What Say You? – Luke 22:63-71 [Daily Devotional]

Luke 22:63-71tissot-the-morning-judgment-626x719

Although the phraseology seems awkward by modern standards, when a jury has returned a verdict in a trial the judge will ask, “So say you all?” The judge is asking the jury whether or not this is truly the verdict each one of them has reached. News commentator, Bill O’Reilly’s lead question in most interviews is, “What say you?” This strange phrase, like the one above, has its origins in the courtroom. The phrase has been used in English courts since the 1400’s to inquire how one will plea to a charge.   It is generally thought of as being very formal. It is also regarded as a very aggressive question because it demands an answer.

What one says in court is very important, as the opinion of jurors will be swayed by the words of the witnesses, lawyers and the defendant. In capital cases, where the life of the defendant hangs in the balance, what is said becomes of paramount importance.

In our text today, Jesus is standing trial before the council of Jewish leaders (Sanhedrin). The debate over whether or not this was a full blown trial need not concern us here. We need simply note that legal proceedings in a capital case against Jesus took place. Both the chief priests and the scribes asked Jesus questions, two of which are recorded in our text today. Note that Jesus is very clever in how he phrases his answers. When they asked him if he is the Messiah, he answered by not answering. He said, “If I tell you, you will not believe…” His answer to the question is not a “no,” and yet it is not fully a “yes” answer.

Later their questioning continued with, “Are you then the Son of God?” As we read this text it may seem that Jesus again evades answering the question by saying, “You say that I am.” We are surprised at their response to his answers. They treat it as if Jesus had confessed and they say, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!” In our modern English translations it sounds as if Jesus is only acknowledging their charges against him. “You say that I am” does not sound like a confession. Jesus has carefully and masterfully turned both questions back on his interrogators.

However, the phrase “you say that I am” was a traditional rabbinical response in debate used to acknowledge that the accusation spoken is true (H.D.M. Spence, Pulpit Commentary, Luke, Volume II). In other words, Jesus’ answer could be translated, “You say that I am, and it is true.” Note how Jesus answers Pilate when asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king (John 18:33-37).” He then goes on to explain his kingship to Pilate.

In both trials, the one before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, Jesus acknowledged that the things his interrogators said about him were true. He is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the King of the Jews. This being a capital case against Jesus, the things that were said about him had life and death consequences. The things said about Jesus were true, and that led to his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

What is said about Jesus was important during his trials, and indeed it was important during his ministry. Perhaps you remember that early in Jesus’ ministry, while in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27–30 and Luke 9:18–20) Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” After they answered, he asked a much more aggressive question, “Who do you say that I am?” What followed has become known as Peter’s Confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

What is said about Jesus was important to those who would follow him as his disciples. What was said about Jesus was important in the judicial proceedings against him in his trials. What is said about him is still important today, especially in our personal lives. What say you?

The painting above is titled “The Morning Judgment” by French artist, James Jacques Tissot (1836-1902). The medium is opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper. It is part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY. Luke is the only Evangelist who tells us that the proceedings against Jesus took place after sunrise (Luke 22:66).

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