Thirty-Eighth Day of Lent

Luke 22:66-23:25
66 At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and the teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. 67 ‘If you are the Messiah,’ they said, ‘tell us.’
Jesus answered, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’
70 They all asked, ‘Are you then the Son of God?’
He replied, ‘You say that I am.’
71 Then they said, ‘Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.’

23:1 Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.’
3 So Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied.
4 Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this man.’

5 But they insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’

6 On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7 When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. 9 He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies.

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.’

18 But the whole crowd shouted, ‘Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!’ 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’

22 For the third time he spoke to them: ‘Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.’

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I read this passage of Scripture and can’t help but think about Brexit (maybe everything comes back to Brexit these days!).

First of all, the incidents recorded here reveal the perils of weak and insecure leadership. Both Pilate and Herod have power to do what they want, but neither of them want to make a decision. Instead a profound injustice is worked as they callously pass Jesus from one place to the next and abuse him as they do. Remember, Jesus has been up all night with no sleep, and here we are at the beginning of a new day and he faces FOUR trials. First in front of the Sanhedrin, the Pilate, then Herod and then Pilate again. In each situation the loudest voices win, and the accusation of treachery and treason is the one that is heard most clearly.

But where is the treason? The Sanhedrin who deliver one of their own to the hated Roman powers, and change the charges as they go? The Roman ruler who is bored by the whole thing and passes on a decision of one accused of sedition? The cruelty of Herod towards one of his own? The cowardice of Pilate who gives in to the crowd?

It reminds me of Brexit also because all of these powerful bodies and individuals can make the right decision but every single one of them looks to their own advantage and they do this flying the the face of the cause of justice. It is stated repeatedly that Herod and Pilate can find no basis of a charge against Jesus. And the religious leaders hated Rome (another Brexit connection perhaps!) and detested paying taxes to the Empire, nevertheless they sided with the enemy to get rid of the upstart Jesus (Luke 22:1).

The wanton human cruelty here is awful. Look how Herod dresses Jesus up in robes and mock him as a ‘king,’ (Luke 22:11). And how Pilate repeatedly says there is no charge, but I’ll punish him anyway (Luke 22:15-16; 22).

Weak and insecure leadership permits all sorts of injustice and wrong-doing.

Second, sometimes the voice of the crowd needs to be ignored, and it shouldn’t matter how many are shouting. Sometimes people with nefarious purposes can manipulate a crowd to act against their best interests. The first ‘crowd’ is in v5 and consists of the seventy or so leaders of the Sanhedrin. Later this crowd has grown and we see its effect in v18,21,23.

Look at the words that straddle v23 and v24: “their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand.” Pilate knew better than this. Pilate knew there was no charge. Pilate knew that Barabbas was a dangerous, violent man. Yet he accedes to the shouts of the crowd.

This is the victimising of innocence for personal advantage. This is the vacillation of weak and insecure leaders. The surrender to the shouts of the loudest voices. The refusal to defy the crowd when one knows that what they want is not for their good.

Behind all the political chicanery we see in this story and in the EU these days I came across a blog post today from the Joint Public Issues Team, a partnership of churches in the UK. The report says:

1. Life expectancy has fallen for the poorest women in the UK. Dropping life expectancy in peacetime is extraordinary.
2. 4.1m UK children are trapped in poverty, 70% of them are in working families.
3. Meanwhile on 8 April £1.5bn was cut from or frozen in social security benefits which will hit 27m people, and the worst effects will be focussed on poorer parents and their children.

Weak and insecure leaders, focussed on narrow self interest, inclined to listen only to the loudest voices, permit all manner of injustice to thrive. The UN Special Rapporteur’s recent report made the startling accusation that the increasing poverty levels in the UK are the result of political choices made by those in power. It’s not a new thing. It happened then, it’s still happening. The violent and unjust treatment of Jesus reveals us for what we truly are.

You might find some time today to read the JPIT piece on this link

You also find the UN Special Rapporteur’s Report on extreme poverty in the UK can be found here

Lord Jesus
I read these stories and I am angry
At the cruel and inhuman way you were treated
All that terrible day after a sleepless night.

And I am reminded of all those millions in our wealthy country
Who went sleepless last night
Because of worry and stress
Because of hunger and homelessness
Because of the malnutrition of their children
Because of the endless frustration
Of hard work leading to deeper poverty.

Give us wise and compassionate leaders
Give us kind and sensitive policy makers
Give us more and more loud voices
Prepared to stand up for the weakest among us

Lead us this Holy Week
Towards a more just and fair society

For Jesus sake,
Who suffered and lost his life
At the hands of a corrupt and unfair community