While Peter was making his first denial of Christ, the sacred Redeemer was standing before Annas. My, how delighted Annas was that the Jews had brought Jesus first to him rather than to his son-in-law Caiphas, who was high priest because the Romans had unlawfully given him that post. De facto for all intents and purposes, although deposed, Annas was by Mosaic Law the real high priest. Indeed this whole affair may have been Annas’ idea; he may have thought that if he condemned Christ as a threat to Roman power and rule, his own position might be made stronger in the minds of the Roman authorities. But conjecture is time wasting. The point was, Christ was standing before Annas. He hated the Galilean and was happy that he would be given the high privilege of humiliating Him.
“The high priest therefore questioned Jesus concerning his disciples, and concerning his teaching. Jesus answered him: “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why dost thou question me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I have said.
“Now when he had said these things, one of the attendants who was standing by struck Jesus a blow, saying, ‘Is that the way thou dost answer the high priest?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken ill, bear witness to the evil; but if well, why dost thou strike me?’ ” (Jn. 18: 19-23).
Note the great clarity with which Christ answered the high priest. First he made it clear that he had no secret doctrines and no plots to contrive. Second, Christ’s answer made an old truth evident in that it was irregular and illegal to compel a man to witness against himself. “Question those who heard what I spoke to them” – in other words, “produce witnesses against Me.”
Annas was trapped, and his pride was injured. It was to relieve him of his embarrassment that the attendant struck our Lord with his fist in the face. Behold your Lord and your God staggering beneath the pain of that cruel blow and see His precious blood flow from His mouth and nose. The blow was senseless because it was struck by one who wanted to gain the favor of the high priest and because it drew ridicule on Christ from the bystanders. “Alas,” cries St. Chrysostom, “is our God to be received with buffets! Grow dark ye heavens, with horror. O earth, tremble at such a deed. Let each of us bewail our sins, for they caused that cruel blow to be struck.”
St. Chrysostom writes that it was the same Malcus whom Peter had struck in the garden of Gethsemani, who struck Christ so cruelly in the presence of the High Priest. Oh, the power of Christ’s gentle answer to the one who struck Him! The calm, sweet answer, the patience, the absolute control did what the miracle of the healing of his ear could not do. St. John Chrysostom further affirms expressly that the grace of God entered Malcus’ soul with the words: “Why dost thou strike Me?” and his eyes were opened to the light of divine truth.
The next time you are tempted to sin bring those words of Christ to mind. “Why dost thou strike Me?” Each time we sin gravely, we not only strike Him, we crucify anew our loving Savior. Say with St. Dominic Savio – “Death rather than mortal sin.”
*From Reflections on the Passion by Father Doyle