Article 53 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Why did so many people hate Jesus? Answering this question may help explain why so many people hate Catholics today.
We know that many hated Christ in His lifetime, and we know there are many who hate him and His Church today. Jesus sowed the good seed of truth and kindness. His enemies sowed weeds of lying and hatred. As a result, to borrow the words of the Creed we pray each Sunday, “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.”
In his lifetime on earth, Christ’s greatest enemies were the Scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Scribes were somewhat educated. They read and explained the law to the Jews, and for that reason, were highly honored. The Sadducees were followers of Zadok who lived 250 years before Christ. They denied the idea of “life after death” and therefore denied “the resurrection of the body.” The Pharisees strictly observed the regulations of the Jewish law. They prayed faithfully, gave 10% of their earnings to the temple, gave alms to the poor, fasted twice every week and stopped at nothing to make a convert to God.
How could such “religious” men be enemies of Christ?
The answer: Christ pointed out that their motivation was flawed.
They hated Christ because he explained that all their fasting and contributing and praying were done – for mere show. Christ condemned them for their hypocrisy and the way they misused religion. Therefore, they hated Jesus with a burning hatred, tried to trip Him in His own words and sought to find fault with His conduct.
Furthermore, the crowds that followed Christ and affirmed His ministry, made these groups jealous. With their power weakening and authority slipping, they decided to get rid of Christ. As St. John tells us: “From that day forth their plan was to put him to death” (John 11:53).
The Catechism alerts us to the fact that among these religious authorities in Jerusalem were the Pharisee Nicodemus and the prominent Joseph of Arimathea, “both secret disciples of Jesus” (ccc 594). The Acts of the Apostles also remind us that there were “many who believed in Jesus” including those belonging “to the party of the Pharisees” so much so that St. James could tell St. Paul: “How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law”(Acts 6:7; 15:5; 21:20).
As for the Christ-haters, even they were “not unanimous about what stance to take towards Jesus” (ccc 596). The Pharisees “threatened to excommunicate his followers” (ccc 596). The high priest Caiaphas prophesied: “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John11:48-50). The Sanhedrin, “having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer” handed him over to the Romans, accused him of political revolt, and put him in the same category as [the murderer] Barabbas (ccc 596). The chief priests “also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death” (see John 19:12, 15, 21).
Recall the pitiful sight of the mob when Pilate presented Jesus with the words: “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). Did this satisfy their devilish rage? No, it did not. They shouted from hate-filled hearts: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him” ((John 19:15)). Pilate thought of a way out. He called Barabbas, whose hands were red with the blood of others, placed him beside Christ, and asked the mob to choose. They chose Barabbas and cried again for Christ’s crucifixion. At last the weak-kneed, spineless Pilate gave in. He turned Christ over to the fanatic mob. Why? Because he feared the Jews would denounce him to the Roman emperor. He feared he would lose his office, his dignity, his wealth, and perhaps his life. Through fear he condemned innocence to death.
The complex circumstances of Jesus’ trial provided many different answers to the question: “who was responsible for the death of Jesus?” Whether focusing on the “personal sin of participants” (ccc 597) like Judas, the Sanhedrin, or Pilate; on all the Jews in general, or “other Jews of different times and places” (ccc 597), the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council:
“… Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. The Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture. All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion” (Nostra Aerare, 4).
Echoing this sentiment from Vatican II, the Catechism teaches: “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured” (ccc 598).
No one person or group, not even the Romans (who we know killed Christ on the cross because this form of execution was a Roman one) were solely responsible for Our Lord’s death. The Church has consistently taught that every human being who ever lived contributed to the suffering and death of Jesus. “It is you,” Saint Francis of Assisi says, “who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins” (ccc 598). As a result, the Catechism teaches, quoting from the Council of Quiercy, France in 853 AD: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer” (ccc 605). Why?Because there is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being who has not contributed to the suffering and death of Jesus. From the cross, therefore, He says to all: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).