Suffered under Pontius Pilate
Jesus lived at Nazareth until he was about 30 years old. By then Joseph, his foster-father, had died and Jesus had taken over the carpenter’s shop himself. When he was around 30, however, he left Nazareth and began to go round Palestine teaching the people about God and healing all who were ill. With him went his followers, including his special friends, the 12 Apostles.
The plot to kill Jesus
As a result of his teaching and miracles, huge crowds flocked to him, and soon people all over the country were talking about him and the wonderful things he was doing.
Growing hostility to Jesus
Unfortunately the Jewish rulers were jealous of Jesus and saw him as very real threat. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “If we let him go on like this everyone will believe in him and before we know it we’ll have the Romans on our backs and they’ll destroy our holy place and our nation”. The number of those who believed in Jesus became much greater still when he brought back to life a man called Lazarus who had been dead four days. After this miracle the Jewish rulers made up their minds to have Jesus killed though without deciding exactly when.
Cleansing of the Temple
In those days, when people went to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, they used to give to God what was called a sacrifice. It might be a bullock or a lamb or a dove. Now the rulers, including the high priest whose name was Caiaphas, were making an enormous amount of money by selling these animals at very high prices, and they even set up a row of shops for the purpose in the covered walk surrounding the Temple courtyard.
When Jesus visited Jerusalem for the last time and saw all this moneymaking going on in the House of God, he went round the courtyard pushing over the tables, piled up with coins, with one hand and driving the animals out with a whip held in the other. This Cleansing of the Temple, as it is called, decided the rulers to put Jesus to death as soon as possible.
The Jewish rulers saw Jesus as a very serious political threat. Furthermore, he preached about the God’s rule and this was seen as a threat to the current set-up which the ruling priests did not want changed. (1) Interesting archaeological findings reveal how very comfortably the high priestly families lived in Jerusalem. They lived in the Upper City and the homes in that area were the most wealthy in Roman Palestine. There were mosaic covered floors and most walls were covered in colourful wall paintings. There were beautiful bowels and plates, produced locally or imported. They built steam baths inside their homes so that they avoided using public baths. (2) So at a personal level they had much to lose if there was any trouble with the Romans.
The Cleansing of the Temple took place at the beginning of Holy Week. The Jewish rulers wanted to have Jesus killed but their difficulty was to find out beforehand how they could catch him when he was more or less alone, because otherwise they were afraid the crowds would stop them.
Judas agrees to betray Jesus
Then on the Wednesday of Holy Week, they had a secret visitor, none other than one of the Apostles, Judas Iscariot. St Luke tells us that “...Satan entered into Judas” (NRSV, 22:3). “What will you give me” said Judas to the chief priests, “for me to betray him to you?” And they made a bargain with him for 30 pieces of silver money – the price of a sheep. Later Judas was to fling down those 30 pieces of silver on the temple floor and, in a fit of terrible remorse, to hang himself from a tree.
The Last Supper
On the Thursday, that is, Maundy Thursday or Thursday in Holy Week, Jesus and his Apostles had their last supper together in an upper room in a house in Jerusalem. And Jesus “…took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’“ (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The next day Jesus was going to be nailed to the Cross. He had come into this world to save our souls, that is to say, to rescue us from the powers of evil and to bring us back to his Father. But to do that meant being crucified, because for God to come from Heaven into this world and meet the powers of evil on their own ground could only lead to a mighty conflict between the two, in which they would try to destroy him utterly. Jesus could have avoided that conflict only by running away from it and deserting those he came to save. But as the Good Shepherd he stood by his flock and was ready to pay the price of his coming and to give his life for us on the Cross.
And so on that Maundy Thursday evening Jesus gave to his crucifixion its meaning by offering himself beforehand to his Father for all humankind. In this way he gave to his death its true meaning and at the same time gave us the pattern for the Eucharist in which he continues to offer himself to God and brings us to his Father.