Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cruelty for its own sake

We turn now to the third Sorrowful Mystery, crowning Our Lord with Thorns. Once again our Lord suffers at the hands of others and we can ask ourselves the same two questions: how can we imitate and respond to what Our Lord has done for us? how can we avoid doing what others did to Jesus?

The cruelty in this turn of events now reaches a new low. In the second sorrowful mystery we saw how Pilate abused his authority and had him scourged. Unjust as it was, the soldiers were following orders, Pilate was at least acting within his legal rights as governor of Judaea, and one could see his actions in some twisted way as justified in his own eyes (if nothing more than an attempt to save his own skin).

But when the soldiers crown Jesus, strike him on the head, and challenge him to guess who hit him (whoever thought of this may have even thought himself clever and witty because of the following laughter and imitation) we see a cruelty born not out of self-preservation or an error in judgement by one in authority. We see instead a cruelty inflicted simply because it was possible and because it was fun. The temptation to retaliate must have been immense indeed. When challenged to prophesy who struck him, he could have easily said something like "the man who has the following dirty secret to hide..." and soon the soldiers would be hitting one another instead of him. He could easily have mocked them in more humiliating ways than he was mocked, but he chose not to. Let us be thankful he deals patiently with us, and let us deal patiently with others especially when we feel needlessly humiliated.

On the flip side, before we condemn the soldiers too quickly, let us remember that we too play the part of the soldiers every time we insult or mock someone just for the fun of it just because we can. The excuse "it was in jest" hides our sins only as well as it hides the sins of the soldiers. We, like the soldiers, also strip Our Lord of his garments for the sole purpose of humiliating him before others every time we tell a story of someone's weakness and failures. How often do we spread juicy rumors like so-and-so got knocked up, doesn't go to Church anymore, got divorced, gambled all his money away, is having an affair, got kicked out of home, got sent to jail? Often we make no attempt to make the situation better and by repeating the story to people who have no right to know, we make it worse.

This sin, known as detraction, is particularly difficult to detect and repent of. For even when our mistake is shown, we quickly say to ourselves "oh, that's ok - the story is true". What would we say to the soldiers who stripped our Lord if they said "oh, that's ok - he really does look that dreadful". What would we say if some pranksters ruined a cancer patient's wig for a good laugh - and then said "but the person really does have no hair and looks ridiculous"? And when we do spread a malicious story, are we willing (upon learning the sinner has repented or that the story was false to begin with or that it was simply wrong to engage in such sport) to issue a retraction to everyone who you told and everyone they told? That takes a lot of work because those corrections don't spread through the community nearly as quickly (many people heard the story of my wife's pregnancy 18 months before the birth of our first child - the story of my wife and I getting married never made the rounds interestingly enough).

When I learned of the sin of detraction, I was over thirty years old. When I think of the numerous times I have wronged people this way and continue to do so, I begin to understand why James exhorts us to keep our tongue tightly under control. As despicable as the soldiers may have been, we're not much better, and the Lord still deals with us as patiently as he did with them crying out "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". When it comes to cruelty for its own sake, let us embrace the forgiveness Our Lord offers us and in turn offer it to others.

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