"And they brought Jesus to the High Priest." It was probably after midnight when the command was given the mob to move with their prisoner, well guarded, toward the house of the High Priest. They left the moonlit valley and led the bound Christ through the quiet and hushed streets toward their destination. The road lay probably along the eastern wall of the city, where they entered the gate through which only a few hours ago our Saviour and His Apostles had passed out from the Paschal supper.
They moved directly towards the palace of Annas, which stood on the slope between the upper city and the Tyropean valley which runs north and south through Jerusalem. At that hour the city would be hushed and asleep. The next day being the festival day all would have retired early so as to be astir and in time for the early morning solemnities in the Holy Temple. The tramp of soldiers was no unusual event in the Sacred City, especially at Passover time when troops were brought up from Caesarea Philippi to intimidate the multitude in case of need and as a warning of Roman power in view of possible disturbance. The procession then, with tramp of marching men and glare of lights and torches, would cause little curiosity as to who the prisoner was that was guarded by Roman soldiers and servants of the Temple when brought to the High Priest.
"They led Him to Annas first." No one perhaps stands out more prominently in the history of these times among the Jews than this wicked, old man. Years and years ago he had been deposed from the High Priest hood by the Roman authorities, having held the sacred office only six or seven years.
Though deposed, he had never lost his control over and influence with the High Priests, having kept the Priesthood all those years within the circle of his family; and now his own son-in-law, Caiaphas, was ministering in the Temple as High Priest of this year, and exercising all the authority of this exalted position. Annas was a type of a man, alas, too common to-day. He was unscrupulous and without conscience, and he was a churchman of no embarrassing convictions. These convictions were sufficiently diluted by up-to-date notions and Roman ideas, to enable him to curry popularity with the imperial officials without losing caste with his own nation. By winking and conniving at the traffic in the Temple, so violently put a stop to by our Blessed Saviour at the opening of His public life, Annas had amassed enormous wealth. This ill-gotten gold he could lend at a fat rate of interest to his needy Roman clients at the Praetorium. He was a man who worked in the dark and always under cover. He secretly held all the wires and kept his fingers upon all the strings, and the puppets danced, whether they were Temple or Roman officials, to his bidding and at his nod. He was cunning, cool and calculating. As he advanced in years he had grown astute, meanness had become a second nature to him and he was out and out malicious.
Caiaphas, his son-in-law, a wicked man too, but less shrewd and less acquainted with the mastery of self-control, had openly proclaimed our Lord's death a political necessity. "But one of them, named Caiaphas, being High Priest that year, said to them: You know nothing. Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.'" No such indiscreet utterance could escape the lips of the silent, crafty, self-contained Annas. He was too far-seeing to commit himself to even a word that could be used against him.
We have many an Annas today and to spare. There are men who sit in dark places and under cover spend their time in plotting and scheming. There are men whose hands are hidden, yet it is their influence that often holds back laws needed for the welfare of the country, and it is their shrewdness which steps in with amendments and clauses that nullify otherwise useful legislation. There are men who have defrauded the Government, and crushed smaller opponents by unscrupulous methods and by the illegal use of money. There are those, how contemptible they are! who commercialize the very religion to which in many cases they owe their success and popularity. Religion to these is not sacred and holy, but it has become a toll which they must pay to advance their political ambition and secure their worldly advantage. Exteriorly like Annas, they are experienced, suave, gentle, cultured, but deep down in their souls there is the lust for power and the greed for gold, and no scruple deters them in their efforts for success, provided they can shut out the light and work noiselessly in the dark. The one thing they fear is detection, the one god they serve is public opinion.
It must have been a very deep humiliation for our Lord to be brought, illegally too, before a man of this type. Only a few hours ago at the supper He had said: "I am the way, the truth and the life." Now He who is infinite rectitude, infallible truth and eternal life, is to be examined without any authority, by a man who hates Him, and who is crafty, crooked, deceitful and probably without any belief in a future life. Our Lord is forced before the tribunal of one whose hatred of Him knows no bounds.
From the day when Christ whipped the buyers and sellers from the Temple porches, and exposed to public gaze the extortion and greed of Annas and his dark and hidden agreements with the Priests and avaricious venders who were desecrating God's holy house, Annas, filled with bitter hatred, had not forgotten, let alone forgiven. Only a few days ago the wound had been opened anew, the bitterness of his hatred had again been intensified when our Lord had the second time cleansed the Temple of its venal traffickers who were in league with the Priesthood. Judas, himself, showed his knowledge of the character of our Lord's arch-enemy when he bargained with Annas for his Master's Blood. The unfortunate traitor had no doubt seen in the eyes of that silent, crafty man the fire of hate and the longing for revenge. He knew, too, at least from common report, his immense wealth and, possibly, he hoped for a larger reward.
There can be no doubt that Annas was the man, more than anyone else, who was responsible for our Lord's capture and death. Since the raising of Lazarus from the dead, a few weeks ago, our Blessed Saviour's popularity had grown enormously. He was becoming more and more every day the idol of the people. He had always been popular in Galilee, and now that the city was thronged with tens of thousands of Galileans to add their voices to the public enthusiasm, the shrewd eye of the astute Annas was not long in detecting the favor with which our Blessed Saviour was daily being received. His advanced age, his intimate knowledge of the city and its rulers, his contact with the hidden forces and concealed springs of political influence, all these showed him a way at once of compassing the undoing of Christ. He was jealous for his own control of the popular mind, and he must have observed with rancor and regret that his own personal influence was on the wane. Thus there can scarcely be any doubt that the hand of Annas was secretly busy in every movement. His influence, though hidden, was at work. His money, too, was silently breaking down any quiet and timid opposition to our Lord's capture and death.
There is a tradition that Annas had retired before the mob when their Prisoner reached the palace. While awaiting his pleasure and convenience the Roman soldiers were naturally dismissed. They had received orders to deliver Jesus into his hands, and this done they immediately retired to their barracks. Thus they passed from the scene, they had done their work and we shall see them no more. While watching for the coming of Annas, and to preclude all possibility of escape, it is believed that our Lord was bound to an olive tree, and so after midnight He stands there bound and tied, awaiting the pleasure of his wicked and malicious enemy.
It was at the midnight hour that God's angel flew over Egypt and broke the bonds of His people in slavery, but no angel will set free the Son of God, for He is bound by His own choice and by His own love. Thirty-three years ago, out on Bethlehem's hills, Mary bound His childish limbs with swathing bands when for the first time "He came among His own and His own received Him not." Tonight Mary is absent in an agony of sorrow and may not come to console Him.
The wicked Annas, bent with age and seared with crime, appeared after a short and restless sleep, and demanded unjustly that the Prisoner be brought before him. He can scarcely conceal his joy and satisfaction at the success of his diabolical machinations. He had too long meditated this wickedness, taken too many precautions, paid too much money to permit that any detail, when everything had been so carefully foreseen, should go astray at this stage of the conspiracy. Rubbing his wrinkled hands in nervous delight, his black eyes afire with hate and with thinly concealed anxiety and eagerness to entrap our Blessed Saviour into some word that would compromise Him, he "asked Jesus of His disciples and His doctrine."
There was no slightest movement of our Lord and His disciples, there was no least detail of His teaching which had escaped the secret investigation of Annas's minions. His hatred and jealousy were too deep to leave untried any expedient that could have any bearing upon our Lord's undoing. This deceitful and most wicked hypocrite with whose unlawful profit in the Temple our Lord had interfered and whose prestige had been dimmed by our Lord's teachings, was too unrelenting an enemy to leave any loophole for escape. The fact that he could not openly oppose Christ made him only the more bitter; yet such was his keen desire to trump up some charge of sedition or false teaching, a deeper crime in the eyes of the orthodox, that he could not refrain from the illegal proceeding of questioning Christ under his own roof. Our Lord by His answer foiled the crafty old degenerate. Jesus answered him:
"I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple, whither all the Jews resort, and in secret have I spoken nothing. Why askest thou Me? Ask them who have heard what I have spoken unto them; behold, they know what things I have said."
To this noble answer came the response of a blow in the face from the hand of an ignorant, insolent servant of the High Priest This blow went unrebuked by His cruel, priestly investigator. Our Lord, without murmur, without complaint, without any assertion of His divine power, without indignation of His profaned Godhead only answers, gently questioning the reason of the insult. May we not hope that the tender words of our Blessed Saviour, and above all His kind look, went to the heart and won to His love the unfortunate man who struck the blow?
"He gave Jesus a blow." Think of the beauty of that Face thus ruthlessly profaned by a mailed hand. Thirty-three years ago Mary in an ecstasy of love looked into that Face and fancied she saw in it a resemblance of her own beautiful countenance, and that look was a beatific vision, for it was the sight of the Face of God. When the aged Simeon bent with years tottered into the Temple and, taking the Child into his trembling arms, looked into that Sacred Face, his heart was filled with joy and he yearned for naught else that earth could give, but was willing to lay down life's burden, and he sang joyfully his "Nunc dimittis." There was nothing now to be wished for more on this side of the grave. As that Face changed from infancy to boyhood and on through the years into the fullness of manhood, it was an ever growing delight to His Mother and was the most beautiful of all that earth had ever seen. A few hours ago in the Garden the tears streamed down that Sacred Face and the Blood bedewed it beneath the olive trees. Tomorrow He shall lie dead with His Sacred Head in Mary's lap, and the dear, dead Face will be upturned to His Mother's in all the disfigurement of death, and yet there will be a wondrous beauty for His Mother in that white face.
All the long weary waiting in Purgatory is endurable because lit up with the hope of one day looking into that Sacred Countenance. What a destiny then is ours, what a gift beyond the telling and a favor beyond fancy s wildest flights is in store for us, no less than the vision of that sweet Face, the Face of Mary's Child, through all the ages of eternity! That Face is now hidden behind the Tabernacle veil; yet with the eye of faith we can see it as clearly and as really as God's angel saw it that night in Annas's hall when it was profaned by the rough mailed hand of the High Priest's servant.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke