This is probably one of the most depressing, and the most modern, passages in the entire Bible. The culture of blame and avoidance so evident in twenty-first-century commerce and politics started early, evidently – well, probably with Adam and Eve, but we see it here still going strong with Pontius Pilate. Fickle, sensationalist, and excitable, the crowd bays for blood. Then as now, mob thinking swings between adoring adulation and tearing their idol to pieces.
And Pilate, anxious to hold on to his position, pressured from every side, knowing full well that if he doesn’t do what other people want him to, he’ll be the next to go, bows to public opinion and hands Jesus over.
Since the technological revolution, the internet has given us radically increased power to lobby and petition, and the weight of public opinion has been harnessed to effect social change. Sometimes a precious tract of forest may be saved from loggers, and sometimes a destructive riot may be planned and set in motion. How do you feel about this? Where have you seen public opinion and demand making a difference in our modern day?
Have you (or someone you know) ever been trapped in a similar position to that of Pontius Pilate, pressurized into taking some action seriously against your conscience? What happened? What did you do?
In modern times as in Bible times, people can be executed on very dodgy grounds in those places where capital punishment is still practised. Even if they are legally tried, flawed justice systems and inadequate legal representation result sometimes in innocent individuals being put to death. Do you have strong views about capital punishment – for or against it, or concerning the way it is carried out today?
O God of love and mercy, our creator, our Lord and our judge, you see into the human heart, and humble yourself to stoop under that low lintel to make our hearts your dwelling place. You see our justice systems, our social organization, and the punishments we mete out when somebody is accused of doing something wrong. We acknowledge before you that truth does not always prevail, that the innocent sometimes bear the consequences of the crimes of others, and that shoddy investigation and indifference to truth result in tragedy more often than we like to admit. We ask for your forgiveness and the illumination of your Holy Spirit. Transform our hearts and lives until our legal systems reflect the justice and mercy of heaven, and our private faith shines more brightly in our public life, for we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.