Every Good Friday afternoon we listen to John’s Passion being read. I wonder how many of us really spend time reading the text and allowing it to speak to us. I offer you a few insights into this narrative.
John has written his passion as a three act play. The opening act has two scenes, one dealing with the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by Jesus being questioned by Annas and Peter’s denial.
In Act Two we hear about Jesus trial before Pilate the Roman Governor. Our meditation will centre on this event.
Act three tells of Jesus crucifixion, death and burial.
Open your Bible at John 18: 28 and then read the text for each scene before reading the commentary.
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Scene 1 18: 28-32 OUTSIDE
“It was morning.” Jesus is escorted to Pilate’s residence. The building was built with an open public area, referred to as (OUTSIDE) and next to this was the official residence and offices (INSIDE). There was no way that the chief priests would go inside the residence as this would make them ritually impure so, “Pilate came out to them.” One has to question their concern about ritual purity, yet they did not hesitate to call for the execution of an innocent man! Some double standard.
Scene 2 18: 33-38 INSIDE
“So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and said to him,”
As one reads this dialogue one has to wonder who is in charge, Jesus or Pilate. The repeated use of the title “King” suggests that Jesus is in control. Pilate asks, “What have you done?” and “What is truth?” These two questions should ring in our ears. Look at your life and list all the good you have done. Filled with joy and perhaps surprise at you own goodness/ Godness respond with a heartfelt prayer of gratitude.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” asks Pilate. Jesus replies with one of the most challenging questions that anyone could be asked. “Do you say this on our own or have others told you about me?”
Everyone one of us speaks of Jesus and God to others. We instruct our children. We teach catechism, share Scripture, preach sermons. Jesus questions us, “Are you speaking from your personal experience and conviction or are you just repeating what somebody else has told you?” There is no way our teaching will be authentic if you are not speaking from personal experience and conviction.
Scene 3 18: 38b-40 OUTSIDE
“When Pilate had said this, Pilate again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him.” In response to Pilate’s offer to release Jesus the Priests reply, “Not this one but Barabbas.” Barabbas is two words, ‘bar’, meaning son of, and ‘abba’ – father. Jesus, the true Son of the Father, is rejected in favour of a revolutionary. Have I accepted Jesus and all his teachings? How is my relationship with Jesus growing?
Scene 4 19: 1-3 INSIDE
Jesus is scourged! Surely not! A moment ago Pilate pronounced him not guilty and now he orders a scourging. The chief priests are not the only people living by double standards. The theme of kingship continues with the mocking and crowning with thorns.
Scene 5 19: 4-8 OUTSIDE
“Once more Pilate went out and said to them, ‘I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” The mockery continues as Jesus, the King, is presented to the crowd, clothed in purple and crowned with thorns. Tensions are rising. In response to “Behold the man” the cry of “Crucify him, crucify” him rings in our ears. Once again Pilate responds by finding Jesus not guilty.
Pilate was a really tough, cruel and ruthless governor and yet here he shows uncharacteristic weakness in the face of obvious injustice. What has been my stand when I see the weak and defenceless unjustly treated?
This scene reaches its climax with the crowd announcing that Jesus is “Son of God.” Pilate is shocked and terrified. No wonder he rushes back inside.
Scene 6 19: 9-11 INSIDE
“And went back into the praetorium and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’
There is no doubt that Jesus has now taken control of the conversation and that Pilate is very much on the defensive.
Scene 7 19: 12-16 OUTSIDE
“If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.” This was too much for Pilate. He caves in to their demands. Many pictures of the scene that follows have Pilate seated on the judge’s bench and Jesus standing. Some translations say, “He brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench.” This is a fitting climax to a “mockery’ of a trial.
“Behold your King,” says Pilate. “We have no King but Caesar?” A shocked silence follows as all realize the terrible rejection that has taken place.