I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
THE Passion of our Lord is a popular subject in religious art. In particular, a tradition grew up which was popular in medieval Europe: that of portraying Christ as the Man of Sorrows: wounded hurt and tortured – a way of showing us how our sins have wounded him. One detail in particular is striking: Jesus’ beard is pulled by his persecutors. In some meditations on the passion his hair and beard are completely pulled out so that he looks as if he had been shorn like a sheep, are a reference to Verse 7 in chapter 53 of the prophesy of Isaiah: ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughterhouse, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth’, which will be read as the first reading on Good Friday. In this, the third of the four servant songs, we see more of the insults and torture which our Lord will receive as he goes to his death, bearing our sins and the sins of the whole world. The scourgings and mockery of His Passion are prefigured in Scripture: just like the prophets of the old, so Israel now will mistreat, despise, and ignore its Messiah. Despite being in the presence of the God of love and mercy, who brings healing and reconciliation, we will see humanity’s inability to accept God’s invitation to be loved and healed, to turn away from pride in loving humility, to trust God to be at work in us. It is, at one level, Judas Iscariot’s inability to see himself as loved and forgiven by God which drives him to despair and suicide.
And yet, in his actions, he presents a very human figure. We can, all of us, to see something of Judas in ourselves: we each of us deny our Lord and betray Him with our thoughts, words and actions; we languish in sins which we think cannot be forgiven. We wallow in self-pity, which is itself a form of pride, that primal human sin, while our Lord is silent, patient, and loving. While we turn away from him, he never turns away from us.
For 2000 years, the church, as the body of Christ has suffered in the same way at the hands of those who pervert the message of the gospel, who mistreat its members and to abuse the sacred bond of trust. For these and all our own sins we should be truly sorry and firmly resolve not to sin in the future. As we continue our journey with the Lord, to Calvary and beyond, we should all of us take the opportunity of the next few days to reflect upon our Lenten journey, to deepen our self-examination, to nail our sins, and those of all the Human Race to the Cross on Good Friday, and rise to new life with Christ at Easter.
Just as God so loved the world that he completely handed over his son for its sake, so too the one whom God has loved will want to save himself only in conjunction with those who have been created with him, and he will not reject this share of penitential suffering that has been given him for the sake of the whole he will do so in Christian hope, the hope for the salvation of all humanity which is permitted to Christians alone. Thus, the church is strictly enjoined to pray for all humanity and as a result of which to see her prayer in this respect is meaningful and effective; it is good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our saviour, who desires all humanity to be saved…, for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself over as a ransom for all, who, raised up on the cross, will draw all humanity to himself because he has received their power over all flesh in order to be a saviour of all humanity in order to take away the sins of all; for the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all humanity, which is why the church looks to the advantage of all humanity in order that they may be saved. This is why Paul can say that the balance between sin and grace, fear and hope, damnation and redemption, and Adam and Christ has been tilted in favour of grace, and indeed so much so that (in relation to redemption) the mountain of sin stands before inconceivable superabundance of redemption: not only have all been doomed to the first and second death in Adam, while all have been freed from death in Christ, but the sins of all, which assault to the innocent one and culminate in God’s murder, have brought an inexhaustible wealth of absolution down upon all. Thus: God has consigned all humanity to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. AMEN.