In the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we spiritually relive the sacred memories of the last hours of Jesus’ life and death. As we listen to the Gospels of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday each year, we are certainly struck by the emphasis on the Jewish and Roman trials which ultimately condemn the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion.
Yet even today, so many centuries later, many people wonder why Jesus was put to death at all? What did he do wrong? The accounts of those proceedings seem to move along so quickly without weighing his innocence or guilt adequately by modern standards. We hear different accusations of blasphemy before Caiaphas, or threats to civic peace before Pilate. However, today’s portion of the Gospel according to John conveys the sense that Jesus is “on trial” much earlier in the story than the final hours of his life. Throughout the Gospel of John, the opponents of Jesus pepper him with allegations at every turn in the road. But Jesus answers his accusers boldly. No silent Jesus here.
“You search the scriptures because you think that you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life” (5:40). The time of Jesus’ ministry was not all sweetness and light, healing and applause. In fact, it was the healing of the paralytic in Jerusalem which prompted the harsh confrontation of Jesus with Jewish opponents in today’s Gospel reading.
Perhaps we should not be surprised if our own practice of Christian virtue does not always garner praise from others. It may be dismissed as self-serving or pretentious. Indeed, even the best intended actions may be riddled with less than perfect motives. It is best to let God sort out why we do what we do. Meanwhile, may we strive to live each day without fear of being “on trial” for our Christian faith.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is Director of Formation for the Passionist Community in Chicago, Illinois).