'Double Jeopardy' by Rev. Paul Scalla
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Our Lord was found guilty not once, but twice - first in the religious court of the Sanhedrin, and then in the secular court of Pontius Pilate. Yet they did not find Him guilty of the same crime but of two very different things. In a cruel irony, the religious court found Our Lord too divine, and the secular court found Him too human.
Our Lord appears first before the Jewish Sanhedrin. That tribunal finds Him guilty on the basis of His own words. The high priest says, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God." And He responds, "You have said so." That is, "Yes." If only our Lord had claimed to be a little less - to be just a wise man, a holy man, maybe a prophet. Perhaps then they would have approved Him, even followed Him. As it is, His profession of divinity is more than the high priest can bear. Caiaphas rends his garments and declares Him guilty of blasphemy.
With that verdict pronounced, they bring Him to Pontius Pilate, who reaches a very different decision. The Roman governor cannot see the fuss over this bound and beaten man who will not even raise a voice to defend Himself. For Pilate our Lord's miserable appearance tells the story and His silence speaks volumes. He is merely a man, mortal and weak. So Pilate, although he acquits himself, will not acquit Him. And our Lord goes to His death for being too divine for religious men and too human for secular.
These two condemnations continue today - because they correspond to how we put our Lord on trial and find Him lacking. At times we find Him entirely too divine. His words are too strong, His commands too absolute, His miracles too, well, miraculous. Why will He not let us be, give us freedom, let us choose what we will? Why the insistence on His law, His truth? Why must we submit to Him? Fleeing from His power and authority, we demand that He come down a bit, that He be more like us, more . . . human.
But then at times we find Him not divine enough. We fault Him precisely because He seems to keep His power in check, respect our human nature too much and allow too much freedom. He permits evil, suffering and sin. Worse still, He became man in order to suffer and die. He seems so weak, helpless, human. Why must His Passion be always before us? Instead of taking human suffering upon Himself, why can He not just remove it? Is He not God? Like those on Calvary, we insist that He come down from the Cross - then we will believe. Some even take down the crucifix and replace it with a symbol more to their liking. Enough of His human suffering! We demand that He be strong, forceful, all-powerful . . . but on our terms.
He still undergoes these same trials and verdicts in His Body, the Church. Sometimes we hear the Church rejected and condemned because of her divine qualities. The world resents her claim to divine truth, authority and power to sanctify. Yet other times we hear the same people mock and deride the Church for being too worldly, too institutional, too weak - too human.
Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate threw accusations at our Lord: Are you "the Messiah, the Son of God . . . Are you the king of the Jews?" And each found Him lacking for not being what he wanted Him to be. May we learn from their failure and receive our Lord, not as we would have Him be, but as He truly is - God and man. May we submit to His divine authority and embrace Him in His human suffering.
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