Additional Resource Material for this Sunday
Ideal for catechetical and liturgical dramatization of today's gospel.
April 13 - Passion Sunday (Cycle B)
The Verdict of the Sanhedrin
(Mt 26:57-68; Mk 14:53-65; Lk 22:66-71)
During the Greek domination, about two hundred years before Christ, the Sanhedrin was finally constituted in Jerusalem. It had originally started a couple of centuries before that. During evangelical times, under Roman domination, the Sanhedrin was the first political and religious representation of the country before Governor Pilate. It was in the south, in Judea, where this Great Council had major influence. The Sanhedrin was also the supreme court of justice and the highest court where municipal cases of Jerusalem were resolved. It also functioned as a decision-making body in financial and economic matters within the national level.
The Sanhedrin was composed of 70 members, aside from the High Priest who was the presiding official. In Jesus’ time, there were three types of Sanhedrinites: the priests, the scribes, the elders. In the priestly group were those who performed the functions of the high priest and the most prominent members of the four great families of Jerusalem. They constituted something like a Permanent Commission that decided on all ordinary cases. The group of scribes was composed of theologians and important jurists from the group of pharisees, a lay association. The elders were the heads of the wealthiest and most influential families of Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin therefore, was the organism that gathered the most powerful people of various orientations in the capital – religious, political, ideological, economic.
The usual venue for their meetings was in the southwestern part of the Temple, in the luxurious and solemn “hall of cut stones.” Since all buildings were closed during the night, Jesus was brought to the palace of Caiphas, where there were special rooms for urgent sessions. Even during Roman domination, the Sanhedrin was able to preserve its right to pass the death sentence, although the penalty of death had to be ratified by the Roman powers. This authority of the Sanhedrin to mete the death sentence was limited to “religious” matters only. Jesus was accused of various charges – being “possessed by the devil,” healing through diabolic powers, blasphemy against God, rebelling against the Law and the religious authorities, which, according to the laws of the Sanhedrin, were punishable by death by stoning. The “false prophets,” according to Jewish laws, ought to die by strangulation.
Joseph “of Arimathea” was born in a city of Judea bearing that name, a Greek form of the Hebrew “Rama.” The writings of the period indicate that he was a rich landowner who had recently bought lands on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He belonged to the group of “elders” of the Sanhedrin. In the meeting of that night, and together with Nicodemus, magistrate from the group of the Pharisees, he supported, with not much success, the idea that the trial be conducted in a just and legal manner.
The trial of Jesus was pure farce. The unholy hour during which it was held, nor the day (in the solemnity of the Passover), nor the trial in urgency, could offer a valid, juridical excuse. Even before it started, the sentence had already been given. But the authorities wished to clothe it with all legality to justify it before the people and the few who sympathized with Jesus, in whom they could see a true prophet and a leader beloved by the people.
After the testimonies by false witnesses who were brought in by the Sanhedrin, in their desire to feign legality over the whole farce, Jesus would finally be accused by the Great Council of having committed blasphemy. In Israel, blasphemy was a grave offense, which was not reduced to uttering obscene things against God, the way we understand it nowadays. Blasphemy consisted of despising God and his representatives, usurping divine rights, dealing with sinners considered to be cursed by God... The overly scrupulous Pharisees even considered as blasphemous the mere utterance of the name of God: Yahweh.
The act of blasphemy of which Jesus was accused, was that of acknowledging himself to be the Son of God. But this affirmation must not be taken as if Jesus were revealing a dogma of himself. It has nothing to do with a dogmatic expression or process as we understand at present, the phrase “Son of God” (second person of the divine nature, hypostatic union, etc.). It deals with a Messianic affirmation, since the “Son of God” was then a frequent title to both designate someone close to the will of God and also one of those names used to refer to the Messiah.
Before the supreme tribunal of his country, Jesus acknowledged himself to be the Messiah, God’s messenger, harbinger of the good and definitive news for men and women of his country. But in the eyes of the tribunal composed of men corrupted by money and power, it was blasphemous for a lay person to consider himself the Liberator of Israel. The death penalty according to the law of the Sanhedrin, for the same act of blasphemy, was equivalent to stoning: death by stoning outside the wall of the city.
To excommunicate any Israelite, temporarily or ultimately banning him from the synagogue (a place for religious worship of the community) – that was the so-called “synagogal anathema.”
In Jesus’ time, the religious authorities had taken for themselves the “power” (curse of the synagogue). The excommunicated man or woman could not enter the synagogue nor pray with the community. On two occasions the gospel of John gives recognition to the sympathizers of Jesus who were threatend with this kind of punishment (Jn 9:22 and 12:42). Jesus himself warned his friends that they might be taken as heretics, that they might be excommunicated and even killed, using God as their own justification (Jn 16:2).
(Mt 26:57-68; Mk 14:53-65; Lk 22:66-71)
from the book: A Certain Jesus, Vol. 3 (Chapter
This book offers a new approach to appreciating the life of Jesus. The first part of the Chapter is in dialogue form in an up-to-date conversational language. This makes the reader realize that Jesus was once a very ordinary guy, a typical man in his time. The last part of each chapter contains an explanation of the biblical references, thus giving one the perspective for reflection.
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