When Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin, or Herod, or Pilate, he does a strange thing. He is silent before his accusers. Up to now, and in Mark even now, he freely proclaims that he is the Son of God, the Christ. And that he must suffer and die, a claim ignored or denied by his disciples, but now is the evidence of blasphemy used by those who wanted to finally trap him and kill him. But it isn’t a trap. He hands it to them. It all goes back to Isaiah. Isaiah 53, especially verses 4-10, lays bare the prophecy of the Suffering Servant who dies for our sins, who is an innocent to be led like a lamb to the slaughter and in silence. It is from this that commentators have dubbed Jesus’ silence as the Majestic Silence, the fulfillment of prophecy and proof of his status as Son of God. And Jesus’ silence is so important to the Gospel writers that it is woven into the Passion Narratives in several places. In today’s Gospel (Mk 14:53-65) we read, “Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But he was silent and did not answer (Mk 14: 60-61a).” Jesus’ silence goes on. In the Gospel of Luke we read that Jesus was questioned before Herod, but gave no answers (Lk 23:9). And most critically to the Crucifixion and Jesus’ fulfilment of his mission as the Christ, before Pilate Jesus will not answer and only says “You say so,” to the direct question about his Kingship and role as Messiah (Mt 27: 11-14, Jn 19:10-11). Why? He is facing that terrible death and he is not defending himself. To fulfil the prophecy? Acceptance of what he heard from his Father in prayer in the garden, that this cup was his? This is not the silence he commands to the many exorcised demons or the even more newly healed during his missionary journey. Now his time has come, and this silence leads him to it.
But there is another message, one more directly relevant to us. One person does something to someone else, and that other is now tied to the sinner, in anger, in desire for vindication, even revenge. And it is all about school. I don’t think we ever leave school. Let’s image in schoolyard and we are in, oh, let’s say 6th grade. Someone does something hurtful. An insult, a push, a contact too hard in a game. And we are hurt, more emotionally than physically, and we turn and do something back. Who gets caught and punished? Never the instigator, who probably is proficient enough at this power game deny or to confess what they did or said, but so honey coated that it is the second kid’s fault, anyway. The kid who was really looking for trouble or making a big thing out of nothing. But it was a big thing. And intentional. And now we are in the high school cafeteria. We complain about patriarchs but is there anything more terrifying than a table full of the in-crowd girls, not if you are already marginalized. And again, the little slight like darts, stinging shame, humiliation, and who will listen to the loner, the weird kid, the outcast? And so on it goes, the accusations, false testimony. Even in Mark’s account of the trial, those giving false witness are actually recounting things we know Jesus did, in fact, say, but twisted into a blame game. We are always on trial, and there are many Sanhedrins, Herods, and Pilates. If we call ourselves disciples of the Christ, called by the Father, vowed in Baptism or a faith only known to God, willing to pick up our Cross and follow him, our way is not easy. We have to dig deeply to see our secret sins. Because no matter how disciplined, the schoolyard/lunchroom is always with us. And our fear, spite, hate, no matter how couched in good behavior, will slip out. Can we keep silent when abused? And if the abuser, can we forbear?
When we carry the burden of spiritual leadership it is even more critical to be self-aware, humble enough to identify and correct those deep resentments and biases. It is not only about race or gender. We can separate others by our own definition of sheep and goats, and we do, early and often. And we send innocents to the pit, or the Cross, based on our own self-importance, couched in platitudes, the popular diagnosis of the week, and even Scripture. But not in the Spirit which binds us all and loves us all. And the Father of Lies chortles at the many ways even the Good and the Great can be sucked into bad behavior under the rubric of Right and Just. When we hurt, overtly or subtly, we not only sin, but we open the door for others to sin.
We talk a good game about the light, but we extinguish the light in each other. As those good people called to council at the High Priest’s house in the dead of night did, to cobble together a death sentence for an itinerant preacher who might have been pretty harmless, or might have been the Son of God, the Son of Man. For reasons of jealousy, power politics, fear, resentment, and so many more, and none of them good reasons. Because as Jesus taught us, only God is Good, and only God is our teacher, through Jesus, through the Spirit, and for those so blessed, through God the Father’s own self.
When we are stung by hurtful language or acts in our schools, homes, workplace, or parish can we call upon the courage and light of Christ to keep silent? Truly silent? Not holding it in and then letting the hurt and pain spin in our heads driving us to respond or to withdraw? It isn’t easy. I know when I am disrespected or humiliated, I want to strike back, and I can do as much damage verbally as I could with a club. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus didn’t make the Kingdom easy. He just made it True. And it takes a lot of prayer, and the grace of the Spirit, to find that place to let it go, and feel the peace of God’s presence, the only vindication we need.
That is not to say that there aren’t times for protest and action. What if Germany in the 1930s had been of a mind to rise up and stifle the Nazi movement? They weren’t and look at what happened. Jesus does speak after these moments of silence. But his words are measured. Careful. Few. He knew who he was, and he was true to his vocation to the end. And for Jesus, and through him us, the true end is one of peace, salvation.
Be careful, be watchful with your words. We have less to fear from a few politically incorrect jokes than from a self-righteous teacher, minister, friend, relative, who weaponizes words of care into words of judgment and power and hurt. And when accused by such words, don’t be silent in fear, but be silent in Christ. Try to reconcile, if possible. If not, pray, be patient, and forgive as best as you can. Remember, anger can be fun. Vicious talk, especially when it is clever, can feel so satisfying. But it isn’t walking with Jesus. Or being silent in Christ.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.