As we draw nearer to Holy Week (and Easter: yay!), the second Sorrowful Mystery is the scourging of Jesus at the pillar. I have to admit that I look at these Sorrowful Mysteries, and I wonder whether we have better words for them. The Abominable Mysteries? The Torture Mysteries? The Humiliation Mysteries? Number two is particularly horrific:
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
It is interesting to me that we get this lengthy account of Pilate’s trial of Jesus. But the entire mystery is in that last sentence, expressed in only 8 words: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
Flogging was actually a mercy, for those condemned to die by crucifixion. It is hard to imagine this, living today in such a sanitized culture. We don’t have public executions. We don’t all gather to take part in judicial proceedings. We keep those in their proper place, situated in the dignified courthouses, where we can see the sterile exterior and not have to think about what is happening inside. With our tax money, we pay the salaries of those who kill human beings, but we keep as far away from them as we can. It’s not nice to think about, so we don’t.
How much more not-nice is it to consider a form of execution so brutally, humiliatingly painful that it is a mercy to be tied to a post and lashed with whips?
It’s a lot more not-nice. So we don’t go there, unless we’re forced to.
It takes courage to pray the rosary on a regular basis. When we engage with the mysteries of the rosary, we engage with all of Christ’s life, not just the warm and cuddly parts. We get to wait with pregnant Mary and rejoice to see cute little baby Jesus. But then we have to wait with sorrowing Mary and witness while her son is betrayed and tortured, debased and killed. We get to share in the radiance of the transfiguration, and then we have to walk beside Simon of Cyrene while he carries the crossbeam for Jesus.
I’m not very good at praying the rosary on a daily basis, so that I’m experiencing not only the Joyful and the Glorious mysteries, but the Sorrowful mysteries as well. I confess: I don’t like the Sorrowful mysteries! But this is why we have Lent each year, and why we observe Holy Week with its stark reminders of the horrific things Jesus lived through — and died through — for us.
There is Good News for us. There is resurrection, and there is new life. But those are on the other side of the cross from where we sit now.