Grace: To have sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is undergoing His passion for my sins.
Text for Prayer: Jn. 18:12-40
Reflection: What do we hope will vindicate us? When all is said and done, what do we wish to be the justification for our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions? One often hears people use phrases like “we will be vindicated by history,” meaning that hindsight will show either that they did the pragmatic (though not always honest) thing, or that their behavior will be vindicated by opinions fashionable at some future point. Jesus encounters these ways of thinking and others at His trial, but refuses to be vindicated by anyone or anything beyond Himself.
First, we see Jesus go before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Before Jesus is even arrested, Caiaphas advocates His death by stating that “it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (Jn. 11:50). Caiaphas’ primary preoccupation is not whether Jesus’ claim is true or not, but whether Israel will be destroyed. In the second part of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict observes that
there were certain circles within the Sanhedrin that would have favored the liberation of Israel through political and military means. But the way in which Jesus presented His claim seemed to them clearly unsuited to the effective advancement of their cause.
This fact is only underscored by two chants, juxtaposed against one another. On the one hand is the statement “we have no king but Caesar.” On the other hand is the demand “free Barabbas!” Those who are present claim to call for the crucifixion of Jesus because of the threat He poses to Rome’s power, while at the same time demanding the release of a revolutionary who has himself fought against Rome. There is no coherence to the demands. Anything to advance the cause will be sufficient.
Following the condemnation of Caiaphas, Jesus goes before Pilate. As procurator, Pilate commands the Roman army, the driving force behind the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. Pope Francis has said that “there is no peace without truth,” but Pilate shows little concern for truth. His concern is the opinion of the crowd. When Jesus says that he has come “to bear witness to the truth,” Pilate dismissively asks “what is truth?” (Jn. 18: 37-38) Outwardly, Pilate must try and seek justice, but in reality he wants the same thing as the Sanhedrin: to preserve the status quo. So long as the crowds don’t revolt and Rome’s position is secure, truth is irrelevant.
Were this scene to be played out today, little would change. There are still individuals who are willing to sacrifice one person for many because it is the pragmatic decision. There are still individuals who allow truth to take a backseat to personal interests and fashionable opinions. This is the easy way. Truth is something we conform ourselves to. Expediency and fashion, however, are things that we can dictate. We fall into the temptation that led to Original Sin: “you will be like gods” (Gn. 3:5). We take the course of action where we call the shots, rather than being obedient to anyone else.
All of this, Jesus takes on. He takes it on so that it may die with Him on the cross. He takes it on so that we may be healed. Every sort of human evil—pride, arrogance, malice, tepidity—is encountered by Jesus and taken on. As we look at the behavior of those who judge Jesus and ultimately crucify Him, hopefully we can recognize ourselves in them. Because if we can, we can see clearly Jesus encountering our sins and failings, and taking them on as He walks to Calvary.
Questions: How do I put my gifts at the service of pragmatism and opportunism, rather than truth? How do I judge Jesus? How has Jesus taken on my judgments?