History informs us that Pilate was a prefect of the Roman province of Judea during the time of Jesus’ trial that led to his crucifixion. He is portrayed as a person who is indifferent to justice, and the evangelist Matthew takes pains to add a rather strange detail by noting that Pilate “took some water and washed his hands before the crowd” (Matt. 27:24). In his capacity, he could have done something to prevent the death of Jesus, but he was swayed and influenced by quite a few factors, one of which was the crowd.
Pilate, who stood in a position of power, was one who whose also wanted the approval of the crowd. This made his freedom compromised, weak and limited. It is always easy to put a price tag on a person’s loyalties when one is not truly free.
Reflecting on our weakness for popularity and approval is something that we don’t do enough for ourselves. But I believe that we need to do this often, especially those of us who are in positions of authority. Firstly, we need to begin by admitting that we all have a desire for approval, and that it often finds its genesis in the belief that our centre of confidence comes from outside of us. The Christian, because of the dignity bestowed upon him at his baptism, stands heads and shoulders above others where confidence is concerned. Because of the primacy of grace and the belief that the dignity of baptism is unmerited and a pure gift from God, a baptised person who is fully aware of this really should stand in no need of approval from any person, nor have the need to seek any other validation in life. In his or her very being, the person is highly esteemed by God. In this light, the baptised person has an unsurpassed inner confidence.
Anyone who is not clear about this and who only lives in occasional realisation of this will be insecure in life. That is where most of our problems begin. The social media does nothing to aid in this realisation either because it has created an almost universal self-defeating need to ensure that we obtain as many ‘likes’ as possible. We have failed to appreciate that one “love” by God trumps any number ‘likes’ that the world can give.
Another point of reflection is where ultimate power in life lies. There is a classic face-off in John’s account of the Passion that takes place in the Praetorium, which was the Roman procurator’s judicial court. Here, the two powers meet – one Divine, and one earthly. One was bound and led, while the other was free, or so it seemed. Their dialogue comes to a climax when the element of truth is addressed. When Jesus makes a reference to truth, Pilate’s reaction is telling. He asks “what is truth?” revealing that for all his authority and position that his status seems to give him, truth had still eluded him.
If one doesn’t have God in one’s life, one can surround oneself with power and riches, but they will mean nothing if one is not living with truth and honesty. Every Easter Sunday at Mass, we are invited to renew our baptismal promises, and we are asked by the celebrant “Do you renounce Satan and all his empty show?” Indeed, the Father of Lies has a show going on, and it is empty. He is called “the Deceiver” for the fact that his promises of what gives happiness, what delights and what thrills is only at the level of a façade and their apparent beauty merely cosmetic. Truth, however, will always be deep and abiding.
We find ourselves in the position of Pilate frequently, especially when we know in our hearts that we could have stood taller for justice and when truth was easily bought for a price. Understandably, standing for truth has its price, and sometimes it is paid in the form of being unpopular. However, there is no price that can be put on a good night’s sleep that results from a conscience that is pure. Blessed indeed are the pure in heart, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The season of Lent that we are in invites us to look deeply in our hearts and to purify our inner disposition as disciples of Christ. Pilate was coldly indifferent in the face of injustice and cruelty. We too may find it easy to be indifferent in the face of injustice that comes in different forms, and we too may be washing our hands with too much ease. Could we have shades of Pilate’s personality manifested in our lives that we may have been blinded to?
Fr Luke Fong is a catholic priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. He blogs regularly at Reflections & Ruminations.