Thursday, April 05, 2007

Jesus before the cohort

Father John Dear, S.J. writes a column called On the Road to Peace for National Catholic Reporter. Here is an excerpt from his latest, in which he reflects on one of the events of these holy days.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.
-- Matthew 27: 27-31

I was on retreat 10 years ago, during my Jesuit tertianship year in Belfast, pondering the Holy Week readings, when I came upon this text, Jesus being hauled before "the whole cohort." The whole cohort? What was that? I wondered. I looked it up and blanched at the answer.

In Jerusalem, each year during the Passover festival, the Roman governor assembled a cohort, some 600 soldiers to protect against riot or rebellion. Most years calm prevailed, and the idle cohort had nothing to do. And so they drank themselves into a rage and spent their days seizing upon petty criminals and rebels and torturing and crucifying them.

One of the most appalling and astounding images in the scripture -- the most anti-military image ever pictured. Here is the most powerful military unit in the world, and they humiliate Jesus, passing the time by mocking and torturing God in the City of David.

The entire column is here.