Wednesday, March 19, 2008

11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross

Jesus is no different. This is a moment that I hate, even as a battle-scarred centurion.

When the first nail starts its journey into the wrist of a condemned man, the scream is one that would haunt the dreams of all those who hear it. It is obvious that although the journey to Calvary was already painful and anticipatory of greater pain, that of the nail forcing its way through living flesh is far greater than anything that could have been expected.

We Romans have made an art of crucifixion. The nails do not go into the palms of the hands, for the weight of the body would be too great for them to bear. No. They are hammered through a small gap in the bones of the wrist, a gap which is weight-bearing, but is also the route for a small nerve which is pierced by the passage of the nails. The effect is excruciating. I would guess that there could be nothing like it.

Curiously, one effect of the nail travelling through the nerve is that the thumb, in losing its independent movement, crosses itself against the palm of the hand, almost as a gesture of self-protection.

I have attended many crucifixions, but I have never become accustomed to that initial scream and then the dull thuds of the hammer driving the nails into the wooden crossbeam. It is a sickening sound at the best of times. It is rather more difficult now that I have begun to feel sorry for this Jesus of Nazareth, because I have begun to feel pity. That is not what I want just now. I want my heart to be hardened, to escape feelings of compassion and understanding filtering through. To be a witness to human suffering of the magnitude of crucifixion needs a strong heart and stomach, preferably hard, rather than strong, so that the images will not haunt the dreams of days and years to come.

I never thought that I would ask the gods to give me a hard heart. The time was when I wanted wisdom and understanding, but those qualities need a heart that can be touched and opened. One that becomes impermeable to the sufferings of others is also gradually crafted into something unlovely. Perhaps that is why my wife and sons keep at a distance these days. It is a pity because I love them all and am proud of Alexander and Rufus. They will be fine men because they have never learned to become unloving… unless it is that I am teaching them as I continue to be caught up with executions.

Take a look at that woman on the edge of the crowd. Even I can see that she is someone who has learned the meaning of love. Is she the mother of Jesus, I wonder? I would think so because her pains are as great as his. I can see that every blow of the hammer strikes a sword of sorrow into her heart and yet she stands there, trying to catch the eyes of Jesus in her own. It is almost impossible, of course, because her son’s head tosses from side to side, as if its movement would take away the agony. Who knows if he even sees her when, by chance, he turns in her direction? Surely, at this time, his whole world has become confined to all that is being done to him by others?

That woman has not hardened herself to be here. She has become strong. Was she already strong and courageous? I suppose so. Most people do not ‘suddenly’ find courage: they prepare for it by years of rigorous training. I cannot make a warrior of a coward as my cohort faces battle. A warrior is made by a lifetime of tiny choices and the understanding and acceptance of their consequences. Bravery does not mean that someone is unafraid: it merely means that they do what is right in spite of their fear. The mother of Jesus is desperately afraid for her Son and in that, she completely forgets the implications for herself as she tries to be there for him. That, I suppose, is the meaning of motherhood.

Until now, I had thought of myself as a warrior, but now, I am not so sure. I am unsure of many things. Where am I going? Are all the things that I had thought I had achieved real or imaginary? Am I big or little? Am I merely a big fish in the small pond that is Jerusalem? If I were back home in Rome, I would be insignificant and almost invisible. Here, I lead a few men, wear a highly polished uniform and shout orders at people who are unable to fight back. What would happen if they were suddenly to retaliate?

…and what about the very action that I am called upon to perform here and now? I do not agree with it. I do not want to crucify Jesus of Nazareth, especially after seeing him on his way to Calvary, but could I dare confront Pilate and refuse to put his orders into practice, even knowing that I am merely the ‘fall guy’. Pilate would not have the courage to stand here and see this through. He is weak and spineless, afraid of the consequences of standing against Caesar.

It is all a case of one person being afraid of the person in authority, and yet, who is the one to suffer? Only the poor, the weak and defenceless…and Jesus, who could have defended himself but who did not do so. He chose to remain silent.

I do not understand and, suddenly, I do not know where I am going or who I really am. I have fewer and fewer answers with each thud of that hammer as it bangs the nails into the hands of Jesus.

He is being killed because others did not stand up to protect him and to reject injustice, lying and self-seeking. Had I rebelled against Pilate, could I have saved his life? Would my desire for justice save the lives of those who would otherwise know only injustice and cruelty?

Jesus, as you are nailed to the Cross, it is not iron nails that fasten you, but everything that is evil. Forgive me. Even though my eyes are opening, I am still under orders and must see this through to the very end, must witness your death because of the instructions that have been given me. I am guilty and I know that this guilt will weigh me down for the rest of my life. I will outlive you and unless you forgive me, I cannot bear the future that gapes in front of me like a chasm.

God bless,
Sr. Janet