Friday, April 3, 2015

My name is Pilate

My sermon for today was based on John 18:1-19:42.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

My name is Pilate, and I just didn’t want to get involved.

I had good reason not to get involved, though.  I am the prefect of Judea.  Judea is not really that important to Rome, and if I am being honest with myself, I am therefore not a very important person, so I don’t know why I always find myself in this kind of situation.  The population of Judea is only half a million people, the city of Jerusalem a fraction of that.  What that means is that I am essentially a little cog in a big machine, a Roman magistrate who works under the rule of Emperor Tiberius.

I don’t know if you have met Tiberius, but let’s just say he is a man you do NOT want to disappoint.  He has the tendency of executing people who disappoint him.  I am already not in Tiberius’ good books.  A few years ago, I erected a few statues of Caesar in Jerusalem.  Well, it’s our city now, why shouldn’t I?  But these Jews don’t like seeing carved images of Caesar because they know we believe him to be our God, and we require them to acknowledge that as subjects of Rome.  But apparently they have a rule against that.

They might have let that go, but I also seized funds from their Temple to assist in building the aqueduct, and they went ballistic.  I personally can’t believe they have lived in this city for so long without proper infrastructure.  And I don’t think it is too much to ask that they pay for the improvements we are making to their backwoods town.

Anyway, this caused some civil unrest because it went against their religion, so they reported to me to Tiberius.  Luckily, he didn’t call me back to Rome for punishment, but if I mess up one more time with these people, I will be in trouble.  That’s why I had to do what I did with this Jesus of Nazareth.
I don’t know if you have heard of this guy, but apparently the Jewish religion has predicted the coming of someone they call “the Messiah”.  So the story goes, the Messiah is going to lead their people to victory over their oppressors and bring them into a glorious new age.

Well, of course, these days we are those oppressors.  I’d like to see them try to overthrow the might of the Imperial Army.  And I really don’t think this Jesus is the man to lead them to it anyway.  I had never met him or heard of him before today, but apparently he has been causing quite a stir with the high priests and scribes and Pharisees.  Apparently he was teaching a few things that they regarded as heretical, and he was undermining their position with the people by doing so.  I’m not entirely sure why this is such a big deal, but they sure are mad at him.

Which is funny, because no one seems to be willing to anything about him.  No one seems to want to take responsibility.  They just keep passing the buck.

Perfect example: last night, the high priests captured him.  They set up kangaroo courts with their officials, and still couldn’t pin a crime on him.  They brought him before Annas, father of the high priest and former high priest himself.  Annas couldn’t really find any indict him on, so he shuffled him off to Caiaphas, the current high priest.  Same thing: Caiaphas couldn’t find anything worth accusing him of, so he shuffled him off…to me.

And now I’m stuck with him.

Look, I didn’t want to get involved.  I tried, I really did, not to get involved.  Realistically, I did everything I could to try to save him.  I went back and forth between Jesus and the crowd several times.  I tried to get Jesus to defend himself, I gave him every opportunity, but he just sat there and would not defend himself.  Why wouldn’t a man defend himself?  I told him clearly if he didn’t defend himself, I’d have to have him crucified.  Isn’t that human instinct, to try to save yourself, to try to stay alive as long as possible?

I went to the crowd a few times as well.  I tried to get them to explain what he had done to make them so angry.  They just gave me some anemic answer about him breaking their laws.  I’m not a Jew, I really don’t understand their ways or what he did to offend them so much.

I gave them the opportunity to release him.  They have this custom that keeps the people happy.  At their festival, the Passover, which happens last night and today, I release one of their people we have in prison.  I offered to let Jesus go, or a guy named Barrabas who is convicted of banditry and murder.  They chose Barrabas!  A murderer, can you believe that?  I really don’t know what this Jesus has done, but having talked with him, I can’t believe it was worse than murder.  On the contrary, I actually quite liked this Jesus.  He was calm, poised, dignified and gentle, and I really cannot understand what he did.

But I had to do something.  They don’t pay me enough to ask too many questions, and that crowd was sure worked up.  I asked them point-blank to tell me what he had done.  Several times.  They never really gave me what I would consider a satisfactory answer.  I tried to get them to take responsibility and judge him by their own law, but they wouldn’t.

I even had him flogged for these imaginary crimes, hoping that would be enough, but it was not.
Finally, I said I couldn’t execute him because I found no cause against him.  That’s when they pulled a pretty dirty trick.  They shouted at me, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of the Emperor.  Any man who claims to be a king sets himself against the Emperor”.  Yeah, it was pretty clear what they meant by that: if I don’t do what they want, they squeal to the Tiberius again, and that will be the end of me, for sure.

So I did what I had to do.  I turned Jesus over to be crucified.  What else could I do?  The mob was insistent.  Maybe if my position and even my very life weren’t at stake, I would have stuck to my guns and smuggled Jesus out of the city, but I couldn’t risk it.  Like I said, I don’t think this Jesus has done anything to merit execution, but I have look out for my own interests.  Just because he won’t stand up for himself doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing.  If I didn’t do something, there would have been a riot, and does the life of one man outweigh the good of the many?

I don’t know if history will remember me, but if it does, I hope it will remember me as someone who did their duty and who followed orders.  I hope it will remember me as someone who tried to keep the people happy.  That’s what bureaucrats do.  I hope I will be remembered as someone who did his job.

My name is Pilate, and I just didn’t want to get involved.

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