Caiaphas and the Priests were disconcerted and utterly upset by the persistent silence of their Prisoner. Disappointed in their witnesses and humiliated by their manifest contradiction they feared that the plans which they had so carefully laid for our Lord's undoing might after all their precautions prove to be failures, and that He would escape their vengeance and be at large on the festival day. They cunningly thought to entrap their victim in His words, but His silence foiled them and even threatened to thwart entirely their evil designs.
Before that calm, majestic and innocent silent Man they felt no doubt their own weaknesses. They recognized only too vividly the unlawful plots laid for His death, while a sense of guilt must have pressed heavily upon them in the presence of that blameless Captive, as their poisoned arrows of unholy zeal, envy and hatred fell harmless at His feet. His silence, then, was all the more disconcerting, all the more maddening. Were they to lose in this struggle merely because this Man held His peace? Was He to win because a few stupid witnesses had not lied consistently, and He had cleverly held His tongue? Was His life, which was such a trifle in their sight, in reality a charmed one? Was it proof against their crafty scheming and cunning devices? Was He so invulnerable that He could not be reached even by calumny confirmed by oath? Was all the money scattered for His defeat to be wasted? Surely there must be some way of reaching and undoing this disturber of the peace, this seducer of the people. It was inconceivable that they should fail with all the wealth, power and influence at their command, now that they had Jesus in their hands and victory within their grasp.
They had already questioned Him about His doctrine and His disciples, about the words that fell from His lips and the companions of His choice for the last three years of His life. Only one road now remained open for His conviction, only one card was left to be played; one charge which would lead either to His rejection or His acknowledgment by the synagogue; only one pretension which needed to be recognized by the Priests, and this Man would be rejected as Messias, and before set of sun would hang from the gibbet and die a death of shame on Golgotha's hill. Triumph or defeat, glory or ignominy, life or death hinged upon the success of that last device, His answer to that final question. Our Lord knew this and so did His judge, the High Priest Caiaphas.
The wicked man then determined to force the issue. The hours were passing and there was need of haste. Soon the early worshippers would be trooping to the Temple for the solemnities of the Passover, and this Man must be gotten out of the way. He knew well the Captive's pretensions and felt sure that if pressed He would not deny that He claimed to be the promised Messias and the Son of God. There was no doubt in the mind of the crafty Priest that, if he forced our Lord to an open avowal of His claims, the Elders assembled for His trial would be turned against Him. Once these pretensions were made public, open condemnation was assured.
Away then with the stammering and blundering witnesses, let us have done with the conflicting testimony of men who have heard His public utterances. Let us hear His own words, let us listen to what He has to say of Himself; from His own mouth we shall judge and condemn Him. "And the High Priest said to Him: I adjure Thee by the living God that Thou tell us if Thou be Christ the Son of God. Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the living God?" In a paroxysm of disappointment, anger and possibly fear lest his last scheme would fail, Caiaphas rose up and strode into the middle of the judgment chamber, before all the assembled Elders, determined to hear from our Lord's lips whether He claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God. A strange question from the High Priest, a minister in the holy Temple, to one who was a helpless victim in his power. How could that poor despised outcast, his captive, bound with cords and chains, how could He be the "Christ, the Son of the living God?" If Caiaphas had any doubt on this point why had he hounded so vigorously the false and lying witnesses against Him? Evidently it was his intention and desire to convict our Lord from His own admission. To such a question then and on such a point our Blessed Saviour could permit of no misunderstanding.
Not so long ago His kindness and tenderness by the Lake in feeding the multitude had won all hearts and they wanted to make Him King, but He set aside the royal offer. He would not wear Herod's crown nor wield his sceptre. Now on the last day of His life when questioned by the High Priest himself in his official capacity, when adjured in the name of His Heavenly Father, when asked for a last testimony to the truth of His mission, our Lord, though He knew the truth would be rejected, would not refuse an answer. As His silence had been solemn and impressive, so now His speech.
After this formal adjuration by the High Priest a deathless quiet reigned throughout the hall. All eyes instinctively turned from the High Priest of the Old Law to the helpless Prisoner, the High Priest of the New. For a moment the suspense was unbearable, and then that voice, firm, solemn and clear, admitted that He was the Son of God, and His Father would show Him to be such in His resurrection and His sitting at the right hand of the Most High. Jesus said to him: "Thou hast said it." Again Jesus said to him: "I am. Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven."
In a few hours standing before the Roman Governor He will say: "for this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony of the truth." To give this testimony to Caiaphas would end His life in the shedding of His Blood today at the ninth hour; but our Lord had counted the cost. He knew the glory which would accrue to His Father from this avowal, and the fruit to numberless souls, and so "setting the joy before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame." Then the High Priest rent his garments, saying:
"He hath blasphemed. What further need have we of witnesses? Behold now you have heard the blasphemy. What think you?"
"Blasphemy, blasphemy," was whispered from lip to lip around the priestly semi-circle, while Caiaphas, in shrill and loud tones shouted to the assembly as he rent his garments in over-acted horror: "He hath blasphemed," and demanded His instant condemnation.
They had attained their purpose, accomplished their designs and had convicted Christ from the testimony of His own lips. They had all heard, and according to the law the High Priest had rent his garments with a rending which could never be repaired, in proof of the enormity of the crime. Better a thousand times had Caiaphas or his priests obeyed the injunction of Holy Writ, "Rend your hearts and not your garments and turn to the law of your God." Why prolong the proceedings? Any further charge is unnecessary. There is no more need of witnesses. His guilt is proved. The Prisoner has condemned Himself by His own shocking blasphemy. Read God's own words in the Sacred Scripture. What do they tell us? "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Bring forth the blasphemer without the camp; and let them that heard him, put their hands upon his head; and let all the people stone him. And thou shalt speak to the children of Israel: The man that curseth his God, shall bear his sin; and he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die: all the multitude shall stone him, whether he be a native or a stranger. He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, dying let him die." There was the law, the case is settled, there is no choice. Then the High Priest solemnly asked them their candid opinion. "What think you?" But they answering said: "He is guilty of death."
Only a few years after our Lord's death His first martyr was to utter almost the self-same words, and from them and the vision vouchsafed him in his last struggle, was to obtain the strength to fight to the end and triumph. Saint Stephen when his turn came to be a witness to His Master, and to give the highest testimony that any man may give, the testimony of blood, became a witness as Holy Writ tells us: "He, being full of the Holy Ghost looking up steadfastly to heaven saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'"
Upon our Lord, then, the formal sentence had been passed. He was adjudged guilty of death. This condemnation would be confirmed in the morning by a more deliberate sentence; but we have here the Priests and Elders of the nation acting in their official capacity, decreeing the death of the Son of God. This execrable crime of deicide which was so formally decided upon on that night and which was the crime of the assembled Sanhedrin will be ratified on the morrow and made the crime of the whole nation, when in response to the last and despairing appeal of a weak Roman Governor the unfortunate Jews will cry out in the streets of Jerusalem: "His Blood be upon us and upon our children!" That cry sealed the fate of the innocent, immaculate Lamb of God; for that wild cry was like the cry of angry beasts in a dark forest, and terrified the Governor into passing an unjust sentence.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke