Christ on Trial

How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgement

by Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Rowan Williams

Christ Church (Parish) Church

Westmorland Street at Charlotte, Fredericton

Facilitator: Canon Jim Irvine


Mark: Voices at Midnight

Mark's account of the Trial

Master and Margarita - Bulgakov

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There is a Time for Truth


Matthew: Wisdom in Exile

Matthew's account of the Trial

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

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Luke: Knocking on the Window

Luke's account of the Trial

The Outsider - Albert Camus

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John: Home and Away

4 - A

Repeatedly, John’s theme is that those who consciously identify themselves as the ones who really believe or really know are also those who cannot bear the light that comes from Christ; and those who identify themselves as Abraham’s children, children of election and promise, prove unable to live in the trust Abraham showed. The fundamental issue is to do with the challenge to the ‘insider’, just as much as in Luke. That challenge comes not because of new teaching or new information, but because of who Jesus is. John, like other New Testament writers, is in fact clear enough that Jesus’ identity as child of Abraham and David is precisely what gives a tragic edge to the constant misrecognitions or refusals to understand that run through the narrative.  Page 74

4 - B

As soon as we begin to feel driven to defend Christ by the calculations of the world, by those tactics that inevitably make winners and losers, something is broken.   Page 81

4 - C

Near the end of The City of God, Augustine puts before his readers a paradox worthy of Zen Buddhism. The only causes you can fight for, he says, are the ones that are not absolute; once you decide that what you are fighting for is absolute, you have made it relative. … Identify what you are defending with God’s will, and you may be sure that you have driven a deep wedge between your cause and God. You have mingled your passion and fear with a witness to God’s truth. Page 81

4 - D

If there are things that become untrue when they are said, there are also, for Augustine, things that become untrue when they are defended, or at least defended in a certain way. For those of us not directly concerned with decisions about war, the application must be to how we regard the conflicts of our daily work and relations. When I am criticized, do I assume that my critic is deliberately sinning against the light? When my proposal fails or is delayed, how far will I go to see that it is finally successful? How much loss and suffering for others as well as myself am I going to ‘budget’ for? Do I actually believe that truth will ultimately look after itself, that it is still there on the far side of any controversy?  Page 82

4 - E

To pick up a powerful phrase from a book on Mary by an American missionary in Africa, we have to ask who and what our grief serves.

Page 82

4 - F

So far, nearly all of what has been said about ‘living in the truth’ has been to do with cost and struggle – living in the riskiness of Jesus’ presence, where no external guarantee can establish that living there is the right place to be. Page 83

4 - G

We are not – it seems – permitted to be at home in the sense that we can feel ultimately satisfied with where and what we are, longing to hold on to it and unwilling to respond to challenge; we are not to settle down in our place and our time because we feel comfortable. There are always questions to be asked by us and of us. That said, however, what is asked of us is a commitment to the here and nowour questioning can never be an attempt to deny or to escape the present moment. To know this moment, this place, this body, this set of memories, this situation, for what it truly is and to accept this as reality, the reality with which God at each new instant begins to work: this is the ‘being at home’ we have to learn. Page 84f.

4 - H

We constantly try to start from somewhere other than where we are. Truthful living involves being at home with ourselves, not complacently but patiently, recognizing that what we are today, at this moment, is sufficiently loved and valued by God to be the material with which he will work, and that the  longed-for transformation will not come by refusing the love and the value that is simply there in the present moment Page 86

4 - I

Our immersion in the present moment which is God’s delivers the world to us – and that world is not the perfect and fully achieved thing we might imagine, but the divided and difficult world we actually inhabit. Only, by the grace of this living in the truth, we are able to say to it at least an echo of the ‘yes’ that God says, to accept as God accepts. Page 86f.

4 - J

This fear of God’s otherness means that the world fears and hates whatever speaks of that other source of value – it hates Jesus and the community of Jesus because they do not live by the same fears and do not use the same defences. Page 87

4 - K

Nonetheless, Jesus’ friends are not to be taken out of the world (John 17:15). They have to live daily with those systems of hostility and competition. In the midst of this, however, they know the world as it really is, as God sees it, as the object of a love that is beyond violence and rivalry. They inhabit that kingdom which has no defences, the kingdom which does not derive from the world. Page 88

4 - L

Faith in Jesus is not bound first to the establishing of facts about him – remember how briskly this is disposed of by John in his account of the trial before Annas. Concern with such facts is and must always be related to who he is and what must be said about his identity as a whole. However much we know about Jesus, the verdict on who he is can only be delivered if we are willing to move, willing to be on trial both with him and before him. Page 92f.

4 - M

The point is that here, as we see Jesus standing before the tribunal, we have to decide what our own response will be. Without this, and without the execution that follows, we could just about get away with seeing belief in Christ as obedience to his teaching and conviction on the basis of his miracles. Faith is neither of these, however, because it requires us to move from our centre to his – and this is what the trial stories seek to help us achieve. Page 93


John's account of the Trial

The Trial - Franz Kafka

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Our Witness: Believers on Trial

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Koelz - Thou Shalt Not Kill

Ashes to Easter

Home Study Resources

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Canon Jim Irvine