By VERY REV. ALEXIS M. LEPICIER, O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc.
CHAPTER X. THE TITLE POSTED UP ON THE CROSS, A PROOF OF THE REGAL DIGNITY OF JESUS CHRIST
MARVELLOUS, indeed, is the order of Divine Providence, which often attains its ends by means apparently the least adapted. It is not uncommon for God to make use of a man's action to attain an end precisely opposed to the intention of the doer. Now, this was just what took place with regard to the manifestation of Our Lord's regal dignity. God wished that this truth should be proclaimed to the whole world and asserted in an incisive and forcible manner, even through the agency of the man who had condemned Jesus to death, through the agency of Pilate.
Some authors hold that it was a common custom among the Romans to affix the motive of the condemnation to the gibbet on which the culprit was to be executed. However this may be, it is beyond doubt that Pilate chose to make obvious to the world that the true and only motive for which he had condemned Jesus Christ to death, was the title of King of the Jews which the Saviour had assumed. As a matter of fact, Pilate did not give to the Jews in writing the motive of the condemnation of Jesus to the death of the cross, before he had said to them: "Would you have me crucify your King?' and received an affirmative answer from them. Thus, he gave them to understand that if he had passed this sentence, it was through no wish of his own, for he knew that the regal dignity which Jesus attributed to Himself, carried with it no prejudice to the authority of the Roman Caesar.
It is really wonderful to observe how all the four evangelists unanimously make mention of this title; and although they do not all do so in the same way, yet in none of them are lacking the two essential words of the cause: "King of the Jews"— "Rex Judaeorum" St. Mark limits his reference to these two words alone; St. Matthew prefaces them with: "This is Jesus"— "Hic est Jesus." and St. Luke: "Hic est" St. John finally sets down the record thus: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"— "Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum" Very beautiful are St. Jerome's words upon this subject: "l never cease marveling that the Jews found no other pretext for slaying Jesus save that He called Himself King of the Jews" (Exposition on St. Matthew, c. XXVII, 37.) And St. Augustine writes to the same purpose: "The Magi came from the rising sun, that is from the East; Pilate from the setting sun, that is from the West. The first bore witness to the rising birth of the King of the Jews; the second to His setting or death." (Serm. ce. I. 2.) And it is yet more marvelous to see the sub sequent bearing of Pilate. He had previously complied with the will of the Jews, even to the point of sacrificing his own conscience and his own reputation to the envy and tyranny of others, in condemning One whom he knew to be innocent. Now, when the same Jews reproached Him for having written, "Jesus King of the Jews," and therefore insistently urged him to change the title to this other: ff He said I am King of the Jews" he curtly refused to satisfy their will, and with a firmness unlooked for in so feeble a character, answered categorically: "What I have writ ten, I have written" (John XIX, 22.) How just is St. Augustine's comment: "For the same reason Pilate wrote what he wrote,, for which the, Lord said what He said." (Tract. CXVII in Jo.)
Great, indeed, is the excellence and glory of this title: "Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum" and overpowering is the meaning contained in it, though he who wrote it did not fully under stand it. The Hebrew people was celebrated throughout the world for the marvels that had happened in Egypt on its behalf, for the riches and sumptuousness of its Temple at Jerusalem and for its acknowledgment of one only God, the Creator of the universe. It was known also that the Jews were looking for ward to the coming of a royal Messias. Now, then, behold this King, solemnly proclaimed throughout the world; behold this King awaited equally by Israelites and Gentiles. He who has died on Golgotha is indeed that King of the Jews from whom the salvation of all mankind takes its rise.
Jesus, that is to say, the Saviour of the world, conceived and brought up at Nazareth and hence called the Nazarene, raised up above the earth, bears written over His head the charter of human reconciliation; and in order that it may be understood by all that salvation is brought by Him equally to He brews, Latins and Greeks, the evangelist does not omit to notice that the title was written in the three then most universal languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
God had thus disposed all things for the greater glory of his only-begotten Son so that all might understand the meaning and purport of His death on the cross. Hebrew was the language of the country in which this great mystery was being accomplished. Latin and Greek, although not the sole languages spoken by the Gentiles, were however the most celebrated and the best known. Greek was the language used by the first philosophers of the world, and Latin was the proper idiom of that vast Roman Empire which ruled over all the known lands and seas. Thus the eternal Father had disposed all things to the end that the royal dignity of His beloved Son Jesus Christ should be proclaimed even to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Here, however, we must be careful not to infer that, because Jesus Christ was pro claimed King of the Jews, He was not King of the whole world. For the real Hebrews are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the children of the promise, the adopted children of God. Now, the people of God, the chosen people, represented the whole body of the faithful, who, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ should form one great family, the Christian family, the Holy Church of God. Hence, Jesus Christ is King of the Jews, but of the Jews who are such not according to the letter, but in spirit and through the holiness of their hearts; of the Jews who receive their praise not from man but from God. "In this title, King of the Jews'' says St. Augustine, "whom must we understand if not the children of Abraham, the sons of promise who are indeed the, sons of God? Christ is there fore King of the Jews, but of the Jews by circumcision of the heart, in spirit, not according to the letter, whose praise does not come from men but from God" (Tract. CXVII in Jo. 5.)
Now, we also wish to be children of Abraham, children of promise, children of God; therefore, we rightly proclaim Jesus the tender Sovereign of our hearts. Come, O Jesus, reign in my heart, in my spirit, in all my affections. Into Thy hands do I put the reins of my soul. Guide it whither Thou pleasest; curb it by all Thy desires; speak to me, Thy devoted servant, and I will hear with docility and follow faithfully Thy commandments and Thy inspirations. "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth"— "Loquere, Domine, quia audit servus tuus" (1 Kings III, 10.)