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a priori

And they led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. ..... Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. ..... ..... ..... And they all condemned him as worthy of death.       Mark 14: 53, 55, and 64


These past few weeks in Jersey have seen a resurgence of calls to sort out the perceived constitutional difficulties with the fact that the Bailiff of Jersey not only chairs the meetings of the legislature (the States) but also leads the judiciary, the Royal Court of Jersey in particular.

Of course it is not only the Courts in Jersey that provide "justice" for all of us. Every Jersey person is responsible to others to do justice for those others - to be fair, to respect the weak and not exploit them, to support the needy, to allow others an open place to live and to do well.

Whether or not the combining of functions within the ancient office of the Bailiff of Jersey is at present leading to injustice is highly debateable. One thing is quite obvious in practice - the Bailiff of Jersey never acts in his own cause, never decides a case in which he is an interested party.  

A more insidious thing in any person to whom we may turn for justice in our society is prejudice. Pre-judging anything that affects another and then acting on that pre-judgment. And prejudice often arises in the form of a general principle, an a priori belief accepted as true.

Above is a highly topical example from AD 33 in Jerusalem. Jesus, the teacher of great authority in that society (and now), the man who cared for society’s underprivileged, the deliverer of many from the thralls of evil in their lives, and the marvellous healer, has been taken captive. Captured by force of arms, at night and at the instance of the "high priest".

Don't misunderstand the title "high priest". This is the leader of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, the ruling Council - the equivalent of Jersey's States plus the Church plus the Royal Court. One man leads it all - he is appointed by a process that can best be described today as "lacking transparency".

The high priest and the 70 other members of the Sanhedrin gather at his official residence to "interview" Jesus - in the middle of the night. They have decided on the outcome that they want. See above: Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none.

Having that a priori basis for their decisions makes things easier for them. Call truthful witnesses - no good, nothing there. So call false witnesses - no good, they're contradictory. So assume the witness have provided conclusive proof and ask the prisoner to defend himself - Jesus does not reply, another surmountable problem. So the high priest (in Jersey terms the Bailiff, the Chief Minister and the Dean combined into one supremo) asks, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus says, "I AM". The high priest shouts, "What further witnesses do we need?" He tears his robes and thus precludes any unfavourable vote from his colleagues. Verdict: Condemned. Sentence: Deserves Death. Immediate action: Spit on and strike Jesus.

Such is the dangerous stuff of reaching conclusions, of making decisions from a general principle known to be true independently of the evidence. That's a priori justice.

Everybody in Jersey is very prone to this. In examining the facts about a Guernsey v. Jersey dispute, Jersey must be "in the right". After a road accident, the other driver must have been doing the key thing that caused the accident. When I am making off with my secretary, my wife must earlier have failed me miserably.

And.... of course, whilst Jesus Christ was a good man, neither he, nor his words nor his deeds, nor his resurrection from the dead can have anything to say to ME......
‘Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.' (Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States, 1743-1826)
‘The Bible insists that God is entirely just, and that therefore ultimately justice will be done, and will be seen to be done.' (D A Carson)
Richard Syvret

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