THE SILENCE OF JESUS
Immediately, early in the morning, the chief priests, together with the elders and the experts in the law–that is to say, the whole Sanhedrin–held a consultation. They bound Jesus and took him away and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “It is you who say so.” The chief priests made many accusations against him. Pilate again questioned him, “Have you no answer to make?” he said. “See how many accusations they have made against you.” Jesus answered nothing further, and Pilate was amazed.
As soon as it was light, the Sanhedrin met to confirm the conclusions they had arrived at during their meeting in the night. They themselves had no power to carry out the death penalty. That had to be imposed by the Roman governor and carried out by the Roman authorities.
It is from Luke that we learn how deep and determined the bitter malice of the Jews was. As we have seen, the charge at which they had arrived was one of blasphemy, of insulting God. But that was not the charge on which they brought Jesus before Pilate. They knew well that Pilate would have had nothing to do with what he would have considered a Jewish religious argument. When they brought Jesus to him they charged him with perverting the people, forbidding them to give tribute to Caesar and calling himself a king (Lk.23:1-2). They had to evolve a political charge or Pilate would not have listened. They knew the charge was a lie–and so did Pilate.
Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus gave him a strange answer. he said, “It is you who say so.” Jesus did not say yes or no. What he did say was, “I may have claimed to be the King of the Jews, but you know very well that the interpretation that my accusers are putting on that claim is not my interpretation. I am no political revolutionary. My kingdom is a kingdom of love.” Pirate knew that perfectly well. Pilate went on to question Jesus more, and the Jewish authorities went on to multiply their charges–and Jesus remained completely silent.
There is a time when silence is more eloquent than words, for silence can say things that words can never say.
(i) There is the silence of wondering admiration. [t is a compliment for any performance or oration to be greeted with thunderous applause, but it is a still greater compliment for it to be greeted with a hushed silence which knows that applause would be out of place. It is a compliment to be praised or thanked in words, but it is a still greater compliment to receive a look of the eyes which plainly says there are no words to be found.
(ii) There is the silence of contempt. It is possible to greet someone’s statements or arguments or excuses with a silence which shows they are not worth answering. Instead of answering someone’s protestations the listener may turn on his heel and contemptuously leave them be.
(iii) There is the silence of fear. A man may remain silent for no other reason than that he is afraid to speak. The cowardice of his soul may stop him saying the things he knows he ought to say. Fear may gag him into a shameful silence.
(iv) There is the silence of the heart that is hurt. When a person has been really wounded he does not break into protests and recriminations and angry words. The deepest sorrow is a dumb sorrow, which is past anger and past rebuke and past anything that speech can say, and which can only silently look its grief.
(v) There is the silence of tragedy, and that is silent because there is nothing to be said. That was why Jesus was silent. He knew there could be no bridge between himself and the Jewish leaders. He knew that there was nothing in Pilate to which he could ultimately appeal. He knew that the lines of communication were broken. The hatred of the Jews was an iron curtain which no words could penetrate. The cowardice of Pilate in face of the mob was a barrier no words could pierce. It is a terrible thing when a man’s heart is such that even Jesus knows it is hopeless to speak. God save us from that!
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