The Scourging at the Pillar

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”  And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  Then he released for them Barab’bas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:24)

The martyrdom of the modern Christian is humiliation. It was rather mean-spirited of Blessed John Paul II to point that out, considering that our natural response to the threat of humiliation is “I’d rather die,” or that fiction-writing cliché — “I wish the ground would swallow me whole.”

Death is final — humiliation is drawn out like a cancer. We’d take the lions before the libel, calamity before calumny, for while we may keep our sense of dignity and worth in death, humiliation strips us naked. Let me not be put to shame, O LORD, for I call upon You…

Catholics have a terrible habit of imagining ourselves dying stoically for love of Christ, linking arms with Kolbe, Agatha and all the rest. We rarely imagine having our reputation destroyed, our fellow Christians desert us, and our faces made synonymous with feces — and then not dying. Truly, not dying may be the more difficult task.

So it is with Christ. It was not enough that he should die for us — he was utterly humiliated for our sake. He was [quite literally] the most detestable human being to ever crawl the face of the Earth. He became humanity’s scapegoat, containing within his frame all the guilt, shame and sadness we whores deserve but barely feel.

If we think that when Christ called out to his Father in the garden to “Take this cup away from me,” he was referring to the mere physical pain of the cross, then we make our Christ a coward. No, the fear that shook the God of the Universe was of being utterly, entirely forsaken. At the risk of repetition, Jesus Christ took upon himself the total sum of all humiliation we should be wracked with for our sins. He became for us humiliation itself.

There is in almost all Christian depictions of the Passion of Our Lord one false addition. A loincloth. In reality, it is extremely unlikely that Christ was allowed to wear anything during a Roman scourging, and certainly not during a Crucifixion. We are not comfortable that He be entirely exposed, entirely vulnerable. It seems we can bear his hideous death, but it is too much that he be naked while he endures it. It is the humiliation, not just the agony, that makes us squirm.

And thus we arrive at the Scourging at the Pillar. Christ was naked under the whips, and oh, how we gain from such humiliation! We are the pillar, and our Lover Christ stretches the gift of his body around us, protecting us from the lash of sin. He absorbs the sting of humiliation on his back, the pain that we by all rights should feel, that we might be able to look at God Who is Goodness and not die from shame. He wraps himself around the Pillar — and after all, what is a Pillar? “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen 28:22) It is God’s house. It is the Church. What a bridegroom have we!

  • Laurie Schultz


  • Peter Uhel

    Brother, these last two posts make me go; after an utterly emasculating and humiliating refusal from THE woman I love. Keep it up, you’re keeping me alive.

    A bad Catholic from Hungary.

  • Aaron Lopez

    Marc, what do you study at university? Is it theology?

    Great post bro!

  • Christy

    Beautiful. Thank you for your witness!

  • nayhee

    Great post! Except for the “whores” part. Technically kind of true, but its just a little too much Protestant-totally-depraved for my liking.

    • nayhee

      oh wait, I should have said, in case it isn’t clear: I am referring to the Protestant notion of “total depravity” as articulated by J. Calvin. I didn’t mean that Protestants were more totally depraved than anyone else. :)

    • Jay E.

      Read Ezekial 16. Marc’s comment is dead on.

  • Rose

    What an UTTERLY beautiful image of us being the pillar as He shields us from what we brought upon ourselves. Groaaaannnnn…

  • Mary Liz Bartell

    Sweetness of Christ’s Passion revealed – I am in such Love and Awe at the Humility of the one who is Greater than Us All. Jesus took those stripes for me, for you, for we who are not even aware of the sensations he experienced, the buffets, the spitting, the blows, the tearing of his human flesh, his nerve endings burning with pain, the hunger, the fatigue, it’s heart breaking for me even to see the Scourging in the Passion of the Christ, or to contemplate it in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Here he is laid bare for all the world to see and mock or mourn… how many are aware that those stripes are ours. I earned at least 40 lashes unto my earthly passions as a teen and young adult. NOW HOW DO WE SEE HIM? VICTIM, SAVIOR, LOVER, KING! My Lord and MY GOD! How can I ease your suffering with my apostolic action? What can I do to help ease your burden for my own sins? I love you Jesus. I love You. Amen.

  • Angelle Bollich

    This is really beautiful. I’ll be thinking about that, death is better than humiliating oneself

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have words… thank you. I listened to the Reproaches below while reading the post on this and the agony in the garden.

  • Scott

    Marc, have you read any Rene Girard? If not, read “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.” You will find much of what you’ve written about scapegoating confirmed in his writings. Great posts for Holy Week. You have great imagery in your writings. They’d make great homilies. Ever thought of the priesthood? I’d encourage you!

  • Watson

    Marc Barnes, you are here and there starting to sound more or less like Mark Driscoll. Be wary of all this zealous penal substitutionary rhetoric which while sensational doesn’t well represent the Catholic imagination on atonement. It was lurking in your Garden entry, too, especially in the penultimate paragraph. I raise the concern only because I value your lively voice in the blogosphere precisely as a Catholic voice. And Catholicism does not live by the death penalty of Christ, as much of Protestantism, but by the sacrificial life of Christ offered for all in love on the Cross, in the Mass, in the sacraments, in the Church as mystical Body. Participation, not exchange, is the unmistakably Catholic thing.

    I otherwise appreciate the distinction between death and humiliation here, and would extended it back precisely to the previous post to express that just as sometimes the difficult thing is to not die (for our faith), so sometimes the difficult thing is to not suffer (in our love). What if the bomb doesn’t drop? asks Walker Percy. What if our faith doesn’t humiliate us and our love doesn’t make us suffer much? Can we imagine it? Can we abide it? Can we suffer the humiliation of ordinariness, even obscurity? Can we be faithful in love which does not flatter us with suffering, nor demand it? Can we bear to be a little flower? Even to be forgotten as one, perhaps like those in the Garden of Our Lord’s agony, or like those near that Tree whereupon he hung as the first-fruit of a new creation? These quieter questions are drowned out in all the bombast about Christ the bloody victim and victor.

    • Cate

      Watson your comments resonate with my Lenten Journey this year as I’ve traveled with Little Flower, considering my own very ordinary life as a wife, a mother, someone who works at home (an actual job) and lives not out in the market place, but in hidden-ness, -…so little opportunities to die to myself daily is all the Lord is calling me to at this point. There are no heroic moments for me, no glamorous ministry, but simply trying to be obedient to doing all to His Glory and for His good pleasure. This is hard, very hard indeed because it IS the Little Way – the LIVING sacrifice of LOVE. And like Little Flower, I want to beat with Love in the Body- hidden, yet praying for all of you that must go out to do the great deeds in this battle.

      For me as a new Catholic (2009) it’s been years of listening to the Lord to find my path within the Church. I’ve have to scrounge on my own to learn how to “participate” in the Body of Christ as a Catholic. Thanks be to God for the teachers out there writing and blogging! Thanks be to God for His Saints that continue to work on earth though they be in Heaven!
      Marc, your blog is always a treat to read and it reminds me that there are people who truly love the Church. (My parish is very “progressive” if you know what I mean)
      Thanks Marc for your writings! God bless you and protect you as you continue your work.

      • Grace

        I’m right there with you, Cate!

        • clares

          Me too cate! But I do remind myself that as a stay at home mum, in the eyes of the world I am considered to be nothing. But to those two small people at home I am currently everything! The irony is that my job as a mother will be complete when I have made myself redundant to my kids! Ha! Ha! I think I have just understood “the little way”!

    • Brian Edward Miles

      You said in part: “Participation, not exchange, is the unmistakably Catholic thing.”

      This is quintessential protestant thinking; take two perfectly valid theological views and pit one against the other.

      Catholic thinking on the Atonement is broad, and need not exclude either participation or penal substitution. And with respect to the latter, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo, or St. Anselm immediately come to mind.

      • Watson

        Thanks for your reply, Brian, but read again. To say that exchange is not the unmistakably Catholic thing is not to say that it is not in any way a Catholic thing. Perhaps you’re the one bound up in either/or’s?

        I’m teasing, of course. However there’s no need to name-drop me out of the conversation just because I’m the only one of Barnes’ fans here to offer a teensy-weensy critical suggestion amidst all the enthusiasm and fainting. It would be a legitimate concern if Marc started talking too zealously like Mark, whether I’m wrong in raising the concern or not. What’s distinctive about the Catholic telling of Our Lord’s Passion? That’s the question I thought it was worth asking as I was reading with Protestant visions dancing in my head. Perhaps it would do the blog and its fans some good to indulge in a question now and then.

        Also, seeing as someone else already mentioned Rene Girard, it’s worth mentioning further that there are respectable Catholics who are concerned about the prominence of PSA, even the eclipse of the Christian imagination in the wake of its ascendancy in the West, which is in many ways a Reformed inheritance rather than a defining commitment of the Catholic tradition. Anyways, that’s a big can, and this isn’t the place to open it.

        Theoretical questions aside, the pastoral concern stands. When we preach the Passion we have to leave in it a way to the little way. Young men dream big and bold, and properly so. But lots of moms live small and simple, indeed, this is the lot of a lot of faithful Catholics, and properly so, and the Cross is theirs, too. And that’s worth thinking about.

        When I read this I had recently read an essay of Cavanaugh’s on Luther, the Mass, and the larger medieval to modern shift in (theological and) social imagination wherein he elaborates on the sharpening of the exchange / gift distinction to the point of dichotomy in late Protestantism in contrast to a more properly Catholic conception rooted in the patristic notion of participation which effectively transcends and refutes the exchange / gift dichotomy. My urging participation over exchange is probably a bit more intelligible when considered in this context:

        • Wife

          Tonight, I just discovered Marc Barnes and it was these two posts on
          Christ’s Passion that inspired me above all else — I’m printing them
          out and keeping them in my Office. They’re good enough to provoke me to
          do what I’ve long desired: write.

          There’s nothing wrong with
          Marc’s writing. It appears to me, Mr. Watson, that you’ve spent too much
          time reading protestant material. So much so, that you’ve “recognized”
          what they have so obviously (yet again) copied/aped/mimicked.

          You limit Marc’s writing. You limit what God has put into Marc’s mind for our edification. You limit God.

          I’ll have it any way God chooses to inspire.

          catholics know that God has also left us so many saints to learn from.
          We know not all of us will die a martyrs death. What, exactly, are you
          saying about the understanding of the poor little housewife? That we’re
          swooning over Marc as much as we’re swooning over the Christ?

          Lay off the prot pages. They’re bad for ya. Reduce your thinking to delicacy and no-thing.

          – A Nothing Housewife.

  • Lesa

    I sense you’re developing a series of mediations on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary? Thank you! for enriching my prayer-life this Holy Week!

  • Peter Nuar

    Echoback: “We are the pillar, and our Lover Christ stretches the gift of his body around us, protecting us from the lash of sin.”
    Now that’s a thing of beauty.

    • MotherSetonsDaughter

      I will probably never pray the 2nd Sorrowful Mystery without that amazing image again. Thank you, Marc.

  • Sabonnette

    Dude, dont ever stop. Your posts made me want to start my own blog as an outlet and everytime you post I think “Why should I say anything when he says it so well?” You are one of those Catholics that inspires others to be better Catholics. Keep it up.

  • Christine Falk Dalessio

    That fear of being utterly forsaken- is this not the whisper we feel when we fail to practice the virtue of courage – is it not fear itself that divides us from intimate trust in the One who loves us wholly and gratuitously? It’s interesting to consider that the fear of humiliation may supercede the fear of death… but the fear of being rejected and alone, that very burden Christ bore in the passion, yes, that speaks volumes about how we proclaim our Christianity, or fail to.

  • Kateri

    1 Timothy 3:15 also supports the idea of the Church as the pillar, “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” What a beautiful image.

  • clares

    Thanks to you, I now realise my greatest fear is that of being humiliated. Now I know this, I can start kicking its butt.
    Marc, thank you x

  • whimsy

    Seeing the Crucifixion in the Passion of the Christ was familiar; seeing Jesus stumble in his chains was heartbreaking. It is the humiliation, not just the agony, that makes us squirm.

  • Teresa

    Marc, this post brings me to tears. Please continue to be a that humble little pencil (keyboard?) in the hands of the Most High! God bless you!!

  • Brian Formica

    Thought of this post during Mass today, during the Gospel. Jesus said “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (Jn 17). God may call some to lay down their lives and come home to him, but Jesus’ prayer was that during our time here we may be kept safe from sin.

  • Wife

    Wow, I can’t even begin to comment on these “like what the protestants say” comments. They’re ridiculous. They wouldn’t know the tripe if they weren’t busy trolling their pages. How is it anyone can site chapter and verse of protestant spiel?

    Catholic is all I know, all I’ve ever known and all I will know. There’s no point for me to explore anyone, anything else.

    This piece was VERY Catholic. It was magnficent. The saints would be — SCRATCH — are proud.

    You will be one. Keep your eyes on the Beloved.