THE MYSTERIES OF THE CROWN OF THORNS
"In that day the Lord of hosts shall be a crown of glory and a garland of joy to the residue of his people." (Is. 28:5)
In two different ways, namely, in a merely human, or in a truly Christian point of view, can we consider the sufferings and humiliations of Jesus, our Lord. If we look at them, with a merely human eye like the carnal Jews, and the proud Pagans, we shall like them, incur the danger of being scandalized at their apparent foolishness. The excess of the sufferings of our dear Redeemer, the depth of his humiliations, his apparent complete helplessness, have often been a stumbling block of scandal to proud men. Hence St. Paul could say: "We preached Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling black, and to the Gentiles foolishness." (1 Cor. 1:23) If, however, with the enlightened eye of Christian faith we try to penetrate into the deep mysteries of our Savior's passion, we shall discover the wonders of God's power, and the merciful designs of his divine wisdom. "To them that are called, that is, to sincere and reflecting Christians, Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:24) In the light of Christian faith we will therefore consider the mysteries of the Crown of Thorns. In the present chapter we shall have an opportunity of admiring the designs of the wisdom and mercy of our divine Lord. We shall soon be able to discover important meanings, and learn practical lessons from the thorns, reed, and mockeries used by his cruel and malicious enemies against our Savior.
FIRST SECTION - THE CROWN OF THORNS
The thorns, with which the adorable head of our Lord was crowned, were not planted upon earth by the paternal hand of God, but they were maliciously sowed by a treacherous enemy. From the Gospel we learn that this enemy was the Devil, and the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve was the noxious seed. The curse of God made them grow long and sharp. These thorns and thistles were more intended to prick the sinner's conscience than the callous hand of the industrious laborer. This is the wise reflection of St. John Chrysostom; "when God said to our fallen parents: Cursed is the earth in thy work; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." He intended to signify; thy conscience O sinner, shall never cease producing thorns and stings which will prick thy guilty soul. (St. John Chrys. in Mark 10:19) The thorns of this accursed earth are therefore the figures of our sins. They are the brand of God's malediction impressed on the forehead of sinners. Even the learned protestant Grotius discovered this truth and said; "The curse of sin was the origin of thorns." "Maledictio in spinis Coepit." (Grot. comm. in Mark 15:17)
Now our Lord Jesus Christ, being the second person of the most adorable Trinity, essential holiness in human flesh, Verbum Cam factum and the most cherished object of the eternal predilection of his heavenly Father, could never be defiled by the least shadow of sin and consequently he never could be subject to the malediction of God. In his infinite mercy he could however consent to experience the temporary effects of both. Jesus could assume and wear for our sake the infamous badge of sin. He could in mercy for us taste and drink the loathsome bitterness of the cup filled up to the brim with the gall and vinegar of God's malediction.
Our divine Redeemer did in fact consent to wear during his whole mortal life, the sinner's garb and he daily drank in large doses the disgusting potion squeezed from the corrupted hearts of sinful men as from sour grapes by the weight of God's anathema. But because the large and deep vessel containing the poison of sin was not exhausted, being daily and hourly replenished by new crimes; so our dear Lord was obliged to make a most painful effort in order to drain it all at once and completely during his bitter passion. This heroic act was accomplished in the garden of Gethsemani wherein he was so copiously drenched with the large chalice of sin that he was cast into a deadly swoon and his life's blood was forced out from every pore of his agonizing body.
Now we should attentively observe that the same plan was followed by our merciful Redeemer in wearing the filthy badge of sin. Having once assumed it in his incarnation with our human nature, he had to wear it continually during his whole mortal life. At the time, however, of his passion our Lord had to be publicly and solemnly installed as the King of Sinners and Sorrows. Oh! the grand and sublime mystery of the Crown of Thorns. It was then in the city of Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, it was in the hall of Pilate, the Roman Governor, that our divine Lord chose to be crowned with thorns and to assume the full uniform of sinner and the infamous wreath of sin. It was on this memorable occasion that the great and eternal Son of God the Incarnate Word was installed as the King of Sinners and consequently as the man deepest in infamy and greatest in sorrow: "Despised and the most abject of men! ..." Our sins are Jesus' Crown of Thorns. "Corona ex spinis peccata sunt." (Theopil. in Matt. 27) Thorns being the offshoot and the stigma of God's malediction against sin, hence, by consenting to be crowned with thorns, our merciful Lord voluntarily became the responsible head and the willing victim of God's anathema directed and intended for sinners only. It is thus according to St. Paul that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." (Gal. 3:13) Hence, by wearing the Crown of Thorns, our most holy Redeemer received upon his adorable head the curse pronounced by the irritated justice of God against our sinful race, and through this act of mercy he shielded us from its terrible blow. "In corona spinea maledictum solvit antiquum," says Origen.
Our merciful Savior effected still more in our behalf. Thorns and thistles, as we have remarked, are the principal offshoot of God's curse against sin. Now by consenting to take these sharp thorns upon his adorable head, he removed this malediction and changed it into a blessing for mankind. In this way our Lord Jesus Christ diminished the quantity and the intensity of our temporal sufferings; and through his blessing, grace and example, he rendered all our labors and toils meritorous of eternal reward. Children of sinful parents, conceived and born in sin, we have indeed much to suffer yet; but had not our blessed Lord come to our relief our temporal sufferings should have been by far more numerous in quantity and more intense in quality as daily experience testifies among Infidel and Pagan nations. Moreover we should have been condemned to pass from temporal to eternal misery. Through his merciful Crown of Thorns our Savior has removed from mankind the brand of everlasting infamy and has secured for his faithful servants the diadem of heavenly glory. "In that day, the prophet Isaias says, the Lord of Hosts shall be a crown of glory, and a garland of joy to the residue of his people." (Is. 28:5) Hence St. Jerome could with reason say that: Through the merit of the thorny crown of Jesus' head we have acquired a right to the diadem of the heavenly kingdom. "Corona spinea capitis ejus diadema regni adepti sumus." (In Marc. 15)
In all our sufferings then let us look up to the King of Sorrows crowned with thorns. This should be done more especially when by irksome neuralgia, and severe head-aches, we are invited to bear a share of the thorny crown of our divine Master. St. Bernard justly remarks that: "Christians should be ashamed to be too delicate members of a divine head crowned with thorns." We should however acknowledge that persons afflicted with these sufferings deserve more charitable compassion than they do generally receive. These afflictions being internal and invisible do not excite to commiseration those especially who had never experienced their painful and saddening effects. We should also reflect that head-aches are often caused by an overflow of blood to the head which produces a flush on the face and this is mistaken by many superficial observers for a sign of vigorous health. Hence compliments are offered which to the ears of the sufferer sound like irony. Moreover these painful attacks of the head are naturally the cause of mistakes and of awkward failures, which bring upon their victim ridicule and undeserved humiliations. The best and perhaps the only comfort and consolation on these mortifying occasions, will be a devout glance at Jesus crowned with thorns and mocked in the hall of Pilate. He is fully aware of our sufferings and trials. He suffered more than we do both in physical pain and in humiliations. Our Lord can compassionate our misery and will abundantly reward our humility, meekness and patience.
In the lives of the Fathers of the Desert, we read that St. Pacomius towards the end of his life, while suffering intense pain in his head and oppressed with interior anguish of mind, had recourse to prayer to obtain some relief and consolation from God. On this occasion our Lord appeared to him accompanied by many holy angels and wearing a Crown of Thorns but at the same time shining with dazzling glory. Surprised at the heavenly vision the suffering servant of God prostrated himself with his face to the ground when one of the angels very affectionately raised him up and informed him that Jesus Christ had come to console him in his affliction. Our Lord then spoke to Pacomius words of heavenly comfort encouraging him to bear his trials and sufferings with resignation, assuring him that they were intended for the purification of his soul, and for a great increase of merit which was soon to be crowned with corresponding glory and bliss for all eternity in heaven.