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u-turns from unanimity

“…… And [very early on Friday morning] they all [all the members of the ruling Council of Jerusalem and Judea AD 33] condemned him [Jesus Christ] as deserving death.” …… …… …… And when evening [Friday evening] had come …… Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus……             Mark 14: 65 and 15: 42, 43


How very strange.


First, a unanimous vote of the powerful Sanhedrin, the ruling body that combined political, religious, judicial and governing interests. Second, one member u-turns. On the same day.


Unanimity is rare. Can you recall a single vote in the States of Jersey (Jersey’s ruling council) when every member agreed a proposition?


There have been one or two occasions over past decades when there weren’t any votes against (because members abstained rather than pressing the “non” button) and it was then possible to indicate to folk outside Jersey that the proposition had total support. (Such decisions are recorded as ‘nem. con.’ from the Latin nemine contradicente = no objection.)


Chairmen (and women) use various means to influence the voting of their Committees. Mafia bosses need merely to hint at a small stone in their shoe.... Others have already “done deals” with Committee members beforehand.


In this case, the Chairman of the Council in AD 33 had torn his clothes and shouted, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And the decision was unanimous.


U-turns are rare. When decisions are taken on pragmatic grounds, on the grounds of expedience - of what is the best fit at the time for me, for us, - events intervene that make the earlier decision not at all sensible even to those who made it. But they don’t admit it.


Such an event was the actual death of the man whom they all had decided should die.


There was something about that death that made Joseph of Arimathea (“a respected member of the Council”) take courage and seek audience, late on the Friday, with the powerful Roman Governor who had ordered the execution, by crucifixion, of Jesus of Nazareth. He obtained access and requested Jesus’ body so he could wrap it in a newly purchased shroud and place it in a new tomb.


What was it about Jesus' death that altered this man Joseph?             


In the detailed records of that death another man was also deeply moved by the way in which Jesus “breathed his last”. He was the Roman centurion (commanding 100 “cent” soldiers - the prefix that we use in the word “Centenier”) who was in charge of the execution. Twice Mark, Jesus’ biographer, uses the Greek verb ekpneo meaning literally he breathed out his last breath. And Mark records that, when this tough Centurion saw this, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”


It was the way in which this man gave away his last breath for others, the final action of this man who had already lived his whole life for others, that led to a u-turn for two respected men.


That’s why many of us hope never again to use “Jesus” or “Christ” as swear words. What he did with his life has begun to change us – and give us courage to admit it.

‘Now I am no longer President, I find I no longer win every game of golf I play.’ (George Bush, Former US President, b. 1924)
   ‘From Your tears comes our joy /From Your death our life shall spring / .....We worship at Your feet / Where wrath and mercy meet / And a guilty world is washed by love’s pure stream ....... (Graham Kendrick, Christian song-writer, b. 1950)
Richard Syvret

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