Five Days of Sorrow
Reflections for Tuesday in Holy Week: The Scourging at the Pillar
"...it is by the stripes on His sacred back that our souls are healed. Every stroke of the lash, and every rivulet of blood that it produced, was meritorious for our redemption. Take care to see Him, in your mind's eye, lurching and wincing with every sharp blow, and recall to your mind every sin that caused those stripes. One lash … for the harsh words I used with my wife this morning … two lashes … for neglecting my daily prayers … three lashes … for the time I took the Lord's name in vain … four lashes … for willingly subjecting myself to immoral and immodest movies, books, or magazines … and so on. The scourging of Our Lord can be an effective motivation for a good examination of conscience."
"Then therefore Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him" (John 19:1).
"And so Pilate being willing to satisfy the people, released to them Barabbas: and delivered up Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified" (Mark 15:15).
"Then he released to them Barabbas: and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him unto them to be crucified" (Matt. 27:26).
"I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me" (Is. 50:6).
"But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed" (Is. 53:5).
We walk now with Our Lord from Pilate's judgment hall into the place reserved for scourging. Mel Gibson's movie gave us quite an accurate portrayal of the scourging that Our Lord endured, but if you have not yet seen the movie, I will attempt to describe it for you in some detail.
Studies of the Shroud of Turin (the burial cloth in which Our Lord was wrapped) have given us quite a bit of accurate data as to what must have happened during the terrible scourging. Recall that we said in our meditation on the Agony in the Garden that, because He suffered hematridosa (the sweating of blood), His entire body would have been sore and tender to the touch. As He is chained to the half-pillar in the courtyard, His back is already extra-sensitive to pain, yet He bares it for the cruel scourges.
Dr. Barbet, whose studies on the Shroud and consequent historical reconstruction of the Passion were published under the title A Doctor at Calvary, explains the marks left on Our Lord's body after the scourging:
"There are plenty of the marks of this [scourging] on the shroud. They are scattered over the whole body, from the shoulders to the lower part of the legs. Most of them are to e seen on the back portion which proves that Jesus was bound with His face to the column, with His hands above Him, for there are no marks on the forearms which are quite visible … A considerable number of marks are however to be found on the chest." (Barbet, pg. 83)
We can thus imagine Our Lord, just as Gibson portrayed Him. Dr. Barbet says that His hands must have been bound above Him, but this coincides with the movie's images, in which Our Lord, surrendering His strength under the scourges, falls to the floor with His face down, His hands still chained to the half-pillar and suspended above His head. In this reconstruction, the soldiers deliver their blows downwards, toward the floor (which, because of gravity, makes their blows all the more weighty and harsh), striking mostly the back of Our Lord, but also the lower parts of His legs and His shoulders.
How many blows did Our Lord sustain in this fashion? Barbet tells us:
"One must add that only those blows have left a mark [on the shroud] which produced an excoriation or a contused wound. All those which only caused … a severe bruise … have left no mark on the shroud. Altogether I have counted more than 100, perhaps 120. This means, if there were two thongs [whips], that Our Lord received about sixty strokes apart from those which have left no mark." (Barbet, pg. 83)
The Jews had a rule that the convicted could only receive 40 lashes, and, as an added measure against over-abuse, they would subtract one lash - hence the phrase, "forty lashes minus one." Yet here we see that Our Lord received at least all 40 lashes, and then half of that again. I confess that, in my zeal to understand Our Lord's pain, I have struck myself on the bare back two or three times - and that was plenty. The back is a very sensitive area of the body, as I'm sure you know, if anyone has ever slapped you on the back a little too hard. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have your skin literally torn from your back, not just once, but sixty times!
This was to fulfill what the prophet Isaias had written, as we saw above: it is by the stripes on His sacred back that our souls are healed. Every stroke of the lash, and every rivulet of blood that it produced, was meritorious for our redemption. Take care to see Him, in your mind's eye, lurching and wincing with every sharp blow, and recall to your mind every sin that caused those stripes. One lash … for the harsh words I used with my wife this morning … two lashes … for neglecting my daily prayers … three lashes … for the time I took the Lord's name in vain … four lashes … for willingly subjecting myself to immoral and immodest movies, books, or magazines … and so on. The scourging of Our Lord can be an effective motivation for a good examination of conscience.
Here at the pillar we see Our Lord reversing the curse of nakedness. As Barbet writes:
"We may assume that during the scourging Our Lord was completely naked, for the halter-like wounds are to be seen all over the pelvic region, which would otherwise have been protected by the subligaculum, and they are as deep as on the rest of the body." (Barbet, pg. 84)
What humiliation! What pain! We men especially must sympathize with these kinds of wounds, and apply them especially to the lustful sins of the flesh.
We may also envision Our Lord as Gibson portrayed Him, with His sacred side torn open and parts of His ribs exposed. As the prophet wrote in the Psalms, "They have numbered all My bones. And they have looked and stared upon Me" (Ps. 21:18).
How determined He is to endure whatever suffering humanity chooses to lay upon Him, if only by such suffering He is able to redeem us! Let us contemplate such humility and ask ourselves how much suffering we are willing to endure for the sake of lost souls.
The shedding of blood that began in the Garden continues here at the pillar, while the Cup of the Blood of the New Covenant continues to fill. It will eventually overflow, as the Psalmist had said, "You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." It is a bloody affair, this precious redemption, but this is a living blood, a "sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel" (Heb. 12:24).
Do not hesitate to apprehend this suffering of Christ, and join yourself to it. Like St. Paul, we must daily bring our own bodies into subjection, that through our suffering (which is united with Christ), we may also "fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24) Do you see how we are called to share in Christ's scourging, so that we too may be made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10), and offer up our wounds on behalf of the Church? How glorious is the truth that, ever since the suffering of Christ, no suffering of ours is in vain, or without merit!
Turn now, and like the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gibson's movie, let your soul be pierced by the stripes on Our Lord's back. Let your own stripes perfect your soul, as you place yourself in the hands of the Master. There will be pain for a short time, but we may say with St. Paul, "I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us," (Rom. 8:18) for our suffering will cause us "to be made conformable to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29), "made conformable to His death" (Phil. 3:10), and by "always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:10) we will "be made partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).
We conclude this meditation in the same manner with which we concluded the first meditation: see Our Lord, being dragged away from the pillar, barely alive and barely recognizable for all the shredded skin and muscle; along with the Blessed Mother, approach the pools of His precious blood that surround the whipping post, kneel and devoutly kiss the crimson life; dip your fingers in the blood, trace the sign of the cross on your forehead in dark red, and say to Our Lord,
"Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are in most need of Thy mercy." ...or, to truly stay in the mode and mood of Gibson's 'The Passion of The Christ' and to more readily approximate this pure prayer with the Mother Tongue of the Church:
"O mi Jesus, remitte nobis peccata nostra, custodi nos ad igne inferi, attrahe omnes animas ad Caelum praecipue illas maxime egentes misericordiae Tuae."
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