her quickly.
"Go, go to my lord," she said, "and tell him that during the night I have been greatly disturbed in my dreams because of the just Man who now stands before him. Tell him he must let Him go free— "and not inflict the slightest punishment upon Him!"
This message was carried to Pilate, and added to his indecision and restlessness. He had suggested a most unfortunate compromise. The priests would not be satisfied with anything but the death of Jesus. The people, reminded of their right to choose, rejected the limitation of their choice. True to their leaders, then, and to the passions incited by them, they began to clamor loudly for the release of Barabbas and the death of Jesus.
Pilate sat in dumb astonishment as the cry arose around him.
"What shall I do, then, with Jesus, that is called Christ?" "Let Him be crucified!" "Why, what evil hath He done?" But the tumult arose once more. "Let Him be crucified!" (St. Matthew xxii, 22, 23.)
Louder and louder surged that dreadful cry: "Let Him be crucified! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
The Roman governor wished to resist them still, for his wife, not trusting to the servant, had followed, and concealing herself under a purple hanging, sent him another imploring message.
"Protect this Man! Save Him from death, or shudder at the consequences."