It came to me again last evening as the priest read the passage that tells of Jesus being brought before the High Priest Caiaphas, who rent his garment after hearing that "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?And later, when the Roman soldiers
had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.John's account confirms all this, differing in only minor details:
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine.
- Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
- And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so?
- Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?...Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Imagine, though, being one of the soldiers, either Roman or Jew, who mock Him with insult, slap Him around, torture Him with scourge and thorn (the scalp bleeds easily and heavily; if you've ever had it happen, you know how frightening it can be), and beat Him with a "reed," probably a wooden stick. If the Shroud of Turin has any credibility left, the effects of these cumulative blows were still visible after His death. All the while, when you bother to gaze upon the face of the object of your torment and derision, you look, unknowingly, into the eyes of your very maker, the One without whom you would not even exist. (One can't help but wonder what the gaze of Jesus offered in return - love, sadness, grief, or all three? -certainly not anger - to you, His own creation, even in His agony.) The man you torture and eventually put to death knew from all eternity that he would make this specific creature, you. He knew your goodness in its origin, and knows now what you have become, and knows as well your eternal fate. Your soul is a secret to yourself, while He reads it as He suffers. Is there any hope for such a man? You, that is? For me? Mere irony cannot describe the situation; there is in it something so fundamentally and perversely disordered that it seems our very existence, in its foundation, can hardly be justified.
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Most of us recoil in horror at the thought of laying a hand in enmity on the Source of all love, of doing Him harm. In fact, because most of us so hate what evil people do when they harm the innocent, our instincts lie entirely with Peter who "having a sword, drew it and smote the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus."
Yet, we cannot but wonder if - had we been officers of the High Priest or soldiers in Pilate's service - we would have followed the commands of those in power - followed, in other words, the crowd.
He asked His Father to forgive us, we not knowing what we do. Ain't it the truth. It's all too much for the imagination (and the intellect), mine anyway, and so I'll let it go once more and look forward to the Resurrection. It's easier to think about, if equal in mystery.