Scripture: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Matthew 26:1-5 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, Jesus concludes his eight-part teaching on his return with a parable of a king who either welcomes into or banishes from his kingdom those citizens who either cared for or ignored the needs of those who suffer for want (The Parable of the Sheep and Goats). Again, referring to himself as the Son of Man (identifying with his fully human nature), Jesus categorizes sheep as his faithful servants who serve him by reaching out to the poor, disenfranchised, naked, infirmed, and imprisoned. Conversely, those ignoring the disadvantaged’s needs equally disregard their king. So the sheep (who obey their shepherd’s voice) will enter the eternal kingdom he has prepared for them. At the same time, the selfish goats will face eternal punishment.
Today’s text requires a bit of backstory. After Tuesday’s heated discourse with the religious leaders in the temple, followed by an intense conversation with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus retires to Bethany for two days of recuperation before returning to Jerusalem to celebrate his last seder meal with his disciples with the start of Passover. The above passage is the fourth and final time that Jesus predicts his crucifixion. So, highlighting the times is near, Matthew footnotes that the religious leaders concurrently meet in the high priest Caiaphas’ palace and secretly scheme to arrest and kill Jesus before the feast (which begins at sundown on Thursday), lest their actions incite a riot from his growing number of followers.
Takeaway: The chief priests and elders comprise the Sanhedrin, Israel’s ruling religious body under their theocracy. As mentioned in previous Daily Focus devotions, this governing body primarily constituted two sects: the Pharisees (conservative legalists) and the Sadducees (liberal naturalists). Being politically minded, Caiaphas (a Pharisee) jockeyed for his appointment as high priest from the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (Pontius Pilate’s predecessor) in 18 CE. Being expedient to maintain civility and a firm grip on his authority, Caiaphas’ superficial presentation of faith in pursuit of power earned him the dubious title “Wicked Priest” among the Qumran community. But for all his political successes, his downfall lurked within just a few years. In 36 CE, the Roman consular legate of Syria deposed Caiaphas.
Our takeaway? While Caiaphas faded into oblivion, Christ’s story continues until its climax at his Parousia. And thousands of generations of his disciples continue to tell his story as we await his return. For some of us, our Gospel message will spur much loss, and for a few, even their lives. But as attested by the epistles of Peter, James, John, Paul, and Jude, and Luke’s chronicles of the early church, those who face unjust suffering and martyrdom at the hands of power-grabbing enemies of Christ find the strength and joy to rise above fear and pain and embrace eternal life. Still, our journeys must ebb and flow with a rhythm of Shalom rest to renew and refresh—just as Jesus observed for the two days preceding his arrest. Indeed, resting in the Holy Spirit enables us to reenter the fray leaning not on our understanding but trusting in God, who makes our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who trusted in you and hence regularly drew near you, finding rest and refreshment with the aid of the Holy Spirit so that he might finish his incarnate mission. As his disciples, we know the risks and rewards of following him. Still, we struggle to observe the rhythms of rest that would strengthen us to carry on with our calling while overcoming fear and suffering. So would you please help us to attune to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and find rest for our weary souls and renewal for our busy minds? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling