|Besides her great privilege of being the Mother of God, Mary was also her Son’s first disciple. She is often called the Model, or Exemplar of the Church. Following her example, we walk with her through the Gospels as we reflect on her response to God in her life.
April 13, 2014—Palm Sunday of the
Matthew 26:14 - 27:66
Passion of the Lord
Father Oscar Lukefahr, C.M.
|Today Matthew’s account of Christ’s passion and death is proclaimed. I recently read a book, The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry, by Frederick Zugibe, M.D., a medical examiner and forensic pathologist. His expertise gives insights into what Jesus endured.
He says, for example, of Christ’s agony in the garden that Jesus’ foreknowledge of what he would endure brought extreme fear, anxiety, and total exhaustion. This resulted in "severe dilation and rupture of the blood vessels into the sweat glands, causing hemorrhage into the ducts of the sweat glands and the subsequent extrusion out on the skin, exactly as Saint Luke described it." "In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground" (Luke 22:44).
Jesus was arrested and brought before Pilate, who did not want to condemn Jesus. He thought he could satisfy Christ’s foes by having him scourged. The Roman scourge commonly had three or more long leather strips attached to a handle. At the end of the strips were lead balls and sharp pieces of bone or metal, which would lash every part of the body. This would produce lacerations, welts, swelling, torn muscles, and broken ribs. Breathing would become painful, and the victim would be reduced to a mangled mass of flesh.
But Jesus enemies kept insisting that he be crucified until Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. The soldiers put a scarlet robe on Jesus, and "...after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head." (Matthew 27:29-30) This was terrible enough, but Doctor Zugibe states that the crown of thorns would have pressed upon delicate nerves, causing the pain of trigeminal neuralgia,c a condition so severe that sufferers say it’s like being jabbed with a red-hot poker. The soldiers intensified the pain by striking the crown with a heavy reed, causing blood to flow down Christ’s face.
Then they clothed Jesus in his own robe and set out for Calvary, about half a mile away. Jesus, weakened by loss of blood, staggered under the beam’s weight and kept falling on the rough pavement. The centurion commanded a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. He did, as Jesus was pushed and pulled by the soldiers toward the hill of execution.
When Jesus arrived at Calvary, he was stripped of his robe and thrown onto the cross. One soldier knelt on his chest, while another held down his legs. A third drove five-inch iron nails into Jesus’ hands. The soldiers bent his knees until his feet were flush to the wood and nailed them to the cross. The nails pierced flesh and nerves. Fiery pain shot through his arms and legs. The weight of his body caused him to sink down until cramping of muscles caused unbearable pain. To ease this agony, he had to push his body outward, causing the nails to grate against bone and flesh.
For hours, Jesus endured waves of unspeakable torment. He accepted all the desolation every human being would ever experience. This caused him to call out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But evil could not defeat Jesus. He knew he had accomplished his Father’s will and had turned death into life. He prayed joyfully, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," and breathed his last.
Doctor Zugibe states the cause of Jesus’ death as: "Cardiac and respiratory arrest, due to traumatic shock, due to crucifixion." We can say, just as truly, that Jesus died out of love for us. We can proclaim with the centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus: "Truly this man is the Son of God."
Read last week's reflection.