The transcript of our trial

Like Jesus' disciples, we tend to stay with Jesus more when things are going well. But, like Jesus' original followers, we tend to abandon and betray when things get hard and threatening. (Artwork: Statue from St. Charles Borromeo, North Hollywood.) — Credit: MICHAEL DOYLE

The biblical accounts of Jesus' passion and death focus very much on his trial, describing it in length and in detail.

And there is a huge irony in how it is described. Jesus is on trial, but the story is written in such a way that, in effect, everyone is on trial, except Jesus.

The Jewish authorities who orchestrated his arrest are on trial for their jealousy and dishonesty. The Roman authorities who wield the final power on the matter are on trial for their religious blindness. Jesus' friends and contemporaries are on trial for their weakness and betrayal. Those who challenge Jesus to invoke divine power and come off the cross are on trial for their superficial faith.

And, not least, each of us is on trial for our own weaknesses, jealousies, religious blindness and superficial faith. The transcript of the trial of Jesus reads like a record of our own betrayals.

Recently the church has tried to help us grasp this by the manner in which it has the Passion proclaimed on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. In many churches today, when the Passion is read the narrative is broken up in such a way that one narrator proclaims the overall text, another person takes the part of Jesus, several others take the parts of the various people who spoke during his arrest and trial, and the congregation as a whole is asked to proclaim aloud the parts that were spoken by the crowds.

This could not be more appropriate because a congregation in any Christian church today, and we, as individual members of those congregations, in our actions and in our words, in countless ways, mimic perfectly the actions and words of Jesus' contemporaries in their weaknesses, betrayals, jealousies, religious blindness and false faith. We too indict Jesus countless times by how we live.

An example: In Matthew's account of the trial of Jesus, at a certain moment in the trial, Pontus Pilate comes out to the people, the same people who just five days before had chanted for Jesus to be their king, and tells them that according to custom, at Passover time, he is willing to release one Jewish criminal being held in custody.

At the time, he had in custody a particularly infamous murderer named, Barabbas. So Pilate asks the crowd: "Whom should I release for you, Jesus of Nazareth or Barabbas?" The crowd roars back: "Barabbas!"

Pilate then asks: "Then what should I do with Jesus of Nazareth?" The crowd's reply: "Away with him. Have him crucified!"

We can make this very obvious extrapolation: In every moral choice we make, big or small, ultimately the question we are standing in front of is the same question Pilate asked the crowd: Whom should I release for you, Jesus or Barabbas? Graciousness or violence? Selflessness or self-centeredness?

It is the same when the crowds say to Pilate: "We have no king, except Caesar!" In saying this, they are abandoning their own messianic hopes in favor of a momentary security. We say the same thing every time when, for our own well-being, we sell out our higher ideals and settle for second best.

As well, all too frequently, we mimic the words of the crowds who challenged Jesus as he was hanging on the cross with these words: "If you are the Son of God, come off the cross, save us, and save yourself." We do this every time we let our prayers become a test of God's existence and goodness. If we get a positive answer, God loves us; if not, we begin to doubt.

It is the same, of course, with our actions: Like Jesus' disciples, we tend to stay with Jesus more when things are going well, when temptation is not too strong, and when we are not facing real, personal threat. But, like Jesus' original followers, we tend to abandon and betray when things get hard and threatening.

Moreover, like the authorities who come to arrest Jesus carrying lanterns and torches, we also often prefer artificial light to the Light of Lights — just as, like those who arrested Jesus, we tend to approach the Prince of Peace carrying clubs and swords, ready for a fight.

Generally, on reading the account of Jesus' Passion and Death, our spontaneous inclination is to judge very harshly those who surrounded Jesus at his arrest, trial, and sentencing: How could they not see what they were doing? How could they be so blind and jealous? How could they choose false security over God's ultimate shelter? A murderer over the Messiah? How could his followers so easily abandon him?

Not much has changed in 2,000 years. The choices that those around Jesus were making during his trial and sentencing are identical to the choices we are still making today. And most days we are not doing any better than they did because, still, far too often, given blindness and self-interest, we are saying: Away with him! Crucify him!

 

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.


Voices

Jean Beliveau, RIP

REV. RONALD ROLHEISER, OMI

Jean Beliveau was more than an athlete, though certainly he was a one-in-a-million athlete. The record of his achievements almost defies belief. He played in the National Hockey League for 20 seasons and retired with 10 championship rings. 

 

The Holy Father visits the Holy Land

Events

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December 20, 2014

  • Saturday, December 20

    St. Margaret's Center Christmas Program, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Morningside High School (Cafeteria), 10500 S. Yukon Ave, Inglewood. St. Margaret's Center, Inglewood School District, Doorking, Inc., and Centinela Hospital Medical Staff invite you to join them as they create a holiday wonderland with Christmas surprises for more than 1,000 poverty-level children and their parents. (310) 672-2208. Click here for more information.

    Christmas Shop at Holy Grounds, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m., St. Monica Catholic Community, 725 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 566-1500.

    Dancing Festival of Lessons and Carols, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Holy Spirit Retreat House, 4316 Lanai Rd., Encino. A concert by Valyermo Dancers & Co., choreographed by John West. $15. Contact Sr. Deborah for more info, (818) 784-4515.

    Christmas Dinner Dance, 6 p.m., Knights of Columbus Hall, 21433 Strathern St, Canoga Park. Tickets, $28. (818) 371-0473.

    Las Posadas, 7 p.m., Parish Hall, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 600 W Mariposa St, Altadena. Posadas means “the inns” or “the shelters” in Spanish. A religious and social celebration, Las Posadas commemorates Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter prior to the birth of Christ. We invite you to join us in a one-day celebration of this tradition. (626) 794-2046.

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