Luke 23: 13 – 25 Jesus before Pilate and Herod – Part 3
Pilate called together the chief priests , the rulers and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore I will punish him and then release him.’
But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’
For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
* * *
Jesus was brought before Pilate on a charge of inciting the people to rebellion. Pilate found him not guilty and said so publicly. Despite this, the crowd demanded that Jesus be crucified, and Pilate caved in to them.
The crowd shouted for the release of Barabbas who had been imprisoned for an insurrection in the city and murder. Pilate acceded to the crowd’s demand and released him.
The symmetry of this is stark. Both men are accused of essentially the same crime – incitement to rebellion – one guilty, the other innocent. The guilty man goes free while the innocent man is put to death.
The Romans actually had quite a decent legal system. Modern western law is based firmly on the Roman model. However, it can go badly wrong. Why does it sometimes go wrong? Because it depends upon human beings.
Why did the crowd call for Jesus’ death? We can only guess.
The crowd had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, but hadn’t understood what that meant. Their hope for a great warrior king to defeat the Romans and make Judea great again was in tatters – the evidence was in front of them. Jesus was a prisoner of the Romans, bound and helpless. Perhaps they felt that Barabbas would be more war-like, more effective, more patriotic than Jesus?
The chief priests and teachers of the law were vehemently accusing Jesus. I don’t expect they stuck to the truth. Every rumour that could weaken Jesus’ reputation would have been yelled out, whipping up the crowd into a frenzy. And there was nobody there to speak for Jesus – the disciples had fled.
The death of Jesus was accomplished by malice, lies, lack of understanding, and cowardice. All human weakness and viciousness was on display. The way human institutions can be so easily subverted was laid bare. And all this was driven by the self-interest of those involved.
I am sorry for the many times I put my wishes before yours, my self-interest before your will. Please help me to do better.
In Jesus’ name, Amen