Scourging and crucifixion were the two principle methods of punishment used by the Romans. Scourging with a whip of multiple ends, sometimes embedded with metal, was more than most men could survive. Thirty-nine lashes were considered one short of what a man could survive without dying. Crucifixion was a painful method of death. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminal offenses, especially those accused of rebellion against the government.
Crucifixion was devised and designed by the Romans with more multiple goals in mind. First, crucifixion was designed to inflict optimal physical pain. The procedure was dragged out over a number of hours and the amount of pain inflicted at any given moment was carefully calculated so as not to cause unconsciousness and thus ease the pain of the one being crucified. Sometimes they even gave wine mixed with morphine to the person being crucified, not to ease their suffering, but to keep them from passing out from pain, so they could endure it longer. Crucifixion was designed to humiliate the person being crucified and cause fear in all the people watching it.
Pilate had Jesus scourged which was one lash less than killing a person. Then the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head. The thorns cut deeply into his skull causing great pain. In all of this agony, Jesus is alone without anyone to comfort him in his pain and suffering. Everyone who knew him ran away and hid from the Romans so they would not be treated with the same punishment.
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark both have some added details of Christ’s crucifixion.
“At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Have you ever felt forsaken? Alone? Forgotten? Misunderstood? Despised? Afraid? Abandoned? Totally abandoned? So deep into the depths of despair that you felt there was no way out?
Most of us have never been into the depths of despair to the point that we felt it was better to die than to continue on living. While some of us may have felt that way in our life it is hard to imagine the complete desolation that Jesus experienced on the cross. He was the Son of God. He and his Father were one. Jesus knew the plan of salvation and prayed that his Father would let this cup pass, but not his will, only his Father’s. Jesus willingly accepted his Father’s plan for the salvation of all.
Jesus had every reason to feel abandoned. Even the disciples who walked with him for the last couple of years, who at the supper table last night said that, they would never abandon him – that they would die for him, completely disappeared. The disciples feared for their lives and left Jesus to die alone.
Then Jesus took on the sins of the world; the sins of the past, the sins of those who were killing him and the sins of all future people. When he took on the sins of the world, his Father was unable to remain with him and for the only time in his earthly life, he felt forsaken – abandoned.
When Jesus accepted our sins so that we might have hope in his resurrection he was totally abandoned. Even in the darkest hours of our lives, we will never experience the abandonment that Jesus felt on the cross. He did it for me and he did it for you. Jesus willing did it for all people throughout all time.
Throughout his Passion it is Jesus who is in control, not the Jews or the Romans. Jesus decides on the moment of his death; he willing gives up his spirit to fulfill the Father’s plan. Jesus announces the completion of his sacrifice when he said “It is finished”. The Vulgate’s translation of “It is accomplished” states it better.
His Father’s plan of salvation for all of us was accomplished! We have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven because Jesus accepted our sins and accomplished what was planned to give us life in his kingdom. Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught “Repent and believe in the Kingdom of God!”
It is not easy to follow Jesus. Today, many Christians throughout the world are dying for their faith. This is especially true in the Middle East where not only ISIS but even the “friendly” governments are trying to wipe out the Church. Regardless of how difficult our life is, Jesus is always with us to guide and comfort us with his love. During this Year of Mercy, let us remember that God’s grace and mercy is always there for us.
How will we respond? We can reject God’s love, forgiveness and mercy or we can accept it. Jesus is hanging there on the cross; his out stretched arms welcoming us to accept his love, his forgiveness and his mercy. Will we repent and believe in the Kingdom of God? If we had to face death because we are Catholic; would we deny him like Peter? Would we desert him like the disciples? Or would we die for our faith like the martyrs throughout history and even today?