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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

In this chapter, we have an account of the scourging of our Lord by Pilate’s orders, in the vain hope that this would appease the fury of the Jews, and cause them to relent at the sight of His pitiable condition; so that they would give over all further demands for punishment; all in vain. After seeing Him scourged, crowned with thorns, and presented in this sad plight, they still loudly call for His crucifixion (1–8). Next, we have an account of Pilate’s fears, his interrogation of our Lord, his dread of being accused before Tiberius. This latter consideration tells on his weakness: hence, trampling on conscience and justice, he hands our Lord over to the Jews to be crucified (8–16). Our Lord is crucified between two robbers (16–18).

The superscription on the cross which Pilate refuses to change, although urged to it by the Jews (19–22)

The division of our Lord’s garments between the soldiers, thus fulfilling an ancient prophecy (23, 24).

Our Lord beholding His Mother at the foot of the cross with St. John, commends her to his pious care (25–27). Our Lord in His thirst is offered vinegar, thus fulfilling another prophecy. All being consummated, He expires (28–30).

While the legs of the two robbers are broken, His are not, but His side is transfixed with a spear; thus, is a two-fold prophecy fulfilled (31–37).

Joseph, of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, embalm His sacred body, and place it in a new sepulchre, in which no one else had been deposited before (38–42).


1–13. (See Matthew 27:24–31.)

14. (See Matthew 27:45.)

15, 16. (See Matthew 27:30.)

Pilate was seized with alarm at the idea of being reported to Tiberius, whose jealous disposition had inspired all his governors with terror for befriending and protecting any disaffected subject, who might seek to grasp at sovereign power. The Jews knew this to be Pilate’s weak point. Hence, this weak, temporizing judge, fully convinced of our Redeemer’s innocence, and knowing Him to be “a just man,” from a feeling of selfish fear, condemns Him to the cruel and ignominous death of the cross. Little did he think, while trampling on the dictates of conscience, that the day was fast approaching, when he himself would be presented for eternal condemnation; before the judgment seat of Him whom he now unjustly condemned, who was constituted the judge of the living and the dead.

The recall of Pilate shortly after this, his humiliation and degradation, his unhappy end, are sadly recorded in History. (See a picture of an unjust judge, Matthew 26:62, Commentary.)

17, 18, 19–22, 23. (See Matthew 27:33–37.)

23, 24. (See Matthew 27:35.)

25. “Now, there stood by the cross of Jesus, His Mother.” The three other Evangelists make no mention of this affecting incident, this sorrowful scene, which the disciple of love could not leave unrecorded.

“There stood by the cross.” This Mother of Dolours, unmoved, witnessed with great dignity this terrible scene, without any of these violent paroxysms, to which in such circumstances less noble minds give way. This the word, “stood,” would convey. Hence, the assertion stating that our Blessed Lady fell into violent convulsive fits, on witnessing the agony of her son, is now generally rejected, as unworthy of her calm dignity and total resignation to the adorable will of God. (See Benedict xiv., de Festis B. M. V., Lib. 2, c. 4).

“There stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother.” When almost all had fled, Mary remained “a tower of Ivory” (Cant. 7:4), the faithful witness and sorrowful spectator of His barbarous tortures. Every outrage offered His Divine person, every blow, every wound inflicted on His sacred body, penetrated her inmost soul. Now, according to many of the Fathers, was verified in her regard the prophecy of the aged Simeon, “A sword of sorrow shall pierce thy own soul.” (Luke 11:35). Her feelings, as the tenderest of mothers, weeping over her only Son, and that Son she knew and believed to be her Creator and her God, the ingratitude of her own people, on whom He showered down so many signal blessings, who now in return, subject Him to the lash and nail Him to the cross—“Propeccatis suæ gentis, vidit Jesum in tormentis, et flagellis subditum”—their speedy and irreparable ruin, the enormity of the sins of men, and the inefficacy of the tortures of her Divine Son in regard to millions of His creatures, all engulph her in an ocean of sorrow;—“Magna est enim velut mare contritio tuo”—(Lam. 2:13), which was only equalled by the unshaken firmness of her resignation to God’s adorable will, and the seraphic ardour of her burning love.

25. “Mary of Cleophas.” There is a great diversity of opinion as to who she was. The Greek is, Mary of Clopas. It does not determine, whether she was the wife, sister, or daughter of Cleophas. She is called “the sister” of the Blessed Virgin. St. Thomas (ad Gal.), says she is the same as “Mary of James,” Mary, the mother of James, spoken of by the other Evangelists, and also by St. Jerome (Ad Hebid). She is also supposed to be the same as Mary of Alpheus.

She is called “the sister” of the Blessed Virgin. It is considered most probable, indeed, quite certain, that she was not her sister, in the strict sense of the word. She was termed such, according to the usage of the time which gave the appellation of sister, to a very near relative. Some say, that she was sister to St. Joseph; and so, could be called the sister of our Blessed Lady, or, that Cleophas was brother of St. Joseph (see Matthew 13:55–57).

It is said these women stood afar off (Matthew 27:55, 56).

26. From the lofty summit of His cross, Jesus contemplates the sorrows of this dolorous Queen of Martyrs—“When, therefore, Jesus saw His mother and the disciple standing, whom He loved”—and in the person of St. John, who, then, according to the teaching of several holy Fathers, represented the human race; or, at least, the sincere followers of our Divine Lord, He gave us over to her, as her children. “Woman, behold thy Son.” Are we not, then, the children whom Mary brought forth in sorrow at the foot of the cross, the children recommended to her by her dying first born? If she was spared the maternal throes in Bethlehem, was it not that she might experience them with tenfold intensity, in giving us, the children of sin, birth amidst the glooms of Calvary?

27. Then turning to us in the person of St. John, He exclaims, “Behold thy mother.” Woe to us, if we ever fail to reverence with special honour, or love with the most intense filial affection of devoted children, or cherish with unbounded confidence, the mother bequeathed to us, as the last pledge of His love, by her Divine Son, our dying Saviour. Is she not all powerful by grace, in the order of impetration, as Jesus, is all powerful by the Divine nature which He inherits? Is she not the vehicle, in the language of St. Bernard, through whose hands come all the graces which God imparts to the human race? “Omnia voluit nos habere per Mariam” (St. Bernard). Has she ever been known to desert any of her children, however unworthy, who had recourse to her, with the proper dispositions? “Point me out a case,” cries out her seraphic servant, St. Bernard, “where she ever deserted her clients, and I will cease to invoke her clemency.” But no, he exclaims, addressing the Virgin, “Memorare, O, Piissima Virgo Maria, non auditum fuisse a sæculo, quemquam ad tua currentem præsidia, tua implorantem auxilia, tua petentem suffragia, derelictum fuisse.”

Is not a true devotion to her reckoned by Divines among the marks of predestination to glory?

Where is the Catholic worthy of the name, who is not convinced, from the very traditional instincts of faith, that in Her, he has a most powerful protector in the dangers, temptations and trials of life; and especially, when standing on the threshold of eternity, when the roaring lion, knowing he has but a short time, will come down in great wrath (Apoc. 12:12), with redoubled efforts to accomplish his ruin?

Where is the true Catholic who ever doubts, that among the many abundant, nay, superabundant helps reserved for us in the treasury of God’s grace, as so many fruits of redemption, there is none on which we can so confidently rely as on the all-powerful mediation of the Blessed Virgin?

If in this belief, which they have sucked in with their mothers’ milk, the faithful are deceived, all we can say is, that it is the Catholic Church, which can never err either as regards doctrines or doctrinal devotions, that has deceived them. From her very institution on earth, there is nothing she so strongly inculcates on all her children as a tender filial devotion to the Mother of God. The Fathers and brightest lights of the Catholic Church, in all ages, would have grossly erred, on a most important point of religious teaching.

Is it not deserving of being gratefully recorded, that among the holy Fathers and saints of the Church in all ages, such of them as were most distinguished for solid learning and extensive erudition; such of them, as were most prominent, as the brilliant lights and intellectual leaders of their time, were equally prominent, and distinguished for zeal in promoting devotion to the Mother of God, and proclaiming her praises.

In proof of this we can confidently quote, Saints Bazil, Gregory Nazian. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Alexand. and later on, St. John Damascene, St. Bernard, St. Thomas of Aquin, St. Anthony of Florence, St. Bonaventure, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisium, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, who rivals St. Bernard in his seraphic love for his Blessed Mother, which he displays on all occasions, by proclaiming her praises.

If in our conviction regarding the powerful advocacy of the Blessed Virgin we are deceived; then all we can say is, that the saints of heaven and the faithful on earth, have gone astray for eighteen hundred years. Happy we, if we err along with them.

“And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.” (Greek, εις τα ιδια) his own house, or, took her under his special care and protection.

The probability is, that Joseph was dead; otherwise, our Lord would have committed His Blessed Mother to Joseph’s pious care.

28, 29. (See Matthew 27:48.) “Afterwards,” at the close of three hours of darkness, and immediately after the loud cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” “That the Scripture might be fulfilled” (Psa. 68:22).

“Said, I thirst,” and thus gave them an opportunity of giving Him “vinegar to drink,” “Et in siti mea, potaverunt me aceto” (Psa. 68:22).

30. “It is finished.” The whole work of Redemption assigned to Him by His Father, is now accomplished; the object of His Incarnation and of His labours on earth now fully secured (see Matthew 27:50). The mysteries connected with His human existence are accomplished, His tortures now all over. The final catastrophe in death alone remains; and this is now at hand.

31. “Parasceve” (see Matthew 26:2, Commentary).

“It was a great Sabbath day,” more solemn than the other Sabbaths, because, falling within the octave of the Pasch (see Matthew 12:1). The concurrence of the Pasch and of the ordinary Sabbath made it doubly solemn.

“That their legs might be broken,” in order to cause death more speedily, so that the shortening of the time of their suffering was compensated for by the intensity of pain, arising from the breaking of their legs. This dreadful punishment of crurifraction was, like crucifixion, inflicted on slaves (Seneca de ira), and on others who incurred the wrath of their masters.

The law of Deuteronomy (21:22), commanded that those who were hanged on a gibbet should be buried the same day. Crucifixion was unknown when the law of Deuteronomy was enacted. Those who were merely suspended would almost immediately expire. In the punishment of crucifixion, life was prolonged for days. The Romans sometimes allowed their victims to remain suspended till devoured by beasts and the birds of the air. The Jews fearing the land might be polluted, if bodies were left suspended during the Sabbath, requested that their legs would be broken. Thus their pains were intensified and life soon extinguished.

32, 33. “Finding our Lord already dead, they did not break His legs,” as in His case, it was unnecessary for accelerating death.

34. “But one of the soldiers,” as if doubting the reality of His death, in order to place the matter beyond all question, “opened His side with a spear.” The thrust of a spear from the strong arm of a Roman soldier, even if our Lord were alive, would surely cause death. The aperture caused by this thrust must be pretty large, as our Lord afterwards invited Thomas, when in a state of doubt, to thrust his hand into it (20:27). St. John dwells on the circumstance of His side having been opened by the spear of a soldier, which should cause instant death, in order to furnish the fullest proof of the reality of His death, and of His subsequent resurrection; and in order to remove all pretext for supposing that on the cross He merely swooned away; and, hence, not being really dead, He could not have really risen from the dead.

“And immediately there came out blood and water.” This is said by some to be the natural effect of the piercing of the side. The flowing of the blood and water renders it likely that the spear reached the heart; and this would have caused death, even if He were then alive. Hence, this is decisive evidence of the death of our Lord. This, by anticipation, refutes the errors, regarding the reality of our Lord’s death, as also the errors regarding the reality of His mortal flesh, which were propagated by swarms of early Heretics who soon sprung up, as tares in the field of our Lord. These went under the denomination of Gnostics.

Others regard the flow as supernatural. Without entering into the question as to the natural or supernatural character of this issue of blood and water; we can say that it was intended by St. John, in describing it, to prove this important fact, on which Christianity rests, viz., that our Lord truly died. He shows that on the cross our Lord had not suffered a syncope or fainting fit; but, had really died. This he establishes, by showing that those who were sent to ascertain if He were dead, believed Him to be dead; that the soldier inflicted a wound which surely, in case He were not dead, would have caused His death.

Commentators generally remark, that this issue of blood and water from the side of our Redeemer’s dead body, symbolized the two great Sacraments of the Church, viz., Baptism, denoted by the water, and the Eucharist, which really contains His sacred blood.

35. The Evangelist modestly refers to himself, as he always does, in the Third Person. For he was close by (v. 27). He dwells on this point of the reality of Christ’s death, to confirm our faith, of which the real death of Christ was a fundamental article.

36. “That the Scripture might be fulfilled,” mystically or allegorically. For, originally, in their literal sense, the words had reference to the Paschal Lamb, a type and emblem of Christ (Exodus 12:46).

Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the beginning of the world.” In Him was the type remarkably fulfilled (see Matthew 11:14, Commentary). In Him, who was chiefly in view in this mandate (Exodus 12:46), were the words verified in a still higher sense.

Thus was the Scripture completely fulfilled, both in its type and antitype; and it is the relation of type and antitype between Christ and the Paschal Lamb that is clearly contemplated by the Evangelist.

37. “Another Scripture” (Zacharias 12:10), in which the opening of His side is signified and predicted. These prophetical words denote Christ’s twofold coming; His first, in the words, “whom they pierced;” His second, in the words, “they shall look on Him,” coming in glory in the clouds of heaven, with great power and majesty.

In the original of Zachary (12:10), God, speaking of Himself, says: “They shall look on ME, whom they pierced,” and this is here applied to Christ. Hence, Christ is God.

By saying, “they shall look on Him, whom they pierced,” it was predicted He was to be transfixed, and they shall look on Him hereafter in glory.

38–41. (See Matthew 27:57–61.)

42. Owing to the approach of sunset, after which they could not bury Him, on account of the Sabbath just at hand, they laid Him down in the nearest and most convenient place, probably with the intention of honouring Him, in due time, with a more befitting monument, and burying Him with greater solemnity, as Euthymius observes.

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