Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’ (Matthew 26.3-5)
The names begin to appear, the characters in the drama are now evolving before our eyes. So far the people named have been Jesus and some of the disciples. But now other names begin to appear in the gospel narratives, real people who land us in real time, in real history – people like Caiaphas.
According to the 1st century historian Josephus this person was Joseph ben Caiaphas who was High Priest from 18 to 36AD. He was a real person with real responsibilities and he and his five brothers led the Jewish community between the year 6 AD and 63 AD. Other names will be added to his, Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea. We know that Nicodemus was there and Gamaliel, sympathetic Jewish leaders who were interested in what Jesus had to say.
It is easy to imagine that the gospel is timeless because in one sense it is, always relevant, always new. But from the beginning of the accounts of the evangelists they are keen to fix it in history. Luke gives us a set of historical coordinates in his gospel
‘In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.’ (Luke 3.1-2)
This is not God entering human experience out of time, out of history, but in time, in history, in real time, in real circumstances, with real people whose names we know and of whom evidence can be found. This is a powerful reminder to those who dismiss the faith as fantasy. Jesus is historical and the events of the crucifixion are historical. Of course, faith comes into play in how we interpret the history but of the history I have no doubt.
And we are creatures of history, born in time, living in real time. I have had fun tracing my ancestors and I have got back to the beginning of the eighteenth century when my maternal family line were farm labourers in the Midlands and my paternal line were cabinet makers in Ipswich. They are like guy ropes fixing the tent of my being into real history. The TV programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ allows us to see ‘celebrities’ discovering themselves. Holy Week encourages us to discover our real self alongside Jesus, what roots us in real time.
Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: you have made us for yourself, and hearts are restless until they rest in you. Amen.
St Augustine of Hippo