March 31, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Convicted of blasphemy

See Matthew 26:57-75, Mark 14:53-72, Luke 22:54-71, John 18:12-27

We are familiar with the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial and execution because we hear one of the Synoptic Gospels’ accounts on Passion Sunday (this year it will be Mark’s), and John’s account on Good Friday. They differ in detail, but we get a good idea of what happened.

Only John’s Gospel says that Jesus was first taken to Annas, then to Caiaphas, the high priest. Caiaphas had already determined that Jesus was a danger to the Jews and, therefore, “It was better that one man should die rather than the people.” But how could he accomplish that?

First, he had to convince the members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Then he had to convince the occupying forces of the Romans to put Jesus to death. Both required different strategies.

Although the Gospels don’t agree, apparently there were two meetings—one at night and the second in the morning. The night meeting included some of those elders and scribes who earlier had heard Jesus claim to be equal to God. The purpose was to gain evidence to present to the Sanhedrin. The morning meeting was of the full Sanhedrin, when the evidence was presented.

They called witnesses, but it all came down to the answer to one question: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?”

Jesus replied, “You have said so,” considered a half-affirmative. But then he went further: “And I tell you: From now on you will see the ‘Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ (an allusion to Ps 110:1) and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’ ” (a reference to Dn 7:13).

That was all Caiaphas needed. He tore his garments and proclaimed that Jesus had blasphemed. In point of fact, Jesus had done no such thing. According to the Mishnah, to be guilty of blasphemy one had to pronounce the name of Yahweh and Jesus had used the word “Power.” Nevertheless, Caiaphas got the verdict he wanted.

Now he had to complete his second objective: get the Romans to kill Jesus. They bound him and led him to Pontius Pilate, the procurator.

While all this was going on, another drama was taking place in the courtyard outside Caiaphas’s home. Peter had gotten as close as he dared to try to find out what was happening. Three times, someone said that he was also with Jesus, and three times Peter denied it—even cursing and swearing.

Naturally, a rooster crowed after Peter’s third denial, and he remembered that Jesus foretold exactly what had happened. Peter, ashamed of his cowardice, left the courtyard and wept bitterly. He would make up for his lack of courage many times in the future.

Today, the most beautiful Church in Jerusalem, St. Peter in Gallicantu (which means “cock crow”), sits over what most archaeologists believe was Caiaphas’s home. In a courtyard next to the church is a magnificent sculpture showing Peter denying that he knew Christ. †



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