Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
The torture and mocking of Jesus is completely unnecessary. He is a man condemned to die, and yet the soldiers in the governor’s palace can’t seem to help themselves. They display all of the brutality and violence that the Roman Empire was famed for. Empire can stand no rivals. It depends on men like these to enforce compliance, even against a powerless man.
This torture and humiliation takes place in the courtyard of the palace. We read nothing of a crowd, just a group of soldiers who gather their unit together and mock Jesus, already a dead man walking. There is no compassion. This Jesus has dared to challenge the Empire and people will see what happens to anyone who dares to do that.
These men are not us. They are from a different time and place. And yet we know that this behaviour is never far from the surface of humanity. We know that left to our own devices and given the right conditions it doesn’t take much for us to become the people who mock and spit and even resort to violence. Waterboarding. Rendition. Solitary confinement. Refugee detention centres. They say a society can be judged on how it treats its prisoners.
God, You show us the way of peace And yet we are quick to violence. You show us humility And yet we are quick to lord it over others. You show us compassion And yet we are quick to punish.
Forgive us. Transform us. Renew us in your image. Amen
Stewart Cutler is the minister elect of Stonehouse Church – a Church of Scotland and URC Local Ecumenical Partnership.