So about a week or so ago, I was praying the Rosary, specifically the Mystery of Christ’s Crowning with Thorns. That mystery has always moved me because it shows both Christ’s humility and gratuitous human cruelty in such sharp contrasting relief, like extremely sweet and extremely sour sauce. In the rest of the passion, the soldiers could be just goons doing their job. Just “following orders”. They might, like the centurion at the foot of the cross, even feel sick or repentant about it, realizing that this is an innocent man and the world sucks and whaddayagonnadoo?
But in the Crowning with Thorns, all that excuse-making for the Regular Joe who is stuck in a big system where he has to do rotten things because the Boss Makes Him Do It vanishes without a trace. For a few minutes of break time, Regular Joe has some time to himself to do what he pleases. And what does he please to do with his play time? He pleases to take a victim who is already torn to shreds from a merciless scourging and suffering from shock, trauma, and blood loss and–just for fun–fashion a crown of thorns and press it down on the one place where the thongs of the lash have not touched. Having savaged his body, they take extra care to make sure his human dignity is dishonored and humiliated. That is what our species does to perfect goodness–go out of our way to crush it like a bug with the most exquisite cruelty we can devise. It’s the sheer gratuitous spite–the dishonoring–that affects me. And the incredible patience of Jesus who could–still–have called down 12 legions of angels on these spiteful little morons, these vindictive, ungrateful hairless bipeds who only exist because he continues to hold them in being from one nanosecond to the next. It’s the ingratitude more than the violence of the Passion that pierces me.
And that got me thinking, “Why?”
So I started thinking about why I found that so affecting and I asked myself what sin in me might correspond to the sin of the soldiers who crowned Jesus? I got to thinking about Bp. Barron’s point that the four Big Idols that tempt humans are Money, Pleasure, Power, and Honor (all rolled up, by the way, in the image of the Golden Calf).
Money is certainly tempting, but has never been all *that* tempting to me, mostly because I realized a long time ago that it’s just out of my reach and I don’t want to kill myself chasing something I can’t have in large quantities. So I’m content with enough to get by on.
Likewise, I enjoy pleasure as much as the next guy, but I’m not really an Epicurean and my Irish nature has always said, “Life is full of tough breaks and crosses, so don’t be an idiot pretending that you should be enjoying pleasure all the time. Get off your butt and get to work.” Being a self-employed writer helps reinforce that since you either work or live in your car–until the bank takes your car.
As to Power, I have always been afraid of it and avoided it as much as possible. I am somebody who deeply internalized the lessons of the Lord of the Rings.
But Honor? One of my earliest childhood fantasies–the sort of fantasy that an unpopular nebbishy high school student who never got invited to the Sadie Hawkins Dance daydreams about–was the day I returned to Everett with a ticker tape parade held in my honor and all the people who treated me badly said, “Wow! We were so *wrong* about him.” It wasn’t a particularly vindictive fantasy. I had no fantasies about having my former enemies dragged before me and humiliated (mostly because I was too insignificant to have enemies). But I just wanted to have that moment when the whole world said, “We never saw. We never realized. We never honored him the way he should have been honored.”
That’s the big weak spot for me. And so when I read parables like the one about the unjust steward who is forgiven a bazillion dollar debt and then immediately strangles the minion who owes him a quarter shouting “Pay me what you owe me!” it resonates.
Because I owe the man they crowned with thorns a bazillion dollars. And yet, when people refuse me the honor I think I am owed (and that happens constantly on the internet) my instant reaction is, “Pay me what you owe me!” And the hypocrisy of it is that I don’t pay people honor as a general rule.
Oh, to be sure, I will honor people when they honor me. I’m not a complete miser with honor. If somebody is kind to me I will honor them in return out of gratitude. Ingratitude is deeply repulsive to me. But I don’t simply honor people as a matter of course. I just… leave them alone. My attitude, I realize to my dismay, is “If they do the right thing, why should I praise them for it. That’s to be expected. But if they screw up, they’ll hear about it.”
I say that I feel dismay about that because that is, word for w0rd, what my Dad once told me and it filled me with frustrated fury at the time because what it meant (and what I experienced) was that I would only hear criticism and never praise. And I longed to hear praise from my Dad.
Beyond this long habit of not going out of my way to honor people is something else. An equally long habit of mocking people–especially powerful people who do evil. Mockery is one of the only refuges of the powerless and I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. On the one hand, it’s not honor. On the other hand, it is a powerful tool for facing down evil with courage. When you can see and name the absurdity of evil and laugh at it, you gain a measure of power and control over it. And evil certainly is aware of that because the first thing on the chopping block when evil attains power is satire of itself.
But at the same time, Uncle Screwtape warns that flippancy is the best armor plating against Grace that Hell has ever devised and I feel that acutely too.
So it comes down to this: I want to treat people with Honor, not merely when they have gone out of their way to earn it, but as a matter of course, simply because people are people, made in God’s image.
I think about times when I’ve felt dishonored and what usually comes up is, “But I’ve tried so hard to do the right thing. Why can’t they see that? Why are they so cruel?” and I realize every person I mock can undoubtedly say the same to me. To all those people, I want to apologize.
I’m in uncharted waters here and I’m 58 years old, trying to form new habits when I totally don’t even know what I’m doing.
All of which is to say, please pray for me.
Sorry if this seems disjointed or rambly. I’m not quite sure what I’m doing but it seemed like I needed to write this in obedience to God.