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S.P. 42: "Borromeo" Liturgy of the Hours miniated by Cristoforo de Predis, Cent. XV
Ambrosian Library

Jesus is judged by Pilate


V/. Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
R/. Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

From the Gospel according to Luke. 23:13-25

Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him; neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas – a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus; but they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him. But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.


Jesus is now surrounded by the insignia of empire, the banners, eagles and standards of Roman authority, in yet another fortress of power, the palace of the governor Pontius Pilate, an obscure man whose name is overlooked in the histories of the Roman Empire. And yet it is a name which is heard every Sunday throughout the world, precisely because of the trial now taking place: for Christians proclaim in the Creed that Christ “was crucified under Pontius Pilate”. On the one hand, he seems to incarnate repressive brutality, inasmuch as Luke, on one page of his Gospel, speaks of the day in the temple when he had mingled the blood of Jews with that of the sacrificial animals [12]. At his side we encounter another dark, strange power: the savage power of the masses, manipulated by occult forces hatching plots in the shadows. The result is the decision to release an insurgent and a murderer, Barabbas.

On the other hand, however, a different image of Pilate emerges: he seems to stand for the traditional equity and impartiality of Roman law. Three times, in fact, Pilate attempts to release Jesus for insufficient evidence, imposing at most the disciplinary sanction of scourging. The charges against him did not stand up to a serious judicial inquiry. As all the Evangelists show, Pilate displays a certain openness, a receptiveness that nonetheless slowly fades away and dies.

* * *

Pressured by public opinion, Pilate embodies an attitude which appears common enough in our own times: indifference, lack of concern, personal expediency. To avoid trouble and to get ahead, we are ready to trample on truth and justice. Explicit immorality generates at least a shock or some reaction, whereas this approach is pure amorality; it paralyzes the conscience, stifles remorse, and blunts the mind. Indifference is the lingering death of authentic humanity.

The outcome is found in Pilate’s final choice. As the ancient Romans would say, a false and apathetic justice is like a spiderweb in which gnats are caught and die, but which birds can tear apart by the strength of their flight. Jesus, one of the little ones of the earth, powerless to utter a word, is smothered by this web. And as we ourselves so often do, Pilate looks on from afar, washes his hands and, as an alibi, tosses off – so the Evangelist John tells us [13] – the age-old question typical of every form of scepticism and ethical relativism: “What is truth?”.



Pater noster, qui es in clis:
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum;
fiat voluntas tua, sicut in clo, et in terra.
Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie;
et dimitte nobis debita nostra,
sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
et ne nos inducas in tentationem;
sed libera nos a malo.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?


[12] Cf. Luke 13:1.

[13] John 18:38


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