Since it is Easter-time, I’ve been spending my time preparing for the big day by doing the usual ‘pre-Easter’ activities like filling plastic eggs full of goodies, reading the accounts of the crucifixion, and wondering how on earth anyone could possibly like Peeps. Gross.
This time around, I was drawn to Pontius Pilate. I suppose I’ve always seen him as a villain in the story. After all, he is the one who ordered Christ to be crucified. But this year, I realized something different about Pilate:
Three separate times he appealed to the Jews that he found no grounds for the death penalty (Luke 23:22). He tried to convince them to try Jesus by Jewish religious law rather than Caesar’s (John 18:31). He tried to avoid having to make a decision himself by sending Jesus to Herod (Jesus was from Galilee, which was in Herod’s jurisdiction) (Luke 23:7). He suggested a lighter sentence (flogging) to appease the thirst for blood, rather than a crucifixion (Luke 23:16). He tried to convince Jesus to defend himself against his accusers (Mark 15: 3). And finally, he put Jesus up against a known trouble-maker and murderer, Barabbas, for the annual Passover prisoner release (John 18:40). Presumably, he thought the Jews would choose Jesus over a scum bag.
I don’t know why, but I never noticed how much Pilate did to avoid killing Jesus, or at least avoid killing Jesus himself. It’s pretty clear this was something he didn’t want to do, though it’s not clear why. Perhaps he was a softy and didn’t like the idea of flogging and crucifying an innocent man. Or, perhaps he was afraid that he actually was killing the Son of God. After all, his wife tried to warn him against harming Jesus, and we all know wives are always right (Mat 27:19).
John’s account claims that Pilate was ‘afraid’ when he heard Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Upon hearing it, he spoke to Jesus and “from then on tried to set Jesus free” (John 19: 12). Ultimately, we know he conceded to the power of the angry mob, but not before he claimed to be personally innocent of Christ’s blood (Mat 27: 24).
While I’m still not on Team Pilate, re-reading all of this gives me more empathy for the man. After all, aren’t we all guilty of doing the same thing? Obviously, not too many of us argue with Jewish rabbis on a daily basis. But we all want to do the right thing and defend Christ, but we end up nailing him to a cross all over again.
Though Christians claim to know rather than fear Jesus is the Son of God, we behave the same way as the Roman governor. We avoid making tough decisions, try to take moral ‘short-cuts,’ defend our actions, absolve ourselves of responsibility, and ultimately try convincing others, ourselves and God that we are innocent, or at least justified. Like Pilate, when siding with Christ costs us something, friends, family, power, or even 2 seconds of ridicule, we decide the cost is too high and turn our backs. In this way, we are no different than the man who ordered his death, the soldiers who flogged and nailed him to the cross, or those, who at one point offered praise,but later hurled insults at Christ.
If you go back and re-read this story this weekend, I hope like me, you see yourself in the crucifixion account. It might make remembering why Christ died today a little more clear. It was because he loved his peeps. Not his Peeps.