We’ve had the betrayal. We’ve had the arrest. Now it’s time for the trial. Not surprisingly the trial is something of a scandal. And why not, everything else has been, right? This whole business of the religious leaders making sure they protect their positions and power by executing Jesus is a scandal at its very core and every step of the way seems to be its own scandal.
We begin this scandalous trial with Jesus being brought before the chief priests and the scribes. Again. What makes the trial scandalous? One group of people want Jesus out of their hair so their prestige and authority aren’t threatened any more. The religious leaders are hung up on the idea that they need to get rid of Jesus and they’re taking steps to make that happen.
There’s just one little problem there. In the political arena of that day under Roman occupation they had some limitations of what they could do and couldn’t do as punishment. Crucifixion wasn’t in their wheelhouse so they needed someone else to take care of their dirty work. That would be the Romans.
Enter Pilate. Pontius Pilate. That Pilate. We know his name and we don’t like him because he had Jesus crucified but there’s more silliness, more humanity, to this scandal. Pilate is the governor of Judea, the roman head honcho for the area around Jerusalem. Since all this scandal business takes place in Jerusalem it is into Pilate’s lap that all of it falls.
Pilate really doesn’t want to be bothered. He doesn’t want to deal with the Jewish religious leaders because that would be a lot of effort. Plus, if he makes a choice and it’s the wrong one he’ll be in trouble with his masters in Rome. And risk losing is position and thus his power and authority.
What is it with these guys and their need for power and authority?
Pilate doesn’t find any reason that Jesus should be guilty of anything so he wants to send him away. It isn’t that Pilate is such a stellar example of humanity. He’s not. But even at that he apparently wanted some modicum of decency. Trying an convicting a man so obviously innocent is a dicey business. This doesn’t particularly please the chief priests nor does it please the crowds. 5 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.” Aha! Pilate says. He sees his chance to get out from under his dilemma.
Now like I said, Pilate is the governor over Judea. That’s the southern area. Galilee is farther north and is ruled over by Herod Antipas. Keeping track of which Herod is which is a challenge but bear with me here. Herod Antipas is the son of Herod the Great, the Herod that the wise men visited after Jesus’ birth and the Herod responsible for the slaughter of the innocents when he finds out a newborn king is on the scene.
(Another issue of power and authority – you can’t get away from that, seemingly)
Herod Antipas isn’t much better than his father having been the Herod responsible for beheading John the Baptist. Got all the Herods straight now?
So Herod Antipas is the governor of Galilee and just happens to be in Jerusalem. Jumping on the chance to get out from under the dilemma of what to do with Jesus, Pilate sends him over to Herod since Jesus is connected to Galilee and Herod is the governor of Galilee. That whole business strikes me as a little thin and contrived but the whole thing is a scandalous mess with a lot of things thin and contrived so it kind of fits, I suppose. Anyways, Pilate bails on taking any responsibility for what to do with Jesus by sending Jesus to Herod.
Ironically in all this circus, Herod is looking forward to meeting Jesus. He’d be the only one in this little circus of scandals that is looking forward to meeting Jesus. Herod is looking forward to meeting Jesus but even that has more of a circus feel to it as Herod wants to meet Jesus so he can see Jesus perform some signs. Like Jesus is a circus monkey that performs signs for treats.
The text doesn’t say this exactly but I’m picturing an eye rolling Jesus here. (Eyeroll) It says that Jesus didn’t respond to Herod so I have to wonder if he’s not rolling his eyes while thinking “Seriously, dude? You want me to do some signs?”
Now of course Herod responds like a child because, well, he is a child. Since he can’t get what he wants Herod instead puts some energy into mocking Jesus, dressing him up as a fake king, and sends him back to Pilate.
Good grief. These are adult men in important leadership positions. Or at least they are men that supposedly should act like adults. But they’re not acting like adults; they’re acting like 2 year olds just on the verge of turning three. I don’t mean any disrespect to two year olds. They’re SUPPOSED to act like that; it’s what they do as they learn. These leaders are old enough to know what they want but not mature enough to handle not getting what they want. They each want things their own way and are willing to go to great extremes to get it. Even if it means crucifying an innocent man.
Oh, they can justify themselves in the rightness of their cause. The religious leaders have gone through their religious and legal texts, which are the same thing really, and figured out a way to rationalize their actions. They have allowed themselves to become poster children for self-righteousness.
Nobody is taking any responsibility. The Jewish religious leaders can’t really do what they want done to Jesus, which is to say they want him executed and out of their way. But they can’t take it on themselves to do it without getting in big trouble with their Roman masters so they try to get Pilate to do it. Pilate doesn’t particularly want to get in trouble with HIS Roman masters so he tries to palm this messy business off on Herod.
Not taking responsibility isn’t anything new. And it is still a problem in many areas today, isn’t it? There is a lot of commentary about younger generations skipping over responsibility. If that is true, and I think it is to a certain extent, we have to ask ourselves, who taught them to do that? That’s not a popular question to ask or think about, is it?
The next and more important question is what are we going to do about it? There is a lesson in tonight’s text. The religious and political leaders of Jesus day were clamoring after their own desires. Their own desires for power and authority with a dash of religious purity thrown in for good measure. All of which comes together to get them to act like two year olds in self-righteous indignation as they try to kill an innocent man.
It makes me wonder how we, as church people, have acted in self-righteous indignation over this that and the other thing over the years while we unintentionally did serious damage to the organization known as church. I don’t mean us right here and right now but in general over the past 30 years.
Because what the Church has done over the past few decades has led to this. Of the 250,000 Protestant churches in America, 200,000 are either stagnant (with no growth) or declining. That is 80% of the churches in America.
4,000 churches close their doors every single year. 3,500 people leave the church every single day. That’s something of a scandal and we’re in the right place at the right time to do something about it. Not by palming off responsibility like the adult leaders in today’s story but more like two year olds who see the hope in every situation.
Hope that we can lean into the challenge and let people know by whatever means we have that our faith life is important to us and why. Hope that we can lean into the challenge and Bring Christ’s Love to Life.