Matthew 27:15-25

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Matthew 27:15-25

Spirituality – at its best – brings a sense of deep connection, love, and gratitude toward God, others, and self. Religion – at its best – provides structure to our spirituality. It plants us deeply in human history and helps us grow to be both fully human and humane.

But if our spirituality gets twisted into idolatry – or if our religion gets reduced to a club for insiders – it can unleash a darkness within us that is both divisive and destructive.

Pilate served as the governor of Judea from 26-37 CE. He served at the behest of Emperor Tiberius, a reclusive, paranoid, reluctant emperor. Pilate’s duties in Judea ended in 37 CE, the same year that Tiberius died. Historians are unsure of how Tiberius was murdered – some stories say poisoning or by being smothered with his own bedclothes. But the consensus is that Caligula, Tiberius’s grand-nephew, who would succeed him, had a hand in the murder. Caligula would prove to be one of Rome’s most cruel and perverted emperors. He would reign less than four years before also being assassinated.

So much for a brief glimpse into the foxes who ruled the hen house. But all of this was much more than politics. For, in those days, the Roman cult of emperor worship was planted deeply into all of the areas where the Roman army kept the peace. Emperors were not just the heads of state, they were also “Pontifex Maximus”, the high priest of the Roman religion. Some emperors went so far as to proclaim themselves divine. The Son of God. Pilate was little more than a well-placed bureaucrat, but his authority was both political and, as far as the Romans were concerned, religious.

Matthew portrays Pilate even acting like a god in his little sphere of influence. “Releasing prisoners” and “sitting on the judgment seat” are ultimately God’s business. But Pilate takes it upon himself. From his “grand gesture” of releasing a prisoner during Passover to his abdication of his responsibility toward justice, “washing his hands” even as he handed Jesus over, Matthew is very careful not to lay blame exclusively on the Roman government for the death of Jesus even as he paints an unflattering portrait of Pilate’s role.

Jesus’ fate is finally in the hands of the crowds. I believe we hear this story best when we see ourselves – in every age – standing among those crowds. People who twist and distort spirituality/religion have used this story to justify centuries of antagonism toward Jews. That is absolutely wrong. If we say that “Jesus died for the sins of the world” then those crowds represent each and every one of us. Together, this story combines religion, government, and short-sighted crowds into one unholy trinity of injustice. The crowd chooses Jesus Barabbas.

Jesus chooses the crowds.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, sometimes during Lent we sing “beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand…” Today, and every day, help us see ourselves in those crowds. Help us see, in ourselves, the darkness of idolatry and twisted spirituality which would reject you and the love that you have for us. In that, we will also see the love and mercy which refuses to reject us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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2 Responses to “Matthew 27:15-25”

  1. Bert Lederer Says:

    Pilate served 26-37 CE, not BCE. (:-))

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Amen to the prayer!!!!

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