By VERY REV.ALEXIS M.LEPICIER,O.S.M. Consultor of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation, etc
CHAPTER VII. JESUS CHRIST BEARS SOLEMN WITNESS TO THE TRUTH OF HIS ROYAL DIGNITY UNTO MARTYRDOM
JESUS CHRIST was appointed by His Father, King and Sovereign over the whole human race. This is a fundamental truth of Catholic dogma, and it may be maintained that the firm and unwavering assertion of this truth, on the part of Jesus, was the deter mining motive which caused Him to be condemned to death; so that, in fact, He died a martyr to the truth of His own regal dignity. Our divine Lord indeed gave up His life to save mankind; but if we consider the stages of those unjust proceedings which ended in His execution on the cross, we shall see that the final pretext brought forward by the Jews for demanding from Pilate the imposition of so enormous a punishment as the death-sentence is that He asserted Himself to be Christ the King, and that, far from denying the fact when charged with it, He confirmed it solemnly.
Human plans and divine counsel, springing from different principles, met in the fact of Our Lord's death. Without doubt the end for which God had decreed that Our Lord should die for us, was that He might bring about, by His passion and death, our ransom from the servitude of sin, and so procure our eternal salvation. But, on the part of His enemies, a pretext was needed for their misdeed and cruelty; and this pretext was found in Jesus having called Himself King of the Jews. Now, this claim Our Lord sustained to the end, so that He is indeed the Martyr to this truth of His royal dignity.
What, in fact, were the charges brought by the Jews against Jesus before Pilate, in order that they might obtain from him that the Nazarene should be put to death? Some of these charges were moved in the house of Caiphas, others in the praetorium of Pilate. Let us see what these charges were.
In the house of the High Priest, Caiphas, both in the first judgment, which took place in the night between Thursday and Friday,
and in the second, which was held on Friday before the full Council of the Sanhedrin, the Jews, in order to justify their impious design of condemning Jesus Christ to death, put for ward the pretext that He had made Himself out to be the promised Messias, the Son of the true God. (Matth. XXVI, 63-66; Luke XXII, 70-71.) As this assertion of Christ's was a tacit condemnation of the evil trend of their whole lives, they had conceived in their hearts a mortal hatred of Him. And in very deed, this assertion of Our Lord bred in their perverse minds the true motive for which they determined to have Him condemned to death.
But as the Jews well knew that such an assertion would not, with a pagan ruler like Pilate, constitute a sufficient pretext for put ting Jesus to death, it being a common thing for pagans to give a man divine honors, they saw themselves obliged to find another motive which should sway the mind of the Governor and induce him to condemn Jesus to death. And what was this motive, by which the Jews finally brought about their evil and cruel design?
This motive was that Jesus had made Himself King and had, in so doing, plotted against the Roman Caesar of whom Pilate was the representative and whose imperial power it was his duty to defend. (Luke XXII. 2.)
It is true that when the Jews saw the Governor wavering, because he did not think this charge really serious, they added, to intimidate him, that according to their Law Jesus must die, because He made Himself the Son of God. (John XIX, 7.) But they did not press this point; for the last and formal motive which they brought forward was Our Lord's claim to be King, bringing before Pilate's mind the wrath of Caesar which would in all likelihood fall on himself if he did not punish with death so ambitious a man. It is, in fact, this accusation and threat, as it appears from Holy Writ, that finally swayed the mind of Pilate and led him in the end to pass sentence of death on Jesus. (John XIX, 16.)
But let us take up the Gospel narrative as the evangelists have it: "We have found this man'' said the Jews to Pilate, speaking of Our Lord, "'perverting our nation and forbid ding to give tribute to Caesar and saying that
tie is Christ the King" (Luke XXIII, 2) Now, what answer did Pilate make to this charge? As soon as he had heard the words, he began to doubt whether they were not mere calumny; from the obvious falsehood of the first two accusations, he was moved to reject them all. In the first place, the accusers had not brought forward any proofs; in the second, it was not possible to suppose that Jesus Christ had sought to arouse sedition and riot, or had tried to dissuade the populace from paying tribute to the agents of Caesar, when no reports from the subordinates or heads of the military had reached the Governor's ears.
Pilate, therefore, in the trial he made Jesus undergo in his own official residence, was absolutely silent on the first two accusations, and examined Our Lord only on His title of King of the Jews which, according to rumor, the accused had claimed. He wished, therefore, to know in what sense Jesus had called Himself by the name He was charged with having usurped, being anxious to safeguard the privilege of the Roman Caesar whom he represented in Judea and whose dignity it was his business to see did not suffer any diminution. So, when Christ stood before him, the only thing he asked Him was: "Art Thou the King of the Jews?" (Matth. XXVII, 11.)
Jesus knew well that on His reply to this very explicit question depended His sentence of> life or death. But what did He answer? Having given beforehand a clear and curt ac count of the entirely spiritual nature of His kingdom, which account exactly expressed the characteristic of His regal dignity, at another and still more urgent demand of Pilate: "Art thou a king then?" Jesus replied curtly: "Thou sayest that I am a King" (John XVIII, 37.) As if to say: Thou hast said exactly what I am. The case is precisely as thou hast stated it. For thou hast said what was foretold of Me by the prophets; thou hast said what was decreed of Me throughout all eternity by My eternal Father.
Our tender Saviour Jesus Christ was born and came into this world for this end, of bearing solemn witness to the truth. And the truth was this: that He, born of the Virgin Mary, was the true Messias, sent by God to save the world: and as such He was King and Sovereign of all mankind.
Thus, the Apostle St. Paul, wishing to exhort his disciple Timothy to suffer all the evils of this life and even death itself for the truth of revealed faith, could not find a stronger motive to inflame his courage than the example of Jesus who, fearless of death, gave under Pontius Pilate solemn and public testimony to the truth of His mission and to His regal dignity and sovereignty: "l charge thee before God, who quickeneth all things,, and before Christ Jesus who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate, a good confession." (1 Tim. VI, 13.)
The example of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour, dying for the truth of His teaching, should keep up the faith and courage of Christians in the struggles of this mortal life. Now, the truth that Jesus proclaimed at the risk of His life before the Roman governor, was that of His sovereignty and royal dignity. But with this He meant to be held as a spiritual King, the loving King of our hearts, for He markedly protested that His kingdom was not of this world. (John XVIII, 36.)
It belongs to us, the loyal subjects of Jesus Christ, to recognize His sovereignty over all the world and especially over men's hearts, by submitting ourselves with perfect docility to His teaching and letting ourselves be guided by His holy inspirations. Let us offer all we are to Him, praying Him as our Sovereign that He would illuminate our minds and confirm our wills in the right way, and direct the motions of our hearts, so that there may be nothing in us uninspired by His holy love, or undirected to His greater glory.