Scorned by Men

April 25 2022 | by

JESUS’ words from the cross “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46) are the opening words of Psalm 22. Since the Jewish people had much of Scripture memorized, they would mentally recite the rest of Psalm 22 when Jesus quoted its first line. Jesus wanted them to remember Psalm 22, which reveals the Messianic Prophecy and which perfectly describes the death that Jesus was undergoing: All who see me mock at me (v. 7), my tongue cleaves to my jaws (v. 15), they have pierced my hands and my feet (v. 16), they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment, they cast lots (v. 18). However, the one mocked, tortured, and dying becomes victorious: before him shall bow all who go down to the dust (v. 29), men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it (v. 31). Death would be followed by resurrection and ultimate victory.


The woodworm


When Saint Francis of Assisi meditated on Psalm 22, he formulated a unique response to the line “But I am a worm, and no man, scorned by men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). In honor of Christ, Francis would pick up earthworms and toss them to the roadsides where they would not be crushed.

In his Sermon notes, Saint Anthony also addressed this verse “I am a worm, and no man.” He, however, was thinking of inch worms and woodworms which are wood eating larvae of several species of beetles.

Using the natural science of his day, Anthony first described the nature of a woodworm, and then proceeded to apply that image to Christ Crucified. “Note that a worm does three things: it draws itself along with its mouth; it cries loudly when the wood it is in is burnt; it is soft to the touch, but hard when it bites. So Christ, when confronting the malice of the Jews, drew himself to the Cross by his own mouth. ‘Truth gives birth to hatred.’ That is why he bore the Cross… When he was burning on the wood of the Cross with the fire of the Passion, he cried with a loud voice: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit [Lk 23.46]. Again, no-one was more patient or humble than he, when he was scourged, crowned with thorns, buffeted with blows. No one will be stronger than he, when in judgement, by an irrevocable sentence, he casts the devil with all his members into hell” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV, p. 145; translated by Paul Spilsbury; Edizioni Messaggero Padova).


The ostrich


In another Sermon, Anthony gives a similar message after capturing his audience’s attention with a story about a mythical worm.

“It is told that the most wise king Solomon had a bird, an ostrich, whose chick he shut up in a glass vessel. The grieving mother could see it, but could not reach it. So great was her love for her child that she went into the desert and found a certain worm. She brought it back, and crushed it against the glass (because the power of its blood could break glass), and so the ostrich freed her child… The bird is the divine nature; the chick is Adam and his offspring; the glass vessel is the prison of hell; the desert is the womb of the Virgin; the worm is the humanity of Christ; the blood is his Passion. Therefore, in order to free the human race from the prison of hell, from the hand of the devil, God went into the desert of the Virgin’s womb, and from it took human nature. This is the ‘worm’ as he himself said: I am a worm, not a man (Ps 21.7], meaning, not just a man, but both God and man. He broke this worm on the wood of the cross, and from his side flowed the blood whose power broke the gates of hell, and freed the human race from the hand of the devil” (Sermons I; pp. 201-211).


Checklist of righteousness


Because Christ was just and a preacher, Anthony also applies the image of an inch worm to us, by focusing on an obscure Scripture verse. “David, sitting in the chair, was the wisest chief among that three: he was like the most tender little worm of the wood [2Kg(Sm) 23.8] (Sermons IV, p. 138).

“Note that a worm has three characteristics. It is always in motion, it lifts its head to see the way it may best do, and it shortens itself so as to stretch itself out longer. So, too, the just man: He is always at work… he raises his head (his mind) so as to see with the eye of discretion the way of his actions, whereby he may better draw himself to God… he shortens himself by humility, so as to stretch himself out towards eternal life” (Sermons IV, p. 142-143). Such instruction is checklist of righteousness for us who claim to be Christians.


Hard yet soft


In Anthony’s analogy about a preacher, he is referring to the woodworm. The preacher, Anthony writes, “should also be the ‘most tender little worm of the wood’; a little worm that pierces and gnaws away the wood of the hard and unfruitful; ‘tender,’ that is patient and merciful towards the humble and contrite. Alternatively, just as there is nothing harder than a worm when it gnaws, but nothing softer when it is handled, so the preacher who sets forth the word of God should strike the hearts of his hearers hard; but if he is struck by insults, he should be gentle and friendly” (Sermons II, pp. 78-79). This description perfectly describes Christ, the preacher of greatest excellence.


Updated on April 29 2022