Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Week: Change, Magic, and Tradition

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!-Matthew 26: 65, 66

We Need Change

In this illegal night trial, the the high priest and the Sanhedrin condemn Jesus to death for blasphemy. But they have a dilemma  They are an occupied nation. They cannot legally put someone to death. (John 18: 31) And while they may be able to get away with it with some little-known offender, this is not the case with Jesus.

And those Romans are not concerned with their religious charges. Rome could care less about blasphemy against the Jewish God.

So they conspire and hatch a plan. Notice, as they bring Jesus before Pilate, the charges against him are changed.

They brought charges against him, saying, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.” - Luke 23: 2
So the religious charge of blasphemy has been transformed to criminal charges of treason and tax evasion.
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” - John 13: 37, 38
Pilate is blinded by the harsh realities of his assignment in such a region with inhabitants that he despises. So blinded that he cannot recognize the Truth, even as it stands in front of him.

Yet, Pilate does not seem eager to do with Jesus as his accusers have asked, and decides to send him to Herod.

He's a Magic Man

Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. - Luke 23: 8
But Herod, unable to get Jesus to do some magic trick for him, or even to get Jesus to speak for that matter, quickly grows tired of him.

Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. - Luke 23: 11

Maybe Tradition is Wrong

Pilate was probably not happy to see Jesus return to him. Now, it may not have been out of the goodness of his heart mind you. Scripture says that Pilate knew it was "out of envy that they had handed Him over." (Matthew 27: 18)  Maybe he just wanted to make the Jewish elders mad. Maybe he was afraid after his wife told him of the dream she had, urging him to leave Jesus alone.

Whatever the case was, there is a revealing verse in one of the Gospel accounts.

Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” - Luke 23: 13-16
It has been my understanding that when a person was crucified, they received, along with that sentence, a sentence of "40 lashes." And, in keeping with Roman law so as not to enact a greater punishment than that which was imposed, there would be an instruction of "less one" in case there was a miscount.

Those who know me, know that I love history and tradition. We have a tradition that says that Jesus was scourged 39 times. But those words of Pilate seem to indicate a different type of punishment. "I shall have him flogged and then release him.”

"And then release him."

"And then release him."

"And then release him."

What is the significance of this? It would seem to indicate that the type of scourging Jesus received was different from that of others sentenced to crucifixion. Different...worse.

While I am not an expert and do not purport my theory on this to be historical fact, it would seem consistent with some of the other facts, evidence if you will. For instance; Jesus needing help to carry the cross, and Pilate being "amazed" to learn that Jesus "was already dead." (Apparently, it was not unusual for some to live for days after crucifixion.)

I believe that in this case, our tradition is inaccurate.

When someone was sentenced to be scourged, as it seems was the case with Jesus, the job of the Roman torturers was to bring the person as close to death as possible...but not quite killing him. This would certainly explain Jesus's extraordinarily weakened condition.

The "tools of the trade" were pretty horrifying in themselves. The torturers used a "cat of nine tails"; a rod with nine straps of leather, each strap with multiple pieces of jagged bone or metal affixed to them. The torturers would give the convicted "a lash", which means these nine straps of leather would adhere to the skin in multiple locations.

So, if there were four or five pieces of bone or metal on each strap, then each "lash" consisted of 36 to 45 of these "adhesions". And then the torturer would yank back on the rod, ripping away pieces of flesh.

Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. - Isaiah 53: 5

It's Holy Week, and as I stated last Friday, my posts this week will be about the Passion of Jesus through the eyes of the witnesses.

Let's make the journey together. Along the way, I hope we are asking ourselves some tough questions. Who are you in the Passion of the Christ?

Click here for Monday's post

Here's a glimpse at tomorrow:

The place you are in is dark...damp...cold...and smells. You can't remember how long you've been here. You only know that when you leave this place, it will be to die. Perhaps today will be the day.

They grab you...drag you along the way, up some steps...into the bright and piercing morning light. You struggle to regain your senses as you hear the sound of a large crowd. They seem angry. They are shouting. So many angry voices, you cannot make out what they are shouting.

Oh...it's Pilate. You're standing in front of Pilate. So, this is it after all. Today is the day you're going to die.

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