Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pilate's Easter Legacy

A close study reveals neither a villain nor a hero, but someone oddly familiar, in fact, oddly like

"Answerest thou nothing? Behold how many things they witness against thee." - Pontius Pilate

According to legend, when Tiberius summoned Pilate for the last time, Pilate wore a scrap of Jesus’ seamless garment, and, when Tiberius saw Pilate, he immediately took on a more gentle tone. Wroe writes that Tiberius intentions went something like this: “Now I’m going to do to you what you did to him.” But instead, Tiberius was ‘disarmed’, and sent Pilate away ‘with a smile’. Of course, once Pilate had left (with the strip of Jesus garment) Tiberius’ fury returned.

In the New Testament, the Crucifixion was a joint effort between the Jews and Pilate. But in the Apocrypha scripts, Pilate felt worse after the sentencing. Ann Wroe in her book, Pontius Pilate writes: The idea of a repentant Pilate never caught on in western Christendom. Wroe also illustrates some fascinating insights that illuminate the dark period immediately after the resurrection. She points to a sixth century letter, written in Greek, and addressed to Herod Antipas.

Pilate indicates that he has kept track of Jesus, since his death, with his spies following him as far as Galilee. Procula –Pilate’s wife – and a retinue that included Longinus (the guy with the spear) and the guards of Jesus’ tomb found him sitting in a tilled field. They did not dare approach him, but Jesus saw them. Procula returned home in tears, and her distress infected Pilate, who cried out, “It’s Herod’s fault.” Wroe writes that fifty soldiers went with Procula and Pilate back to Galilee, to find Jesus.

Wroe writes: Pilate stood in the middle of the road. He could see Jesus standing and talking to his disciples and, as he stood there, Jesus saw him. Pilate began to pray in his heart, for, as he told Herod, “I knew that this was the lord of created things.”

And at this point, the story goes, Jesus approached and laid his hand on Pilate’s shoulder, saying: ‘All generations and families shall call you blessed because in your days the Son of Man died and rose again.’

Herod, ignoring Pilate’s accusations, responded to the letter asking for help. He mentions his son, Lestonax who is dying. He describes his own condition, saying ‘worms are coming out of my mouth’. He describes a daughter whose head was severed after she fell through ice. Herod asks that Pilate will ‘put in a good word’ on his behalf, to Jesus.

Interestingly, at least 3 centuries after Christ’s death, Roman officials were required to repeat, time and time again, that Jesus posed no threat to the empire.

Over the centuries though, the blame has shifted for the killing of Jesus from Pilate to the Jews. At various times, Pilate has been seen as Christ’s own advocate. In this scenario, the Jews could be nothing other than villains. In my own opinion, if history, if the fates ordained that Jesus must be killed, surely that was a necessary engineering that could not be blamed on the technical details, in effect, the technicians could not be held accountable.

But this same argument could then be used to excuse Judas. But Judas is traditionally viewed as condemned. If this is so, how does it happen that our lives are spun into fates and destinies apparently beyond our control? Do we simply live out our lives, reaching our predestined potential, and are then punished and rewarded for exercising choices we were expected to make?

An even more bizarre twist – taking this line of thinking – is that Pilate was merely used towards an end. After all, since Christ was sentenced to death and rose from the dead anyway, did it really matter who provided the agency for the sentencing? Is Pilate the ultimate patsy?

And then Pilate was called to face Tiberius. Why? Because how could a man be so tactless to kill someone who might have proven to be of use to the Romans? What was Pilate thinking?

Of course Pilate might have responded: “But it wasn’t me. I did what the people (or Herod) wanted.”
And of course Tiberius would sternly overrule this line of reasoning by stating: “Yes, but your job was to make the law, not have the law made unto you.”
Tiberius would have gone on to say: ‘didn’t you realize you had someone special on your hands? A performer of miracles no less. Did you feel no sense of awe in his presence? Hmmm? And why oh why didn’t you bring him to me?’

Ann Wroe concludes her book with the following: He walks in the sand dunes; the wind and the grass snag at him. Are you free now, jumping, shouting, saved, because I sentenced him? Did I do that for you?

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