High Priest at the time, a Sadducee. Sadducees were responsible for regulating the System but known for exploiting it, for skimming a bit off the top at the temple to supplement their incomes, for getting on the good side of Roman officials with a wink and a smile and some wadded up cash. They were rich, aristocratic, and they liked it that way. Archaeologists have found bottles of wine from the homes of Sadducees that would be worth the equivalent of $5,000 today.
No wonder they loved the System.
Caiaphas gathers the scribes and elders who represent the ruling Jewish assembly, the Sanhedrin. Good thing he had a big courtyard. This was starting to look like a mob. And as was often the case in these ancient trials, truth was not as important as finding a verdict - any verdict - so here they are, with the eternal Judge on trial, throwing the book at him to see if he’s broken any laws, if he’d threatened the sacred System.
At first, they find nothing. At least not anything reliable... until... they bring up the Temple Incident.
Two witnesses come forward; they needed two. It was required by law.
We’ll tell you what he did, they said. He threatened to tear down the temple and build it back up.
And they were right. He had said that. But they’d missed that Jesus was not talking about their precious temple building but his own body. He was not threatening their religious building at all, at least not how they thought he was.
But the Jewish officials take it literally anyway, re-branding him as a vandal who’s preparing to take a sledgehammer to their sacred space. How dare he. They might as well destroy him before he gets the chance.
Must protect the wine. Must protect the temple. Must protect the System.
They didn’t realize that in destroying Jesus, they were destroying the Temple.
The Jewish leaders would like to hear Jesus’ blasphemy from his own lips. They demand that he answer for the accusations, that he confess.
No reply. No confession. No response.
So Caiaphas presses in, demanding that he respond by the Living God if he is the Messiah. Essentially, he is commanding Jesus to swear under oath; if Jesus does not respond, he could be held in contempt of court.
Jesus answers by saying, “It is as you say,” although in the Greek, Jesus sounds a little more coy, like “Your words. Not mine.” He goes on, though, to quote the Old Testament prophets, as he often did, essentially saying that his power was even greater than they thought. Not a great way to get off the hook.
This was the moment they’d been waiting for, something they could use against Jesus. Finally. Caiaphas rips his garments, as priests did when they heard blasphemy, unwittingly blaspheming himself.
So next, they dishonor him. Spitting on a man’s face was tantamount to public shaming in their day and they waste no time in doing it. They mock him, telling him to prophesy.
And ironically, at that same moment, Jesus’ prophecy about Peter is coming true.
Up until this point, Peter has lagged behind, a fearful witness to the whole debacle, just close enough to see and hear but not close enough to risk getting his own handcuffs. Could it be that so soon after Jesus’ prediction, he’s already starting to betray Jesus by not standing by his side?
History is full of people like Peter, who light up a cannon and out comes a pea, people who mean so well but when it all comes down to it, succumb to the pressure and lose steam once things really start to steamroll ahead. The Church is full of people like this, who start with energy and passion and I’ll-Follow-You-Anywheres but fizzle out at the exact point it matters. Our church is full of people like this. And sometimes it's me.
It can be terrifying to have a spine, to stand up to our full height, to look injustice square in the eye and say, “No More.” Most of us aren’t as steady as we’d like to think we are. We know what it feels like to sell out at the crucial moment, to be defeated and exposed when we haven’t lived up to our own resolutions.
On Sunday, I quoted Frederick Buechner, who wrote:
“God makes saints out of fools and sinners, because there is nothing much else to make them out of.”
It’s true. And we who are being made into saints remember how recently we were fools and sinners.
Peter had been Jesus' faithful right-hand; he’d watched Jesus do miracle after miracle. He was the first one to profess that Jesus is Christ. Since the beginning, he’d declared his loyalty. He would not waiver. He would not fail. But the one time that Jesus needed his friend the most, Peter deserts him over and over and over again.
It was quite a leap from You are the Christ to I do not know this man.
And just like that, all of Peter’s rock-steady confidence crumbles in the face of a couple servant girls who question his loyalties. He didn’t even know he was doing it until the rooster crowed and at last he melted into a puddle of tears, realizing what a slippery slope it had been to sell out his Lord.
Roosters are known for waking people up, and maybe this one finally did.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Have you crumbled under pressure lately? How? When was the last time failure or disappointment has melted you into “a puddle of tears?” What would a rooster’s crow capable of waking you up sound like in your life?
Jesus references Daniel 7:13-14 in his answer to Caiaphas. Turn there and meditate on what you read. Let your mind imagine the scene of Jesus returning as this “Son of Man.” Share with God what you see and hear.
Tonight, if it’s possible, don’t eat alone. Share a chicken dinner with someone, and in memory of Peter’s breaking point, share a time in your life when you heard “the rooster’s crow.” Share a time when you realized you needed to change direction in your life.
Pastor Aaron Engler
*Join us for Palm Sunday this week as Pastor Aaron explores the different ways that Caiaphas, Pilate, and Jesus responded under pressure, and what their choices look like for us. 9am on Sunday at 211 Bridge Street in Salem.
- Buechner, Friedrich, Faces of Jesus.