“And they stripped him and laid a scarlet cloak on him. And they twisted together a crown from a thorn vine and put it on his head with a reed in his right hand, and they knelt before him and mocked him saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews.’ And they spat on him and took the reed and beat him on the head.”
“And they clothed him with a purple cloak and they put on him a crown woven from a thorn vine and they began to recognize him: ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they were striking him on the head with the reed and spitting on him and bowed the knee to worship him.”
“And the soldiers wove a crown from a thorn vine and put it on his head and clothed him with a garment of purple. And they came up to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they gave him blows.”
So we have the robe, the crown, and now we are left with the reed that was given to our Lord, Jesus. And as we look at this element of Roman mockery, there seems to be two ways in which we can approach it. One of the tools of a reed in the ancient world was to form a standard of measure. Reeds were cut to a consistent length and could then be used much like we would use a yard stick. Thus, in scripture, we find Ezekiel measuring the New Temple with a measuring reed (Ezekiel 40) while John repeats that same activity toward the closing of the Canon (Revelation 11 & 21 — note that even the word “Canon” comes from this word for “reed”). As justice was measured along the lines of standards, the reed also became a symbol of righteousness worked out. That in itself helps us to see the horrible irony of this event, for the reed (of justice) is taken from the King’s hand and used to beat him.
We take this one step further, though, when we realize that in addition to making sure that justice is done, a King is given power over men that is often symbolized by the scepter that he carried. And while reeds were known for being straight, they were not known for being the sturdiest of materials to use and could be easily broken. Hence Jesus asks if, when the people went out to see John the Baptist, what they were looking to see was a “reed shaken by the wind.” Thus, the counterfeit that the Romans were using was that of placing a scepter in Jesus’ hand that represented power to be broken.
But there is a second way that this can be perceived, this time not as much in terms of the design of Roman mockery, but in terms of God’s prophetic design. Isaiah writes about the Messiah:
“A bruised reed, he will not break;
A glowing wick, he will not quench;
In truth he will bring forth justice.”
And here we have the one who will not break the wounded and broken but will restore them, having the symbol of the bruised and broken (the reed) crushed over his own head. How often God requires of his prophets seemingly strange acts so they may become living examples of his truth, justice, and grace; here is one more.
Yet, how often we are like those Romans, seeking power in the strength of men and not in the strength of God. How often people in our churches prefer force to humility, preferring to break the bruised and crushed reeds in their midst than to preserve and heal. How often truth and justice are only sought when convenient…yet how often genuine truth and justice are costly.