The great event that so often we associate with Maundy Thursday is the washing of the disciples feet by Jesus which I meditated on last year.
This year I am following the Gospel lectionary readings and today we see Jesus before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25).
What a tangled web we weave! There is so much more subtlety in this than we will sometimes acknowledge or see.
This passage is all about justice – or rather the lack of it.
Some years ago it would have been difficult for many to see how injustice is so subtle and can be so pervasive. we used to believe that we had one of the best justice systems in the world. But now we recognise the interplay between power and injustice. The lack of justice for the victims of Jimmy Saville, the injustices related to incarcerating people for years without trial in Guantanamo Bay, even some of the “bogey men” of Islamic terrorism in this country who are under control orders but aren’t brought to trial.
Rome believed that it had the best judicial system. But it didn’t apply to non-Roman citizens. It was based on brute force and the whim of people like Pilate.
Pilate is centre stage in all of this. Sometimes it is easy to make a simple reading and believe that Pilate is being pushed around. In fact Pilate is an active agent in the story. Luke has already mentioned how Pilate had mixed the blood of Galilean pilgrims with their Temple sacrifice (Lk 13:1). The Jewish writer, Philo wrote that Pilate had:
“vindictiveness and furious temper”,
and the he was
“naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness”.
He also talks about his
“the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty”
We should not read the Gospel account as a vindication of Pilate. Rather we see a politician looking to cause trouble and stir up grief. He sees in Jesus a tool to be used against the Jews whom he despised. He isn’t interested in justice. He uses the words to play with his Jewish opponents.
Pilate is not interested in justice. He is interested in expediency.
Pilate is happy to tease and to play with the Jewish leaders but is not here prepared for a total breakdown of relationships with them.
Maybe he wanted to taunt them with the idea that their true leader was a peasant from Galilee.
All those in this drama have reasons as to why Jesus must die. No-one has reasons why Jesus should live.
The Jewish leaders fear for the safety of the people. That he might lead to a disastrous confrontation with Rome and themselves.
They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’
Pilate is interested in the politics of it.
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.
The release of a murderer, an insurrectionist, with the name of “Son of the Father” makes it all the more poignant.
In our country today we have the desire to convict people without due process. Papers and politicians are still raging about Abu Qatada and the fact that judges have overturned his extradition.
I know, dear reader, that it is at this point I have lost you.
But justice depends on due process. It depends on ensuring that injustice is not done to someone in their trial. Whether we like it or not (and I suspect that most do not) the Qatada case was a triumph for the processes of justice.
Now Abu Qatada is no Jesus. But neither should he be beyond the rule of law. Otherwise we decide not on due process but on the same set of variety of prejudices, fears and hatreds of Jesus’s day.
Jesus’s trial and conviction is a total injustice. But we then need to ensure that doesn’t happen to our worst enemy or someone that we believe wants to bring harm to our country. Otherwise we act out of the same motives, fears and prejudices that we see on display at the trial of Jesus.
If the trial of Jesus was an injustice, which I believe that it was, then we need to ensure others do not face the same. That is so hard to do.
Previous years Easter Meditations: