The Gospel proclaimed is a portion of John’s version of Jesus’ passion narrative – part of the Gospel proclaimed each year on Good Friday. Here Pilate is shown in a more favorable light than in the other Gospels. We hear one of two dialogues between Jesus and Pilate in which Pilate questions Jesus about the charges brought against him by Caiaphas and the high priests – a political crime, one that would require a punishment of death. Pilate was tasked with the unpleasant job of keeping the province of Judea in line. According to the Jewish historians, Pilate was by nature rigid and stubbornly harsh. A man filled with wrath and spite. His career was marked by … bribes, acts of violence, outrages, murders without trial and most grievous brutality.” Various voices competed for his attention – military leaders, politicians and charismatic figures who rose up promising to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression. Pilate distances himself from the Jewish leaders. He is not a Jew, and he seems to want little to do with this Jewish affair.
John portrays him as a weak and vacillating man – torn between his external fears and his inner doubts. He is also a cynic – “So you are a king?” He asks Jesus sarcastically. As the verbal exchange progresses, we see that it is Jesus who is in control, whereas Pilate seems to be quite powerless. He wants to release Jesus but can’t. His role is to administer justice, but he is too scared to do what he knows is right. And so he vacillates between Jesus and his accusers and eventually symbolically washes his hands in a desperate attempt to excuse himself from his responsibility.
Can you identify with Pilate’s tight spot? When have you found yourself on the horns of a similar dilemma? Maybe you didn’t publicly wash your hands. But did you wait so long to address a problem that it became a moot point? Or did you wring your hands and say, “It’s not my responsibility – you figure it out.” Or did you close your eyes – not putting your hands over your face, but figuratively wearing a blind-fold to shield yourself for a nasty situation or racially cruel joke? Did words fail you or did you bite your tongue when a confrere was the butt of teasing? Did a collection box call out your name for portion of your scant allowance for a donation to relieve the needs of the hungry? Did Jesus (in disguise) wait in soulful sadness to hear you greet him: “Have a good day?”
This Gospel asks us the same question Pilate asked Jesus: “What have you done?” Can we answer like Jesus: “I was born to testify to the truth – for this I was brought into the world.”
~Reflection by S. Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress