By The Rev. John Peterson
Today’s readings from 1 Samuel and John 18 are juxtaposed to each other. On the one hand, Samuel is presented as a “righteous judge”, one who has neither defrauded nor oppressed, nor has he taken a bribe. Samuel was prepared to go to the Divine Council and the Lord would be his witness. In John 18 we find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane being betrayed by Judas. Jesus, a righteous man, will have to take the stand before the Roman tribunal.
In the Gospel the debate with Pilate is really over kingship. There are two interesting conversations going on here, if Jesus were the king of the Jews why was he in the Roman Antonia Fortress (Praetorium) being tried by Pilate? If he were a Jew, why was he not being tried in the Jewish legal system? From the perspective of the Roman legal system, Pilate would “find no case against Jesus”, but the religious authorities did not want Jesus to be released, instead they shouted that they wanted Barabbas, a bandit, to be freed instead of Jesus.
What is so interesting in John 18 is that the whole text hangs on verse 32 (“This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated what type of death he was to die” (John 12:32 ). The Evangelist here believes that crucifixion was the Roman form of capital punishment. According to John, had the Jewish religious authorities (the Sanhedrin) sentenced Jesus to death, the death would have been by stoning (like Stephen, the first martyr of the Church).
In tomorrow’s Gospel the Divine Reversal takes place when God “turns upside down” what we normally would consider “truth”.
1) Why do you think the Jewish religious authorities wanted the Romans to try Jesus and not the Sanhedrin?
2) While the Jewish religious authorities were complicit with Rome to crucify Jesus, are there times when the church has been complicit with the “Roman authorities” as well?
Give me strength, O Lord, to stand up to the religious authorities as well as to the political authorities so I will have the courage to testify to the truth.
The Rev. John Peterson is Former Secretary General of the Anglican Communion