Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said,
“What accusation do you bring against this man?”
“If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.”
The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.) Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
“Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”
“I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate asked him,
“So you are a king?”
“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him,
“What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them,
“I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
They shouted in reply,
“Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Now Barabbas was a bandit. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them,
“Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted,
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them,
“Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”
The Jews answered him,
“We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus,
“Where are you from?”
But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him,
“Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
Jesus answered him,
“You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out,
“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”
When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews,
“Here is your King!”
They cried out,
“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them,
“Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered,
“We have no king but the emperor.”
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
Members of both the judiciaries that operate England, Wales and Scotland take an oath where they swear to “do right to all manner of people…without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.” It’s a very old oath and is at the cornerstone of our judicial system designed to ensure justice is done. The oath represents the very opposite of Pilate’s understanding of his role. Pilate is the epitome of the weak judge who goes with the flow rather than with what is right.
Jesus seems to engage Pilate until the fateful words “what is truth?” after which He is much more curt. The powerless speaks truth to power yet the powerful doesn’t understand, nor care, much for truth let alone right!
In our contemporary Western culture we also have a troubled relationship with truth. Since the Enlightenment we see something as true only if it can be scientifically proved. Of course conceding that ground was bad news for religion where the truths we deal in are the truths of meaning, and myth which guide our lives. Paradoxically, our culture sees many competing ideas as being equally true – your truth is as good as my truth. Despite Pilate’s weakness we may think his question was rather PostModern.
So what do we make of truth? Do we claim to have a higher or better understanding of truth than others? Perhaps the only way to evaluate truth is to think of the Judicial Oath. Does the truth we live by do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will?
O Jesus, you who are: The Way; The Truth; and the Life; grant us the will to live by your truth, and do right to all manner of people, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. Amen.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister in the Synod of Scotland’s Southside Cluster serving Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs.