The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns
by A Passionist Father
Preserving Christian Publications, Inc.
"When the chief priests and the officers had seen Him, they cried out saying: Away with Him: Away with Him. Crucify Him." [Jn. 19: 15]
St. Peter Chrysologus, the zealous and eloquent Archbishop of Ravenna, undertook to examine in one of his sermons, the principal cause, of the reprobation of Dives mentioned by our Divine Savior in the Gospel. [Lk. 16: 19] Dives, he says, would not be condemned to Hell, on account of his material wealth: because riches in their nature are good, though in a moral sense they are indifferent, becoming good or bad, according to the intended or actual use made of them by the legitimate owner. When material wealth has been lawfully acquired, when it is justly possessed, and properly used, then it is both physically and morally good. Instead of censure and punishment the virtuous possessor deserves praise and reward. The holy Patriarch Abraham, holy Job, Judith and many other Saintly personages in the old dispensation, were rich yet they are highly praised in the Holy Scripture, and are among the great Saints of Heaven. Dives was clad in fine linen and purple. But every person is allowed to dress in conformity with the legitimate customs of the country, and according to his rank and position in society. Holy King David, Queen Esther, and that illustrious model of chastity, prudence, honesty and fidelity to duty, Joseph the viceroy of Egypt, used in due season, rich and splendid robes. For so doing they are neither condemned nor blamed in any portion of the Bible. Dives feasted sumptuously every day, St. Luke says; but the sons of holy Job did the same, and are nowhere condemned for their conduct, Hence the eloquent Archbishop concludes, that the above enumerated actions of Dives were not the principal cause of his eternal condemnation.
He was condemned to Hell on account of his hardness of heart, for his total want of commiseration for the famishing beggar Lazarus, who, exhausted by want and suffering, lay at his gate full of sores. [St. Peter Chrysologus serm. 22] Dives in sound bodily health and vigorous strength could roam at ease in a large and comfortable mansion, whence he in the hardness of his heart could bear to see laying down upon the bare ground near his princely gate a poor, sick and starving man, exposed in the open air day and night to all the various changes and rigors of the season and of the weather. This poor beggar was scarcely covered with a few rags, whilst he was clad in fine linen and purple robes. Dives witnessed the sufferings, beheld the sores of the virtuous but starving beggar; yet he had no feeling of pity for him. He obstinately refused to give to Lazarus a morsel of bread or a glass of water, but let him starve and perish in a public road in front of his princely mansion. His very dogs evinced more sympathy for the sufferer by whining caressingly at him and by gently licking his putrid sores. What wonder that God refused to show mercy to this human monster, worse than the very beasts, who had no bowels of pity for the starving beggar, Lazarus? "For judgment without mercy to him who hath not done mercy." [James 2: 13]
Our Divine Lord and Master related the above mentioned event to the Jewish scribes and pharisees as a real fact. It was certainly a striking figure foreshadowing their conduct, when after His flagellation and crowning with thorns, He was shown to them, by the Roman Governor Plate in His suffering condition. As no feeling of compassion was evinced by Dives towards Lazarus; so no pity, no mercy was manifested by the Jewish people to our Divine Lord in His extreme suffering and deep humiliations. Lazarus died through pain and want, so did our blessed Savior. But both are now more glorious and happy in Heaven. As Dives was swiftly punished by a premature death and by eternal reprobation; so we shall have to consider in this chapter the manifold and severe punishments inflicted by the justice of an offended God on all those who had no mercy, no compassion for His Divine Son, crowned with thorns.
1. The Jewish nation has been severely punished by Divine justice for the awful crime of Deicide. But the severity and long duration of the punishment has by far fallen short of the astonishing malice of that perverse people. They could have no possible cause or occasion for the persecution of our Divine Lord. They were fully aware of His unimpeachable innocence long before they began His trial at the tribunal of the Roman Governor. Our Lord had publicly challenged the scrutiny of His character and daily conduct to convince Him of any sin and of the least violation of the law of God. "Which of you shall convict Me of sin?" [Jn. 8: 46] "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfill." [Mt. 5: 17] From His infancy, childhood, youth, manhood to the moment of His condemnation, not the least violation of God's holy law could be brought against Jesus of Nazareth. But on the contrary He was on every occasion found most zealous and careful in the perfect observance of the law and of the sacred ceremonies of religion. He assisted with exemplary piety and profound devotion, at the solemn festivals in the temple of Jerusalem, and at the public prayers in the synagogue. He promptly obeyed all legitimate superiors, and paid all due taxes and tributes, even when His extreme poverty compelled Him to work a miracle to obtain the necessary money for Himself and his Apostle Peter. [Mt. 17: 26] The scribes, pharisees and Herodians remember well the wise answer given them a short time before, when our Lord said: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what is due to God." [Lk. 20: 25] He was the most perfect model of humility without the least ambition for public dignities or places of honor. He fled away and hid Himself in a mountain, when on one occasion He discovered that an admiring crowd believed Him to be a prophet, and wished to proclaim Him their sovereign Lord and King. [Jn. 6: 15] His persecutors knew all this. They knew our most holy Lord never by word or deed injured any public or private person. They knew that Judas, enticed by their impious bribes, betrayed Him, but, repenting of his treason had a short time before publicly protested in their presence his firm conviction in the innocence of his persecuted Master. [Mt. 27: 3] Why then in the name of justice, do the chief priests and Jewish magistrates persecute this innocent man? ... Why do they bring Jesus of Nazareth to trial for His life before the civil tribunal of the Roman Governor Pilate? ... Alas! it is not their zeal for the law of Moses, nor is it their love for justice but on the contrary it is secret envy, it is a deadly hatred engendered in their malicious hearts by disappointed pride and ambition.
2. The Jewish priests, scribes and pharisees persecute our Savior on account of His superior virtue. They are corroded by envy because of His eminent sanctity, because of His admirable wisdom and Heavenly knowledge, because of His ardent and active zeal for the glory of God, for the conversion of sinners and for the salvation of souls. They are embittered against Him by jealousy at His extraordinary success in preaching to the people, at His numerous conversions of neglected sinners, at His manifold and wonderful miracles, at the admiration in which He is universally held by the people that follow Him in crowds everywhere through Palestine. In their secret conventicle the chief Jewish priests and the hypocritical pharisees have betrayed the motive of their malignant conspiracy against our Savior's life by the following words: "What do we, for this man [Jesus] doeth many miracles?... If we let Him alone so, all men will believe in Him." [Jn. 2: 43] These words expose the plot and the object of these malignant persecutors of our blessed Lord. The sanctity of Jesus is a reproach to their hypocrisy. The admiration with which He is regarded by the people, disappoints their pride and ambition. Not to forfeit the esteem of men they have impiously conspired to put to death the author of life and the Savior of mankind. They are resolved to make of Him an object of public contempt, by condemning Him to the cruel and infamous death of the Cross. Behold the real motive of their persecution. During the trial every law of equity and justice has been violated. The enemies of our Lord have suborned venal and perjured witnesses who by their contradictions prove His innocence. They have accused Him as guilty of several grievous crimes, none of which can be supported by the least shadow of proof. Before the Roman Governor these wicked men manifest the most shameful disregard for consistency. With overbearing arrogance they demand that Pilate should sanction the sentence of death which they have pronounced against our innocent Lord without proffering against Him any accusation. Pilate firmly refuses His official approbation to such arbitrary and tyrannical proceedings; but the chief priests and Jewish magistrates insist by saying: "If He were not a malefactor we would not have delivered Him to thee." [Jn. 18: 30] This impertinent answer offended rather than satisfied the Roman Judge. The Jews are compelled to specify their accusations against our dear Lord. They make three distinct charges against Him. 1st, they accuse Him of impiety by uttering blasphemies against God, and by making Himself the Son of God. 2nd, they denounce Him as the corrupter of the people. 3rd, they impeach Him as an ambitious pretender to the kingdom of Judea, refusing to pay tribute to Caesar, and making Himself a king.
3. Pilate having questioned our Lord found Him entirely innocent. He perceived that personal envy and hatred on the part of the Jews was the real cause of this bitter persecution. Hence, he publicly proclaimed His innocence. But the Jewish magistrates and chief priests clamored more violently than ever for His immediate condemnation: they excited the feelings of the people against the Roman Governor, they passed from one accusation to another to see which made most impression upon his mind. They tried him first about religion. "We have a law, they said, and according to the law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God."
Pilate promptly disappointed their expectation by answering: "Take Him you, and judge Him according to your law." [Jn. 18: 31] Foiled, but not discouraged, these malicious men betake themselves now to political charges, the final refuge of disappointed persecutors. They boldly say to the Roman Governor, "If thou release this man, thou art not the friend of Caesar." Thus by threats of personal violence, by seditious tumults, by maliciously impeaching his loyalty to Caesar, the chief priests and Jewish magistrates forced Pilate to confirm the iniquitous sentence of death which they have already pronounced against our innocent Lord. But, if under the pressure of this violent proceeding, Pilate reluctantly consented to become the accomplice of that horrible Deicide, are the Jews less guilty who compelled him to it? ... Certainly not says St. Augustine. "Sed si reus quia fecit vel invitus ... illi innocentes qui cogerunt ut faceret? Nullo modo." Moreover, when the Roman Governor manifested his disapprobation of their iniquitous conduct, washing his hands in their presence, publicly declaring his innocence of the blood of our guiltless Lord, the Jews in a most horrible and blasphemous manner unanimously assumed the terrible responsibility of the awful crime of Deicide. "Let His Blood, they exclaimed. Let His Blood fall upon us, and upon our children." Perfidious nation, wicked parents, wretched children! The essential holiness, the eminent virtue, the known innocence of our Lord, officially recognized and proclaimed by the Roman Governor cannot appease their hatred.
Pilate uses every legal means to baffle their malignant conspiracy against the life of our Savior, but the Jews counteract and frustrate his efforts by the open violation of every right and law. Their thirst for His life's Blood becomes every hour more ardent. The moving spectacle of the incarnate Son of God, the true Messias, Supreme Pontiff and rightful King of the Jewish nation, the Savior of the world, meekly standing on the balcony of the palace of the Roman Governor with his Divine and beneficent hands manacled, with His adorable Head crowned with sharp thorns, and His sacred Body covered with bleeding wounds, instead of eliciting their compassion, inflame the anger of the Jews, who in a tumultuous manner exclaim: "Away with Him, Away with Him ... Crucify, crucify Him ... Let His blood be upon us, and upon our children . . ." Ah! That no innocent blood can be shed with impunity! ... If the blood of Abel the just, cried from the earth for vengeance against the crime of fratricide; O God of eternal justice, what must be the punishment of Deicide committed in the most holy person of Your Divine Son? We expect the most terrible calamities to fall upon the Jewish magistrates, chief priests, and upon the entire Jewish nation. When the sacred rights of justice are violated by public men, the sword of Divine justice must vindicate them. When feelings of humanity and sentiments of mercy are extinguished in the breast of civil magistrates and of ecclesiastical persons, then the utter destruction of the guilty nation becomes inevitable. "For judgment without mercy to those who have not done mercy. Learn ye that are the judges of the ends of the earth. Give ear you that rule the people and please yourselves in multitudes of nations; for power is given you by the Lord, and strength by the Most High, Who will examine your works, and search out your thoughts, because being ministers of His kingdom, you have not judged rightly, nor kept the law of justice, nor walked according to the will of God. Horribly and speedily will He appear to you, for a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule." [Wis. 6: 2]
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