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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 27:31. Mark 15:20. Luke 23:26. John 19:17]

THEN the soldiers of the governor, tearing from the Body of Jesus His purple robe, clothed Him again in His own garments, and laid the Cross, whereon He was to be crucified, upon His bruised and mangled shoulders. Bearing this heavy burden, He advanced through the streets of Jerusalem towards the place of punishment, which was called Golgotha, or Calvary. Two robbers were also led out to be crucified with Him.

 

Fig. 89. Place where Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross. (5th Station).

But Jesus, exhausted by long fasting and loss of blood, fell under the weight of the Cross (Fig. 89). Then the Jews, fearing that Jesus might die on the way, forced a certain man, named Simon of Cyrene, who was passing by, to help Him to carry the Cross to the place of execution.

Among the vast crowd that followed Jesus there were some pious women, who shed tears of compassion on seeing Him reduced to such a state. But Jesus, turning towards them, said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold, the days shall come when they shall say to the mountains: ‘Fall on us’, and to the hills: ‘Cover us’. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?”

When Jesus reached the top of the hill of Calvary, the soldiers offered Him wine mingled with myrrh, but He refused1 to drink. They then tore the clothes from His already mangled Body, and nailed His Hands and His Feet to the Cross. They crucified Him with two thieves, one on the right, the other on the left. Naked and bleeding He hung upon the Cross, raised aloft between heaven and earth. Pilate wrote a title in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and put it on the Cross. The writing was: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Fig. 90). Many of the Jews were dissatisfied: they came to Pilate, and said: “Write not: ‘The King of the Jews’, but that He said: ‘I am the King of the Jews’.” But Pilate answered: “What I have written, I have written.” And the soldiers cast lots for His garments, even as the prophets had foretold.

 

Fig. 90. Inscription of the Cross (kept in the church of S. Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome).

The reason why our Lord chose the death of the Cross. 1. Because He thereby offered the most complete satisfaction for our sins. Man had offended God by a disobedience which sprang from pride, when he desired to “be like unto God”. The Divine Redeemer atoned for this pride by choosing the most painful and ignominious of deaths. Under the Old Law, the body of an executed criminal was hung upon a cross as a token that such a man was cursed of God and rejected by the people; and yet Jesus suffered Himself to be hung on the Cross when alive! For this reason St. Paul writes thus (Gal. 3:13): “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (i. e. from sin), being made a curse for us: for it is written (Deut. 21:23): ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’.” By thus dying on the Cross, our Divine Saviour abased Himself as far as He could, so as to offer satisfaction for our pride. In like manner He atoned for our disobedience, for He became “obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8). 2. Our Lord chose to die on the Cross to show His unbounded love for us in a way which we could not mistake, and to move our hearts to love Him in return. When on the Cross, our Blessed Lord suffered the severest torments of Soul and Body, pouring out His Blood for our sakes, slowly, and drop by drop. “He hath loved us,” writes St. John,” and washed us from our sins in His Blood” (Apoc. 1:5). “See”, says St. Augustine, “see the wounds of the Crucified, the Blood of the dying, the ransom paid by the Redeemer; His Head is bowed down to kiss us; His Heart is opened to love us; His Arms are spread to embrace us; His whole Body is given to save us!”

The Cross the Sign of Redemption. It stands upon the earth and raises itself towards heaven, to signify that our Lord, when lifted up and hanging on the Cross between heaven and earth, purified this sinful earth and reconciled it to heaven. The four arms of the Cross signify the universality of Redemption, all men being saved by Christ crucified. They are symbols of the four parts of the world, pointing, when the Cross is laid down, to the north and south and east and west, and signifying that all men, all over the face of the globe, have a share in the fruits of Redemption. In the Cross alone is salvation, and from it flow all graces and blessings. Thus it is that in all her benedictions the Church makes use of the sign of the Cross; and whenever a Catholic makes the sign of the Cross, he confesses his faith in the crucified Son of God.

Prophecies fulfilled by the Death of Jesus on the Cross:

1. That of David (Ps. 21:17–19): “They have dug My Hands and My Feet.… They parted My garments amongst them, and upon My vesture they cast lots.”

2. That of Isaias (Is. 53:7): “He was offered because it was His own will, and He opened not His mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be as dumb as a lamb before his shearer.”

3. That of our Lord Himself (Mat. 20:19): “They (the Gentiles) shall crucify Him.”

Types fulfilled by our Lord crucified: 1. The tree of knowledge of good and evil (Old Test. III). 2. Isaac, who himself, going up the hill, carried the wood on which his father bound him, to sacrifice him (Old Test. XIII). 3. The paschal lamb (Old Test. XXXII). 4. The brazen serpent (Old Test. XLII).

The Compassion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Even as it was with our Lord, when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so was it with Him in the midst of His sufferings, when He was being led out to death; He did not think of Himself, but of the dreadful judgment which would ere long overtake Jerusalem and all its people. On the former occasion, He wept over the blindness and inevitable overthrow of the holy city; and now again He thinks with sorrow and compassion of the misery of the people. “Weep not for Me,” He exclaimed to the weeping women of Jerusalem, “but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Having on the first occasion warned ungrateful Jerusalem in vain, He now, in the midst of His Passion, strove to save His very tormentors from the coming judgments. He bore no rancour in His Heart at the ingratitude of His people, who had loaded Him with injuries and were dragging Him to a shameful death, but mourned over the temporal and eternal woe of those who were so blinded by their passions. There could be no heart so noble and loving as the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

God’s judgments on impenitent sinners. Our Blessed Lord’s words: “If in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?” have a deep meaning. If God thus punished His beloved Son for the sins of others, how will He punish men for their own sins! What will those suffer who are rejected by God, if He whom He loves suffered so much! The bitter Passion of our Lord Jesus is a practical warning of the terrible judgments which will overtake sinners.

The two mysteries of the holy Rosary, the Carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion, serve to remind us of the indescribable agony of Soul and Body which our Blessed Lord suffered on His way to Calvary.

The compassion and courage of the pious women. The vast crowd which was following Jesus was chiefly composed of His enemies, who were hooting, scoffing at Him and blaspheming, as He passed along. There were, however, among them some few pious women, who, in their great compassion for Him, pressed through the yelling crowd, so as to be near Him. They paid no heed to the abusive words of the furious crowd, they did not fear the violence of the soldiers, but let nothing keep them back from showing their compassion for their suffering Saviour. According to a reliable tradition, Veronica, who handed to our Lord a cloth wherewith to wipe the sweat from His brow, was one of these weeping women. When she received back the cloth from Him, the Sacred Face of Jesus was wonderfully imprinted on it.

Carrying the Cross is both necessary and meritorious. It was to all men that our Lord said (Mat. 16:24): “If any man will come after Me, let him deny Himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” Whoever, therefore, wishes to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ must take up his cross daily and follow our Lord, or, in other words, he must patiently bear all labours, burdens, and sufferings. The story of Simon of Cyrene shows us what a blessed and meritorious thing it is to carry the cross after Jesus. At first he strove against the honour imposed on him, considering it to be an indignity. Soon, however, he was seized with compassion for the Divine Sufferer, and from that moment he carried the Cross with joy. By the labour of love which he performed for our Lord, he obtained the gift of faith, and was consecrated bishop by St. Peter.

The devotion of the Way of the Cross places before us for our devout contemplation the sufferings of our Lord divided into fourteen stations, from His condemnation to death to His being laid in the sepulchre. The Church recommends this devotion very much, and he who devoutly practises it in a state of grace may obtain the same indulgences that are granted to the faithful who visit in person the sacred places in Jerusalem. The fourteen stations are as follows: 1. Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate; 2. The Cross is laid on the shoulders of Jesus; 3. Jesus falls under His Cross the first time; 4. Jesus meets His Mother; 5. Simon of Cyrene is compelled to help Jesus to carry the Cross; 6. St. Veronica wipes the Face of Jesus with a cloth; 7. Christ falls under His Cross the second time; 8. The women of Jerusalem mourn for our Lord; 9. Jesus falls the third time under the weight of the Cross; 10. Jesus is stripped of His garments; 11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross; 12. Jesus dies upon the Cross; 13. Jesus is laid in the arms of His most afflicted Mother; 14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

APPLICATION. Contemplate the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ very often and very devoutly, that you, like the pious women, may be moved to tears. Do not, however, be content with a merely natural compassion for your Saviour so cruelly nailed to the Cross, but let it call forth within you a deep love for the Son of God, who offered up His sufferings for you. Let it awaken in your heart a great horror of sin, which brought all this suffering on your sinless Saviour. Weep for yourself and for your sins which caused our Lord’s bitter Passion, and pray to your crucified God that His Precious Blood may not have been shed for you in vain. Never miss the opportunity of doing the Stations of the Cross, especially during Lent.








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