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THE FORTIETH CHAPTER.
Jesus is attacked with blaspshemies.
Nowere sat not far from the Cross, the executioners, who kept guard over Christ, and waited for the end. And let us also wait for the death of Christ, not as they did, out of hatred, but with bitter sorrow, watching for our salvation to be ended by Christ; nor let us go away from the Cross, since our whole salvation is hanging thereon. A certain soul, glowing with love, hath said: “I sat under His shadow, Whom I desired, and His fruit is sweet to my mouth.” And what can be sweeter to the soul that loveth, than after the distractions, and the labours, and the many troubles which happen to her in this valley of tears, whether she will or no, and which weary her, to take breath under the shadow of the health-giving Cross, and to refresh herself, and to collect her distracted senses, and to strengthen herself in her exhaustion with the delightful fruit of this tree, and to drink her fill of the torrent of her Beloved’s Sacred Side, which floweth indeed with milk and honey? The Jewish 314people waited for the end: let us, too, persevere to the end, nor let us go aside from the cross until our salvation be accomplished thereon; for whoever shall persevere to the end, the same shall be saved; and in like manner, let it only be together with our life that we finish our penance.
The Jews watched for the end, because neither by blood, nor cruelty, nor by torture, could they glut their rage. And because in their serpent hearts they could think no more of any kind of torment, whereby to torture Christ’s Body; at the last, their hands failing, they began to crucify our Lord with their tongues. O unutterable wickedness! O unheard-of hatred! O cruelty without measure! In their devilish rage they wagged their sacrilegious heads, and spat upon Him, and said: “Vah! Thou Who destroyest the temple, and in three days buildest it again!” Oh! thine immense blindness, thou wicked Jew! Thou believest not what thou seest before thy very eyes! Already—now, even now, is the temple destroyed, and it is thou who hath destroyed it; but wait for three days, and thou shalt see it built again! O unutterable perversity and wickedness of the Jews, who put forth their whole strength, that, as they had worn away His Body, and reduced it almost to nothing, so also they might utterly blot 315out His glorious Name! But the more eagerly they tried to do this, so much the more did they exalt Christ, and add to His Name greater splendour and glory. They thought, indeed, that they could utterly blot it out by a shameful death, but they only raised it up the higher, as that of a judge upon his throne. With their own hands they built for Him a column, on which was placed the title of His Royal Majesty; and not only could they not suppress His Name within their own nation, but they spread it abroad all the more among all nations, and caused it to be extolled; so that they who before had not known Christ might read and know that He was the very King of Israel. Wherefore, by their very insults they honoured Christ, and against their will added praise to praise. For they were so full of malice and wickedness, that if they had known aught of evil against Him, beyond all doubt they would have brought it forth, and cast it against Him. But because in that most pure gold, so many times tried in the fire of affliction, and of the Cross, they had been unable to find any dross, they tried to cast shame upon His virtues, and His glorious miracles, and His Divine Name. O most blind Jews! how just do ye declare our Lord to be, when ye have nothing in your malice to reproach Him with, save what is pure, and holy, and 316divine; as, for example, that He had: raised the dead to life, that He had given health to the sick, that He had done marvellous works; in a word, that He was the Son of God.
Now this we too hold with undoubting faith. For had He not been Very God, of a surety He could not have worked these wonders. When ye saw these great wonders, ye would not believe; now, therefore, ye have been utterly caught in your mad wickedness, so that against your will ye confess that “He saved others.” Ye throw it in His teeth that He is the King of Israel, as we saw when speaking of the title of the Cross. And hereafter ye shall see as your stern Judge, sentencing you to everlasting fire, Him Whom you have just condemned to the death of the Cross. Ye make it a reproach to Him that He hath God for His Father. Within three days ye shall indeed prove the truth of this, when God the Father shall raise Him from the dead, and yet again, when Christ shall Himself ascend to His Father in heaven.
But now let every man weigh with himself, and meditate with great compassion and sorrow, how the tender Heart of Christ must have been afflicted, when He, Whose nature is goodness itself, beheld all this hateful and obstinate wickedness of the Jews, and at the same time knew, by 317His divine wisdom, how it was from the malice and the hatred of their hearts that they vomited forth these reproaches and blasphemies. Of a truth, if over and above this they could have heaped upon Him aught of reproach or of wrong, in nowise would they have shrunk therefrom. Then, indeed, could our tender Lord say in His Heart: “My people, what have I done to thee, or how have I troubled thee? Why art thou so cruel, so furious against the God Who made thee? Why art thou so made of rock and stone, that My warm Blood, which thou seest falling on the ground like water, and at the very touch of which the rocks themselves are torn asunder, cannot soften thy heart nor warm it, no, nor even touch it? See how the senseless elements, and creatures without reason, show signs of sorrow; and thou, My people, whom I have enlightened with a singular knowledge of My Godhead, whom I have taught the law and spiritual ceremonies, whom I have treated with such kindness, hast lifted thyself up against thy God, and hast forgotten all His benefits.
“It was for thy sake that I smote Egypt with many plagues; thou, on the contrary, hast smitten Me with many blows. Marvellously did I lead thee out of Egypt; I dried up the Red Sea beneath thy footsteps; I laid low thine enemies without 318any labour to thee; but thou hast delivered Me to Pilate, and eagerly plotted for My death. In the wilderness for forty years I fed thee with manna; thou hast given Me gall and vinegar to drink. I led thee through the wilderness; by day I sheltered thee from the heat with a cloud, by night I gave thee light in the pillar of fire; thy garments were not worn out: but thou hast led Me cross-laden unto death, and hast stripped Me of My garments, and placed Me naked on the Cross. I honoured thee with a royal sceptre; but thou hast crowned Met with thorns, and given Me a reed for My sceptre; and after having mocked Me, killed Me. What can I do to thee, that at last thy malice may cease? My Body and My Blood I gave to thee, and My fresh fair nature I suffered thee well nigh to wear away. For three and thirty years I laboured for thy conversion, and thou: wouldst not hear Me. Now, at least, I pray thee, let My bitter Passion; and numberless Wounds, and burning tears, soften thee, whom My words could not turn; let My warm Blood warm thee, whom so many of My miracles could not touch.”
But those wretched ones, like mad dogs, cried out in answer: “If Thou art the Son of God, come down from the Cross!”
O Jesus! unvanquished Lion; heed them 319not; place no faith in their deceitful words. For they who would not believe, even if one were to rise from the dead, would not now believe, wert Thou to come down from the Cross! Come not down, good Jesus; but finish the work of our salvation upon Thy Cross, for all our salvation lieth in Thy death. Suffer in patience, meanwhile, their blasphemies and reproaches, and teach us the power of charity and patience, by praying for Thine enemies. In this the Jews showed themselves to be the children and disciples of the devil, by following their father, who had already before this said to Christ: “If Thou art the Son of God, cast Thyself down!” But, good Jesus, come not down, but rather let the prayer of Thy Heart mount upwards to Thy Father. Let this, Thy innocent Blood, reconcile the Father to us, and plead from the Cross for us; and then afterwards go up Thyself to Thy Father in heaven, and prepare a place for us, and open to us an entrance into heaven!
And now, O most merciful Father of heaven, look down upon the torn coat of Thy beloved Son Joseph, which He left in the hands of the wicked woman, that is, of the adulterous race of the Jews, choosing rather to lose His own garment than His innocence, and to be stripped of the covering 320of His body, and to be cast into prison, than to consent to her deceitful words.
Moreover, at the same time, both the chief priests and the elders persecuted our Lord with blasphemies and reproaches, saying: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down from the Cross.” But Christ dwelt not on those blasphemies, but bore them in patience, desiring to fulfil the works of perfect love, not desiring to save Himself, that He might save many, and choosing to continue in those horrible pains, that He might deliver all men from torments everlasting. From this we may clearly gather how faithfully our Lord Jesus worked out our salvation, when on account neither of the bitterness of His pain, nor of the calumnies and reproaches of the Jews, nor of His Mother’s measureless woes, nor for any cause whatever, even for a moment, did He pause in the work of our salvation, with which He was then engaged upon the Cross. And we, on the other hand, how often are we called away by light causes from the service of God, and from earnestness in prayer, and fasting, and watching, and acts of penance! How easily do we wound charity, when at one little word we lay aside patience, not considering all the shame, and reproach, and ignominy, and contempt, which the King 321of Glory suffered from His own chosen people. And yet most certainly was He grievously tormented in heart at these things. Pitiably doth He complain by the mouth of His Prophet of the sharpness of this internal pain: “And, indeed, if Mine enemy had spoken evil against Me, I would indeed have borne it. But thou, the man of My peace, in whom I hoped, and who eat My bread, hath magnified deceit upon Me, and lifted up his head against Me!”
O how sorely stricken was that meek Lamb, when His own peculiar people blasphemed Him, and visited Him with reproach and calumny, since, instead, they ought rather to have praised, and loved, and thanked Him, because He, the true God, had not refused, for man’s salvation, to die so shameful a death.
Nor was it only against the Son of God that these wicked ones blasphemed, but, moreover, they let loose their tongues, as so many ready instruments of the devil, in order to wrong and blaspheme His Father, saying: “He trusted in God: let Him deliver Him now, if He will, for He said: I am the Son of God!” O wicked and impious people, whither hath the evil spirit led thee, that thou shouldst throw in the teeth of the Father of mercies His own goodness? Did He do thee any wrong, when He opened His Fatherly 322bosom, and poured forth the riches of His grace, and sent His only One upon earth, to take upon Him human nature from thy own race, in order that He might go in search of the lost sheep of thy house, and heal them,—and by giving Himself up to death for thy salvation, might pay thy heavy debt in the precious Blood of His beloved Son? And in return for these His benefits, thou vomitest out blasphemies upon Him, as if He could not help His Son, Who, although He died Himself, will one day recall all the dead by one word to life, and Who, also, by a word, hath made the heavens and the earth. Let us consider what a grievous cross it must have been to our Lord Jesus to hear such blasphemy against His Father, knowing how grievously it stirred up His Father’s anger, and how horrible was the judgment hanging over them. Of a truth, all His bowels were moved to pity at the mad blindness of His people, and with a last voice He cried out to the Father: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?”
O incomprehensible goodness of Christ! He did now, what formerly He had taught when He said, that we should love our enemies, and pray for them who persecute us, and what the Prophet had long ago foretold of Him: “They who loved Me spoke evil against Me, but I prayed.” 323They cursed Him, and He blessed them: and although so great was their wickedness as not to admit of excuse; nevertheless, so far as He could, He made excuse for them to the Father, saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?” O marvellous power of this prayer, poured forth, as it was, in such anguish, and with such love! For when others, by reason of the vehemence of pain, easily forget even their dearest friends, and cannot pray even for themselves, Christ prayed for His enemies. Yet this His prayer was poured forth not only for them, who then crucified Him with their hands, and blasphemed Him with their tongues, but also for all those who still crucify our Lord Jesus by their wicked actions, and blaspheme Him by their sins. These, of a truth, know not what they do; for they are seized with a five-fold blindness. First, they know not how fearfully they stir up the power of the just Judge, by despising the commandments of so mighty a Lord. Secondly, they know not how merciful a Father they offend, how faithful a protector they abandon, Whose friendship they lose. Thirdly, they do not know how shamefully they disfigure their own fair and noble souls, which have been made to God’s image. Fourthly, they do not know how horrible are the torments of hell, which they deserve. Fifthly, they do 324not know how great is the glory and the joy of heaven, which they lose.
Here we may learn that we should firmly persevere in those crosses which God permitteth to come upon us, and with S. Andrew the Apostle, suffer not ourselves to be loosened therefrom by men, but that we should remain with constancy upon the cross, until our Lord Himself loosen and free us therefrom. Nor, either by reason of the grievousness of the cross, or the reproaches and scoffs of men, or for the sake of relief and comfort, should we go down from the cross, when we have once taken it up. For this would be to consent to the devil, who is ever whispering in our ears: “Come down from the cross, and save thyself.” Some men forsake the cross of some light affliction, and throw aside their patience, and for some little word or slight adversity, cease to walk in Christ’s footsteps, in which they had begun to tread. Others leave the cross of holy religion, for some small temptation, after they have entered thereon. Others, again, put off the cross of penance, for the sake of some little pleasure of the world, and in order to be comforted for a very little while. These have forsaken Christ’s-footsteps, and given themselves to the devil, who is ever crying in the hearts of men, that they should come down from the cross, and save themselves, 325and satisfy their pleasures and lusts, and indulge the affections of their nature, and refresh their spirit meanwhile with vain comforts and delights. “It is not thy business,” he saith, “to practise hard penance, to observe the austerity of religion, and to die daily to thyself. Wilt thou kill thyself! Come down quickly from the cross and save thyself.”
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