January 24, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 27:1-2 and 11-14.
When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Here we see that Pilate is concerned with the secular, political issue of Jesus’ crime against the state, against Rome, in asking him if he is king of the Jews. The chief priests and elders are focused on the spiritual issue of whether Jesus has declared himself to be the Messiah or even the Son of God — blasphemy. And, of course, they were greatly upset when Pilate ordered a sign, King of the Jews, to be attached to Jesus’ cross. To each question Jesus gave a non-answer, responding only that that’s the charge you are making.
Pilate, a Roman, had no use for the Jews. He looked down his nose upon them, considering them to be irrational fanatics who could not be reasoned with or trusted. They were constantly causing trouble and threatened to take their complaints to Rome. In response, Pilate went out of his way to give them affront. He had his soldiers carry their standards with the image of the Roman emperor at the top when they entered Jerusalem, which his predecessors had chosen not to do in deference to the Jews’ offense at graven images. He took or stole money from the temple treasury to construct an aqueduct for the city. According to historians of the time Philo and Josephus, Pilate was a cruel and savage man as well in his treatment of his enemies.
Pilate probably realized that the Jewish authorities were presenting trumped-up charges against Jesus. It’s likely that he really wanted no part of their religious squabbles and he certainly didn’t want to risk an uprising during the Passover festival when the city was swelled by additional hundreds of thousands of Jews. If he was sympathetic to Jesus, it was perhaps his using the opportunity primarily to annoy the Jewish elders and chief priests. Jesus was almost a bystander in this tension between the Jewish authorities and Pilate.
Later, Christians made Pilate into a sympathetic figure in an effort to place the blame for Jesus’ death on the Jews leading to horrific violence against Jews in the succeeding centuries. According to Barclay, there is even a legend that Pilate’s wife was a Jewish convert from paganism who then became a Christian and that Pilate himself became a Christian. Even today the Coptic Orthodox Church, founded by the apostle Mark, regards both Pilate and his wife as saints!
Jesus had reached a point of acceptance of God’s will when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. He had said his last words to his disciples and friends. He had performed his last miracle in healing the severed ear of the servant during his arrest. I can imagine him as being in a kind of trance, fixated on his determination to do His Father’s will. He couldn’t allow anything to deter him from his grim resolve to die on the cross. Not the accusations of his enemies, not the taunts of the soldiers, not the offer of reprieve from Pilate, not the spitting and buffeting, not the jeers and blood lust of the crowd. He had somehow to blot all of it out, to remain focused on his obedience and return to the Father. No wonder Pilate was so amazed at Jesus’ silence in this midst of such hostility and impending conviction.
It’s hard for me to imagine being so focused that I would be able to allow myself to remain above the fray. I have been called single-minded and I’m not easily distracted, but still I can’t imagine the discipline, fortitude, and strength of faith that Jesus had to have had. It is amazing.
I think Jesus is giving me a model, an example of quiet determination to follow God’s will, when the world around me in falling apart, when I’m buffeted by difficulties, stung by betrayal, wracked with pain, beset with doubt, in danger of losing hope. Through it all I have to keep my focus on God, my Father, who loves me and will embrace me in His heavenly kingdom. That’s the only armor, the only defense, I have, but it’s the only one I need. That’s what I pray for so that in the midst of difficulties perhaps I will be amazed at myself, at my fortitude and my determination to remain focused on God’s will and love for me. To get me through it and to Him.