The Scourging at the Pillar
A Lenten Meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries
The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
The sinless Savior is afflicted for our transgressions in his flagellation by sinners.
Why has this happened to me? Why do I have to go through this, and who will save me from it? Will I ever be the same again? We ask ourselves these questions every day, sometimes in a cursory or casual way, as when we forget our keys, stub our toe or spill food on our clean clothes. Then we usually just shrug it off and go about our day without another thought. But when something happens that truly wounds us, humiliates us, causes us to despair and to lash out in anger – we get into a car wreck, we feel betrayed by a friend or family member, we are diagnosed with a serious illness or injury, we do something we deeply regret – this latent bitterness, this kneejerk reaction to daily trifles can become a bigger problem, and how we respond to these situations demonstrates what kind of person we want to be.
In Christ’s Passion, he was totally innocent. He had never sinned in his life, nor was he capable of sin. He had spent his life in service to others, seeking only to lead them deeper into divine love and union with God, to heal them of the wounds of sin, to reconcile them and help them grow in charity for one another. What was his reward for this utterly unnecessary, gratuitous self-giving? A lifetime of attacks, taunts, humiliations, threats and betrayals, even from the very people he thought to be his closest friends.
At the pillar, as a kind of preview for the Crucifixion and a visualization of his trial in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ felt the full weight of sin – not of his own, since he had no stain of sin, but of all humanity, of those to whom he was united in his full possession of human nature which, as God, included all humans who had or would ever live. In this flagellation, through its hellish torment, the rending of flesh, the denigration of being subjected to his own creatures, to men who were ignorant of their own actions but simply obeyed orders and took pleasure in the ruination of their fellow man, Christ felt the wounds we feel – the betrayals, the injures and sicknesses, the disappointments, frustrations and brokenness – yet without deserving any of it. He endured what we all deserve, and he did so while praying for those who were doing it to him.
For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. (Philippians 2:5-7)
How can this horrific tragedy, the abasement and torture of an innocent man, be the center of our religion, the beginning of the New Creation and the heart of our very salvation? How can we be asked by Christ and his Church to not avert our eyes from his broken body but to participate in it by dying with him in Baptism and rising again, then eating his very Flesh and drinking his very Blood in the Eucharist? Should we not hide ourselves from these great evils and cultivate only comfortable and pleasant feelings in our mind?
This is not the Gospel, for the very reason that it is not true love. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ are the resounding gong of the love of God for all time and space, echoing throughout the world and within the hearts of all people, even those who have made themselves deaf to it. We are not called to love only those who love us, or to love only when all is going well; nor are we called to love only a God who fixes all our problems, who prevents us from succumbing to our own choices or dominates our freedom and makes of us merely contented automatons. No: we are called to be heroes of love, champions of self-sacrifice, imitating the love of Christ who poured himself out for us, who gave his all so that we may give our all for others in love for God and in gratitude for the selfless holocaust of Self offered for us by him on the altar of the Cross.
How will the world know that we belong to Christ? He has told us: “A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:34-35) And again he reveals to us the way to salvation and to divinization, even today and for all time: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) The saving Word of God is not a word of pleasantry, of ease or entertainment, of fitting in to the crowd or making it on our own: it is the Word of sacrifice, of giving until it hurts, of the radiance of God’s glory through the transfiguration of sin, the sanctification of our own wrong choices and our own denial of his free offering of love for the sake of a love which is perfect, supernatural and eternal, of a transparency to the light of Christ: “You thought evil against me: but God turned it into good, that he might exalt me, as at present you see, and might save many people.” (Genesis 50:20) So, let us take comfort in our trials, not to do away with their pain or to avoid the punishment that is due to us for our sins, but to use them for grace, offering them to Christ as penance for our sake and others, to participate in his Cross, to follow the example of St. Paul: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church”. (Colossians 1:24)
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