The trial of Christ.
"Jesus must have been a victim of a judicial system that was either defective or corrupt."
That was the remark of a friend with whom I sat for coffee last week. We were talking about the preparations being done by the Antipolo City local government for the heavy influx of pilgrims this coming Holy Week. The conversation shifted to what is happening in our Supreme Court today and landed on the topic of the judicial system under which Our Lord Jesus Christ was condemned to die.
"The greatest danger posed by an inept or ineffective judicial system is that innocent people could die," my friend added.
"That was the same fate suffered by Dr. Jose Rizal - to be sentenced by a court operating under a corrupt judicial system," he said.
I could only nod in agreement.
I share the view that the sentencing of Our Lord to die on the cross happened under a justice system that had just suffered a serious breakdown. The people who held political power and whom he offended at that time made sure that he was condemned to death, even if the law had to be mocked and circumvented.
A legal expert, Judge Harry Fogle of the Christian Legal Society, explained why.
He pointed out three serious, damning legal defects in the trial of Our Lord.
First, he was arrested in the dead of the night.
Second, he was being made to testify against himself.
Third, he was convicted of a capital offense without credible witnesses to support the charges.
According to Judge Fogle:
"The arrest was illegal because it came at night in violation of law. It was effected through efforts of the conspirator Judas Iscariot in violation of rabbinical law. It was not the result of any legal mandate, again in violation of Mosaic code. The Roman guards who arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and brought him bound into the judgment hall of the high priest had been issued no lawful warrant. That the court was convened at night is further evidence of the conspiracy against Jesus by priests whose hypocrisy the Carpenter had publicly denounced."
On being made to testify against Himself, Judge Fogle explained why the trial of Christ was filled with anomaly:
"Under Mosaic law an accused could not be required to testify against himself. But, the high priest Caiaphas called on Jesus to make a defense (contrary to the law). 'The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus saying, 'Answerest thou nothing? What is it that these witnesses say against you?'"
On the third point - that he was convicted without the support of credible testimonies - Judge Fogle said:
The record says the court sought false witnesses against Jesus to put him to death but at first found none, though many false witnesses came.
There were perjurers in the crowd but they were unwilling to risk the terrible consequence of lying against a man accused of a capital crime.
At last came two false witnesses, St. Matthew tells us. St. Mark adds that the witnesses did not agree. The first testified on the charge of blasphemy that Jesus said "I am able to destroy the temple.
The second testified that Jesus said, "I will destroy this temple." There were no witnesses but these two, and they did not agree. Jesus was entitled to acquittal without being questioned as to his defense and certainly without being compelled to testify against himself."
This coming week, Christendom will commemorate the death of Christ on the Cross.
It would also be worth understanding that the judicial system under which Our Lord was sentenced had no provision for the crucifixion by capital crime offenders. Judge Fogle also explained that point. He said:
"Under Jewish law death by stoning was the proper sentence for a capital offense. The Jewish people did not crucify, that method of inflicting the death penalty being Greek and Roman in origin.
The Jews put capital convicts to death by stoning, beheading, or strangulation in accordance with the nature of the crime. Death by stoning was prescribed for blasphemy. But, the Roman army occupying Jerusalem at the time alone had power to pronounce and carry out death sentences. The Sanhedrin merely had authority to bring its accusation before the Roman magistrate or military governor, who then had a duty to review the entire proceeding as a separate trial court with sole power to determine the matter.
Therefore, "in the morning the chief priests consulted with the elders and scribes, bound Jesus, carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate."
There are three pains suffered by Christ that will be highlighted in this coming week's events.
The first is the physical pain of being tortured, made to carry a heavy burden and dying a humiliating death.
The second is the psychological pain of being subjected to an unjust, unfair, and even illegal trial.
The third is the emotional pain of being abandoned by His friends at the hour of his greatest suffering.
All these, He endured because He loved us.
May our reflections this week be focused on the immensity of that Love.
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Dr. Jun Ynares, M.D.