Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday - A Day of Promise or Day of Infamy? The Trial of Jesus


About 2000 years ago in the city of Jerusalem the most tumultuous week in the history of the Holy Land came to a brutal and tragic end when a young man named Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to a cross and put to death just before the beginning of the Sabbath.

It started just five days earlier, on Palm Sunday, when thousands of people lined the streets of the holy city to welcome the Messiah, Jesus, as he rode into the city for his final confrontation with those who feared him most, the Jewish spiritual leaders.

In anticipation of the difficulties the Roman rulers, who wanted no part in this squabble between Jewish spiritual leaders and zealots, between the people and the church hierarchy, had commissioned a review through the Roman Senate of the threat posed by this man Jesus.

Here is the letter the Senate received from Publius Lentulus, Roman Governor in Judea.

Text of letter sent to the Senate of Rome by Publius Lentulus, Roman governor in Judea, in the days of Tiberius Caesar:

“Conscript Fathers: There appeared in these our days a man of great virtue, named Jesus Christ, who is now living among us.  Of the Gentiles he is accepted as a Prophet of Truth; but his own disciples call him the Son of God.  He raiseth the dead and cureth all manner of diseases.  A man of stature somewhat tall and comely, with a very reverend countenance, such as beholders may both love and fear.  His hair is of the color of a filbert fully ripe, plain to the ears, whence downward it is more orient of color, somewhat curled and waved about his shoulders.  In the midst of his head is a seam or partition of his hair, after the manner of the Nazarites.  His forehead is smooth and delicate, his face without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a comely red; his nose and mouth exactly formed; his beard thick, the color of his hair, not of any great length, but forked; his look innocent; his eyes gray, clear and quick; in reproving, terrible; in administering, courteous; in speaking, very modest and wise; in proportion of body, well shaped.  None have ever seen him laugh, but many have seen him weep; a man for his singular beauty surpassing the children of men.” 

Nothing in this report indicated such a man to be a threat to stability in the region nor to Jewish leadership.  Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi who some called the Messiah as prophesized in the Holy Scriptures.

To the Gentiles he was a prophet and healer who raised the dead and cured diseases.  His own disciples called him the Son of God but there was nothing in the Roman report indicating he was a threat to anyone.

At that time there were three different contemporary Jewish sects competing for control of the Jewish people, the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes and the competition extended over various political, social and religious roles.

The Sadducees were identified by historian Josephus as the upper social and economic echelon of Judean society.

Also within the Judean culture was the Sanhedrin, a rather mysterious Judicial court that dealt only with religious matters.  It was the last institution that commanded universal Jewish authority among the Jewish people in the long line of tradition from Moses until it was dissolved by decree of the Roman Empire in 358 CE.

It was the Sanhedrin under High Priest Caiaphas who arrested and tried Jesus and eventually, failing to find witness against him, charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God and King of the Jews, to which Jesus had responded, "You say I am."

The next morning Jesus was led from Caiaphas to Pontius Pilate in the Praetorium where the Jewish elders demanded the Romans judge and condemn him.  From there is was Pilate's court to Herod's court back to Pilate as the Romans used every maneuver possible to avoid sentencing Jesus to death.

In the end Pilate offers condemned prisoners be substituted for Jesus and the Jewish crowd demanded Jesus be put to death.  Pontius Pilate then told the rabid crowd he washed his hands of the blood of Jesus since they demanded his death, not the Romans.

Jesus was then led to Calvary where he was nailed to a cross and crucified to death.  Did the Jewish factions demanding his death give him a fair trial?  Certainly not in the eyes of the Romans.  But the execution they demanded was allowed to avoid the threat of civil unrest in the Jewish community and preservation of the Jewish institutions.

Throughout his ordeal according to Gospel accounts Jesus is generally quiet, does not mount a defense, and rarely responds to the accusations, but is condemned by the Jewish authorities when he will not deny that he is the Son of God.

In his Gospel, however, Mark indicates Jesus does not passively acquiesce in the injustice that is perpetrated against him, as is the usual view of commentators on these narratives. Instead, Jesus alternately engages in and resists the judicial proceedings in which he becomes embroiled. Initially, he welcomes and participates in the proceedings before the Jewish council and, subsequently, before Pilate. He disengages, however, when the prosecution dissolves into a series of false allegations established by perjured testimony.

Right or wrong the face of Judaism and emergence of Christianity in honor of the crucifixion of the Rabbi Jesus changed forever the religious nature of the world.

There could be no resurrection without Good Friday and no lesson of forgiveness which we seem to have lost in the years since so I guess the consequences of the crucifixion more than justify the sham of the trial and manipulation of the judicial system.

In the end there can be little Good about Good Friday because of the injustice it allowed although there are those who will argue that it was a brutal but necessary fulfillment of ancient prophecy in order to change the course of mankind and give it hope for the future.

I wonder...

As the great prophet Bob Dylan once wrote:

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.”

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