When I first started searching artwork to go along with the mysteries of the Rosary, I was a bit confused. Why? Because I could hardly find any pictures of the Crowning of Thorns!
See, I had used Google to find images initially, and the amount of artworks that were named “The Crowning of Thorns” is rather… limited, to put it mildly.
And yet, I knew that there had to be tons of artwork with the crown of thorns! After all, it is one of the most poignant images of the Passion: the image of Jesus as King.
When Jesus comes into Jerusalem for the last time — in which He rides on a donkey in what is celebrated as Palm Sunday — He is hailed as a king! The people cry out, “Hosanna in the highest!” The word “hosanna” is a cry of praise and adoration — the sort of word that is reserved for royalty. The Jews at the time expect Him, as king, to take control, to remove the Roman oppressors, and to establish the Kingdom of Israel for ever.
But things don’t work out the way that they expect. Instead, His Crown is the Crown of Thorns. And, when they see Him crowned as such, He doesn’t meet their expectations and the crowd rejects Him off, angry and disappointed with God.
Check out the gospel:
2And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, 3and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly. 4Once more Pilate went out and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, “Behold, the man!” 6When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” 8Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid, 9and went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” Jesus did not answer him. 10So Pilate said to him, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered [him], “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” 12Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”13When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” 15They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.So they took Jesus,
It is a dramatic, terrible scene in which Jesus is crowned in a humiliating way and His true Kingship is questioned and doubted. Still, the scene of Christ crowned with thorns is rarely called “the Crowning of Thorns” or “The Crown of Thorns.” Instead, it is generally named, “Ecce Homo,” or, “Behold the Man.”
Here is one such image, in which Pontius Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd:
It’s a terribly brutal picture in so many ways. So terrible, in fact, that some of the other copies of this painting, made by different artists, tone down the violence that is evident on His body. In this artwork, bruises are starting to appear on Christ’s skin, blue fingers that came from the scourging, where His Flesh did not break. His face is bloodied and bruise . His lips are almost black from beating. Blood trickles from the crown of thorns and trickles down His face and body.
Behind him, Pontius Pilate presents Him to the crowd, pointing with his finger and saying, “Ecce Homo,” while a soldier, who is holding Jesus up, seems to snigger.
Behold, the Man.
At first, I wondered why the emphasis of this line held the focus in the artwork, rather than the actual crown of thorns. After all, in art, the crown of thorns is such a strong, visual imagery. The words, “Ecce Homo,” on the other hand, is more of a subtle reference to scripture of a line that Pontius Pilate says to the crowd. Besides, there are many artworks named “Ecce Homo” which don’t even involve the crowd at all: sometimes it is simply a picture of Jesus crowned with thorns.
Why would that line be the emphasis? Why not emphasize the Crown of Thorns? Why emphasize the words, Ecce Homo?
But the more I thought about the words, Ecce Homo, the more I became uncomfortable with them.
Behold, the Man.
I would like to pretend that maybe I would be better than the crowd. Maybe I wouldn’t be disappointed with Jesus when I saw Him bloodied and bruised. Maybe I wouldn’t be afraid and my faith would be strong that I would trust in the Divine Providence of God, even when everything seemed dark. I would like to pretend that I would be with Jesus, no matter what, and that nothing would ever shake my faith, ever.
But, if I am honest with myself, I am not so certain. Even in my own life, when things get even a tiny bit harder, I can often feel disappointed and sometimes even downright angry with God. Thoughts like, “Why God? Why do you let this happen?” creep into my mind.
Perhaps they creep into your own mind as well.
I want God to swoop in and save the day! I want my prayers to be answered right away! And, if they aren’t answered, sometimes I feel as if God has abandoned me.
After all, God loves me, right? Why shouldn’t He be there for me?
Which makes me wonder how much more would my faith be shaken if I were in the crowd and Jesus, my Savior, my King, my Lord, were presented to me in this manner? I can barely handle it when God doesn’t seem to come to my aid right away. What if He came to me in this way?
Would I still love Him?
Behold, the Man.
So when I look at this image, I shudder because it reminds me of my own weaknesses. This image is of Jesus is the image of Jesus, my Savior. My King. My Lord. Nothing will change that, ever.
And I pray that He softens my heart and gives me the grace to walk with Him, even in the midst of profound suffering.
This blog is part of a blog series about meditations of the Rosary, in honor for October, which is the month dedicated to the Rosary! This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Sorrowful Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here!