Friday, December 19, 2008

Pilate's Indecision (John 19:6-11)

6 Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”

7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

8 Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, 9 and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

10 Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”

11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate’s plan to free Jesus by appealing to the crowd’s sense of pity failed miserably. In fact, it had the opposite result. In Fr. Farley’s words, “The Jews had hoped that Jesus was indeed to prove their Messiah, the One who would overthrow the might of Rome and liberate Israel. When they saw Jesus so brutally humiliated, they concluded that they had been deceived in this hope, and that Jesus must have been a deceiver, as His enemies said” (320). All they wanted was for him to die.

Pilate can see that the crowd does not truly desire justice; their cries are a matter of personal envy and vendetta. Disgusted with their lust for blood, he tells them to crucify Jesus themselves, for he can find no fault in him. Of course, this retort is a little silly (Fr. Farley says “petulant”), since Pilate knows that the Jewish rulers have no legal authority to crucify anyone.

The Jewish rulers keep pressing. They remind Pilate that Jesus has committed an offense that deserves capital punishment under their law. “Pilate himself may not see any cause to put Jesus to death, but let him respect the local sensibilities” (Farley, 320).

The growing agitation among the crowd causes Pilate to become even more afraid. The situation outside the praetorium is becoming closer and closer to a riot. And, as Fr. Farley points out, Pilate was a pagan, and like all pagans, he was certainly prone to superstition. He speculates that perhaps Pilate is wondering if Jesus might be divine or not: “Something there was about Jesus’ demeanor, His serenity, his freedom from fear, that made the idea of his being the Son of God more compelling. (Possibly also by this time Pilate’s wife had sent her message to him, begging him to have nothing to do with Jesus, since she had suffered much in a dream that night because of Him; compare Matthew 27:19)” (321).

Whatever the cause of his fear may be, Pilate tries again to determine just who Jesus is, demanding of him, “Where are you from?” But Pilate’s answer does not come from a truly searching heart. As he has already made clear, Pilate is not truly interested in seeking truth. Because of this, Jesus does not answer him.

Jesus’ silence infuriates Pilate. How dare this Galilean peasant, rejected by his own people, not answer the mighty Roman governor of Judea? Note how Pilate twice affirms his power. “Cannot Jesus see how important Pilate is?” (Farley, 322). Ironically, Pilate claims that he has authority over Jesus’ life and death, when in fact, just the opposite is true!

Jesus reminds (or informs) Pilate that he would have no power if it were not granted to him by God. In Fr. Farley’s words, “Pilate is not the one in control, as he imagines. He is just a pawn, for all his outward show of might and authority…God, who truly has all authority, is the judge here, not Pilate” (322). The Jewish authorities who delivered Jesus to Pilate bear greater responsibility than Pilate himself, and Judas, for betraying Jesus into their hands, bears the greatest guilt of all these mentioned.

Ultimately, however, the greatest responsibility for Jesus’ death falls on us. For if we had not sinned, Jesus would not have needed to die.


Clint said...

I have always appreciated how "in control" of the entire situation Jesus really was.

charlene said...

Father James,
I am struck by how very powerful your last line is. It is easy for me to forget that it is MY weakness and MY sins that caused the need for Jesus to suffer and be crucified. It is so easy to forget that each and every one of us played and plays a part in the need for salvation. Thank you Father, for reminding us of this.