Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
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Cornelius a Lapide
But the Chief Priests and all the Council sought false witness against Jesus, to put Him to death. Here comes in S. John"s narrative (xviii19).
The High Priest "asked Jesus of His disciples and of His doctrine," as is there said, because, says Euthymius, "he wished to convict Him of introducing strange doctrines, and of stirring up sedition." For it was the duty of the High Priest to inquire, into heresies and new sects. But Jesus firmly and prudently replied that He had taught openly, and that those who heard His teaching were there present, and though His enemies, could speak to it. Let him ask them what He had taught them. For there is no surer evidence of innocence and sound teaching than that which comes from unfriendly hearers. For had Christ stated His own doctrine, they might have urged that through fear of condemnation He had said one thing in the Council and another in public. "He replied not arrogantly," says S. Chrysostom, "but as confident in the truth." Whence He says, "Why askest thou Me?" Why dost thou insidiously and captiously ask Me, thou crafty High Priest, to catch something out of My mouth wherewith to accuse and condemn Me? Thou canst easily learn from the common opinion of the people what I taught them. If thou knowest it not, thou hast not done thy duty as High Priest. And if thou wishest to know it now, ask the bystanders, My enemies, who have often heard Me. Let them produce, if they can, a single untrue or unsound word of Mine. For I know they cannot do so in truth.
But when S. John says "that one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand," S. Cyril thinks that he was struck with His teaching, and wished to remove this impression by striking Him.
He struck Him on the cheek, as vindicating the honour of the High Priest. Such a blow, inflicted with a mailed hand, was both severe and disgraceful, as appears from the "sacred countenance" which is religiously preserved at S. Peter"s, and exhibited to the people in Passion Week. "What more audacious act?" says & Chrysostom. "Let the Heaven be horrified, let the earth tremble at the patience of Christ and the insolence of His servants." "Methinks," says S. Cyril, "the whole universe would have shuddered had it known what it meant: for the Lord of Glory was smitten by the impious hand of a man." It is a marvel that this hand was not at once shrivelled up, nay, that the earth had not swallowed the man up alive. But the gentleness and love of Christ prevented this, who called him and many of his fellows to repentance ( Acts 2:37). Just as Jeremiah foretold in sorrow, or rather in astonishment, "He will give His cheek to him that smiteth Him. He will be filled full of reproach" ( Lamentations 3:30).
Now comes in S. Matthew"s narrative. Finding they could find nothing against Him from those who were there, "they sought false witnesses," as despairing of finding true testimony, because Christ"s Wisdom of Solomon , truthfulness, and sanctity were fully known to all the people.
That they might deliver Him to death. This was the great end for which they sought for false witnesses as a necessary means, though the sole end of justice is to condemn only on true evidence, and to inflict on false witnesses a correspondent punishment. For they wished for their own credit not to appear men of violence, but impartial Judges , and consequently to be proceeding judicially against Him, though they were at the same time both judges and accusers, against every rule of justice and equity. "They craftily devise," says S. Chrysostom, "the outward form and appearance of justice, disguising their craft under the veil of a trial" (Vict. Ant. on Mark xiv.). Again, they wished Him to be condemned by Pilate, but they knew he would not condemn Him unless the crime were proved by witnesses to be deserving of death. The Chief Priests therefore seek false witnesses against Jesus, the Author of life and Saviour of the world, because, though they knew it not, God had decreed to give us, by His death, life both here and hereafter.