Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Rooster Weathervane, Jerusalem
The Pit, Jerusalem, Israel

After sharing a last supper with his disciples, Jesus withdrew with them to a familiar place of refuge in the Garden of Gethsemane amid the olive trees. After nightfall descended on the garden, he was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the religious rulers called the Sanhedrin. The disciples deserted Jesus upon his arrest just as it was written that “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered”. He was then taken to the Palace of Caiaphas, who was the high priest at the time. The remains of this place have been discovered south of the Old Jerusalem city walls next to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. The church has a bright brass rooster weathervane on the roof commemorating the location of Peter’s three denials of Jesus before the rooster crowed at dawn.

The occupying Romans allowed the Sanhedrin to retain their power and wealth as long as the people remained submissive. But they had determined that Jesus’ words and actions were galvanizing the people around him. His turning over the tables of the temple money changers was a serious challenge to a very lucrative life that they enjoyed. They concluded that it would be better for one man to die than for the whole nation to be destroyed. When the high priest Caiaphas coaxed Jesus into saying that he was the Son of God, it gave them grounds to charge him with blasphemy since they had no interest in believing him. And it gave them grounds for sedition or rebellion as the self-proclaimed messiah, the return of the Davidic king, which paved the way for a Roman condemnation.

The Sanhedrin didn’t come to a final decision to put Jesus to death until daylight, which implies that he was detained somewhere in the dark hours of the night. And the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu was built over a rather macabre stone pit. This prison pit is located next to Caiaphas’ palace where the sham trial took place. It is quite probably where Jesus spent his last hours of the night before being led off to face Pilate. It could have easily been littered with filth, snakes and rats in total darkness. Our group descended into this pit where we read the lines of Psalm 88. Verses 6-9 read:

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape.
My eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord…I spread out my hands to you”.

Jesus was completely alone. His closest friends had deserted him. He had been cast down into a dark and desolate stone pit. His grief must have been unbearable as this isolation foreshadowed his ultimate destiny. And as he hung on the cross for the final three hours of his human life, the earth was cast into darkness beyond any natural explanation. It is said that during this time he endured an isolation even beyond the pit, as the Son was apart from the Father for the first time in eternity as he took on the sins of all the world.

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