AND WHEN THEY HAD BLINDFOLDED HIM
When the tragicomedy acted by the masters had ended in a death-sentence, the devils' band of lower ranks had their turn. While the high officials went apart to take counsel on the manner of securing the ratification from the Procurator and executing the death sentence with all speed, Jesus was thrown as prey to the rabble in the Palace, as the trimmings of the slain animal is thrown to the pack which has taken part in the hunt. The thugs who lived upon the leavings of the Temple felt that they had as their perquisite the right to some amusement. *Man, the beast, when he is certain of immunity, knows no more pleasing recreation than to wreak himself upon the defenseless, especially if the defenseless is innocent. Our bestial nature, crouching untamed at the bottom of every human heart, rushes out bold and snarling; the face becomes a muzzle, teeth are tusks, hands appear what they really are, claws, the articulate sounds of human speech vanish in scowling and howling. If a drop of blood reddens to the view, they jostle each other to lick it up: there is no more intoxicating liquor than blood: it is far more stimulating than wine, and far fairer to see, red as it is, than the water of Pilate.
But fierceness breaking loose readily takes the form of play; even tigers are sportive, even children, as soon as they begin to grow strong at all, and are tigerish. The captors of Christ, waiting for foreign authority to confirm the death sentence of the most innocent of their brothers, meant to give Christ a humorous foretaste of His sufferings. They had permission to jest with their King, to distract themselves with their God. And they felt that they really deserved some amusement; they had been awake all night long, and the night had been cold: and then the march up to the Mount of Olives, fearing resistance, a well-grounded fear, since one of them had had his ear stricken off; and then the long wait, till dawn, a very tiring business especially on those festal days when the city and the Temple were jam-packed of foreigners and there was so much more for everyone to do.
But they did not know how to begin. He was tied and his friends had disappeared. But this man who looked at them with an expression they had never seen till then, with a steady look which seemed beyond all earthly things and yet searched them out within like a ray of troublesome sunshine—this man, bound, exhausted, the fresh sweat on His face softening the drops of dried blood on His cheeks, this insignificant man, this defenseless provincial with no protecting patrons, condemned to death by the highest and holiest tribunal of the Jewish people, this human rubbish destined to the cross of slaves and thieves, this laughingstock whom the authorities had given over to their abuse like a puppet at the saturnalia, this man who did not speak nor complain nor weep, but who looked on them as if He had compassion on them, as a father might look at his sick child, as a friend might look at a delirious friend, this man, mocked by all, inspired in their worthless souls a mysterious reverence.
But one of the Scribes or the Elders gave the example, and spat at Jesus as he passed by Him. He was too careful of His ritual cleanliness to contaminate His newly washed hands, ready for the Passover, by touching an enemy of God, who, near to death, was already impure like a corpse. But saliva: what is saliva? Refuse of the body, contempt materialized in a liquid.
And on that face illumined by the early morning sun and by imprisoned divinity, on that face transfigured by the light of the sun and by love's light, on the golden face of Christ, the spittle of the Jews covered the first blood of the Passion. But for the rabble of the servants and the guards spitting was not enough, nor were they afraid of defiling their hands. The example of the leaders had overcome the impression made on them by the condemned man's sad and brotherly look. The guards who were nearest Him struck Him in the face; those who could not strike His face rained down blows and threats, and the words which came from the mouths of those insensate men wounded Him more cruelly than blows.
That face, which had been white as a hawthorn blossom and shining like sunlight, darkened into the livid purple of beaten flesh. The fair, gracious body, reeling with blows, staggered in the midst of the heaving crowd. Christ said no word to those who vomited out on Him the appalling contents of their souls. He had answered the guard who had struck Him in the presence of Annas, asking him to correct Him if He had spoken ill; for this ribald mob let loose He had no answer. But one of them more quick-witted or more childish than the others had an idea: he took a dirty cloth and with it covered the bleeding, buffeted face, tying the corners behind. And he said: "Let us play blind man's buff. This man boasts of being a prophet; let us see if he can guess which of us is striking him." (Matt. 26:67)
Christ's face was covered. Was there, in the action of the ruffians, an unconsciously compassionate desire to spare Him, at least, the sight of His brothers become like beasts? Or was that look of suffering love really unendurable to them? With childish cruelty, they arranged themselves in a circle about Him and first one and then another twitched a fold of His garment, gave Him a blow on the shoulder, thrust Him in the back, struck Him with a staff over the head: "Prophesy! Who is it that smote thee?" (Matt. 26:68)
Why did He not answer? Had He not predicted the ruin of the Temple, wars and earthquakes, the coming of the Son of Man on clouds and many other idle stories? How was it that now He could not make such an easy guess, give the name of a person so close at hand? What sort of a prophet was this? Had he lost His power all at once, or had He never had it? He might be able to make those poor countrified Galileans believe His stories, but here we are in Jerusalem, the city which understands prophets and kills them when they do not show a proper spirit. Luke adds, "And many other things blasphemously spake they against him." (Luke 22:65)
But Caiaphas and the others were in haste and thought that the servile pack had amused itself long enough. The false king must be taken to Pilate that his sentence be confirmed: the Sanhedrin could pronounce judgment, but since Judea was under Roman rule, it had no longer, unfortunately, the Jus Gladii. And the High Priests, Scribes and Elders, set out for the Palace of the Procurator, followed by the guards leading Jesus with ropes, and by the yelling horde which grew larger as they went along the street. (Luke 22:66)