9 April 2017

Matthew 27:11-54

“Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear the many accusations they make against you?’ But he gave no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was amazed.” (vv. 11-14)

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16


Today's passage records the final chaotic spiral of events on Jesus' last day, his crucifixion, and the immediate chaotic aftermath of his death. These events show the exercise of raw power against one man. A web of innuendo and hearsay was spun together to make a public truth of Jesus' guilt. Here is proper 'fake news,' a cobbled together tale told by officials to be re-told by the mob, then accepted and authorised as the will of the majority. Pilate would literally wash his hands as he gave the verdict for death (verses 24-25), bowing to what he might in contemporary language have called 'the democratic voice of the people'.

During their last supper the night before, one of Jesus' inner circle had betrayed his location for money: Jesus was arrested. Today's passage begins at dawn the following morning. Having put Jesus through a sham trial overnight, the officials of the high priest now delivered him to the Roman governor Pilate. Although Rome was the highest power, the empire set up and supported local leaders to administer religious life and other local issues. With their position coming from Rome, they had powerful incentive to protect the empire, and with it, their own small measure of autonomy.

The high priest had been unable to find credible witnesses against Jesus, and Pilate similarly found no credible case against him except the condemnation of Caiaphas the high priest. Pilate offered Jesus the chance to refute the charges: the text called him "amazed" at Jesus' silence.

We live today in a media market where those in political power often seek to discredit others, eroding public trust to allow them to remake truth. Discrediting traditional authorities and sources of news, power can control public opinion. Rumour told to a mob, retold and authorised as the voice of the people: our passage shows exactly this in Jesus' condemnation. Jesus' silence in the face of this clamour amazed Pilate, and should still amaze contemporary halls of power. Truth needed no defence that day; it had no defence to make.

To Ponder

  • Do you think public opinion should always carry authority? Why?
  • How do you decide what news to trust, and what to take with a pinch of salt?
  • Why do you think Jesus was silent in front of Pilate?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.