Matthew 27:11-31 New International Version (NIV)
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“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Pilate’s role in the crucifixion is complicated. He is alternatively portrayed as the one who crucified Jesus and as the one who tried to stop it. He certainly is not the likable character in dramatic renditions of the Passion Story. Historically, Pilate is known for his ruthless rule over Judea as the Roman governor. He lived in the governor’s palace in Caesarea on the coast, so he had traveled himself to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, not to celebrate, but to contain the crowds by reminding them of Roman political and military power.
Then the other morning, while brushing my teeth, I flipped to the new date on the little calendar thing that sits on the shelf next to the sink. You know that kind of little calendar that stands up by itself, it isn’t for keeping track of the day’s events nor holidays nor appointments, rather it is one of those little “thought for the day” calendars, with a simple prayer and then a little thought. Most of the prayers are rather nice, and when I do my morning brushing, I often say the prayer and think of it a moment as I look fuzzily into the mirror. Usually, though, the little saying is pretty useless. Someone’s attempt at clever wisdom, that didn’t quite cut it. But, the other morning, there it was “The opposite of Love is not hate, but indifference”.
Well, if you read about Pilate’s role in the trial and crucifixion, and know Pilate’s political power and purpose for the Romans, I’d have to say that Pilate comes out pretty much . . . as being indifferent. While Jesus, Jesus embodied Love.
“The opposite of Love is not hate, but indifference”.
Pilate didn’t arrest Jesus, Pilate didn’t fear Jesus, but the Jewish leaders and those threatened by his embodiment of love did. They crucified him, or asked that he be crucified.
But, what of all the people who didn’t stand up and say “this is an innocent man”. Didn’t they too, crucify him? Not so much for what they did, but for what they didn’t do? Of all the players in the passion story, Pilate had the power to stop the crucifixion. Pilate was the Roman in charge of Judea. He had the political control. He really doesn’t care to be caught up in the petty disagreements of the Jewish people, all he wants is to maintain his own power and control and to uphold the Roman state with which he is entrusted. But, the fact is that it takes courage to stand against the crowd. And if a leader won’t or can’t or doesn’t do it, who can or does or will? It takes courage to stand with the innocent outcast. It takes courage and conviction and integrity to stand up for what you think is right. It takes courage to love. So, Pilate with his indifferences, gives in, it is easier to give in, and he thinks that it really doesn’t matter anyway.
And then, just to play it both ways, he stands before the crowd, and in an action known by it’s complete ineffectiveness, Pilate washes his hands “I wash my tired hands of you and this crucifixion and innocent blood and all the other ills of the world for which I refuse to take responsibility or interest.”
But it never works. For his sorry part in the story, by his refusal to decide, Pilate, you see does take part and does decide. His playing it both ways is playing it no ways. His inaction is action. Pilate is reviled not for what he did, but for what he didn’t do and could have done. Our man Pilate, he did what so many indifferent, uninterested parties do – “whatever” – in today’s parlance – he proclaimed his own innocence. he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood . . .”
BUT PILATE, you weren’t the one on trial. It isn’t your life at stake. No one asked if you were innocent, you were asked if Jesus were innocent. “I am innoncent” and Pilate wiped his hands on a rag and turned his back to the crowd and to the broken body of Jesus.
Was this an act of hate? No. It was an act of indifference.
Thank God, thank God, our God is not indifferent. For hate is something you can recognize, revealed in actions you can protest or words you can argue. Indifference is far more destructive by the inactivity, the silence. Love is action, a palpable presence in your life if you feel love or loved, and a palpable absence if you don’t feel love or are unloved.
What a contrast between Pilate washing his hands and Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. One an act of indifference, the other an act of love. In Jesus washing the disciple’s feet we learn that the love of God for the world is lived as a love of humbleness, self sacrificing servanthood and interest in the everydayness of life, an outpouring of self for others. Pilate washing his hands and proclaiming his own innocence is the love of power, Jesus washing the disciples feet is the power of love.
So, what is to be your and my role in the passion story? In the little and the big crucifixions of everyday life, the killings of self and others, through denial, criticism, betrayal, apathy or violence, – do we choose Pilate’s way, “not in my backyard” “I can’t change the world”, “It’s not my problem or my business” and “what can I do?” “whatever”. By doing nothing, making no decision, allowing the crowd to decide, do we then try to claim our own innocence? “I had no part in it!” Yes, like Pilate, by choosing to take no part, you have taken a part.
Or do we, you and I, choose the Jesus way, love expressed in action, in response, in prayer, in compassion, in concern.
Indifference or apathy crucifies people everyday, but acts of love redeem and resurrect.
I think that what is really hard for me right now, is that love is expressed by inaction. Or so it seems. That is to say, that the most loving we can do in this pandemic is to stay home and stay safe to take pressure off of the health care system. I find that hard. I want to do more – to risk more to show (prove perhaps?) my love. How about you?
I have to remember that I see people doing what they can to express love in action every single day – making phone calls, baking cookies to give away, offering prayers, making masks, delivering groceries, sharing music, being grateful for what is rather than disappointed in what isn’t.
“the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”. Indifference helped to crucify Jesus two thousand years ago, and indifference crucifies Jesus today.
Will you be one who washes your hands of that responsibility or one who washes feet in love by what you choose to do and by what you don’t do each day? Will it be the way of Indifference or the way of love for the world for which Christ died? It is after all your choice.
In the greatest of hope, thanks be to God. Amen.
Do you think the opposite of love is indifference? If not what is?
Where do you worry about indifference today?
How do you see love today?
God it is hard during these days of pandemic, hard to stay faithful and hopeful.
Help us to be your loving people, finding safe ways to care for this broken and needy world. Grant us the courage of love. Amen.
A Song for Maundy Thursday
“Were you There?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpSScICWJ9M