Good Friday 2017 – Talk 2

No. 2 – At the House of Caiaphas

As Anglicans, we know that liturgy forms and shapes us. Repeated prayers and phrases sink deep and shape our thinking. In the same way well run political or media campaigns embed sound bites into millions. Words have power to influence behaviour.

Annas was the most powerful Sadducee in Jerusalem, having been high priest for 9 years when Jesus was a child. Since then his five sons had held the office of High priest after him, and Caiaphas, who is the high priest now, is his son –in law. This is a decades long dynasty: Annas is the godfather high priest and his influence is inescapable. Which might be why Jesus is taken before him first. A preliminary questioning where Annas asks the questions and one of his men does the hitting. He needs to keep his hands clean. Only then is Jesus questioned by Caiaphas at a night time – and therefore illegal – court.

But what was the high priestly vocation: the divine task and calling for which a high priest was answerable to God? They were responsible for the things of God on behalf of the people; to offer sacrifices and gifts on their behalf. They were entrusted with the welfare of the people, the common good… But this family oversees the sacrificial system, the biggest economic system in Palestine focussed on the temple, with a very different kind of authority.

Unjust systems perpetuate themselves by means of institutionalised violence and we keep telling ourselves that domination and violence will bring about social righteousness, justice, wellbeing and peace.

And this household of Annas and Caiaphas, this system, had guards on the gates, soldiers and officers and slaves who are all bound into it. Who are watching the gate and the courtyard.

Peter, like us on this holy day, is also a watcher. He wants to stay close to Jesus. Not to run away or look away, however tough watching became. His first denial is how he gets into the courtyard in the first place.  Those with power always need security on the door: from the ownership of public space on Canary Wharf to the fences of Calais.

The house slaves and security personnel are keeping warm by the fire, and notice Peter, and how he doesn’t fit in. Perhaps it is his accent, or his interest in what is going on inside. Subtle nuances that mean he doesn’t quite fit in, just like a 13 year old who doesn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes and gets bullied in school.

‘You’re not one of his disciple are you?’ ‘No I am not’.

But suspicions have been roused and one of the guards is sure it was him who attacked his cousin when they picked Jesus up in the garden., ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’

In the face of this cauldron of threat, who  among us is going to respond ,’Yes, that was me’?

When we are afraid our fight or flight response kicks in before we have time to think. It’s a different part of the brain that drives our desire to survive. And Peter, like all of us, wants to live.

How quickly we defend ourselves.

Caiaphas had said, after the raising of Lazarus, it is better to have one person die for the people. A scapegoat. A focus, a head on which to place the blame for all that is going wrong. Using the lens of Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry we can see the huge forces of Jewish and Roman power vying for political, economic and even religious supremacy in a battle for hearts and minds. Jesus disruptive presence  – ‘the world  has gone after him’ (John 12:19) – is destabilising the fine balance. It is better to have one person die for the people. Uniting against a common enemy, as we have seen in our public rhetoric in recent years, offers an empty promise of an unjust peace.

What kind of hospitality did the high priestly dynasty exercise as they brought people into their house? And what kind of welcome for those without a country to call home, have the vying powers of the state and market in Britain been offering over the last 20 years?

Time to Respond:  Threading hate headlines and hanging them on the cage in recognition that sound bites are contagious and confine people in a cage of hate.

Canon Karen Rooms