As we journey through Lent and follow Jesus in Jerusalem, we are getting closer and closer to the cross. Last week, we found Jesus and His Disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed and arrested before the Disciples fled.
Today, we follow Jesus from the garden to the home of the chief priest Caiaphas. The guards who arrested Jesus took him to the house of Caiaphas where the scribes and elders had gathered. It seems the council, or the Sanhedrin, had gathered to carry out their plot to kill Jesus.
Peter follows the guards for a while trying to get a look at what was going on from a safe distance. But, it seems that curiosity won him over. He decided to go on in the house to see what happened. He hid among the guards to see the outcome. We might see that as an example of Discipleship. We can try to follow Jesus from a distance, but we will eventually need to get closer.
Since Temple had already gathered to receive Jesus after His arrest, much of the evening has already been planned in the final steps to execute Jesus. The council had gathered witnesses to Jesus’ ministry trying to gather false witnesses to claim He was doing something worthy of death. Three witnesses would be needed to pass down a guilty verdict, but the Sanhedrin had trouble finding witnesses to corroborate their stories. Two who finally agreed came forward claiming Jesus had said He would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in 3 days. Two witnesses wasn’t enough to convict Him.
Since Caiaphas didn’t have enough testimony for a conviction, he turned to Jesus looking for a confession, but Jesus was silent. Jesus had done nothing wrong. He had nothing to confess and the Sanhedrin couldn’t find enough witnesses to claim He had. They couldn’t even find enough false witnesses to agree on what He had done.
Jesus could have defended Himself and His ministry, but He chose to remain silent. He had resigned Himself to their plot. He knew His death was inevitable and He could say nothing to dissuade them from their plans. He simply refused to participate in the drama. The Sanhedrin were relying on “plots and schemes and false accusations” but Jesus had placed His trust in God. He would have the courage to be endure the plan that was unfolding.
Silence may have been the appropriate response to the situation. It surely is sometimes our appropriate response to situations. Though there is often times to lift our voices against injustice. I wonder why Peter didn’t stand up for His friend. This seems to be yet another time Jesus was failed by a friend. I wonder if Peter too knew that there was no use in his testimony or if he feared that he would suffer the same fate as Jesus if he raised his voice.
Caiaphas swears Jesus to oath before the Living God to confess if He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus finally responds saying, “You have said it was so.” A better translation is “Have you said so?” Jesus answers Caiaphas’ question with a question. Caiaphas was looking for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ but Jesus turned the question back on Caiaphas. It was an opportunity for Caiaphas to confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But, Jesus already knew what Caiaphas’ answer would be. Jesus doesn’t give Caiaphas time to answer His question before continuing.
Jesus tells Caiaphas that whether He can affirm the question now he will someday be able to affirm Jesus’ identity. Jesus tells Caiaphas that he will see the Son of God seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of Heaven. This was enough for Caiaphas. In his book, Jesus had blasphemed. Caiaphas tore his clothes and asked the council for their verdict. The council agreed Jesus deserved death.
Then a group, Scripture doesn’t say if it was the council or the guards or others gathered, someone spit in Jesus’ face and struck Him and slapped Him. They insulted and abused Jesus. Jesus’ abuse is difficult to read.
Some say it is one act among many of the brutal treatment He endured showing His obedience to God’s will and His willingness to endure human suffering. Others say it is a sign of the brutal nature of humanity and our sinful treatment of other human beings. I would agree with the latter. His treatment is was that of a group demonstrating their power over Him and complete lack of respect for another’s humanity. I think the most reprehensible of their acts was not the abuse but their mean to “demean and demoralize His spirit.”
We don’t have to travel far back in history to remember a time when many Americans broke the spirit of other humans demonstrating one group’s power over another. There are many examples. I think the worst has been slavery. Slave owners broke the spirits of their slaves and many were beaten into obedience. Slavery in America was not a new institution of society. Slavery had been an enterprise 1000s of years old. And, much of their Church for many years saw nothing wrong with it.
Slavery was Biblical. There are many stories of slaves in the Bible. The Bible sets parameters for how slaves should be treated. Jesus even says that to be great or to be first one must be a slave (Matt 20: 27). The Church turned a blind eye to the brutal treatment of others because the Bible did not condemn slavery. Some went so far as to say that God had instituted slavery when Noah cursed his son Ham and said he and his descendants would be the slaves of his brother’s descendants.
For years, the Church had placed ultimate authority, not in God, but in the abusive interpretation of Scripture. For many years, the Church held the tradition of the Church as the ultimate authority in all things. The Church’s tradition was not concerned with slavery, so slavery continued.
Then, in the 16th century, Martin Luther took the authority of tradition away from the Church and placed all authority on the Bible. He said only Scripture and Scripture only. The Bible was given to all people and people were taught to read and study the Scriptures, not just clergy.
For nearly 4 centuries the Church has relied on Scripture as the ultimate authority. But, that has been gradually changing as scholars seek to interpret Scripture based on different methods of research and exegesis. Now, you can find so many differing interpretations of one paragraph of Scripture it can make your head spin.
But, that era is coming to an end as more and more Christians find authority in their experience of the Holy Spirit and conviction through prayer. I think it started with the end of slavery. People began to understand that interpreting Scripture as condoning slavery could not be reconciled with a God who is loving and created all human beings. People placed their authority on their experience of God as compassionate, not the God who has been interpreted in the Bible as having wrath and condemning people for the sin they are not themselves capable of overcoming.
Christians have come to have empathy for all human beings through their experience of God, not antiquated methods of applying Scripture literally. We can follow the growing empathy of society from slavery to civil rights and women’s rights. Christians’ experience of God is giving new light to Scripture. We are searching Scripture for the truth of God, not the literal application of the Bible.
If we follow this growing empathy of society for the equal rights of all humans, we come up against the most recent call for human rights, one that has been being fought over the last 50 or 60 years. It is equality for all humans regardless of sexual orientation. We may have our beliefs for or against the issue or don’t care. If we look through the past 200 years of American history, we can’t deny that it is only a matter of time before society grants gay rights after so many have fought and won the battles for civil rights and women’s rights.
When we see Jesus belittled, betrayed, and beaten, we can look with empathy on Him because we are on His side. Christians are now interpreting Scripture with this same empathy and not condoning institutions like slavery but showing compassion to others. When we give up our literal interpretation of Scriptures and look at Scripture through the lens of our experience of a loving, gracious, and compassionate God, we find new truth in the Scriptures, not of condemnation, but of mercy. We find a God who can identify with our broken spirits so we can trust that resurrection is mere days away.
** For more thoughts on the shifting authority from Scripture to experience, read The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle.**