What did Pilate do that was so wrong?
I’ve been wrestling with this question a lot this Lenten/Easter season. I am spending this year reading through the gospels. I use YouVersion and often listen to the passages aloud. In January I read through all four gospels. I spent February focusing on Matthew, reading it over and over. March was similarly spent reading Mark. Now April will be spent reading Luke. And May will be spent with John.
At the beginning of Lent I also started reading YouVersion’s “40 Days of Lent” reading plan. It’s been interesting. As I’ve read through the plans side by side I sometimes end up reading the same chapter a second time in a day. Other times I may read the same passage in parallel gospels in the same day or days apart.
Beginning today I’m also going through “The Story of Easter” reading plan. So now during Holy Week I’m reading three different reading plans all involving the life of Jesus. Two of them focus on Easter and the events leading up to it. And this week I’ll be reading the full gospel of Luke. It’s overlapping reading plans. You get the idea.
You may think (Or I would’ve thought) that the repetition or overlapping nature gets boring. But it has been quite the opposite. Reading like this has been like hearing the same story over and over again from different perspectives and in different orders. I feel like I’m getting a bigger and deeper picture of the characters in the story. Not really repetition at all.
However, I have digressed. Back to my question: What did Pilate do that was so wrong?
Having grown up in the church, I remember hearing the Easter story as a kid. I remember thinking the Jews, Pilate and everyone there was so evil except for Jesus and maybe that guy that carried his cross for him because he was forced to do it.
Over time I’ve learned to place myself amidst the crowd. I’ve pictured myself or understood myself as one of the many voices in the jeering crowd. I’ve spent hours meditating on the thought that it was my sin that nailed him to that cross. And after nailing him there with my sin, it was His love that held him there.
But what about Pilate?
Pilate was still my scapegoat. I was ok with placing myself in the massive crowd; even if it was out of sin. At least I wasn’t the only one chanting for Jesus’s execution, right? As long as it’s not only my voice shouting for his death, that seemed bad, but tolerable. I can handle that.
Pilate’s the one that could’ve really done something though. Pilate didn’t have to listen to us in the crowd. Pilate had the power to set Jesus free and silence the crowd. Pilate could’ve done something, but didn’t. And for that… I’ve always thought of Pilate as the worst one there. It’s one thing to be an ignorant peasant and demand an innocent man’s execution. It’s another thing to be an educated citizen of the most powerful empire in the world and condone the death of the innocent by a lack of action. “Yes,” I thought, “Pilate is the worst one there.”
So what did Pilate do?
Pilate questioned Jesus. (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2-4, Luke 23:3, John 18:33-38)
Pilate was amazed at Jesus. (Matthew 27:14, Mark 15:5)
Pilate found Jesus innocent. (Luke 23:4, 23:13-15, John 18:38)
Pilate questioned the Jews and gave them a chance to request Jesus be released. (Matthew 27:17-24, Mark 15:9-14, Luke 23:22, John 18:39)
Pilate had Jesus flogged in an apparent attempt to pacify the Jews. (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:16, 23:22, John 19:1)
Pilate declared Jesus innocent again. (Luke 23:22, John 19:4, 19:6)
Pilate was afraid and questioned Jesus again. (John 19:8-10)
Pilate declares that he has the power to crucify Jesus or to free him. (John 19:10)
Pilate tried to set Jesus free. (Luke 23:20, John 19:12)
Pilate gave in to the crowd and handed him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:24-26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:24-25, John 19:16)
Pilate had a sign made declaring Jesus was “The King of the Jews” and had it posted in all three common languages of the time. (John 19:19-20)
Pilate stands firm to his declaration of who Jesus is. (John 19:22)
Here’s what Pilate did: Pilate took the time to learn who Jesus was. Pilate believed and declared Jesus to be innocent and the King of the Jews. In other words, Pilate believed Jesus. Yes. I think we’ll see Pilate in Heaven. But Pilate gave in to the pressuring demands of a sinful society. Pilate did not stand up for the innocent like he could have. But instead, Pilate stood by and allowed the innocent to die.
Now… Who is the worst in this story? Pilate? Or the Jews in the crowd? I still think Pilate.
But I can no longer place myself in the crowd. I am not an ignorant uneducated peasant. I am an educated citizen of the most powerful empire in the world. I am no longer a Jew in this story… I am Pilate. I am Pilate because every day I sit and do nothing. And through my passivity, the innocent are allowed to die. I am Pilate every time I do not do all that I can.
Let’s, as the body of Jesus, stop being Pilate. Let’s stop letting our passivity, apathy and complacency condemn the lives of the innocent. Let us stop killing God’s children with inaction! Do something. Bring your friends along. Do something together. And keep doing it.
This list could go on and on and on. Don’t start tomorrow. Do something now.