Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chapter 14 - The Abomination of Desolation

Following the virulent exchange between Jesus and the members of the Roman loyalist regime, Jesus and his disciples left the Temple district. They would retire only once more outside of Jerusalem before his arrest. As they retreated away from the temple district on this occasion, one of his disciples is said to have marveled, "Master see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!"[1]

Jesus replied, "Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down."

On towards sunset Jesus and his disciples had gathered themselves on the mount of Olives. There four of the disciples pursued the future circumstances that would involve the destruction of the temple.

Jesus amplified his earlier comment with the same earnest measures as Joshua had anciently when he read the Law on Mount Ebal with both its "blessings and cursings." Jesus could also have drawn upon the book of Chronicles, where it made reference to the prophet Jeremiah to vindicate the same theme of catastrophic destruction and desolation. There we find: [2]
"Moreover all of the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand. And all the vessels of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king, and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. And they burnt the house of God, and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they were servants to him and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia: To fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath to fulfill threescore and ten years."

Jesus knew of the sevenfold judgment that would fall upon those who had neglected their duties prescribed in the law, and responded to the question put to him by his disciples as to "when shall these things be fulfilled?" He finally replied:[3]
"For many shall come in my name saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be ... . For nations shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: ... . But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not ..., then let them be in Judaea flee to the mountains: And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take any thing out of the house: And let them that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! And pray that your flight be not in winter. For in those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God has created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days."

It is easy to say how these words referred to as the abomination of desolation must have been placed in the mouth of Jesus by those who preserved the gospel tradition, but this need not have been the case. The Jewish scriptures foretold the consequences of neglecting the law. No one needed a crystal ball to gaze into the future if they believed in the messages contained in the Torah and the prophets The fate of the nation and the fate of a messenger bearing good tidings as suited to the acceptable year of the Lord were cast together.

On the next morning, Jesus remained in the vicinity of the mount of Olives. A woman who finds Jesus in Bethany at the house of Simon the Leper disposes of a costly amount of spikenard in accordance with the law of removal by pouring it upon Jesus' head. The disciples quibble over the extravagance, but Jesus tells them how this anointing prepares him for his burial. Later in the day, Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the last time in the company of his disciples to observe the Passover. During the meal Judas, one of the disciples, leaves the group and betrays Jesus to the authorities. After the meal has been completed, Jesus and the other disciples retired once more to Bethany to await his arrest.

During this same time the synedrion[4], a council of select political advisors loyal to Pilate and Rome, was goaded into action. Jesus was apprehended with the assistance of Judas and presented before a hastily convened assembly. What the official members of the Roman loyalist regime could not do in the daytime they accomplished under cover of darkness. A search for reliable witnesses, who did not deal in seventh-year produce, proved futile. Thus the interrogation proceeded without any reliable accusing witnesses. Thereupon, at every available opportunity, Jesus pursued his predetermined course to uphold the rights of the needy during the seventh year. Jesus next found himself next arraigned before Pilate. The charges pressed against him by the synedrion stated: "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is the Messiah, a King."[5] This was purely a secular charge of treason against Rome.

Pilate may have wondered about the intentions of his Jewish collaborators and appointees. Where a large protest movement had recently been mobilized against him simply because he wanted prompt payment for the construction on the aqueduct, and where this same courtyard had been filled with an angry mob shouting obscenities against Caesar, at which time Pilate had beaten the mob into submission, now Pilate finds a cooperative delegation of loyal Roman subjects turning over an accused renegade. Whether Pilate saw Jesus as a welcome means of plaguing these scheming wretches, or whether he was merely priming the potential bribery pump, cannot be answered, but we can be confident that Pilate was not concerned with justice. He was more likely concerned about just how his reputation would survive when the public record reached Rome.

After Pilate interrogates Jesus, and sometime in the course of the week, he sends Jesus to Herod Antipas for review. Herod works his will upon Jesus. After Herod is assured that this Jesus is not some reincarnation of John the Baptist, he returns Jesus to Pilate. If Pilate received a gift from Herod to assure Pilate's favorable action, Pilate must have decided the bribe was too small. At any rate, Pilate determines his self-interest can be best protected by passing final responsibility back to the synedrion. He therefore decides to announce that he found no fault with the accused, and adds, "but you have a custom (during the seventh year), that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore I release unto you the King of the Jews?"[6]

His council of advisors rejects his public plea and seals Jesus' immediate fate. Thereupon, the heartless Roman machine proceeds according to Pilate's order and executes one more of Caesar's enemies infesting Jerusalem. Jesus had begun his journey to Jerusalem approximately a year earlier when he announced the year of release. There, he prompted his countrymen towards a more rigorous observance of the seventh year. As he stood before Pilate, the last opportunities for positive national action during the seventh year waned away. Pilate offered to release Jesus as part of their custom during the year of release at that Passover.

The delegation who represented the aristocracy, could not see Jesus' release as part of the seventh year anymore than they could possibly see their property released to the poor. The delegation chose Bar-rabus, who also was called Jesus, instead. Pilate did release the prisoner as reported. The gospel authors did not invent the custom. But even so, Pilate can only be depicted as a benevolent Roman overlord by using a very tragic sense of irony.

The sorrowful conclusion remains: those who had it within their power to redress the burdens levied upon the people remained impassive. Jesus had for an entire year proclaimed a message of hope, and admonished all those who would listen to share the blessings flowing from God's benevolence. Many stricken with disease and poverty enthusiastically responded to his announcement of good news, but what was good news to the oppressed was an anathema to the wealthy. The wealthy chose to maintain their holdings received from the largess of the Roman world. When Pilate reminded his partners in imperialistic exploitation, "You have a custom whereby you may release a man from prison," they responded according to their calculated self-interest, and rejected this last aspect of the acceptable year of the Lord. They also rejected their God-promised security in the land. The people in the land of Israel were hopelessly divided against themselves: the rich against the poor; and the Roman loyalists against the Zealots. The wealthy disregarded their countrymen's interest to serve their own interest. Jesus had certainly seen the outcome -- "for no man can serve two masters. Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."

The miraculous story that follows the execution of Jesus and describes the resurrection transcends historical analysis. The story itself is timeless. And so is the hope for social and economic justice timeless by itself. Vested ecclesiastical and secular interests can construct an oligarchy of bruising power and dissipating wealth, but some David-like upstart invariably comes along intent upon hurling a stone-shattering blow to the status quo. Jesus, "son of David," was such a "son of man." He possessed the vision to see the hopes promised by the sabbatical year, and he had the courage to enunciate those hopes. Jesus honored the "acceptable year of the Lord" by relieving the burdens weighing upon the sick, the poor, and the oppressed in Israel, and thereby, during the last year of his lifetime, reigned "Lord also of the Sabbath."

[1] Mark 13:1-2
[2] II Chronicles 36:14-21
[3] Mark 13: 5a-37
[4] Luke 23:2
[5] Solomon Zeitlen, The Rise and Fall of the Judaean State, Volume II, foreword to the second edition (pg xv) differentiates the synedrion from the sanhedrin.
[6] John 18:39

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