Saturday 27 June 2015

The Veiled Majesty of Jesus Christ

                                                           Ecce Homo- Cigoli

The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”  Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid
John 19:7-8

The Gospel accounts of the encounter between Pontius Pilate and Jesus are tensely dramatic and full of profound meanings. This exchange between Pilate and the mob occurred immediately after the scourged and mocked Jesus had been displayed publicly. There could be few individuals in the world who looked less divine than our Lord did at that moment. Yet to the mind of the Roman Governor these words of the Jewish crowd carried a ring of conviction. He clearly accepted the possibility that perhaps his prisoner was after all what He has apparently claimed to be. Why might that be?

There are various plausible explanations. As an occupying power the Romans would have had a good intelligence network which no doubt informed Pilate about the miracles attributed to Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem. Also he had received a message from his wife anent our Lord 'Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him(Matt 27:19) Taken together these might have been sufficient to induce the Governor to take the claim of divinity seriously. I doubt this however. In the world of the first century Roman Empire claims about miracle workers and prophetic dreams were if not commonplace at least of sufficient frequency for them to be explained by things other than divine filiation.

It seems likely to me that there was something about the person of Jesus which conveyed outwardly the inward truth about His origins. It was not so obvious as to compel recognition or belief but it was there to be seen by anyone who looked closely enough. Pilate was, in effect, a politician. To get where he got to he had to have an ability to 'read' people. In Jesus he perhaps read something which at the least puzzled him. Our Saviour possessed what we would call charisma (although technically this is inapplicable in His case, I mean charisma in the popular sense.) We can only speculate as to how this might have manifested itself but it would probably take different form depending on the role that He was fulfilling. In this case He was on trial for His life, He had been abandoned by His friends, beaten by the Jews, scourged by the Romans. And yet His judge at least half-believed that He was the Son of God.

I have often wondered what it would be like to look into the eyes of Jesus. I feel that in those something essential about His mystery is to be seen. In the encounter between Judge and Judged I think that it was in the eyes of his prisoner that Pilate would have seen the intimation of the real nature of our Lord. He wavered before them for a while but then surrendered to the demands of the mob, as politicians will whatever their inner wisdom might tell them to do. He veiled his own eyes because he preferred power and applause to the uncertainties of the journey which the charisma of Jesus promised him.

Does this have any significance for us today? The Church is the Body of Christ. In many parts of the world like Him it is scourged and bloody, in other parts it is mocked and ridiculed, politicians turn away from it. Almost everywhere it is crowned with thorns. Yet veiled within it is the divine majesty of Christ. It is there to be seen by those who look. If it must face its Passion it can do so with a serene confidence in its Resurrection. Some vent their fury upon it precisely because they do sense that hidden divinity, others allow that fury to flow without seeking to hinder it because they, like Pilate, choose to veil their own eyes. As long, though, as the Church returns again and again to its divine source to draw strength and renew hope there are no defeats it cannot overcome, no losses it cannot sustain and no persecution it cannot survive. Try as they might the gates of hell will not prevail, the Church of Christ will survive until the time comes to greet its returning Lord. Vivat Christus Rex!

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