Pilate, astonished at this response, hesitates a moment, and then once more exclaims: "Nay, I appeal to your reason, -your humanity. Here is an innocent, -there a guilty man. Choose once again, which of them I shall release to you." Once more five hundred hoarse and furious voices cry, with a wild unanimity that makes our hearts stand still, "Release Barabbas! Jesus to the Cross! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Pilate surveys them in amazement; then turns and looks in pity on the man whom they are thus unmercifully hounding on to death. But the cry grows louder: "If thou condemnest not this would-be king, thou art not Caesar's friend."
The weak spot is touched. The Roman, anxious to retain imperial favor, first falters, and then yields; yet, as he does so, breaks his sceptre, exclaiming in disgust: "Such a people as this I cannot comprehend." Then, as if terrified at what he has done, he calls for water, and washes his hands before the multitude, exclaiming fiercely: " Bear me witness! Bear me witness! I find no fault in him. I wash my hands of his innocent blood."
Scarcely have these words fallen from his lips, when the Jews cry out in tones that send a shudder through us as they echo over the adjoining hills: "His blood be on us and on our children! "
The following scene reveals again the wretched man whose treachery has wrought this appalling result. That his Master would be doomed to die was something Judas had never supposed possible. Accordingly his remorse is terrible; and when he learns that Jesus is condemned to the horrible death of crucifixion, he rushes into the presence of the priests and begs in piteous accents for the prisoner's life. But in reply he hears only derisive words and taunting laughter, and, hurling the accursed silver at their feet, Judas goes forth, assuring them with awful words, that he and they will now go down together to the deepest hell.
" Crucify Him."
Among his utterances of despair are these:
" I am the outcast villain who hath brought His benefactor to these bonds and death! The scum of men! There is no help for me! For me no hope! My crime is much too great! The fearful crime no penance can make good! Too late! Too late! For he is dead - and I - I am his murderer!
Thrice unhappy hour In which my mother gave me to the world! How long must I drag on this life of shame, And bear these tortures in my outcast breast? As one pest-stricken, flee the haunts of men, And be despised and shunned by all the world? Not one step farther! Here, oh, life accursed, Here will I end thee!"
Finally, in desperation, he loosens his girdle, ties one end of it about his neck, and prepares to hang himself - the curtain falling at the moment when he is fastening the other extremity of the girdle to the tree.
The Descent From The Cross.
From this point onward the tragic scene grows more and more intense. The curtain rises and reveals the stately form of Maier bound to a column. His garments are already stained with blood, and amid brutal mockery soldiers are beating him with ropes. Yet not a groan escapes the sufferer's lips. With a look of agony upon his face, he stands there, patiently enduring all, until his strength can bear no more. He reels, the ropes are loosened, and he falls senseless to the ground.
But even this is not enough.
No sooner has he recovered consciousness, than the soldiers resume their cruel sport. They put a sceptre in his hand; they place him on a stool which they call a throne, and, bowing before him, pay him mock reverence with vulgar jests. Then they blind-fold his eyes and strike him on the face, saying: "Prophesy, O King, who thy next assailant will be!" They even go so far as to push him headlong off the stool, and he falls forward on the floor. All this is gross and brutal; yet it does not exceed the recorded facts of history. Through it all Maier never loses his kingly dignity. All the abuse of his persecutors recoils upon themselves; and we lose not a particle of our admiration for the lofty nobility of the man who never stoops to make complaint, but endures all with silent heroism.