A message from Father Nick 4 (12th April 2020)
“Truth? What is that?”
This Great Week, as it has often been called, offers us many ways of pondering the mystery of our redemption. One is through the character and motivation of those who figured in Jesus’ last days. We so easily recognise ourselves in them: people unable to avoid the challenge he brings but driven by the common mix of human motives: Simon Peter, Judas, Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, Simon of Cyrene, Barabbas, soldiers, servants, members of the crowd… Our Lady, Mary Magdalene and John too. We see so many different kinds of awareness and response around Our Lord’s lonely integrity.
One of the most interesting figures is the one who must pass the death sentence on Jesus but who is shown as trying to avoid responsibility for doing so. In that attempt, in his gentile background, and in his pragmatic evaluation of what is at stake, Pontius Pilate comes especially close to us. His meeting with Jesus in the praetorium is the real dramatic centre of events.
It seems that Pilate might have got off rather lightly in the gospels. We learn from other sources that he could be an extremely brutal man. At the very least he calculates that letting Jesus go free is more than his job is worth. All the issues of power, choice and worldly judgment come together at this moment.
There is irony here. In her fascinating book on Pilate, Ann Wroe writes of what a Roman governor was expected to be. His emperor Tiberius (described by his schoolteacher as “mud mixed with blood”) gave careful advice to such officials in words, says Wroe, “that now carry an unavoidable ring of irony and poignancy. A governor, said Tiberius, ought to be a ‘good shepherd‘.”
Of course, things did not work out according to plan and within a few years Pilate was recalled to Rome anyway. Now his name is forever linked with Jesus. Whenever we say the Creed it is he who grounds us in history – “suffered under Pontius Pilate”.
How we can deceive ourselves! Pilate asks the question, what is truth? May we learn to ask it in a way that brings clear vision to our lives.