Day 243: Matthew 27:11

So you say.

Jesus has been “arrested” by the Jewish authorities, and he has been subjected to a trial by the High Priest and the Sanhedrin.  Yesterday he said, “from this time on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right side of the Almighty and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Apparently they decided this statement could be interpreted to mean that he intended to take over the government, so they decided that the best course of action would be to hand him over to the Roman authorities.  If the Romans executed Jesus then the Jewish authorities wouldn’t have to take the heat for killing him.  They could have killed him themselves for “blasphemy”, but they hoped to get rid of him without suffering from any backlash from his supporters.  Remember what they said when they were originally plotting to kill him on Day 229: “We must not do it during the festival,” they said, “or the people will riot.” (Matthew 26: 5). They also probably hoped to score points with the Romans for turning over a troublemaker.  Pretty crafty.

So, early on the morning of Good Friday, they put him in chains and take him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  Presumably they have told Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the “King of the Jews” because he talked about sitting at the right hand of God.  In Jesus’ time the title “King of the Jews” belonged exclusively to Herod Antipas, the guy who killed John the Baptist.  He was the one and only official King of the Jews, appointed by the Romans to keep the Jews in check and protect Roman interests. Today, it would be the equivalent of saying that you are the President of the United States.  Or that you are Jesus.

Pilate wants to hear what Jesus has to say, so he asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Jesus gives Pilate the same thing that he said when Judas he was not the one who would betray him.  It’s the same thing that he said to the High Priest when he asked Jesus if he was the Messiah.  Jesus answers with that phrase, “So you say.” In the King James Version of the Bible it’s translated as, “Thou hast said.” I think in today’s vernacular it would be “Whatever.” It’s kind of like saying, “You are going to believe whatever you choose to believe, regardless of what I say so it doesn’t matter.  Whatever.  So you say. So you believe.

There’s not a lot of detail, but apparently the chief priests and the elders rattled off a lot of other accusations against Jesus, but he didn’t say anything in his own defense.  Pilate asks him, “Don’t you hear all these things they accuse you of?”

Pilate can’t understand why Jesus didn’t respond, why he didn’t defend himself, why he didn’t fight for his life.  And Pilate was “greatly surprised” because Jesus demonstrated what we now refer to as “nonviolent resistance.”  A while ago I saw a program on the Freedom Riders who rode integrated buses into the south during the 1960s to protest the policy of racial segregation.  The Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights movement in general, succeeded because it employed the practice and philosophy of “Satyagraha” or nonviolent resistance.  Coined by India’s Mahatma Gandhi during India’s independence movement, it was the key to success for African Americans in their struggle to overcome racism.  Here is a description from Wikipedia:

The essence of Satyagraha is that it seeks to eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists themselves, as opposed to violent resistance, which is meant to cause harm to the antagonist. A Satyagrahi therefore does not seek to end or destroy the relationship with the antagonist, but instead seeks to transform or “purify” it to a higher level. A euphemism sometimes used for Satyagraha is that it is a “silent force” or a “soul force” (a term also used by Martin Luther King Jr. during his famous “I Have a Dream” speech). It arms the individual with moral power rather than physical power. Satyagraha is also termed a “universal force,” as it essentially “makes no distinction between kinsmen and strangers, young and old, man and woman, friend and foe.”

Civil disobedience and non-cooperation as practised under Satyagraha are based on the “law of suffering”, a doctrine that the endurance of suffering is a means to an end. This end usually implies a moral upliftment or progress of an individual or society. Therefore, non-cooperation in Satyagraha is in fact a means to secure the cooperation of the opponent consistently with truth and justice.

Following is a list of rules of engagement that Gandhi introduced in the execution of  Satyagraha (from Wikipedia):

  • Harbour no anger
  • Suffer the anger of the opponent
  • Never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit, out of fear of punishment or assault, to an order given in anger
  • Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property
  • If you are a trustee of property, defend that property (non-violently) from confiscation with your life
  • Do not curse or swear
  • Do not insult the opponent
  • Neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent or your opponent’s leaders
  • If anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (non-violently) with your life
  • As a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect)
  • As a prisoner, do not ask for special favourable treatment
  • As a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect
  • Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action
  • Do not pick and choose amongst the orders you obey; if you find the action as a whole improper or immoral, sever your connection with the action entirely
  • Do not make your participation conditional on your comrades taking care of your dependents while you are engaging in the campaign or are in prison; do not expect them to provide such support
  • Do not become a cause of communal quarrels
  • Do not take sides in such quarrels, but assist only that party which is demonstrably in the right; in the case of inter-religious conflict, give your life to protect (non-violently) those in danger on either side
  • Avoid occasions that may give rise to communal quarrels
  • Do not take part in processions that would wound the religious sensibilities of any community

All of these actions were devised to elevate the moral authority of the oppressed and evoke a sympathetic response from the greater human community.   Gandhi agreed with Jesus that violence only leads to more violence (Day 241):

Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolent resistance was embraced by Dr. Martin Luther King as the main tactic in America’s Civil Rights Movement:

Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.

The Freedom Riders risked their lives by riding those buses into the southern states where violent, armed, racist mobs greeted them at every bus station.  They were fully prepared to die for the cause of justice.  Even though many were badly beaten and arrested they never fought back.  They faced their enemies with perfect discipline and quiet dignity.  The Freedom Riders peaceful courage was in stark contrast to the primitive savagery of their opponents.  Ultimately their nonviolent tactics inspired the world propelled the Civil Rights movement forward.  Six months after the Freedom Rides began the Federal government mandated an end to segregation on interstate buses and trains.  It also forced the removal of separate waiting rooms, drinking fountains, and toilets at the terminals.  In other words, they won the war.

Gandhi and Dr. King may have been credited with its twentieth-century application, but Jesus was truly the father of nonviolent resistance.  He came up with it first.  He planted the seed in their brains. And as we continue to evolve as a human race, we are beginning to recognize that the true heroes in this world are not those who kill the most people or beat people into submission or bully their way to success.  They are not the ones who hide behind the loudest voices or the lumpiest muscles or the most money or the biggest guns or the dirtiest tricks or the meanest tempers. The true heroes are those who stand firm in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequences.  The true heroes are the ones who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of others without resorting to violence, just like Jesus did.

So, after Jesus tells Pilate, “So you say,” he is done talking to the authorities.  He takes the path of nonviolent resistance as he is condemned to death, mocked, insulted, and crucified.  Pilate would have never understood what Jesus was doing.  The Romans were so steeped in their culture of violence that this would have been considered madness.  But Jesus wasn’t mentally ill.  He was spiritually healthy, and Pilate was the one who was deluded because he believed that violence was normal and healthy.  From here on in Jesus will now let his actions speak for themselves.  He doesn’t say anything else until he speaks from the cross.

What does this scripture say to you?

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