John 18:12-14, 19-24
Today’s reading is confusing. Jesus goes from one high priest to the next though the law states there could only be one high priest. And it’s unclear whether Annas or Caiaphas is leading the interrogation. Historians say Annas was the high priest from 6 AD until Rome deposed him in 15 AD, but that he was followed in that office by all five of his sons. Now it seems his son-in-law Caiaphas occupies it (none of them were noted for their virtue). So, John’s garbled report fits the facts: the legal maze Jesus enters this night is a perplexing dynasty of nepotists protecting their own power.
Then there is the irregularity of Jesus’ questioning. When Jesus asks the high priest about the absence of witnesses to establish his supposed offenses, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, punishing him for supposedly disrespecting the high priest (v. 22). In fact, this was a denial of his legal rights to a fair trial. About this William E. Hull wrote fifty years ago: “Always there are those who suppose that fundamental questions of justice can be swept aside with a show of brute force” (Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 9, 352).
I’d likely never have noticed these details in this story were it not for present-day revelations about occasional miscarriages of justice. They lead me to thank God for those who do serve with integrity in law enforcement and the administration of justice. But they also cause me to pay more attention to what I might easily slip over in the daily news and in my Bible reading. Innocent people get crucified when nobody is paying attention to justice. The prophets of old screamed that message incessantly. John says it, too, right here in the story of Jesus’ night in jail.
What does discipleship require of us as citizens and good neighbors?
God, you have told us that doing justice and loving kindness while walking humbly with you is your requirement. For my neighbor’s sake and mine, help me do all three. Amen.