In his book Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand tells the story of a priest who had been subjected to severe torture in the prisons of communist Romania in the 1950’s and 60’s. Under torture, the priest had been forced to offer a mass in the prison for all to see, consecrating not bread and wine for the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but human bodily waste. It was a most awful humiliation. Wurmbrand afterwards asked the priest how he could do it, and why he did not prefer to die rather than perform such a blasphemous mockery. And the priest replied, “Please do not judge me. I have suffered more than Jesus Christ himself.”
Richard Wurmbrand then did not judge the priest harshly, but expressed sympathy for the man’s predicament. This was because Wurmbrand himself had endured such terrible torture for 14 years. His crime was publicly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something that had been forbidden in Romania. Being imprisoned for that long while your wife is home alone and your son is growing up without you is bad enough, but while in prison, Wurmbrand and many others were subjected to ongoing, vicious torture. There were months of solitary confinement in a dark room, not even big enough to stand up in. There would be times he was deprived of sleep for days on end, forced to stand upright in a coffin-like wooden box filled with dozens of nails pounded in from the outside and protruding into where he was forced to stand. To sway even a little bit from exhaustion would mean leaning into these sharp nails. Prisoners would be put naked into freezers, and then allowed to almost freeze to death. Doctors would be on hand to carefully monitor their vital signs. Then, when they were barely alive, they would be taken out of the freezer, and warmed up. Then, when recovered, they would be put back into the freezer for another round. Wurmbrand was always in chains. Sometimes he would be lifted to the ceiling by his leg chains and would then be hung there on a hook, upside-down. Guards would then beat him with clubs. So Richard Wurmbrand had sympathy for this priest who broke down under such pressure and then allowed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to be so blasphemed by his own hands.
But what about the priest’s comment? He said, “Please do not judge me. I have suffered more than Jesus Christ himself.” It has often been said by those who have been persecuted for their faith that they were willing to suffer anything for Jesus because Jesus had suffered so much more for them. The story of the suffering of Jesus in the last days of his life, and then on the cross, certainly has given strength to those who have suffered because they believed in or proclaimed that story. But this priest said he suffered even more than Jesus. What can we say about that? On one level, that would seem to be the case. The physical sufferings of Jesus, though extreme, were mostly confined to a 24 hour period. He was arrested late on Thursday night, and by Friday evening he was dead. The whipping, the beating, the carrying of his cross, the crown of thorns, and the crucifixion, all involved the most intense suffering– but it was confined to that one day. But Richard Wurmbrand and the priest endured years of suffering, also to a most extraordinary degree. They were not killed, but many times they would have preferred death rather than living to go on suffering like that year after year. So if we speak only of physical suffering, that priest and Richard Wurmbrand, and many others, have suffered more than Jesus.
But there are other ways to suffer. Think of how Jesus’ own mother was suffering at the foot of the cross. She had not been whipped and she was not on that cross, but who would say she was not suffering as she watched the life slowly ebb out of her beloved son? She had no nails in her hands and feet, but as had been predicted many years before when Jesus was just a baby, ‘on account of this child,’ said Simeon, ‘a sword will pierce your soul.’ She was now feeling that sword into the depths of her heart and soul. If you’ve ever sat in a hospital waiting room after an accident or during a surgery, you also know something of this kind of suffering; or if you have ever stood by the bed of one who was very ill, very much in pain, or even dying, then you also know something of this kind of suffering. When we consider the suffering of Jesus we must look at more than just the physical. (continued…)
Luke 2:34-35 — Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
John 19:1-3 — Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
Matthew 27:45-46 — From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer