“If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”
— John 18:23 (NIV)
I’ve often wrestled whether Jesus defended himself against violence; supposedly against his Sermon on the Mount teaching of Matthew 5:38-46 (when struck on one cheek, turn the other cheek, also; give not only the shirt, but your coat, too; go not just one mile, but two).
In the account of John 18:19-24 Jesus challenges the legality of the process his accuser, the high priest, uses. He doesn’t defending himself in a proud way; he merely stands for what should rightly take place — due judicial process.
At a proper trial, the defence presents its witnesses first. But this is no proper trial. The high priest has had ample opportunity to interview witnesses to the extent of what Jesus has taught — the high priest’s question — so why does he jump the normal process and question Jesus directly? It’s because this ‘trial’ has been cobbled together at short notice, revealing the religious hierarchy as a panicking and ill-equipped shambles. Isn’t interesting that they’ve had months, if not a few years, to plan this kangaroo court, and they still can’t get it right.
Jesus knows that he’s not spoken any evil in this or any other encounter. He has taught openly in the synagogue, in the Temple area, and out in the open. Jesus answers the high priest’s question in truth, and then is assaulted, presumably because he reveals the improper process in asking, “Why are you asking me this question.” (Verse 21) The official who struck Jesus was indignant that Jesus had spoken disrespectfully, but he might also have been unconsciously embarrassed as to the pathetic nature of the judicial process being used in the ‘trial’ — that or he may have been seeking to impress the high priest. But Jesus spoke only truth as if he were on the witness stand — and he was. This was another in a long string of judicial faux pas’ made that fateful night. Jesus is simply drawing to everyone’s attention, the intention of those bringing this trial — he does so through a revelation — this is a mockery of justice.
This is an encouragement for us when we have the strength of courage in us to challenge what should not, by means of justice, occur. Not to seek to right the injustice, but simply to reveal the injustice; in a way that reveals our hearts are for the ethic of God.
Jesus sets us a healthy precedent. If the processes of justice we’re involved in are incorrect we have an obligation at truth to advocate assertively (gently though firmly) for the truth. Glory goes to God when we do such a thing sensibly and without undue emotion. We’re not righting the injustice, for that’s often not our role (to adjudicate on such matters), but we can reveal. But just as important it is to reveal injustices in a way that glorifies God.
This is good because it means we can meekly defend, at truth, not only others who are being exploited, but ourselves too. Many times as Christians we’ve felt and thought wrongly that we must forgive and forget and rely upon the Lord to vindicate us, and otherwise let lies have their day. That’s wrong. It’s right to state our case, to reveal injustices of our treatment, in a responsible, mature and loving way. And yet, still sometimes it’s plainly God’s will that a lie be left there to rest whilst the truth meanders upon eventual arrival.
What Jesus does is sets a great example: what would Jesus do? If Jesus is patiently revealing unjust processes — even as he is directly being accused — so may we challenge open injustices against ourselves. Such gentle but firm challenges are not defensiveness for defensiveness’s sake, but a mere attempt to set the record straight.
We ought not to set out to right the wrongs that occur to us, but simply to allow God to reveal what happened in his own time.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.