Christ on Trial
Rowan Williams’ Christ on Trial is an illuminating commentary on the trial of Christ represented in each gospel. A trial, in general use, is the method we use to investigate truth and trustworthiness. Job, for instance, put God on trial begging the question why he suffered so, but was answered by God that there is no common language shared between Creator and created. Instead God has demonstrated his faithfulness over time and does not need to use words to defend himself when silence is a more appropriate form of speech. The trial of Jesus before Pilate unfolds the same way.
A commonality through each gospel is Christ’s reticence on trial. Williams interprets this silence as a withholding from competing on the same level as his accusers who are powerfully in control. It is not until the world has decided his fate by sentencing him to death that Jesus identifies himself as God. Stirpped of all traces of power, Jesus cannot be mistakenly identified with power. Jesus overturns our expectations by identifying himself as God when is a prisoner awaiting death. Therefore we are forced to withdraw our projected standards and aspirations upon him. Jesus does not guarantee rescue, success, assurance, or results. Even in our faithfulness, we often make choices that make no difference in the world and have no effective outcome. The very things we wish to associate with God, such as security and success, are the very things that Jesus overturns.
Matthew is particularly interesting in its relation to the authorities of the faith; the priests. Jesus holds the High Priest accountable to the history of Wisdom he inherited and is asked to judge for himself it if is God who stands before him on trial. The priest, in condemning Jesus, embraces power and excludes wisdom. The trial of Christ therefore is not a pronouncement of suffering and destruction on those who crucify Christ, but on the clergy who are the guardians of the faith. Often we work against God when we assume that we are working for him. The bottom line is that we can never gain mastery over God’s Wisdom. Oftentimes it is the guardians of faith who are at fault of closing themselves off from truth that comes from improbable sources. (We could insert here, and Williams does so, the genealogy of Jesus at the opening of the text that includes insignificant and strange persons).