Some knowledge of the cruelties, perpetrated in the barrack-yard on their Prisoner, must have reached the expectant throng without. Possibly echoes of the ribald laughter and jeering mockery may have reached the fringe of the waiting multitude. Pilate had given the soldiers a free hand in their treatment of the helpless Victim in their fiendish sport, so that our Lord, being reduced to a most pitiable spectacle, His appearance might move the hearts of His enemies to forgiveness. But the wild cry that in a few moments went up for His blood, like the cry of a wounded, frightened beast in the forest at night, soon killed all hope in the heart of the Governor.
The hum and buzz of the voices suddenly ceased; tense silence hung over the vast crowd; the people pushed forward, stretching their necks, looking between or over the heads of those in front of them. Their curiosity had been aroused. They were eager to see the Prisoner who had been absent for a time. Surely He was a strange sight. They had never before seen a man crowned with thorns. The soiled purple mantle does not hide the ghastly wounds which bleed afresh as He walks slowly leaving a trail of blood on the marble pavement. His Sacred Face covered with dust and spittle, is marred by bruises and cuts. His step is slow and halting in His approach towards Pilate. Now, indeed, enmity will be disarmed and worldly fears allayed. Such an object of ruthless cruelty and injustice will move the populace to a revolution of feeling in His favor. Never was a man more deceived as to the sentiments of a mob, and the Governor soon found out that his calculations had sadly miscarried.
"Pilate, therefore, went forth again, and said to them, Behold, I bring Him forth to you, that you may know, I find no cause in Him. So Jesus came forth, bearing the crown of thorns, and the purple garment. And he said to them: 'Behold the Man.'" Pilate was elated and full of hope, sure of the success of his scheme. He surveyed with bright eyes and smiling glance the silent, expectant throng. And in a loud voice he said to them: "Behold the Man. Here is the Man you feared so much, here is the man whom you regarded as the destroyer of your sacred customs and traditions, who forbade tribute to Caesar, the leader who was to drive the Roman legions from your land and restore the kingdom of Israel, look upon Him and see how the Roman authorities have dealt with Him and His pretensions." He then smilingly and confidently paused for a reply.
All for a moment was silent, as calm as a forest at quiet midnight. It was the lull before the storm, the calm before the earthquake. The first who saw our Lord in His pitiable condition were His relentless and remorseless enemies, and these could be moved to mercy and tenderness by no power in the tongue of man, by no cruelty, by no injustice, however great, inflicted on their hated Victim. "When the chief Priests, therefore, and the Ancients had seen Him, they cried out, saying: "Crucify Him, crucify Him! The sight of our Blessed Saviour, far from appeasing their lust for vengeance and for blood, only incited them to greater fury and louder clamor for His death.
"Behold the Man." When the children of Israel murmured against Moses in the desert "the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents, which bit them and killed many of them." Moses, however, through the mercy of God, came to their relief. "He, therefore, made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign; which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed." Likewise at that most sacrilegious hour in the Praetorium, God permitted Pilate to urge the people to "behold the Man," but inflamed by hatred, blinded by passion, urged on by their Priests, the people looked up and heeded not. If they had beheld the Man-God with eyes of faith and trust instead of shrieking and yelling for His blood, instead of shouting in anger, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" they would have fallen on their knees in repentant worship and love. God's pardon and grace would have enveloped them.
In the days of King Assuerus it was death to go into the royal presence unless summoned. Queen Esther in spite of this risked her life and looked unbidden upon the King's countenance and her prayer was granted. In our lives we need have no fear to "behold the Man," our King. We require no command to look up into the face of our suffering Saviour. Indeed did we raise our eyes to that terrible and blood-stained countenance often, our petitions would be granted and our prayers heard. Were we more frequently to "behold the Man," and look upon Him whom we have pierced, "who is the chastisement of our peace," we should learn to love Him daily more and more. Our weak, timid souls would be stronger and braver and our hearts stouter for the doing of His will.
"Behold the Man!" Look up at that divine Face with love as Mary looked upon it. To the Priests and Jews, on that day, there was no beauty or comeliness in it, yet God's angels looked upon it in awe and reverence. To Mary, it was more beautiful now in its disfigurement than when she first pressed His childish Face to her bosom at Bethlehem or saw it lit up in awe and prayer with the radiance of the Godhead during the silent years of Nazareth.
The face is the mirror of the soul. It reflects in line and curve and color the emotions of the heart. Only His Mother knew the tale of humiliation, suffering and sorrow that sweet Face told on Good Friday. It reflected no sign of anger or reproach; no flash of indignant lightning and no thunder-cloud of punishment darkened the brow. Nought could be seen there but kindness, pardon and love. But no eye of people, Priest or Roman read aught of affection in that sacred countenance when Pilate bade them, "Behold the Man."
The command of the Governor had scarcely died away among the multitude when the throng took up the wild cry of the Priests and hurled back into the teeth of Pilate their response to his suggestion; they cried out for the condemnation of our Saviour in that wild shout, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" For a moment the proud and disappointed Roman was surprised and stunned; his plans to keep his soul free from the guilt of judicial murder had failed. His schemes had been foiled. In weakness and sarcasm, Pilate said to them: "Take Him you and crucify Him, for I find no cause in Him."
Here is the testimony of the representative of Imperial Rome to Christ's innocence. The Jews in their response gave the reason for their insistence upon the death penalty for they answered him: "We have a law and according to that law He should die, because He made Himself the Son of God." This reply made a deep impression upon the Governor for "when Pilate, therefore, had heard this saying, he feared the more. And he entered into the hall again, and he said to Jesus: 'Whence art Thou?'" Surely here is a strong light cast upon the bearing of our Blessed Saviour during all the tortures and insults to which He has been subjected, for even Pilate was filled with fear, and leading Him into the hall sought further converse with Him. The impression produced at the beginning must have been deepened on the mind of Pilate, as the long weary hours of anxiety and agony wore away. To the question put to Him by the Governor, our Lord gave no answer. Fear and cowardice had so blinded Pilate to his duty that no reply of our Blessed Saviour would have penetrated the darkness that enveloped him. And when Pilate in protest at our Lord's silence, claimed power to release or crucify Him, Jesus answered: "Thou shouldst not have any power against Me unless it were given thee from above. Therefore He that hath delivered Me to thee hath the greater sin." "And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release Him."
It is, however, too late. The spark of justice which begins to glow in his soul will soon die down and be extinguished. His efforts for the release of the Prisoner will soon relax under the opposition offered by the Jews. He had said boldly a few moments ago, "I find no cause in Him. I will let Him go." But he is too weak to make good his threat. Instead of acting as a Roman Governor wielding the supreme power, who can say the word that would make the Victim a free Man, he timidly goes forth to parley with our Lord's astute, keen and stubborn adversaries.
The end is now in sight. The more insistent the Governor is in his endeavors to save Christ, the more determined are the Jews upon His death. Pilate will weaken, as the moments drag on and the opposition grows. Like a man struggling in the storm with the wild billows of the sea, his strength is fast ebbing away and at length, weak and exhausted, he gives up the struggle. He yields under the wild fierce cry, "If thou release this Man thou are not Caesar's friend, for whoever maketh Himself a King speaketh against Caesar." This is too much, more than he can stand. A courier tomorrow might hurriedly start on his way to Rome to report to his imperial master that, contrary to the urgent wishes of the Sanhedrin, the Governor had released a would-be King, a rival to the Roman crown and sceptre. This could never be. Such a danger no Governor in the provinces would dare run. Caesar had the power of life and death. His favor meant position and success; his frown, political ruin and annihilation.
One more feeble effort, one more half-hearted attempt to liberate his Victim and all is over. "Now when Pilate had heard these words he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in the place that is called Lithostrotos and in Hebrew Gabbatha,' and it was the Parasceve of the Pasch, about the sixth hour, and he said to the Jews: Behold your King.' But they cried out, Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him! Pilate saith to them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief Priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.' Then, therefore, he delivered Him to them to be crucified."
All is over, the chief Priests, the representatives of the nation, repudiate Christ and will not have Him reign over them. On the anniversary of their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and the tyranny of Pharao they rejected their true Deliverer and King. The blood that marked their door-posts in Egypt freed them from the avenging Angel, but the blood trickling down the Face of Christ could not free them from their blasphemy and apostasy because they would not apply it to their souls. Moses said of old, "I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life." On the Parasceve of the Pasch at the sixth hour, the Jews chose death, when they cried out, "We have no king but Caesar." Everyone who stains his soul with the guilt of sin, every man who refuses to walk in the way of God's Commandments, joins that throng outside the Praetorium of Pilate in the wild cry for blood, and shouting "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" chooses death.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke