At the conclusion of the Farewell Discourse (John 14–17), Jesus goes with his disciples to a garden in the Kidron Valley. There, on the east side of Jerusalem, Judas betrays him to the authorities, and John’s narrative pace quickens. It takes Jesus three chapters to bid his disciples farewell. Within the eighteenth chapter alone, Jesus is arrested, tried three times, and condemned to death.
At the beginning of chapter 19, Pilate declares that he has found no case against Jesus. The Jewish authorities beg for a crucifixion, and Pilate responds in so many words, “Do it yourself.” Resolute, the Jewish authorities press their case, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. His fate rests in a game of political intrigue.
The Jewish authorities have just abdicated their legal right to the death penalty while standing before Pilate. (See Leviti- cus 24:13-16.) And they have done so in order to manipulate the Roman leader into doing what they have been unable to do. They use knowledge of their religious traditions to exploit Pilate, who is not as well informed.
I wonder how we often we do likewise. From the perspective of the twenty-first century, the biblical texts often seem flexible enough to allow us to shoehorn our own agenda into them. The breadth and depth of the Christian tradition often allows for justification of many ideas and actions that others find unorthodox.
Holy Week compels us to examine our own role in Jesus’ Passion. May we find ourselves faithful in love when expedience calls us to manipulate another with our own self-certainty.
God of great mystery, empower us to live faithfully in the ambiguity of your world as we await the day when we will know fully. Amen.