No Greater Love: Reflections on the Trial Before Pilate


“What is truth?”

-Pontius Pilate

Sunday, April 7th, 2019: No Greater Love
Session 3 Sharing

Today’s session focused on the many facets of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. In the Gospel of John (which gives the most extensive account of this event), one word is central: “King.” One Sister counted and found that in John 18-19 alone, the words “king” and “kingdom” are repeated fifteen times! And yet, the King in question does not meet any worldly standards of royalty: He is mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, robed in a tattered old cloak, and rejected by His subjects. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus declares to Pilate (John 18:36), and it is only by letting go of our merely human standards that we can begin to see the Divine power beneath the exterior of this Suffering Servant. He defeats the true enemy, sin, by taking the sins of all humanity upon Himself. One Sister was struck by the parallel with today’s Gospel. The Pharisees drag the woman caught in adultery before the crowd, in a sort of “behold the woman” scene, yet she is freed from condemnation by the intercession of Christ. Pilate presents Jesus before the crowd and declares, “behold the man!”(John 19:5), and Jesus receives the condemnation from which He had spared the adulterous woman.

Another important theme in the trial before Pilate is truth. The governor’s famous line, “what is truth?” (John 18:38), can be interpreted in many ways. Dr. Sri discussed it as an example of moral relativism, the common idea today that there is no absolute truth about “right” and “wrong.” One Sister saw it more as an expression of disillusionment, as if Pilate were saying, “sure, all this about the truth sounds very nice, but when have such ideals actually worked out? What do they have to do with the cold, hard truth of life in this world?” Either way, it is clear that Pilate’s refusal to submit his life to the truth leaves him in a bind – for it is only “the truth [that] will set you free.” (John 8:32).

The theme of truth also comes up with reference to Barabbas. As Dr. Sri noted, the criminal’s name literally means “son of the father” – an ironic contrast with Jesus, the true Son of the Father.  Dr. Sri then suggested that the choice offered to the crowd between Jesus and Barabbas is actually a choice between two different ways of following God as our Father: the way of peace and long-suffering (Jesus) or the way of violent resistance (Barabbas). In our discussion, however, one Sister brought out another way to look at this scene. If Jesus is the Son of the Heavenly Father, then Barabbas is the son of a different father – the Father of Lies. Thus, the crowd’s choice for Barabbas can be seen as a choice against the truth – against He Who is “the Truth!” (John 14:6)

Finally, we discussed Pilate’s words, “behold the man!” (John 19:5). Dr. Sri saw in this brief phrase a connection with a prophecy in Zechariah 6:12-13: “behold the man whose name is the Branch; for he shall grow up in his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD . . . and shall bear royal honor and shall sit and rule upon his throne.” In his attempt to underscore Jesus’ pitiable state, Pilate actually announces His royal glory! One Sister, particularly struck by this passage, continued reading the prophecy and found another beautiful verse: “they who are from afar shall come and build the temple of the LORD.” (Zech. 6:15) It is the Passion of Christ that enables the grafting of the Gentiles on to the People of God, the Church which is the new temple of the Lord through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the baptized. Furthermore, by presenting Jesus to both the Jewish crowd and the Gentile soldiers, Pilate is in a sense presenting Him to all mankind, over whom He is truly the sovereign King.