Pilate’s Story – A dramatic presentation for Good Friday
Psalm 22: 1 – 15; Mark 15: 1 – 20
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
Welcome, welcome. Come in. Our table is over there. No, no, not that table – I’m a governor, not a King. This one is ours.
Oh my where are my manners. Would you like a glass of wine? You’ll have to forgive me, I need to attend to these reports. I’ve had a rather grueling day with the barbarian hordes. A little out of the ordinary this time. It’s weighing rather heavily on me.
Have you heard anything about this Jesus of Nazareth? Yes, an itinerant preacher – some say a prophet, a healer, who knows really. I met him today. Well, not under what I’d call pleasant circumstances. He was dragged to the Praetorium by a group of ranting Pharisees who wouldn’t even come into the building – they were afraid of being defiled before their holy days. Can you imagine? Afraid that I’ll defile them! And they weren’t alone – they’d riled up half the city – elders, scribes, the whole nasty council and who knows how many blood thirsty peasants. All of them causing a huge ruckus in the courtyard.
Apparently the temple guard had picked him up in a Garden outside the city where he and his buddies were. He was said to have been praying, but I think his friends were sleeping it off. Anyway, I didn’t see them, they’d taken off to hide. But this Jesus was looking rough, they’d worked him over a bit.
What was their problem? Oh well, you know these Jews, they were all worked up because the man had claimed to be God. Idiots. They’d never survive in Rome where some Caesar or another is forever declaring himself to be a god. But the Jews think they’re pretty special – it seems they’re the keepers the one true God. They own him and think it’s their job to protect him. Stupid fools.
They’d had him in custody most of the night, but there’s not much they can do to him; under Roman rule they’re pretty powerless. But whatever he’d done or said, had them incensed. They were angry but it was more than that, they were hard against him. You could see the hatred in their eyes. Especially the high priest, Ciaphas and that father-in-law of his. What a pair. I’d hate to be at their family reunion. But it was there in the lot of them, like something had possessed them and they couldn’t be free of it until they were free of him. I don’t really know what it was, jealousy for certain, but something more palatable than even that. Anyhow, they’d already decided that they wouldn’t rest until he was dead, so they wanted me to do their dirty work. First thing in the morning no less, I was up with the sun – left my darling wife lying in bed and the servants fixing breakfast.
What was he like? Well, he was interesting. Not at all what you’d expect. A small wiry guy. Insignificant really. Hardly a man, let alone a god. And yet there was something about him. There was this strength in him. A stillness and clarity in his eyes, like he could look right through me. He was compelling and I felt sorry for him, but more than that I felt awed by him. By his presence and calmness. Not once did he grovel or beg or try to cut a deal. He didn’t even tell me he was framed, and they all do. I’m certain he was though. And so was I – well, manipulated at least. I felt like their puppet, bloody religious dogs. They’d trumped up a good long list of accusations – said that he was perverting the nation. Forbidding people to pay taxes to Caesar – like any of them are great supporters of the emperor. I’m sure they drop their coins down happily to the tax collectors. They also said he had claimed to be their Messiah – some kind of Jewish liberator King. That changed the climate a bit. I couldn’t let it get back to Rome that I’ve permitted a traitor and rival to Caesar to walk the streets. The gods know that it’s bad enough being stuck out in this sorry excuse for a colony – who knows where I might be sent next! Although I doubt it could get worse.
I took him inside to question him directly. I said, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He wanted to know who had told me to ask him that. I reminded him that it was his own people – the chief priests who accused him. I asked what he’d done to upset them so much. I thought maybe there’d be some loop hole we could slide through. But what he said was, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” I ask you, what in Hades does that mean? I chose another line, “So you are a King?” And you know what he said back? He said, “You say so.” You say so! Can you imagine the gall? I’m no Jew. I reminded him again that I hadn’t said any such thing – I wasn’t mad at him. In fact I rather admired him for his fearlessness, and I can’t say that about any Pharisees. For that reason too, I was inclined to let him off. He continued saying, “For this I was born into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” I muttered under my breath, “What is truth?” What was the truth of the accusations against this man? I thought, okay, he may be a raving lunatic – and somehow I doubt that – but he’s not a man guilty of conspiracy and treason. He’s no threat to Caesar. Ha, for all I know he is their Messiah!
I went out again to the Pharisees and told them that I found no basis for an accusation against the man. But they were insistent. They told me he was going all over the country side stirring up trouble with the people, starting in Galilee.
Well I was looking for a way out of the mess, so when I heard he came from Galilee I sent him over to see Herod, after all Galilee is Herod’s territory and his crime, if any, was a religious one; why not send him to one of his own. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I thought, if I can get Herod to imprison him, then I’m off the hook and if the situation grows more tense, Herod could be my scapegoat to Rome. After all, those Jews are big into scapegoats. So they marched him off to Herod’s palace.
I was too distressed to eat, I tried to do some paper work, I paced around, I sat on my judgment seat mulling things over. I felt determined to come up with a way to set this Jesus free. To my surprise my wife appeared at the door. She never comes to my work. And she looked like she’d seen a ghost. I asked her what was wrong, expecting a family crisis. She threw herself at my knees and begged me to have nothing to do with this Jesus of Nazareth. Said she’d had a dream. I was even more concerned then. My wife isn’t prone to hysteria or fantasies like some women are. And if there’s one thing we Romans know is that we should listen to our wives – unless we want to sleep with the family dog. After she left, I came up with a plan.
As I was working it out, I could hear the crowd approaching from a distance, they were louder and stronger than before, and there were bursts of laughter which surprised me. That is until I saw him. Herod had dressed him up in one of his old purple robes – garments fit for a King. Who knew? I’d thought Herod was a frivolous, paranoid fool who liked to party; I had no idea he was so witty. I must invite him for dinner one night – enjoy his humour first hand.
Before I knew it they were back on my doorstep. So I went out and told them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found him guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod or he wouldn’t have sent him back to me. He’s done nothing to deserve death.” Well the rabble started to boo and hiss and throw rotten food at me – the filth. So I brought him in again to question him some more. I started again saying, “You’ve heard the charges. What do you have to say for yourself?” He said nothing. I was growing impatient and said, “How dare you say nothing? Do you want to die? I’m your best ticket out of here!” Again – nothing. I asked, “Do you want me to have you crucified? Say something!” He just stared into my eyes and was silent.
So I took him out again and stood before the crowd. Again I told them I found him innocent of the charges, and again they booed and threw things. But I thought I’d hang them with their own rope. I said, “You Jews have a custom that I release a prisoner for you at the Passover. You have a choice: “I will release Barabbas, a violent bandit or I will release ‘the King of the Jews’. Which will it be?” I thought for sure there couldn’t be a question. How could they possibly set Barabbas free to rob and murder and rape their daughters? But in the name of Zeus, they started to yell for Barabbas to be released.
I had only one hope left. I handed him over to our own soldiers to have him flogged. I thought maybe if they beat him within an inch of his life, the Pharisees would be content and call off the crowds. The soldiers found a huge thorny vine and shaped it into a crown and shoved it down into his head, to go with his robe. They blindfolded him and pushed him around. I could hear them mocking him and spitting on him. Sick bunch of sadists. They beat him to a pulp. What a sight. I feel ill just thinking about it.
When they brought him back he could barely stand. I brought him out before the crowd and began to say, “Here is the man.” But I was drowned out by people calling for him to be crucified. The sound of that rings in my ears, “Crucify him, crucify him.” They were on the edge of a riot. A riot, I couldn’t afford. I took him back in and asked him why he refused to speak to me. “I told him, I’m the only one who can pardon you, King of the Jews. I’m your only hope.” And this bleeding pulp of a man, looked up at me with a peace I’ve never seen in anyone. He smiled gently and said, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” Then he fell silent again.
I took him out again and called to the crowd, “Here is your king.” Couldn’t they see how ridiculous this whole thing was. The just kept yelling for him to be crucified. Like a pack of wolves waiting for the kill. I said, “You want me to crucify
your King? I was growing weary with it all. They yelled, “We have no King but Caesar”. I knew then that it was done. If they pitted him against Caesar, I had no choice. I couldn’t be complicit in taking down Caesar. It tore me apart. I gave the order for Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. I told them that the sign on the cross declaring his crime was to read, “King of the Jews.” Someone suggested he’d only said he was the King of the Jews, that’s what the sign should read. But I thought if he’s going to die for it, he should be given credit for it.
Just before they led him away to be crucified, I asked my servant to bring out this bowl of water and I washed my hands in front of them all and told them, “I am innocent of this man’s blood”. But I know I’m not innocent. And don’t think for a second you are either. Something bigger than any of us happened here today and we’re all complicit in it. I wish I could wipe it from my mind. I wish I could wash away the guilt. Come, come wash with me. Maybe the King of the Jews will pardon us.