Christ knows what it is like to be unjustly arrested as did the Jews, Slavs and opponents of Nazism who were abducted by night, often having been beaten before they reached the train for deportation to the Concentration camps. And what of the terrible sufferings of the millions of Russians and other nationalities who had to go on immense train journeys to Siberia, often dying on the way. Reading Anne Applebaum’s great work on the Gulag one is amazed at the extraordinary cruelty meted out to the prisoners. Reading about the children that die, the mothers who commit suicide because it is too much for them, the terrible gang rapes that are ignored by the guards, and the failure of male prisoners to come to the defence of the poor women results in one agreeing with one prisoner who said, “Anyone who has seen Dante’s hell would say that it was nothing beside what went on in that ship.” That ship would be sailing from the pacific, to the most eastern part of the Soviet Union, and would be the final end of the journey that would have begun in European Russia.
Christ endured all this, and took it into his humanity totally. Why? Because he would be able to know totally mankind’s sufferings from the inside, and know mankind’s sins from the inside without sinning.
Christ is dragged first to Annas, and then to Caiaphas, and has to endure the contempt and hatred of the priests of his own people, to whom he gave the Covenant at Sinai, and who should have loved him and served him, and it is remarkable that Cardinal Bea who had such a high profile at Vatican II, could have come out with the following:
According to the cardinal, one could not accuse the leaders of the Jewish people either of such a specific crime (deicide). Inasmuch as it is doubtful that they had adequately understood the human-divine nature of Jesus.(Vatican II, The Untold Story. P.464)
This is to miss the point. Caiaphas had no right to call a trial at night, and had no right to ask a question that would incriminate the accused. He could not ask if he was the Messiah. The punishment was blasphemy was stoning, not crucifixion, but he and the bad members of the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus executed as a criminal. It was all politically motivated, and was about power. The religious leaders of the people were spiritually and morally bankrupt. We see here the corruption or religion. This happens again and again when religion is pressed into the service of Satan.
Whatever we can be certain of is that after the Sanhedrin and the servants and Temple police had vented their fury on Jesus, epitomized by the servant of the High Priest hitting Jesus in the face, the rough treatment would have continued until he was put into the prison cell to await his morning trial by Pilate.
There is no doubt that Pilate was fascinated by Jesus, otherwise he would not have spent so much time talking to him. His great question “What is truth ?” is almost the signature tune of every Politician. Politicians are eminently practical men; if they are not they do not usually remain in Politics, unless it was the old House of Lords, where many were from the aristocracy. Pilate wants to let Jesus go. He is amazed at this King whose Kingdom is not of the world, and who is totally in command of the situation. This is shown to perfection in his final conversation with Jesus after he has had him scourged and the soldiers have made sport with him by crowning him with thorns. The leaders of the Jews have replied furiously to Pilate’s avowal “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” by saying that Jesus deserves to die because “he has made himself the Son of God.” Pilate then questions Jesus by asking him “Where do you come from?” which is not a question about geography, but where indeed, what extraordinary place does Jesus come from. One sees the glimmerings of Faith. Jesus does not answer, and so Pilate states rather than threatens, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”
Now Pilate if he had felt insulted would have handed Jesus over to be crucified, but quite the contrary he wants to release Jesus. He presents Christ, disfigured with beatings and covered with blood, and proclaims to the people, “Here is your King” to which they respond “We have no king but Caesar”. Pilate’s fear of being denounced to Caesar is obvious, and so being the coward he is and not a man moved by conviction, he washes his hands, to try to exonerate himself of the guilt of what he is doing and so hands Jesus over to be crucified. It is a remarkable scene.
Let us just think for a moment of the strangeness of it all. The Jewish leaders, who detest the pagans, and the Gentiles, proclaim that Tiberius Caesar, who is honoured as God is their King. Such a thing the prophets would see as detestable. Yes the people of Israel were subjected to the King of Assyria as a punishment and the people of Judah were taken off to Babylon as a punishment, but this declaration has not been wrung from a people who are being punished, for the Jews were remarkably well treated by Rome, and their religion was for the most part respected. It is odd that they did not mention Herod, or Philip as possible contenders for this honour. We must be very clear about this. The High Priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Scribes, and lawyers reject the Messiah, the Son of David. Even if they doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, they must have seen him doing only good. They said that they wanted Jesus executed for Blasphemy and for breaking the Sabbath. Jesus however, only proclaimed definitely that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, when forced to do so by Caiaphas. The blasphemy was to acclaim a pagan Emperor, who demanded worship, as King, something abhorrent for a devout Jew. Even today the ultra orthodox Jew cannot and does not accept the state of Israel, as Israel cannot be re-founded, except by the Messiah.
We see a great clash in different ways between the authority of God, and the wielding of power. Christ is majestic in his silence, and in his words. We see his calm amid suffering as a great cliff remains rock solid before crashing of great waves against it.
We see Jesus’ chosen apostles running for their lives, because of fear, fear of the power of the Jewish authorities. We see the illegal night meeting of the Sanhedrin, and Caiaphas’ asking the question of Jesus as to whether he is the Messiah or not. This is the abuse of his priestly power. We see the cruelty of the Temple Police, and the servants of the High Priest, and the sadism of the soldiers, yet another abuse of power. We see the collapse of Pilate’s authority for fear of offending the Imperial Power, and we see Herod degrading his Kingly power by dressing Christ, the true King, in white which was the colour for a fool. The final abuse of power is the manipulating of the crowd by the priests and the elders that leads to the death of Christ.
Christ is friendless and forlorn, and then something wonderful happens. Let us listen to these words of scripture in the Gospel of Matthew:
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted.. And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in dream.” (Matthew 27: vv.15-19).
As Archbishop Goodier says the only person to stand up for Jesus is a Pilate’s wife, who is a pagan. How odd the Pagan Governor, and his wife, both in their ways, want to save Jesus, and the Jewish leaders who know the true God want to kill him, and so ever since then, this has very often been the case, and no more so than today.