The sixth Station of the Cross is the flogging of Jesus. The Roman Empire used flogging or scourging as a punishment for non-citizens. The Romans were particularly brutal in their flogging, using lashes tipped with metal or bone, to tear the flesh and cause more bleeding. Some died under the lash; most died soon after. In some ways, it was a mercy to die from the scourging, before being crucified. Crucifixion was the most painful, slow, gruesome, and torturous way to be killed; this is how it came to be the root of the word excruciating, meaning out of crucifixion.
The Message relates the account:
So Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.
And the NRSV reads:
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face.
These accounts are short, even terse. The words are spare, perhaps because the images were still written on the author’s mind. There is not much more that one can say about this, without becoming pornographic with violence. The crowd dressed Jesus up like a king so that they could mock him and humiliate him, using the words that he refused to apply to himself during his trials, saying only that’s what you said; I never said this.
I suffer from chronic pain as a result of an inherited connective tissue disorder, but I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be scourged in this way. Not only the sting of the lash, but the literal tearing of skin and muscle, from the upper back all the way down to the feet. And to have this pain inflicted on me, over and over, by jeering and mocking soldiers, with absolutely no control. It is no wonder Jesus cried out the words from the psalm to God: why have you forsaken me? He was literally, physically, hurting, in ways too horrific for me to imagine. I’m sure he was afraid. The political and spiritual authorities conspired to humiliate him thoroughly, to make him a laughingstock. Jesus knew he had to die, to fulfill his purpose. But did it have to be like this?
It is discomfiting, even troubling, to spend time with these scripture passages, to try to imagine them and bring them to life. I don’t like how it feels to place myself in this scene, perhaps as a bystander, perhaps as one of the soldiers, perhaps as Jesus. This is scary, awful, horrible stuff. I don’t want to think of any human as being capable of this… and yet, it happened, and it still happens today.
What I yearn to do is to run in, to untie Jesus from the pillar, to take the thorny crown from his head and cradle him in my lap. To tenderly treat his wounds. To hold him and show him love and tell him how sorry I am that this was done to him. To show him that we’re not all so violent, so full of rage and venom and hate. And then I feel a twinge of guilt. Does it take a scourging to make me long to run to Jesus and embrace him and show him love? Love is the commandment Jesus gave us: love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy, love everybody. So why would we be afraid to love until the stakes are so high?
Love is risky. Love puts us out there, where we can be hurt. Love offers us up as a gift, a gift that can be rejected. And yet, we are commanded to keep loving, no matter how much it hurts. This is the example Jesus gave us. He continued loving, through his scouring, through his crucifixion. From the cross, he prayed that God would forgive them, for they know not what they do. That is the love we are called to. Am I up for this today?