So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
He has the power of life and death. Pilate, that is. It is his decision, his call, his moment to render judgment. Actually, he has already rendered judgment by declaring Jesus innocent of the charges brought against him. So the decision before him isn’t between innocence and guilt but rather between justice and injustice.
Power, as it turns out, is a complicated animal. Pilate has the power to sentence to death and to set at liberty – and he exercises both in this scene – but he apparently does not have the power to serve justice. His power is compromised by his fear – fear of the crowd, fear of the ramifications of not appeasing Jesus’ opponents, fear of the unpopularity of his decision.
Or maybe it’s not fear, maybe it’s indifference. Maybe he just doesn’t care that much about this single Jew, wrongly accused but of no significance in his political calculations.
Or maybe it’s not fear or indifference but rather weariness. Perhaps Pilate is just tired. Tired of this thankless job, tired of being so far from Rome, tired of mediating between all kinds of religious, domestic, and ethnic disputes that come with the job of procurator. Maybe he’s just been worn down and chooses political expediency so that he can move on as quickly as possible to the next of a thousand wearisome tasks in front of him.
So there it is. Pilate is the most powerful man in Judea, yet also held hostage to fear, indifference, and world-weariness such that he cannot even begin to serve the justice that is absolutely apparent to him.
Power, as it turns out, is not just complex, but also remarkably fragile, even weak. I wonder, then, why do we want it so much?
Prayer: Dear God, safeguard our hearts from an unholy desire for power and make manifest before us the true power to love and save that you demonstrate through the weakness of the cross. In Jesus’ name, Amen.