Today’s reading is Mark 14:53-65:
And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. And Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he was sitting with the guards and warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree.
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.
What was it that condemned Jesus to death at his trial before the Sanhedrin? It was not the false testimony against him: None of the accusers could agree on their stories. It was not any of his miracles that he worked earlier in his ministry: everyone agreed that he did everything well (Mk 7:37). Neither could the Sanhedrin entangle Jesus in a discussion regarding the Law, for Jesus remained silent for most of the trail. When Jesus did speak up, it only took two words for Jesus to earn death on the cross: “I am.”
“I am” was not simply a personal affirmation that Jesus was “…the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One” (Mk 14:61), the identity being questioned by the high priest. Rather “I am” is what God names himself when he speaks to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:14-15). “I am” is Jesus’s divine heavenly name that defines his nature. The only ground on which the Sanhedrin could find to condemn Jesus was his own name!
Who then did the Sanhedrin reject when they condemned Jesus on that fatal night? They rejected God himself. This may seem obvious: if Jesus is God and they reject Jesus, they also reject God. However, this passage is particularly poignant in this point. The Sanhedrin knew that they were supposed to be looking for the Messiah; why else would the high priest have asked if Jesus was the Messiah and Son of the Blessed One? The high priest knew that his question would settle the Sanhedrin’s debate about who Christ was. If Jesus answered “no” then Jesus would lose his following and cease to be a major source of disturbance. However, never considering that Jesus was the Messiah whom he should have been searching for, the high priest had already decided that a positive answer to his question was blasphemous, and he knew that the Sanhedrin would condemn blasphemy with death. Thus, the high priest and the Sanhedrin had already condemned the Lord in their hearts before Jesus’s trial even began. With the Lord’s name “I am” still ringing in their ears, they hastened to put him to death.
This passage should remind us of how much the world actually hates Christ. Even Jesus daring to affirm his own identity and utter his own name was enough to earn him crucifixion. However, Jesus was not simply tossed in a cell to await the proceedings of the next day; rather he was blindfolded, beaten, and ridiculed that night. The violent nature of the world could not make itself wait any longer to inflict pain on Christ. Thus the Passion began.
Thank you for enduring our punishment on our behalf. You knew when you descended to Earth that you were entering a hostile territory that reviled even the mention of your name. How great your love is for us Lord, that seeing us hating your name and embracing death, you still chose to extend your own life to us.
Richard Rush ’15 lives in Eliot House and concentrates in History.