Tuesday, March 18, 2008

10th Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments

He stands there, shaking and would fall to the ground were he not supported by two of the guards. If he were to fall, I doubt if he would ever rise again. He is in so much pain that I doubt if he could distinguish one part of his body from another and yet the worst is still to come. How I wish it were all over and done with.

As the centurion of this cohort, it was my task to take charge of the crucifixion. I have performed the same act on many occasions, but this one is different. I did not know Jesus of Nazareth, but I had heard of his name. It would be hard for him to have remained unknown to the garrison because we had to be aware of potential troublemakers. Yet I had only heard of the Nazarene as a possible prophet. No acts of insurrection or violence were associated with him. Of course, the Jewish authorities disliked him, but I don’t think much of them myself. They are a scheming, self-centred, power-hungry bunch of individuals who are unworthy of the positions that they hold. They are not leaders in the true sense of the word.

This road has been hard. I wish that it had not been mine. I have seen too much of this man from Nazareth.

When we first left the Praetorium, I was not too concerned that he had been scourged and mocked. That happens to all the condemned criminals, or, rather, to many of them. The crown of thorns was a new and unique twist that caused me to smile. He had claimed to be a king and there he was, wearing a crown, albeit of thorns.

It was only as we made our way along the Via Crucis that I reflected more deeply.

Jesus had not spoken out in his own defence as he faced Pilate. That in itself was unusual. Most criminals rant and rave, or else plead for mercy, grovelling on the floor in abject fear. Jesus did not do that. Even after he had been beaten, he stood there with a dignity that I could almost describe as regal…and yet, how could he be kingly with blood dripping onto the floor and staining his robes? Yet I can think of no other word that fits the description.

It is not a long road from the Praetorium to Calvary. Someone who is fit and healthy could walk it in a few minutes, but Jesus was no longer in his peak condition. Of course I could see that before tonight, he had been a very fine specimen of a man. A carpenter who had taken to living outdoors, wandering the hills of Galilee and feeding on a diet of freshly-caught fish could ask for nothing better. I feel somewhat guilty that the actions of my subordinates have been responsible for humiliating a man whom I increasingly understand to be innocent of any crime. I feel bad that they have degraded something that was good: a living human being. It is not true to say that my soldiers have made a nothing of a something, but they made a pretty sustained effort to do just that.

We have walked the Via Crucis and Jesus has fallen several times. I am glad that I ordered someone to take the Cross on his own shoulders, but now I am sad that two innocent men suffered today, for the Cyrene was also guiltless.

This road to Calvary has taught me a lesson. I have witnessed a mob gradually realise its own guilt. Some people have quietly removed themselves from the scene, wanting to disassociate themselves from the horror that is to come within a very short time.

Others have been afraid to consider the terrible scene that will shortly be before their gaze, and yet they have remained because, in some way, they want to offer their support to Jesus. Interestingly, many of them seem to be women. Are women predisposed towards defending the defenceless? I think so because what is stronger than a mother who sees her child threatened?

I saw his mother. I do not think that I will ever forget the agony in her eyes. Yet, in her anguish, she too was regal. Is it not strange that the word ‘regal’ is the one that comes to my mind at such a time? Yet I can think of no other word that can express such dignity even in the midst of torment.

Jesus of Nazareth. I do not know whether to admire you or to despise you. You could have escaped from Gethsemane, but you did not. It was only a short distance to the wilderness where you would have been safe.

You could have escaped from Caiaphas, but you chose to face him. You did not defend yourself against Pilate, who had the power to release you.

Are you determined to die? What good will come of your execution?

Now you stand there, stripped at the foot of your Cross. You are bleeding anew. You are stripped of your robes, but something is telling me that I am also being stripped naked. My heart is slowly being opened to a new reality that it has not faced until now: that there might be some things that are not only worth a life, but are also worth a death.

Is there anything in my life that I believe so firmly that I would be prepared to face death in order to uphold it? That is a thought! Who is God? What is God? Is God worth my life? Jesus, you obviously think so. Are you a son of God? Does your God demand a life?

Jesus of Nazareth, who are you?

God bless,
Sr. Janet