Thorns

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you."

Though I have often heard how fruitful it is to meditate on the wounds of Christ, until very recently found that practice difficult.  The horror of the Passion overwhelmed me, saddened me, frightened me.  But something has changed of late which allows me to look on my crucified Lord with new eyes.  In my last post I talked about the nails in Jesus' hands.  Now I am seeing the crown of thorns.  Another type of piercing painful to the body, yes; but this torment was aimed at the soul.  The men who fashioned the crown were mockers taunting Jesus' for His claim to be king, or rather, for  His refusal to deny that title.  

Perhaps there was an even deeper mockery going on, one inspired from hell.  There was one present at the crucifixion who was present in the garden, a witness to the curse of Adam and the ground.  I am sure Satan reveled to see the Son of God crowned with thorns - a reminder of the Father's judgment and his own first victory with men.

But I believe Jesus saw the crown of thorns differently.  He came with the intention of bearing and breaking the curse, and so the thorns were a fitting symbol. The crown was a visible sign of humility, of love, and in a way obscured to our jeering, disbelieving eyes, it was a sign of authority. The crown on Christ’s head testifies to His redemption of the earth, just as His wounds witness  His power over death.

Adrienne von Speyr was an early twentieth century mystic and Catholic theologian who claimed that the most defining attribute of the Father is that He is the one who takes responsibility.  He created all things.  He sustains them.  And because He fathers men, He refuses to abandon them to their own fate but plans a means of redemption at His own cost. He inflicts the curse in His righteous judgment, and in so doing, puts limits on our folly.  But He sends His Son to bear the curse with us and for us – limiting our pain and opening the tree of life again, only more gloriously as we now known the depth of God’s love.

The funny thing about mockers is that they cannot stand to be mocked. Satan delights in our fear, in our anger, in our hate, but he cannot stand to be laughed at.   Silence unsettles him as well.  I suspect hell would have enjoyed the crucifixion far more had Jesus spat and cursed and called down fire from heaven. But He did not.  Jesus suffered in silence, in patience, in confidence.

I fear that for all our talk about becoming Christ-like, most Christians resemble the devil more than their Savior when faced with mocking.  We hate it.  We fear it, and with some justification.  It is true that mockery usually precedes persecution. This was the pattern for Jesus.  Mocking at the trial, death at the cross.

This was the pattern in Nazi Germany. Years of defamatory propaganda fueled the fires of Kristalnacht.  Our friend Hanna Miley remembers being taunted at school.  She and other Jewish children were put in the middle of a circle while their Gentile classmates danced round singing songs about killing ugly, stupid Jews. Shortly after, her family was rounded up and forced into a ghetto in Cologne.  Thankfully, Hanna escaped on a Kindertransport rescue train.  Her parents did not.

For the most part, American Christians have not suffered the sting of mockery or persecution.  There have been some shining exceptions – the early abolitionists, the pioneers of the civil rights movement. But in general, American has been a safe-haven of religious freedom and that is a blessed thing – a gift to us citizens and a blessing to the world. Yet many of us feel the tide turning. Academia has long been a skeptic of faith, if not an outright mocker.  Our entertainment industry daily serves up fare pushing traditional standards of decency farther and farther to the fringes of society, and they do so because we eat it up, Christians included. Now we begin to hear outright attacks on traditional Christian teaching regarding sexuality, beliefs held by most civilizations for millennia, not only Judeo-Christian societies. 

I feel the fear rising.  We try to fight back with legislation.  Others rant on social media.  We do not like to be mocked.  We are not comfortable with silence.  And not all of us should be silent.  There is always need for the prophet.  But I believe there is also need for patient enduring, even suffering in confidence that our Father will make all things right.

As a child I loved the beatitudes. I spent a lot of time imagining what it must be like to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be meek or poor in spirit.  But there was one beatitude which scared me.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven!”   On the one hand, I was relieved that it seemed unlikely that I would ever be put to such a test. I simply did not know if I had that kind of strength. On the other hand, I wanted all the blessings and rewards in heaven I could carry. That is a childlikeness which I hope pleases the Father.  I still want that desire to mark me though I am now wiser and more aware of my own weakness.

Jesus, you are beautiful in Your crown of thorns, and I want to be like You.

Iron

"Oh mad lover! It was not enough for You to take on our humanity; You had to die as well!" - St. Catherine of Siena

Lately when I pray I often see the nails in Jesus' hands.  It is not a gory, bloody scene.  What strikes me most in this internal vision is His patience and humility.  His willingness, His love.

And I know that the One who allowed his body hands to be pierced with iron is entirely trustworthy to wield the rod of iron that will shatter the nations.

Come, Lord Jesus!  We need Your mercy and Your justice!