Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What further testimony do we need?

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ They kept heaping many other insults on him.

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’

- Luke 22:63-71

A kangaroo court, indeed. Is this an honest trial of a man? I don't think so. We start first with the scene in the cell - one of deliberate humiliation of someone who has been a spiritual teacher. It makes me recall Jesus' teachings and preaching and the nature of spiritual faith. Jesus' healings took place via faith: there had to be (to my mind) a connection between himself and the healed first. Within the person who received the healing - and we can think of spiritual teaching as a form of healing as well - there was already an inner connection, a reception, of the truth in Jesus' words, and a connection to him as a deep response, a form of relatedness. I think it is important to understand this particular "electrical" nature of spiritual reality. It's like a circuit that is formed between people. Faith is a relationship, a deep inner response. In the Christian case, it is response not just to a set of ideas but to a Person, a deep relatedness, a kind of devotion that confers with it values and notions of truth that originate in that Person. So, to spit with contempt upon Jesus and tell him to prophecy is a profaning of that spiritual reality, and spiritual relatedness. It is a profane way of demanding signs, something akin to the practice of magic. Of course, its intentions are simply brutal, here. This is an abuse of a prisoner, designed to humiliate and degrade with contempt.

Finally we go to trial before the council, which could only take place in the daytime. Jesus himself says that his interlocutors don't really want the truth from him. They're not asking him questions in order to seek the truth about him. Instead, they ask so that they can condemn. Jesus says, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer' when they ask if he is the Messiah, and I think he's right. This is not a question, it's a demand. Neither, says Jesus, is he allowed his own defense - to put questions to the council. When Jesus goes on to say, 'But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God' it is an affirmation that his status with God the Father is as an equal. To call himself the Son of Man is also an affirmation of a title of the predicted Messiah. I also see this statement as affirming his imminent death and what is to pass - this is something he knows is already before him, and he understands the aim of this court. Indeed, the moment he seemingly admits positively his answer to the question - or rather the demand to tell them if he is the Messiah, Jesus is finished in this particular courtroom. "What further testimony do we need?" they ask. Jesus is already condemned as a blasphemer.

To me, as I've said above, this passage reminds me of the power and nature of faith. It is, of course, a false courtroom, and a man convicted without testimony and without a fair hearing. But more than that, the nature of faith is something that is seemingly either within us or not. Either there is a connection to something deep inside of ourselves or there is not. One thing is certain, in order to receive any form of wisdom or faith or truth, our hearts must be at least open to receiving it, at least open to accepting what may be there that is true, and useful, and good. If we have made up our minds in advance, if we do not hold out our hearts to truth, we are going to miss something new that may be added to our understanding in life. To ridicule what we don't understand is not proper in terms of the practice of faith and the seeking of spiritual truth. To treat others with contempt or menacing harassment is a form of the highest ignorance, and to do so is cementing our ignorance within us. Pride, the assumption that we have all the answers, is perhaps the worst spiritual sin - at least in these gospels, it seems to confer the worst forms of blasphemy and rejection of the Good that are possible on those who assume their righteousness to be unquestionable, unassailable. And yet, we recall, these gospels also teach us that the heart is always capable of metanoia, of reconsidering and thinking again, of opening to a change of mind, a return and restoration to our true selves when we open to truth. If nothing else, this "court" scene teaches us the importance of truth, an honest searching even for that which we do not know, an open heart and mind to that truth, and a willingness to learn lest we practice some injustice and deprive ourselves of Good.

May we always remember the lessons in this scene; may they continue to inform our own notions of justice and truth and the search for meaning as we go forward in time. I feel this spiritual literature itself is responsible for many of our modern notions of what is fair and what is just, the story of Jesus having served as an example of what can so easily be wrong with our human social structures and institutions. May it continue to serve the needs of mankind, opening us up to our own flaws and injustice, and our easy sins of assuming that what is outside of what we know must just be wrong.

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