October 21, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:8-12.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at length, but he gave him no answer. The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile, stood by accusing him harshly. [Even] Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him, and after clothing him in resplendent garb, he sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that very day, even though they had been enemies formerly.
Luke is the only one of the gospel writers to include the appearance of Jesus before Herod. So, there must be something important to Luke that he wants me to know.
To Herod Jesus was a mere curiosity. He wasn’t a threat to Herod and held no real interest for Herod outside of his notoriety. Herod just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. He wanted to see Jesus perform some of the miracles that he had heard about. And he was sadly disappointed. Jesus wasn’t entertaining; he wasn’t even conversant. So, Herod and his soldiers used Jesus for their own coarse and aimless amusement and sent him back to Pilate when they grew bored. Herod had also been fascinated by John as a curiosity but had him beheaded in order to save face with his drunken companions.
The last verse about Herod and Pilate becoming friends on this day is puzzling. Herod was a puppet of the Romans and had to please them in order to retain his position as tetrarch. Pilate had the political upper hand but had to play a kind of game so that the Jews could claim to be ruled by Herod, one of themselves although only half Jewish. Both were ruthless men, concerned with maintaining their own power at the expense of anyone who challenged them. Neither had any use for God unless people’s religious faith could be manipulated to their own ends. The members of the Sanhedrin who brought Jesus before them were supposed to keep the Jews in line but had become noisy nuisances with their baseless claims against this poor, itinerant preacher named Jesus.
Johnson in The Gospel of Luke explains this friendship in this way, “Luke is unusually familiar with the conventions of friendship in the Hellenistic world. He is undoubtedly aware that one of the axioms concerning friends is that they are equals. Pilate’s recognition of Herod’s exousia (authority) — however useful it was for himself — signified a recognition of him as ‘equal.’ and therefore capable of being a ‘friend.'” So, they became co-conspirators in a way trying to absolve themselves of these fraudulent charges against Jesus and trying to deny satisfaction to the Jewish authorities. They could acknowledge each other’s authority and buttress each other’s claim of complicity in this matter. They became “friends” in their mutual inability or unwillingness to see Jesus as the voice of the word of God.
Jesus wants me to see him for myself, to see him as he is, the enfleshed word of God. He is not for my entertainment, for my amusement. He is not going to perform a miracle for me on demand or give me some sign to overcome my disbelief. It matters not whether I combine with others to question or even to mock him. The test of belief, of faith, is mine alone. It is my decision, my commitment, on which my salvation depends. It is my friendship with Jesus, not any else, that matters. That’s what Jesus recognized early in his life; his relationship to his Father was the only thing that really mattered and on which he could rely even as death was imminent. That’s what I am called to realize every day, the only thing that matters.