Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Passionate Antagonists: 3 Pontius Pilate

Like Judas, Pilate is another complex character. Much of what we know of him comes from the Gospels, though there are apocryphal mentions in the Acts of Pilate and the Gospel of Peter. There is some (disputed) archaeological evidence in the "Pilate" stone, a first century inscription bearing the name "...TIVS PILATVS". That he does exist can be seen from Philo, Josephus and Tacitus who do not regard him very favourably.

However, how does Pilate come across in the Gospel? Historically, he is the governor of a very troublesome province which has a history of uprisings and insurrections. Jesus is hauled in front of him very visibly beaten up by the Jewish authorities. Here in, Pilate's mind, is another potential flashpoint brewing. His main concern is to establish what's going on in order to avert another crisis. Couple that with the message from his wife that she has dreamed that this Jesus is nothing but trouble, and one can see in Pilate's mind only one impetus: find out what's going on in order to stop the trouble.

He has the Chief Priests on the one hand and possibly the followers of this King of the Jews about to cause another conflagration in the city which he must somehow contain. Careful questioning must take place.

However, when Jesus refuses to commit Himself to any political leadership and rather points to the kingdom of heaven, it becomes clear to the disinterested Pilate that this Jesus is utterly innocent of every charge and poses no "real" threat to the Roman Rule.

How then, when convinced of a man's innocence, can Pilate then just let him be crucified? The baying of the crowd for the man's life threaten the stability of Roman Rule and, seeking the easy way out, it becomes expedient for the man to be got rid of. Pilate has established that Jesus doesn't have hoards at the gates of Jerusalem ready to bring down the Imperial Government. It is better to let one man get crucified in order to keep the peace. Yet, knowing Jesus to be innocent, he simply washes his hands of the responsibility and gains for himself a larger stain on his soul.

Anything for a quiet life? Even at the cost of your soul? Are you sure?

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