Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Journey With Matthew - Day 47

Read Matthew 27:1-23.

All four gospels cut Pontius Pilate a lot of slack. The angry mob and the religious leadership get blamed while Pilate, in contrast, is presented as (at best) a political coward.

Most of the Biblical historians, however, would tell us that Pilate was in fact quite calculating and the master of manipulation. That he is more likely pulling the strings here to rev up that crowd and make Jesus the scapegoat. And the gospel writers know this - but they write at a time when it is difficult if not impossible for them to overtly criticize the Roman authorities.So they have to write "from a slant." They have to write with a wink and a nod...

The challenge, for us, is that we have no more access to the historical Pilate than we do to the historical Jesus - what we get is the Pilate whom Matthew presents in this particular gospel. It doesn't mean these other questions don't matter; they absolutely do. But they are, at best, a matter of conjecture and best guesses and we need more and more humility as we get further and further from the text itself. (We can use a good dose of humility with the text too, of course!)

The text as we receive it seems to raise, at the very least, the question of political courage - or more accurately the lack thereof. Unfortunately, most political systems - even democratic ones - are built around the human desire to gain and keep power and authority. Pilate likes being governor. What is in it for him if he grants clemency to this troublemaker from Galilee? Nothing! And so, as we'll see tomorrow when we turn read a few verses further along, Pilate famously "washes his hands of this whole mess."

I can be as cynical as the next person about politicians. Yet I still believe that politics - the art of governing - can be a noble vocation and ministry. Pilate is presented as the anti-hero of what political courage looks like. Whether he creates the mob, or gives in to it are in the end, is a matter of semantics. Whether he has sinned by commission or omission, he has the power to do the right thing, and chooses not to.

And so an innocent man dies, and a guilty one goes free. I invite you to check out this page on the ACLU website on the case against the death penalty and ask yourself, judged by this same standard, how we are doing as a nation? And whether it might be (past) time for Christians to make the case that the cost of even one mistake is too high a price to pay.

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