Monday, April 2, 2007

Suffered under Pontius Pilate

Why does the creed say that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate"? It seems an odd historical detail to sit in the middle such a lofty theological statement. Yes, of course, we believe that Jesus suffered. He even suffered for our sins! But why mention Pontius Pilate? How does old Pilate stand in credal company with Mary and Jesus?

Pilate wasn't particularly interested in crucifying Jesus. He didn't go out of his way to track him down. He didn't see any particular fault in him. He didn't really want to get his finger nails dirty. But he was the highest authority in the land. He represented all the Roman power needed to keep the peace in Palestine. It really was not a big matter for him to squash a couple of would-be Messiahs, even the harmless, witless type, who pose no real threat to anybody in power. Jesus just sort of popped up in front of him, and he swept him away. He could do this several times a day and sleep just fine at night.

Jesus was a nobody. Pilate was the highest authority. All the power circles about him lusted after his authority. They worshiped the weighty, even to grab a little for themselves or at least to secure a little safety. Pilate was but projection or product of the clamor for power. Cut off the head of Pilate and another head would pop up in its place.

But Jesus was the nobody. Those with power, those with authority, those with dignity or wealth, none of those could even see Jesus, such a worthless bug was he. Die, little bug. Squish, squish. Don't leave a mess.

Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. And yet the church clamors for his authority, any shread of authority.

Dear Jesus, watch over all the little bugs tonight, and bring to shame the mighty in your morning light! Amen.


Hannah said...

His suffering was authorized by man's law under Pontius Pilate.

A little pedantic? But don't we allow ourselves to be goverend by man's laws--both civic and cultural--even when against our beliefs, simply to keep in everyone's good graces?

We can see ourselves in every "minor character" in the Passion story--the mob, Pontius Pilate, Judas. Joseph, Thomas, the women who looked for Jesus and were confused and afraid when they didn't find what they were looking for.

James Hilden-Minton said...

Hello Hannah,

Thanks so much for commenting. I didn't know anyone was actually reading my blog!

Yes, I'm afraid it is pedantic, even fanciful, extreme, and unworkable. My politics and "authority" issues are only thinly veiled.

For me at least, it is surprising to see that Christianity can be seen as a critique of empire.

Palestine was an occupied territory. The priestly elites cut deals with the empire to retain some sense of power, for the good of the people perhaps. It's good to get along, especially if you get a little something out of it.

But the prophetic tradition is full of wrath for "shepherds" (leaders, priests and prophets) who sell out the "sheep" (the people of God, poor and vulnerable) to make themselves "fat" (rich, powerful and well-fed).

We do "allow ourselves to be governed by man's laws." But if this is ultimately just a struggle for power, money and status, then we are complicit, even if ritually we wash our hands of it.

Tremendous discernment is required to sort this out. I do not believe that humanity apart from God is up to this level of "judgment." We fight for justice, but settle for power. For me this is why the self-emptying nature of Jesus Christ, his obedience to suffer shame and punishment, is so important. Jesus abandoned every claim to power.

Today, Maundy Thursday, I think about the authority by which Jesus commands his disciples to love one another. This is a radically different sort of authority. His authority was no more than to pick up a pail of water and wash some feet. His authority was no more than that of the woman who anointed his feet in an earlier scene.

I hope that wasn't too pedantic. I just get overly excited about this. I want to see this kind of authority. I'm tired of the impostors.

I am curious, which character do you identify with most?

I'm thinking I'm more like Joseph, a would-be disciple doing too little too late. It seems all I can do is to give Jesus a proper burial. I've got money to spare, but where was I when Jesus called?

Thanks for reading. It encourages me.

In hope of Easter, James

Hannah said...

I guess...I would identify with Pontius Pilate. I've never really thought about it before. But I don't think that his involvement in Jesus' crucifiction was meaningless to him. There is a very good chance that he couldn't sleep that night, that his dinner turned to powder in his mouth. Did he rush into a quiet room to escape from the roars of the crowd, wishing today had never happened? Perhaps. Did he walk away with dignity, a skeleton, while he crumbled inside, unable to admit to himself this horrible mistake? How often do we hide from facing our own sinfulness? Pilate tried to cleanse himself of his sin, but I think he knew he could never make it right. Only One could. He could say they forced his hand, he could say he did it to keep the peace--and isn't that a noble enterprise! But I think he saw the blood in that basin...and his own reflection...and turned away in revulsion. There is more to the story.

Anonymous said...

What words..