Sunday, May 24, 2009

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 9th – From Court to Court

Jesus, who will one day judge the world, was treated unjustly in the courts of men. On the night before His crucifixion, He was passed on from judge to judge, a victim of injustice at the hands of people who were to safeguard the due processes of justice.

Very often misdeeds of injustice are done under the cover of darkness. Non-conformists, revolutionaries and dissenters have often been arrested around midnight and hauled away to unknown locations and held incommunicado and without legal aid. When police have a deadline to solve a case, it is in the dead of the night that they have barged into the homes of slum-dwellers, or picked up the homeless from pavements. And so it was that they came late at night to arrest Jesus. The Jewish officials didn’t want the public to know that they had arrested Jesus, the popular teacher who was challenging their authority, and risking the nation’s limited freedoms (Jn.11:48).

The High Priest and his party wanted Jesus dead. But they had no power to award anyone the death penalty. They had to find cause. They set up false witnesses, but it was discovered that they would not be able to stand up to any examination in a Roman court of law (Mk.14:55-59).

There were procedural rules about how the Jewish Sanhedrin was to conduct a trial. Though there was nothing in writing, that there were rules is evident the Mishnah (circa AD 170) which was merely a record of the oral tradition. In the fourth order Neziḳin (injuries) there are ten treatises, one of which is about the Sanhedrin and deals chiefly with judicial procedure and criminal law. According to the Mishnah the high priest could not participate in the questioning, the verdict was not to be given on the same day as the trial, the charge of blasphemy required God's name be explicitly pronounced, and someone is required to defend the accused.

When due process is not observed, injustice is always done. Clearly the establishment is railroading the person whom it has ganged up to finish off. When no cause to recommend the death penalty was found, the High Priest extracted a confession under the most solemn oath requiring the prisoner to answer (14:60-64).

Like those denied justice today, Jesus was shunted from one court to another, without getting justice at any of them. The High Priest sent the case to the Roman Governor Pilate. The charge was treason. The Messiah was caricatured as a political threat to the Caesar (Jn.19:12), opposing payment of taxes to Caesar and implying that Jesus Himself was collecting the due taxes (Lk.23:2). The governor was cornered by explicitly telling him that he was no friend of Caesar’s if he set the rebel free (Jn.19:12).

Pilate, though he was the highest authority in the land as Rome’s representative, looked for a way to not have to do something that was so obviously illegal and unjust. The moment he heard that Jesus was a domicile of Galilee, Pilate passed the responsibility of judgment in the matter to Herod, the king of Galilee (Lk.23:6-7).

Herod was delighted. He was one who needed entertainment all the time and hoped to have Jesus perform what he supposed were magic tricks. When Jesus wouldn’t oblige, Herod decided to get his entertainment anyhow: the prisoner was subjected to abuse (vv.8-12).

When Herod passed the prisoner’s case back, Pilate tried again to get out of passing judgment on an innocent man. But he was not able to withstand the pressure that was brought on him. He felt a need to distance himself from the lonely prisoner, lest Caesar hear of his having sided with a rebel. He washed his hands of the case (Matt.27:24), abdicating from the responsibility to safeguard justice.

The mob, instigated by the Jewish officials, demanded that the prisoner be crucified. They wanted to see a public execution. They didn’t care that there was no clear and solid evidence of misconduct. They bayed for his death. Given the fact that there were no grounds for an execution, the death of Jesus was nothing less than a lynching.

An unlawful arrest, false accusations and false witnesses, official interference with the process of justice, prisoner abuse for pleasure, abdication of responsibility and mob justice—Jesus suffered it all as He was passed from court to court.

There was nothing attractive about Him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at Him and people turned away.
We looked down on Him, thought He was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains He carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought He brought it on Himself,
that God was punishing Him for His own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to Him,
that ripped and tore and crushed Him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through His bruises we get healed...
He was beaten, He was tortured, but He didn't say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared, He took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and He was led off...
Even though He'd never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn't true.
Still, it's what GOD had in mind all along,
to crush Him with pain.
The plan was that He give Himself as an offering
for sin so that He'd see life come from it...
Because He looked death in the face and didn't flinch,
because He embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on His own shoulders the sin of the many,
He took up the cause of all the black sheep (Isa.53:2-5, 7-10, 12, TM).
If you feel harassed and victimised by people in power, know that Jesus understands your feelings. He has had your kind of experiences.

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