142. The Courage of Love (Mark 14:53-65)

“He came therefore of his own set purposes to his passion, rejoicing in his noble deed, smiling at the crown, cheered by the salvation of mankind; not ashamed of the cross for it was to save the world.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Mark 14:53-65  They led Jesus off to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes assembled there. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the high priest’s palace, and was sitting with the attendants warming himself at the fire. The chief priest and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus on which they might pass the death-sentence. But they could not find any. Several, indeed, brought false evidence against him, but their evidence was conflicting. Some stood up and submitted this false evidence against him, ‘We heard him say, I am going to destroy this Temple made by human hands, and in three days build another, not made by human hands.’ But even on this point their evidence was conflicting. The high priest then stood up before the whole assembly and put this question to Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?’ But he was silent and made no answer at all. The high priest put a second question to him, ‘Are you the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus, ‘and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his robes, ‘What need of witnesses have we now?’ he said. ‘You heard the blasphemy. What is your finding?’ And they all gave their verdict: he deserved to die. Some of them started spitting at him and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists and shouting, ‘Play the prophet!’ And the attendants rained blows on him.

Christ the Lord  St. Mark, with his typical clarity, removes any doubt about who Jesus is. The Lord held himself in silence as the illegally convened court (the Sanhedrin was forbidden to meet at night; it was forbidden to meet anywhere besides its proper room in the Temple precincts) threw itself into a frenzy trying to incriminate him. Finally, the high priest, speaking on the authority of his legitimate office, demands a proclamation from the accused: Do you really claim to be not only the promised Messiah, but also the Son of God, someone who has a special identification with the Most High Lord of Israel? Jesus looks directly at him and says yes. To make it even clearer, he quotes the Messianic prophesies in reference to himself, as if in explanation of his claim. If the Sanhedrin had understood the scriptures, they would have realized that the Messiah, in God’s plan of salvation, had to have a unique relationship to the divine nature.

In response to such a clear answer, the Sanhedrin had only one choice: accept his claims or condemn him for blasphemy. It is curious to note that among all the evidence brought against Jesus, the court members didn’t call any of the many witnesses who could have proven his Messianic identity: the lepers he healed, the blind and deaf he restored, the dead he raised to life, the crippled he made whole… how willingly blind the Sanhedrin was! (How willingly blind all of us can be!) They at least recognized that Jesus wasn’t just claiming, as Socrates had done, for example, to be a good teacher, a wise philosopher, a social reformer… Those more modern accusations are false too. Jesus is either what he claims to be, the Lord of all, or he is a deluded lunatic — and lunatics don’t found churches that continually influence and shape civilization — transforming saints for more than two thousand years.


Mark 14:53-65Christ the Teacher  Jesus did not pick this fight, but now that it has begun, he courageously and nobly defends the truth in spite of the consequences it may have for his own well-being. It must be the same fore every Christian. Jesus sent his disciples to carry his message to the ends of the world, to all peoples. He also promised that those who faithfully carry out this mission will run into trouble. His own life sets the pattern for the life of every Christian — humble, hidden work at Nazareth; bold, fruitful teaching and healing; conflict, suffering, and death at the hands of those who refuse to heed God’s call; and, finally, glorious resurrection. We are to follow in his footsteps. And that includes speaking the truth in moments when the forces of falsehood and evil surround us and bait us and humiliate and torment us. Jesus is the Messiah, the one Savior of mankind, the Lord of life and history; to know, love, and follow him is to find the everlasting life so ardently sought by every human soul. We don’t pick fights, but when our faith spurs opposition we, like our Lord, courageously and nobly bear him witness, no matter what the cost.

Christ the Friend  Some of the guards, bystanders, or members of the Sanhedrin, St. Mark informs us, started spitting at Jesus. Then some blindfolded him and beat him, mocking him all the while. What started off as a a game became a sadistic rout, as “the attendants rained blows on him.”

Picture these petty men spitting on Jesus. How does Jesus respond? With his mouth he says nothing. Is he saying anything in his heart? “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” Picture them blindfolding him, toying with him, battering him, mocking him, and laughing cruelly at him. How does he respond? “Forgive them, Father… You know that I love them.” He is deeply saddened, not for himself, but for them. They are in darkness. Ignorance, malice, selfishness — evil has blinded them. Jesus harbors no resentment, no desire for vengeance, no anger — only forgiveness. Only an eagerness to sacrifice all his dignity, all his blood to the last drop, so as to make amends for these sins, so as to open the gates of heaven to these very thugs who are railing against him.

We are those tyrants. Every idle word, every mocking look, every evil thought, every illicit pleasure, every outburst of anger, every festering notion of resentment, jealousy, and envy — they are all present in these wicked blows that mar the Holy Face of Christ. And Jesus looks at each of us, with no self-pity, with no accusation: “Forgiven them, Father… You know that I love them.” Has the world ever known such a friend?

Christ in My Life  I believe in you, Lord. I stand in place of all those men and women throughout the world who don’t believe in you and who reject your love, and I say for them, in their stead: I believe in you, Jesus. I thank you and I love you. You are the Son of the living God, the Messiah, the Savior of all people. Have mercy on us. Your Kingdom come, your will be done…

You know how weak and fearful I can be. I am downright feeble when it comes to bearing witness to you in certain circumstances. But I know that when I am weak, I am strong, because your strength has more room to shine whenever I lean less on my own resources and more on your grace. With the courage of your heart, Lord, sustain my vocation…

I am unworthy of your friendship. For that very reason, I thank you even more for it. You know the depths of evil that my heart can reach, and still you want to love me and accompany me and guide me and lead me to your side in heaven. I claim your friendship, Lord! May it be my only treasure, and may I always show my gratitude by loving others as you have loved me…

Editor’s Note: This is part five of nine meditations on Passion Sunday. Part four can be found by clicking here. Part six can be found by clicking here.

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Mark 14:53-65: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Verspottung Christi (Mocking of Christ), Matthias Grünewald, 1503-1505, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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