The Pilate Moment
So I was driving home from Orlando last Saturday night after dropping my son Luke off at a baseball preseason training camp. The sun was setting and I wanted to get home and get some sleep. We were going to lose an hour springing forward and I had to officiate at the early service on Sunday morning. I wanted to be safe, yes, but I also wanted to get home and crawl in bed. I was in one of my worst frames of mind, all I wanted was to be home in bed.
I drove the speed limit and was doing fine until I hit some construction. Three lanes were to become two and then one. A woman in a Toyota was next to me and we both wanted to get ahead of the other in that single lane. Usually I like letting people in front of me, but that night, I just wanted to get home and everyone and everything was annoying me, so I floored it. And so did she. Well, she won the race to the top spot and I had to slam on my breaks. As she launched her Toyota in front of me, she gave me this cute little wave with her bright red fingernails. And I started to growl. So I figured I would let some light into the situation. I turned on my brights.
This caused the pleasant woman to slow to about 15 mph. No emergency, no amount of honking or pressure could entice this woman to speed up. Her mind was made up. Finally, after an agonizing 15 minutes or so, the lanes opened back up and I was able to pass her. Well, this time, she lifted her hand, but she didn’t wave. I think you know the hand gesture she displayed to me and, well, it wasn’t a wave.
So I am on my way now, driving home and wondering what happened to me. I know better than that. I just put my life in jeapordy to save a few minutes! I got so mad that I stopped thinking clearly. I lost my reason. And I was ashamed. I needed to stop, pause for a moment, and think about what was right.
I want to talk to you about that moment. That moment when you know you are about to do something that is not right. That moment when you really should stop and say no, put on the brakes, think clearly. Stand up and speak out on what is right, but you don’t. You give in to your emotions. You do the easier thing. And it is wrong.
Pontius Pilate was a brutal man. He was an ambitious man. He had been known to slaughter Jews or Gentiles if enraged. He was in a tug of war with the Jews of Jerusalem. When he moved to Jerusalem, he brought with him flags and items of Roman rule. The Jews revolted at his banners and his decorations and the Jewish authorities wrote to Caesar, who asked Pilate to take them down.
Pilate hated the Jews and the Samaritans. He killed Samaritans and poured blood over the altars in the temple in a fit of rage. But Pilate also knew that he had to play his cards right. Pilate was a politician.
On the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, Pilate would have known about it. A simple peasant being hailed as the Messiah, he would have watched to see if this movement ended in some kind of revolt or violence. When Jesus ended up on his doorstep, bloodied and beaten, Pilate was relieved and sent him to Herod as a gesture of companionship. Pilate and Herod who had been enemies became friends after he passed Jesus on as a token of good will.
But Herod returned Jesus to Pilate and the crowd was getting impatient. Pilate knew that the crowd had lost its reason. He knew that rage had taken over reason. He knew that the crowd was becoming a mob and he also knew that what was going on was wrong. He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was innocent. He said it clearly. And that was when the moment occurred. The moment when a decision was made.
Pilate was standing there, at this pivotal moment. He could stand up for what was right and protect an innocent man or he could give in to the crowds. Instead of doing what was right, he chose to do what was easy.
That, my friends, is the greatest temptation for all of us who are trying to do God’s will. You who try to follow Christ, you will not murder or steal or deliberately hurt another. But you will be tempted to do nothing. Just to give in. There will be moments in your lives when a voice inside your head will say “It is really not my problem.”
Driving, at our jobs, in our families, these moments of decision happen all the time. Do we take the easy way out? When there is injustice in the world, do we wash our hands and say that it is not our problem? Do we say that it is just too much to deal with it all?
When I was a priest in South Carolina, there was a young woman who came to me who was suffering. She was cutting herself and in great pain. I got her into therapy but she also wanted to talk to me, so I listened. She told me about how she was raped by her uncle for years until her mother finally found out. In therapy and by being part of the church, she began to get better. When I moved away, I wanted to stay in touch with her, but I knew she had a therapist. I thought she would be OK. I thought of calling, writing, many times. I had moments, but each time, I did what was easy. I let the moment pass. I had all kinds of reasons that I used to justify myself. But I kept my distance. I never reached out to her.
Six months, she killed herself. Alone in an apartment, she hung herself. And now that she is dead, I look back on all those moments when I could have reached out to her, but I didn’t, because it was too hard, too much. It was easier just to wash my hands of it.
In all of our lives, there are these pivotal moments, when we have a choice. We can be like Pontius Pilate or we can be like Christ. Whenever we go to sleep and hand over our God-given responsibility to do what is right rather than what is easy, we let Christ be crucified.
The decision to kill Jesus was made so quickly. The power rested in one man, one man. And he gave the Son of God up to a mob. Why? Because he did not want to be troubled. He did not want to be troubled.
He did not want to be troubled. Do you?
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead