Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
If you read Luke’s Gospel carefully, you’ll notice that the theme of Jesus’ innocence and righteousness runs through the story as a primary narrative thread.
After Jesus was born, for instance, his parents had him named and circumcised on the eighth day, just as they should according to law and tradition (1:21). And when the time came to present him to the Temple for purification, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem to fulfill their religious obligation (1:22-24). Again and again, Luke portrays the holy family as righteous and blameless according to the law.
So also Jesus. He does what is required. And when he is challenged by scribes and teachers of the law, he demonstrates a keener perception of the heart of the law itself. He is, in every way, a righteous and law-abiding Jew.
Which is what makes the charge of “perversion” so ironic, even outlandish, to those who are following Luke’s account. Far from trying to overturn the law, Jesus calls people back to its deeper purpose.
Little wonder, then, that at this point of the story neither Herod nor Pilate find fault with him. Jesus is innocent. Yet Herod abuses him and Pilate suggests having him flogged – that is, lacerated by a leather whip with iron balls or shards at the end of each cord. Why? Not because they found Jesus guilty as charged but because brutality was the order of the day and this gesture was meant to appease those who stood against him.
But Luke’s witness remains: Jesus is innocent, like a lamb lead to the slaughter. Far from perverting the people, he called them to righteousness, and when they sentenced him to death for it, he died an innocent death that they might be forgiven their sins. It is one of the most stark, bitter, and joyful ironies of the story.
Prayer: Dear God, Jesus died an innocent death that we might live in freedom and forgiveness. Let us not waste that gift. In Jesus’ name, Amen.