Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Stations. Show all posts

29 March 2024

Vinegar to drink.

Mark 15.23, 26, Matthew 27.33-34, 48, Luke 23.36, John 19.28-30

Back when David was in deep doo-doo, Ps 69.2 he wrote Psalm 69 to gripe about his enemies. But when he talked about his comforters, Ps 69.20 he commented,

Psalm 69.21 KWL
They gave me bitter food,
and for my thirst, they made me drink vinegar.

It’s a memorable idea, and one which no doubt the authors of the gospels thought of when Jesus was getting crucified. ’Cause Jesus didn’t wanna drink what they provided.

Our culture might be unaware: Back then, you didn’t drink the water. You never knew where it came from, and rarely was it pure. Fastest way to get dysentery or cholera. So the ancients drank wine, either full-strength or watered-down. (Or beer, if your culture made beer.) The alcohol killed any bacteria. Ignore all those teetotalers who claim “wine” back then was actually grape juice: Grape juice was as potentially harmful as water. It needed to be wine.

The gospels aren’t consistent in how they describe the wine Jesus was offered. Mark called it myrrh-wine and Matthew called it wine with χολῆς/holís, “bile.” For Luke and John, it was really old wine, which both of ’em straight-up called ὄξος/óxos, “vinegar.”

Mark 15.22-23 KWL
22 They bring Jesus to Gulgálta Place (i.e. Skull Place).
23 They’re giving Jesus myrrh-wine, which he doesn’t take.
Matthew 27.33-34 KWL
33 Coming to the place called Gulgálta, called Skull Place,
34 they give Jesus wine to drink—with bile mixed in,
and on tasting it he didn’t want to drink.
Luke 23.36 KWL
They mock him. The soldiers who came were bringing him vinegar…

John states they added hyssop, but the KJV changes John’s account to “[a branch] of hyssop,” Jn 19.29 KJV to sync it up with Mark and Matthew’s account of putting the wine in a sponge, putting the sponge on a reed (or a hyssop stick, I suppose), and offering it to Jesus. But hyssop is also a bitter extract, and may be what Matthew meant by bile. I dunno.

Mark 15.36 KWL
One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar,
putting it on a reed, gives Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let me do this;
we might see if Elijah comes to take him.”
Matthew 27.48 KWL
One runner quickly leaves them:
Taking a sponge full of vinegar,
putting it on a reed, he gives Jesus a drink.
John 19.28-30 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
says to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar is sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, is brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tastes the vinegar, Jesus says, “It’s finished.”
He bends his head and hands over his spirit.

Yeah, the soldiers and their runners offered Jesus vinegar more than once.

Certain commentators claim the myrrh in the wine was meant to be medicinal. Supposedly the Romans, feeling a little bad for their victims, wanted to numb them just a little to the excruciating pain of crucifixion. Man, is that optimistic of the commentators. Ask your local supplier of essential oils: Myrrh is no painkiller. It wasn’t even a folk-remedy painkiller. The ancients used it as perfume—to keep wounds and medicines from smelling bad. From there, moderns leap to the conclusion it was kind of an antiseptic—it kept wounds from getting infected and gangrenous, right? But it didn’t do that at all: It hid the smell of wounds which were getting septic. It made you worse, not better. Despite your favorite websites, myrrh has no proven purpose in medicine.

So what was it doing in the wine? Myrrh is bitter. (So’s hyssop.) It made the wine taste like bile. And when people taste bile, what do they do? They gag: It tastes like vomit. They’ll frequently even vomit.

Yep, it was the Romans’ sick little joke. The victims got thirsty and begged for wine… so you gave ’em myrrh-wine, and watched ’em freak out. Arguably that was why they put the vinegar in a sponge on a reed: It wasn’t because the crosses were impractically tall. It’s because the soldiers didn’t wanna get puked on.

Wasn’t Jesus thirsty?

Christians sometimes think there’s a serious discrepancy in the gospels’ stories of Jesus’s crucifixion. ’Cause in Mark and Matthew, Jesus refused to drink anything. But in John, he declared “I’m thirsty!” and drank the vinegar. Or wine, depending on the translation—and upon whether the translators could imagine Jesus willingly drinking vinegar.

I’ve heard interpreters claim Jesus refused the wine because he didn’t wanna be numbed. He wanted to really suffer all the pain he was going through, with senses entirely intact. (Or as intact as they could be, considering all the blood loss.) He was dying for our sins here, and he wanted sin to suffer on its way down. So no alcohol, no myrrh, no nothing. Bring on the pain!

There’s a bothersome amount of sadomasochism in this interpretation, which says all sorts of creepy things about the preachers. There’s plenty of suffering involved in public rejection, flogging, and crucifixion. Jesus was going down hard. Bad wine and a mild sedative weren’t gonna make things better.

But again, that wasn’t the Romans’ motive at all. They weren’t trying to be light on their victims. They figured every crucified person was an annoyance or danger to Rome, and deserved what they were getting. They’d just beaten Jesus up for fun. They were still having fun at his expense, gambling for his clothes, mocking the title which Pilatus had fastened to the cross. Myrrh-wine wasn’t a mercy. It was more sick fun.

So you can see why Jesus initially wouldn’t touch the stuff. Of course he was thirsty. But not that thirsty.

That is, till the very end. John said he decided to drink the vinegar to fulfill the scriptures. Jn 19.28 Maybe he meant the Psalms passage, where David’s enemies made him drink vinegar. But maybe it’s also this passage:

Mark 14.24-25 KWL
24 Jesus tells them, “This is the blood of my relationship, poured out for many.
25 Amen: I promise you I’ll never drink of the fruit of the vine again—
till that day when I drink it new, in God’s kingdom.”

I admit that’s a stretch though. John never quoted that statement, and you know he totally would have if it were relevant. I have nonetheless heard it preached that Jesus was willing to drink the wine because it was finished: He was dying, God’s kingdom was coming into the world, and all things were being made new. He drank it in victory… though it sure didn’t look like any victory at the time. But meh; I don’t buy it.

Is there an inconsistency between Jesus’s declaration, “I’ll never drink of the fruit of the vine again,” and drinking the vinegar? Maybe. But I expect, and most Christian expect, Jesus was speaking of proper wine. The festal stuff, which you drink at Passovers and holidays. Not the awful swill the Romans were providing.

In any event he probably did have the Psalms passage in mind when he drank the vinegar. Here the Romans were, offering him phony comfort. But it was deliberately made bitter, and was just another form of torment.

So Jesus put it off till the very last minute, did the deed and fulfilled the verse… then gave up the ghost.

28 March 2024

What became of Judas Iscariot.

Matthew 27.3-10, Acts 1.15-26.

Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether we’re using St. Francis or St. John Paul’s list, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of meditation. Although we should study Judas some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we really don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas.

Judas came up when he handed Jesus over to the authorities… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we ever hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew—and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts, it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the Holy Spirit and apostles started Jesus’s church. But that’s a whole other discussion.

Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another.

Not that inerrantists haven’t tried their darnedest to sync them up, and I’ll get to how they’ve tried it. But first things first: The passages.

Matthew 27.3-10 KWL
3 Upon seeing Jesus is condemned,
a repentant Judas his betrayer returned the 30 silvers
to the head priests and elders,
4 saying, “I sin by betraying innocent blood.”
They say, “What’s it have to do with us?
It’s your problem.
5 Throwing the silver into the temple, Judas leaves,
and goes off to hang himself.
6 The head priests, taking the silver, say,
We can’t put this in the treasury,
since it’s the value of blood.”
7 Convening, they decide to buy with it the potter’s field,
for burying strangers.
8 Thus that land is called Bloodfield to this day;
9 then the saying of the prophet Jeremiah is fulfilled,
saying, “They take the 30 silvers,
the value of the one they valued,
who was valued by Israel’s sons.
10 They give it for the potter’s field,
just as the Lord directed me.”
Acts 1.15-20 KWL
15 In these days, Simon Peter gets up
in the middle of the family to say,
“The crowd is more than 120 people I can name.
16 Men! Family!
We have to fulfill the scripture
the Holy Spirit foretold through David’s mouth
about Judas, who became the guide of those who arrested Jesus.
17 Judas was counted among us.
He received a place in this ministry.
18 He thus got himself a plot of land
from his unrighteous reward,
and was found face-down,
burst open, his innards all spilled out.
19 All Jerusalem’s dwellers came to know it,
so the plot’s called in their dialect Khaqal-Dema,” i.e. Bloodfield.
20 “It’s written in the book of Psalms:
‘Make his house desert, and don’t let settlers in it.’ Ps 69.25
And alternately, ‘Another person: Take his office.’” Ps 109.8

26 March 2024

Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

Mark 14.32-41.

St. Francis’s stations of the cross begin with when Jesus is given his cross. (Duh; it is the stations of the cross.) But Jesus’s suffering actually began earlier, so St. John Paul’s list also begins earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 Jesus and his students come to a field
whose name is Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
He tells his students, “Sit here while I pray,”
33 and Jesus takes Simon Peter
and James and John with him.
He begins to be distressed and troubled.
34 Jesus tells his students, “My soul
is intensely sad, to the point ofdeath.
Stay here and stay awake.”
35 Going a little further, Jesus is falling to the ground
and is praying that, if it’s possible, the hour might pass him by.
36 Jesus is saying, “Abba! Father!
For you, everything is possible!
Take this cup away from me!
But it’s not what I will,
but what you will.”
37 Jesus comes and finds his students sleeping.
He tells Peter, “Simon, you’re sleeping?
You can’t stay awake one hour?
38 Stay awake and pray!—
lest you come to temptation.
You have a truly eager spirit—
and weak flesh.”
39 Going away again, Jesus prays,
saying the same words.
40 Coming back again, Jesus finds his students sleeping,
for their eyes are very heavy.
They didn’t know how to answer him.
41 Jesus comes back a third time,
and tells his students, “Sleep the rest of the time.
Get your rest.
It’s enough.
…The hour comes.
Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into sinners’ hands.”

This story comes up in the synoptic gospels. It’s not in John, whose author had to do things his own way:

John 18.1 KWL
Upon saying these things,
Jesus goes with his students over the Kidron ravine,
where there’s an olive garden.
He enters it,
and his students follow.

John Paul recognized this is the beginning of Jesus’s passion, not when he was sentenced to death later that night. ’Cause that’s what the gospels depict: He went into the garden to pray, and suddenly it’s like he’s blindsided with emotion. It freaked him out a little. He wanted to pray; he wanted his kids to pray for him. But as people do when they’re up past their bedtime praying (and not just kids; don’t just blame this on their spiritual immaturity), they fell asleep on him. Three times.

Still, Jesus was really agitated, and John Paul recognized it’s this psychological trauma which marks where Jesus’s suffering began. Not just when he was taken away to die.

25 March 2024

Stations of the cross: Remembering Christ’s suffering.

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

But most of us Christians don’t live in or near Jerusalem, and some of us can’t possibly go there. For this reason St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and meditate on what Jesus did for us all.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause Francis was Roman Catholic. But it’s not exclusively Catholic: Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s a really useful idea.

It’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever, more tangible way to think about Jesus’s death, what he went through, and what that means. It’s why lots of Catholic churches—and a growing number of Protestant churches—keep the stations up year-round. Could take the form of paintings, sculptures, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all the traditional stations in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip most of the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the popular culture of early 1200s Italy. Not bible.

The 14 stations.

Originally Francis arranged seven stations. Sevens are really important in medieval Christian numerology: Days of the week, years between sabbath years, the sevenfold Spirit of God. Rv 4.5 Supposedly the number represents something complete, like God’s creation week. Christians are still ridiculously fond of sevens. So here ya go: The first draft of the stations of the cross.

  1. Jesus is given his cross.
  2. Jesus falls down.
  3. Jesus encounters his mother.
  4. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  5. Jesus falls down again.
  6. Jesus is crucified.
  7. Jesus is laid in his tomb.

No, the gospels never mention Jesus falling down. I know; you totally thought he did fall down, didn’t you? Everybody depicts it: Paintings, movies, passion plays; Jesus is always keeling over. Sometimes with his hands strapped to the crossbeam so he can’t catch himself, so his face smacks right into the pavement stones. It’s a good example of how Christian popular culture has some not-as-biblical-as-you-think things in it.

St. Veronica is less familiar to Protestants. She’s a bleeder Jesus cured, and according to legend she was there in Jerusalem as Jesus was led to his death. As he passed, she let him wipe his bloody face on her veil, and it miraculously turned into a photorealistic image of him. Nope, this story’s not in the bible either. But in Francis’s part of Italy, it was a huge fad for churches to have a “veronica,” a cloth with Jesus’s face painted on it. So into his stations it went.

Different churches fiddled with the stations, their order, and their number. Some of ’em created thirty stations. The current “standard set” consists of 14 stations: Two sets of seven. (Gotta love those sevens.) Sometimes they add a 15th station, representing Jesus’s resurrection. Anyway here they are.

  1. Jesus is condemned to death.
  2. Jesus is given his cross.
  3. Jesus falls down.
  4. Jesus encounters his mother.
  5. Symon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross.
  6. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  7. Jesus falls down a second time.
  1. Jesus speaks to the “daughters of Jerusalem.”
  2. Jesus falls down a third time.
  3. Jesus’s clothes are stripped off.
  4. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
  5. Jesus dies.
  6. Jesus’s body is removed from the cross.
  7. Jesus’s body is put in the tomb.

What’s with Jesus falling down thrice? Because three’s another important number in medieval Christian numerology. You know, like the trinity; the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the three days and nights Jonah was in the whale; Jh 1.17 Jesus’s three temptations and third-day resurrection… I could go on, but you get it.

As you move to each station, custom is to pray a little something at each. Catholic congregations tend to go like so:

LEADER. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.”
EVERYONE. “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

A lot of Christians—myself included—figure the bible is more historically accurate than tradition, so we prefer to stick to the gospels, ’cause we know they actually happened to Jesus. For our sake, St. John Paul came up with scriptural stations of the cross in 1991. Personally I like John Paul’s list better. It’s more thorough.

  1. Jesus prays in Gethsemane. Mk 14.32-42, Mt 26.36-46, Lk 22.39-46, Jn 18.1-2
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Mk 14.43-52, Mt 26.47-56, Lk 22.47-54, Jn 18.2-12
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Jewish senate. Mk 14.55-65, Mt 26.59-68, Lk 22.63-71, Jn 18.19-24
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter. Mk 14.66-72, Mt 26.69-75, Lk 22.54-62, Jn 18.15-18, 25-27
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate. Mk 15.1-15, Mt 27.11-26, Lk 23.1-25, Jn 18.28-40
  6. Jesus is flogged; crowned with thorns. Mk 15.16-17, Mt 27.26-29, Lk 23.16, Jn 19.1-3
  7. Jesus is mocked; led out to be crucified. Mk 15.18-20, Mt 27.27-31, Lk 23.11, 25, Jn 19.4-16
  8. Simon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross. Mk 15.21, Mt 27.32, Lk 23.26
  9. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. Lk 23.27-31
  10. Jesus is crucified. Mk 15.22-26, Mt 27.33-37, Lk 23.32-38, Jn 19.16-25
  11. Jesus speaks to the repentant thief. Lk 23.39-43
  12. Jesus speaks to his mother and beloved student. Jn 19.25-27
  13. Jesus dies. Mk 15.33-39, Mt 27.45-54, Lk 23.44-49, Jn 19.28-30
  14. Jesus’s body is taken down and entombed. Mk 15.42-47, Mt 27.57-61, Lk 23.50-56, Jn 19.38-42

These bits are also in The Passion of the Christ—and for that matter, most of the other, less-gory Jesus movies.

Each Eastertide I write a few articles about the stations. It’s important to look at what Jesus did for us. And not just during the Easter season.

Let’s not skip it because it’s so horrible, because we don’t wanna dwell on sad things. The reason Easter is so awesome is because Jesus conquered his horrible death. In dying, he took our sins to the grave with him. That, at least, is something to celebrate about Holy Week.

05 April 2023

Jesus accused with false testimonies.

Mark 14.55-59, Matthew 26.59-61,
Luke 22.66, John 2.18-22.

All my life I’ve heard preachers claim Jesus’s trial wasn’t just irregular, but downright illegal. What basis do they have for saying so? Next to none.

It’s because they interpret history wrong. They point to rulings in the second-century Mishna and the fifth-century Talmud. They assume the first-century Jewish senate actually followed these rulings. They’d be entirely wrong. The Mishna consists of Pharisee rulings and traditions. The Talmud is a Pharisee commentary on the Mishna. Now, who ran the senate in Jesus’s day? The head priests… who were Sadduccees. And the Sadducees believed Pharisee teachings were extrabiblical, which they were; and therefore irrelevant.

So when the Mishna declares trials shouldn’t take place at night (although Luke actually says it took place during daytime Lk 22.66), and declares there shouldn’t be same-day rulings, preachers nowadays declare, “Aha! This proves Jesus’s trial was illegal!” Just the opposite: It proves Sadducees did such things. The Pharisee rulings were created because they objected to the way Sadducees ran things. They were meant to correct what they considered Sadducee injustice. But Sadducee injustice was still legal.

Jesus’s trial convicted an innocent man, so of course we’re gonna agree with Pharisee teachings which claim this was an improper trial. But the teachings are from the wrong time and the wrong people. They don’t apply, much as we’d like ’em to. The Sadducees followed their own procedure properly.

Procedure is still no guarantee there won’t be miscarriages of justice just the same.

Well anyway. On to Jesus’s trial.

Luke 22.66 KWL
Once it becomes day, the people’s elders gathered
with the head priests and scribes,
and they lead Jesus into their senate.

Within the temple structure, on the western side, the Judean συνέδριον/synédrion, “senate” (KJV “council,” CSB “Sanhedrin”) met in a stone hall arranged much like the Roman senate: Stone bleachers were arranged in a half-circle so they could all face a throne. In Rome the emperor sat on it. In Jerusalem, the head priest.

For a trial, the Pharisees dictated two scribes should write everything down, though there’s no evidence the Sadducees did any such thing. Scribes and students sat on the floor. Plaintiffs and defendants stood. The Pharisees declared the defendant oughta go first, but in all the trials in Acts, it looks like the reverse happened. Ac 4.5-12, 5.27-32, etc. Either way Jesus didn’t care to say anything, so his accusers went first. And they committed perjury. Yeah, perjury was banned in the Ten Commandments. Dt 5.20 Well, perjurers still show up in court anyway.

03 April 2023

The legality of Jesus’s trial.

When you read the gospel of John, but skip the other three gospels—the synoptics—y’might get the idea Jesus never even had a trial. In John:

  • Jesus gets arrested.
  • He’s taken right to the former head priest Annas’s house for an unofficial trial.
  • From there, to Joseph Caiaphas’s house.
  • Then to Pontius Pilate’s fortress.
  • Then to Golgotha.

No conviction, no sentence; just interviews followed by execution. Same as would be done in any country with no formal judicial system: They catch you, they interrogate you, they free or shoot you.

But both Judea and Rome did have a formal system. John doesn’t show it because the other gospels do. John was written to fill in the gaps in the other gospels’ stories—which include Jesus’s formal trials. There were two: The one before the Judean senate, and the other before the Roman prefect. The senate, presided over by head priest Caiaphas, found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sedition. In contrast Pontius publicly stated he didn’t find Jesus guilty of anything—but he didn’t care enough to free him, and sent Jesus to his death all the same.

Was Jesus guilty of blasphemy? Only if he weren’t actually the Son of Man. But of course the senate absolutely refused to believe that’s who he is.

Either way, Jesus actually was guilty of sedition. I know, I know: Christians wanna insist Jesus is absolutely innocent. He never sinned y’know. But this “sedition” has nothing to do with sin. Jesus is the legitimate Messiah, the king of Israel and Judea, anointed by God to rule that nation and the world. He’s Lord. But that’s a threat to everyone who figures they’re lord—particularly the lords of Israel at that time. To Caiaphas, Herod, and Caesar, “Jesus is Lord” is sedition.

To leadership today it still is. Many of them don’t realize this, ’cause they don’t think of Jesus as any real threat to their power. Especially after they neuter him, by convincing his supporters he’d totally vote for them and their party—and his so-called followers buy it, and follow their parties instead of Jesus. So it stands to reason our leadership isn’t worried about Jesus. Yet.

But in the year 33, Jesus was tangibly standing on the earth, in a real position to upend the status quo, and was therefore a real threat to the lords of Israel at the time. Whether we’re talking emperors, prefects, tetrarchs, senators, synagogue presidents, or scribes who were used to everyone following their spins on the scriptures. To all these folks, Jesus was competition. And needed to be crushed.

Following Jesus instead of these other lords: Sedition. Still is. But not against God’s Law. It’s only against human customs, so Jesus isn’t guilty of sin in God’s eyes; stil totally sinless. Relax.

Thing is, Christians don’t wanna think of Jesus as guilty of anything. We wanna defend him against everything. We don’t wanna think of his conviction and trials as valid. We don’t wanna imagine his execution was a function of a corrupt system; worse, that perhaps our own existing systems are just as corrupt, and if his first coming had taken place today, we’d’ve killed him too. Nor do we wanna recognize sentencing him to death is in any way parallel to the way we depose him as the master of our lives, and prioritize other things over him. We don’t wanna think of his trial as a simple miscarriage of justice; we’d rather imagine it as illegal.

This is why, every Easter, you’re gonna hear various Christians claim Jesus’s trial wasn’t legal. That the Judeans had broken all their own laws in order to arrest him and hold his trial at night, get him to testify against himself, and get him killed before anyone might find out what they were up to. It certainly feels illegal: If you ever heard tell of a suspect arrested at midnight, tried and convicted at 2AM, and executed at noon, doesn’t the whole thing smell mighty fishy?

26 March 2023

Could’ve stopped it at any time.

Matthew 26.50-54, John 18.3-9.

When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane on the morning of 3 April 33, the knee-jerk response of his students, same as every human, is fight or flight. Some of them fled. And some of them fought.

To some degree it was really stupid of them to fight. The senators had sent their police, along with a mob—you might call it a posse comitatus, but there was no such procedure back then for formally deputizing a mob. Basically it was, “Grab your staff and machete; we gotta go arrest a blasphemer,” and off they went. So the students were deliberately outnumbered. But there’s always gonna be a faction of true believers who think, “Numbers don’t matter; Gideon routed the Midianite and Amalekite armies with only 300 men; Jg 7 Samson personally slaughtered a thousand people with a jawbone; Jg 15.16 God can likewise supernaturally empower me to fight any number of people.”

True, God can do and empower anything he wants. But does he want to empower us to singlehandedly fight a mob? Did he say anything in advance about this sort of thing, like he’d said to Gideon and Samson? Or have we arrogantly presumed our cause is righteous, and right makes might?—because unless God intervenes, it really doesn’t, and if God hasn’t foresaid he’s gonna intervene, he likely won’t.

And had God foresaid he’d intervene in Jesus’s arrest? Or had Jesus said just the opposite, multiple times, and the students were in denial? Like this time:

Mark 10.32-34 KWL
32 Jesus and his students are on the road to Jerusalem,
and Jesus is going before them.
They’re amazed,
and the followers are afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again,
Jesus begins to tell them what’s about to happen to him,
33 namely this: “Look, we’re going up to Jerusalem.
The Son of Man will be handed over
to the head priests and the scribes.
They’ll sentence him to death.
They’ll hand him over to the gentiles.
34 The gentiles will mock the Son of Man,
and they’ll spit on him,
and they’ll flog him,
and they’ll kill him.
And after three days, he’ll rise up.”

God hadn’t told anyone, “Fight the mob, and you’ll win”; Jesus told them he’s getting arrested. There’d be no supernatural defeat of any mob; neither by Jesus’s followers fighting back the mob, nor of angels pouring from the black sky to smite every sinner on the ground. Jesus wasn’t gonna fight back and win; Jesus was gonna surrender. On purpose. And in so doing, win and win big; but Christians still don’t understand that strategy, and still keep adopting the tactic to fight back hard.

Although the whole angels-pouring-from-the-sky idea? It actually was an option. In Matthew, Jesus says so in the middle of his arrest.

22 March 2023

Judas Iscariot sells Jesus out to the authorities.

Mark 14.41-46, Matthew 26.45-50,
Luke 22.45-48, John 18.1-3.

In St. John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, the second station combines Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and Jesus of Nazareth’s arrest. ’Cause they happened simultaneously—they, and Simon Peter slashing one of the head priest’s slaves. There’s a lot to unpack there, which is why I want to look at them separately. Getting betrayed and getting arrested, fr’instance: That’s two different kinds of suffering. Psychological and physical.

So right after Jesus prayed in Gethsemane (the first station), this happened:

Mark 14.41-46 KWL
41 Jesus comes back a third time and tells his students,
“Sleep and rest now; it’s fine. The hour comes.
Look, the Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
42 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
43 Next, while Jesus is still speaking,
Judas Iscariot approaches the Twelve.
With him, a crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, scribes, and elders.
44 The one who handed over Jesus had given the crowd a signal,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him.
Grab him and take him away carefully.”
45 Next, coming to Jesus, he tells him, “Rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
46 So the crowd lays their hands on Jesus
and arrests him.
Matthew 26.45-50 KWL
45 Then Jesus comes back to the students and told them,
“Sleep and rest—look, the hour has come near.
The Son of Man is handed over to sinful hands.
46 Get up so we can go: Here comes the one who sold me out.”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, comes.
With him is a great crowd with machetes and sticks,
coming from the head priests, elders, and people.
48 The one who handed over Jesus gives them a sign,
saying, “Whomever I might show affection to, is him. Grab him.”
49 Immediately coming to Jesus, he says, “Hello, rabbi!”
and kisses him hello.
50 Jesus tells Judas, “Brother, why have you come?”
Then the approaching mob throws their hands on Jesus
and seizes him.
Luke 22.45-48 KWL
45 Rising from the prayer, Jesus goes to the students
and finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why are you asleep?
Get up and pray, or else you might enter temptation!”
47 While Jesus is still speaking, look:
A crowd, and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, leading them.
He goes to Jesus to kiss him hello,
48 and Jesus tells him, “Judas, to kiss the Son of Man, you turn him in.”
John 18.1-3 KWL
1 When he said this, Jesus with his students go over the Kidron ravine,
where there’s a garden. He and his students enter it.
2 Judas Iscariot, who was selling him out, had known of the place,
because Jesus often gathers with his students there.
3 So Judas, bringing 200 men,
plus servants of the head priests and Pharisees,
comes there with torches, lamps… and arms.

21 March 2023

Nope, Jesus didn’t sweat blood.

Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, Jesus goes to Olivet Hill as usual.
The students also follow him.
40 Once they’re in the place, Jesus tells them,
“Pray not to enter into temptation!”
41 Jesus withdraws from them about a stone’s throw away,
and taking to his knees, he’s praying,
42 saying, “Father, if you want, take this cup away from me!
Only not my will but yours be done.”
43 [A heavenly angel appears to Jesus, strengthening him.
44 Being in agony, Jesus is praying more fervently.
His sweat becomes like drops of blood,
falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from the prayer, coming to the students,
Jesus finds them sleeping from the grief.
46 Jesus tells them, “Why do you sleep?
Get up and pray, so you might not enter into temptation!”

Before his arrest, Jesus went to Gethsemane and spent some time in intense prayer. ’Cause he didn’t wanna get beaten and tortured to death. Who would?

In Mark, Jesus only has three of his students come along with him to pray, and has to go back and awaken them thrice. In Luke it appears to be all of them, and he only comes back to chide them once. Yeah they’re tired; they just had a big Passover meal and a lot of wine, plus a walk uphill, plus it’s late. But Jesus warned them his time was coming, and they needed to pray—not for him, but themselves. They’d be tempted to do a lot of dumb stuff as a result. (In fact that’s exactly what we see them do. Shoulda prayed.)

Certain preachers love to quote the Luke version of the story, because they love to point out how Jesus was so incredibly stressed out by his soon-coming passion, he was sweating blood. You saw that in verse 44. Here it is again in the KJV:

Luke 22.44 KJV
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Turns out this is an actual medical condition. It’s called hematidrosis (from the Greek for “bloody sweat”) or hematohidrosis (“bloody water”). It’s rare, but possible. Blood vessels under your skin break from stress, and blood comes out your pores. It looks creepy. But not a lot of blood comes out of you this way, so it’s largely harmless. Might cause a little dehydration, so drink some Gatorade; you’ll be fine.

Preachers find this fascinating. And they love to point out how Luke, the traditional author of this gospel, was a physician! Cl 4.14 So he’d know all about such medical conditions, right? Including this one.

Though more than once, I’ve heard a preacher claim hematidrosis actually isn’t a harmless condition: They insist it’s life-threatening. That’s why Jesus needed an angel to strengthen him in verse 43: He was on the verge of bleeding out. After all the verse says great drops of blood. Jesus was already dying, and he hadn’t even been arrested yet! You don’t want him dying before the Romans killed him; for some reason that might bungle the atonement. I’m not sure how, but they’re pretty sure it woulda.

Okay. As you can tell from the title of this article, they’re wrong. Not just about how dangerous hematidrosis is or isn’t. They’re wrong about Jesus sweating blood in the first place. The verse doesn’t say that.

14 April 2022

Simon the Cyrenian, the man who carried Jesus’s cross.

Mark 15.21, Matthew 27.32, Luke 23.26.

Enroute to Golgotha, leading Jesus to the place they’d crucify him, the Romans decided he was inadequate to carry his crossbeam.

Movies and art, following St. Francis’s lists of the stations of the cross, depict Jesus falling over a bunch of times. The gospels don’t, but who knows?—maybe he did. He had been up all night and flogged half to death. Between sleep deprivation and blood loss, carrying a hundred-pound crossbeam would’ve been too much for anyone. (No, not the 300-pound full cross we see in paintings, such as the El Greco painting in my “Stations of the Cross” image. Even healthy convicts would’ve found that unmanageable.)

The Roman senate made it legal for soldiers to draft conquered peoples—basically anyone in the Roman Empire who lacked citizenship—into temporary service. Jesus referred to this law when he taught us to go the extra mile. Mt 5.41 So the Romans grabbed an able-bodied passerby to carry Jesus’s crossbeam. And since he later became Christian and his sons became bishops, the writers of the gospels mentioned him by name: Simon the Cyrenian (or “of Cyrene”).

Mark 15.21 KWL
The Romans draft a passerby,
a certain Simon the Cyrenian who’s coming from the fields,
the father of Alexander and Rufus,
so he’d carry Jesus’s crossbeam.
Matthew 27.32 KWL
Coming out, the Romans find a Cyrenian person named Simon.
This man, they compel
to take up Jesus’s crossbeam.
Luke 23.26 KWL
While the Romans lead Jesus away,
taking hold of Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
they lay the crossbeam upon him
to carry behind Jesus.

13 April 2022

Jesus given a robe and crowned with thorns.

Mark 15.16-20, Matthew 27.27-31, Luke 23.11, John 19.2-3, 5-6.

People became Roman soldiers for all sorts of reasons. Some because the Roman army was a path to Roman citizenship. Some as punishment: It was either military service, or slavery and prison. Some for the adventure, or to get rich, or because they couldn’t imagine any other job options. Some because how else are you gonna get to crucify barbarians?

So it’s safe to figure the soldiers under Pontius Pilatus weren’t there to make friends with Judeans. On the contrary: Over time they likely grew more and more tired of Judeans. Especially those Judeans who were bigoted against gentiles, or were outraged over the Roman occupation. The Romans gave ’em legitimate reasons for not liking them: Soldiers tended to abuse their power so they could steal and extort. Lk 3.14 And bullies look for any excuse to justify themselves, so they were happy to return the hostility.

Given the opportunity to abuse a Judean and have some evil fun at his expense, the soldiers took advantage of it. That’s why they beat the crap out of Jesus. Crucifying him wasn’t enough for them: First they had to play a little game they called “the king’s game.”

Mark 15.16-20 KWL
16 The soldiers lead Jesus inside the courtyard,
which is the Prætorium.
They summon the whole unit.
17 They dress Jesus in “purple,”
and place a braided garland on him—of thorny acacia.
18 They begin to salute Jesus: “Hail, king of Judeans!”
19 They strike Jesus’s head with a staff,
and spit on him,
and bending the knee, they’re “worshiping” him.
20 While they mock Jesus, they strip the “purple” off him,
dress him in his own robe,
and send him away to crucify him.
Matthew 27.27-31 KWL
27 The leader’s soldiers then, taking Jesus into the Prætorium,
called the whole unit to him.
28 Undressing Jesus,
they drape him in a crimson coat.
29 Weaving a garland of thorny acacia,
they put it on Jesus’s head,
and a reed in his right hand.
Kneeling before him, they ridicule him,
saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
30 Spitting on him, they take the reed
and strike Jesus on the head.
31 While they mock Jesus, they take the coat off him,
dress him in his own clothes,
and lead him away to crucifixion.
Luke 23.11 KWL
Considering Jesus worthless,
Herod with his soldiers mockingly dressing him in campy clothing,
send him back to Pilate.
John 19.2-3 KWL
2 The soldiers, braiding a crown of thorny acacia,
force it on Jesus’s head.
They put a “purple” robe on him.
3 They’re coming to Jesus and saying, “Hail, king of Judeans!”
—as they give him punches.

12 April 2022

Jesus confuses Pontius Pilate.

Mark 15.1-5, Matthew 27.1-2, 11-14, Luke 23.1-4, John 18.28-38.

So I already wrote about Pontius Pilate, the ἡγεμών/igemón, “ruler” of Judea when Jesus was killed—the Roman military governor, or præfectus, “prefect.” After the Judean senate held their perfectly legal trial and sentenced Jesus to death, according to the Law they were to take Jesus outside the city, throw him off a cliff, then throw stones down on his body. But because of the Roman occupation they weren’t allowed to execute anyone. The Romans had to kill Jesus for them.

But first the Judean leaders needed to convince Pontius it was in Rome’s best interests to execute Jesus. The prefect wasn’t just gonna execute anybody the Judean senate recommended. Especially over stuff the Romans didn’t consider capital crimes, like blasphemy against a god the Romans didn’t respect. So what’d the Judeans have on Jesus?

Simple: He declared himself Messiah. Did it right in front of everybody.

Mark 14.61-64 KJV
61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? 62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. 63 Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? 64 Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? And they all condemned him to be guilty of death.

Messiah (i.e. Christ) means “the anointed,” and since you only anointed kings, it straight-up means king. Jesus publicly declared himself Israel’s king. That, the Romans would consider treason: The king of Judea was Caesar Tiberius Divi Augusti, princeps (“first citizen”) of Rome. Caesar would have a vested interest in putting any antikings to death. So that was the charge the senate brought with them, and Jesus, to the Roman prefect.

The senators hauled Jesus to Antonia, a fort Herod 1 had built next to the temple (and named for his patron, Marcus Antonius) so soldiers could watch the Judeans worship… just in case any riots broke out. There, they presented their unrecognized true king to Pontius.

Mark 15.1 KWL
Next, in the morning, the head priests,
consulting with the elders, scribes, and the whole senate,
carry and deliver the bound Jesus
to Pontius Pilatus.
Matthew 27.1-2 KWL
1 As it became morning, all the head priests and people’s elders
gathered in council regarding Jesus,
and how they’d put him to death./dd>
2 Binding him, they led Jesus away
and handed him off to Pontius Pilatus, the leader.
Luke 23.1-2 KWL
1 Getting up, the crowd leads him to Pontius Pilatus.
2 They begin to accuse Jesus,
saying, “We find this man twisting our nation,
preventing taxes to be given to Caesar,
calling himself ‘Christ’—which means king.”

In all the gospels, Pontius questioned Jesus… and came away unconvinced this man was any threat to Rome whatsoever. In Luke and John, he didn’t even believe Jesus was guilty of anything. But the Judean senate wanted Jesus dead, and got plenty of the locals to say so too. In the end, Pontius pragmatically gave ’em what they wanted.

“Why’s this guy not defending himself?”

Getting convicted of treason back then meant execution. (Still often does.) For non-Romans like Jesus, execution meant crucifixion, one of the most painful, disgusting ways to die humans have ever invented. So the fact Jesus didn’t fight his charges, and said nothing, made Pontius wonder what on earth was going on here. Everybody else he ever interrogated would either fight the charges or justify them. Not simply accept crucifixion as their inevitable lot.

Yet in the synoptic gospels, Jesus responded to his charges with two words and nothing more: Σὺ λέγεις/su légheis, “[If] you say so.”

Mark 15.2 KWL
Pilatus interrogated Jesus: “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”
Matthew 27.11 KWL
Jesus was stood before the leader,
and the leader interrogated him, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
Jesus was saying, If you say so.”
Luke 23.3 KWL
Pilatus questioned Jesus, saying, “You’re the king of Judea?”
In reply Jesus told him, If you say so.”

Some interpreters like to turn Jesus’s words into more of an affirmative declaration; more like “You said it, buddy!” Others figure it was more contrary: In one of these verses The Message goes with, “Your words, not mine.” Lk 23.3 MSG In John’s telling of the trial, Jesus’s response sorta sounds more like the “Your words, not mine” idea—because his response was more of a “I am a king, but not the sort you’re thinking of.”

Yep, John tells a very different version of events. Jesus interacts with Pontius way more. I’ll start at the beginning.

John 18.28-38 KWL
28 So the senators bring Jesus
from Joseph bar Caiaphas to the prætorium.
It’s morning. They don’t enter the prætorium,
lest they be defiled instead of eating Passover.
29 So Pontius Pilatus comes outside to them,
and says, “You bring me a certain accusation against this person.”
30 In reply they tell him, “We’d never hand him over to you
unless he were an evildoer.”
31 Pilatus tells them, “Take him yourself. Judge him by your Law.”
The Judeans tell him, “We’re not allowed to kill anyone.”
32 Thus Jesus’s word could be fulfilled—
which he said to signify which kind of death he was about to die.
33 Pilate enters the prætorium again, calls Jesus,
and tells him, “You’re the king of Judea?”
34 Jesus replies, “You say this on your own?
Or do others tell you about me?”
35 Pilate replies, “Am I Judean?
Your ethnic group and head priests turn you over to me.
What do you do?”
36 Jesus replies, “My kingdom’s not from this world.
If my kingdom’s from this world, my servants should fight
lest I be turned over to the Judeans.
My kingdom doesn’t yet exist now.”
37 So Pilate tells him, “Therefore you’re not a king.”
Jesus replies this: “I am a king.
I had been born into it. I came into the world into it.
Thus I might testify to truth.
All who are of the truth, hear my voice.”
38 Pilate tells him, “What’s ‘truth’?”
That said, Pilate goes out again to the Judeans
and tells them, “I find nothing in him of cause.”

Note in John, Jesus didn’t just answer Pontius with “If you say so,” but a statement of exactly what he means by “kingdom.” Clearly he’s not talking about a political government, but a moral one. We follow King Jesus, not because we’ll get into serious legal trouble if we don’t, not because (as dark Christians gleefully claim) we’ll go to hell when we don’t. We follow Jesus ’cause he’s truth. Jn 14.6 ’Cause we love the Father and want access to him. And we can’t get to the Father any other way than via Jesus.

Yeah, such a kingdom would totally overturn the Roman Empire. And within the next three centuries, that’s exactly what it did. But Caesar had nothing political to fear from such a kingdom. Which is why Pontius didn’t see anything wrong with it.

Not that Pontius necessarily understood Jesus. “What’s truth?” exposes this fact. Pontius had no time for abstract philosophy: He just wanted to know whether Jesus was worth crucifying. Would Caesar want this guy dead or not? Once Pontius had his mind made up—“So you’re not a king” Jn 18.37 —he didn’t really care what else Jesus had to say. “What’s truth” is a very important question, but notice Pontius didn’t stick around to get Jesus’s answer. Phooey on truth; he didn’t come to Judea to get an education from some obscure Galilean rabbi about epistemology. (He came there to get rich, if anything.) So in John, Pontius isn’t confused; just unconvinced Jesus is worth killing.

In Luke he likewise made up his mind right away.

Luke 23.4 KWL
Pilate tells the head priests and the crowd,
“I find nothing of cause in this person.”

Whereas in the other gospels, Jesus said nothing, and Pontius couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t fight harder to avoid a gory death on the cross.

Mark 15.3-5 KWL
3 The head priests are accusing Jesus of many things.
4 Pilate is questioning Jesus again,
saying, “You answer nothing! Look at all they accuse you of!”
5 Jesus no longer answers anything.
So Pilate is amazed.
Matthew 27.12-14 KWL
12 Jesus answers nothing
in the accusation against him by the head priests and elders.
13 Then Pilate tells Jesus, “Don’t you hear
how much they testify against you?”
14 Jesus doesn’t answer him for even one word.
So the leader was greatly amazed.

It was just strange enough for Pontius’s B.S. detector to go off: “Doesn’t seem to wanna die, but isn’t fighting it. What’s going on here? Why’s he acting this way? Why isn’t he fighting the charges? What, does he wanna get crucified?… Nah; he can’t; that’s nuts.”

Justice wouldn’t be done today.

For Jesus, the suffering came from the fact he knew he wasn’t gonna get justice that day.

It was sunrise when the senate brought him to Pontius. It was noon when he was finally led out to be crucified. Six hours of waiting. In between, getting mocked and flogged. He knew the end was coming, but the wheels of bureaucracy were turning mighty slow that morning.

But he knew Pontius believed him innocent. Knew Pontius recognized him as no threat to Rome. Knew regardless, Pontius would be of no help. The proper purpose of government is to establish justice, but corrupt governments and parties everywhere, presume it’s to seize and hold power. Pontius was just this kind of corrupt. He figured he was only in Judea to make sure Rome (and he) got their money. He’d kill anyone who got in Rome’s way. Jesus might be innocent, but if Pontius didn’t kill Jesus, he might spark a war and lose his job—which he desired more than justice. So much for justice.

The fact Pontius had Jesus executed regardless, with full knowledge he was executing someone he considered innocent—his whole hand-washing demonstration Mt 27.24 was all for show and we know it—makes Pontius just as guilty of Jesus’s death as the senate. Any antisemite who wants to blame the Jews alone for Jesus’s death is an idiot. Pontius, a gentile, could easily have saved him… and didn’t care enough to make any more than a token effort.

So this was how Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilatus: Knowing he’d get no proper hearing, no justice, because the powerful didn’t care. Nobody did. He had no advocate. He was alone.

It’s all the more reason Jesus takes the position of our advocate before his Father. 1Jn 2.1 It’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to help us when we’re not sure how to defend ourselves. Mk 13.11 He’s not gonna abandon us. He never promised us we’d never suffer; on the contrary, we will. Jn 16.33 But he’ll be with us through the suffering, providing us all the help and comfort he never got when he suffered.

11 April 2022

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

In both the Nicene and Apostles Creed, a certain Roman official gets mentioned by name—specifically so the creeds can cement Christ Jesus’s death at a specific point in history: Σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου/stavrothénta te ypér epí Pontíu Pilátu, “and he was crucified for us under Pontíus Pilátus.”

The KJV renders this name Pontius Pilate, which Americans usually pronounce 'pɑn.tʃəs 'paɪ.lət, and since the bible tends to call him Pilate, we presume that’s his family name. Other way round: Romans did their names the same way eastern Asians do. Pontius poʊn' is the family name, his nomen; and Pilátus pi'læ is the personal name. The bible’s authors tended to go with personal names, y’notice.

Pontius ruled Jerusalem and Judea on behalf of Rome for a decade, from the years 26 to 36. He was the fifth governor of Judea. The reason we know so much more about him than his predecessors or successors, is obviously ’cause Jesus was executed under his rule, so he has our attention. We know of him from the gospels, from historians Flavius Josephus and Publius Cornelius Tacitus, and from contemporary philosopher Philo of Alexandria.
The Pilate stone, on display in Jerusalem. Wikimedia
Plus in 1961 archaeologist Antonio Frova found the Pilate stone, a limestone block with “Pilatus” on it, dating from Pontius’s term, whch confirms he’s not fiction.

Unfortunately after Jesus’s death and resurrection, a lot of Christians made up a lot of fanfiction about him. It means Pontius’s history beyond these first-century sources isn’t all that reliable. But I’ll briefly go over what we have.

Pontius was a member of the Pontii family, a plebeian-caste family from south central Italy. A number of Pontii held high positions in the Roman government, including consul; a few later became leaders in the ancient Christian church, and are considered saints. Pilatus means “skilled with a javelin,” so either he (or one of his ancestors, whom Pontius was named for) got named that because of military skill. And Pontius did have to serve in the Roman cavalry before he could hold office. He was married, Mt 27.19 and later Christian tradition named his wife Prókla (Latin, Prócula) and made a saint of her. Even later traditions named her Claudia, and claimed she was related to the Caesars… although probably just to write dramatic fiction.

Pontius took office in 26. That’s the same year Caesar Tiberius retired to Capri and left his job largely to his Praetorian prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. So there’s some question whether Lucius appointed Pontius instead of Caesar. But after Caesar had Lucius executed for treason in 31, he didn’t prosecute or fire Pontius, so clearly he didn’t consider Pontius to be mixed up in Lucius’s business.

08 April 2022

Jesus’s pre-trial trial.

John 18.12-14 KWL
12 The mob, the chief, and Judean police
then arrest Jesus and bind him.
13 They first bring Jesus to Annas,
for he’s the father-in-law of Joseph bar Caiaphas,
who’s head priest that year.
14 Bar Caiaphas is the one who recommended to the Judeans
for one person to die, rather than all the people.
John 18.19-24 KWL
19 The head priest then asks Jesus about his students,
and about his instruction.
20 Jesus answers him, “I’ve freely spoken to the world.
I always teach in synagogue and in temple,
where all the Judeans come together.
I never spoke in private.
21 Why do you ask me this?
Ask those who’ve listened to what I speak to them.
Look, they’ve known what I say.”
22 Once he says this, one of the police standing by
gives Jesus a slap, saying, “This you answer the head priest?”
23 Jesus answers him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil.
If good, why beat me?”
24 So Annas sends Jesus away,
having bound him for Bar Caiaphas the head priest.

In the synoptic gospels, right after Jesus’s arrest, the Judean police and their posse took Jesus to the head priest’s house. But in John they didn’t. John’s the only gospel where they took a little side trip first… to the former head priest’s house. That’d be Khánan bar Seth, whom historical records call Ananus, and whom the KJV calls Annas. John relates it’s in the courtyard of Annas’s house where Simon Peter denounced Jesus.

Backstory time. Ever since the time of the Maccabees, the head priests had also been the kings of Judea. (Or, using the title Israelis had used for their kings, the Messiah. Yep, that title.) Their dynasty ended with Herod 1, who overthrew his father-in-law Antigonus Mattathias in 37BC, and took the throne. Herod became king, but because he was Edomite not Aaronite, he couldn’t be head priest; only descendants of Aaron could be head priest, y’know. Lv 6.22 But Herod claimed the right to appoint the head priest—and did. In fact he appointed a bunch of head priests. He kept firing them when they wouldn’t do as he wished.

And once the Romans took Judea from the Herods, they did the same thing. Annas became the 11th appointed head priest since Herod took over. (He’s actually the ninth guy to hold the job. Some of the previous head priests had non-consecutive terms.) Annas was appointed by the Syrian legate Publius Sulpicius Quirinius in the year 6, and stayed in office till the year 15. He’s a descendant of King John Hyrcanus, so while he was still in the royal family, he wasn’t a contender for the throne.

Bible commentators aren’t always aware that Herod and the Romans kept swapping out head priests, and assume Annas was the hereditary head priest, like all the head priests before Herod’s time. So they aren’t so surprised when Annas’s five sons, son-in-law, and grandson become the head priest after him: Isn’t it supposed to be a hereditary job? And yeah, originally it was… but now it wasn’t, and hadn’t been for decades, and the fact Annas managed to keep his family in power for nearly sixty years is pretty darned impressive.

Annas’s successors include:

  • Eleazar, his son (16-17CE)
  • Joseph bar Caiaphas, his son-in-law (18-36)
  • Jonathan, his son (36-37)
  • Theophilus, his son (37-41)
  • Matthias, his son (43)
  • Jonathan again (44)
  • Annas 2, his son (63)
  • Mattathias, his grandson (65-66)

He wasn’t the only guy with a political dynasty though. Four sons and a grandson of Boethus, another descendant of Aaron, were also head priest. Including Joazar bar Boethus, Annas’s direct predecessor.

01 April 2021

Simon Peter denounces Jesus.

Mark 14.66-72, Matthew 26.69-75, Luke 22.54-62, John 18.15-18, 25-27.

After dinner earlier that night, Jesus told his students they weren’t gonna follow him much longer; they’d scatter. At this point Jesus’s best student, Simon Peter, got up and foolhardily claimed this prediction didn’t apply to him.

Mark 14.29-31 KWL
29 Simon Peter told him, “If everyone else will get tripped up, it won’t include me.”
30 Jesus told him, “Amen, I promise you today, this night,
before the rooster crows twice, you’ll renounce me thrice.”
31 Peter said emphatically, “Even if I have to die for you,
I will never renounce you.” Everyone else said likewise.

And y’know, Peter wasn’t kidding. I’ve heard way too many sermons which mock Peter for this, who claim he was all talk. Thing is, he really wasn’t. When Jesus was arrested, Peter was packing a machete, and used it. Slashed a guy’s ear clean off. You don’t start swinging a work knife at a mob unless you’re willing to risk life and limb. Peter really was ready to fight to the death for Jesus.

But Jesus’s response was to cure the guy, then rebuke Peter: Jesus could stop his arrest at any time, but chose not to. Having a weapon was only gonna get Peter killed. Peter thought he was following God’s will, but he was in fact tripping up. And Jesus did say his students σκανδαλισθήσεσθε/skandalisthísesthe, “would be tripped up,” by the later events of that day. Despite his repeated warnings he was gonna die, his students kept expecting the Pharisee version of the End Times to unfold, where Messiah would destroy the Romans and take his throne… and instead Messiah got killed by the Romans.

This sort of turn of events would knock the zeal right out of anyone. Y’know how Peter later would up saying he didn’t know Jesus? At the time, he kinda didn’t. Thought he did; totally got him wrong. We all do, sometimes.

See, Peter was having a crisis of faith. Every Christian, if they’re truly following Jesus, is gonna have a point in our lives where we have to get rid of our immature misunderstandings about Jesus. And some of us fight tooth ’n nail to keep those misunderstandings. Even enshrine ’em. But in so doing, it means we’re not gonna grow in Christ any further. The Holy Spirit is trying to get us over that stumbling block, but we insist it’s not a block; it’s a wall.

To his credit, Peter didn’t scatter. He followed the mob, who took Jesus to the former head priest’s house, where Jesus had his unofficial trial before the proper trial before the Judean senate.

John 18.15-18 KWL
15 Simon Peter and another student followed Jesus.
That student was known by the head priest.
He went in, with Jesus, to the head priest’s courtyard.
16 Peter stood at the door outside.
So the other student, known to the head priest, came out and spoke to the doorman, who brought Peter in.
17 The doorman, a slavewoman, told Peter, “Aren’t you also one of this person’s students?”
Peter said, “I’m not.”
18 The slaves and servants stationed there had made a charcoal fire; it was cold.
They warmed themselves. Peter was also with them, standing and warming.

This’d be the first denial. But Jesus didn’t just say Peter would deny him, or pretend he didn’t know him, or pretend he didn’t follow him. Peter ἀπαρνήσῃ/aparnísi, “will entirely reject,” will renounce, his Lord. Mk 14.30 It’s not a white lie so he could merely stay out of trouble; Peter went overboard and publicly quit Jesus. Really.

Good thing he could take it back. As can we. But, y’know, don’t quit him, okay?

30 March 2021

On violently resisting Jesus’s arrest.

Mark 14.47, Matthew 26.51-54,
Luke 22.49-51, John 18.10-11.

After sundown Thursday, Jesus and his students had a Passover meal, which Christians call “the Last Supper.” After it, Jesus had some things to tell them, and in that discussion there’s this:

Luke 22.35-38 KWL
35 Jesus tells them, “When I sent you out
without a wallet, bag, or extra sandals,
you didn’t lack anything, did you?
They tell him, “Nothing.”
36 Jesus tells them, “But now:
Those who have a wallet, take it. Your bag too.
Those who don’t have one: Sell your coat and buy a machete.
37 For I tell you this scripture has to be fulfilled in me:
‘He was counted among the lawless.’ Is 53.12
For the scriptures about me have an endpoint.”
38 The students say, “Master, look!—two machetes here.”
Jesus tells them, “That’s plenty.”

This passage confuses people—usually because of the way it’s typically translated.

Luke 22.36, 38 NIV
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” […]
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.

Typically the way Christians interpret it is Jesus (for whatever their favorite reasons might be) told ’em to sell their coats and buy swords—but he meant it metaphorically. He was telling ’em some sort of parable. He didn’t literally want them to buy swords; he wasn’t trying to start an armed uprising or anything. We misunderstand. And the students likewise misunderstood, and were quick to point out to Jesus, “Oh no problem, Master, we’ve already got two swords!”—to which Jesus had to angrily respond, “Wait, what’re you actually doing with swords? You homicidal numbskulls, stop it. You’re missing my point again.”

I won’t get into all the possible interpretations of what Jesus’s “metaphor” supposedly is. Because Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He really did want his students to go get themselves machetes. Because there’s a big difference between the purpose of a machete and a sword. A machete is a work knife. Not a Roman gladius, a double-sided short sword. This is a μάχαιραν/máheran, a long, broad, single-edged work knife. I’m not translating it “machete” to be different: That’s what it is. That’s all it is.

Despite what Danny Trejo action movies might have you believe, a machete is not meant for battle or fighting. It kinda sucks for fighting; a trained soldier with a gladius will easily take out anybody who’s only carrying a máheran. But it can stab, cut, and kill; it can do damage. Machetes have been historically used for warfare—same as pitchforks, axes, hammers, and tomahawks—’cause when the poor had to fight and didn’t have access to proper weapons, you work with what you have.

So when Jesus tells ’em to sell their coats and buy machetes, he’s properly telling them to give up their comforts and get tools. It’s time to get to work and help him build his kingdom.

But of course if you’re an ivory-tower revolutionary and haven’t worked with your hands in years, y’might miss that little nuance of reality. And think Jesus really is talking about swords—but not really talking about swords, because God’s kingdom doesn’t come through violent human revolutions, right? I mean, most of us get this… even though Jesus’s students clearly didn’t.

Got all that? Now let’s jump forward a few hours to when Jesus got arrested… where, it turns out, Simon Peter had taken one of those two machetes with him.

29 March 2021

Jesus’s arrest, and his abuse begins.

Mark 14.45-52, Matthew 26.50-56, Luke 22.49-54, John 18.4-12.

The second station, in John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, is where Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. Same station for both. But different forms of suffering: Judas was about when your friends or confidants turn on you, and the rest was about the pain and dread people feel when their enemies have ’em right where they want ’em.

Let’s go to the gospels.

Mark 14.45-52 KWL
45 Immediately going to Jesus,
Judas tells him, “Rabbi!” and kisses him hello.
46 So the mob grabs and arrests him.
47 One of the bystanders, pulling out a machete,
strikes the head priest’s slave, and cuts his ear off.
48 In reply, Jesus tells them, “You come out with machetes and sticks
to snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.
49 Daytime, I was with you in the temple, teaching.
You didn’t arrest me then.
But this—it’ll fulfill the scriptures.”
50 Abandoning Jesus, everyone flees.
51 There was some teenager following him who was naked, wearing a toga.
They seize him,
52 but he abandons his toga and flees naked.
Matthew 26.50-56 KWL
50 Jesus tells Judas, “Brother, why have you come?”
Then the approaching mob throws their hands on Jesus
and seizes him.
51 Look, one of those with Jesus stretches out his hand,
draws his machete,
and striking the head priest’s slave,
cuts off his ear.
52 Then Jesus tells him, “Put your machete back in its place!
For everyone who chooses arms
will be destroyed by arms.
53 Or do you think I can’t call out to my Father,
and he will give me, right now,
more than 12 legions of angels?
54 But then how might the scriptures be fulfilled?
So this has to happen.”
55 At this time, Jesus tells the crowd, “You come out
with machetes and sticks to snatch me away,
like I’m an insurgent.
Daytime, I was sitting in the temple, teaching.
You didn’t arrest me then.
56 This is all happening so the prophets’ writings can be fulfilled.”
Then all the students abandon him and run.
Luke 22.49-54 KWL
49 Seeing what those round them intend to do,
the students say, “Master, should we strike with a machete?”
50 One hit a certain one of them—the head priest’s slave—
and cuts his right ear off.
51 In response Jesus says, “That’s enough!”
and touching the ear, Jesus cures him.
52 Jesus tells those who come for him—head priests, temple guards, and elders—
“You come out with machetes and sticks like I’m an insurgent.
53 Daytime, I was with you in the temple. You didn’t grab me then.
But this is your hour—the power of darkness.”
54 They arrest him, lead him away, and bring him to the head priest’s house.
Simon Peter is following at a distance.
John 18.4-12 KWL
4 So Jesus, who already knew everything coming upon him,
comes forth and tells them, “Whom are you looking for?”
5 They answer him, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Jesus tells them, “I’m him.”
Judas his betrayer had been standing with them.
6 So when Jesus tells them, “I’m him,”
they move backward and fall to the ground.
7 So again Jesus asks them, “Whom are you looking for?”
They say, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 Jesus answers, “I tell you I’m him,
so if it’s me you look for,
leave these others alone to go away,”
9 so he might fulfill the word which he says, namely this:
“I’ve not lost anyone whom you’ve given me.” Jn 17.12
10 Simon Peter, having a machete, draws it
and strikes the head priest’s slave; he slices off his right ear.
The slave’s name was Malchus.
11 So Jesus tells Peter, “Sheath your machete.
This is the cup the Father gave me. Shouldn’t I drink it?”
12 So the 200 men, the general, and the Judean servants
arrest Jesus and tie him up.

10 April 2020

Jesus dies. And takes our sin with him.

Mark 15.33-39, Matthew 27.45-54, Luke 23.44-48, John 19.28-37.

Around noon on 3 April 33, it got dark, and stayed that way till Jesus died. Obviously God was behind it, but we don’t know how. No solar eclipses in that part of the world, that time of year, so that’s out. Volcanoes have been known to darken the sky. So has weather. Regardless of how he pulled it off, God decided he wanted his Son’s death to happen in the dark.

As he was hanging on the cross, various folks were taunting him, and Matthew describes the head priests, scribes, and elders even taunting him with a bit of Psalm 22:

Matthew 27.43 KWL
He follows God? God has to rescue him now, if he wants him—for he said ‘I’m God’s son.’ ”
Psalm 22.8 LXX (KWL)
He hopes for the Lord, who has to release him,
who has to save him because he wants him.

Considering this psalm was so obviously getting fulfilled by Jesus’s death, taunting him with it just showed how far the Judean leaders’ unbelief went. They really didn’t think the psalm applied to Jesus any. It absolutely did.

That is why, round the ninth hour after sunrise (roughly 2:30 PM) Jesus shouted out the first line of that psalm: Elo’í Elo’í, lamá azavtáni/“My God my God, for what reason do you abandon me?” Ps 22.1 I know; it sounds different after the gospels’ authors converted it to Greek characters.

Problem is, by that point the scribes seem to have left, ’cause nobody understood a word he said. Jesus was quoting the original Hebrew, but only scribes knew Hebrew; the Judeans spoke Aramaic, and the Romans spoke Greek. And since Eloí sounded a little like Eliyáhu/“Elijah,” that’s the conclusion they leapt to: He was calling for Elijah. So they added that to their mocking. “Wait; let’s see whether Elijah rescues him.”

In our day Christians have leapt to a different conclusion—a heretic one. They might know Jesus was quoting scripture, but think he quoted it ’cause the Father literally, just then, did abandon him.

Seriously. Here’s the theory. When the lights went out, this was the point when Jesus became the world’s scapegoat: The sins of the entire world were laid on his head, Lv 16.20-22 so that when he died, our sin died too. Which is possible; the scapegoat idea is one of many theories about how atonement works. But the scriptures never indicate when such a transfer was made. The world going dark just feels like a good, dramatic time for such an event to happen.

Here’s when it goes wonky. After the sin-transfer was made to the scapegoat, someone was supposed to turn this goat loose in the wilderness to die. But since Jesus was literally nailed to the spot, he could hardly wander off… so the Father removed himself. Other Christians insist it’s because the Father finds sin so offensive, he couldn’t bear to watch. So he dimmed the lights (as if God can’t see in the dark) and turned his face away from his beloved, but defiled, Son.

Here’s why it’s heresy: God is One. You can’t separate the Son from the Father. They’re one being, not two. The trinity is indivisible.

The rest of us humans are separate beings from the Father—yet Paul stated nothing can separate us from his love. Ro 8.38-39 So if that’s the case, how in creation could anything, even sin, separate God the Son from God the Father?

Nope; not gonna work. There’s no biblical basis for the idea either. Just a lot of Christians who hate sin, who kinda like the idea God hating it so much he’d leave… so don’t you sin, or God’ll quit on you. It’s a great way to scare the dickens out of sinners.

But if it were that easy to drive God away, you’d think the devil’s work would’ve driven God entirely off the planet. Ironically I find a lot of Calvinists, folks fond of insisting nothing’s mightier than God, likewise teaching the idea that the Father turned his face away from his innocent Son—instead of meeting the defeated enemy of sin head-on.

I could rant on, but I’ll step away from the bad theology and quote what the gospels did say happened when the lights went out.

Mark 15.33-39 KWL
33 When the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—came,
darkness came over all the land till the ninth hour.
34 At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, Elahí Elahí, lamaná šavaqtáni?
which is translated, “My God my God, for what reason have you left me behind?” Ps 22.1
35 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look: He calls Elijah.”
36 One of the runners, filling a sponge of vinegar, putting it on a reed, gave Jesus a drink,
saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him.”
37 Jesus, giving out a loud cry, expired.
38 The temple veil split in two, from top down.
39 The centurion standing across from Jesus, seeing how he expired,
said, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Matthew 27.45-54 KWL
45 From the sixth hour since sunrise—noon—
darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 Around the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Elí Elí, lamáh azavettáni?
That is, “My God my God, why did you leave me behind?” Ps 22.1
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said this: “This man calls Elijah.”
48 One runner quickly left them: Taking a sponge full of vinegar, putting it on a reed, he gave Jesus a drink.
49 The others said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes, and will save him.”
50 Jesus, again calling out in a loud cry, gave up his spirit.
51 Look, the temple veil split from top down in two. The earth shook. The rocks split.
52 Tombs opened, and many bodies of “sleeping” saints were raised.
53 Coming out of the tombs after Jesus’s rising, they went into the holy city.
They were seen by many.
54 The centurion and those guarding Jesus with him, seeing the earthquake and what happened,
greatly feared, saying, “Truly this person is God’s son.”
Luke 23.44-48 KWL
44 Now it was about the sixth hour after sunrise, and it became dark over the whole land till the ninth hour.
45 The sun failed to appear. The temple veil split in the middle.
46 Jesus, calling in a loud voice, said, “Father, I set my spirit into your hands.”
Saying this, he expired.
47 The centurion, seeing what happened, glorified God, saying, “This person is indeed righteous.”
48 All the assembled crowd, at this sight, seeing what happened, went back beating their chests.
John 19.28-37 KWL
28 After this Jesus, knowing everything was now finished,
said to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.”
29 A full jar of vinegar was sitting there.
So a sponge full of vinegar, with hyssop put on it, was brought to Jesus’s mouth.
30 When he tasted the vinegar, Jesus said, “It’s finished.”
He bent his head and handed over his spirit.
31 So the Judeans, since it’s Preparation Friday, lest bodies stay on the cross on Sabbath
(for this Sabbath was a great day), asked Pilate
so their legs might be broken, and they taken away.
32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man, and the other crucified with him.
33 Coming over to Jesus, they saw he’d died already. They didn’t break his legs.
34 Instead one soldier stabbed Jesus’s side with his spear.
Blood and water quickly came out.
35 The one who witnessed it testifies: It’s a true testimony.
This man knows he tells the truth, so you can also believe.
36 For this happened so the scripture might be fulfilled: “They won’t break his bones.”
37 Again, another scripture says, “They’ll see to whom they stabbed.”

I dealt with the vinegar elsewhere.

Aftershocks from his death.

Depending on the gospel, various things happen as a product of Jesus’s death.

Temple veil bisected. Mk 15.38 Mt 27.51 Lk 23.45
Earthquake, rocks split. Mt 27.51
Dead coming out of their graves. Mt 27.52-53
Centurion impressed. Mk 15.39 Mt 27.54 Lk 23.47
Soldiers didn’t break his legs, but speared him. Jn 19.31-37

The temple veil separated the Holy Place from the Holiest Place, the back room of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant would be kept if it were still around. Christians like to point out it was a mighty thick curtain, and therefore impossible for some random person to rip. True. But it was centuries old, and a strong earthquake might snap its curtain-rod and tear it top-to-bottom, just as the gospels describe. Regardless of how God did it, its point—all barriers between God and us have been removed through Jesus’s death—is entirely valid.

There are a few apocryphal New Testament gospels which claim after Jesus died, a few of the zombies revived saints testified to the Judean senate that they’d seen Jesus break into hell, step on the devil’s neck, and release a bunch of Old Testament saints. Entertaining stories, but way too many historical and scriptural inaccuracies for them to be anything but Christian fanfiction.

Apparently a centurion (if not his entire century) was supervising the crosses, and his response to how Jesus died was either “He sure seemed a good guy,” or “Holy crap, it’s the son of God!” We have no idea what this centurion’s religion was, and if he was your typical Greco-Roman pagan, he believed the gods had lots of sons. (The Roman senate had even declared Caesar Augustus one of them.) So his “son of God” comment might’ve meant the very same thing Luke describes him saying: Jesus seemed a good guy. Then again, who knows?—all sorts of unexpected people turn out to be listening to the Holy Spirit.

In John the aftermath is a lot less miraculous. The Pharisees couldn’t abide crucifixion victims striving to breathe on Sabbath; it counts as work. So they petitioned the Romans to “humanely” dispatch them, with enough time so they could stick ’em in a tomb, then go get baptized, before Sabbath began at nightfall. (On 3 April, that’d be 6PM.) Hence the Romans “humanely” broke their shins, making it impossible for them to hoist themselves up to breathe. Suffocation happened in minutes.

Since Jesus was already dead, a soldier poked him with a spear, and out came blood and water. I’ve heard Christians claim this proves Jesus died, not of suffocation, but a ruptured—make that “broken”—heart. It comes from Dr. William Stroud’s 1847 book, A Treatise on the Physical Cause of the Death of Christ. The idea of a broken heart sure sounds impressive, but more recent physicians prefer the idea of cardiovascular collapse: That’d most likely produce the clear pericardial fluid (“water”) the spear brought forth.

Though not as miraculous, it did fulfill two verses. One about not breaking the bones of a Passover lamb Ex 12.46, Nu 9.12 —that, or about the LORD protecting the bones of the righteous. Ps 34.20 That, and something the LORD said through Zechariah where they’ll “look at me”—speaking of himself—“whom they pierced; and mourn for him like one mourns for an only son.” Zc 12.10 Odd phrasing, but sure fits Jesus’s circumstances.

And, in the next station, Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus off his cross and put him in Joseph’s sepulcher—expecting, a year later, to go back in, gather his bones, and stick ’em in a casket. Not expecting, two days later, for Jesus to come out on his own. But to be fair, nobody else expected that either.