CHAPTER XXXVII. THE CONDEMNATION. Part 3.
|Ecce Homo (Bosch, 1470s)|
Casting fear aside, he ordered Jesus to be scourged, as the usual preliminary to crucifixion. Stripping Our Lord to the waist, the soldiers bound Him to a low pillar, that bending He might be in a better position to receive the lashes of the instrument of torture—a leather thong, loaded at its tips with lead or iron.
The scourging began. The Mother of sorrows heard the blows that descended upon the flesh of her Son and her God*
You, who have suffered through the pain of one you dearly loved ... oh, was your grief like hers? What are torments or sufferings ever endured compared to hers when she beheld that cherished body mangled in such a manner by the hands of men ?
And that Son of man, the fruit of her womb, is divine; that flesh, whipped and torn, is divine! That silent Victim is the Son of God, God of God and Light of Light!
But ... at this very moment . . . . when the Man God is overwhelmed with most frightful physical agony, He looks upon a horrible vision. He sees all who will withdraw themselves from His Redemption, the schisms, the divisions, the incredulity of future ages. Irreligious luxury. Pride that would call itself Philosophy. His soul is burdened with every sin, every crime, every evil which ignorance and blindness commit. The iniquities of earth's creatures tear at His soul as the lashes tear at His body.
But now the scourging was over, and the Roman soldiers, who have no pity for this Victim, who belonged to the hated Jewish race, would carry their sport still further. They clothed Him, therefore, with a purple cloak, and they put a crown of thorns upon His head, and they placed a reed as scepter in His bruised hands.
And then began an hour of cruel jest and ribald play. They mocked Him. They prostrated themselves upon the ground before Him. They struck Him and asked Him to prophesy whose hand inflicted the blow. They laughed and jested and paid court of cruelty to Jesus, the King of the Jews.
When Pilate beheld Jesus in this frightful condition, he was moved with compassion. He could not understand why the people could want Him punished further. He himself, therefore, led Him forward and presented Him.
"Behold the Man!" he exclaimed. "I bring Him forth unto you that you may know that I find no cause in Him!" (St. John xix, 4.)
Behold the Man more bruised by the sins which He has taken upon Himself than by the scourging, more wounded by the crimes of men than by the tearing of His flesh. In the presence of such suffering, such meekness, the people were silent. Then the voices of the chief Priests and their servants sounded clamorously.
"Crucify Him!" they screamed. "Crucify Him!"
Pilate was incensed at this implacable hatred.
"Take Him you, and crucify Him; for I find no cause in Him," he exclaimed, resolved that he would not put Jesus to death. But the crafty Jewish leaders rose up once more.
"We have a law," they cried, "and according to the Law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God!"
Again Pilate wavered between fear and sympathy. He went back to the hall.
"Whence art thou?" he demanded in desperation.
Jesus did not answer.
"Speakest Thou not to me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and I have power to release Thee?"
That thorn-crowned head was raised wearily. Those worn eyes gazed out at him from that bloodstained face.
"Thou shouldst not have any power against Me unless it were given thee from above," said Jesus. "Therefore he that hath delivered Me to thee hath the greater sin."
"I—I can not! I will not condemn this Man to death!" said Pilate. "I—"
"If thou release this Man thou art not Caesar's friend!" said the Priests with a sneer. "For whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar!"
The Roman Procurator was no match for his wily opponents. They threatened him with the thing he feared the most on earth—the displeasure of the Emperor. This decided his course of action. He felt himself compelled to give the final sentence. But first he offered a sop to his own accusing conscience. In the midst of the tumult that now ensued he ordered his servants to bring him water. Standing there, in the sight of the assembled multitude, he washed his hands. This singular action quieted the noise for a moment. The silence that followed allowed the voice of the Roman to be heard most plainly as he disowned all share in this horrible crime.
"I am innocent of the blood of this just Man!" he exclaimed. "Look ye to it."
A yell answered him—and the voice of every demon in every lane and alley and byway of hell joined to make that shout as loud as loudest thunderclap:
"His blood be upon us; and upon our children !"
At this frightful cry, the Virgin moaned, and buried her head in her hands. Magdalen and the others were terror-stricken — they expected the heavens to open and annihilate these unfortunate wretches. Pilate's face whitened. Inside the grated window Claudia, his wife, heaved a great sigh and fell unconscious to the ground. Yet with that same hand which he had just washed and purified, he signed the sentence of Jesus' condemnation. Our Saviour was led forth once more.
"Behold your King!"
"Away with Him! Crucify Him!"
"Shall I crucify your King?"
"We have no king but Caesar!"
The condemnation was given.
"Conduct to the place of punishment Jesus of Nazareth, who incites the people to revolt, despises Caesar, and calls Himself falsely the Messias. Go, lictor, prepare the cross."
Hearing this, Magdalen trembled, and sank almost unconscious to the ground. Salome and the other women supported her. Only Mary remained —Mary, the Mother of the Man condemned. She saw nothing but her Son. Her soul was in her eyes, and across the sea of hatred and passion that surged between them their pure gaze met. She could almost read His thoughts. "The work advances," He was saying to her in His heart, and her heart heard.
In the meantime an echo repeated in the air: "Prepare the cross!" A second repeated it; a third which seemed to come from the heavens above re-echoed the phrase:
"Prepare the cross, whence is to issue salvation to the world."
But the frantic, maddened, devil-driven multitude heard nothing. Neither the voices of heaven nor those of earth; nor the smothered wailings of Mary Magdalen, nor the pitiful sobs and cries for pardon and justice from those who accompanied her.