October 22, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Luke 23:13-25.
Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people and said to them, “You brought this man to me and accused him of inciting the people to revolt. I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him, nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us. So no capital crime has been committed by him. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” (Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder.) Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” WIth loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed. The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
Interestingly the New American Bible does not include verse 17 in this passage. In some bibles it reads, “He was obliged to release one prisoner for them at the festival.” The notes explain that this verse “is not part of the original text of Luke….It is not found in many early and important Greek manuscripts.”
Law and order were primary values in Roman culture and political rule throughout its empire. Pilate adheres to both though in this case they are in conflict. He follows the correct legal proceeding in declaring Jesus innocent, but in the end he bows to the crowd of Jews in order to maintain order. However, Pilate is no hero in this episode; he is also complicit in Jesus’ suffering and death. He placed so little value on the lives of the people he presided over that Jesus was just one more insignificant man who could put to death without staining Pilate’s conscience or scruples.
Something often evil happens when people come together as a crowd. There is a sense of anonymity that gives license to the evil that lurks in our hearts. There is also a heightened sense of power and invincibility. Even if there were some defenders of Jesus in this crowd, they would have been too frightened in the face of this power to speak out or they would have been shouted down and perhaps assaulted. There is something also in a crowd that I am opposed to that draws out the worst in me — hatred, a desire to commit violence, harsh judgment.
Who was going to stand up for Jesus? Not a crowd, not even his closest companions. God his Father stood with him, but didn’t stand up for him. God didn’t intervene. He had made a gift of His son to us as a sign of His love with the desire that we would return that love with love. I am called to stand out from the crowd, because I can be awed by it, I can be overwhelmed by it, I can be swayed by it. I am called to stand with Jesus alone, apart from the crowd, to return his love with mine and to love each and every individual in the crowd. I can love a person I disagree with; I can’t love a crowd. I get lost in a crowd just as Pilate did; their voices prevailed. As a result, Jesus suffered and died.