Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pilate's Choice

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Is this kind of stuff in your job description? Is it what you expect in life? 

Probably not.

It was in Pontius Pilate’s job description. As Governor of the Province of Judea for Rome he was always making serious choices, yet at the same time he is, for us, a sort of everyman. He was troubled with difficult situations just as we are when he tried to resist certain pressures, listen to his spouse, have courage, recognize goodness, then make a choice. He did well for nearly 11 years. But he never quite recovered from his brief, face-to-face encounter with Jesus Christ. Three years later, with what became called “The Samaritan Uprising” he was undone. He made a wrong choice.

The result? He was exiled to Gaul (France) in shame and disgrace, committing suicide there in AD 38.
Pilate was good at keeping the peace. But keeping the peace isn’t always the same as doing what’s right. 

Sometimes keeping the peace is just the opposite of doing what’s right. Sometimes we choose not to apologize. Sometimes we choose not to forgive. At what cost this peace — at home, at work or at play? Sometimes peace, as the world defines it, is the wrong choice. Sometimes it’s better to take the risk. 

Sometimes we need to something hard in order to do what is right; to do what we should.

Did Pilate lose sight of that?

Do we?

It was just another early Spring workday for Pilate when Jesus showed up. One can imagine Pilate dropping whatever he was doing, and then going to see this criminal brought to his court. It’s just another day of the week to keep the peace and to keep his post. Just another life to judge. Ask questions, listen, weigh the evidence, then decide. Live or die.

The governor may have smirked at the irony of the circumstances — a captured, bound man accused of claiming kingship. A powerless peasant, really. An unarmed Jew from the underclass. Pilate asks, “Are you a king?

It’s a question he may not have been asking seriously. He probably did not take the matter of Christ’s kingship as soberly as we do on Christ the King Sunday.

On the face of it, it’s a preposterous question. Obviously, to Pilate, Jesus was not a king. He had no army. He had no city. He had no funding. No robes. No weapons.

He had nothing.

He was nothing.

To Pilate.

Jesus responds to Pilate’s question with an unexpected question of his own. (How often are we faced with unexpected questions in our lives when facing terrible or tricky choices?) “Governor,” says Jesus, “why ask your question? Do you think I am a king, or were you told I am a king?

Pilate may have wondered, “Is this stupidity, insolence or some kind of strength?” But he plays the situation with humor and skill — it is, after all, just a game to him. With slight irritation and perhaps a smirk, he replies, “How should I know? Am I one of your people? Your people, your leaders, brought you here to me.” Then getting to the serious point, he asks, “What have you done?

The expectation of the most powerful man in Judea, the representative of Emperor Tiberius, is that Jesus will answer directly.

Jesus does not.

Instead he replies that he is a king, but from another world.

Ahhhh. Another world. Hmmm. A game is afoot. This amusing man is harmless.

So Pilate displays some sportsmanship. Jesus is no threat. The peace will be kept. There’s no justification for killing him. It’s an easy choice. But at the end of this little interview, Pilate rhetorically asks Jesus, “What is truth?

What is truth? It’s not a serious question. It’s an unimportant and dismissive question. It’s a game question. It’s a sports question. It’s a question like “Who’s gonna’ win the game this Sunday?”

But there is another answer, because there is such a thing as godly truth, as opposed to gaming truth.
As it was, Pilate had godly truth standing in front of him, but he was so distracted by playing the game of keeping his post and keeping the peace that he missed it. He loses his footing, he drops the ball, he strikes out — because in making the wrong choice about Jesus, he loses power and he ultimately loses his life.

Jesus tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. The Epistles further elaborate that Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension are the way to salvation, can be counted on to always be true and give us eternal life. That’s the truth that Pilate missed in his gamesmanship. It may be that we, too, miss this truth when we become so pressured by difficult choices that we forget, or never notice, that Christ is standing within us, beside us and among us as he told us he would.

In life we are not abandoned. God is present always.

It’s in the hard places in our lives that we must ask the tough questions while seeking godly truth. Then we should listen to the answers, weigh the evidence, judge and act — just like Pilate. Only let our choices be truth-seeking, not game-playing.

In the end, Pilate gave Jesus over to the whims of the furious rabble. He did the politically expedient thing. He kept the peace. Maybe he prevented a riot. He believed he had done the right thing.

That’s where Pilate and the rest of us are similar. When we are presented with life’s difficult choices we may choose to be expedient rather than do what is ultimately right. Making the right choice isn’t always easy or popular.

But is it Christian?

So what’s the hardest thing for you? Is it learning to forgive when we are hurt? Apologizing when we would rather not? Raising our children with love, kindness and direction every day, tirelessly? Loving our enemies, both personal and national? Having courage and faith in the face of our child’s death? These acts take hope and courage and are more challenging than anything in sports.

But we’re going to face them. No doubt about it. That’s what life is all about.

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