Dear David,

We received your letter back on 9-28-2020. And at long last, we are writing you back! Tell us more about yourself (where you’re from, the best and worse part of life for you at present, favorite book [besides the Bible], favorite film, best birthday gift you ever got, etc.).

The best way for us to proceed is to become pen pals with you. And the best content for correspondence is the It Is Written (a.k.a. The Bible). So we’ll get the ball roll’n by imaginatively inhabiting Luke 23:1-17…

Jesus has just been arrested by a crowd of people armed with swords and clubs, and He has faced a preliminary “trial” at the High Priest’s house. Luke 23 picks up with Jesus being paraded by the hostile crowd to face the judgment of Pontius Pilate. Jesus is aggressively accused of, “Misleading the Jewish people, and forbidding them to give tribute to Emperor Caesar; and promoting Himself as more authoritative than Caesar.” Pilate point-blank asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” To which Jesus replies, “You have said so” (in other words, Jesus is implying, “By permitting this crowd to accuse Me so intensely, you [Pilate] are taking the threat of My authority as seriously as you would a competing kingdom”). At this, Pilate immediately attempts to dismiss the case, for fear of lending any shred of credence to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth is in a position of authority. Pilate responds to Jesus’ accusers saying, “I find no guilt in this man.” Think of it like this, if an angry mob dragged a homeless man into a courtroom, and abruptly demanded that the presiding judge hear accusations of insurrection against the homeless man; the judge would refuse to recognize the legitimacy of this crowd’s allegations, because (a) the accused party is clearly NOT in a position to pose any serious threat to the state, and (b) to entertain such a case would be to set an unhealthy precedent of allowing angry mobs to manipulate the courts.

Upon receiving Pilate’s attempt to hastily dismiss the case, Jesus’ accusers urgently persist saying, “This man stirs up insurrection all over the region …you cannot ignore this threat!” The unrelenting stubbornness of this crazed mob causes Pilate to realize that he will not be rid of them without some measure of catering to their complaint. So Pilate placates the mob by asking a question of jurisdiction. It’s like when a child asks his mother if he can have a bowl of ice cream at 10:00 p.m., and the mom’s initial reply is “NO!” But then the child persists, and continues to hound his mother for the late-night treat; and the mom says, “Do we even have ice cream?” It’s not an avalanche of acquiescence, but it’s the initial rock falling from whence the avalanche is sure to follow.

In the short run, Pilate evades the pressure of the hostile mob by transferring the case to Herod (who conveniently resides in Jerusalem at this time). Herod, as it turns out, will be of no help to Pilate. Because Herod is only interested in one thing (being entertained). Herod is like the dad in the story of the spoiled child above. Imagine the mother, growing impatient with her son’s badgering, saying, “Go ask your father.” The mother believes she has successfully passed the pressure to her husband, but when the child attempts to inquire with his father – the father is too engrossed in entertainment (watching football, on his phone, checking email, etc.) to be bothered by such trivial matters. The father quickly deems the child’s request to be no match for his preference for entertainment or efficiency; and in short-order sends the case back to the mother. Herod has made the pursuit of entertainment the chief end of his existence; and for a brief moment Herod is happy to see Jesus of Nazareth, because he’s heard reports of this man performing magical deeds and supernatural feats! But when it becomes clear that Jesus will not accommodate Herod’s addiction to entertainment (and the irritating accusers of Jesus’ will not stop demanding judgment), Herod simply looks on Jesus as a contemptuous inconvenience, and sends Him back to Pilate.

Now you might think such self-centered move would put Herod on Pilate’s naughty list. And perhaps there is some extent to which Pilate is peeved with Herod, but like the parents in the parable above, the shared disdain they feel for nagging, petulant, people actually has a fortifying effect on their relationship. Just as parents will commiserate about the burdens of parenting after the child is in bed; so these leaders share a common contempt for complaining crowds; and they – like all people – value the opportunity to commiserate and ally with one another over their shared hatred.  

So now the ball is back in Pilate’s court. Pilate has come to realize that the crowd will not go away until he does something to punish this innocent man. Pilate knows, and publicly, persistently, declares Jesus to be innocent; but because of the hostility of the crowd, and the threat that they might riot, and/or refuse to relent until some violence is done to this man – Pilate offers to punish Jesus and then release Him.

That’s all the ground we’ll cover in this imaginative-immersion session. Think of it like a television series, and this is the end of an episode where you are left with a dramatic scene (clearly building to a climax), and then there’s an abrupt shift to the words, “To Be Continued…” Pretend you’ve never heard this story before, and you’re left in suspense, wondering – will Pilate’s decision to punish Jesus appease the belligerent crowd? Will Pilate suffer pangs of conscience, and decided to spare Jesus from being punished? If the crowds continue to demand Jesus’ crucifixion, will Pilate call in the Roman National Guard to protect Jesus, and fire rounds of tear gas into the rancorous crowd? Let it linger. Embrace the suspense. And in the meantime, wrestle with the reality of injustice in the world (the height of which is manifest in the charges against Jesus of Nazareth); AND wrestle with the fact that – even more primary than our ability to relate to injustice – we contribute to injustice (we have far far far more in common with the embittered crowd, Herod, and Pilate, than we do with Jesus …and, to the extent we honestly recognize, and own, our evil – to that extent we shall SAVOR the unmerited favor and radical forgiveness of God).

David, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.

Pray for us.

Greet all the brothers at the USP Marion with a holy kiss.

We put you under an oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.