I can’t now remember how old I was when I first read the Passion narrative – the suffering of Jesus from his arrest on Maunday Thursday to his death the following day, Good Friday. I can’t have been very old, or have understood much of what was going on in the story. I used to wonder why there was no way of saving Jesus from his suffering and death. He was so good, so innocent of any crime, and of course he was also the Son of God and had the power to do what he wished. I wanted the reassurance of the traditional “happy ending” and to be let off the hook of his suffering. But I think I always knew, in my heart of hearts, that there was only one way for the Passion narrative to end.
After the chief priests and elders had examined Jesus on the Thursday evening, they decided the next morning to send him off for trial to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. But in response to Pilate’s questions, Jesus makes only one reply. ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus replies to Pilate ‘you say so’. Why doesn’t he announce who he is and confront the disbelief and arrogant cowardice of the chief priests and the elders and Pilate? And if Jesus doesn’t speak for himself, surely someone will come forward to speak for him? What about the lepers he healed, the blind who could now see? What about the multitude who had eaten bread and fish on the hillside with him, or the crowds of people who welcomed him into Jerusalem only five days earlier?
There was no one. Jesus stood alone before Pilate. Pilate represented the power of the Roman emperor who was the ruler of 50 – 60 million people. Jesus was just one among all those millions. Yet in this picture of strength and weakness, which of the two is strong and which is weak? Pilate can’t make Jesus confess, he can’t keep the angry crowds quiet. He has the power, but he can’t find the courage to do what is right. So he takes the coward’s course and does what is safe. He hands responsibility over to the crowded as
they shout “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus is standing there, battered and bruised from the beating he had received at the house of the Chief Priest. But Jesus is the stronger.
Pilate gives way to the crowds. He washes his hands to show he takes no responsibility for Jesus. “I am innocent of this man’s blood”, he says.
So Pilate washes his hands of Jesus, and abandons him. But the great truth of the Passion narrative is that Jesus does not wash his hands of his Father’s will. He does not wash his hands of us. He loves us – you and me and the whole world – steadfastly and faithfully, regardless of the cost. He doesn’t desert us, but goes on to the end, which turns out to be a glorious new beginning.