The Real Trial

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When I turn on the news lately, I hear of our President being weighed on the scales of justice. I hear of the witnesses or testimony turning out to be false or badly handled. Governors scandalize. The Secretary of State covers up. Senators are exposed. Even the judges are judged for their various misdeeds. In such a world, we might wonder at the injustice of it all: where is justice where even the system has such questionable actors? Where is justice when the system favors the powerful and excuses the influential?

But today also happens to be Good Friday. It’s the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. At that time, also, we read about a scandalous trial. Of Sadducees who’d rather keep their power appointed by Rome than look for a greater Kingdom. Of a Roman Prefect who appears to acquit an innocent man, but hands him over to the the crowd for the sake of expedience. Of a crowd who cries out for blood. Even the High Priest of God, who should have exemplified righteousness on behalf of the people, thought it better to condemn an innocent man. Because, after all, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” (John 11:50) All bad actors. At the expense of truth, at the twisting of justice, the actors seem rather more concerned with keeping the reigns on their own little shabby kingdoms.

And this is where John’s Gospel picks up the story: Jesus is put on trial by these bad actors. But for John, it’s not Jesus on trial, but the world. Early in the story, Jesus stands before his accusers and asks, “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (John 8:46). The world is convicted and found wanting because “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19) Even the Helper (the Spirit) is found in the role of “advocate”: the world is on trial, and stands convicted of its crimes (John 16:8-11).

So when we think through Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, we should recognize that this isn’t a judgment against Jesus. It’s a judgment against ourselves. Caiaphas assumed the High Priestly role and was found wanting. The Sanhedrin placed their traditions of man above the righteousness of God. Pilate shows us just how small the “greatness of Rome” really is. And God has turned the world’s imitation of justice on its head: it’s the world, not Jesus, who stands condemned. And blood is on our hands, in even more tragic and wonderful ways than we could anticipate: “His blood be on us and on our children,” we might have shouted with the crowd that day. (Matthew 26:25)

In a world where corruption seems to reign, where injustice bleeds into the present, where is justice? But then, death and corruption aren’t the end of the story…