Behold the Man
Among the scenes of the Passion of Christ which have been pictured over and over again is that known as the Ecce Homo—‘behold the Man.’ St Teresa of Avila attributed to this image her conversion from a lukewarm religious to a fervent contemplative: It was, she said, ‘a shattering experience’ ‘I was deeply moved to see Him thus, so well did it picture what He suffered for us. So great was my distress when I thought how ill I had repaid Him for those wounds that I felt as if my heart were breaking, and I threw myself down beside Him, shedding floods of tears and begging Him to give me strength.’ No doubt there have been many other souls similarly converted by ‘beholding the Man.’
It was the moment when Pilate brought Jesus out before the people. Pilate may well have been appealing to the pity of the crowd. The sight of what the soldiers had done to Jesus must have been shocking. After scourging him they had made a crown of thorns and beaten it into Jesus’ head; they had draped the bloody body with a scarlet robe and keep striking him in the face. Pilate must have thought that this poor wretch so a far from being a king was hardly recognizable as a man.‘ A worm and no man.’ Hardly at this point a threat to anyone. Perhaps there were some of his followers in the bloodthirsty crowd now ashamed that they could have ever believed in him as a hero and savior.
Like other characters in the drama of the Lord’s Passion and Death Pilate often said more than he knew. We can be fairly certain that what Pilate said he said in Latin: Ecce Homo. It is a peculiarity of Latin language that it has no definite article, no word for ‘the’. So we might translate it ‘behold Man’ or ‘behold Mankind.’ Which gives us plenty to think about today.
When Pilate brought in Jesus and said Ecce Homo, although he certainly did not realize it, he was holding up a mirror to the crowd and to us as well. Wounded, scared, bloody, beaten, hardly a man at all, that is what we really look like. Worms not men. Remove the plastic surgery, the nice clothes, the $100 dollar haircuts, the expensive psycho-therapy, the happy faces glued on to the outside, and what you will see is something horrific.
On top of that we can recognize in every laceration on the body of Jesus our rebellion, our own sins, our self-reliance, our fear of failure, our fear of everyone and everything other than God. Today we are to find ourselves not in the brilliant insights of modern psychology but on the battered body of Christ: his back, his head, his face, his hands, his feet, his pierced side. Who did that to Jesus? We can comfortably debate the question: “Was it the Jews’ fault?” “Were the Romans to blame?” More uncomfortably we may discover that we did it. You and me. On the Cross is all the sin that ever happened, all the sin that will ever happen, from the beginning to the end, two thousand years ago, last week, yesterday and today.
If there was someone in the crowd to translate Pilate's words into Hebrew for the benefit of the Jews it would have come out ‘behold Adam’ – the name of the first man being the name of all men. In this lies our hope. All at once when we ‘behold the Man’ we see two Adams, the old and new, mankind unredeemed and mankind redeemed. So we see the 'much more' of St. Paul: “Adam was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many”.
“Much more”. There is more sin to be seen in the Passion of Jesus than that of Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate and the crowd. But there is even more grace to be seen. “ Because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”. If all we see, when we “ behold the Man” is the same old sad story of human failure, sin triumphs again, death triumphant once again, we see quite literally ‘nothing’ ‘the absence of good’. But there is more to be seen, much more: “as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”.
Good Friday requires that we see: ‘behold the man’ as much as we would rather avert our eyes from the horror. But more, much more: we are to ‘behold the wood of the Cross whereon was hung the world’s salvation".
Behold the Man