Five Days of Sorrow
Reflections for Wednesday in Holy Week:
The Crowning with Thorns
"Behold (ecce), then, the man (homo) standing before you, in royal robes and with a thorny crown. He is your king, and you are called to imitate His life and His death, so that you may also imitate His resurrection and share in His glory. Do not be ashamed of the thorns, for they will soon be burned away by fire, and only gold will remain. Consider also St. Paul, who asked that the thorn be removed from his side, for Our Lord gave him the answer that He gives to us when we seek to avoid suffering: 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity' (2 Cor. 12:9). So let it be for us."
And stripping Him, they put a scarlet cloak about Him ... And the soldiers platting a crown of thorns, put it upon His head: and they put on Him a purple garment ... and a reed in His right hand. And bowing the knee before Him, they mocked Him, saying: Hail, King of the Jews. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed and struck His head ... Pilate therefore went forth again and saith to them: Behold, I bring him forth unto you, that you may know that I find no cause in Him. (Jesus therefore came forth, bearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment.) And he saith to them: Behold the Man ... And after they had mocked Him, they took off the cloak from Him and put on Him His own garments and led him away to crucify him. (Composite of Matthew 27:28-31 & John 19:2-5).
Our Lord, having been scourged so mercilessly that the Prophet Isaias was compelled to say (in some modern translations) "many were astonished at Him, His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance" (Is. 52:14, RSV), is now led by His tormenters to be tortured yet further. We read in the Gospels that the soldiers, insatiable in their lust for blood, wove a crown of thorns together and embedded it into Our Lord's sacred skull.
Not only this, but they also then dressed Him in a purple garment (which no doubt caused many sharp pains on the freshly scourged and torn skin), and proceeded to beat Him with the reed. As if the sharp thorns piercing into His skull and brow did not cause enough pain, His tormenters saw the need to strike Him on the crown with a stick, thus driving the thorns in deeper and deeper. It is a wonder Our Lord survived this - most men would have died from the blood loss, or at least gone into shock.
We have been borrowing from the medical expertise of Dr. Barbet (as recorded in his marvelous work, A Doctor at Calvary), and we turn to him again now for a description of the crowning:
"St. Vincent of Lerins (Sermo in Parasceve) was to write at a later date ... "They placed in His head a crown of thorns; it was, in fact, in the shape of a pileus, so that it touched and covered His head in every part," and he affirms that Our Lord's head received seventy wounds. The pileus, among the Romans, was a sort of semi-oval head-dress made of felt, which enveloped the head and was specially worn during work ... St. Brigit declared later on in her revelations that the crown tore the whole of the head of Jesus." (Barbet, pg. 85)
Contrary to our more prevalent forms of art (sculptures and paintings) which depict the crown of thorns as a sort of head-band that only encircled the brow of Our Lord, Dr. Barbet indicates that it was actually a kind of thorny helmet which would have covered the entire scalp and brow. This should fill us with still more pity for Our Lord, knowing the suffering He endured!
Dr. Barbet continues his description:
"This states in precise terms what St. Matthew and St. John clearly insinuate: that the crown was a sort of cap made of thorny branches, and not just a head-band. This cap would have to be fixed round the head with some kind of band.
It is generally admitted that they [the thorns] belong to a thorn-bearing tree which is common in Judea, the Zizyphus spina Christi, a kind of lote-tree. It is probable that there was a heap of its branches in the praetorium, used for firing by the Roman cohort. Its thorns are very long and sharp. The scalp bleeds very easily and very vigorously, and as this cap was driven against the head by blows with a stick, the wounds must have caused much loss of blood." (Barbet, pg. 85)
This brings to mind an experience I had as a young child of about 9 or 10. I was climbing on the top of my new bunk bed, and accidentally fell off, cracking the back of my head against the corner of the bedroom door. Dr. Barbet is not exaggerating when he says the scalp "bleeds very easily and very vigorously!"
Barbet continues with a description of how the thorny crown would have added an extra dimension of suffering during the actual crucifixion:
"Now, let us have a look at the shroud ... on the back portion [of the head], one can see flows of blood the whole way up the head, each one coming down from the wound made by a thorn and following irregular courses. They all stop at a rather concave line fairly high up, which must mark the place where the band of rushes was drawn tightly against the nape of the neck.
It is behind the head that most blood is accumulated. There is nothing surprising in this, since, during the whole time that Our Lord was on the cross, that was where the crown would come into contact with the [wood of the cross] each time He drew back His head and the thorns would be driven yet a little further into the scalp." (Barbet, pg. 85-86)
After the cruel crowning, the beatings on Our Lord's head, and the spitting on His sacred face amidst much mocking, Our Lord was brought before Pilate once more. It is here, in showing Our Lord's broken, beaten, radically marred face and body to the blood-thirsty crowd, that Pontius Pilate proclaims his famous words: "Ecce homo!"
The words of Pilate ring in our ears, calling us to open our eyes and "look upon [Him], Whom they have pierced," and to "mourn for Him as one mourneth for an only son ... as the manner is to grieve for the death of the firstborn" (Zach. 12:10). Behold the man, behold your king! His appearance is like a king's, in that He is dressed in royal purple, and He wears a king's crown, yet this is a mock kingship. He is already bruised and bleeding, with the thorns piercing His head. Can this be our king?
Yes, for the Son of God will reverse all of the curses of sin, including "cursed is the earth in thy work: with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee" (Gen. 3:18-19). The curse of sweat has been reversed by the Son's agony in the Garden, and now, the curse of thorns is also redeemed by a bloody crown of thorns. Do you see the determination of Our Lord to destroy sin at it's very roots?
Must we follow in His footsteps even in this suffering, as we did with the scourging? Yes, we must, for at the final day of judgment, we will trade our crown of thorns for real crowns - but pity the one who has no thorn of crowns to offer, for no Heavenly crown will be given to him. If we bear the thorns now, we will surely be rewarded with many crowns in Heaven, as the Holy Apostles and the Lord Himself have said: "And every one that striveth for the mastery refraineth himself from all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one" (1 Cor. 9:25), "there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming" (2 Tim. 4:8), "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for, when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him" (Jas. 1:12), "And when the prince of pastors shall appear, you shall receive a never fading crown of glory" (1 Pet. 5:4), and finally, "Be thou faithful unto death: and I will give thee the crown of life" (Apoc. 2:10).
See all the many crowns that are waiting for the faithful members of Christ's Body, crowns of righteousness, life, and glory! Did not Our Lord receive a crown upon His ascension? (Apoc. 14:14) And did not Our Lady receive a crown upon her entrance into the Heavenly kingdom? (Apoc. 12:1) Then carry on in your work, and be patient in your suffering, knowing that as surely as God was faithful to His Son and to the Blessed Mother, so will He do with you, and reward your good deeds (Apoc. 14:13; Heb. 6:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:24; Apoc. 22:12).
Behold (ecce), then, the man (homo) standing before you, in royal robes and with a thorny crown. He is your king, and you are called to imitate His life and His death, so that you may also imitate His resurrection and share in His glory. Do not be ashamed of the thorns, for they will soon be burned away by fire, and only gold will remain. Consider also St. Paul, who asked that the thorn be removed from his side, for Our Lord gave him the answer that He gives to us when we seek to avoid suffering: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Cor. 12:9). So let it be for us.
We end this meditation then, by seeing Our Lord dragged off to His crucifixion. Let us linger here for a moment (we will follow Him very soon), stooping to pick a broken and blood-stained thorn from the ground. It was broken off and fell to the ground while the soldiers were beating His head with the reed ... kiss it devoutly, and pray:
"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."
"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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