Monday 8 April 2013

The Seven Questions of Pontius Pilate

Are you the King of the Jews?

Am I a Jew?

What have you done?

So you are a king?

What is truth?

Where are you from?

Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?

(John 18 and 19 RSV)

In his account of the dialogue between our Lord and his judge St John the Theologian puts a number of questions into the mouth of Pilate. The Roman Governor is, in fact, one of the very few gentiles with an extended role in the Gospel accounts. Here, perhaps, St John conscious that most of his audience were also gentiles makes Pilate their representative. The questions he asks are important not simply in the context of the Passion but also they are important for us. They go the the heart of who Jesus is and why He matters to the world.

Is Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed one of God, for whom the Jews had long been waiting in in whom they vested such high hopes? If He was then it would follow that Jewish prophecy was founded on the truth that there was, and is, One God who intervenes in human history and has revealed Himself through a covenant relationship with the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus did not answer Pilate directly but readers of the Theologian would recall His dialogue with another gentile in Samaria-

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
John 4

Does this matter to non-Jews? Very much so. If there is but one God, Father, Creator and sustainer of all that is, then His interventions into human history have a purpose which we would do well to heed. In a sense we are all Jews now. The Messiah has opened the doors into the people of God to all who are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by faith and not simply by blood. Or, more precisely, we are children through the blood of Christ rather than the blood of Abraham. And being made members of God's household we obtain new privileges and duties.

What had Jesus done? Speaking to a household of gentiles St Peter described His actions in this way-

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him
 Acts 10

But the High Priestly party described them very differently-

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”
John 11

The key difference was that the Apostles saw the power of God acting through our Lord guaranteeing the success of His mission. albeit in ways they did not foresee. The Jerusalem authorities saw the power but doubted the source. For them He was only a man and Rome was greater than Him. In Him the Apostles hoped and because of Him the Sanhedrin feared.

Was Jesus a King? He was, and is, the author of all kingship yet His own authority is both vastly more and vastly less than that which we usually attribute to our earthly rulers be they Princes or Presidents. Less because He is the one who washes our feet and takes our stripes for us. More because-

25 Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26 They will perish, but thou dost endure;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Thou changest them like raiment, and they pass away;
27     but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.
Psalm 102

The interesting thing about the question "What is truth?" is that having asked it Pilate left without waiting for an answer. In that, surely, he is a representative figure for all of us. He knew that this was perhaps the most important question of all. He knew also that he was in the presence of one who could answer that question. Yet the pressures of the world and its demands upon him took priority. He left Jesus in order to stop being ignorant in the presence of knowledge and start being powerful in the presence of those subject to him. God reveals Himself to those who listen. Some listen not at all, some but seldom and very few listen with all their being all the time. In this Pilate reveals what we are and the Blessed Virgin Mary shows what we should be.

Where have you come from? An important question for Jew and gentile alike.
Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.
John 7
To which He replied-
You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know.29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.
John 7
To Pilate He gave no reply which conveyed precisely the same amount of information as His answer in the Temple did. He was called a Galilean and a Nazarene. We are told that He was born in Bethlehem. None of this tells us where He came from. Only Gabriel told this and only Mary heard it

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God.
Luke 1

The seventh question is clear. Man tells God that we have power over Him. The same assumption made in Eden is now made in the Praetorium and, perhaps, within your heart and mine. We can take up and put down Jesus as and when we want in the measure that we want. The power is ours.Yet Pilate was mistaken, the High Priest was mistaken. And you? Are you in error too?

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