April 3, 2022
Scripture Reading: Luke 23:1-25
Today is the 12th sermon in this series on “Encounters.” It’s been a funny thing: I have had to juggle the encounters of Jesus in Luke in order to deal with the events of Holy Week when our calendar says we should be. So, today, it is those deeply moving final days of Jesus life and in particular, his encounter with Pilate.
You know, any time we are called upon to look squarely and honestly into the face of someone who has played a part in some event as painfully close to us as the crucifixion of Jesus is to Christians, it is so hard to be anything approaching objective, but hear me out.
A starting place is where it always is: Acknowledging the fact that here in the regal attire of a Roman governor is a very human person in an excruciatingly difficult spot. For starters he was not Jewish, but Roman. Out of his element and culture, and completely immersed in a strange religion.
Through no choice he made, he was forced by virtue of his position as a governor under Caesar to referee between the religious hierarchy of the Jewish religion in Judea and the loyal and passionate followers of a man who was not as well-known as we assume Jesus was by reading the reports of his most loyal disciples.
The Jews were up in arms because of Jesus’ position on some tax issue and because his followers were calling him a King and that, frankly, was intolerable to the establishment. But, as far as Pilate was concerned, none of that was any skin off his nose, but a matter he would just as soon those annoying Jews would settle for themselves.
The Jewish leaders refused to let him off the hook. They were so exercised over this young preacher that they were calling for blood and they could not carry out an execution without Pilate’s okay. So, like it or not, Pilate had to choose. Was this itinerant preacher a real threat to anyone or were those Synagogue leaders up a miff tree over nothing?
So Pilate was being forced to choose whether he wanted to or not! You see, all this Jewish belief system was bizarre to Pilate. He had been taught from a child that Caesar was God! End of conversation!
But here was a bloodied and beaten poverty-class religious vagabond who had been known to make vague claims about his relationship to God. He even called God Abba or “Daddy.” And he had said that he and his Father were ONE! And the rumor was this guy could do things like control the weather, heal the sick, and even raise the dead.
And the man standing in front of him sure didn’t seem to be a threat to anyone! Maybe he was a little delusional but Pilate couldn’t see the threat – and he said so. “I’ve questioned him, and I find him innocent.” My counterpart, Herod, also found him innocent. He’s done nothing to deserve death. I’ll have him flogged and turn him loose” The religious people cried out “Kill Him!!”
You know the rest. Pilate capitulated and played his part in the death of Jesus rather than take a stand and be counted. No Martin Luther here: “Here I stand. I can do no other!” Sounds cowardly, I guess, but I’m not so sure that what Pilate did is so far off from what most of us do at one time or another in our lives.
We don’t decide about these big life questions because what’s the point really? What does any of it matter? There is no proof about much of any of this God-stuff! Even if there is a God, how do I know what God is like? What could God want from me? And what of this Jesus guy? What do those claim of his actually mean? Is he some kind of king?
I want to tell you something. I’ve been through all of that – faced all of those questions and I have to say when it comes to proof, we are always a day late and a dollar short and I think we always will be. And it is that intellectual blind alley that keeps people from ever deciding.
The decision to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus comes from some other place. And like these other encounters we have considered, the deciding moment does NOT usually come from the head but the heart! It is when you look him straight in the eyes and from some very deep place you know: “Here’s somebody I could follow anyplace! I don’t have all the theological stuff straight in my head and the answers are not all clear, but THIS MAN is worthy of my devotion. Here is one that I can follow and not be disappointed. He is as much like God as I can ever hope to encounter!”
I’m here to tell you that making that leap is the first step toward giving your life some direction and real meaning. It is many times more rich and rewarding than a life of intellectual indecision and trying to sail your ship without a North Star.
Sadly, Pilate never got there in this story. He capitulated to the culture – the popular expediency. He washed his hands. But that never works because this decision can’t be passed along to another. To not decide is finally to decide.