The Scourging at the Pillar
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (27:11-26)
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus said, "You say so." But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
After having watched The Passion of the Christ, a friend of mine felt great sorrow for her sins, knowing that they were responsible for Christ's suffering. She called me to ask whether, if by not sinning any more, she would lessen the suffering that Jesus had to go through in His scourging. I forget what I told her that night, although I'm sure it must have been quite profound, but I wanted to highlight her question as being just the sort of sentiment that is the most fruitful result of meditating on Christ's Passion, for indeed, it was for our sins that He was suffering--and that love for us that led Him to such agonising torture should inspire in us that true sorrow and contrition for our sins.
It seems a little disproportionate to me that none of the Gospels devote more than one sentence to the actual event of Jesus' scourging, and yet it occupies the place of an entire Mystery in the Rosary. This fact itself seems a part of the mystery. For us, who are so distant from the events, reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus' passion, we can almost skip right over this horrific ordeal--especially since Luke only alludes to it, and John omits it altogether. Perhaps, though, their hurrying past the event of the Scourging was precisely for the same reason those of us who watched Mel Gibson's thorough two-minute-plus depiction wished he had. At least one of the authors had first-hand witness of the event. It's likely that all of them had themselves undergone the same treatment before their lives were over. What to us often reads like an academic footnote was likely a blinding reality for its authors.
And so the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this mystery, to immerse us in this aspect of Christ's suffering--and it is an important aspect. Through it, Christ began to fulfil Messianic prophecy--including perhaps the most famous Messianic prophecy: The Servant Song of Isaiah 53.
Look, My servant will prosper,From the Gospel quoted above, we see many fulfilments of Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus remained quiet before His accusers (Matt. 27:12-14; Is. 53:7). He was counted among the rebellious (Matt. 27:15-18; Is. 53:12). Pilate didn't know what to make of Him, or what to do with Him, and so was "tight-lipped before Him" (Matt. 27:24; Is. 52:15). But the main focus of Isaiah is upon the sufferings of Christ. The beatings He endured, making Him hardly recognisable, began with His flagellation. It was these beatings that began to provide our atonement--"by His stripes we are healed." St. Peter remembered Isaiah's words in this context, when he wrote,
will grow great, will rise to great heights.
As many people were aghast at Him
--He was so inhumanly disfigured
that He no longer looked like a man--
so many nations will be astonished
and kings will stay tight-lipped before Him,
seeing what had never been told them,
learning what they had not heard before.
Who has given credence to what we have heard?
And who has seen in it a revelation of Yahweh's arm?
Like a sapling He grew up before Him,
like a root in arid ground.
He had no form or charm to attract us,
no beauty to win our hearts;
He was despised, the lowest of men,
a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering,
one from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze,
despised, for whom we had no regard.
Yet ours were the sufferings He was bearing,
ours the sorrows He was carrying,
while we thought of Him as someone being punished
and struck with affliction by God;
whereas He was being wounded for our rebellions,
crushed because of our guilt;
the punishment reconciling us fell on Him,
and we have been healed by His bruises.
We had all gone away like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and Yahweh brought the acts of rebellion
of all of us to bear on Him.
Ill-treated and afflicted,
He never opened His mouth,
like a lamb led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep dumb before its shearers
He never opened His mouth.
Forcibly, after sentence, He was taken.
Which of His contemporaries was concerned
at His having been cut off from the land of the living,
at His having been struck dead for His people's rebellion?
He was given a grave with the wicked,
and His tomb is with the rich,
although He had done no violence,
had spoken no deceit.
It was Yahweh's good pleasure to crush Him with pain;
if He gives His life as a sin offering,
He will see His offspring and prolong His life,
and through Him Yahweh's good pleasure will be done.
After the ordeal He has endured,
He will see the light and be content.
By His knowledge, the upright one, My servant will justify many
by taking their guilt on Himself.
Hence I shall give Him a portion with the many,
and He will share the booty with the mighty,
for having exposed Himself to death
and for being counted as one of the rebellious,
whereas He was bearing the sin of many
and interceding for the rebellious. (Is. 52:13-53:12, NJB)
You see, there is merit if, in awareness of God, you put up with the pains of undeserved punishment; but what glory is there in putting up with a beating after you have done something wrong? The merit in the sight of God is in putting up with it patiently when you are punished for doing your duty.But here Peter counters an error that many today make regarding Christ's atoning sacrifice. That is, there are many who look at the passage in Isaiah, saying that Christ had been "wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities," and understanding that to mean that we therefore have nothing left to do--that Christ suffered so that we would not have to. Perhaps the worst culprit for this way of thinking is the so-called "Prosperity Gospel", but it does pop up other places, in less blatant forms, in ideas like the "penal substitution" theory of Christ's atonement--where God looks at Jesus, and puts all our sins on Him, so that when He sees Jesus, He sees not His Son, but our sin, and pours out our due punishment on Him. Now, obviously, Christ's salvation for us is by way of a vicarious atonement--but the penal substitution theory is incomplete. Worse, it makes a legal fiction, and suggests that God could be blind to justice. As Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn writes, "If Christ had merely served as our substitute, we might rightly ask why we still have to bear the punishment for our sins: Why must we still suffer and die? As our substitute, Christ should have eliminated the need for our suffering" (Lord Have Mercy, p. 98-99, emphasis in original). Hahn goes on to criticise the penal substitution theory, saying, "Such preaching--of a blind Father visiting vengeance upon an innocent Son--is unacceptable and borders on blasphemy" (ibid., p. 99). Hahn then tells us the alternative to this egregious theory: "But, according to the logic of the covenant--and the teaching of the Church--He was not our penal substitute. He was, rather, our legal representative; and, since His saving passion was representative, it doesn't exempt us from suffering, but rather endows our suffering with divine power and redemptive value (see Col 1:24)" (ibid.).
This, in fact, is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow in His steps. He had done nothing wrong, and 'had spoken no deceit.' He was insulted and did not retaliate with insults; when He was suffering He made no threats, but put His trust in the upright judge. He was 'bearing our sins' in His own body on the cross, so that we might die to our sins and live for uprightness; 'through His bruises you have been healed.' You had 'gone astray like sheep' but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:19-25, citing Isaiah 53:5-9).
People today often ask why we suffer, and why God doesn't simply stop our suffering? The problem of a good God allowing suffering has made a great excuse for many people to reject God altogether. And answers such as the penal substitution theory of atonement, or worse, the message of "health and wealth" through Jesus, only worsen the situation. Dr. Hahn was not exaggerating by equating such notions with blasphemy. In these views God can only really be unjust, on the one hand, or, on the other, when the reality of suffering crashes down on the 'faithful', God can hardly be seen to be real. We are left disillusioned with God, or else, striving to keep faith with God, we find fault in our own lack of faith or goodness, and think He must be smiting us after all.
Again, then, we turn to the words of Saint Peter. We recognise that God does not promise to remove our suffering. Rather, when we follow the example of Jesus and suffer patiently, God uses that suffering toward our final salvation: "He was 'bearing our sins' in His own body on the cross, so that we might die to our sins and live for uprightness" (1 Peter 2:24). We must choose to die to our own sinfulness--uniting that death, that very real and painful death--to Christ's own. As Peter goes on to say, "As Christ has undergone bodily suffering, you too should arm yourselves with the same conviction, that anyone who has undergone bodily suffering has broken with sin, because for the rest of life on earth that person is ruled not by human passions but only by the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Or, as Saint Paul puts it, "The Spirit Himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we share His suffering, so as to share His glory" (Romans 8:16-17, emphasis mine). By suffering patiently--either the sufferings inflicted upon us through accident, disease, or violence, or the sufferings we self-impose, by fasting or other penances--and by uniting that suffering to Christ's own, we learn mastery over the concupiscence of the flesh--we have "broken with sin".
What is more and greater still, our own suffering can have tremendous benefit not only for ourselves, but for the lives and souls of others. Saint Paul tells us, "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church" (Colossians 1:24). That is, our willing suffering in Christ and for Christ is for the benefit of the rest of His body. Our sufferings are added to our prayers, and all of them are added to Christ's Passion. Just as Lot was saved from Sodom because of Abraham's righteousness (Genesis 19:29), so our penances can be used for the salvation and healing of others!
The world suffers because of our sins. God doesn't prevent suffering because by doing so He would have to violate our free will. But He doesn't abandon us in our suffering. Neither does He give no meaning to it. Rather, through becoming one of us, and then by suffering for us on the Cross, Jesus gave suffering redemptive value. By His stripes we are healed. Through His suffering, our own suffering was made able to heal. When we, as children of God, choose to love God more than anything else--just as Jesus did when He chose the cross and endured the Scourging--then all that we suffer can be just as joyful as it was for Saint Paul--knowing that there is indeed a marvellous purpose!
For love of You, Dear Jesus, I offer my sufferings for the salvation of souls. Amen.
(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)