Good Friday Tenebrae 2016: “Pilate, continued: Doing the Next Right Thing”
March 25, 2016
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
I was talking to a friend the other day whose brother dropped the ball in a big way. She does the lion’s share of caring for their elderly parent, needed temporary back-up and he said no. “I’ve forgiven him,” she said. I asked, “Really??” “Yeah,” she replied. “Because we are simply called to do the next right thing.” But sometimes we don’t have a stomach for that, Lord; there’s just so much others throw at us that we’re willing to swallow. There are also times when we question what “the next right thing” is.
Pilate sure had a lot of questions.
“Are you the King of the Jews?”
The air was thick with sarcasm. We know there was no King of the Jews because the Jews had no kingdom; they were an occupied nation. You are the Messiah, Lord, but not the kind the people expected. You didn’t intend to overthrow the Romans and seize the throne. Your purpose was to overthrow sin and reign in our hearts. You weren’t the kind of Messiah most people were hoping for. Sometimes you’re not the kind of God we hope for either. Couldn’t you be a bit more like Santa, showing up with whatever’s on our list? Couldn’t you work a few more obvious miracles, intervening in a way we can’t miss, instead of being so subtle and counting on us to read between the lines?? Forgive, Lord.
Pilate asked you another question:
“What have you done?”
Didn’t he keep up on the news? Didn’t he talk to anyone? Or listen? How could he not have known what You’d been doing? You’d always done the next right thing:
- healed blind Bartimaeus,
- fed the hungry hoards,
- forgiven the paralytic’s sins and raised him up from his litter,
- raised Lazarus from the dead,
- sent Satan packing,
- taught the people about a lost coin, a lost sheep and a lost son,
- replaced despair with hope, and punishment with grace.
These were your “crimes.” The one who judged you was guilty of atrocities; he ordered his troops to slaughter pilgrims, he mingled the blood of worshipers and sacrificial animals. As we kneel before the cross, Lord, we imagine You asking us, “What have you done?” Honestly? Too little of which we’re proud, too much of which we’re ashamed. To put it mildly, we have not always done the next right thing. Our “crimes”are less public than Pilate’s but just as real. If love were a crime, You, Lord, would be certainly be “guilty,” and we would be “innocent.” Forgive, Lord.
Who would have thought the question “What is truth?” could sound cynical? But on Pilate’s lips, it does. He asked, “What is truth?” after You said:
“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.” (John 18:37)
This earthly judge, this person with worldly authority, representative of the great Roman legal system, doesn’t know what truth is?? Truth be known, we can lose touch with the truth, too, Lord. We confess that, when convenient, we have all played fast and loose with the truth. We’ve been guilty of allowing our beliefs to be shaped by popular opinion instead of holy insight. We’ve chosen to do what’s convenient and expedient, rather than what’s right. Forgive, Lord.
The ultimate answer to Pilate’s question “What is truth?” is Your word to us: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) Your Way led to the Garden of Gethsemane, the high priest’s palace, Pilate’s headquarters, and the Place of the Skull. It then led to a garden tomb, to a room with locked doors, to the Sea of Galilee, and into all the world.
It has been said that in acceding to the crowd’s demands, Pontius Pilate became an echo rather than a voice.1 May we be a voice, Lord, Your voice, and not simply an echo. If we must follow the crowd, let it be the crowd we hear about in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 1:
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [a huge crowd in the heavenly bleachers!]… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus… who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
It’s simple to say and so devilishly hard to execute, Lord: “we are simply called to do the next right thing.” You “disregarded the shame,” but we don’t. We hate shame, so much that sometimes we do the wrong thing to avoid it. We do things that make us ashamed of ourselves in order to avoid being shamed by others or in front of them. Forgive, Lord.
Pilate paraded You before the people, bruised and beaten, a wreath of thorns torturing your brow, a purple cloak thrown over Your shoulders, blood seeping through from Your back, torn to ribbons by the cat o’ nines tail. We heard these words about the Suffering Servant from Isaiah:
“He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering…
…he was despised, and we held him of no account.” (Isaiah 53:3)
The crowd clearly held you of no account, Lord. Otherwise why would they have shouted,
“Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” (John 19:15)
And the chief priests held you of no account; otherwise, when Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” why would they have answered, “We have no king but the emperor”?
Truth be told, there are moments in our lives, Lord, when we hold you of no account. Otherwise, why would we not do the next right thing? Forgive us, dear Lord. And of all the questions in this world, let us never question Your love or mercy. Amen
1Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (New York: Abingdon Press, 1951), p. 896.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham