I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them: I have not turned away my face from them that rebuked me, and spit upon me. (Isaias 50:6)
In His Agony in the Garden Jesus foresaw every blow and insult He was about to endure for our salvation. I have written in the past on our website about the first ordeal He would suffer, that of the protracted and brutal scourging. For that He was stripped to a loin cloth, disgraced and humiliated, and the lashes ripped furrows in every part of His torso, front and back, not excepting His legs. For sins of the flesh, impurity, the body of Jesus was lacerated unmercifully. I have also written about the wound some saints (including Padre Pio) say was the most painful of all, His shoulder wound. The cross was literally carried on the exposed collar bone and the acromion bone of the right shoulder from which the skin had been torn away.
His Holy Face, too, had been pummeled by blows received both before and while He was in the dungeon of Caiaphas the high priest. Saint Mark writes that the servants of the high priest blindfolded Him and struck His face “with their fists.” But, that Face was still majestic in beauty, as can be seen from the Shroud of Turin, a swollen cheek bone and dislocated nose cartilage notwithstanding. (No bone of the Lamb of God would be broken). These cruel servants, with a nod from the high priest, blindfolded Our Lord, not only to mock Him, “Prophesy, O Christ, who is it that struck Thee?” but also because they did not want to see His eyes: “He is grievous unto us, even to behold” (Wisdom 2:15).
With all the suffering and humiliations Our Savior endured before being nailed to the Cross, there is one which is rarely mentioned, and yet explicitly prophesied by Isaias. That is the plucking of His beard. Truly, every inch of His sacred body was bruised.
It would seem that this particularly painful indignity occured along with the crowning of thorns. As we read in the Gospels, Our Savior was spit upon by both the servants of the high priests and the Roman soldiers, who so mocked Him as they pounded a crown of thorns into His head. The Gospels do not mention the plucking of the cheeks of the divine Victim, but Isaias beheld it in vision as he did the scourging and the spitting upon the Holy Face. It was a most demeaning insult to even shave a man’s beard in mockery, never mind pluck the hairs out by force. It was especially demeaning to Jews who customarily wore beards. The Romans, who did shave their beards, would find it amusing to so mock a Jewish prisoner, especially one delivered up to them by the Jews themselves. Such a one, having no advocate, was at the mercy of pagans who rarely showed mercy.
Contemplate our Savior sitting with torn flesh on a rock throne, vested in a purple rag, with a hard reed for a scepter. What is called a “reed” here in the Passion accounts is a hard stalk used as a cane, not the weaker reeds that are flimsy. Plaiting a crown of thorns — for the King of kings would be crowned, if not by His subjects then by His enemies — they took the reed and struck Him on the head, pounding the thorns into His skull. The blood gushed forth. We have all seen head wounds. The pressure of the blood is very high in the head. One cut opens a stream of blood. Now, if there were sixty or seventy thorns in the crown of our King, as was testified to by Monsignor De Mély in his research on the relic, then there must have been a torrent of blood leaving no color of skin to be seen on the Holy Face, only crimson.
And He turned not His Face away. Then did they genuflect before Him, striking His head again and again with the reed, as each adorer stepped up to pay Him reverence. Not content with their play of derision and scorn, they plucked out chunks of His beard perhaps even with bits of skin attached. They must have had a tool they made use of to do this, nail pulling pliers of some sort. It had to be a quick yank from a firm hand to do this without moving their Victim from His cathedra.
Let us love Jesus all the more as we think of these things. The accounts of the Passion are factual, but concise. They leave much to meditate on. The Holy Ghost did not inspire the sacred writers to be graphic. I have tried to be so here, to some extent, in a chaste amount of words. Only Our Lady, Saint John, and the holy women who stood beneath the Cross, witnessed the utter horror of the Passion in its stark bitterness. For three hours Mary stood beneath the Cross. Truly, she is the most valiant, the most Sorrowful Virgin-Mother, our Co-Redemptrix.