It seems to me that we give credence to ideas simply because we have heard it so many times we assume it to be true. Western culture has made us lazy thinkers. Fake news is swallowed like a careful scientific study, peer-reviewed!

Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem. (from Wikipedia)

As I listened to the Good Friday service of our congregation (streamed live on Facebook) several thoughts came to mind.

One was about Pontius Pilate, a man vilified for murdering Jesus. His story is mocked by liberal Christians as a fictional invention, since, in their arrogance, they know that no Roman Governor would act the way he did.

However, when people appear in a Bible story, what we find is a look at a real person, not a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out.

So, why does Pilate behave differently from the stereotypical Roman Governor?

Consider the account in Matthew 27. Pilate knew that Jesus had committed no crime, that he was brought for trial our of the “envy” (v. 18) of the religious leaders. Pilate asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus simply answered, “That is how you put it” (v. 11). When the priests and elders accused Jesus, the details of which are not recorded by Matthew, Jesus did something inhuman – he refused to defend himself. Pilate was very surprised (v. 14); people always retaliate against false accusations. Pilate is clearly not a novice at legal proceedings.

“Le Rêve de la femme de Pilate” (“The dream of Pilate’s wife”). Engraving by Alphonse François (1814-1888) after Gustave Doré. (from Wikipedia)

While the proceedings continued, Pilate’s wife sent a message to him that she had a disturbing dream about Jesus, and advised her husband to be careful. Pilate accepted her advice, as it turns out.

Pilate made a legal ruling that there was no evidence that Jesus had committed any act which warranted a guilty verdict, much less crucifixion. When it was clear the religious leaders had manipulated the crowd into a frenzy of injustice, Pilate washed his hands in front of them all, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man, so you take responsibility” (v. 24). The crowd, in their irrational fury, accepted full responsibility for the injustice they demanded.

So Pilate did do what his wife advised, and he made it clear that Rome was not responsible for the cruel injustice the mob demanded. Pilate calculated that to persist with a just proceeding would have led to riot at the least, and an insurrection at the worst. We can fault Pilate for what some commentators describe as cowardice, but are you going to say you never made a decision that was immoral in order to avoid a turmoil that you could neither control, nor perhaps even survive?

This account makes Pilate a life-like person: a wise husband, a legal expert, and a political realist.

I suggest that believers should be more discerning and less gullible. Everyone should read what is written, and not manipulate the story for dramatic, or malicious, purposes.