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This is not the life I hoped for. I am a Roman citizen; my family is wealthy. Our name is held in honor and respect. For all of my adult life I have carefully made my way among the powerful elite of Rome. I positioned myself to receive a prestigious appointment from Caesar. My glory would be to do his bidding, to be part of the greatest empire the world would ever know. Kings and kingdoms pass away, but Rome endures. The glory of my name--to serve Caesar. But the emperor sent me here, to Judea. What glory or prestige can there be in governing this mad race? The Jews are subject to Roman power, but they are not of the Roman mind. In Rome, we cultivate common sense, peace and ordered prosperity. But these people--they are impossible. They are unreasonable, rebellious, restless, fanatics. There is nothing to love or admire among them. Nothing noble, no honor. Rome does not govern here, she baby-sits.
They have incomprehensible religious convictions. They stubbornly hold antique traditions that no one can explain sensibly, and they automatically hate me. Not that it worries me. If I were loved by this mad race, that would worry me. They have no notion of Rome and her empire. They must be taught, but they will not learn. I have done things for the very purpose of angering them. I took their temple treasure to pay for an aqueduct I was building. Another time I brought the Roman standard into Jerusalem to their temple. All the golden shields inscribed with the images and names of our gods. How they screamed about defilement and desecration. They make my service here miserable. I make their subjection to Rome miserable.
It was springtime, and I breathed deeply the sea air wafting in from the Mediterranean to my palace in Caesarea. But the spring is always spoiled by the Passover festival. I hoped the Jews would cause me no problems during their week of celebration. Perhaps this spring would be different from the others. That’s what I hoped. I journeyed to Jerusalem so I would be at hand in case of trouble. You see, their feast commemorates some deliverance in their ancient history, and their nation still hatches the occasional desert deliverer who would overcome the empire of Rome. Prudence requires a watchful eye at seasons when national spirit runs high. I was awakened early in the morning, just after sunrise, by the noise of their council, the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders, and an angry crowd at my gate. I recognized the mob spirit, dangerous and difficult to turn aside. They would be trying to lynch someone. I would have to play for time and let their passion cool before we could settle the business. The gate was opened and they burst into my courtyard. I walked slowly to my place. The moment needed calm. It was easy to spot their victim. He stood out, their target, the object of their concentrated fury. He was bound. I asked their leader what they wanted. He said this man was misleading the Jewish people, telling them not to pay taxes to Caesar and claiming to be their Messiah.
How ironic to hear these Jews, who so hated paying taxes to Rome, charging one of their own with speaking against Roman taxes. Surely their real grievance lay elsewhere. Well, he might be trying to raise some money for his own treasury if he thought himself to be their Messiah King. I asked Him directly. “Are you really the King of the Jews?” I wanted everyone to hear the sarcasm in my voice. It was a ridiculous charge; this Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The Sanhedrin and the chief priests were blind to their folly. I could tell this man had committed no serious crime and I told the Jewish leaders so. No, they insisted, He causes unrest everywhere, from Galilee to Jerusalem. “Is He a Galilean?” I asked. I saw an opportunity to divert them. Galilee was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, who just happened to be visiting Jerusalem. Herod was as close as they would ever come to having a king of the Jews. He was incompetent, but he was ethnic aristocracy of a sort, and Rome uses his type when possible. I sent this angry band to Herod. And I sent along an assistant to observe, just so I would know. I was glad to be rid of my problem while creating one for dear Antipas but before long they returned. It seems that Herod, drawing from his deep wisdom and exercising his keen political mind, had mocked Jesus and taunted Him, asking Him to perform miracles. When the prisoner would not perform, Herod wearied of his sport. So he dressed Jesus in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to my judgment hall.
I must say the robe looked better on Jesus than it ever did on Herod. King of the Jews, indeed. Again, the chief priests and rulers of the people demanded a judgment. Their hatred for this man had not cooled. Again, I did what I could to put them off. I examined the prisoner again. You know, it is not easy, this business of judgment. The law is not always adequate for the case. It is no fun dealing with someone like Jesus at the judgment seat. I was too conscious of my own failures. What is it they say? “An innocent prisoner convicts a guilty judge.” Well, I suppose it won’t be the last time. To complicate matters, my wife interrupted. She called me aside urgently. She frightened me. She looked like the walking dead. She said she had dreamed about this man and told me to have nothing to do with Him. She was terrified. I confess, it unnerved me. But one cannot run an empire on dreams and visions.
I could put it off no longer. I told them I found no fault in the prisoner. “He is no threat to Rome.” Oh, it’s not just the taxes, they said. Jesus had transgressed some provisions of their religious law. Fine, I said. Try Him in your council. Don’t bring Jewish religious law into a Roman court. They were furious. They said their law required death. I was running out of diversions. Herod would not take the case. Their council would not take the case. I had raised my voice twice in evasion, but some things just will not go away. I did not think they really would insist on crucifixion. Rome crucifies Jews to make sure everyone understands who rules the world. Jews would not crucify a Jew. Every cross reminded them of a king they did not want and could never defeat. I just needed to give them a way out. I felt sure they would back down. So I proposed a compromise. I had followed the custom of releasing a prisoner to them each year at this time. I did so to demonstrate Roman kindness and to generate good will. I thought perhaps I could release Jesus to them as that prisoner.
The chief priests would have none of it. The crowd cried for Barabbas, a thoroughly nasty sort, to be released instead of Jesus. I couldn’t believe my ears. How they must have hated this Nazarene. I could not escape. I would have to release Barabbas. And still I had to deal with Jesus. My next thought was to have Jesus scourged. Perhaps some blood would satisfy them. The soldiers of Rome use a whip of several thongs with pieces of lead or brass or sharp bits of bone in the ends. They laid His back bare. In short order the flesh hung from His back in strips, deep veins and arteries exposed. I brought Jesus to the mob. Surely His blood would satisfy their thirst.
But again I was wrong. They screamed for His death. A third time I told them He was innocent. But the crowd began to yell, “Crucify, crucify, crucify Him!” They would be satisfied with nothing less than His execution. There was no room for evasion. I finally realized that the only way to be done with the matter was to release Jesus to the crowd. I called for my basin and washed my hands of His guilt or innocence for all to see. Then I turned Him over to the mob. He was crucified.
Nothing I tried would make it go away. The problem of Jesus always came back to me. It is not a thing to be proud of. Not the way I hoped my service to Caesar would go. But I do not see what I could have done differently. Just bad luck, I guess. I console myself with the thought that few will ever know of this matter; a minor affair of a mad race in a backwater province. My name, when remembered, will be remembered with the glory and honor of Caesar, ruler of all the earth, and Rome, the kingdom that will endure. My voice, a voice of evasion, will grow silent, but my name will be remembered in honor, and not because of some unfortunate man who suffered under Pontius Pilate.
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