Text: Isa. 52:13-53:12; Heb. 10:1-25; John 18:1-1
by Rev. Delia A. Ayabo
April 10, 2020
In our Church tradition, today is marked as Good Friday. How can one describe such a day? Good Friday is a day our Lord was crucified. It is a day we remember Jesus willingly suffered and died at Calvary. It is a day that features Christ’s brutal beating, heartless scourging and humiliation. What we see by our naked eyes would be a great tragedy on the part of the man Jesus. Yet, the church claims that the cruel passion and death of Jesus on the cross was not a tragedy but an act of divine redemption for humankind. The church asserts on the merits and testimony of the resurrection of Jesus a vindication and adjudication of all his claims of divinity and kingship from which He was charged of a heinous crime deserving death on the cross. Hence, by his death He has made the power of death null and void and by his resurrection He has provided death immunity for everyone who believes.
How does the passion and death of Jesus expose to us the corrupt practices of a human made judicial system in the execution of justice? The four gospel writers narrated that Jesus was brought to trial under the two most influential and best institutions that the world came to know—Judaism and Roman Empire. Judaism advocates monotheism (i.e. a belief in one God) and concern for the poor, the orphans, and the oppressed. On this note, we would expect its good system of justice. The Roman Empire likewise has prided itself for its pax romana (i.e. peace is experienced everywhere throughout the empire wide). Against this backdrop, we would anticipate the due process of law in the trial proceedings of Jesus. Accordingly, the four gospel writers recounted that Jesus went through at least six trial proceedings—three times under the Jewish religious court and three times under the Roman justice system.
Let us take a look at the timeline of the trials of Jesus:
First, the Gospel of John reported that Jesus was brought to Annas, the ex-high priest, at night following his arrest for legal interrogation (John 18:13-23). This deserves a comment. Annas, being an ex-high priest should have not interfered or sneaked in to hear Jesus’ case, make a voice and a decision. At any rate, if it was an official legal hearing then that was an example of the so called “kangaroo court” because it happened at night. Why this should happen at night? Could this mean because Annas’ heart was clouded with darkness that he wanted to become the first arbiter of darkness? After all, if we translate this in our time, any court hearing that allows and entertains outsider that is either person or money to make a voice or dictate a court decision would be a living testament of Annas legacy.
Second, the four gospel writers reported that Jesus was brought to Caiaphas, the incumbent high priest while it was still dark (Matt 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:54, 63-65; John 18:24). The timeline raises a question that makes it unlawful. The four gospel writers reported that Caiaphas did not hear the case but made a death verdict on Jesus. This is an example of the mockery of justice. Being a high priest, he should have provided a lawyer for Jesus or allowed him to defend himself. Sadly, in our time, there are modern Caiaphases among the arbiters of the land. This account of Jesus will remain a living protest to all court proceedings and judges who continue to practice Caiaphas system of justice.
Third, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke reported that Jesus was brought to the Sanhedrin very early morning of Friday (Matt 27:1; Mark 15:1; Luke 22:66-71). The Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish judicial body of the land during the time of Jesus. It is equivalent to the Supreme Court at present. They did legally hear the case of Jesus but it was a one-sided court proceeding. It is sad to note that this religious governing body only provided witnesses to accuse and make lies against Jesus. They accused Jesus of blasphemy by calling himself equal with Yahweh and for claiming to be both the Messiah and the Son of God and therefore deserve the penalty of death.
Fourth, the four gospel writers reported that Jesus was brought to Pilate for interrogation (Matt 27:2, 11-14; Mark 15:1b-5; Luke 23:1-6; John 18:28-38). The scenario was something a public trial but it was done under the Roman justice because the arbiter this time was the governor Pontius Pilate. We are told that Jesus was accused of usurping the sole kingship of the emperor that is by calling himself a King. Pilate questioned Jesus, but found no reason to condemn him. He knew that Jesus was innocent and yet he charged him. Interestingly in this court public setting, Pilate portrays to us an example of an arbiter who listens and allows outsider voices to decide for himself instead of executing the Roman legal system. The outside voices “Crucify him, crucify him!” was his control and he has the ace if only he was not pressured and intimidated and upheld the rule of law. Once again, any court proceeding that would depend on the outside dictations would be a by-product of Pilate school of law. At any rate, the experience of Jesus would remain a timeless protest for every corruption of justice anywhere and at anytime.
Fifth, the Gospel of Luke reported that Jesus was brought to Herod to make his own verdict of Jesus (Luke 23:7-12). We are told that Herod made fun of Jesus by means of torture and mockery, by punching, whipping, and vesting him with robes to impersonate a king for them and to make fun of Jesus. This is clear, by virtue of Herod’s position to execute justice in his jurisdiction; he did not only mock Jesus but deliberately distorted the Roman justice system of peace and order. I could not think of a court hearing where torture and mockery are part if it is not a court of the wild animals. It is interesting to note in this scenario that Jesus was never knocked down by the heavy fists of the soldiers and nothing told that He did complain or cry in pain (cf. Isa 53:7). I could not imagine but to make a comment on the statue of Jesus we made of him on the church’ crosses. Could He not be a big person of a well-built body to be able to absorb the impact of the soldier’s fists? On the other hand, that He did not cry or complain I believe because He was thinking of the salvation of humankind including you and me. Yes, the cross is the reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Sixth, the four gospel writers reported that Jesus was brought to Pilate for the second time (Matt 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:9-19:16). Pilate failed to uphold the due process of law by yielding to the outside voices of dictation when he said: “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law” (John 18:31). He compromised the rule of law to the dictation of the crowd making the trial proceeding unfair and biased. So Pilate issued the death sentence of Jesus by way of Roman crucifixion. Hence, Pilate has authored a court of compromise between the rule of law and the powerful voices outside the trial proceedings that continue to resurface in the history of the human made judicial system of the world. Personally, I have so many rhetorical questions in all the trial proceedings especially those arbitrated by Pilate because it was there that Jesus has a very slim chance to prove himself innocent even if he would still die to fulfill the scripture prophecy. The voices calling for crucifixion and Pilate’s compromise of the rule of law I would understand. It is the part of the spectators that I have few questions and comments that would have reshaped the story of the passion and death of Jesus differently. I was looking for someone from the crowd to have come forward and told Pilate: Excuse me sir, I was blind and now I see, I was lame and now I walk, I was sick and now I’m healed, I was dead and now alive or someone like prophet Amos had come out and said: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream” (Amos 5:24). But that was missing and deserved negative reaction but then we may be in some ways or many ways like them in our witnesses of Jesus. In view of all the suffering that Jesus had to bear in order to nail the sins of the world on the cross for our purification, it would behoove everyone to lean on the cross of Jesus especially at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. By this I mean, we allow the cross of Jesus to shape and fashion our attitude and renew our minds to understand the heights and depths of his purposes in us that together in our fight for COVID-19, we shall walk by faith that the light of Christ may be seen in our acts of love and deeds of faith to all the frontliners and COVID-19 victims.
By way of application, the trial proceedings of Jesus expose to us the reality of injustices in all human or ordain form of justice. And it always sends a protest and a reminder to every abuse and violation of the rule of law especially in all court settings. Above all, the passion and death of Jesus has made that faithful Friday holy and good. It is because up on the cross while the clock was counting on his last few breath with unmatched love, Jesus pronounced forgiveness to all: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) portrays the purity of Jesus’ heart. It is a prayerful petition asking the Father to officiate forgiveness on his behalf. Forgiveness capitalizes on the power of love and this reminds us of Jesus’ advocacy and standard of love, love your enemy. When Jesus Christ said, forgive them, He had in mind all those moments ago, betrayed him, arrested him, accused him falsely, insulted him, mocked him, and condemned him to death and those who abandoned him and many more. Hence the day was marked with the power of forgiveness.
Without prejudice to the other last words of Jesus, He said: “It is finished” (John 19:28) which is a translation of a Greek word “tetelestai” and it is a word used to express victory over an opponent or something of a great achievement so to speak. That Jesus mouthed out this statement would mean that his passion and death sentence were part of his earth bound mission for human redemption. In other words, Jesus has completed and finished God’s mission to make redemption a reality for all people. It is this word “tetelestai” among other factors that shades light on the wisdom of the passion and the cross. It will give us an idea that what happened on that Friday was not a tragedy but victory over the shadow master and its evil minions. And finally He said: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). This seventh word of Jesus would also give us some ideas about the divine status of Jesus. He was the only person who knew when to give up his last breath and where He is going. This last word reminds us of eternal truth that it is only in the hands of God that we can find safety.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.