Hatred is an insidious emotion. The recent massacre at a Kenyan university underscores hatred’s indiscriminate power to destroy the innocent. With a death toll of nearly 150, the pre-dawn terror attack focused on non-Muslim students, setting professed Muslims free. Certainly, hatred with a religious component is even more insidious because the perpetrators justify their actions by claiming religious zeal.
The religious leaders in the first century were masters at stirring up the Hebrew people. As Luke 22:47-53 notes, a crowd (mob?) had come under the darkness of night to where Jesus had retreated to pray. In the crowd (leading the crowd?) were the “chief priests and officers of the temple and elders.” As they seized Jesus to take Him away, He observes how He’s been teaching “day after day in the temple” and yet “you did not lay hands on me.“
A reading of earlier chapters in Luke’s narrative shows these religious leaders had long since dispatched their spies, for the purpose of listening to His statements, seeking an opportunity to accuse Him of wrongdoing. They hoped to make their case “to deliver Him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”
It didn’t matter what He said, the religious leaders were intent to destroy Him. They had their base of power and they perceived Jesus was trying to upset the status quo. Even after the Roman governor, Pilate, declared Jesus not guilty, the religious leaders pressed him. “He stirs up the people,” they insisted.
Things began to unravel for these religious leaders. Pilate was disinclined to engage in their hatred so he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas. After questioning Jesus, Herod refused to pronounce judgment and eventually returned Jesus to Pilate. Imagine the frustration of the religious leaders when Pilate once again declares Jesus has done “nothing deserving death.”
But the religious leaders were cagey. They wanted Jesus gone and they’d worked the frenzied crowd gathered in Jerusalem. “Crucify him!” the people demanded (right on cue, no doubt). And Pilate, a weak-kneed governor who wished to hang onto his power, “delivered Jesus over to their will.”
Today’s sonnet briefly recounts this religious/political tale, highlighting the hatred that fueled their rage. As He hung dying on the cross, “the [religious] rulers scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself’ ….” (Luke 23:35) They thought His death would be the end, but God had other plans.