Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taken Before Pilate (John 18:28-32)

28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover. 29 Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”

30 They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”

31 Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.”
Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” 32 that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which He spoke, signifying by what death He would die.

As I mentioned earlier, after Jesus was interrogated by Annas, he then had a full trial (though what happened barely deserves to be honored with that title!) before the Sanhedrin, led by Caiaphas, the current high priest. The details of this trial are included in the synoptic Gospels, but omitted by John. John picks up the narrative after Jesus was condemned by this kangaroo court. Having declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the Jewish leaders now drag him before the Roman governor Pilate, hoping to convince the governor that Jesus has done something worthy of the death penalty.

The Praetorium was the governor’s temporary residence in Jerusalem (his permanent headquarters was in Caesarea). Most likely, Pilate’s Praetorium was Herod’s palace, in the northwest corner of the city, across from the Temple in the eastern parts of the city. As Fr. Farley states, “Courts were customarily open shortly after sunrise. Jesus’ Jewish accusers hurried to bring Him to trial before Pilate at dawn’s first light, at the first opportunity to have such legal cases tried” (312).

Note that the Jewish authorities would not even enter the Praetorium. This was because according to Jewish teaching at the time, entering the home of a Gentile made one ritually unclean at least until evening--and sometimes longer. And if the Jews were so defiled, they would not be able to offer the sacrifice appointed for the day after Passover. The irony of this is obvious: the Jewish leaders did not want to be ritually unclean and thus be disqualified from the Passover sacrifice, but they were unconcerned about the uncleanliness of their hearts as they were in the process of committing murder!

Wishing to accommodate their religious sensibilities, Pilate went outside to meet the Jewish leaders. He began with the customary practice of asking what was their accusation against Jesus. Their initial charge is actually a total non-charge. The best they can do is to merely state that he always does bad things. Fr. Farley has an interesting take. Although the following quote is long, it is worth reading in full:

“Behind these words [i.e. the words of Jesus’ accusers in verse 30] may possibly lurk a more secretive reference. It may be that the whole thing had been prearranged with Pilate—possibly through Annas or Caiaphas speaking with Pilate privately. Certainly Pilate’s assent would have been necessary to gain the Roman cohort sent to arrest Jesus (18:3), and he must have been told about Jesus before that morning. It is possible that Pilate was therefore expecting Jesus to be brought to him at early morning, and that Jesus’ accusers were hoping that Pilate would simply condemn Jesus on their say-so, with a minimum of legal formality. Pilate’s insistence on due process caught them somewhat off guard, and they accordingly responded lamely to his question by saying if Jesus were not guilty, they would not have brought Him” (313).

Regardless of whether this meeting was pre-arranged, one thing is certainly clear: Pilate has little or no interest in hearing this case. If they don’t have a substantive charge, they should not be wasting his time. But Jesus’ accusers cannot take no for an answer. They want Jesus to die, but they have no authority to inflict the death penalty themselves (at least not legally!). So, they are forced to tip their hand, admitting that they want Jesus to be put to death. This is why they need Pilate to try and convict Jesus.

In verse 32, St. John adds that Jesus had himself foretold that he would die on a cross. When the Romans would execute a Jew, it would normally be by crucifixion, not by the Jewish method of stoning. So, “It was because of this [Jesus’ prophecy] …that Pilate heard the case, not because Pilate himself thought Jesus was a criminal” (Farley, 313).


charlene said...

Father James,
There are people that see a forest and recognize it is made up of trees. There are others who see first one tree, then another, and after walking miles only then recognize they are in a forest. I am afraid I belong in the latter category. One line of Fr. Farley's explanation does not seem just right to me, but it may be that I am comparing two trees too closely, and missing the fact I am in a forest.
Fr. Farley says that it is because of Jesus' prophecy that Pilate heard the case. Aprophecy is, I think, a divinely inspired foretelling of the future. In essence, to me Fr. Farley seems to be saying that because Jesus SAID it would happen that way, Jesus MADE it happen that way. But if we go back to verse 31, it says This implies to me that the "Jews said...that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled." Here, the actions of the priests in bringing Jesus to Pilate cause Jesus prophecy to be accurate. Am I splitting hairs too much here? Am I getting nervous without cause about smeone interpreting Fr. Farley,s statement to imply Jesus' intervention here?
Thanks, Father.

charlene said...

CORRECTION on my comment:
I meant to delete "This implies to me that" from the line that starts "to verse 31". So sorry.