13 April 2014

Matthew 27:11-54

“Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.” (v. 50)


At the start of Holy Week it is good to read the story of the whole of the last week of Jesus'life in one of the Gospels. It gives an overview. We can concentrate on detail as we deal with the different days in the week.

Matthew's Gospel acknowledges the ambiguities of all people caught up in human processes that are bigger than they are (not to mention divine processes!). Jesus' disciples do not appear once in today's long passage. They have fallen asleep and run away (Matthew 26:40, 43, 45, 56); Peter has denied Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75); Judas has betrayed him (Matthew 26:47-50). Only after Jesus has died do we discover that some of the women following him were still there (Matthew 27:55-56).

Pilate, on the other hand, both believes that Jesus is innocent and also condemns him. He tells the crowd to deal with Jesus themselves, but organises the execution himself. Pilate's job is to keep the area under his control quiet. His concern is whether Jesus is claiming to be the King of the Jews in opposition to Caesar and his puppet kings. The people threaten insurrection, and are so keen to prove that Jesus is political threat that they ask for a convicted insurrectionist and terrorist (ironically, called Jesus Barabbas - 'son of the father') to be pardoned instead.

Everyone therefore fails and bears some responsibility for the death of Jesus. Matthew would be horrified if he discovered that verse 25 had been widely misinterpreted to mean that all Jewish people in every age were particularly guilty, and thereby to justify anti-semitism.

There are echoes in this passage of themes from the rest of Mathew's Gospel. Just like Gentile (non Jewish) magi were guided by dreams and their own traditions to see what God was doing in the birth of Jesus, so Pilate's wife sees his innocence in a dream, and a Gentile centurion and soldiers watch what happens and see that he is "Son of God".

As for Jesus, he answers Pilate's question ambivalently, and is then silent until he cried from the cross (verse 46). He is allowing things to happen to him. 

To Ponder

  • If you imagine yourself present at these events, where would you be and what would you be doing? 

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.