Confession and Denial:
the Interrogation by the Sanhedrin

Mark 14, 53-72

Mark-Book of KellsThey took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.'" Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"

"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." Again he denied it.

After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The scene shifts once more: from Gethsemane to the residence of the High Priest where Jesus will be interrogated by the leaders. Mark's masterful narrative style is again in evidence. He frames the interrogation scene with that of Peter's denials, clearly contrasting the disciple's fear with Jesus' courage.

A parade of false witnesses are brought forward against Jesus, but their accusations are contradictory. Some, however, bring up a charge that jogs the memory of the reader of the Gospel: "I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days I will build another not made with hands."

Earlier in the gospel Mark had presented Jesus as a prophet on fire with zeal, purging the temple and predicting its demise (11:15-19; 13:1-2). Indeed the Risen Christ would be the new temple of God, the "rejected stone" that would become the cornerstone of a new sacred people in whom God would dwell (12:10-11). This accusation of the trial would be remembered when the veil of the sanctuary would tear apart at the moment of Jesus' death (15:38).

Frustrated by the flawed testimony of his witnesses, the High Priest poses the key question to Jesus: ''Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?" There is no hesitation in Jesus' reply: "I am." And he adds a challenge to his opponents: they would one day see their prisoner coming as the "Son of Man,'' that haunting figure who would experience humiliation and rejection, but then would be lifted up in exaltation by God and return in triumph at the end of the world.

Jesus' bold declaration of his identity is rejected as blasphemous by his opponents; they condemn him to death and begin to abuse him. The reader who knows who Jesus truly is can only marvel in deep sadness at how spiritually blind we are all capable of becoming.

Mark shifts our attention from Jesus standing before his captors back to the courtyard below where Peter warily edges near a group of servants huddling around a warm fire. As if in slow motion, we watch the power of fear break down a disciple's resolve. Three times Peter denies he even knows Jesus, finally cursing and swearing as panic takes hold. A cock crows and Peter remembers Jesus' warning at the supper. The terrible realization of his failure surges over him and he begins to weep.

The story is so familiar we may not be able to recapture its incredible shock. The full measure of the disciples' failure can be taken in this single tragic story: the leader of those whom Jesus called publicly to discipleship renounces his allegiance to his Master.

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