"The Madness of Caiaphas1"

MATTHEW 26: 57-68

MARCH 17, 2013



            Six-year-old Sarah was visiting some friends of the family, a couple who had been married for over 40 years.  On the day Sarah was there, they were still in the process of moving and arranging furniture in their new residence.  As they tried to move a large chair through a narrow doorway, well, how should I put this, other than to say that sometimes when a husband and wife try to move a large chair through a narrow doorway, they get a little frustrated and they say things in a different tone of voice than they normally use.  They say things like,

            Watch it! Watch it!

            Turn it to the left!

            I said 'the left'!

            Hold it up!  Lift it higher!  Higher!

            Well, as this husband and wife shouted instructions at each other, six-year-old Sarah suddenly ran up to them.  She held both hands up in the air to get their attention and said, "Stop!  Wait a minute!  We need to talk.  I need to say something to you!"  They stopped and she put her hands on her hips and said, "Now, you two are just going to have to learn how to get along.  You have to stop talking to one another in this manner!"

            Oh, Sarah," the wife said, "we love each other dearly.  We weren't really fussing."           "Well, it sounded like fussing to me," Sarah responded.

            Then the husband and wife began to demonstrate their love by putting down the chair and by giving each other a big kiss, saying, "Look, Sarah.  See how much we love each other?" to which Sarah replied, "Now that's the way it's supposed to be!"

            Jesus came into the world saying, "Now that's the way it's supposed to be."  He came into the world loving people, helping people, celebrating people, all the while saying, "Look!  Here's the way it's supposed to be."  We are supposed to love and honor and respect each other.  We are supposed to treat each other with kindness and thoughtfulness and tenderness and compassion.  Yet, even as Jesus brought and modeled this message, he was seen by the religious authorities of the day as a troublemaker.  So much so, that they conspired to silence him and plotted to put him to death.

            Now, the question that explodes out of the gospel narratives is, "Why?  Why did they turn against him?  Why did they see Him as a threat?  Why did they get so hostile with Jesus?"

            A big part of the answer to that question is found in the intriguing personality of a man named Caiaphas.  Caiaphas was the high priest at the time Jesus was crucified, and the Bible indicates that he was highly responsible for Jesus' death.  In fact, in his book, Personalities of the Passion, Leslie Weatherhead dramatically says that more than any other human being, Caiaphas was responsible for putting Jesus on the cross.  Listen to Weatherford's words:


            When we come to Caiaphas, we are getting nearer the forces of evil ... which drove Jesus to the cross.  If the guilt can be laid upon any one person then that one ... is not Judas or Pilate ... but Caiaphas.  To my mind Judas misunderstood, and Pilate ... was frightened, but in Caiaphas there is cool, calculated cunning.  There is bitter, implacable hatred.  No hot impulse swayed Caiaphas, no grievous misunderstanding, no mere sudden fear.  Here is the cold, deadly, clever brain.  It is strange that in modern sermons we hear so much about Peter's alleged denial and Judas' alleged wickedness, but the real villain in the Passion drama... was undoubtedly Caiaphas. [2]


            Our scripture for today only touches upon Caiaphas' place in the story of Jesus, but he was without question a dominate player in that dramatic crescendo of events that led to the death of Jesus on the cross. It is very likely that Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, orchestrated the whole thing, the arrest, the trial, and the crucifixion.  It is very likely that earlier, when the Gospel writers speak of people plotting to put Jesus to death, Caiaphas was in the dead center of the plotting and conniving and scheming.

            It is very likely that Caiaphas was the one who sent out people to spy on Jesus, to watch His every move, to try to trip Him up with loaded questions, and to search for an excuse - any excuse - to silence Him.

            It is very likely that Caiaphas and Annas were getting rich through the heavy taxes they had levied on the people (taxes which were, by the way, in addition to the burdensome Roman taxes).  In that day, people on the street talked openly and grudgingly about the greed and corruption and luxurious living of Caiaphas and Annas.

            It is very likely that Caiaphas was the one most responsible for turning the temple into yet another means of bilking the people out of still more money causing Jesus to become so incensed at this blatant exploitation of the people that He overturned the money changers' tables and remarked that they were turning the Temple into a den of robbers. (Matthew 21:13).

            It is very likely that Caiaphas was the one who devised the plan to turn Jesus over to Romans so that it would be the Romans who put him to death.

            And it is also very likely that Caiaphas was the one who whispered into the ear of Pontius Pilate the insidious words, "If you let this man go, you are not the friend of Caesar."

            But why was Jesus such a threat to Caiaphas?  Why did Caiaphas want to silence him?  Let me see if I can bring some light to this.

            Most of us have heard of Jesus' Great Commission to "Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations," but what got Jesus into trouble with Caiaphas and the other religious authorities of His time was what we might call "Jesus' Great Permission."  That is to say, Jesus permitted, or set people free to do three things, which before His day were considered undoable, impermissible, unthinkable!    Let's take a quick look at these three permissions that ultimately sent Jesus to the cross.

            First of all, Jesus said, "It's OK to love all people."  Underscore the word "all."  This got Jesus into big trouble because in the eyes of Caiaphas, Jesus associated with the "wrong people" ... sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, the blind, the lame, and the sick - even lepers.

            There was an important theological point at work here.  The religious leaders of Jesus' time had the mistaken notion that the person who was "down on his luck" was in that fix because he had sinned, and this was God's judgment upon them for their wrongdoing.  So these blind, lame, leprous people, these tax collectors and poor people, were looked upon by society as sinners, as wicked people, and therefore shunned!

            Jesus, however, didn't see them as sinners or wicked people.  He saw them as beloved children of God, as persons of integrity and worth, as His brothers and sisters, and He loved them and enjoyed them.  Caiaphas and his cohorts, however, didn't like that and they didn't want that floodgate opened, so they plotted and conspired against Him.

            Secondly, what got Jesus into trouble with Caiaphas, was saying, "It's OK to think."

            In Jesus' day, if you asked a Scribe a question, he would not give his own personal opinion.  Instead he would quote someone or some tradition.  Not so with Jesus.  If you asked Him a question, He would tell a parable or tell you what He thought.  Sometimes, He would even say, "You have heard the tradition.  You have heard that it said, but now I say to you."

            Now this really threatened the religious leaders and they shouted, "Now just wait a minute.  Where did you get this authority?"

            Their behavior reminds me of Susanna, four years old, was staying with her granddaddy for the weekend.  After Granddad told her to pick up her toys, she said, "Just who made you the king of the world?"  That's what the religious establishment was saying to Jesus - "Just who made you the King of the world?"  If they had only known!

            In giving his own take on a matter Jesus was saying to them and to us, "It's OK to think!"  Read the great minds, study the great historical ideas, learn the great traditions, but somewhere along the line you and I have to ask, "What do I think about this?"

            Jesus gave permission to think, to open our mind, to communicate directly with God, to wonder, to probe, to question, to assess, to analyze and to decide.  He said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  Notice the second item in that command: Love God with your mind!  He gave us the freedom to think and Caiaphas and the other authorities were threatened by that.  They didn't want that door unlocked and flung open, so they connived and planned to kill him.

            Lastly, Jesus got into trouble because he said, "It's OK to speak out for others."

            More than anything else, this put Jesus on the cross and cleansing the temple may have been the last straw.  He felt that the Temple, the sacred place of worship, had become a den of thieves.  Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that at this time the Temple officials, of whom Caiaphas was in charge, were exploiting the people.  To get forgiveness, they had to buy a sacrificial lamb or a dove in the Temple and the Temple was charging fifteen times the amount in the marketplace.  Also, the people had to pay the Temple Tax in shekels, not in Roman coins and the temple charged them to change their money.  This was wrong, terribly wrong and it infuriated Jesus.  He spoke out against it, hitting Caiaphas in the wallet and later Caiaphas hit Jesus with a cross.

            Now, let me conclude with a moment in the life of Charlie Brown.   In one of Charles Schulz's classic Peanuts comic strips, Lucy is watching TV.  Her little brother Linus goes over and says to her, "Lucy, you and I are brother and sister.  We should get along better.  We should love and respect and protect each other.  That's the way it's supposed to be."

            Lucy does not respond.  She totally ignores him. In the next frame, Linus goes outside and says the same thing to a brick wall.  "Lucy, you and I are brother and sister.  We should get along better.  We should love and respect and protect each other.  That's the way it's supposed to be."

            Then Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, "You're right Charlie Brown, you're right.  Talking to Lucy is like talking to a brick wall."

            Talking to Caiaphas was like that as well except the wall falls on you.  But the real question for today is "What about us?"

            When Jesus comes and says to us, "Follow me!" how do we respond?

            When Jesus says, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," how do we respond?

            When Jesus says, "Forgive and don't hold grudges," how do we respond?

            Do we respond like a devoted, faithful, obedient disciple?  Or like a brick wall?

[1] From a sermon "Encounters with Christ VI: Jesus and Caiaphas" by James W. Moore.

[2]  Leslie Weatherhead, Personalities of the Passion, Abingdon Press 1942, p. 40.