Luke 23:13-25 (CEV)
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people. 14 He told them, “You brought Jesus to me and said he was a troublemaker. But I have questioned him here in front of you, and I have not found him guilty of anything that you say he has done. 15 Herod didn’t find him guilty either and sent him back. This man doesn’t deserve to be put to death! 16-17 I will just have him beaten with a whip and set free.”
18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Kill Jesus! Give us Barabbas!” 19 Now Barabbas was in jail because he had started a riot in the city and had murdered someone.
20 Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, so he spoke again to the crowds. 21 But they kept shouting, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”
22 Pilate spoke to them a third time, “But what crime has he done? I have not found him guilty of anything for which he should be put to death. I will have him beaten with a whip and set free.”
23 The people kept on shouting as loud as they could for Jesus to be put to death. 24 Finally, Pilate gave in. 25 He freed the man who was in jail for rioting and murder, because he was the one the crowd wanted to be set free. Then Pilate handed Jesus over for them to do what they wanted with him.
The One The Crowd Wanted
Have you ever had a dream that haunted you all night long?
A troubling dream you woke up knowing you had to do something about?
A terrifying dream you couldn’t shake, no matter how hard you try?
These dreams can be pretty unsettling now, but back in Roman-era Jerusalem the Romans put a lot of stock into the idea of good omens and bad omens.
So when Pilate’s wife is haunted by a dream all night she is certain that it is a bad omen, and even more certain that Pilate will be doing something gravely wrong if he finds Jesus guilty. And we’re told over in Matthew that she sends a message to her husband warning him not to have anything to do with Jesus.
And Pilate listens.
Or at least, he tries to listen.
You get the feeling that he’d really like to do the right thing.
You get the feeling that he really wants to set Jesus free.
But the problem is, he’s scared.
He’s scared of the system.
He’s scared of losing power.
He’s scared of the people.
Throughout his time as governor he’s been fed a story of ‘us’ (the Romans) vs. ‘them’ (the people). It’s a story that’s supposed to give him power to rule, and yet in today’s account what it actually does is to steal his own personal power and authority away from himself.
That’s what these fear stories do.
They take away our agency, leaving us feeling powerless to make the decisions we want to make.
They take away our authority, leaving us at the beck and call of whatever whim is fancied by the unthinking, unquestioning majority.
They take away our personal power – whatever power we have – and subject us instead to whatever is demanded of us by the loudest voices in the room.
Pilate could have let Jesus go free.
He could have said no to the religious leaders first thing in the morning – but he was scared of what they might do, so he passed the buck.
He could have said no to the religious leaders when they returned from seeing Herod – but his fear of the religious leaders outweighed all sense of his own autonomy.
And so he puts it to a popularity context – he asks the crowd gathered outside his palace for their take on the question – hoping that Jesus will win.
But without his agency, authority or personal power, Pilate is left with nothing to fall back on when the one the crowd wants isn’t Jesus, but the murderer and riot-inciting Barabbas.
- When do you find it is easiest to think for yourself and make your own decisions?
- In what situations do you find that the hardest?
- How does your fear affect how you feel about the decisions you make?
- How often do you feel like you ‘go with the crowd’ and how often do you feel like you take the time to do your own research and come to your own conclusions?
- What might it look like for you to lean more fully into love (rather than fear) in terms of your decision-making process?