18th April, 2014. Good Friday
Readings and a reflection for the Solemn Liturgy of the Sacred Passion,
plus a short essay “Who Killed Jesus?“, by Maureena Fritz, Bat Kol Institute, Jerusalem.
1) Isaiah 52:13-53:12
(The humiliations of the suffering servant, who carried the burden of the sins of his people.)
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him-so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals — so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
(We have in Christ a great high priest who understands us fully. By his sufferings he accomplished our salvation.)
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Gospel: John 18:1-19:42
(With dignity and strength, Jesus walks along the royal road to Calvary. St John shows how everything happened to fulfill God’s saving plan for our redemption.)
After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said “I am not.” Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.
Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfil what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to 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 over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.
Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfil what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
All Done, Completed, Fulfilled
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? .. In the words of that haunting song, sometimes it does indeed cause me to tremble… when I hear those words from the cross, “It is Consummated!” Consummated — completed — achieved to the last degree — engraved forever on the memory of mankind. “I have come to seek and to save what was lost… The Son of Man came, not to be served but to serve.” His life was one long act of loving service, and now it ends on a rocky hill outside Jerusalem’s walls, with a final act of total self-surrender to the Father, on our behalf. Nothing like it was ever accomplished before, and its fruits go on forever.
The marvel is that, in another sense, this hour of his death remains powerfully alive in the hearts of all who trust in him — this point of total, utter contact between us and almighty God. The utterly self-giving, loving, loyal spirit of Jesus at the point of leaving this world is shared and handed on. This is seen most clearly in the fervour of the saints, in men like Francis of Assisi, who bore on his body the stigmata of Jesus, or Paul of the Cross, who found in Christ crucified a vast sea of divine love, or Charles of Mount Argus, devoted to serving all who were troubled and sick, to share with them the love of Christ, or Mother Teresa, whose heart was so imprinted by the love of Jesus that she inspired many others to serve him in the poorest of the poor.
It is consummated — because by his cross, He draws us all into contemplation of the grace and mercy of God in our lives in so many circumstances. As Joseph Mary Plunkett put it in a poem written in 1916,
I see His Blood Upon the Rose
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
He shows us a new way to look at our lives, to appreciate God’s presence with us every step of the way, to see in all of nature the signs of a loving providence that is taking care of us:
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice-and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
Above all, his arms are forever reaching out to save and bless those who turn to him, wherever we are on life’s journey. Young or old, married or single, rich or poor, woman or man, Irish, Polish, Chinese or South African — all of us are there beneath his saving cross, and for us a stream of blessing flows out, to lead us to eternal life.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
Yet in another sense the wonderful saving work of Jesus is not completed until it is recognised, welcomed and absorbed by each of his faithful followers… and until we in turn bring the spirit of his boundless compassion to bear in our world, reaching out as he did to bring our fellow human beings – and especially those most in need – into the warmth of God’s family circle.
WHO KILLED JESUS?
(by Maureena Fritz, Bat Kol Institute, Jerusalem 91080 Israel)
Who killed Jesus? When invited to choose between Barabbas and Jesus, the Jewish populace, persuaded by the chief priests (Mark and Matthew) demand the release of Barabbas and clamor for the crucifixion of Jesus. It is hard to imagine a nationalist Jewish crowd encouraging the Romans to kill one of their own.
When reading the Passion narratives it is therefore imperative to remember the time of the final editing of the Gospels. It was a time of increasing bias against the Jewish nation and favor towards Rome, the ruling power (63 BCE-313 CE). It was dangerous to criticize Rome or their appointees. It was also a time of a growing separation between the young church and the synagogue. The number of gentiles who entered the young Church gradually outnumbered the Jewish followers of Jesus. Arguments took place between these two groups especially in the area of fidelity to Jewish traditions.
The Passion narratives are not eyewitness accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. They were written much later, two to three generations after the lifetimes of Jesus and all who knew him. Since only about 10% of the population could read and write, the story was spread orally by word of mouth. A story that is carried orally can remain faithful to the basics of historical fact but it will also reflect the situation and biases of the writers and editors.
Let us consider the following: The Pilate of The Pilate of the Passion narratives, Roman prefect of Judaea, has little in common with the Pilate of history. Pilate in the Passion narratives is a compassionate man who believed in the innocence of Jesus and tried to save him from the hands of his enemies, the Jews. The Pilate of history is a stubborn vindictive, cruel person who was known for his grievous acts of cruelty towards the Jews. He offended their sensibilities in many ways by such acts as commanding his soldiers to bear Roman standards with images of the emperor into the holy prescient of the Temple. The Gospel of Luke mentions a massacre of Galilean pilgrims ‘whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices’ (Luke 23.1).
Who were the high priests in the Temple! Were they the holy high priests of the Jewish people or were they puppets of Rome? With the Roman conquest of Judea, the office of the high priest became a political tool in the hands of the Romans. Both Annas and Caiaphas and the priests came to be little more than religious functionaries of the Roman administration. Even the garments of the high priest were handed over to the local Roman procurator and handed back just prior to the various festivals.
The high priest Annas was appointed by the Roman legate Quirinius as the first High Priest of the newly formed Roman province of Judaea in 6 CE, after the Romans deposed Archelaus, thereby putting Judaea directly under Roman rule. He was later deposed in 15CE and though officially removed from office, he retained power and influence. In John’s gospel, Jesus is brought first to Annas who sent him to Caiaphas.
Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, by marriage to his daughter. He was appointed high priest by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus in CE 18 (Jos ant 18.2:2) and through his shrewdness he stayed in power for eighteen years while others before him were dismissed by the Romans after one and two years in service. In his capacity of high priest, he was in charge of the temple treasury, controlled the temple police and lower ranking priests and attendants, and ruled over the Sanhedrin. In a meeting of the chief priests regarding Jesus’ growing popularity a complaint was raised, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation,” to which Caiaphas responded, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11.49-50). When Caiaphas turned Jesus over to Pilate and the Roman authorities he knew full well the outcome of his decision.
These men do not represent the Jewish people. The image of the Jews at enmity with Jesus in the Passion narratives contradicts the image of the Jews in other parts of the gospels, where they are seen as flocking around Jesus eager to listen to his word and to be healed by him. Before the arrest, the chief priests hesitated to move against him because they feared popular outrage. The only rational explanation for this negative image of the relationship between Jesus and his people is the time when the Gospels were written, a time of growing anti-Judaism and increasing enmity in the church between gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus.
Who or What Killed Jesus? On one side, the Romans. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment not a Jewish one? On the other side, the principal movers were the priests of the temple, functionaries of Rome, charged with keeping the peace. Jesus did create a disturbance in the Temple vicinity when he drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves (Mt.
21.12). Caiaphas, who sent him to his death, summed up his ultimate purpose in the principle that the whole nation is more important than a single individual.
Those who knew Jesus, his disciples, the apostles and his family failed him. Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt. 27.46) expresses this reality.
Mark names some women, including Mary Magdalene, another Mary and Salome, who look So who killed Jesus? In summary, the two guilty partners are, first, the Romans did the dirty job; crucifixion was a Roman punishment not a Jewish one. Second, the Priests, the leaders of the religious establishment, functionaries of Rome, charged with keeping the peace.
The Gospel states that Jesus was arrested by a detachment of soldiers together with police sent from the chief priests. They brought him first to the former high priest, Annas, who after interrogating him sent him to the house of the high priest Caiaphas where he was kept during the night. Early in the morning Caiaphas had him transferred to Pilate’s headquarters and the Roman authorities, knowing full well what the outcome would be.
The Gospels are divinely inspired but they are also the work of human hands and reflect the imperfections and biases of the human writers. We can find Jesus within them if we know how to read the text critically. We can weep over his crucifixion and death. And with him weep over the millions of his Jewish brothers and sisters who have been murdered in his name.
My God, my God why have you forsaken me? (Mt. 27.46)