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  • Sarah Raad

Pilate

If one were to disbelieve in Christ, the only alternative is that Christ “is a fraud” and the Gospels are “garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac”. (J.R.R. Tolkien).

Judgement of Pilate (Ivan Sakhnenko)

I have been reflecting on the exchange between Pilate and Christ during Christ’s Passion.


The exchange begins with Pilate’s question to Christ – “Are You the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33).


The Chief Priests who had already illegally tried Christ on the charge of blaspheme, knew that Pilate (a Roman) would be uninterested in blaspheme and so they unjustly changed the charges against Christ to sedition when they took Him to Pilate in the Roman Court.


Now, for anyone with a smidge of legal knowledge, this changing of the charge is a terrible travesty of justice! You see, when a person is charged with one crime, that charge cannot be changed as they progress through the Courts or the Appeals process as each new charge requires a new trial. And yet, Christ – who was unjustly judged – was judged on charges that changed between one court and the next to suit His accusers…


But – even though the charges were changed unjustly – Christ loves Pilate and takes an interest in Pilate’s soul. He wants to show Pilate that there is more than this world, and so He answers… “Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about Me?” (John 18:33). Finally, Christ reveals the Truth… “‘Then you are a King?’ Jesus replied: ‘You say that I am a king.’” (John 18:37).

And even despite all of this – even despite speaking with God Himself – Pilate leaves unenlightened… Pilate walks away, washing his hands and asking, “What is Truth?” (John 18:37)…

In writing to his son, the Catholic writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote masterpieces like “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy said that is one were to disbelieve in Christ, the only alternative is that Christ “is a fraud” and the Gospels are “garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac”. However, Cardinal Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household, asked in his Easter Sunday Homily of 2022, “Could such a case, however, withstand 20 centuries of relentless historical and philosophical criticism and produce the fruits it has produced?”


You see, the exchange between Christ and Pilate also shows the weaknesses of the clergy… “Your people and the chief priests have handed You over to me,” (John 18:35). And it is true – the chief priests failed Christ.


In fact, as Tolkien wrote in the same letter to his son, “I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests.”


However, Cardinal Cantalamessa explains, “Such a poor result was, moreover, to be expected. It began before the first Easter with the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Simon Peter, the flight of the Apostles ... Cry, then? Yes – Tolkien recommended to his son – but for Jesus, for what He must endure, before for us. Cry – we must add today – for the victims and with the victims of our sins.”


And I must add, cry also for Pilate. For there is a Pilate in every home and in every family. For all of us have a loved one who looks Truth in the eye and still fails to believe…


And so, today, I cry… and as I cry for Pilate I cry for those who I love with all my heart, who – like Pilate – look at Truth, and ask, “What is Truth?”


For it is only with Grace that they will see…


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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