Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: King of the Jews

Lent 6 A (Palm/Passion Sunday)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 26:14-27:66

14One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15nd said, ‘What will you give me if I betray Jesus to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16From that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

17On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 18He said, ‘Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, “The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.” ’ 19So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21and while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ 22They became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ 23He answered, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for him not to have been born.’ 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ He replied, ‘You have said so.’

26While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’

30When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

31Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered,”
32but after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ 33Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ 34Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ 35Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.

36Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ 43Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ 49At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 50Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put up again your sword for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?’ 55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

57Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61and said, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” ’ 62The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 63But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ 64Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’ 67Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?’

69Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean, 70but he denied it before all of them, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ 71When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ 72Again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ 73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ 74Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ At that moment the cock crowed. 75Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.

1When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

3When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4He said, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ But they said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6The chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.’ 7After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.’

11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so,’ 12but when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ 18For he realised that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ 22Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 23Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’

24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ 25Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

27The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28They stripped him and put a purple robe on him, 29and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 30They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

32As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry His cross. 33When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered Him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when He tasted it, He would not drink it. 35When they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink; 49but the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

55Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

62The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” 64Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ 65Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ 66So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Phew! I’m tired after reading that long gospel, even though I’m sitting down. It’s packed with important points. I can’t imagine anyone trying to do a reflection about the length of these I’m doing but on the whole of that gospel, so let me pick and choose parts for this exercise.

We start with Judas going to the authorities and asking how much they will pay him to betray Christ. Didn’t he have a reputation for stealing? The response from Jesus, however, raises a valid point: ‘Day after day I sat in the Temple and you did not arrest me.” Was that because the Temple leadership didn’t take note of who was in the Temple? Surely there would be no reason to pay someone for a betrayal if they had actually seen Christ.

Verses 26-28 give us the familiar words of consecration in our Eucharist. Some people have taken these words literally and spoken of the trans-substantiation, or change of substance, of the bread and wine, but I think that Jesus was taking something very familiar to help the disciples remember what He had been doing during His ministry period, and these were to them symbols of Christ’s body and blood.

Again the disciples get a bad wrap. They didn’t know, or didn’t realise, how important the events which were about to unfold would be to them, or to the Christian community which would result. They were tired; so they fell asleep, even as Christ was praying to God to have the plan for His death changed. Can we pray “not my will, but yours”? We say that every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus meant it. Do we?

When Jesus was arrested, one of the disciples, reportedly Peter, used a short sword in an attempt to stop the arrest, and cut off one of the High Priest’s servant’s ears. Peter’s way of handling a situation he didn’t like was to use violence, just like a lot of people do today, but Christ’s way was peaceful and healing. Can we follow the example of Jesus and avoid violence?

Sometimes, often out of fear of some retribution, we want to dissociate ourselves from another, but we also want to know what is happening to that other. Peter’s case is no different from ours. He feared that he would suffer the same fate as Jesus, so didn’t want to be linked to Him, and kept his distance. Unfortunately for him he was recognised, and his accent gave him away. I can imagine Jesus thinking “O Peter, what have you done? Here’s a cock crow just to remind you of what I said.”

When all the shenanigans of a kangaroo court trial are over, Pilate asks the people if he should release Christ or Barabbas. “Bar” “Abba” literally “without father”, so the choice was “Father” or “not Father”, “God” or “not God”, and the religious authorities of the day put pressure on the people to choose the worst option possible. Claim to worship God, but reject Him. Not good!

Every image of Christ on the cross will show him wearing a loin cloth. Rubbish! To add to all the degradation and humiliation associated with Him being crucified, he would have been totally naked, but we sanitise the image for fear of showing people what it was really like. “The Passion of Christ”, directed by Mel Gibson, was highly criticised for showing the lead up to, and the crucifixion of Christ in all its gory detail. Were the critics afraid that seeing what it really was like would help stop violence?

Matthew only relates one of the phrases attributed to Christ on the cross. Luke 23:34 tells us that Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Think about it. Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the people responsible for His death, because He, in all His humanity, cannot. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to forgive; sometimes we might feel it’s impossible; but we can always call on God to do the forgiving for us, and to help us find peace in that decision.

The Jewish calendar counts the beginning of a day as sunset on what we call the evening before. Jesus was crucified on a Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath. When Joseph of Arimathea went to collect the body of Jesus it was already evening, so his handling of the dead body, and its burial, would have made him ritually unclean for the Sabbath. For a devout Jew that was almost unthinkable. How did Joseph even get permission to take the body? That was usually reserved for the next-of-kin. Some people consider that Mary Magdalene, who was present at the crucifixion, and the burial, and was, according to John’s gospel, the first witness of the resurrection, might be as close as anyone to Jesus. Otherwise, why was she named as being at all three events where a next-of-kin might be expected? I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone will until our souls depart this mortal life and go to where neither “moth nor rust will destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

For those who are interested in reading more, I would strongly suggest trying to get a copy of The First Easter by Peter Marshall. If you can’t find one, please email me and I’ll see what I can do to help.
For those who want to know more about the crucifixion, and who have a strong constitution, I suggest watching The Passion of Christ.

1st January 2017 (Epiphany)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 2:1-12

1In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English Edition) alt, used with permission.

If you ask someone who knows the Christmas story, even among those who go to church regularly, to tell you what they know, you are likely to hear about the angel visiting Mary, about Joseph and Mary having to travel to Bethlehem, about the lack of room available for them and their need to rest in a stable, about the shepherds in the fields being visited by an angel telling them of Christ’s birth, about the wise men (or kings) visiting Herod on the way to Bethlehem but returning by another route, and about the star which guided those wise men on their way. When we delve deeper we discover that Luke has the story of the shepherds, but no wise men, Matthew has the wise men, but no shepherds, and Mark and John don’t mention what happened surrounding the birth. Our Christmas story is, therefore, a mixture of two gospel renditions of the event.

Both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in the time of King Herod, who was appointed to the position in about 37BC and died, still holding that position, in 4BC. On that basis Jesus Christ was born “before Christ.” That, of course, doesn’t stop us referring to the era based on the birth of Christ, however inaccurate the calculation might have been, as the Christian era, and the time before that as “Before Christ”. There is nothing derogatory for other religions to complain about if we name an era after a particular person. People of other faiths might object to public references of “Anno Domini” – in the year of our Lord, but that shouldn’t stop Christians from using the term in Christian circles, or referring publicly to the current era as “Christian” rather than “Common”.

When I read about “all of Jerusalem” being frightened about the news of Christ’s birth I begin to wonder who “all of Jerusalem” refers to, and why they, rather than Herod, should be frightened at all. With Herod’s reputation for being a cruel leader it might have been that those in Jerusalem were afraid of the consequences of someone potentially taking over Herod’s kingdom, and the possibility of some form of retribution. The Jewish leaders might, if they had been reading their own scriptures carefully, have been afraid of “The King of the Jews” being someone who would take away the status and prestige of their being religious leaders, but that would hardly be “all of Jerusalem.” I have to wonder what a 67 year old king, in a time when three score and ten years was a real achievement, would have to be afraid of with the birth of a new child. Surely he would have been dead, from old age if nothing else, before the new King of the Jews was old enough to do anything. In the verses immediately after the passage read for Epiphany, Matthew tells of Herod’s rage when he realised that he had been deceived, and his order that all boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and surrounding areas should be killed. Whether or not that is a historical event, with Herod’s reputation for violence suggesting that it might have occurred but not been noteworthy enough to be recorded elsewhere, and the lack of reference to such an event in even early Christian writings suggesting it was a contrived fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, there are things to note. The wise men saw a new ‘star’ in the sky and travelled, with camels, some distance before they reached Jerusalem. It wasn’t as if they could get into a car and hurtle along at 100km/hr and be there in a couple of days. Camels might be good for carrying loads, but they are slow. It could well have taken these wise men two years to get to Jerusalem. If Herod did order the murder of boys two years and under, based on timing given by the wise men, then Jesus would have been born in 6BC or earlier. If you remember the comments on last week’s gospel reading, there is some support, though not strong, for Quirinius to have been pseudo-governor in Syria around 6BC. Another point to note is that the birth was reported to have taken place in a stable in Bethlehem. Matthew, however, comments that the wise men entered a house, not a stable. What’s more, they found ‘the child’ (‘paidion’ in the Greek) whereas we might expect them to have found ‘the baby’ (brephos) if their visit was immediately on the heels of the birth. Had Mary and Joseph moved into a house in Bethlehem? The registration which brought them to Bethlehem wouldn’t have taken the two years it appears to have taken the wise men to reach Jesus, so had they returned to Nazareth and continued their lives in their own home there? If the slaughter of young boys was, indeed, a contrived fulfilment of scripture then there would be reason for Matthew not to suggest that the wise men had travelled on to Nazareth. Travelling back to their own countries by another route would have been easier if they had encountered Christ in Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem. The gospel only tells us that the wise men found Mary and the child – there’s no mention of poor Joseph. Wouldn’t he have stopped doing his carpentry if three high ranking delegates from another country appeared at his house? What about that star? More than 2000 years on from the event, we know that, as the earth rotates the stars appear to move across the sky, but is it really possible to say that a star stopped over one building rather than over another? A heavenly event, such as the alignment of certain stars or planets, could easily have resulted in the guidance those wise men used, but they still had to depend on advice from Herod, or the religious leaders of the time, to find the actual place they were seeking.

Much has been said about the gifts the wise men brought: gold, to mark Christ’s status as a king; frankincense, marking his deity; and myrrh, used for embalming a body after death. Three gifts to show His importance in the world. Three important gifts from gentile leaders. We are gentile leaders, so what are we offering the new-born king?

One final note: were there three wise men, or four? The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry van Dyke, tells of a fourth wise man who intended to join the other three but was delayed and eventually caught up with Christ, who was, at that time, on the way to His crucifixion. Artaban used his gifts to help many others on the long journey to Jerusalem. That story was inspired by God, just as the canonical scriptures were, but it was written a number of centuries too late to be included.