This is the final week of the Lenten series. This week, leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, I visit with Pontius Pilate, Roman governor. Pontius Pilate is fascinating to me because I’ve always sensed his trepidation to send Jesus to his death. It’s as if his heart was telling him to save Christ, but fear took hold. I imagined what he may have written in a diary after he sends Christ to be crucified. Two readings from the book of John give you a brief look at Pilate’s dilemma.
A reading from the book of John 18:18-40
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
• • •
A reading from the Book of John 19:16-22
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Today, I am a weak and feeble man! A man who crumbled under the pressure of power! I didn’t take a stand for what I believe and sent an innocent man to his death. I am grieving my actions. Disappointed by my lack of resistance. How easily I was swayed. The guilt is too much to bear.
This man, Jesus from Nazareth, came into my hands to be charged with treason. A self-professed king, he claimed to have the truth. “What is truth?” I asked him. He spoke of an otherworldly kingdom. His words confused and challenged me. I couldn’t make sense of him. Nor did I comprehend those against him. As far as I could tell, he was a man of peace, a man who showed no violence. But, the Jewish elite were violent against him. They wanted death brought to him and left me to be the judge. I found no basis to charge him. Over and over, I stated my claim. When I realized he was from Galilee, I sent him over to Herod, hoping Herod would take ownership of his future. But, Herod only donned him in a royal robe and a crown of thorns and sent him back to me.
As I was wrestling with my decision, Claudia* sent me a message pleading with me to leave Jesus be. She spoke of suffering in her dreams because of him. What was I to do? All the varying voices were invading my mind. Voices shouting his guilt. Voices yelling Jesus was evil. Voices persuading me of his false claim as “king.” The conflicting whisper of Claudia’s voice warned me to steer clear of this man’s blood shed. The diverse viewpoints weighed heavy. But, the deafening roar of the crowd, crying with vengeance, “Crucify him, crucify him!” sealed my decision.
If I did not send Jesus to be crucified, I would be the one crucified! It didn’t dawn on the people how their religious leaders were breaking all their own rules! No trial was supposed to happen during their feast time. They had no authority to execute but were leaning heavily on me to make a decision. This man was meant to have counsel, yet, Jesus had none. I saw through their falsity, but if I didn’t go along, the people would turn their backs on me as governor! While I believed Jesus may really be the king of the Jews, I sent him to his death. My spineless protest was to have “King of the Jews” written on the sign displayed above his body. Was this action even significant?
Now, I sit here alone in the Palace, ruminating over all that has taken place. The words, “Son of God” ring in my ears. Could this be true? I am terrified for my well-being. Terrified I may have sent the Son of God to his death. How can I rule when my courage failed at such a crucial moment? My spirit is unsettled. I’m afraid I came face to face with truth, but my soul didn’t listen.
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9 (CEB)
During this Holy Week, I invite you to spend time with this verse. See if any word or words arise for you as you read and reflect. Notice what comes to mind. Offer this noticing as prayer.
The rest of Pontius Pilate’s story can be found at Bible Gateway in these locations:
* Pilate’s wife’s name is not listed in the New Testament (Matthew 27:19), however in the Apocryphal book, The Gospel of Nicodemus, she is noted as St. Procula, or Claudia. Read more about her, here.