Today’s Reading Matthew 26:57-75
HOLY WEEK: WEDNESDAY
When I first lived in London, I already knew four or five parts of the city quite well. I knew Westminster itself, with the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the roads leading up to Buckingham Palace. I knew the areas around the big cricket grounds. I knew the British Museum and Oxford Street, and one or two other places I had had to visit from time to time. But I had no idea how they joined up. I used to get about on the Underground, being whisked from place to place with no mental picture of what was above me. So if I tried to walk between the places I knew I would get quite lost.
Many people are like that with the stories in the gospels. They know the parables and the miracles. They know about Jesus’ birth; about the transfiguration, perhaps; certainly about his riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleansing the Temple, and then his trial and death. But even with these final events they may have little or no idea how they join up. The cycle of readings in church carries them from event to event, like a spiritual Underground train, and they’ve never thought about how things actually moved from one thing to another in the real world.
So people often miss the full force of the questions Caiaphas asked Jesus in this informal night hearing. The chief priests were the guardians of the Temple. That was (in our terms) as much a political office as a spiritual one, and they took it extremely seriously. Jesus hadn’t actually committed any crime in what he’d done in the Temple, but they were eager to make the links with his larger intentions. Word had got around, in a garbled form, that at some point he’d said something about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it. That could only mean one thing. The only person (other than the high priest) who could claim authority over the Temple was the Messiah. And, of course, God himself. So did Jesus’ actions and words mean . . . ?
Before we can get there, we need to remind ourselves of another link of thought which they would have made. Some Jewish teachers pondered passages like Genesis 1.26, where God says ‘Let us make humankind in our own image’, and Daniel 7.13, where the prophet sees a vision of ‘one like a son of man’ coming on the clouds to the ‘Ancient of Days’ and being enthroned beside him. As they did so, some speculated that there might be some kind of plurality within God himself. Such ideas were severely frowned on by most people. Again, it’s as much the political as the spiritual claim that was seen as dangerous, blaspheming nonsense.
So when Jesus refuses to answer the question about destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days, the high priest moves to the natural next step. He puts Jesus on oath, and asks him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?’
Jesus’ reply is fully in line with all that we have seen in the earlier pages of Matthew’s gospel. It all joins up. The high priest himself has said what needs to be said, but there is more: Caiaphas will see that Jesus will be vindicated by God after his suffering, that he will ‘come with the clouds of heaven’ and be enthroned at the right hand of ‘Power’, in other words, of God himself.
That’s enough! It’s blasphemy! And Jesus is condemned, mocked as a false prophet.
Meanwhile, a different sort of connection is established out in the courtyard. Peter — impetuous, blundering Peter — provides the mirror-image to Jesus. Jesus tells the truth, knowing it will condemn him. Peter tells a lie to save his skin. The stage is set. Jesus, the innocent one, will die in place of Peter, the guilty. And the rest of us, too.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the truth which you spoke and lived, and for which you died. Help us, afraid as we are of truth, to come out of the shadows and confess that we are your followers.
We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.