The New Testament, particularly the early parts of it (the Gospels, Acts) are full of a number of trials, times during which believers in this new Way were dragged into the courts to defend themselves for one thing or another. Jesus was dragged before Pilate, Stephen before the Sanhedrin, Paul before the Romans, and a few others in between. And there's something interesting that keeps happening in these trials:
The people just assume the accused will condemn himself.
They assume that the person they've dragged into court is going to start talking and everyone else will be just as offended as they are. They assume that when asked a question, the accused is going to answer and reveal his own rascality. Sometimes, the crowds quiet down just to hear the accused speak, only to go into a raucous uproar all over again, and the accusers just stand smugly by like, "See? See how much trouble this guy is causing?"
We keep seeing stories that say that they've tried to bring in witnesses to accuse this or that person, but it's never the witnesses that actually end up doing anything. No, everything hinges on the accused actually speaking for himself, then everyone else just pointing fingers and insisting on his guilt.
There's a bit of a game afoot here, if you're paying attention. Watch the pattern:
An offended party drags the accused before some kind of council or ruling authority. The offended party then makes claims about what the accused allegedly said that was so offensive, usually something about the faith itself - something the accused believes that the accuser doesn't. The council or ruling authority asks the accused if the accusation is true or what he has to say for himself. The accused then repeats what he said that so offended whoever it was that dragged him there. Then, the accuser points the finger and says, "See? See? He said it."
Then, the ruling authorities tend to get really confused (except when the ruling authorities are the Pharisees, then they just get a little stone-y and vengeful), unable to understand what it is exactly that the accuser wants the accused imprisoned or killed for, as it just seems to them to be some weird disagreement on the facts of their own shared-ish faith. The onlooking world (the Romans) can't understand why it matters so much that a man should face death just because he believes something different than someone else.
But, as it tends to happen, the accuser makes such a stink and raises such a fuss that...what are you gonna do? What can you do? You can't have a riot, so you have to do something.
So Jesus is hung on a Cross, Paul is forced to appeal to the emperor, and...us?
I'm telling this story because this is our story, too. And we'll talk about it for a few days.
We're not going to talk about this all week, though. Thursday brings in a turn of the page for us, as December starts, and I've got some holy things burning in my heart as we head toward Christmas, so we're going to shift gears and start settling into an Advent of sorts, a season of reflection and hope and anticipation, and talk about Jesus. A lot.