Jesus judged by Jews and Romans 

The Gospels record how Jesus lived, during his passion and death, two parallel judicial processes: the Jewish and the Roman.

Gustavo Milano-August 25, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes

Photo: Mihály Munkácsy. Christ before Pilate. 1881. Musero Dery (Debrezen)

While praying among some olive trees by the Kidron stream, the Messiah was captured. Some Jewish leaders had decided to put an end to the one who stubbornly maintained that God had become incarnate.

Perhaps they thought that the Most High had already given them all revelation and that there was nothing more to learn. Perhaps they believed that their intellects were, if not the source, at least the limit of reality.

His problem, at bottom, was philosophical in root, very similar to something we even call "contemporary": to take for granted that only what I can understand exists. That is, to confuse the real with the rational, as Hegel did.

The panorama that Jesus God had opened to the Jews had the audacity to correct some traditional ways of understanding the divine commands. Tradition, as an effective means of relating to well-known truths, had become an end in itself.

For those people, the purpose of their lives was not to know and love God through acts of worship, but simply to repeat those acts. Their glasses had been transformed into screens.

The Jewish Process

Coming from the descent of the Kidron to their first destination, the house of the still prestigious ex-supreme priest Annas, the soldiers carrying the bound Jesus probably entered the old city through the "gate of the Essenes".

It is plausible that they passed in front of the cenacle where Christ and his disciples had celebrated the Eucharist that same night, or at least could have seen the building nearby, since both were only a few streets away. Jesus would surely have glanced toward the cenacle and related his recent sacramental "death" to his coming actual death.

As Matthew and Mark affirm, there was a discussion in the Sanhedrin that same Thursday night about the case of Jesus, but it seems that Friday morning was the decisive one, as Luke tells us.

The night from Thursday to Friday he would have spent it in a kind of dungeon in that same house of Annas, where his son-in-law, the then high priest in charge Caiaphas, the same one who had said: "It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish" (Jn 11:50). Thus the case was already judged beforehand.

The accusations and condemnations shift from religious to political, presumably to gain Roman support for the execution, which was already expected to be noisy in the city. Jesus' initial silence is eloquent, and his torrential words - a powerful blend of fortitude and meekness - reveal all that was still in the ink.

A nepotic little chapel, jealous of its religious as well as social power, had led this deadly persecution against the son of Mary, subjecting him to a process more criminal than the wildest of accusations against him.

Unlike other members of the Jewish upper classes, such as Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, these anonymous collaborators of Annas and Caiaphas made history without entering into it.

Meanwhile, it is imagined that the three apostles who had tried to pray with Jesus that night in Gethsemane (Peter, John and James the Greater) went to warn the other eight (totaling eleven, because Judas Iscariot by that time would be far from the group). Peter would tell them that the Lord did not let him stop the soldiers, but that he would still follow him, and John would be encouraged to accompany him.

The others, amidst prayers and anguish, would disperse to spend perhaps the worst night of their lives so far. Peter, however, also fell. First came the betrayal of Judas, then the abandonment of the nine, and finally the denials of the prince of the apostles. John alone resisted, held by the hands of Mary.

In the denials of the courageous Peter, faced with the possibility that they also wanted to kill him, the contours of Jesus' fortitude and his love for the will of God the Father can be better distinguished. On the one hand, there are the soldiers who fall to the ground when they hear the Lord's words; on the other, a servant girl is capable of morally subduing an impulsive fisherman with aggressive tendencies. What contrasts, what an abysmal difference between Jesus and Peter! But Peter was brave enough to the point of weeping over his mistakes.

Inside the high priest's house, on the other hand, besides Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, someone else is missing. Why was the Iscariot not there to accuse his Master, if he had already handed him over? Could it be that what he wanted to buy with the thirty pieces of silver could not wait until the following morning? Or perhaps in Gethsemane he wanted to give the impression that he was not really leading the crowd that was going to capture Jesus, but that he was only going to greet the Lord with a kiss, and now he lacked the courage to declare his opposition to Christ at the point of accusing him face to face? It is possible that he excused himself by saying that a minimum of two witnesses was necessary for a testimony to be legally valid. As if that process was a primordial legality! In any case, it was never clearer that sin weakens a person's will and divides him inwardly.

Nevertheless, that is precisely why every sinner has at least half of his heart still good, and is ready to be forgiven and converted if he repents with hope.

In the end, the members of the Sanhedrin get an open declaration from Jesus confessing to be the Messiah, the Son of God. That's enough, religiously there is nothing more to find out. Now they need the Roman crucifixion.

The Roman process

The Antonia tower was in the upper quarter and Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea, lived there. The business hours of the praetorium began at nine o'clock in the morning from the time Pilate had taken office, the year we now call 26 AD.

Some of the Sanhedrin would have addressed the procurator, perhaps in Latin, trying to convince him to condemn that seditious man, probably already known to Pilate. It was not convenient for him to oppose the Jewish leaders, because they had a lot of influence over the local population.

In times of "Pax romana"The maintenance of order was considered a great virtue of the ruler. So he listens to them, as he did to Jesus, and tries to create as little enmity as possible so as not to complicate his life.

Pilate does not care to know what the truth is, but only what kind of kingdom is that of the accused. Once again we see a so-called "contemporary" tendency already present twenty centuries ago: the contempt for the truth, believing that what is "for real"What matters is power, be it political, economic, religious or cultural. The range of human error is in fact very limited.

When Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he had the idea of taking the burden off his shoulders by sending him to Antipas. Attracted by the Passover, Herod Antipas was to be found in his palace in Zion, in the same upper quarter. But to him Jesus addressed no word. Herod also despised him, says the Gospel (cf. Lk 23:11), Jesus who was the truth (cf. Jn 14:6), and sent him back to Pilate. As a result, for the first time the despisers of the truth became friends. Anticipating the end of time, the lost were already gathered on the same side.

Neither the dream of his wife (cf. Mt 27:19), nor the custom of pardon, nor the preventive scourging were able to persuade the Roman procurator to be upright that time. It is necessary to clarify that the redactions of the Gospels, for diverse reasons of historical and religious conjunctural order, tend to exculpate Pilate and to blame the Jews more, so that it is convenient to ponder the question following more by the concrete actions of each person than the words or causal relations that can be being suggested.

The situation of the procurator was not easy, perhaps only with a heroic act he could get out of that predicament. Eventually he would have to face a whole revolt in his territory if he did not condemn Jesus. However, he also gave in to injustice and preferred to put an innocent man to death under torture rather than risk his political office and perhaps even his own life.

They are equal, we men are equal: pagans, Jews, Christians, old, young, contemporaries of Jesus, my contemporaries and yours.

Without God's help, we would have done the same or even worse than those of the first century. Before long, they, like some philosopher of the day before yesterday, would also say: "God is dead, and we have killed him".

The authorGustavo Milano

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