TRIUMPHS OF JESUS THROUGH THE CROWN OF THORNS
"I saw, and beheld a white horse and he that sat on it had a bow, and a crown was given to him; and he went forth conquering that he might conquer." (Apoc. 6:2)
This mysterious vision was seen by St. John in the island of Patmos. The white horse signifies the innocent and holy human body assumed by the Eternal Son of God at his incarnation. The bow with which he fights is that of truth. He goes forth fighting with humility and patience that he may conquer the pride and sensuality of the world. We have seen above that according to St. Bernard, four crowns were given to our blessed Lord. We are now considering the triumph achieved by him through his Crown of Thorns.
Our Lord having by his enemies been accused to the Roman Governor of making himself a king, Pilate asked him whether he was the King of the Jews. Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from hence. Pilate from these words of our Lord logically concluded that he was a king; therefore he replied: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: thou sayest that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. (Jn. 18:36) We Christians professing to be of the truth, should therefore listen to the voice of our divine Master and study the lessons which he imparts to us.
1.The first truth our Lord teaches on this solemn occasion is that he is a King. We learn this fact from his words to Pilate: "thou sayest that I am a king," which is equivalent to saying: I am a king as thou sayest. This is an Hebraism, or a mode of affirming commonly used by the Jews, as Pilate well knows. We must observe here that in his answer to the Roman Governor our Lord claims a higher dignity and a more extensive power and dominion than that ever possessed by any Jewish king. He is interrogated by Pilate, whether he be the king of the Jews ... He answers that he is a king implying that he is a greater monarch than a mere Jewish king could be. Jesus in fact is the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. (Apoc. 19:16) He is a great King over all the earth ...He shall reign over the nations. (Ps. 46) Jesus will most certainly reign over the nations of the earth. But what are the laws by which he proposes to govern this vast empire? What promises does he make to men to draw them to his standard? What reward will he give to his faithful followers? His laws, his promises, his rewards are of an opposite nature to those of earthly monarchs. Human laws are in modern times chiefly directed to the promotion of material progress. Modern civil legislation seems so intent to advance the accumulation of material wealth as if this were the main end of human society. But the laws of Jesus, promulgated in the Gospel condemn riches as most dangerous to the eternal salvation of man and bless voluntary poverty, as the surest guarantee for obtaining the kingdom of heaven. We are warned against the allurements of earthly prosperity, and strongly exhorted to make friends of the mammon of iniquity by large alms to the poor that they may receive us in the eternal tabernacles which are their legitimate inheritance; because the kingdom of heaven is awarded to the poor in spirit. Glory is promised to the humble, power to the meek and eternal bliss to the virtuous sufferer. The promises of Jesus are principally confined to the next life. In this present life he promises to his followers the privations of poverty, the contempt of the world, the calumnies of malice the persecutions of tyranny. He invites his disciples to follow him in the constant practice of self-denial, willingly carrying their cross to Mount Calvary, to be crucified in his company, to suffer and to die in contempt for his sake.
Our divine Master and model gives in his person a specimen of these humiliations and sufferings. At his installment in the hall of Pilate, his throne is a cold and hard stone, his diadem is a crown of sharp thorns. But this throne and this crown, which are the most convincing proofs of his enemies' cruelty and hardness of heart, are at the same time the fittest insignia of his dignity and power. What more solid throne than a stone can be found for the Monarch of the Universe? What better diadem than a Crown of Thorns for the King of Sorrows? By sitting upon a stone he takes actual possession of the whole earth. Being now installed, a crown is due to him as a king. But a crown of gold would make Jesus of Nazareth appear a mortal king with a limited kingdom like other earthly monarchs whose principal strength consists in the power of their perishable riches to support their tottering dignity. A crown of flowers would designate him as a voluptuous and self-indulgent man, the king of an effeminate race of subjects. A laurel crown would suit a victorious conqueror of nations whose sword is crimsoned with the blood of innumerable victims of his ambition. Any of these crowns would no doubt appear more honorable in the eyes of carnal men, but in reality it would be a sign of weakness, and a badge of infamy for our divine Lord, because it would make him appear a mere man elevated to an earthly kingdom like other monarchs of this world by material instruments and human means. A Crown of Thorns then is the most honorable for Jesus Christ. It makes him indeed the King of Sorrows. It makes him an object of derision and contempt for the impious, for the wicked, and the proud. But in spite of them Jesus draws more numerous, more sincere and nobler courtiers round this cold stone, crimsoned with his blood than the monarchs of the earth can ever hope to see near their thrones of gold enameled with precious stones. Jesus crowned with thorns beholds daily scores of millions of earnest worshipers who adore him in spirit and in truth,who love and serve him with devoted hearts. While the monarchs of the earth must have recourse to forced conscription to enroll soldiers for the defense of their drooping standards, three hundred millions of true believers are ready to shed their blood at the foot of the Cross in defense of their Faith and of the laws of Jesus Christ, their thorn-crowned King. But his glory and power is more fully manifested in heaven, where countless millions of angels and saints serve, praise, love and worship him as their Lord and God. This Crown of Thorns then, which has been pressed upon his sacred head to afflict, humble and degrade him, has been changed into a crown of gold, wherein holiness is engraved, a badge of honor, a work of power, delightful to the eyes of Faith for its beauty. (Eccli. 45:13) Such are the triumphs of the Crown of Thorns. Jesus crowned with thorns is become the King of Kings and the Master of heaven and earth.
With these sentiments of Faith in his Christian heart the truly noble Godfrey de Bouillon, having through his bravery and military skill contributed much to the recovery of Jerusalem, was declared king of the reconquered holy city and territory. But in his humility he would never consent to wear a crown of gold, because as he said, "Jesus our Lord had worn in Jerusalem a Crown of Thorns."
2. In the second place Our Lord said to Pilate: My kingdom is not of this world. These words should not be distorted in favor of the modern sacrilegious robberies of the States and other property of the Church in many parts of the world. Jesus did not say that his kingdom was not upon earth. Because as we have seen, he is the King of Kings, and surely this means that he is the sovereign Lord, and king of all earthly monarchs. He is the great King over all the Earth. He became man to save and govern all men. He makes us pray daily that his kingdom may be established upon the whole earth, and that he may reign over all nations. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." When our Lord said to Pilate: My kingdom is not of this world, he intended to teach men that the origin of his supreme power and dignity is not from the earth but from heaven, not from men, but immediately from God. He wished us to understand that the means and instruments which he uses for the establishment, extension and perpetuation of his kingdom, are not material and human, like those of earthly potentates, but of a very different nature. He has omnipotence as an essential attribute of his divinity. Hence he has no need of powerful armies with numerous squadrons of trained cavalry, supported by large parks of modern artillery. He builds no navy because he has no need of it. The bark of Peter is sufficient for him. All these engines of war serve only to demonstrate the utter weakness of earthly governments that are obliged to use them to keep their discontented subjects in forced obedience to their laws, and to repel the invasions of external foes. Jesus is the God of truth and recruits his subjects through the maxims of the Gospel. He is the Prince of Peace, and draws his followers through the charms of Christian charity. No man is forced into his service against his will. In the kingdom of Christ every person is free. In his army all are volunteers without pay, and without any other promise of bounty, except an eternal reward, if they remain faithful to him until death, Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life. (Apoc. 2:10) In the school of Jesus the wise according to the flesh are taught to become fools for his sake, and to subject the boasted light of their reason to the authority of Faith. In the company of Jesus, the ambitious and proud in high honors and dignities are humbled; and the low and humble in spirit are raised above them. The rich are taught lessons of poverty, the vigor of youth and the strength of manhood are weakened by labor and voluntary penance. All the wealth, power and success of his followers are confined to humble, fervent prayer. These are the means, and the instruments which our Lord Jesus Christ employs for the establishment, extension and perpetuation of his kingdom upon earth.
Now, what scepter could have better and more strikingly expressed the apparent weakness of these instruments, than the hollow, light and frail reed which was placed in the right hand of our Savior crowned with thorns? Yet, it is with this empty reed that he has established the great kingdom of his Church upon earth. How empty and poor, ignorant, weak and frail were the apostles, the first instruments our Lord selected for the preaching of his Gospel! .. .St. Paul says: See your vocation, brethren, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the strong. And the mean things of the world, and the things that are not, that he might destroy the things that are. (1 Cor. 1:26) Before St. Paul wrote these divine truths, they had been forcibly expressed by our Redeemer and Master, through a reed in his hand in Pilate's hall. It is with instruments as frail and hollow as a reed that he has succeeded in a short period of time in establishing his kingdom in all the principal nations of the world. Wise philosophers, like Dionysius the areopagite and St. Justin, eloquent orators like Cyprian and Augustine were captivated by the folly of the cross. The high and the noble of the earth came down from their lofty dignities and honors to the lowliness and obscurity of the Catacombs, and the wealthy embraced the poverty of the Gospel. Kings, like Clovis, and emperors like Constantine bowed their heads under the yoke of Christ, and raised his cross over their standards and upon their imperial diadems. So long as they held their scepters of power in the name of Jesus, and wielded them for the promotion of his holy kingdom, they were always victorious, respected, and prosperous. But when the potentates of the earth abused their material power to oppress his Church, to persecute his followers, and to harass his Vicar in Rome, their scepters of gold were changed into hollow and frail reeds, which in their insane and impotent efforts broke and wounded their hands, while their thrones were shivered to pieces, and scattered as rubbish over the face of the earth. So foretold the best of prophet kings: "Thou shalt rule them with a rod of iron, and shalt break them in pieces like a Potter's vessel. And now, ye kings understand, and receive instruction you that judge the earth. Serve the Lord with fear ... embrace discipline, lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish ... when his wrath shall be kindled in a short time, blessed are all they that trust in him." (Ps. 2:9) When his wrath shall be kindled in a short time. The materials for a general conflagration are ready in the universal discontent of mankind, against modern rulers and governments. These have impiously abdicated the Christian character of their mission, and direct all the energies of their waning power to paganize their subjects. They wield their scepters with a heavy hand upon the people, overwhelming them with an unbearable burden of taxes, oppressing their bodies with military conscription, perverting their minds with the impious doctrines of godless schools, and tyrannizing over their consciences with unjust and anti-Christian laws. They persecute the ministers of religion, interfere with the freedom of divine worship, rob them of their churches, imprison, or exile Catholic priests and bishops, suppress religious houses and confiscate their legitimate property. An impious conspiracy has been formed "among the kings of the earth, and the princes have met together against the Lord, and against his Christ, the venerable pontiff of Rome ..." What wonder if according to the warning of the royal Prophet, these discontented subjects say: "Let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven will laugh at our tyrants, and the Lord shall deride them. Then he will speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage. (Ps. 2) Through his Vicar, the infallible Pope, Jesus has already spoken and his syllabus has troubled the mighty kings of the earth. Their scepters of gold, through the anger of God, have been changed in their hands of flesh into frail and hollow reeds, without any power for good. Having rejected God's sanction, their authority has lost the respect of their subjects. Deprived through their anti-Christian policy of the respect and love of mankind, they are obliged to surround their tottering thrones with millions of guns and bayonets, which, before the end of this century, by one of God's greatest prodigies, when His wrath shall be kindled in a short time, will be turned into weapons for their utter destruction, together with that of their impious counselors and abettors, the sworn enemies and malicious persecutors of God's holy Church. "The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool. The Lord will send forth the scepter of thy power out of Sion. Rule thou in the midst of thy enemies... The Lord at thy right hand hath broken kings in the day of his wrath. He shall judge among nations: He shall fill ruins: he shall crush the heads in the land of many." (Ps. 109) Mankind will be surprised at the triumphs of Jesus crowned with thorns, when with his reed, a scepter of derision, he will, as with an iron rod, break as a potter's vessel, the power of all the tyrants of the earth. Men of all nations will then bend their knees before the throne of his majesty and glory, and worship him in spirit and in truth saying: To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Tim. 1:17) Hence, that reed, which was an instrument of derision at the end of his mortal life, will become the scepter of his greatest triumph and glory towards the end of time, which is fast approaching, in spite of the incredulity of men, and in just punishment of this incredulity ...