The whizzing of the lashes was silent at last and the cruel scourging ended; but no pitying eye rested on that poor blood-stained Victim, and no strong arms were lifted to support Him in His weakness. Mary was not there to staunch with loving touch the flowing of the Blood and to whisper a word of comfort to her agonizing Son. "Then the soldiers of the Governor, taking Jesus into the hall, gathered together unto Him the whole band, and stripping Him, they put a scarlet cloak about Him. And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand, and bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews/ And spitting upon Him, they took the reed and struck His head." Such is the description left us by Saint Matthew of the next scene in the awful tragedy of our Saviour's passion. When the scourging was over the appetite of the rough unfeeling soldiers was whetted for more cruelties and indignities for their helpless Prisoner. They led Him into the barrack-yard of the palace and urged by the evil spirit, by the promptings of the Priests, by their desire to win favor with the Governor, and by their own coarse natures, they proceeded to the carrying out of the details pictured by the Evangelist.
A week previously our Lord had distinctly said that He would be delivered to the Gentiles to be mocked. The Jewish Priests and their servants had fulfilled this prophecy to the letter. They had made a plaything of the Man-God in the palaces of the Priests. Now the Gentiles are to have their hour of amusement and holiday at our Blessed Saviour's expense. Again they strip Him of His garments and all the agony of His wounds is renewed. The flesh quivers, the wounds smart and once more the Precious Blood flows down on the pavement; but this suffering was slight compared to the pain inflicted upon the Sacred Heart from the rude violation of His unspeakable sense of delicacy and modesty.
Upon His bleeding shoulders they flung in derision the ragged cast-off purple cloak of a soldier; anything was good enough if it would serve as a source of ridicule to His royal pretensions. The broken base of a column will do for a throne upon which for a pastime they enthrone their King. A reed is thrust between His bound hands and then twining a crown of sharp thorns, they placed it upon His sacred head. After this wild orgy of cruelty, "they began to salute Him, 'Hail, King of the Jews.' And they struck His head with a reed and they did spit on Him, and bending knees, they adored Him."
How terrible this drama of pain and humiliation! How fruitful of salutary lessons for us! It was fitting that on that day a crown should have been placed upon our Lord's head. Kings are anointed and crowned and was not Christ the King of Kings? Did holy Anna, when she chanted her Canticle in Silo, see in spirit this coronation, as she sang of the Messias, "The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, and He shall give empire to His king, and shall exalt the horn of His Christ"? Our Blessed Saviour was King by divine right from the eternal years, and today He is anointed in His Blood and crowned King over the hearts of men.
When Samuel anointed Saul king in Rama, he said to all the people: "Surely you see there is none like him, whom the Lord has chosen, and the people cried out, God save the king ." But on the day of our Lord s crowning, there is no voice raised to proclaim Him truly King. Seated on the broken pillar with the thorns piercing His Sacred Head, and with a reed in His hand, He is an object of derision to His enemies. Yet Saint Paul, quoting the Psalmist, says of Him, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever, a sceptre of Juda is the sceptre of Thy Kingdom." Yet at that hour in the midst of His enemies, no lips moved to say, "God save the King."
In Gihon, outside the walls of Jerusalem, Solomon was made king of Israel, for we read "Sadoc, the priest and Nathan the prophet, have anointed him king of Gihon; and they have gone from thence rejoicing so that the city rang again" with shouts of triumph and welcome to the king. How different the anointing of the Solomon of the New Law! No priest with consecrated hand poured oil upon His sacred head as the Blood trickled down from the thorn-pierced wounds. The only joy that day was in the hearts of His enemies, the Priests, Ancients and people, who were glad that He did not reign over Israel and that His regal pretensions were at an end. They mocked and scorned Him at His coronation, and they crowned Him not with the golden diadem, but with a crown of thorns which had grown in their own and our sinful hearts.
It was fitting that He should be crowned, for conquerors are crowned. When the Roman generals came home with their trophies and their captives, they were crowned by a grateful people. In the honors of their crowning, in the hour of their triumph, amid the plaudits and huzzas of their reception, they forgot the labors, fatigues and dangers of their struggles and wore in pride the fillet of victory twined about their heads. On that day our Lord was a conqueror. No conquest in the history of the world is comparable to His at the hour of His humiliation.
When King David was anointed in Hebron, he became king over all Israel and went forth with his troops to conquer the City of Sion. The Ancients also of Israel came to the king in Hebron, and King David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David to be king over Israel." After his anointing, he went forth against the Jebusites, stormed and took the Sacred City and secured the castle of Sion. He went on prospering and growing more powerful; the Lord God of Hosts was with him and victory was marked upon his standard.
Today our Lord, after His crowning, is the victor over His great enemy, pride of life. The sight of that thorn-crowned bleeding head was to invigorate uncounted souls through the centuries in their struggle against pride, vanity and ambition. Kneeling in spirit in that barrack-yard, listening to the mockery and derision of His enemies unnumbered brave men and women have cried out: "Vain pomp and glory of the world, I hate you." Looking up at that Divine suffering Face, they said to Him: "Thou art the glory of Jerusalem; the hand of the Lord has strengthened Thee and Thou shalt be blessed forever. On that Good Friday men bent the knee before Thee in mockery, but at Thy name, down all the ages, every knee on earth, in heaven and hell shall bend." Was there ever such a conquest in the world's history? Was there ever such a conqueror, so fittingly crowned?
Of old victims were crowned and decked out for the sacrifice, and had to be spotless and without blemish. Nothing soiled or tarnished could be crowned and offered upon the altar. On Good Friday, before the Great Sacrifice consummated at the ninth hour, the Divine Victim, who was also the High Priest, was crowned and prepared. Surely He was without blemish for He was "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world." Upon His bleeding shoulders rested the iniquities of us all, and He bore all our sins. Every wound and hurt upon Him was of our doing; He was offered up for our healing, because He willed it. So with laughter and cruel jibe, they crowned Him on the day of His espousals with our souls. On that day with the crown of thorns upon His head, He became our High Priest offering Himself in the only sacrifice which could be pleasing to the Father, and in atonement for sin. Every pain was suffered, every agony endured, every humiliation embraced, every indignity gladly borne, all was willingly accepted for our love. Saint Paul makes this clear when he says: "Christ did not glorify Himself, that He might be made a High Priest, but He that said unto Him: Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee; and He said also in another place, Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech,' who in the days of the flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him who was able to save Him from death, was heard for His reverence, and whereas indeed He was the Son of God, He learned obedience of the things which He suffered. And, being consummated, He became to all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation, called by God, a High Priest, according ta the order of Melchisedech."
So prostrate in spirit in the barrack-yard, amid the rough and heartless soldiers, making a pastime of the suffering of the Eternal Son of God, we can look upon Him whom we have pierced, our King, our Conqueror and Priestly Victim, and see on His head the diadem wherewith we have crowned Him in the day of His espousals.
Shall we learn the lesson so needed by us all, shall we still allow pride to rule our lives? He was innocent, we are guilty. "What evil hath He done?" Pilate had asked and nought of sin could be cast in His face. What answer could we make, were the question asked of us? They compared Him with Barabbas, and yet how many Barabbases we have preferred to Him?
See Him now, cut and bleeding with the soiled, purple cloak upon His smarting shoulders, the reed in His Hand and the crown on His Head. There are none to comfort Him. The priests plot for His death; His Apostles abandon Him; the people clamor for His Blood; Judas, one of the Twelve, has betrayed Him. Shall we refuse His pleading and deny Him our heart's love and our life's service? Years have gone by, one by one. We have looked for peace and joy elsewhere and not found them. Through every day of each of those dead years, He has urged and begged and prayed and entreated us to acknowledge Him as our King, yet we have put Him off and would not. Shall we not let Him now conquer our hearts and reign truly over our lives? Life is hurrying away and we have less time to give. Delay is always dangerous; surely we do not want to fling into His Sacred Face the dregs of ill-spent years. There can be no peace, rest, brightness in all our remaining years, outside of His love. We shall find His service a joy that is more than a match for every sorrow, a strength above every weakness, a courage that downs any cowardice, a reward in itself towering far above any sacrifice; and so, we shall bow the knee today and say, "Hail to our thorn-crowned King," and at length give Him our poor, tired, weary hearts, and He will reign over them.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke