Note: The Lectio Divina based devotion below follows a Lenten journey called “By His Side.” The order for daily scriptures throughout Lent comes from “Praying with Passion,” by Ken Taylor. The daily scriptures chronologically follow the passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. I focus on a particular word or phrase from the day’s reading and meditate on what the passage says about Christ, human nature, and about our relationship with Christ and others. I end the meditation with a prayer for God’s grace.
Lectio: Matthew 27:27-30 (NRSV) – Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
Contemplation: “The governor’s soldiers … gathered the whole cohort around him.”
Meditation: A Roman legion was composed of about 5,550 men, all professional soldiers who signed on for terms lasting 25 years. Each legion consisted of ten cohorts. Nine of the ten cohorts contained about 500 men each, in addition to 120 horse riders that acted as scouts and dispatch leaders. The leading cohort of a legion included 800 men.
Matthew says that the “whole cohort” gathered around Jesus after he was condemned to crucifixion by Pilate and brought to the governor’s courtyard. I can imagine Jesus, a Jew, surrounded by five-hundred heavily trained, uniformed, armed, highly-coordinated, and battle-tested Roman soldiers. A couple of Roman soldiers would have been enough to instill fear in anyone, but 500, plus a few dozen horsemen?
Ordered by legitimate authorities, the hardened 500 soldiers waste no time in going to work, physically and psychologically torturing Jesus as they focus all their destructive behaviors on him alone. They physically and psychologically torture Jesus by stripping him, mocking him, and by inflicting pain by pressing thorns into his head with blows from a stick. The soldiers strip Jesus of his clothes to create a power differential, inducing an immediate shame and creating an environment where the fear and reality of sexual assault is always present. There is no supportive community for Jesus now; he is completely isolated and alone except for God and the Holy Spirit that strengthened him in his moment of trial. I can imagine the raucous and callous laughter rising from the cohort as they wait to take their turn at Jesus, each one trying to outdo the other, while they deliberately and systematically try to break him down by degrading and dismantling Jesus’ identity and humanity.
Today I meditate on the unbreakable strength of Jesus to endure torture, hostility, shame, degradation, powerlessness, violence, and dehumanization from his captors. I meditate on all sufferings of the violated and tortured all over the world and the hardships experienced by refugees and asylum seekers fleeing their homeland because of persecution or human rights violations in search of a safer, better life. I meditate on how Jesus shares in and is present with them in their experience.
Prayer: Today, I pray for the grace to know the unbreakable strength of Jesus more intimately. I also pray for the grace to care for the unbroken migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers fleeing their homelands because of persecution and human rights violations in search of a safe and better life.