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Legal aid and legal murder (1)

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered…… Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build a house in three days.’ ” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and punched him. And some slapped him, saying, “Declare to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” Matthew 26: 57-68
Discussions continue in Jersey about legal aid in criminal trials. Jersey is by no means alone in finding this difficult. The kernel of the problem – apart from the cost of hiring expert lawyers – is that justice demands that a person accused of a crime be represented by good quality, experienced lawyers. The resources of the State as prosecutor need to be fairly matched. Who can afford a good lawyer? If you can’t should you be given one free of charge?

A court in which an accused person is inadequately represented would qualify to be called a kangaroo court. No one quite knows the origin of the adjective “kangaroo”. Maybe it describes a “jumped-up” court or a court that’s in the “pouch” – the pocket - of a biased person or group of people.


‘Actually, you cannot break the law of God. If you jump off a skyscraper you do not break the law of gravitation, you break your neck.’ (Vance Havner, author, 1901-1986) 
Let’s look back (bold above) to Matthew’s eye-witness record of the proceedings of AD 30 court in Jerusalem. Those heavily armed men who had seized Jesus in Gethsemane, just outside the city, led him into the city to the town house garden of Caiaphas the high priest, where the lawyers and the great and the good had all come together.  In fact all Sanhedrin members were there – amongst others. The Sanhedrin was the court body which was responsible for the political, religious and legal affairs of the country.

When the members of a court meet at dead of night in the garden of the chairman, is that a “jumped-up” court? What about when those chief judges and others in the garden with them are the ones who’d bribed Judas to give Jesus away - as well as organized his armed arrest out of sight of the public? Is everything “in the pouch” of these authorities? 

Matthew writes that the Sanhedrin and its chief judge, the high priest, were trying to find false witnesses against Jesus so that they might have him put to death, but they found no such witness, although many come forward. Finally, two gave the required evidence. They both testified, “This man said, ‘I have power to throw down the temple of God, and build a house in three days.’

This AD 30 Jerusalem Temple was a magnificent new building. It was the worship place for folk who believed that, because they were inside it, they were blessed by God. Jesus had said that he had the power to throw it down. It was destroyed by the Romans exactly forty years later.  

He had also said that he would build a replacement house in three days. Another biographer of Jesus named John explains that he was speaking about how he, after he rose from the dead, following three days in the grave, would become the living house. A new true house of the living God. All who would trust him would find everlasting refuge in him.

It’s interesting, isn’t it that the Jerusalem authorities were seeking false testimony against Jesus. They eventually found two – who in fact gave true witness. How do you think it came to be that false witnesses spoke the truth?

‘The law of God will not take ninety-nine for a hundred.’ (William Secker, writer, d.1681)
The high priest, named Caiaphas – it’s his garden and it’s still night-time – lifted himself up and addressed the captive Jesus. He was, after all, the custodian of religious truth, of legal justice, and of God’s righteousness on earth. We’ll think about what he said next time.  

In the meantime, maybe we should all think about what we, the accused, would have done in these circumstances. What power defeated this kangaroo court?

Sinner Syvret

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