Jesus is given over to the inquisition of the High Priest, Caiaphas, and it quickly goes off the rails: The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God – Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” Matthew 26:63-66
We had a peek yesterday at the robes, not the robe of the High Priest. Which one Caiaphas tore in his nod to performance art we don’t know. But whether it was the outer or the inner garment the message was quite clear. Something horrific had allegedly occurred within earshot of the High Priest and he tore his robe as a demonstration of being greatly offended. This was not a small deal, calculated though it was. In Leviticus great care was given that the fabric of the High Priest be of such a quality that it would not tear, or at least not easily so: “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear.” Exodus 28:31-32 Moreover, it was a grave sin to tear the clothes: “…Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; …” Leviticus 10:6
Yikes. This was wholesale judgment on the entire congregation for one guy ripping up his garment. As I mentioned, I believe this was calculated for an effect. Caiaphas’ assumption was rewarded: “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” ~Matthew 26:66b-68
It was now blood in the water to a roomful of ecclesiastical sharks. The behavior of these “men of the cloth” is reduced to that of gangsters. Jesus is spit upon, punched, slapped and mocked. The passion of the Christ has begun. A High Priest has committed a legal blasphemy in order to protest an artificial one.