Easter Without Hindsight: “What’s it to be, Pontius? Peace, or Quiet?”
Jeshua clearly troubled Pontius Pilate. Some say that his wife, Claudia Procula, had joined crowds listening to Jeshua and knew he wasn’t really a threat. Pilate may have been a bully but maybe the professional soldier in him hesitated about executing an obviously innocent man. Being manipulated by some uppity priests wouldn’t have done much for his sense of humour either.
It was Friday, the morning after the Passover feast, and Jeshua had been arrested in the night. After a pre-dawn interrogation, led by Caiaphas, the High Priest, Jeshua had been brought to Pilate for trial accused of inciting rebellion and proclaiming himself King of the Jews. The gospel accounts tell of attempts before the trial to find witnesses but in the end all they got from Jeshua was confirmation that he was messiah. Then again, most of the priests thought messiah was supposed to lead an attack on Rome.
Pilate had been asked to leave his palace to try Jeshua in the public square outside. That probably tested his humour even more. The priests wanted to stay ‘pure’ by avoiding entering a gentile dwelling. Not only were they manipulating Pilate but were insulting him too. Maybe he wondered, grumpily, where else a Ruler might leave his palace to see his subjects? Whose Empire was it anyway?
As he listened Pilate probably saw that the evidence of sedition was non-existent. He also saw that some in the growing crowds wanted Jeshua free and some wanted him dead. Pilate probably knew any judgement would upset half of the city and wasn’t much comforted by knowing he could choose which half.
Suddenly he realised Jeshua was from Galilee, the legal jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Herod, Pilate knew, wanted to meet Jeshua and would doubtless appreciate the courtesy of the referral. Of course Herod had no more evidence than Pilate and, a couple of hours later, with even more people on the streets, Pilate still had to dispose of the case of the troublesome rabbi. With more time Pilate may have wondered about the gorgeous robe Jeshua was wearing on his return. It was the sort of robe one wore if one was claiming political office. Was Herod’s gift a warning to Pilate, or Herod having a joke at his expense?
Pilate’s last card to avoid executing an innocent man was to appeal directly to the crowd. He offered to release Jeshua in honour of the Passover festival. Doubtless many in the crowd would have been delighted. The priests, though, were quick off the mark and demanded Barabbas, the brigand, be freed instead. Their supporters shouted for Barabbas’ release. Meanwhile the priests personally warned Pilate that if he released Jeshua they would tell Emperor Tiberius that Pilate was “no friend” of his.
Save an innocent man? If Pilate had tried to justify his decision that way Tiberius might have just pointed to the bodies of other Jewish rebels hanging dead on crosses across Judea. Had Pilate been so careful about justice for any of them? Pilate could now chose to do the right thing and feel at peace. Or he could do the expedient thing and live a quiet life, untroubled by his Emperor’s wrath.
“What’s it to be, Pontius?” Jeshua might have asked: “Peace, or quiet?”