THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Pilate and Power
WEEK VII / DAY II
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Scripture / Read Mark 15:1-15
The Jewish authorities have already put Jesus on trial — in the form of an irregular, overnight tribunal with conflicting testimony (Mark 14:53-65), ending only when Jesus declares that he is the Lord’s anointed. Now it is the Roman prefect Pilate who is pressed into a highly irregular role --applying the most heinous punishment Rome ever devised to what he perceives is largely a matter of jealousy and rivalry with the local leaders. To Pilate’s amazement, Jesus — who spoke so clearly to the Jewish tribunal — refuses to declare or defend Himself. Pilate is left to “satisfy the crowd” as best as he can, by ordering Jesus’ crucifixion.
Our History and Its Legacy
We would never have heard of the Roman official Pontius Pilate if he had not been confronted, early one morning, by the dubious and troublesome case of someone called “King of the Jews.” To be prefect of Judea was to hold a decidedly mid-level position in the vast Roman administrative state — a sign that Pilate’s career had not gone well to that point, lacking either talent or the right patrons or both.
And yet Pilate, as described by Mark, is a canny politician. He is amazed that Jesus offers no defense even against a flimsy prosecution. Pilate is well aware of rivalries among local factions and able to quickly assess what will placate the crowd. He knows how to be a master manipulator. How can the prisoner before him, the “King of the Jews,” not play the political game as well?
No less than three times in this short account, Pilate uses that phrase — “King of the Jews.” Pilate’s worldly, calculating, self-interested power has encountered someone who wields an entirely different kind of power. (Indeed, as Jesus says to Pilate in the conversation recorded by John, Pilate would have no power at all if it had not been “given [him] from above.”) Jesus has a power that Pilate cannot imagine — the power to sacrifice, to give up all power. And Jesus is driven by an utterly different mission than Pilate seems ever to have known — to reveal and embody truth.
In a world full of calculating politicians, what would it look like for followers of Jesus to offer an alternative — but still politically powerful — witness?
Reflection and Response
In this passage Pilate, the consummate political leader, meets someone called “the King of the Jews.” And we, too, are invited to meet Jesus this Holy Week, allowing him to overturn our assumptions about what true kingship, leadership, and power entail. Spend some time reflecting on and praying about each of these questions:
What did the phrase “King of the Jews” mean to the Jewish leaders and to Pontius Pilate?
What did that phrase mean to Jesus and the readers of Mark’s gospel?
What does political power and leadership usually look like in our own world? Who holds this kind of power today?
What would a Christ-shaped form of power take in our own world? Who holds this power today?
Written by Andy Crouch