JESUS CROWNED WITH THORNS, IS SHOWN BY PILATE TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE
"Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no cause in him... So Jesus came forth, bearing the Crown of Thorns and the purple garment, and Pilate said to the Jews: Behold the man." (Jn. 19:4)
Every circumstance in the passion of our Lord is a ray of divine wisdom and a token of his mercy. The eternal Son of God became man to save mankind from everlasting misery. Among all the nations of the earth the Jewish people were the object of his predilection. In his human generation Jesus belonged to the tribe of Juda. He was born in Judea, and lived among the Jews, doing good to every one. They have returned to their best benefactor evil for good. Their malice and hatred have reduced him to the most piteous condition, for which they deserve the severest punishment. Before going to die, however, our merciful Lord desires to make a touching appeal to the hearts of his enemies that, being moved by his sufferings and converted to God by his grace, they may avert the terrible chastisements that are already impending upon their guilty and stubborn heads. In his divine wisdom and mercy, our loving Savior allowed himself to be severely scourged and crowned with thorns that the sight of his excessive sufferings may move the heart of the Jews to commiseration, more towards themselves than for him. On this remarkable occasion our divine Lord employed three powerful motives to obtain his end, namely, the example of the Roman Governor, his own innocence, and the severity of his sufferings. All this we learn from the words which Pilate addressed to the Jewish people. Let us examine them.
1. "Pilate went forth again and saith to them: Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no cause in him." Light and darkness, truth and error, good and evil, vice and virtue are better known by contrast. The Jews had the true religion of the living God. They were taught by His heavenly doctrines which had been revealed to them by Him.
They should therefore be guided in their conduct by truth, justice and charity. The noblest sentiments and the best feelings of human nature should appear developed in their character. The Jews should be models of all virtues to the pagan world, by which they are surrounded. "Be ye holy, because I am holy," God said to them. Pilate is an idolater in religion; he was born and brought up in paganism; he could have but very little knowledge of Jewish moral laws, and of their religious practices. As a Roman Governor and the representative of the Roman Empire he was sent to Judea to administer justice and law according to Roman jurisprudence. Nevertheless, Pilate, deprived of the light of revelation, but guided by principles of sound reason, and of natural law, fully perceives the innocence of our Lord, and boldly proclaims it to the chief priests, Jewish magistrates and people. "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him." Pilate is so thoroughly convinced of the innocence of our Savior, that he insists upon this fact on three different occasions, though he perceives that his appeal to justice was highly disagreeable and irritating to the Jewish people. "He said to them the third time: What evil hath this man done? I find no cause of death in him." (Lk. 23:22) Pilate, a pagan—Pilate, a high officer of a powerful emperor and the authorized representative of the vast Roman Empire, officially recognizes and proclaims the innocence of Jesus of Nazareth, whilst the Jewish people, his compatriots and co-religionists, are obstinately determined upon condemning him to the most infamous and cruel death of the worst of malefactors. Neither the example of the Roman Governor, nor the well known fact of the innocence and extraordinary holiness of Jesus, have any effect upon the stubborn minds of the Jews. They deserve to be abandoned to their malice and reprobate sense. Their reason being willfully obscured by prejudice, our merciful Lord makes the last and strongest appeal to their innate feelings of humanity, and to their natural sentiments of commiseration for his extreme sufferings.
He has for himself no fear of torments, no dread of death. He ardently desires to be immolated for the salvation of man. But our merciful Savior is most anxious for the conversion of the Jewish people. He knows that this cannot be effected, if he succeed to excite in their heart feelings of natural compassion which, through the power of his divine grace, he intends to raise to sentiments of supernatural charity that will convert their hearts and sanctify their souls. Can we hope that his merciful intentions will be understood and appreciated by the Jewish people? Let us see.
2. Among the Romans there was a truly wise and humane custom of placing the culprit in the presence of his judge before this magistrate officially pronounced the final sentence. It was reasonably supposed that the presence of the unhappy prisoner, haggard, confused, trembling at his impending doom, suffering from internal anguish, pale and emaciated from long imprisonment in some horrible dungeon, and then wounded and bleeding from bodily tortures inflicted upon him during his trial, would naturally move to compassion the heart of his judge and thus be pardoned and acquitted by him altogether, or at least be induced to grant a more mild and lighter sentence. The sight of human misery naturally affects the heart of our fellow men. A wounded and bleeding human being strongly excites to compassion every well-disposed person. Quintilian relates, that the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, having been treacherously assassinated by Brutus and his fellow conspirators, Mark Antony took in his hand the bloody tunic of the murdered emperor, and from the steps of the Capitol he showed it to the Roman people, urging them to detest and punish the authors of that horrible crime. The sight of the imperial dress riddled with numerous stabs and crimsoned with the fresh blood of their great emperor, excited the deepest feelings of horror in the breasts of the vast multitude of people, assembled for the occasion. They immediately, by a common impulse, started in search of Brutus and of his colleagues to wreak vengeance upon them, but not being able to find them, because they had hastily escaped from the city, the people burned their houses down to the ground. (Quintil. Lib. 6. inst. 1) The Roman Governor Pilate, being well informed in the history of his country, was fully aware of this fact... He perceived, however, his advantage over Mark Antony, who could exhibit to the Roman people the bloody garment only of the murdered emperor; but Pilate could show to the chief priests, Jewish magistrates and people, the wounded and bleeding body of our suffering Lord, wearing upon his adorable head the horrible Crown of Thorns. "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that you may know that I find no cause in him.... So Jesus came forth bearing the Crown of Thorns and the purple garment."
3. From the first moment that the Roman Governor saw our Redeemer, he was deeply struck with his noble, dignified and saintly appearance. During his examination Pilate discovered in our Lord great wisdom, prudence and virtue. He conceived for him great esteem and respect; and was anxious to save him from the hands of his enemies. But when our Lord was brought before him after his horrible scourging and crowning with thorns, his heart was deeply moved.... Supposing the same feelings of humanity to exist in the breasts of the Jews, the Governor led our suffering Savior to the rails of the balcony of his palace, facing a large square whereon a vast multitude of people were assembled. As soon as he appeared, the eyes of all were turned upon our Lord, who stood before them with his eyes modestly cast down. The people beheld his head crowned with sharp thorns which made the blood flow in streams upon his face, wan with suffering sorrow. He wore a scarlet cloak upon his shoulders, which partially covered and concealed his wounded body. Pilate remained standing in a dignified attitude at the right side of our Lord, surveying for some moments the excited multitude of human beings before him. Then with his left hand he lifted up the limb of the red mantle of our Savior and, with an expression of profound emotion, pointing with his right hand to the wounded and bleeding body of our meek and suffering Lord, Pilate, with a deep and tremulous voice, said to the Jews: Ecce Homo -"Behold the Man." Pilate evidently intended to say more, for this short sentence is incomplete. Reflect that he went to the balcony determined to appeal in his behalf to the Jewish people, and more especially to the chief priests and civil magistrates to obtain our Savior's acquittal.
Why, then, did he utter only two short words? The reason evidently is that the Roman Governor was horrified at the barbarity with which our dear Lord had been treated by the heartless executioners at the scourging and crowning with thorns. He was deeply afflicted at their savage cruelty, and keenly felt the injustice and excessive severity of the punishment inflicted, contrary to his expectation, upon the holy and innocent Victim bleeding and agonizing before his eyes. As he attempted to speak, Pilate was overcome by his feelings. Stretching out his hand, trembling with emotion towards our suffering Lord, he uttered with a faltering voice these affecting words: Ecce Homo. "Behold the man.".. .Children of Israel—Pilate intended to say—Children of Israel, this suffering person before your eyes is a man like you. Look at him .... See the pitiable condition to which he is now reduced. Look at his head crowned with thorns .... Behold his face livid and swollen, disfigured by hard blows, and besmeared with gore .... Look at his whole body, covered from head to foot with gaping wounds, streaming with blood. He has scarcely the appearance of a man. In this horrible condition he cannot naturally live long. He must soon die. Even barbarians are moved to compassion towards a wounded and dying enemy. The very beasts of the forest cease tearing an unresisting and helpless victim. Children of Israel, have pity on Jesus of Nazareth, who has done so much good to you and has caused no harm to any person. Let him now die in peace. Were he to recover from his present desperate condition, and live for some years longer, his body shall remain so disfigured with scars, and the shame of his present degradation will ever be so overwhelming upon his mind, that he could never dare to appear before you, or before any civilized society. Have, therefore, mercy upon him. Ecce Homo. "Behold the man."
4. These moving words of Pilate were chiefly intended for the leading men among the Jews. As Governor of the province he was well aware of the power and influence of the Jewish magistrates and priests over the people. It was the chief priests and magistrates who had delivered our Lord into his hands and manifested great eagerness for his condemnation to death. Pilate justly thought that if he could succeed to gain them to his views, our Lord could be saved. He naturally felt that the sight of our Savior, most horribly scourged and crowned with thorns, should touch and move their hearts, as it had affected his own. St. Lawrence Justinian, the holy Patriarch of Venice, in his admirable book on the Passion of our Lord, treating on this very subject, the Ecce Homo, says: "I believe that the most efficacious means to calm the anger of irritated men and to excite in their breasts feelings of compassion towards any suffering person threatened by them with more serious injuries is to place before the eyes of his enemies and persecutors his actual sufferings and anguish of mind. The misery of a fellow man in pain, with the anguish of his soul depicted by the hand of death on his pale and sad countenance, easily moves the heart of men and draws out of their breasts those feelings of commiseration that the God of nature has mercifully implanted in them. This is the result that the Roman Governor Pilate intended and expected to obtain when he showed to the infuriated Jewish people our Lord Jesus Christ crowned with thorns, and covered all over his sacred body with gaping and bleeding wounds .... "Hoc egit Pilatus in judaeorum turba furenti." (De Triumphali Christi Agone. Cap. 15)
5. St. Paul says "As the body is one and has many members, yet all these members constitute one body only. Hence, if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it." (1 Cor. 12) Human nature is the same in each individual man. Individuals are to the human race, what the different organs, limbs and members are to the human body. Hence, every human heart should, at the sight of any man in suffering and sorrow, be moved to feelings of commiseration.... We should observe, however, that in the human body there are superior and inferior members. The head is above, the feet are beneath. Some of our limbs are more refined and useful, some others are less so. Some organs of our body, as the heart and the brain, are more essential to our physical health and life than some other external or internal organs.
Now, daily experience shows that the noblest, most refined and most essential organs of our body, as the head and the heart, when in pain and anguish, more promptly and more forcibly communicate their sufferings to the other organs and members of the same body. Again, when other members suffer, the head and the heart more promptly and more keenly sympathize with them. Let these principles of nature, daily illustrated by personal experience, guide us in our present consideration of our suffering Savior exhibited by Pilate to the Jewish magistrates and chief priests. All superiors in a moral body occupy the position of the head. They are raised in rank, that from their more elevated position they may more easily survey and discern all the wants of their inferiors.
Their dignity and responsibility oblige them to possess the knowledge necessary for the direction, government and protection of their subjects. The head has been furnished by God with two eyes, to the end that it should watch and see the wants and sufferings of all inferior members of the body. Ears have been fixed in the head, in order that they may listen at every time, and in every place to the cry of distress and to the groans caused by oppression and pain. The tongue is with the head that they may promptly rebuke injustice and condemn the oppressor. But if the voice of command and the precept of authority be not heeded, the feet of solicitude and the arm of executive power should be employed with vigor for the defence and protection of innocence calumniated, of oppressed weakness, and of persecuted virtue. The weak are the special and immediate wards of the guardians of human society. Innocent and virtuous persons are the most beautiful ornaments and the most valuable treasures of mankind. Al 1 superiors should cherish them more dearly than the other subjects under their jurisdiction and power. The criminal neglect of this sacred duty deprives society of the true living models of obedience to law, of respect for authority, order and justice. Disregard for virtuous and upright persons in superiors
is an encouragement to vice and an official fostering of injustice, oppression and impiety, which must inevitably draw severe punishments upon the whole commonwealth. "Hear this, (says the prophet Micheas) hear this, ye princes of the house of Jacob, and ye judges of the house of Israel, you that abhor judgment, and pervert all that is right; you that build Sion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity,.... therefore because of you, Sion shall be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall be as a field of stones, and the mountain of the temple as the high places of the forest." (Mich. 3:12) If these threats and warnings of the holy and zealous prophet were originally addressed to their predecessors, they are, however, well adapted to the Jewish magistrates to whom Pilate showed our Savior, scourged and crowned with thorns, appealing to their sentiments of justice and compassion in his behalf. In his case they had abhorred judgment and had perverted every principle of right and equity. They were actually shedding his innocent blood in Sion, and filling Jerusalem with iniquity. Shall the official proclamation of our Lord's innocence by Roman Governor make them suspend their iniquitous proceedings? . .. Will not the sight of his wounds and blood excite any feeling of commiseration in their heart? But... Oh! ye heavens be astonished at this, and ye gates thereof be vehemently desolated.,.. These unjust and cruel magistrates are the first to raise their voices and cry aloud to Pilate, "Away with him; away with him....Crucify, crucify him.
6. When the civil magistrates and the judges of any nation openly trample under foot law and equity, and have lost every sentiment of humanity, we cannot expect to see justice done to calumniated innocence and to persecuted virtue. At the unexpected clamor of the Jewish magistrates and civil officers, the Roman Governor was deeply disappointed and grieved. A ray of hope, howevor, still remained to him. From the high balcony he recognized in the square close to his palace large number of Jewish priests headed by their ecclesiastical superiors. Pilate was well aware that these sacred ministers of religion had great power and influence over the Jewish people. The Jews looked upon them with awe and respect, as they were commanded by God in these words: "With all thy soul fear the Lord and reverence his priests .... Honor God wih all thy soul, and give honor to his priests." (Eccli. 7:31) The Jewish priests had been selected by God to be the intrepid heralds of his holy law, and the faithful champions of justice and charity. They were clad with the Ephod of holiness, and had to wear on their breast the Rational of judgment upon which were clearly engraved the words "Doctrine and Truth." (Exod. 28:30) Hence, they were reminded that doctrine should continually illumine their mind, truth should ever shine on their lips, and charity should always reign in their hearts. Their mind should be well stored with the knowledge of the law of God, whose ministers they were. Their heart should be inflamed with love for mankind, and their voice should ever be raised in defense of innocence and virtue. Priests are the divinely appointed champions of justice and charity, because they are the living representatives, and the sacred ministers of God to mankind upon earth. "The lips of the priest, the Prophet Malachy says, shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth, because he is the Angel of the Lord of hosts." (Malach. 2:7)
It was to the chief priests that the Roman Governor Pilate addressed his words in behalf of our persecuted and suffering Savior, as to the last court of appeal. Though a pagan in religion, yet he had in his heart some fear of God, and respected His ministers. He had a natural love for justice, and was moved to compassion at the sight of human misery. The sufferings and heroic meekness of our dear Lord had deeply moved his heart. Pilate naturally expected that the Jewish priests, who professed to be the ministers of the God of Israel, and the zealous defenders of His holy law, should be animated by a spirit of charity, by sentiments of justice, and by feelings of compassion for human suffering and oppression. Holding up the limb of the scarlet cloak on our Savior's shoulders, Pilate called the attention of the chief priests to his bleeding wounds; he pointed out to them the horrible Crown of Thorns that was torturing his adorable head and appealed to their innate feelings of commiseration by those moving words: "Ecce Homo." "Behold the Man."
St. John the beloved disciple, who was present at this awful scene, describes it in the following words: "When the chief priests and the officers had seen him, they cried out, saying: Crucify him, crucify him; Pilate says to them, take him you and crucify him: for I find no cause in him....They answered: We have a law; and according to the law he ought to die: because he made himself the Son God. When Pilate therefore had heard this saying, he feared the more." Alas! that Pilate, a pagan, fears at these words, but the chief priests fear not.... "Now, when Pilate had heard these words he brought Jesus forth and sat down in the judgment seat....and he saith 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
Roman Governor with these words intended to call the attention of the Jewish magistrates and chief priests to the fact that no noble personage and much less a king, is ever condemned to the infamous and cruel death of the cross. This wise and kind remark drew out again the chief priests who answered: "We have no king but Caesar." (Jn. 19) "Pilate St. Matthew says, seeing that he prevaileth nothing, but rather a tumult was made, having taken water, washed his hands before the people saying: I am innocent of the blood of this just man; Look you to it. And all the people answering said: His blood be upon us and upon our children." (Mt. 20:24) Having heard these words Pilate delivered them Jesus our Lord to be crucified. "And they took Jesus and led him forth. And bearing his own cross he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha, where they crucified him." (Jn.19)
7. The awful tragedy is thus brought to a close. The principal actors therein have been the chief priests and the Jewish magistrates. The people have followed the example of their civil and ecclesiastical superiors. This is very natural, because, "As the judge of the people is himself, so also are his ministers, and what manner of man the ruler of a City is, such also are they that dwell therein." (Eccli. 10:8) Woe to the nation where judgment and justice is perverted by the rulers and magistrates, and the true or pretended ministers of religion become their associates in iniquity. "A kingdom is translated from one people to another, because of injustices and wrongs, and injuries and diverse deceits." (Eccli. 10:8) The Jewish magistrates, senators, officers and chief priests have conspired to commit injustices, wrongs, injuries and all manner of deceits against the essential holiness, truth and honesty of the incarnate Son of God, the Messias and the Savior of the world. More cruel than savages, worse than the beasts of the forests, they are not moved by his extreme sufferings, but with a diabolical frenzy they clamor for more terrible tortures, for the horrible death of the cross. "Crucify him, Crucify him." Our divine Lord on the balcony deeply feels this cruel outrage. He knows that the chief priests and Jewish magistrates demand his crucifixion that he may die in extreme pain and deepest ignominy, and thus his memory may forever be branded with infamy. Our Lord knows that these bad and malicious men not only desire to deprive him of life, but by the nature and circumstances of his death, they are anxious to render his name infamous and detestable among all future generations. St. John Chrysostom asks: "Why do the chief priests and Jewish magistrates demand the crucifixion of Jesus? And answers: because it was ignominious." They were afraid lest his memory should be transmitted to posterity with honor; hence, to prevent this, they select the death of the cross, not reflecting that truth shines more powerfully when an attempt is made to conceal it. "Cum impeditur magis apparet Veritas." (A Lapide in Matt. 27:22)
The royal prophet, speaking in the person of our suffering Lord, compares the Jewish magistrates and chief priests to savage beasts. "Many dogs have encompassed me. The council of the malignant hath besieged me. They have opened their mouths against me as a lion ravening and roaring." (Ps. 21:14) "My inheritance, the Synagogue, is become to me as a lion in the wood: it hath cried out against me." (Jer. 22:8) And now, 0 ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and ye men of Juda, judge between me and my vineyard. What is there that I ought to do more to my vineyard, that I have not done?....For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Juda....And I looked that they should do judgment, and behold iniquity: and do justice, and behold a cry .... Therefore is my people led away captive,... their nobles have perished with famine, and their multitudes were dried up with thirst. Therefore hath hell enlarged her soul, and opened her mouth without bounds: and their strong ones and their people, and their high and glorious ones shall go down into it. And man shall be brought down, and man shall be humbled, and the eyes of the lofty shall be brought low... And the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and the holy God shall be sanctified in justice." (Is. 5)
In the following chapters we shall consider the realization of these terrible threats announced by the prophet, in the name of the Lord to the guilty children of Israel.