not Pilate’s best day…nor ours | John 19.6-8
When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. John 19.6-8 | ESV
This only made them thirsty for me. They started chanting, “Cru-ci-fy, cru-ci-fy…” Pilate yelled over their chanting, “You do it! You take and crucify him then. I won’t! I tell you, I find him ‘not guilty.’” The religious assemblage were quick with a comeback: “We are law-abiding citizens and our law says he is guilty and deserves death because he dared make himself out to be deity – the very ‘Son of God’!” Hearing this, Pilate was now totally unnerved, wondering just what he had gotten himself into – and wondering how he would ever get out of it. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“John does not portray Pilate as a completely bad man. Rather, he is a matter-of-fact man who has been appointed to enforce Roman law and to keep the peace. We are given the impression that overall Pilate tries to do this in a blunt but fair way. From the beginning of the story of Jesus before Pilate we are given the impression that Pilate saw Jesus as an innocent man and that he tried to find a way to free him. He even tries to ‘coach’ Jesus to say the right words so he would have a reason for acquitting him.
Toward the end of the encounter, motivated by an increasing fear of the strange powers of this man whom he is urged to condemn, Pilate almost begs Jesus to deny the charges against him in such a way that he can free him. The artistry with which John tells this story leaves the reader with the realization that the person who is really on trial is not Jesus but Pilate himself – and, indirectly, all of us who now read the tale.”
John Sanford, Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John
Not Pilate’s best day.
These pages from John’s Gospel are really more Pilate’s story than Jesus’. John frequently has moved his narrative spotlight to other characters on stage, showing us Christ through their eyes, and also showing us ourselves. That spotlight has been on the woman at the well, on the man born blind, on the disciples in the upper room, and now it’s on Pilate.
And yes, we are invited to see ourselves here.
Our default position is to sit as judge over the judge. Look at how he fumbles justice, look at his shallow pragmatism, look at how governed by fear this governor is! Like Olympic judges, we hold up our scorecards, and if we were emperors sitting in the Coliseum, we readily give him the thumbs down.
“And therefore, you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are that passes judgment against another, for you who pass judgment are doing the same things.” With every strike of our gavel we only condemn ourselves, for no sins are as readily condemned in others as those nesting comfortably in our own hearts.
We are all Pilates, at one time or another.
Not completely bad, trying to be “matter-of-fact,” and never quite fully escaping the tyranny of public opinion – or of our own fears.
We would do well to be kind to Pilate – for in so doing we are only having (and asking for!) mercy for ourselves.
In what specific ways can you identify with Pilate and his dilemma?
Lord, free me – just a little bit more – from the tyranny of my own fears, so that I might not hesitate to own you, and those you love, no matter what the cost. Through your mercies. Amen.