Grace: To stay with Jesus in his suffering and humiliation, borne on behalf of my sins and the sins of humanity.
Text for Prayer: John: 19: 1-5
Reflection: The image of the scourged Christ is often associated with Holy Week and the Passion. Such an image usually portrays Christ, bare from the waist up, a red cloak draped over his shoulders. On his head is a crown of thorns and emanating from the crown streams of blood run down the sides of his face. His torso is also covered with blood, the scars of the beating by the Roman soldiers. His mien reflects sadness, pain, and anguish, all at the same time.
The image of the scourged Christ depicts Christ after his questioning by Pontius Pilate and immediately before his sentencing to death. The Gospel of John recounts how Pilate asked Jesus whether or not he was a king and what is truth, Pilate asked the crowd if it wanted Jesus or Barabbas, a revolutionary, released to them. When the crowd asked for Barabbas, Pilate had Jesus scourged, thinking that this punishment would satisfy the crowd and keep it from rioting. He then brought Jesus out the people proclaiming “Behold the man!” or in Latin, “Ecce Homo!” As we know, the crowd kept clamoring for Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified, so that Pilate acquiesced, and sentenced Jesus to death.
When we meditate on the Passion of Christ, we often like to focus on the Way of the Cross or the Crucifixion. This small scene in John, however, should not be dismissed as insignificant. The previous pope, Benedict, in his volume on Holy Week in the three volume work Jesus of Nazareth, reflects on how the Ecce Homo “takes on a depth of meaning that reaches far beyond this moment in history.” It is in Jesus that man himself is manifested and his suffering “mirrors the inhumanity of worldly power, which so ruthlessly crushes the powerless. In him is reflected what we call ‘sin’: this is what happens when man turns his back upon God and takes control over the world into his own hands.” Yet, still in this image of the scourged Christ who is about to be led to his death, we see that his “innermost dignity cannot be taken from him” and that “the hidden God remains present in him.”
It is rather telling that John places the scene after Jesus has told Pilate that he has come to “testify to the truth” (John 18:37) and Pilate asks him “What is truth?” (John 18:38) It is almost as if John is trying to tell us that to turn away from the truth, from Christ, we are confronted with sin, violence, and death. The worst is brought out in us when we turn away from what is good and true. Our human condition is marked by sin and in the figure of the scourged Christ we see ourselves as we really are unless we allow God to redeem us in love and break through the mess that we create with our many sins.
The Exercises begin with a serious examination of sin and its effect in our lives and the world. One last time, before we head to the Cross and experience the joy of the resurrection, we are given the opportunity to reflect on sin and its effects when we stop to contemplate at Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Jesus does not undergo the torture that he does to only show us that he loves us but also to redeem us from sin and death, to draw us closer to him and the truth.
Questions: Where is it that turning away from Christ and the truth lead to pain and suffering in my own life? Where might this turning away from Christ and truth lead to violence and death in the world today? How is it that the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel propose to break through in these situations and lead me and humanity back to Christ?