The Victim Prepared

The wild cry of the whole people, "We have no King but Caesar" has scarcely died away before "Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required." The rejection of the Messias-King was complete and "Jesus was delivered up to their will."

The Roman Governor, who has upon his soul the blood of a Man he had repeatedly declared to be innocent, is scrupulous about the requirements of the law in passing this most unjust and iniquitous sentence. Vested in the robes of his office and wearing the insignia of his authority, accompanied by officers and soldiers, Pilate ascended the judgment-seat and proceeded to pronounce sentence. The formal condemnation was uttered in all probability after the manner of the Romans, and so the Governor, with eyes fixed upon the Victim of his injustice, unmoved by the pitiable condition in which his Prisoner was, in a ringing voice of authority, gave judgment: "You will die upon the cross; let the lictors prepare the instrument of torture and of justice."

In Rome an interval of two days intervened between the condemnation of a criminal and his execution. But no such respite was to be permitted to our Blessed Saviour. He was not to be alive on the festival day to mar the holy rites and sacred solemnities by His unwelcome and hated presence. The desire of His enemies for a speedy carrying out of the sentence was too eager and too keen to permit of any delay. When the lights would shine out that night in the Temple precincts in preparation for the solemnity of the Paschal Lamb, there must be no life in the Immaculate Lamb of God, the true Paschal Victim, whose slaying is able to do away with the sins of men if they will but apply that Blood to their sin-stained souls.

Once more, then, the Prisoner is disrobed and robed anew. How the glare of publicity must have sunk into the delicate, crushed soul of our Blessed Saviour! It must have been like the pouring of vinegar on a raw, exposed nerve; yet there was no murmur, no complaint. The purple cloak was torn from His sensitive and tortured shoulders. The wounds re-opened and once more the Precious Blood flowed down His limbs to the marble pavement of the Praetorium. Those sacred wounds, "poor dumb mouths," were pleading so eloquently in their silence, but there were none in that vast throng to listen or hear. Arrayed now in His own garments and in the blood stained seamless robe which His Mother's deft fingers had lovingly fashioned long ago in the quiet prayerful days at Nazareth, He stands meekly in the presence of His triumphant enemies ready to be led to execution.

Truly, as Holy Writ said, "Jesus he delivered up to their will." Why should they so maltreat Him? Why did they wish to wreak their vengeance upon Him? Even an unbelieving scoffing Roman Governor had asked them despairingly: "What evil hath He done?" He had declared that he found no cause in Him; had said that if they would force his hands to this wicked deed and pushed him to condemn, then he would be "innocent of the blood of this just Man." In all the world, throughout every age, from the beginning of time, there is no witness that could tell of a single soul that He had ever harmed. "The bruised reed He shall not break, the smoking flax He shall not quench," said the prophet as he peered down through the dark unknown time, and saw in vision the sinless Beloved of the Father.

On the other hand, how much good He had done! In the first place, He loved each one of us with an eternal love. Back in the everlasting years before the Angels sprang, in all their beauty, from the creative hand of God, the Eternal Son loved us with a love deeper than the sea and wider than the ocean. Then when the fulness of time had come, He came as a little Child in the silent midnight to the wind-swept cave of Bethlehem, to win our hearts. In all His up-growing years, at Nazareth, by the fascination of His beauty, and the humbler lessons of maturer years, He strove to draw our souls to Him in confidence and affection. His public life is summed up by the Gospel in these pregnant words: "He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil." He touched the eyes of the blind, and made them see; deaf ears that had never heard the music of a mother's voice, had opened by His power. At His command the scales fell from the festering limbs of the leper, and the health and vigor of other days returned. The sin-stained soul of Magdalene by His cleansing grace was made whiter than the snow of Libanus. No harsh sound of reproach came from His lips to the poor sinner for whose death men clamored in the Temple porch. No disease of body, no anguish of spirit, no agony of soul, no bruise of heart, laid before Him, ever went unsoothed and unhealed.

How true then were His gentle reproaches and how truly He might have repeated them at the moment of His condemnation! These words had been uttered only a few weeks before within the very precincts of the Temple, when His life was sought: "Many good works have I shown to you. For which of these do you stone Me?" Yet even at this moment when He was "delivered to their will" and His enemies were rejoicing and congratulating each other upon the success of their efforts for the death of their Victim, our Lord was saying to their spirits: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as the hen doth gather her chickens, under her wing, and thou wouldst not!" In return they forced the hand of the Roman Governor to sign His death-warrant.

There is at times a temptation to wonder how after such ingratitude, as our Lord experienced, He could have continued at all to love us and His enemies. Yet, as He awaited His cross, His Heart went out to the Priests and Ancients and people and to each one of us, with an enormous, unimaginable love, as ceaseless as the swell and fall of the never-resting tide on the ocean's shore.

He was condemned that Parasceve of the Pasch at the sixth hour, condemned by a cowardly Roman Governor, by an envious and vindictive priesthood, by the proud, jealous rulers of the nation, condemned by a blind and stubborn multitude, but Saint Paul tells us "there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." He might be condemned by the Roman Governor, but He is unwilling to condemn those who clamor for His death.

If we are "in Him" by faith in His teachings and the daily following of His example, or if, having fallen away from Him, we return as Peter did and repent, if we habitually strive to grow closer to Him in our temptations, our pains, our sorrow, then surely no words of condemnation upon us will ever fall from His lips. We are on trial. We may judge and condemn ourselves often; it will be well if we do; but as long as we cling to Him and make His sufferings a living memory in our lives and a power and an influence in our actions, then His sweet voice will never utter against us the fatal sentence nor will He ever cast us off and banish us from His love and exile us from His home. For "there is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."

"Jesus he delivered up to their will." They would not have had any power over Him unless He had been offered up because He willed. It was now their hour and the hour of the powers of darkness. Pilate had condemned Him and delivered Him up to their will, yet no word of complaint escaped His lips. A single whisper of omnipotence would have calmed that raging sea of hatred and stifled that infuriated mob, just as by His word He had calmed the waves of Galilee's sea and silenced the boisterous winds. Yet that word He would not speak as He stood alone and deserted and condemned on the Parasceve of the Pasch. The mob thought Him guilty, they had chosen Barabbas instead of Christ. They wanted Him sentenced to death, and now the sentence had been passed. "Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required."

- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke