A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The contemplations of the Third Week invite us to enter into the paschal mystery (the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) with Jesus. We walk with him from the Last Supper[2]  to his agony in the garden[3], to his arrest and trial[4], and finally to his crucifixion[5], in “sorrow, compassion and shame”[6] as human sinfulness rises up against Jesus and seeks to destroy him. Here, we contemplate Jesus’ Arrest and Trial.

The gospel narratives of Jesus’ arrest and trial are not eyewitness accounts, but “reports on the general course of events” that took place during the final two days of Jesus’ life. In truth, these accounts reflect the early Christian community’s attempt to identify Jesus with the Jewish scriptures and his salvific fulfillment of them, rather than portray the actual sequence of events with precise accuracy.[7]

Despite the historical inaccuracies of these accounts, their faith witness remains a valuable means of entering into Jesus’ passion and depth and our call to follow him in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.

Immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders with swords and clubs. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard”. When he came, he went up to Jesus at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. All of them deserted him and fled. (Mk 14:43-46, 50)

Jesus’ arrest probably occurred with temple guards in collusion with Judas Iscariot, rather than by Roman soldiers. Ironically, neither Jesus nor his disciples were armed, making the show of force described by Mark seemingly excessive. Moreover, the flight of his disciples, in many respects, is symbolic of the failure of all who followed him to understand who he was and his call to discipleship.[8]

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled … Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree … Then the high priest stood up before him and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard this blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. (Mk 14:53, 55-56, 60-65)[9]

There was likely no formal trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. They would not have permitted a trial during a Jewish feast and during the time leading up to it. Moreover, a trial would have occurred in the temple during the day and not at night. Mark’s intent in ignoring these, and other, facts was to emphasize Jesus’ interrogation by the chief priests, scribes and elders, and the charge they would bring against him to Pilate.[10]

After Jesus’ arrest, it becomes clear he is no longer in control of the events unfolding before him. The temple authorities arrested Jesus because they viewed him as a false prophet who posed a threat to the temple. It was for this reason they wanted him eliminated. They were less concerned about him as a blasphemer who claimed to be the Messiah. However not having the authority to condemn Jesus to death, they went to Pilate and presented his disruptive actions in the temple as a threat to the stability of Jewish life and the pax romana in Jerusalem. By stating Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah, King of the Jews, they intended to place him in conflict with the Roman Empire, something they knew Pilate would not tolerate (Mk 11:15-19).[11]

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. The crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. (Mk 15: 1-15)

Jesus’ trial by Pilate likely occurred in the residence he occupied in Jerusalem during Jewish feasts. Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Jewish aristocracy in Jerusalem asked Pilate to find Jesus guilty of threatening the peace. Interestingly, while Jesus had defended himself against the temple authorities, he was now more passive before Pilate, responding equivocally to the charge against him as “King of the Jews.” Pilate, finding no truth to the claim, attempted to release Jesus but was out maneuvered by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Ultimately, Pilate succumbed to both their wishes and the gathered crowd by handing Jesus over to be crucified, the most painful form execution in the Roman legal process. It fulfilled yet another prophecy of Jesus, “They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him”. (Mk 10:34)[12]

Jesus had defended the weakest and most vulnerable of society in the name of the kingdom of God. The temple authorities invoked the same God to defend the interests of the temple. Pilate’s interest was more political, having to decide whether Jesus was a threat to the public order in Jerusalem. Ultimately, the tension between the kingdom of God and a kingdom dominated by self-interest and power had reached its limit and begged for resolution. In the process, Jesus, who Christians experience as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, was killed.

Whether Pilate actually gave the Jews a choice to have either Jesus or a known insurrectionist, Barabbas, set free is unlikely. Moreover, whether there may have been some anti-Jesus sentiment in the crowd is possible but not provable. What does seem known is that the vengeful Jewish outcry against Jesus, “Crucify him,” is almost certainly a later Christian redaction that reflects the animosity of Christian communities against the Jews and the synagogues.[13]

In condemning Jesus to death, Pilate avoided a potential threat to himself, while satisfying the interests of Jerusalem’s Jewish aristocracy. Their collusion and mutual self-interest are not surprising. It is a recurring theme in history. Those who speak with the prophetic voice are not tolerated for very long by the powerful interests of society. Prophets do not predict the future. They speak God’s truth in the present moment and are usually vilified for doing so. Then after they have been eliminated, tributes and monuments are erected in their name glorifying their truthfulness and courage. In modern times, they are sometimes even proclaimed saints. (Mt 23:29-39; Lk 11:47-51; 13:34-35)

Let us pray for the inner freedom that allowed Jesus to fulfill God’s will no matter the cost. May we also live faithful to our call to discipleship with him, recognizing that it will bring pushback from those whose lives are dominated by the desire to dominate others. Finally, let us trust in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in the fullness of God’s love for those who live faithful to his call and the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 190-98.

[3] Ibid., 200-03.

[4] Ibid., 208, 291-95.

[5] Ibid., 296-97.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 353-55. Pagola further states that perhaps to avoid incurring the disfavor of the Roman Empire and to establish an identity distinct from the Jews who were also being persecuted by Rome after the fall of Jerusalem (70 AD), the evangelists de-emphasized Roman culpability for Jesus’ death, including the fostering of Pilate’s innocence, while increasingly blaming the Jewish people en masse for Jesus’ crucifixion.

[8] M.E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 403-04. Boring describes the disciples’ failure as the “final abandonment, the reversal of Jesus’ original call to discipleship. Jesus had called people to follow him (not only the Twelve, cf. 8:34-38), and they left everything to do so (1:16-20; 2:14;10:28-31). Then they began to abandon him. First his family (3:20-30), then Judas (14:1-2, 10-11), then the ‘crowd’ that had supported him (14:43; 15:8-15, then Peter and all the others (14:27-31, 50, 54, 66-72). The women who had followed Jesus, who have been more faithful than others, will also finally fail (15:40-41; 16:1-8). In this scene one of those who had been called to ‘leave everything’ to become a disciple of Jesus literally ‘leaves everything’ to become a non-disciple. From 1:6 on, clothing is often deeply symbolic in Mark. In abandoning his clothing, the young man had abandoned not only Jesus, but the new identity he had received as a follower of Jesus (see 10:50). But the ultimate abandonment is yet to come (see on 15:33-34). Who will stay with Jesus? (see on 16:8).” See also, F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 298. Moloney makes an implicit reference to Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant through his violent arrest and subsequent suffering in his passion and death.

[9] Ibid., 410. Jesus made a full Christian confession of faith to the Jewish authorities, and it cost him his life (vv. 55-65). Ironically, Peter denied his true identity, and it saved his life (8:34-38). As Boring states, “Both Peter and Jesus are challenged by a three-fold accusation, and each makes a definitive response. Jesus makes the ‘good confession’ and is a model for Christians under duress. Peter is a negative example of those who crumble under pressure (cf. 4:17; 14:32-34).” For further details, see 14:53-72 that includes the false testimony against Jesus and Peter’s denial of him three times. See also, Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, 300-06. Moloney claims the Markan Jesus never uttered the words, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.”, until they appear by an accuser in this scene despite what other New Testament documents have said. Ironically, the false witness articulates a truth that will unfold in Jesus’ self-revelation (14:61-62) and in his approaching passion and death. Moloney also claims Peter’s multiple denials are certain historical facts that fulfill one of Jesus’ several prophecies (14:30). Others include Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (14:43-46, cf. 14:17-21) and his abandonment by the disciples (14:50, cf. 14:27-31).

[10] Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 355-61. Pagola states the three Christological titles, Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man used here are unlikely to be historically accurate accusations against Jesus, as they only became commonly expressed in Christian circles around 60 A.D. Rather, the Jewish authorities saw Jesus as a false prophet who was a danger to the status quo. It was his recent provocation in the temple, more than any claim to Messiahship, that was their concern.

[11] Ibid., 355-61. See also, Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 410-16.

[12] Boring, Mark: A Commentary, 416-22. See also, Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, 310-17. Moloney claims Jesus’ ambiguous response to Pilate should be interpreted in light of his previous self-revelation to the Jewish authorities. Jesus’ previous self-disclosure made it unnecessary to say anything more (Is 53:7). Boring also adds, it is likely Pilate did not take the charges against Jesus seriously, or at least he was not threatened by them.

[13] Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, 361-68.