We return to St Mark’s account of the Passion. St Mark 15:1-15
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
About 20 years ago I sat on a jury. This wasn’t a particularly nice thing to do as you do feel a responsibility as the future of these individuals lies in your hands.
Our passage today is split in two – interrogation followed by condemnation. I always find it staggering that Jesus said so little during his trial. Although a person of few words myself, I think if I was on trial for my life, I would have plenty to say. But Jesus doesn’t – why? Did he think that by saying nothing he would be let off the hook? Did he think his words and actions previously had said all he needed to say, so words were now superfluous? Or was this an enigmatic silence, one which led Pilate to be ‘amazed’ and would leave those in hearing distance to fill in the blanks for themselves?
Who knows? What we do know though is that those present had already made up their minds – there was only one outcome they wanted from this trial and that was guilty.
And after the guilty verdict they wanted to see Pilate don the black cap.
How easily we humans become swayed by those around us. The crowd are encouraged to have an insurgent and murderer released. Did they even know who this Barabbas was, or were they just swept along with the hysteria of the moment? Pilate reluctantly does the crowds bidding, not wanting a riot on his hands.
Today, we live in similar times, 2016 saw the rise in the acceptance of hate speech and an increase in hate crimes. Sections of the media can easily whip up their readers into a frenzy of blame and rage. As followers of Jesus we are called to speak for those with no voice, to pray above the hate and to stay silent when there are no words.
‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer’. God of wisdom, give us the courage to speak out when needed; to stay silent when words are not helpful and the sense to know the difference. Amen
The Rev’d Branwen Rees is the minister of Port Glasgow & Greenock East URCs..