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Day 21

Before the Authorities
Imagine standing with Jesus, right next to him, in prayer to his Father. Read this passage of praise aloud. As you do so, consider that you are praying along with Jesus, your two voices becoming one as you bless God.  
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and all that is within me,
   bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
   and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity
   who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the pit,
   who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
Psalm 35:1, 7, 11-12, 15-19, 21, 24, 25b
Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
   fight against those who fight against me!
For without cause they hid their net for me;
   without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Malicious witnesses rise up;
   they ask me of things that I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
   my soul is bereft.
But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
   they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
   tore at me without ceasing;
like profane mockers at a feast,
   they gnash at me with their teeth.
How long, O Lord, will you look on?
   Rescue me from their destruction,
   my precious life from the lions!
I will thank you in the great congregation;
   in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Let not those rejoice over me
   who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
   who hate me without cause.
They open wide their mouths against me;
   they say, “Aha, Aha!
   Our eyes have seen it!”
Vindicate me, O LORD, my God,
   according to your righteousness,
   and let them not rejoice over me!
Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”
What Might This Psalm Have Meant to Jesus?
After Jesus finishes his prayer struggle in Gethsemane, he rouses his sleeping disciples. He is resolved to complete his passion. Now it all unfolds as if according to a script he knows well: “The hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14:41-42). Judas identifies Jesus to the authorities by kissing Christ in the manner of a friendly greeting. The guards grab Jesus who calmly asks if they think he is a robber who must be subdued by force. He exposes their cowardice as he points out how every day he has been teaching publicly, but they seize him now in secret at night. As we know, Jesus could have stopped them. Instead, as if he were in total control of the situation, he submits to arrest saying, “But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” This is how the drama is meant to be played out. 
I wonder if Jesus draws strength from Psalm 35 as he endures the charade of a trial before the council. The Gospels tell us that “many bore false witness against him” (Mark 14:57; Matthew 26:60). Though these testimonies do not even agree, Jesus hurts to hear his love maligned as dangerous. He winces as the authorities sneer, snarl and snap at him: “Like profane mockers . . . they gnash at me with their teeth.” He has offered healing, forgiveness, hope and words of life. Does he now, as they slander him, pray to his Father? Even though he expects this treatment, perhaps his wounded heart reaches upwards crying, “They open wide their mouths against me; they say, ‘Aha, Aha! Our eyes have seen it!’ Vindicate me, my Father! Let them not rejoice over me.”
With the peace he gained in the Garden, Jesus holds his peace before the authorities. Mark tells us, “But he remained silent and made no answer.” So they work themselves up into an ever frothier lather of malice. The high priest asks pointedly, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus breaks his silence. He answers by combining Psalm 110:2 and Daniel 7:13 as words about himself: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). The room erupts. The high priest tears his sacred clothes as a sign of horrified offense. 
Jesus, of course, has only told the truth. Earlier, he quoted Psalm 35 to his disciples when he said, “Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause’” (John 15:23-25).
The high priest’s tearing of his clothes actually breaks the law. The beautiful blue ephod or over-garment of the high priest was specially woven so that it would never tear (Exodus 28:32). And though other Hebrews might tear their garments in grief, Moses had told Aaron, “[D]o not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation” (Leviticus 10:6). Yet Caiaphas tears his garments. This act symbolizes that the Levitical priesthood is coming to an end as the priesthood of Christ reaches fulfillment (which we will explore on Day 41). The old order is crumbling. In their rage, the authorities condemn Jesus to death. Our true high priest will offer himself as the true atoning sacrifice. 
How does Jesus stay calm under this barrage? Perhaps by leaning heavily on Psalm 35, he gives the struggle to his Father: “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me. . . . Let them not say, “We have swallowed 
him up.”
Praying with Jesus
They dedicated their lives to the Scriptures.
Yet when you came, the Word in flesh,
They felt only menace, heard only blasphemy.
They had more to lose than many you healed.
They had always been on the right side.
So you had to be wrong.
How hard it must have been 
To hear your words twisted,
To be labeled a danger,
An existential threat to the nation.
To be told you deserved death
When you came to give life.
You were repaid evil for good, Jesus.
O Spirit, strengthen me to take my stand
With our maligned Lord,
To share his shame if needed,
To let his words crush my pride
So my pride does not bruise his heart,
To let his narrow path guide me
So I don’t forsake him down an easy road.


Posted in: Lent