Whether we live in the kingdom of violence or God’s kingdom of Love depends on who we listen to: The mob, or the dreamer.
Pilate decided to crucify Jesus. The decision was his alone. Had he made a different decision we would surely be practicing a different religion today. Maybe Jesus would have lived long enough to get through to us, maybe we would have learned to imitate him instead of one another, maybe justice would have rolled down, maybe… But all the “maybes” in the world are mere speculation. The story is that Pilate did condemn Jesus.
Pilate arrived in Caesarea in 26 AD to be the prefect of Judaea, Idumaea, and Samaria. Judaea was such a small province that the higher ranking senators would not have wanted it. Thus, Pilate took the military title of prefect, instead of legate or proconsul. It was not one of the better assignments, but not too bad for a guy like Pilate.
One of Pilate’s jobs was to rule on criminal cases brought before him. In the case of Jesus, he spoke to everyone concerned. He went through the official channels, interviewed the accused, he even consulted another judge. But there were two unofficial channels which influenced him. One was the mob of people getting louder and stronger, the other was a note from his wife begging him not to have anything to do with Jesus.*
The crowd had welcomed Jesus earlier in the week, but by the time he had been arrested and brought to Pilate they were tetchy and unpredictable. In a situation like that leaders have two choices: Appease the crowd, or take their chances on what might happen next. Through the roar of the crowd, appeasement might have seemed like the less risky choice. It was a small enough sacrifice, just one man.
Pilate’s wife, on the other hand, chose a quieter approach. She sent a note. It seemed that she’d had a dream and she asked Pilate to base his decision about Jesus on her dream. In 2016, is seems mad to base a legal decision on a dream; but for Pilate, it may have seemed logical. She didn’t say what the dream was, only that she’d suffered on account of it, and that she wanted Pilate to leave Jesus alone. Pilate’s continual asking, “What has he done?” and his statements that he can find no fault with Jesus may indicate that he wanted to take his wife’s advice. Ultimately, though, he made of Jesus a sacrifice and gave the crowd what it wanted: Violence, in the person of Barabas.*
As the sacrifice — Jesus — was led away to die, violence slipped back into our world and has been tormenting us ever since. Why? We ask for it. We shout for it. We demand it. Just look around. Barabas is among us. Every time we choose to live in fear, the spirit of Barabas smiles. When we give in to anger, or despair, or become part of the mob, Barabas has done his job. Whenever we find it easier to imitate one another than to imitate Jesus we enter the kingdom of violence. Truly, we are the mob.
Here’s the good news: Though Jesus died, and he died too soon, he lived long enough to give us a glimpse of a different kingdom. We have seen a world where everyone is welcome and the dignity of every person is honored. We have seen that children, women, soldiers, foreigners, refugees, old people, rich people, poor people, short people, sick people, blind people, thirsty people, hungry people, proud people, religious people, deaf people, thieves, beggars, kings, victims, heroes, and all us over-worked, under-paid, dead-tired-but-hopeful petty workers have a place in the Kingdom Of Love. We have seen enough to dream!
Whether we live in the kingdom of violence or God’s kingdom of Love depends on who we listen to: The mob, or the dreamer. Close your eyes… Can you hear the rustle of paper, a note handed to you. It says that you are dear, that you bear the image of God, that you need not be subject to the whims of mob rule. Fear not, for you are truly loved. We are a tribe of dreamers and we have seen enough to know how the dream ends. Easter’s coming!
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
*Notes of Interest
It is not part of today’s readings but the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 27:19) tells a story of Pilate’s wife — unnamed in scripture — who slipped her husband a note advising him not to have anything to do with Jesus, based on a dream that she’d had. There are plenty of legends about Pilate’s wife, she is even named (Procula, Claudia, Claudia Procles, Claudia Procula) and she’s recognized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Barabbas was an insurrectionist and a murderer. Maybe not a bad guy, but certainly violent.