In Luke 23: 13-25 we see Pilate, the chief priests and the crowd working out what will happen to Jesus. We all know the outcome of this: the crowd shout for crucifixion, Barabbas is released and Jesus sent to be crucified.
Human nature does not come out well in this section of the Gospel of Luke. In Easter passion performances I have found it interesting playing the different roles in this passage over the years. It forces me to reflect on the times I have acted like the various people involved in this all important day.
So let’s look at those people who are as human as you or I.
Pilate: powerful leader of an unpopular empire who run this land by force. I can’t imagine his life was easy, living in a hostile place is hard even if you are the most powerful. Giving the people what they want in this case may have seemed an easy win politically even if he seems uncomfortable making the choice. As Tony pointed out on Saturday we also see that it could also have been a politically savvy move to keep his new friend Herod happy!
So when are the times that we take the easy route to keep friends and have an easy life rather than speaking out for what we believe is right?
The crowd: as a child I learnt the crowd were paid off by the chief priests and in Mark’s Gospel it says the chief priests stirred up the crowd. I cannot claim to know what the truth was but I do wonder how much a Jerusalem crowd knew of this Galilean visiting their city? His reputation certainly goes ahead of him as we see with Palm Sunday but I don’t imagine this crowd had seen Jesus teaching or understood the message he was bringing. Were they doing it for the money? Were they caught up in the moment, not fully understanding the outcome of their actions?
Can you think of a time when you have gone along with something, not fully understanding or knowing what you are supporting?
The chief priests: often thought of as the villains, powerful and wealthy religious elites. They didn’t like this heretical young man speaking out against the order of things, the way things had always been done and the way they believed to be righteous. Someone said to me recently, ‘today’s heretic is tomorrow’s prophet’.
Where are we clinging to things of the past to keep order? Are we ignoring any prophetic voices in our midst?
Our Sunday morning service was live streamed onto Facebook from the vicarage with Heston and Lydia leading our service and celebrating Pride Sunday with lots of flag waving. Katherine-Alice Grasham shared her thoughts on the story of Peter’s dream and it’s consequences in Acts 10-15.
“Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, ‘We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.’ Then Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He answered, ‘You say so.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’ But they were insistent and said, ‘He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.’
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had wanted to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.”
How do you solve a difficult problem? By passing the buck! This seems to be what Pilate and Herod were doing. Jesus had been brought before Pilate, but Pilate can find no fault in him, so passes him over to Herod.
Herod had always been interested in Jesus. He had heard a lot about him, but had never been able to meet him in person. There is something fascinating about supreme goodness even if you don’t believe in it. The German philosopher, Rudolf Otto in his book, The Idea of the Holy summed it up as tremendum et fascinans, terrifying and fascinating all at the same time.
This was clearly the effect on Herod and Pilate. Both were ruthless men in their own spheres, yet they found the goodness of Jesus attractive, so much so that they couldn’t bring themselves to condemn him, but passed him back and forth, always hoping that the other would make the decision, which probably in their heart of hearts, they knew to be wrong. In that sense, they illustrate what David Jenkins called, our ‘sense of solidarity in sin.’
But there is that intriguing verse at the end of our reading: ‘That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other.’ If the death of Jesus brings about reconciliation between God and us, it can also bring about reconciliation between us as well, as it so dramatically illustrated in this verse.
Herod of course, came to a bad end and although some sources suggest that Pilate become a Christian and died as a martyr, history doesn’t tell us much about this. Both of them come across to Christians as being weak-willed and evil, allowing Jesus to be crucified.
But for our Thought for the Day, that last verse is something to reflect upon: That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other.
Can we also be agents of reconciliation in our own day?
Unfortunately we can’t all gather together and celebrate our glorious diversity so we will be celebrating online – diverse and dispersed!
Do join us for our 10:30am service on Facebook Live as Katherine-Alice Grasham will be sharing her thoughts on the story of Peter’s dream and it’s consequences in Acts 10-15. Heston and Lydia will be leading us in our worship and there will be an opportunity after the service to meet together via Zoom.
Have you heard of Wang Zhiming? – a Chinese pastor who is portrayed in a statue on the West Front of Westminster Abbey. In the days of Chairman Mau’s Cultural Revolution, Wang witnessed openly and clearly to the Christian faith, and he did so with grace and dignity. For this he gve his life, joining many others who have been martyred for their faith in recent years. In this way he was a brave follower of his Master.
Luke’s Gospel makes it clear that the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, longed to get rid of Jesus. They taunted him in the way in which many others have been taunted and bullied, not only in the guardroom but in Board rooms, Care Homes, schools, and other places. The persecutors become the very antithesis of the Kingdom of God and its values.
Tom Wright, who wrote a commentary on Luke’s Gospel, suggests that people forget that every single person they deal with, is a beautiful, fragile reflection of the Creator God, to be respected and cherished. ‘Luke leads our eyes to the foot of the Cross; he means us to feel not just sorrow and pity, but shame’.
R.S.Thomas, the Welsh clergyman poet, wrote a poem called ‘The Kingdom of God’; this may give us pause for thought.
The Kingdom It’s a long way off but inside it There are quite different things going on: Festivals at which the poor man Is king and the consumptive is Healed; mirrors in which the blind look At themselves and love looks at them Back; and industry is for mending The bent bones and the minds fractured By life. It’s a long way off, but to get There takes no time and admission Is free, if you will purge yourself Of desire, and present yourself with Your need only and the simple offering Of your faith, green as a leaf.
Looking at the passage from Luke, it had been a crazy day. A seemingly friendly kiss had resulted in arrest and drawn swords. Now waiting outside the house of one of the religious leaders where Jesus was interred, Peter was waiting for news.
‘I don’t know him’.
It feels pretty uncomfortable reading those words. We wonder what would we have done? What would we have said in response? Would we have joined in the denial?
What I’m struck by today, after reading this familiar and unsettling passage, is that Peter was there.
This afternoon I went to a Church of England webinar “opening the doors” thinking about the impact of online worship and what it might mean for the church in the future. Across the country churches have opened their doors in a different way, and our three churches have joined in offering worship online. New worshipers have found their way to church in large numbers. Those who wanted to, but couldn’t physically get there, have joined in too. It poses a question, what does that mean for the future of our worship as a church?
Back to Peter and his threefold denial. Fast forward to John 21:17, right after Jesus’ death and resurrection we hear of Jesus and Peter meeting again. The three denials are met with three instructions to Peter to look after Jesus’ followers. Not just look after, but to lead, being the ‘rock’.
As churches we can often be thinking of rocks, or at least bricks and mortar. It’s not surprising as the Church of England is structured that way with land (parishes) and buildings.
There is benefit in ‘being there’. Here, physically in Hyde Park and Headingley, and virtually on Zoom, Youtube and Facebook live.
What will it mean to be church into the future? How will we continue to welcome and serve the people who look for God through the church doors or a google search?
Today is an opportunity for us to reflect on the price paid by God in Jesus Christ for our salvation; the price paid by Love because of love.
The Agony by George Herbert (1593 - 1633)
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of seas, of states and kings;
Walked with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove;
Yet few there are that sound them—Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A Man so wrung with pains, that all His hair,
His skin, His garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice which, on the cross, a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like,
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood, but I as wine.
I encourage you to listen to Ian Gillan’s iconic version of Gethsemane from the original recording of Jesus Christ Superstar.