Jesus answered Annas, “Why do you ask me these questions? Ask those witnesses who actually heard what I said to them. They know what I said.” – John 18:21
In the early 1870s, Lawrence Murphy was the “boss” of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Murphy owned the only bank and general store in the area. Local residents despised Murphy, who charged excessive prices. An enterprising English businessman, John Tunstall, opened a rival store in 1876. Murphy, however, moved quickly to eliminate Tunstall as a threat to Murphy’s monopoly. On February 18, 1878, Tunstall was shot and killed. The assassins were Murphy employees. Tunstall’s death ignited the Lincoln County War, a series of bloody battles between Murphy’s gunmen and the Regulators, a group of former Tunstall employees that included William Bonney — “Billy the Kid.”
Annas was the Lawrence Murphy of his day. He had formerly been the Jewish high priest, but the Romans had deposed him for carrying out illegal capital sentences. Even so, the job remained in Annas’s family: the new high priest was Annas’s son-in-law, Caiaphas. And while Annas himself was no longer the high priest, he remained the “boss” of the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, largely because he controlled the Temple markets. When Jesus booted the moneychangers out of the Temple, Jesus’s actions hit Annas squarely in the pocketbook. So, after Annas learned of Jesus’s arrest, Annas told the authorities, “Bring him to me.”
In the United States, a criminal defendant may invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions that might incriminate him. Jewish law is a little different. Under Jewish law, a prosecutor may not even ask a question that could incriminate a criminal defendant. Annas, as the former high priest, was certainly aware of the requirements of Jewish law. Yet, he did exactly what Jewish law forbids: he asked Jesus to incriminate himself and his disciples. Jesus reminded Annas of the requirements of Jewish law, effectively telling Annas: “If you really want to know the truth, then go find witnesses. You are not entitled to cross-examine me.”
We all must choose where we will store our treasures. Annas and Lawrence Murphy chose to build for themselves empires on earth, seeking to terrorize or eliminate anyone who might dare to oppose them. Less than a year after Murphy ordered Tunstall’s death, Murphy himself died of cancer. Murphy’s empire on earth was useless to him after his death. So too was Annas’s empire. Jesus was not a rich man, he was not an influential politician, and he was not a “boss.” He died as a common criminal. But he is, and always has been, the King of Kings. Our treasure is in him. God’s empire is eternal.
Our Father in heaven, holy is your name! May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And may we always know that our treasure is in you, not in the things of this world. Amen.