A short reading and reflection
Reading St Luke 23: 13-25
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.’
Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
Refection – He has done nothing to deserve death
Luke is deeply aware of the context in which his story unfolds. It is a context of Empire. Of high politics, and high religion. We see Jesus shipped from pillar to post and back again. He starts with the Assembly of the Elders, seemingly the Assembly of the chief priests and the scribes – the religious authorities. They are looking for a reason to get him out of the way. For he was stirring up the people. Perhaps they thought that he was going to take away their authority – for he was one who seemed to teach as if with some kind of naturally endowed authority. They are looking to trick him. “Are you the Son of God?”, they ask. “You say that I am”, he replies.
From here he is shipped to Pilate – the chief official of the Roman Empire, the occupying force of the region. A brutal empire – that will brook no opposition to its rule. With deep double standards – justice for its own citizens in a legal system that still influences our own, but for those not Roman citizens, life could be brutal.
The accusation of treason is so easy to bandy about, is it not? We hear it fairly regularly in our own troubled political times. “We found this man perverting our nation”, the Council protest to the representative of the occupying forces. Forbidding the paying of taxes to the emperor, even. But Pilate has some sense of justice within him, clearly. He’s not willing quite that quickly to take all of this at face value – ‘I find no basis for an accusation’, he says. Where upon the Council turn to that other thought, that sounds so familiar to our ears all these thousands of years later – the power of the crowd and popular opinion. ‘He stirs up the people’ – they claim. And the people must not be stirred up – heaven only knows what ideas might get into them.
So on again in this game of pillar to post – to Herod this time, the Israelite King, puppet, seemingly, of the Romans – but a sop to some kind of Israelite independence. Herod is glad to meet this character he’s heard so much about. He sets about questioning Jesus. Not that Jesus has a lot to say for himself. Unlike the scribes and the chief priests, who stand there, vehemently accusing him.
Herod clearly was not quite sure what to do. He mocked and treated him with contempt – he was the only true king around here. And a fake kingly robe is placed upon Jesus, as he’s sent back to Pilate.
Pilate can find nothing wrong. Herod can find nothing wrong. This man is innocent of the charges brought against him? So how does he end up getting convicted? It’s a heady and toxic mix. Political and religious leaders whipping up the enthusiasm of the crowd, bandying around charges of treason. A political leadership weak, and perhaps a little uncertain of itself. Wanting, the quiet life more than justice. And then we have the crowd. Popular Opinion. ‘The Will of the People’, to use the more contemporary turn of phrase. And it is the will of the people, regardless of the evidence, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the case, regardless of justice or truth – they just want their pound of flesh. ‘Crucify him’. They shout. ‘Crucify him’. And Pilate gave in. Weak leaders often do. His standing amongst the crowd being more important than truth or justice. And so the crowd got it’s way. The sentence was passed.
And so it is, that it is in the interplay of worldly politics and religious fervour, that Jesus is condemned. Untruths whip up the people, and the will of the people must be done. And so it is. Jesus is condemned by powers that be very much like our own powers that be today. By crowds, people, in fact, very much like us.
Loving God, we give you thanks and praise that Jesus was like us in every way, but without sin. That he put himself in the place of a sinner, condemned as a criminal, that we might be freed from sin and death.
We pray for those who administer justice and who wield power. Grant them wisdom and insight. May they resist the voices of popular opinion and seek only the true and the good. May they be upheld by your Spirit, that they might exercise servant leadership, like that of Christ.
We pray for those falsely accused and imprisoned, and we pray for those who seek justice on their behalf. Grant patience, perseverance, and hope.