CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

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January 14, 2018

The Incestuous Judge
For the time being, the trial moves over to Herod. It is a chore to keep up with all the guys that go by the same name in the New Testament. This Herod – Herod Antipas – was the youngest son of Herod the Great. The latter was infamous in Scripture for the slaughter of the innocents near the time of Jesus’ birth. He was also a legendary builder. He was the force behind the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem which became eponymous with his name. After a bit of a family scrum, Herod the Great’s youngest son – Herod Antipas – took over the family business.

So, we meet up with Herod Antipas shortly after John the Baptist is winding down his meteoric ministry career and Jesus is beginning his. With his fiery preaching, John the Baptist had no qualms about calling out anyone on anything and that certainly included Herod Antipas. It seems that on a visit to Rome, Herod Antipas dropped in on his half-brother, Herod II, and there fell in love with Herod II’s wife, Herodias. (Are you still with me)? Both Herod Antipas and Herodias divorced their spouses forthwith and were soon married. That was bad enough, but the scandal was all the more sensational because Herodias also happened to be the niece of her new husband! As Solomon once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It didn’t take a preacher with the chops of John the Baptist for this nuptial indignity to cause a stir. This little scandal was actually the cause of a couple of wars. But all that notwithstanding, it was John who turned up the heat and in turn ended up with his head on a platter  – removed from its shoulders at the behest of Herodias’ famous dancing daughter, Salmone.

So…it is this Herod that we will meet up with tomorrow: When Pilate heard this, he enquired whether the man were a Galilean, and when he discovered that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed him on to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. ~Luke 23:6,7

January 13, 2018

Boomerang

We must now borrow from the observant chronicler, Luke. John hits the high points, but as usual, Luke supplies us with much more by way of background material. Pilate is not the only dignitary that Jesus will stand before. He will also meet up with Herod, a man he once called a fox: But Pilate addressed his question to Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, I am,” he replied. Then Pilate spoke to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find nothing criminal about this man.” But they pressed their charge, saying, “He’s a trouble-maker among the people. He teaches through the whole of Judea, all the way from Galilee to this place.” ~Luke 23:3-5

I think it okay to have some sympathy for Pilate. He was annoyed and anxious. These religious blokes were always worked up about something. Moreover, they were duplicitous in their dealings with the revolving door of governors sent by Rome. Everything was a quid pro quo. Pilate had been sent to make them behave, but with their intricate, well-connected system, they were in fact keeping him in place. The puppet strings were attached from Jerusalem to Rome. This Jesus business was bothersome.

As Pilate gazed into the eyes of Jesus he saw not the evil that he was so adept at searching out. At the very worst this humble lad, who had evidently been beaten to a pulp by these zealots of a tribal religion, was nothing more than a delusional country preacher. He seemed harmless, even winsome. And, if Pilate’s memory served him correctly, he had heard a few flattering things about Jesus. Pilate needed an out and found it on the basis of both geography and expediency. Jesus was really the problem of a fellow ruler, Herod. Furthermore, Herod and he were experiencing, at that moment, a strained relationship. Both the Jewish leaders and Herod, rightly offended, could bring an end to his cozy  appointment. Herod could fix all of Pilate’s problems at once: When Pilate heard this, he enquired whether the man were a Galilean, and when he discovered that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed him on to Herod who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. ~Luke 23:6,7

How incredibly fortunate Pilate felt. The gods were smiling upon him! He had outfoxed the fox. Unfortunately for Pilate, there was no word in the Latin or Greek for boomerang. This whole sad affair would soon land once more on his doorstep.

January 12, 2018

Rome Meets Heaven

It’s now time for an extraordinary man to meet an ordinary man. The latter is named Pontius Pilate. The former, the Lord Jesus Christ: Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”~John 18:33. Pilate was not going to beat around the bush. He had important Prefect stuff to attend to. Evidently the cohort of religious constables had made an accusation which they were certain would be of some interest to Pilate. Jesus answers the question with a question: “Are you asking this of your own accord,” replied Jesus, “or have other people spoken to you about me?” ~John 18:34

It’s an interesting query. He is inviting Pilate to look into his eyes and to decide, apart from the noise of Jesus’ opponents, whether he, Pilate, is in the presence of a King. It is a brief opening to eternal life. “Regardless of what other people think or say, what do you think, Mr. Pilate?”

Pilate misses the opportunity but it won’t quite be his last:  “Do you think I am a Jew?” replied Pilate. “It’s your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done, anyway?” John 18:35 Pilate goes back to being a true Roman Prefect. There were a number of delusional types who went about proclaiming themselves a King, a Messiah, or a Prophet. These could be overlooked. Pilate wanted information about actions, not proclamations.

Jesus returns to the first question: “My kingdom is not founded in this world—if it were, my servants would have fought to prevent my being handed over to the Jews. But in fact my kingdom is not founded on all this!”~John 18:36 The issue of whether or not Jesus was planning some sort of rebellion against Rome is put to rest. He had the ability to call, not only on an army of followers, but on angel armies as well. He did neither.

The brief interview ends: “So you are a king, are you?” returned Pilate. “Indeed I am a king,” Jesus replied; “the reason for my birth and the reason for my coming into the world is to witness to the truth. Every man who loves truth recognizes my voice.” To which Pilate retorted, “What is ‘truth’?” ~John 18:37-39

Jesus gives another eternal life opening to Pilate. He raises the subject that nearly every Greek and Roman philosopher had been occupied with from the beginning of that profession. Unfortunately, Pilate becomes glib. He doesn’t wait around for an answer. He closes the interview with what he believes a rhetorical question. It was anything but.

January 11, 2018

Gamesmanship

The politically driven religious illuminati would not countenance meeting with Pontius Pilate in his own home. While considered unworthy of their fellowship, he was, however, just the lad to complete their agenda. They wished to use him and Pilate knew it. As a courtesy to their religious intolerance, he met them on their terms: So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” ~John 18:29

Along with Pilate, these guys were skilled politicians. They didn’t give a direct answer: “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” ~John 18:30

Note the difference between Pilate’s question and their non-answer. Pilate is interested in the rule of law. He wants to know the charges. The Sanhedrin had already declared Jesus a criminal. The word in the Greek for criminal is: κακοποιός (kä-ko-poi-o’s) and literally translated it’s an egregious pejorative. It mean: “evil-doer.” It is the same word used for the two men who hung on the respective crosses surrounding Jesus. And that was the exact meaning the Sanhedrin wished to convey.

Because of their lack of specificity, Pilate tried to defer: Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” ~John 18:31a Pilate was making an important point. Rome had no interest in the surfeit of moral hazards as defined by these grave religious zealots. The fact that he was talking to them from his front porch rather than his living room underscored his mistrust. They thought him unclean. What Pilate was hearing was that these clerics, who were gifted at sculpting soaring mountains out of microscopic molehills, had experienced some random offense at the hands of Jesus. Big deal. Being offended was their default mode. Everything offended them, even himself – the Roman Prefect – just for being a Roman. Yet, in this early morning call, they had produced nothing that offended Rome’s civic sensibilities.

At that, they quit mincing words: “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.” ~John 18:31b Clever. They feigned obedience to the Roman Law and threw it in Pilate’s face. And they knew, and Pilate knew, that the position of Roman Prefect was volatile. Prefects came and went with astonishing frequency. If Pilate didn’t do something, if he didn’t throw them a bone, these skilled pontificators would no doubt use their many connections to lodge a complaint up the chain. John inserts a riveting comment after this high gamesmanship:  “This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.” ~John 18:32 A bigger gamesmanship, one designed in heaven, was being played that neither side knew about.

January 10, 2018

History

The Romans were experienced at diplomacy. Throughout the New Testament we find, for the most part, a noteworthy even-handedness to their approach in settling local disagreements. Granted, some of their verdicts and subsequent sentences come across as brutish to our 21st century sensibilities; however, when ruling expansive, volatile and eclectic territories, their form of justice was better than most.

We now have Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. A bit about ‘ol Pontius. (I won’t bore you with too many details that only a former history major would find interesting). History records him as a Roman Prefect. In 1961 an archaeological team led by Antonio Frova discovered what became known as the Pilate Stone. In a wee bit of sycophancy it reads: To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, has dedicated [something, something]. Nothing like buttering up the old Emperor for a bit of job security. Over time, whatever edifice it adorned fell to ruin and this former cornerstone was repurposed. It was discovered in 1961 within a staircase located in a semicircular structure behind the stage house of the Roman Theatre at Caesarea.

A Roman Prefect and later, a Roman Procurator, were much the same office. When Judea came under complete Roman rule, with no tribal jurisprudence, the latter title became more common. Job one of the Prefect was to collect taxes. Rome loved its taxes. The second main assignment was to keep things calm. A Prefect who couldn’t apply the necessary pressure to keep the natives restful usually had a short career. They deferred, as much as possible to the locals, and in this case the Sanhedrin, to settle their internal disputes. However, Rome retained a sole proprietorship for capital punishment. Thus, we find Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin wants a death sentence. However, they want the blood to be on the hands of Rome. It was clever. It was not that they had a strict fidelity to Rome’s prohibition against capital punishment. We need only remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Those lads had the rocks and they had the will to put her to death. But we must remember, Jesus had a significant following. Were they to be the primary instrument of death, they themselves might have to hike up their robes and hot-foot it out of town. And as we’ve mentioned, those robes were rather elaborate.

January 9, 2018

Duplicity

Years ago, during my seminary days, I once caught a ride with one of the leaders of my church to a baptismal service. Our church wasn’t yet built so we were availing ourselves of a swimming pool that belonged to another of our church members. It was a short drive, maybe fifteen minutes or so. In that brief amount of time – riding with a man who was serving as both an elder and as a Sunday School teacher – my young, trusting ears were seriously violated. On the way to celebrate a sacred moment, this church leader managed to share a string of vicious and unkind remarks about the Senior Pastor for whom I worked. I admired our Pastor. I was appalled. This guy was wanting me to join in some kind of cabal. I was not skilled enough at the time to pin back the ears of a hostile, backbiting elder. I’ve since acquired those skills.

When we arrived, the beautiful symbolism surrounding the baptism should have held my attention. Yet, I found myself glancing time and again in the direction of this Elder of Slander. He was a pro. A change had come over him. He was nodding along at just the right moments, looking saintly, and sharing a series of well-timed “amens.” I seriously considered re-baptizing him.

Going from hellion to holier than thou is not a new thing. It was a studied and refined talent of the Sanhedrin. At the end of the show trial Jesus had been beaten, spit upon and mocked. Now, as they ushered Jesus over to the Palace that housed the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, the veneer of their religious perfidy surfaced once more: Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. ~John 18:28

It’s hard to grasp this stunning duplicity. In their arms was a bruised and bleeding man. Their main concern at the moment was the possibility of missing out on the Passover meal. The reason? It all had to do with their fastidious Sanhedrin math. The guy they needed a favor from was a Roman, therefore a heathen. If they entered his palace that would make them ritualistically unclean and unable to celebrate the Passover. And in their blindness, they never considered that the reality behind that symbolic meal stood bound and bleeding before them.

January 8, 2018

Artificial Blasphemy
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.

January 7, 2018

Puttin’ on the Kitz

Clothes are mentioned quite a bit in these closing scenes from Jesus’ life. Caiaphas will notably tear his priestly robes in faux shock at Christ’s claims about himself. Jesus will be adorned with an elaborate, kingly robe by the soldiers as they mock him as “King of the Jews.” The soldiers at the foot of the cross will throw some dice to decide who gets to keep the clothes Jesus leaves behind as he hangs, virtually naked, on the cross. The burial shroud will come into play as the ladies discover an empty tomb. Each of these articles of clothing subtly supply the narrative with a sense of juxtaposition that is meant to provoke both our imaginations and our conscience.

Let’s begin with Caiaphas.  Here’s our boy…

This grand windbag and accidental prophet is clothed in the robe of the priesthood. He had married himself into this powerful position as the son-in-law of Annas. The robe of the priesthood was elaborate. It included: the ephod, a sort of shoulder pad with 6 stones on each shoulder representing the 12 tribes of Israel; the sash, which was  tied about the priest’s waist and made of blue, purple, and scarlet linen and interwoven with gold thread; the breastplate, which was a pouch about 9 inches square made of beautifully woven material with twelve precious stones in four rows of three representing the tribes of Israel; the robe of the ephod, which was worn beneath the ephod and dyed a deep blue. Golden bells were attached to the hem along with pomegranates made from material hung between the bells; and, the mitre and crown, which was a turban of fine linen wrapped in coils on the head of the priest. On the front of the mitre, on Aaron’s forehead, there was attached a golden plate with the words HOLINESS TO THE LORD. Toss all that on the chosen lad and you have yourself a high priest puttin’ on the kitz.* (*Urban Dictionary: kitz: stylish and unique).

Again with the contrast…There stands Jesus, the King of Kings, in a simple covering – the ancient  equivalent of Wranglers and a t-shirt – before the fabulously ornamented High Priest of Israel.

The clothes make the man, so they say. And clothes were on Peter’s mind many years later when he wrote these words:  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” ~I Peter 5:5

January 6, 2018

Contrast

And now to the passion of the Christ…

Jesus begins his interrogation with Annas. We met up with him a few days ago. His presence lingers into the book of Acts. He is no longer the high priest but he remains the power behind the office. He has set up some sort of quid pro quo with the Roman government where the priesthood becomes a family business, and a lucrative one at that.  These lads sported the best fashions and religious bling of the day. Some weeks prior to this grim moment, Jesus gave us this fashion critique: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat so you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. ~Matthew 23:2-7

The phylactery is a small leather box that contains a bit of Scripture and is used as a reminder to keep one’s thoughts on the law. It was strapped down one arm and the box could be carried or attached to the forehead during prayer. This practice remains with us today. But these religious leaders were not content with a small phylactery. Oh no. As Jesus mentioned, they super-sized them, a sort of: “My phylactery is bigger than yours” mentality. It was apt for them to do so. They had made the law much bigger than God had intended – what Jesus referred to as a “cumbersome” load.

It’s mere speculation on my part, but there’s a good chance as Jesus stood before his accuser, Annas was donning this outsized phylactery on his forehead. Seated high above the accused, and wrapped in not one, but in a number of colorful robes with royal blue tassels trailing about the bottom fringe – Annas was the complete opposite of the humbly clothed prisoner who quietly and steadfastly met his gaze. Annas flaunted the very best of the wealth that could be extracted from the earth. Standing before him was the man who owned the very earth from which it came. David spoke of him in the Psalms: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains.” ~Psalm 24:1

January 5, 2018

Game, Set, Match

Throughout this Gospel, we’ve seen our author, John, involve himself in a tiny bit of self-flattery and quite a lot of unflattering editorial comments regarding the other disciples. That’s what makes this Gospel so very real. It is a perfect blend of heaven and earth.

So, when it comes to Peter’s final flub with fidelity, it is somewhat surprising how straight forward and “sanitized” it is. We need to borrow some of the drama from other Gospels which give us a more roaring account of the scene. We shall begin with Matthew: One servant girl came up to him and said, “You were with Jesus the Galilean.” In front of everybody there, he denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” As he moved over toward the gate, someone else said to the people there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.” Again he denied it, salting his denial with an oath: “I swear, I never laid eyes on the man.” Shortly after that, some bystanders approached Peter. “You’ve got to be one of them. Your accent gives you away.” Then he got really nervous and began swearing: “I don’t know the man!” ~Matthew 26:70-75

Having read the Bible in both Hebrew and Greek I can assure you that there are times when the translators have bleached the colloquialisms of the ancients. Straightforward translations from King Saul of old, to the Saul who became Paul of New Testament fame, would cause a lot less nodding off in church! I’ve no ready list of popular swear words from the first century, but I believe it a safe bet that a fisherman who felt cornered had a ready and adequate supply of them. So, Peter swore and denied…What else? Now, back to John for a tidbit: One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow. ~John 18:26,27 How about that? The newly earless and newly healed Malchus had a relative on the scene at the Garden of Gethsemane. He had witnessed his kin get skinned. You couldn’t buy a better witness than that.

But the most poignant ending of this sad scene comes from the pen of that ubiquitous observer, Luke. Somehow, Peter had been chased back into the view of the trial and he could see Jesus…and Jesus could see Peter. Luke gives us this heartbreaking snapshot: And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. ~Luke 22:61,62 Of course he did. This beautiful, simple, straight-shooting man had not lived up to his own ideals. It was at this place of brokenness that Jesus would soon do his best work. The admission, “I’m not all that” is the beginning of grace.

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