28 March 2013


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 45

It's Maundy Thursday. What have you got planned?

I've got the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the afternoon, and of course, a Bisita Iglesia mini-pilgrimage taking up the rest of my evening.

Readalong-wise, the post for Chapter VII, which deals with the Crucifixion and death of Jesus, is scheduled to go up on Good Friday--as is only appropriate. But I myself will not be online and comments will be closed on all posts until some point on Easter Sunday. 

Chapter VII

The theme of this chapter is "the interweaving and the separation of religion and politics"--one of my favourite topics in the world!!! =D

Much could be said on the subject (and I could totally rise to the occasion), but I think it would be wise to stay on the paths which Pope Benedict is leading us on. He doesn't analyse these concepts in the abstract but looks at the way they come together in two officials who had roles to play in Jesus's Passion and death. Let's begin with someone we've met before . . .

John expressed with great clarity this striking combination in Caiaphas of carrying out God's will and blind self-seeking. While the Council members were perplexed as to what should be done in view of the danger posed by the movement surrounding Jesus, he made the decisive intervention: "You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation should not perish" (11:50). John designates this statement expressly as a "prophetic utterance" that Caiaphas formulated through the charism of his office as high priest, and not of his own accord.

The above is a great exegesis of something that has bothered me about Caiaphas for years. By condemning Jesus to death for the sake of the nation, wasn't he, in a sense, making a way straight for the Lord--even if it also happened to be the Way of the Cross? And he wasn't doing it in some random way, but with all the dignity of his office. It does seem only fitting that the high priest of Judaism should understand the need to sacrifice the Lamb of God. So exactly what is wrong here?

Caiaphas's fatal flaw was that he cared more about preserving the status quo than about anything else. While that's admirable insofar as he was doing it in the service of a religious tradition greater than himself, it's nearsighted and obstinate inasmuch as he was doing it at the expense of One greater than the tradition. There's a sense in which he didn't want to serve God as much as he wanted to keep his high-status job. And it's ultimately that job which condemns him. Surely the high priest would recognise the Law, the Prophets, the Temple and the Lamb if they all stood before him in one neat, plain speaking Galilean package. That he failed to do this--and failed in order to protect his own political interests--wasn't the minor lapse it would have been for anyone else. As my youngest brother Cue-card Boy might say, "Fail Level: Pharisee".

And then, of course, the next thing that the outraged, scandalised high priest did is the courageous act of . . . passing the buck. Keep it classy, Caiaphas!

This "confession" of Jesus places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accursed claims kingship and a kingdom (basileia). Yet he underlines this complete otherness of his kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: No one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus' case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order. This kingdom is powerless. It has "no legions."

Now we come to the question of why a politician like the Procurator of Judea should care. It was totally not his problem--and he totally knew it. =P

On another level, his thinking that it wasn't his problem was exactly what made it his problem. If he were doing his job properly, he would have released an innocent man who wasn't any threat to the political power of Rome. But he took the other Not My Problem route--the one that involves symbolically transferring one's sin onto a sacrificial animal and letting it die in the wilderness. And if that weren't bad enough, he pulled a Caiaphas of his own, trying to ensure his job security by passing the buck to the mob. (Ah, democracy: got to love it.)

In a nutshell, what I got out of this chapter is the moral that the higher you rank as a public servant--whether in the church or in the government--the greater your obligation is to set aside your interests in the service of the truth. If you're not willing to lose your job by doing the right thing . . . or if you rationalise that you can do more good in power than out of it . . . then you are not bearing witness to the Kingdom of God.

Question of the Day: What current political issue turns you into That Annoying Christian whenever it is discussed?

Image Sources: a) Christ before Caiaphas by Duccio di Buoninsegna, b) Christ Accused by the Pharisees by Duccio


Sheila said...

It hit me this year on Palm Sunday. Caiaphas wants to condemn Jesus because he thinks he's guilty of something. Pilate is willing to have Jesus put to death even though he KNOWS Jesus is innocent. He says it over and over, "This man is innocent." And yet he's willing to put him to death rather than lose face with the crowd. Does that make him even worse than the Pharisees?

Enbrethiliel said...


I'd say that it does. But as St. John puts it, after Caiaphas and Pilate had each played their roles in the Passion, they became good friends. So their sins probably weighed the same in the end.

What this chapter got me thinking about was how much Caiaphas believed in the charges being hurled against Jesus. I now see the possibility that Caiaphas thought Jesus was not simply "innocent" but definitely THE MESSIAH, and that he chose to have Jesus condemned anyway because: a) Jesus wasn't the sort of Messiah the Jews had been expecting anyway, which meant Caiaphas had been personally let down; and b) professionally, it would have meant a demotion from his prestigious position as high priest. He might have been willing to step down for a different kind of Messiah . . . Oh, scratch that. I think the only Messiah Caiaphas would have supported is one who would've kissed his you-know-what.

Belfry Bat said...

Ummm... I think that's St. Luke, with Herod and Pilate... just sayin'...

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat is right. I am an idiot.

Carry on. =)

Belfry Bat said...

Now you're just being silly! And definitely not an idiot.

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, in any case, my point is about Caiaphas and Pilate is useless.