“Jesus answered him, ‘If I spoke wickedly, testify as to the evil; but if nobly, then why did you beat me?’”
There is a certain irony in Jesus‘ choice of words. Some of our modern translations render Jesus as saying, “If I have spoken wrongly…” which gives the impression that Jesus is defending his own deportment with respect to the High Priest. Indeed, the man who struck Jesus did scold him for speaking to Annas in such a way, so it is natural that such an interpretation would be made. Yet, that is not what Jesus is saying. This is a false and unjust trial and the man to whom he is speaking is not really the High Priest anyhow. In such a context, what role does protocol have in the first place?
The subordinate struck Jesus for now begging before Annas. Jesus’ response is righteous, truthful, and contains a level of indignation that, were Annas and his cohorts really aware of the man to whom they spoke, should have reduced them to a quiver. Jesus is going like a lamb to the slaughter and soon will remain silent before his accusers, but here in the pre-trial, righteous anger is found to lie behind these words.
The irony in Jesus’ statement can be found in his choice of language before Annas — in two words to be specific: kako/ß (kakas) and kalw◊ß (kalos). The word kako/ß (kakas) refers to that which is evil, wicked, unwholesome, defiled, etc… In the Greek culture, it was the polar opposite of that which is kalw◊ß (kalos), which means noble, beautiful, morally upright, or done in a manner that is pleasing. When used together like this, the contrast is between that which is moral and that which is immoral, that which is virtuous and that which is foul. Jesus is essentially saying, “You who have acted unrighteously toward me, are you going to accuse me of unrighteousness?” Let him who is without sin cast the first stone, indeed.
Of course, this statement also frames all that will take place during these trials. From beginning to end, there is no legitimacy and all the testimonies of witnesses are staged. Often, as we live out our faith in this fallen world, it can seem as if unbelievers or unbelief in general is out to get us — Satan roaring like a lion looking to devour us if given the chance. Peter reminds us that this kind of behavior should not be that surprising to us for this is the way that Jesus was treated (1 Peter 2:21) — and if anyone can testify to that great truth it is Peter — Peter who on this night would deny his relationship with Jesus three times. John, who is also there that night, reminds us that we ought not be too surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13). The world hated Jesus first and we ought not be too surprised that we who are servants are treated in the same manner as our master (John 15:20). In fact, be of good cheer — for if the world does not listen to you it very well may be a sign that you are getting things right.