Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On this last Sunday before Holy Week, we come to the last scene of Jesus’s trial before Pilate. But we really shouldn’t call it a trial. Because when peasants (and that’s what Jesus was) were brought before Pilate, everyone assumed that person was guilty. Coming before Pilate was more about how this person will be dealt with, and how they will die. Jesus has, of course, turned this process upside down by not playing along with the unwritten script. He does not grovel and beg for his life. In fact, Jesus doesn’t say much at all.
The action in today’s reading takes place in two settings. One is inside the Praetorium where Jesus and Pilate talk. The other is just outside in the courtyard where the religious leaders and other people are waiting for Pilate’s decision. We see Pilate going back and forth, in and out throughout this Gospel passage. He seems unable to make up his mind about what do with Jesus.
In the first verse of this reading, we hear that Pilate has Jesus flogged. Then the soldiers mock Jesus by dressing him up and pretending to honor him, calling him, “The King of the Jews.” Pilate takes Jesus before the people outside, saying, “I find no case against him.” This only makes the people angrier. They respond, “We have a law, and according to that law, he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” Now Pilate is more afraid than ever! Only Caesar can hold the title “Son of God.” Pilate really wants to release Jesus, but Jesus is not cooperating. Jesus does not respond to Pilate’s question, “Where are you from?” Pilate’s response is, “Don’t you get it, Jesus? I have the power to release you, or send you to be crucified! Jesus responds, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given to you from above.”
Again, Pilate goes outside and tries to release Jesus, but the crowd accuses him of not being loyal to the emperor. Why would an oppressed people, who have suffered for so long under Roman occupation, suddenly defend the emperor? They even shout, “We have no king but the emperor!” Pilate finally acquiesces to their requests and has Jesus handed over to be crucified.
Last week, we heard Peter declare his love for Jesus, only to deny knowing Jesus three times before the cock crowed. This week, we hear the people rejecting Jesus—who comes from God. The people, who had just welcomed Jesus with Hosannas and palm leaves, singing as Jesus enters Jerusalem have now turned against him. How could they do that?
And before we say, “Oh no, I would never abandon Jesus,” we need to remember Peter and the disciples running for their lives when Jesus was arrested. So what does this reading have to teach us? At its core, this Gospel is about power and control. The religious leaders claim they are powerless, and yet they have the power to make Pilate take Jesus and have him crucified. Pilate, although he seems to be the powerful one in this story, actually does not even have the power to resist the religious leaders’ demands that Jesus be crucified. Jesus seems to be the only one with no power. But we know that Jesus has a power greater than any of them. Jesus is the Son of God.
And God is all powerful. But the kind of power that Jesus has through God is a power that no one in this story could possibly understand—the power of love. It is God’s love that created all things. And it is God’s love that surrounds us. It is God’s love that comforts us when bad things happen. And it is God’s love that will raise Jesus on the third day. As we prepare for the last week of Lent and Holy Week, we need to accept God’s love and share it, by loving our neighbors. Amen.