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What Wondrous Love Is This?

by Tony M.


He did not grasp at equality with God, but emptied Himself. He loved His own “to the end,” to utter emptying.

Not content with merely sending His Son into this world of men to redeem them by his mere presence, God determined upon the very extremity of self-giving to be His mode of redemption for men, a total surrender of His human life. So, God pre-ordained that Jesus would not come into the world until there was a race of cold, calculating, hardened and pragmatic killers ready to do their worst upon him, a group of men who were used to centuries of suppressing uprisings with the rigors of excruciating torment. Then He ensured a time when many of the Jewish priests and leaders were venal men bent on honors and prestige (easy to do with fallen man, to be sure.) Yet still Jesus did not leave it to chance that they would condemn him. “Zeal for His Father’s house consumed him”: He intentionally took the offensive against the leaders, embarrassing them, pointed out the errors and failings of the Pharisees and scribes to ensure their adamant insistence on dealing him a fatal, humiliating blow. He was eventually consumed as a sacrifice precisely due to the lingering effects of his cleansing of the Temple and similar acts.

What did this Love choose to endure? What did Jesus suffer at the hands of men? Even before the soldiers came for him, He was “sorrowful, even unto death.” Wherefore such great sorrow? Was it at foreseeing the physical trial to come? Rather, the Fathers tell us it was at the sure knowledge that his gift of redemption would be rejected by so many. In the midst of that sorrow, He sweat drops of blood. Doctors tell us that under severe emotional or psychological stress the body can do this, and it leaves the skin unusually tender, due to the swelling of pores and damage to skin tissues. When one of the twelve betrayed Him, thereupon the rest of His closest associates deserted Him, leaving Him in the hands of enemies.

Taking him to the chief priest, the Jewish soldiers beat him, blindfolded him, and mocked him, using blasphemy. He was subjected to numerous false witnesses testifying against him, and he was questioned at length. At first He was silent (though He undoubtedly knew exactly how to confound every slander against Him, as He confounded the scribes repeatedly), but eventually when He answered peacefully He was struck again for pointing out the obvious: an accused isn’t likely going to provide his own condemnation, but if he was out in public you should have witnesses. And then finally, their having insufficient false testimony for their purpose, Jesus testified to what they wanted - that He is God – thus providing the definitive basis for their handing Him over to death.

When the priests and elders sent Jesus to Pilate, they wanted more than just putting Him in prison, they wanted Him killed. And first Pilate, even though finding no fault in Him, had him scourged. This was not with just a leather whip, which hurts badly and raises welts when used with skill. The whip had at its end 2 or 3 separate metal bits shaped like barbells, which would bruise the flesh, shred the skin, and tear into the muscles, leaving the back (and legs) a mass of ribbons. Given the earlier sweating of blood, the flogging was even more dreadful than a standard flogging, at which the Romans were experts. When He submitted like a lamb without complaint, the soldiers must have been bewildered and angered, and redoubled their efforts to produce some screams, some pleas for mercy. And for good measure, the soldiers added their own inventiveness, plaiting a crown of thorns and beating him over the head. Scalp wounds bleed quite profusely, so with the sweating of blood, the scourging, and the crown Jesus lost significant amounts of blood. And yet he opened not His mouth.

They threw a scarlet robe on him and Pilate again questioned Jesus before the people. The Jews hurled condemnation at Him, though He had gone about the countryside healing their sick and preaching good news to the poor. Pilate was ready to release Him at the slightest request from the Lord, but Jesus gave him no answer to his further questions. So the soldiers were told to crucify him. They stripped Him of the scarlet cloak and put His clothes back on Him, thus freshening the wounds of his skin and starting up again the bleeding. And still He made no sound.

On the way to Golgotha, the soldiers would have continued their beating of Jesus, even as he carried part of the cross. At this point He must have been suffering from dehydration, what with blood loss and no food or drink, being forced to stay up all night in wracking conditions. Small wonder then that He fell over - with the weight of the wood on His shoulders to add to the fall. Add damage to knees and elbows, abrasions from the wood, a damaged shoulder, and more beatings for slowing down the proceedings. And yet He uttered no cry of pain.

Eventually Jesus reached the hill of shame and death, and was subject to the indignity of being stripped naked before men and women, and again disturbing the mass of wounds on His skin. He gave over His hands to be nailed to the wood, the nails being driven into the base of the hand where the tendons and ligaments would hold the weight of the body, and where the median nerve rests, adding special jolts of shocking pain to the process already a torment. The feet were nailed together to the tree. Upon raising up the cross, the weight of His body would add multiples to the existing pain, grating the bones directly against the nails again and “resting” 160 or 170 pounds against the nerves, tendons and muscles around 3 spikes. And still no murmur of sound escaped His lips.

Thus starts the process of approaching death: the Victim cannot exhale when He slacks his arms, only when He raises himself up pushing on nailed feet (the changing angle rotating the hands around the nails) or pulling up on nails in the hands. He suffers either strangled breathing or lightning bolts of pain in all his extremities, one after another as the hours wear by. Moving up against the cross scrapes the back wounds open repeatedly. Severe muscle cramps ensue from fatigue, lack of oxygen, build-up of carbon dioxide, and trauma. His mouth dry and his tongue cleaving to the roof of His mouth, His breathing labored at best, He has no breath to spare for others. And yet, He does spare breath for others: He comforts Dismas the good thief, and He gives His mother over into the care of the one disciple present, a last will and testament of filial piety. And so He speaks, but without speaking of His suffering.

Not willing to limit the suffering to only physical and emotional pain, Christ suffered also spiritually: whereas all His life He held a human nature perfectly united to the Divine nature, at the end He suffered to forego the sense of that union, permitting the interior desolation of one bereft of the highest good, the sense of loss of the pearl of great price. “Father, wherefore hast Thou forsaken me?” And again: no man likes to see his close friend in pain, still less to be the cause of that pain. Yet Jesus bore without remittance that His mother, the one “full of grace” and united to Him in love for 33 years, should stand and watch the ignominious criminal death of the world’s one perfect man, the one sinless man, the one blameless son in all the world, her most dear Heart. And in His sure knowledge of her suffering on His account, the “sword that pierced her heart” pierced His also, even as she knew that He was in pain from seeing her suffer, and she could not relieve Him of even that suffering. This grief surpassed all the others in intensity. ”Was there ever any suffering like unto my suffering?” And still He said no word against His pain.

Had He not willed to supernaturally force the body to stay alive and conscious, He would have slipped into death or unconsciousness well before the appointed time, but He was not willing to let death take Him early, nor indeed at all: His life was His to lay down when He willed, and He willed yet to take on more pain.

As if His mouth had not yet suffered enough, He testified to His thirst. But it was no mere physical thirst – He thirsted for men’s souls. Knowing what would happen, still He proclaimed His thirst, whereupon they lifted up a sponge with vinegar. Taking but a taste and no more, He uttered no complaint. Finally, with all prophecy fulfilled, He commended His spirit to God.

Thus: Jesus bore pain in his head, for sins of thought; in his hands for sins of making and doing; in his feet for sins of going toward sin or walking away from duty; in his skin for sins of sensuous pleasure; in his mouth and throat for sins of eating and drinking; in his soul for sins of wanting and wishing; in the desertion of friends for sins committed “for friendship sake”; in his humiliation of nakedness for sins committed out of human respect, in his hearing blasphemy, taunting and hatred for sins of speech; in his vision and his heart (by seeing the most gracious woman suffer for His sake), for sins against chastity and modesty; in his muscles and bones for sins against courage and patience. He was the world’s most perfect man, suffering none of the effects of original sin and thus having perfect senses, perfect capacity to feel, perfect awareness of all the minute details of bodily condition, and thus experiencing perfect sensory outrage at each physical infliction. He who was not subject to death, who was immortal even more by constitution than as God designed Adam and Eve, allowed the wrench of death to take Him, indeed willed to undergo the violent separation of the spirit from the flesh while still fully aware of every particular.

St. Paul says "Love endures all," using Jesus as the exemplar.

Comments (6)

Moving and excellent, Tony. Thank you.

Tony, thanks very much for this. This is an especially important and difficult Good Friday for me, and I have been uplifted by your meditation.

Thank you very much, Tony.

Thanks, Tony. A compelling and beautiful meditation.

Then He ensured a time when many of the Jewish priests and leaders were venal men bent on honors and prestige (easy to do with fallen man, to be sure.) Yet still Jesus did not leave it to chance that they would condemn him. “Zeal for His Father’s house consumed him”

To me, this sums up the dilemma of religious zeal: the religious leaders of the day were so zealous for their (corrupted) religion that they could justify killing "in the name of God" while Jesus was so zealous for the truth (being the Truth himself) that he fearlessly confronted them - to the point where they had to act.

I always wonder, if Jesus came today, which religious groups would condemn him?

Daniel, that's always a worrisome question for Christian leaders. From initial reports, I have a suspicion that the current Pope would not be in the "condemn" group. He seems to be more concerned with the truths underlying the message than the organizational forms constructed to push the message.

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