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“FATHER, IF IT IS POSSIBLE LET THIS CUP PASS AWAY FROM ME” – OUR LORD JESUS IS SENTENCED TO DEATH

15 Apr

AFTER THE LAST SUPPER

“After the Paschal meal Jesus and His eleven faithful disciples left the room where they had celebrated the feast and went to a place called Gethsemani (‘oil-press’). There Jesus told eight of the Apostles to sit down while He Himself would go some little distance away, a stone’s throw, to pray. He took with Him Peter, James and John, who had witnessed His glory at Mt. Thabor. Now He would allow them to witness Him in His hour of agony and humiliation.

WITNESSES IN HIS MAGNIFICENT GLORY AS WELL AS IN HIS HUMILIATION

Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to offer His life for the sins of men. He knew that the bad will of men towards Himself was already taking steps to bring about His death. The priests, the Pharisees and the Scribes had already determined to bring about His death. Judas, one of His chosen Apostles, had already agreed to betray Him and was even then carrying out the execution of that criminal agreement. Sadness and dread filled the human soul of Jesus and He said to the three Apostles, ‘My soul is sad even unto death. Wait here and watch with me’ (Matthew 26:38).

SADNESS AND DREAD FILLED THE HUMAN SOUL OF JESUS

Then He went forward a little, knelt on the ground and prayed, ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; yet not as I will, but as thou willest’ (Matthew 26:39).

This prayer of Jesus reveals, as perhaps no other incident in the Gospel does, the reality of the human nature of the Son of God. As the Son of God, God Himself, Jesus knew that it was the will of His Father that He should die a violent death for the salvation of men.

FACING A VIOLENT DEATH FOR THE SALVATION OF MEN

In His human nature, assumed to Himself at the moment when Mary said, ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word,’ He shrank instinctively from the prospect of death. Death was abhorrent to Him for many reasons. His soul was saddened by the thought that His death would be brought about by the pride and blindness of those of His own people who should have accepted Him as their Messias. This sadness was increased by the knowledge that His enemies would succeed in their plans against Him through the assistance of one of His chosen friends. But fundamentally His sadness was made almost unbearable by the most human of reasons – His body and soul naturally and instinctively revolted against the thought of death. But His will, His free human will, was in perfect harmony with the divine designs of His Father.

HIS FREE HUMAN WILL WAS IN PERFECT HARMONY WITH GOD’S WILL

And so, even though His human nature shrank from the ordeal of death, His will accepted the approach of death. In the midst of sadness and dread Jesus accepted the cup of death which His Father wished Him to drink. Adam had chosen something of this world, some created perfection in preference to God and submission to God’s will. By so doing Adam had turned the whole course of human history away from God, its true destiny. Jesus would give up this whole world – can a man give up this world more completely than by voluntarily submitting Himself to death? – in obedience to the will of His Father. By so doing Jesus would turn the course of human history back to God, its true destiny. Thus He would become the true centre of all history.

JESUS CHRIST, THE ‘NEW ADAM’

After this prayer Jesus returned to the three Apostles and found them asleep. How deeply human is this incident, and how touching. Jesus is enduring His time of trial. But His closest friends, even though they have been warned, are too sleepy to stand by, to console Him. The pain and the agony are not theirs, and so they give in to their own natural desires and instincts. The pain and the agony they do not understand, and so they refuse to believe in them.

SWEAT ‘AS DROPS OF BLOOD RUNNING DOWN TO THE GROUND’

Jesus leaves them again and makes the same prayer to His Father. Again He returns to the three Apostles and finds them asleep. Then He returns once more to prayer and the contemplation of His approaching fulfilment of the Divine will by His own death. The natural tumult of His soul at the vision of His own death causes His body to break out in a sweat which became ‘as drops of blood running down to the ground’ (Luke 22:44).

THE APOSTLES HAD DOZED OFF AGAIN

A third time Jesus returned to His disciples and found them asleep. Ruefully He said to them, ‘Sleep on now, and take your rest!’ (Matthew 26:45). But then, sensing the approach of Judas and His enemies, He said to them, ‘Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go. Behold, he who betrays me is at hand’ (Matthew 26:45-46).

BY THE LIGHT OF FLICKERING TORCHES…

At that moment some Roman soldiers, some Temple guards sent by the High-priest, entered the garden. Judas accompanied them. In the darkness of the garden, lit now only by the flickering torches of some of the people sent to arrest Jesus, it might have been difficult to recognise Jesus. Judas therefore had arranged to give the guards a signal. He would kiss Jesus and, by this gesture of friendship, betray Jesus to His enemy.

THE JUDAS’ KISS AND THE CONSEQUENCES

Judas advanced and kissed Jesus. The soldiers and guards moved forward to arrest Him. Jesus Himself advanced and said, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he’ (John 18:4-5).

A QUALITY OF DIGNITY AND MAJESTY IN JESUS’ VOICE

Something in His bearing or in His voice – a quality of dignity and, perhaps of majesty – confounded those in the foreground and they fell back, pressing on those behind them so that some of them fell to the ground. But this effect of the inner power of Jesus did not prevent the fulfilment of the predestined mission of Jesus. Once more the crowd pressed in upon Jesus. Mindful of the safety of His own Apostles, and desiring to fulfil His own words that none of the Apostles, except Judas, the son of perdition, should be lost, Jesus said to them, ‘I have told you that I am He. If, therefore, you seek me, let these go their way’ (John 18:8).

PETER WANTS TO PROTECT JESUS

Simon Peter, with his usual impetuosity, drew a sword to protect Jesus. He struck the ear of Malchus, a servant of the High-priest. But Jesus knew that He would not fulfil His Father’s command by allowing His disciples to start an open revolt. ‘Put up thy sword,’ He said to Peter, ‘into the scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ (John 18:11).

‘AS AGAINST A ROBBER HAVE YOU COME OUT’

Then, with sorrowful dignity, Jesus said to the crowd, ‘As against a robber have you come out, with swords and clubs. When I was daily with you in the Temple, you did not stretch forth your hands against me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness’ (Luke 22:52-53). And thus, Jesus, the Son of Man and the Son of God, resigned Himself into the hands of men to be done to death for the salvation of men.

BEFORE ANNAS, THE FATHER-IN-LAW OF CAIPHAS

The soldiers and the attendants of the Jews seized Jesus, bound Him and led Him to Annas, formerly High-priest, now the father-in-law of Caiphas, the incumbent High-priest. Peter and John had followed Jesus to the home of Annas. John was known there and gained entrance. He induced the guards to allow Peter to enter the courtyard. One of the serving maids, a portress, thought she recognised Peter as a disciple of Jesus, but Peter denied this.

‘IF I HAVE SPOKEN ILL, BEAR WITNESS TO THE EVIL’

Meanwhile Annas was questioning Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. Jesus, refusing to admit that there had been anything furtive or criminal about His behaviour, replied, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why dost thou question me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them: behold these know what I have said’ (John 18:20-21).

One of the attendants then struck Jesus, saying, ‘Is that the way thou dost answer the high priest?’ (John 18:22). Jesus, confident of the justice of His cause, replied, ‘If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why dost thou strike me?’ (John 18:23).

Meanwhile, in the courtyard Peter had been again tentatively identified as one of the disciples of Jesus, and had again denied knowing Him.

A HASTY SESSION OF THE SANHEDRIN WAS CALLED

Annas made no decision, but sent Jesus bound to Caiphas. A hasty session of the Sanhedrin was called. The priests, Pharisees and Scribes were all represented. A parade of false witnesses appeared against Jesus. But their testimony was not sufficient to enable the Sanhedrin to pronounce a sentence of death against Him. Caiphas had previously decided that Jesus must die. It was necessary, therefore, for Caiphas to find some cause for death which would both satisfy the Jews and induce the Roman authorities to make the sentence of death effective.

‘ART THOU THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE BLESSED ONE?’

Two witnesses come forward to say that they had heard Jesus say that He would destroy the temple and in three days restore it. This supposed threat to the temple was a serious charge. But the testimony of the witnesses was not concordant.

Then the High-priest himself asked Jesus, ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’ (Mark 14:61). Jesus replied, ‘I am. And you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Mark 14:62). Upon hearing these words the High-priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ (Mark 14:63). Then the Sanhedrin judged that Jesus was liable to death.

Again, outside, Peter was challenged and denied knowing Jesus. At that moment a cock crew and Peter remembered the warning of Jesus that he would deny Him thrice before the cock crowed thrice. Peter then wept bitterly.

AT DAYBREAK…

At daybreak Jesus was again led before the Sanhedrin. Again He was questioned. ‘If thou art the Christ, tell us.’ Jesus said, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me; and if I question you, you will not answer me, or let me go. But henceforth, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God’ (Luke 22:66-69).

Remembering that Jesus had allowed Himself to be called the ‘Son of God,’ thus making Himself equal to God, they asked Him, ‘Art thou, then, the Son of God?’ He answered, ‘You yourselves say that I am.’ This acknowledgement by Jesus that He was the Son of God convinced the Sanhedrin that He was guilty of blasphemy. They were unable to believe that He Whom they saw as man could be also be God. Hence they found Him guilty of blasphemy, a capital offence, punishable by death.

GETTING THE ROMAN AUTHORITIES TO DO THE DEED

But, although the Sanhedrin had the power to try Jesus and convict Him, they had not the power to carry out effectively a sentence of death. Hence they were compelled to appeal to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, to condemn Jesus and see to His execution.

JUDAS WAS APPALLED AT THE DEVELOPMENTS

After the Sanhedrin had passed the sentence of death on Jesus, Judas, who had betrayed Him, became appalled at the consequences of his betrayal. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the priests. Then, in despair, he went out and hanged himself.

The priests, unwilling to use this blood money for the Temple itself or for themselves, bought a field to be used as a burial ground for the poor. St Matthew, putting together a prophecy from Jeremias [Jeremiah] and one from Zacharias [Zechariah], remarks, ‘Then was fulfilled what was spoken through Jeremias the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him who was priced, upon whom the children of Israel put a price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’ (Matthew 27:9-10).

PONTIUS PILATE’S POLITICAL AMBITIONS WERE HIS WEAKNESS

Now Pilate was both a Roman and a politician. As a Roman he had great respect for law. As a politician he had a great desire to administer his procuratorship successfully, above all, to avoid getting into trouble with the Emperor at Rome. His respect for law was an advantage to Jesus, for, after all, Jesus had done nothing to bring upon Himself the wrath of Rome. But his political ambitions were the weaknesses which the priests used to induce him to accede to their wishes.

‘WHAT IS TRUTH?’

First they pretended that Jesus was inciting the people to rebellious or seditious acts. ‘We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that he is Christ a king’ (Luke 23:2). Pilate asked Jesus if He were the king of the Jews. Jesus answered him, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ Pilate, seeing that Jesus did speak of a kingdom as His own kingdom, said to Him, ‘Thou art then a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘Thou sayest it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’ Pilate, a practical government official, not given much to questions of philosophy or religion, said, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:33-38).

HE SAW THAT JESUS WAS NO THREAT TO ROME

The Jews had attempted to induce Pilate to condemn Jesus on the charge that He was pretending to be a political king, inciting the people to rebellion against Rome. Jesus had acknowledged that He was a king indeed, but the king of a spiritual realm, the realm of truth. Pilate, seeing this, knew that Jesus was not a threat to the political domination of Rome. As for intellectual or religious domination, he was indifferent to such matters. Hence he found Jesus guilty of no crime against the state.

A DIPLOMATIC MOVE

But the enemies of Jesus persisted in saying that Jesus was stirring up the people. On learning from them that Jesus was from Galilee Pilate seized the opportunity to rid himself of this troublesome case and regain the friendship of Herod Antipas, king of Galilee. He sent Jesus to Herod for judgment. Herod was pleased at this mark of respect for his own authority. Besides, he had heard of Jesus and thought that Jesus might work a miracle for him. Jesus, of course, refused to cater to such curiosity seeking and, in fact, refused to answer any questions. Thereupon Herod, himself a shrewd politician, sent Jesus back to Pilate.

TRYING ANOTHER STATEGY TO SOLVE THE DILEMMA

Pilate then pointed out to the priests and leaders of the people that both he and Herod had found no guilt in Jesus. But they persisted in their demands for the execution of Jesus. Pilate then thought of a stratagem.

It was customary for the procurator to release a prisoner at the time of the festival. Pilate then offered to the crowd the choice between a man called Barabbas, a political prisoner and assassin, and Jesus, called the Christ. Unfortunately Pilate asked whether they wished him to release Jesus, ‘the king of the Jews’? (Mark 15:9). Now the very people clamouring for the death of Jesus had refused to acknowledge Jesus as their king in the world of spirit. Moreover, at the moment, He was a figure of humiliation, a prisoner in the hands of the hated Roman authorities. Hence they cried out, ‘Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas’ (Luke 23:18).

PILATE TRIED AGAIN

Pilate tried again. ‘What then do you want me to do to the king of the Jews?’ (Mark 15:12). The people cried out, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate, in desperation, asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they kept crying out ‘Crucify him!’ (Mark 15:12-13).

THE SCOURGING AT THE PILLAR

Pilate resorted to another stratagem. He ordered his soldiers to scourge Jesus. This was a procedure usually adopted by the Romans before the crucifixion of a condemned criminal. Pilate seems to have thought that when the people saw Jesus so brutally wounded and helpless they would relent and consent to His release.

The soldiers led Jesus away to the courtyard of the praetorium. There they stripped Him, scourged Him until His skin was stripped to the bone and His blood ran on the pavement.

THE CROWNING WITH THORNS

Then, in the fashion of rough soldiers, they mocked Him, clothing Him in the purple of kings and crowning Him with a crown of thorns. After this they led Him back to Pilate.

‘ECCE HOMO’ – ‘BEHOLD THE MAN’

Pilate then showed Him to the people and said to them, ‘Behold, I bring Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ When the priests and their attendants saw Jesus they cried out again ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate in anger said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ But the Jews replied, ‘We have a Law, and according to that Law he must die, because he has made himself Son of God’ (John 19:4-7).

HE HAD NO DOUBT BEEN IMPRESSED WITH BY THE CALM AND DIGNIFIED BEHAVIOUR OF JESUS

Now Pilate, a Roman, was accustomed to the notion that the gods might have sons or daughters. Moreover, he had no doubt been impressed by the calm and dignified behaviour of Jesus, as contrasted with the turbulence and violence of the crowd. Hence, if only through superstition, he became afraid.

He went to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Whence art thou from?’

Pilate already knew that Jesus was from Galilee. His question, therefore, was not concerned with the geographical place of origin of Jesus. He was wondering whether or not Jesus might belong to the pantheon of gods in whom the Romans believed, or to the pantheon of one of the eastern nations of the world.

PILATE’S CONFIDENCE WAS SHAKEN

Jesus gave no answer. Then Pilate reminded Him that he had the power of life and death over Him. Jesus then replied, ‘Thou wouldst have no power at all over me were it not given thee from above. Therefore, he who betrayed me to thee has the greater sin’ (John 19:11).

IF YOU RELEASE HIM WE’LL REPORT YOU TO THE EMPEROR AND YOUR POLITICAL CAREER IS OVER

Pilate was still in doubt about the identity of Jesus. But his confidence was shaken and he wished to release Jesus. But the priests and the crowd put his own personal issue to him clearly. ‘If thou release this man,’ they said to Pilate, ‘thou art no friend of Caesar; for everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar’ (John 19:12).

PILATE BETRAYS HIS OWN PRINCIPLES

Pilate made one last effort. He brought Jesus before the crowd once again. Jesus stood before them, a man weak and bleeding, clad in a mock robe of royal purple, wearing a mock crown of thorns. Then Pilate said, ‘Behold your king!’ But the people, rather than accept so abject a figure as their king, cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ Pilate asked, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:13-15).

Pilate’s Roman instinct for law lost the battle. His conscience was conquered. Before the threat to report him to Rome for negligence in dealing with possible enemies of the Emperor, Pilate betrayed his own principles. He delivered Jesus to the Jews to be crucified.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

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