Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.
The trial before Governor Pilate has finished. The effort to make respectable, the demands of a select elite, is done. Whether it was Jesus on trial, or justice itself, remains a moot point.
Matthew relates that the soldiers then took Jesus to the Governor’s HQ, where the whole cohort was gathered together, for a second trial for Jesus, this time around 600 against 1. Rubens captures the one-sided cruelty; blows rain down on Jesus whilst one soldier plants his foot into the rear of his knee to start an inevitable fall. The contrasting expressions tell the story. Satisfied, grim, determined smirks on the faces of the afflicters, as Jesus cowers in sheer terror.
The soldiers are not innocent of their acts, but Pilate, who knew the consequences of the sentence he passed, bears the responsibility. It is a scene repeated down through the ages, as tyrants have acted to shore up corrupt rules. Dictates made with a thin veneer of respectability are enacted as a blind eye is turned to the ruthlessness of a contemporary cohort. There is a continuum of Pilates who bully and brutalise their way to show who’s governor, regardless of the cost.
The trials of the innocent and powerless continue down the ages too. The trial of hate vs love, of evil vs good, of corrupt rule vs the Kingdom of God ways.
But the events that Rubens portrayed were not the last word. For it was God in the dock that day, God who bore the fury, and God, who through Jesus, would overcome, and give strength to those who follow. To quote Desmond Tutu:
“Good is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.”
Let justice rain on the afflicted and transform the hearts of afflicters. May the choices and decisions I make today, be governed by the love that Jesus shows. Amen.
David Pickering is a member of Rutherglen URC and ministers as Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland
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