Commentary to the GOOD FRIDAY
Greetings to all, sisters and brothers.
On this Good Friday, the liturgy brings us to reflect on the passion of Jesus, as narrated by the evangelist John. We are going to comment on an episode that only this evangelist narrates. The dialogue between Jesus and Pilate on royalty. Who was Pilate? A character that today nobody remembers but the name, were it not for that Friday, April 7, year 30, On the vigil of the Passover, he met Jesus and had to pronounce a sentence, that was his condemnation to death.
Pilate did not reside in Jerusalem but in Cesarea and was in Jerusalem because during the Passover order had to be maintained in the city. He was with his court: about 500 soldiers in the holy city. Where did he reside? We will try to locate the episode on which we will seek to reflect. We located the Praetorium of Pilate. Traditionally it was thought that Pilate resided in the Antonia Tower - the fortress shown in the background, built by King Herod the Great and named after his great friend and protector, Antonius, one of the triumvirate. The location of the Praetorium was confirmed when the archaeologists discovered a ‘lithostrotos’, a Roman pavement, precisely in that place. And as the evangelist John says the place where Jesus was condemned Since there was a ‘lithostrotos’ (a paving with stone ballast), it was thought, therefore, that Jesus had been condemned there, in this tower Antonia.
Archaeologists have clarified this question because the 'lithostrotos' is not from the time of Jesus, but from 100 years later, placed in the time of Hadrian, when they built the Roman Forum. Where was the Praetorium of Pilate, where he resided during those days? When one speaks of Praetorium, one always understands the residence of the governor. In the city of Jerusalem, the residence of the governor was not the Antonia tower, where the soldiers were. His residence was where the palace of Herod the Great was located. Herod had built the palace on the highest part of the city. From the top of those three towers he controlled the whole city. It was the highest part. The rich of Jerusalem lived there.
From this palace of Herod, we know practically everything, up to the details, because as described by the well-known historian, Flavius Josephus, it consisted of two great buildings and had the name of the two great friends of Herod the Great: Caesar and Agrippa (Mark Agrippa, the builder of the Pantheon of Rome), who was the general of Caesar Augustus. The building to the north was called "Caesarion" (of Caesar), and the building to the south "Agripeion" - two great friends of Herod the Great. Pilate resided in these palaces in those days. Note some significant points of this palace. I have already indicated the "Caesarion" in the northern part; we can locate there the encounter of Jesus with Pilate, when they talked about royalty. Another important detail to keep in mind is the door that is now indicated, that serves as an entry from Herod’s palace to the ‘agora’, the square, which was the high market of the city of Jerusalem.
Let us keep in mind that we are in the wake of Easter and the setting of this place where we had this meeting of Jesus with Pilate, in the early morning. We can think that the market, at that hour, was preparing for the banquet with everything necessary for the Easter Dinner.
I have already spoken of these two great buildings and now we will locate, more specifically, the meeting place of these characters from these 7 scenes narrated by the evangelist John. Why 7 scenes? Because at the end of the reading we see that Pilate goes in and out the palace 7 times. Inside he meets and talks with Jesus, then, having spoken to Jesus, he finds the chief priests and the people who introduced him to this person that the leaders want him to sentence to death. And what do we notice? That in this coming and going of Pilate, 7 scenes are formed. We will examine them one by one because in each of these scenes the evangelist John places an important theological message. Let's return to this setting that is important. In the background you see ‘Caesario’. Who are the characters that are inside this palace? They are Pilate and Jesus. You can see the three towers that dominate the city of Jerusalem. Inside this ‘praetorio’ (headquarters) this meeting takes place and the theme is about royalty.
There are two royalties that face each other. The royalty that derives from the principles and values of this world, of the greatness of this world and the royalty that comes from heaven, values and principles that are of God. They are two royalties that are incompatible and that are faced inside the palace. Outside, meanwhile, we have the other scenes, when Pilate goes out to meet with the chief priests who were the ones who presented Jesus to him, and who could not enter the palace as it is occupied by pagans; would have been contaminated and could not have celebrated the Passover. Here it indicated the place where Pilate came out to meet with the chief priests. And in front of that door is the 'agora' that was the market; the salesmen there were not interested in this Jesus that was presented to Pilate.
And this is where two other powers are also faced. Inside was the meeting between two ‘kingdoms’—one that comes from the values and the greatness of this world, and the other kingdom coming from heaven, coming from God. In front of this door we have the meeting between two other powers: the political power of the representative of Tiberius and the religious power. These two powers are enemies, but we will see that these two powers unite since neither supports a new kingdom, a new world. They want to keep the ancient world; therefore, political power and religious power want to prevent and, therefore, want to end this provocation coming from heaven, the birth of a completely different world, with principles and values that are not of the greatness of this world, but of authentic greatness which are from God.
After setting the places where we placed the 7 scenes that make up this text, let us now listen to the introduction of the first scene, the dialogue between the chief priests and Pilate.
"Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover" (Jn 18,28).
The first indication is the time given by the evangelist for the meeting between the chief priests and Pilate. It was morning—in Greek 'proi', indicating the beginning of the morning and this is in accordance with the regulations of the Roman magistrates who began their activity early in the morning. There will be two other indications in the text that we will examine - indications of time: noon and then the conclusion of this day which is the beginning of the feast of Easter.
The indication has a theological meaning, it is the dawning of a new day after a very long, dark night, where so many things have happened: The delivery of Jesus by Judas, the capture, the condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin which decided that this man should be removed from the middle because he puts in crisis the entire religious structure, the theology of the spiritual guides of the people of Israel. Also, that night we had the denials of Peter. It is the darkness that begins to dissolve on this new day. It was early morning. On this night there is a very sinister figure: that of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. This Annas is the darkest figure, the real responsible for the death of Jesus. He controlled all religious activity, Involved in the economic traffic of the Jerusalem temple. He had been high priest for many years, from the 6th year after Christ to the 15th. And after him, his son-in-law Caiaphas was appointed high priest until the year 36. It is in 36 that Caiaphas is deposed as high priest, the year as Pilate.
We get the impression that both were allies because the real skillful political leader approaches the religious power, and the agreement between Caiaphas and Pilate made it possible for the high priest to obtain the condemnation of Jesus to death. This condemnation to death was already decided during the night by the Sanhedrin, but could not be carried out because the power of condemning to death was reserved for the Roman procurator. The chief priests and their servants went to the palace of Herod. They stood outside not to defile themselves and asked to speak with Pilate.
Let us listen to the account of this dialogue:
"Pilate then went out unto them, and said, What accusation do you bring against this man? They answered and said to him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up to you. ‘Then,’ said Pilate unto them, ‘Take him, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews, therefore, said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.’ That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spoke, signifying what kind of death he should die" (Jn 18,29-32).
Pilate was called outside the praetorium to address this group of people led by the high priest. Pilate is the representative of the political power. He is a protégé of the famous 'Sejanus' that dominates Rome. Tiberius is in Capri - half insane, and the one who manages power in the capital is Sejanus. And Pilate will endure until his protector falls into disgrace. The representative of the political power is confronted by the religious power.
It is the first scene that takes place outside the praetorium of Pilate. He addresses the chief of the high priests and asks him, "What is this man accused of?" The answer is: he is an evildoer. You must rely on our judgment and you must pronounce the sentence immediately.
Pilate's response is also immediate: "Take him and judge him according to your laws." But the leaders of the priests answer: We have condemned him, but we need you to confirm the death sentence because we cannot carry it out.
I want to point out this signal made by the chief priests. The evangelist notes who say to the Roman procurator: we have delivered him to you because he is an evildoer. This verb 'delivered' is very important. John mentions it 15 times. Who are these people who 'deliver'? It is very significant: Judas 'delivers' Jesus; then the chief priests deliver Jesus to Pilate; Pilate will deliver him to die. All the bad deliveries against the design of God's plan. They seek to eliminate Jesus through these deliveries.
What will be the answer of heaven to all these 'deliveries' from men? On the cross, Jesus will give the gift of life, give his Spirit. This verb: 'paradídomi' in Greek, is like God's response to all these deliveries of men who deliver to death. And God responds to this delivery made by people surrendering His Spirit: the divine life to humanity.
The evangelist notes that this has happened to fulfill what Jesus had said. What had Jesus said? A theologically important sentence. "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to me." This material lifting of Jesus, rising from the cross, is chosen by the evangelist as the glorious moment. Glorious and an abomination to people. Glorious in the eyes of God because it is the moment when the fullness of his love finally arrives. It is an interpretation of this verb "uplift" - raised materially on the cross and elevation in glory.
This would not have happened if Jesus had not been condemned by the Roman procurator because the Jews would have wanted death sentence by stoning. Instead, what Jesus had promised was done. "He will be exalted" because it will be Pilate who pronounces the sentence to death. The death sentence will be the crucifixion.
After this dialogue with the Jews, Pilate re-enters and we have the first dialogue between the procurator and Jesus.
"So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (Jn 18,33-38).
In this scene begins the dialogue about royalty in the interior of the praetorium between Pilate and Jesus. The procurator asks Jesus, "But are you the King of the Jews?" Pilate heard talks about this royalty. And Jesus responds: "Do you ask that on your own or because others have told you about me?" Why does Jesus ask this question? Because he cannot answer the question Pilate asked him - if he was king of the Jews. Why cannot Jesus respond? For if Pilate speaks for himself, he understands kingdom according to the criteria of this world.
If he speaks for himself, Jesus would certainly have answered: NO - I do not understand kingdom as you understand it; that is, the kingdom of Tiberius. I do not want that kind of kingdom. But if it is others who have told you about me, that is to say the Jews, then it is another kind of kingdom; one that was announced in the Old Testament when God would finally take power to establish a new kingdom. Jesus Himself has spoken much of the kingdom of God, of the kingdom of heaven, that the Lord would establish in this world.
This is why Jesus asks Pilate: Do you ask that on your own or because others have told you about me? ... so that I can answer you. And Pilate, surprised, answers: I know nothing of your affairs ... I am only interested in my kingship - I'm not Jewish. And now Jesus can answer about the kingdom Pilate asked about. And he says: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
It is important to have the correct translation of the original text because in general it is translated: My kingdom is not of this world. It is not like this. The kingdom of Jesus is of this world and about the other world we are going to talk at another time. Jesus wants to establish the kingdom of God in this world. The correct translation is: My kingdom does not come from this world, from the criteria, from the values of this world. The Greek text says: ? βασιλε?α ?
?μ? ο?κ ?στιν ?κ το? κ?σμου - 'does not come from' this world. It is a kingdom that comes from above, from the criteria of God, from the values of heaven. If my kingdom were 'of' this world, the world in which you believe, Pilate - which is the kingdom of Tiberius, of Caesar Augustus ... This kingdom comes from the criteria and values of this world. If my kingdom were thus, my servants would have noticed it, because the first criterion governing the kingdom that comes from the criteria of this world is force, violence. My kingdom is not from here; it comes from other criteria and from other values.
To understand this difference between the two realms, let's say that the kingdom of this world can be understood according to what St. Augustine says in "The City of God": it is a legendary dialogue between a pirate and Alexander the Great. The pirate fell into the hands of Alexander the Great who said: you are a delinquent - why do you infest the sea? With bold freedom the pirate replied: I am a delinquent, a swindler, a pirate, but I have a small ship and they call me delinquent because I do the robbery in the sea. But you, Alexander the Great, who have a great fleet and with your fleet devastates the sea and the earth with your armies, making disasters much greater than mine, you are called great, emperor, because you conquered, you win (De civitate, IV, 4). I am a poor pirate, a little criminal, but you, as you win, you are great.
The great ones of this world are those who establish their power first of all with force, with dominance and when they win they are held to by great, successful people - the kingdom of this world. This is the kingdom that comes from worldliness and is the kingdom over which Jesus was also tempted to build. The Devil had suggested: If you want to succeed—I tell you how to do it. You must impose yourself and with force and with lies if necessary, also with injustice, with violence, with oppression because only in these ways can you establish a kingdom born of the principles of this world. And notice that the temptation, to form little kingdoms which each of us tries to create, can derive from these values and proposals of the Evil One.
Becoming great by oppressing others. It is what we have seen happening throughout the centuries. The same thing. Seeking to dominate, to prevail over others and then this kingdom falls when a stronger power comes in. Inside the palace, between Jesus and Pilate, these two kingdoms face each other. Jesus explains the difference between the two. The first difference is that of the domain. The kingdoms that are installed and that come from the logic of this world are based, above all, on force. The kingdom that comes from God is not based on dominion but on the contrary, on service. The great person, who is exalted, who is on the throne, is the one who serves, who gets on his knees before the one who needs it. Pilate is troubled, disconcerted, does not understand, and says: are you a king? And Jesus responds: “It is true. You said it. I am king.
And here Jesus points the second difference between the royalty that comes from this world and the royalty that comes from heaven. He says: For that I was born, for that, I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. He who is on the side of truth listens to my voice.” What is meant by truth? Truth in the Bible does not indicate telling lies or not.
Truth is a conception which we also have. When we say 'true' - 'he is a true man' —a 'true priest' or a 'true baptized' it means a person who lives the identity of the disciple of Christ, who is faithful to the proposal of man made by Jesus in the Gospel. This is the concept of truth. Jesus has come into the world to bear witness to the truth about God and cancels all the lies which were told about God. He presents the truth about the face of God with his person. The one who sees Jesus sees the true face of God, and the one who sees Jesus sees also the true face of man, of true man. The dominator is not a real man; he is still a beast. Jesus testifies to the truth about God and about man.
This is the second difference between the royalty of this world and the new royalty, that of the greatness of service and that of the realization, the reproduction of the face of the Father in heaven on the face of each person. And at this point Pilate understands nothing, and mentions that famous expression: What is truth? And then he goes outside to speak with the heads of the high priests. He does not understand anything because kingdom for him is only that of Tiberius, of dominators, and then that 'truth' talked by the philosophers Pilate is not interested. He is not in erected in the discourse that Jesus is doing.
If Pilate had understood what kind of kingdom Jesus spoke about, he would have become a free man, he had freed himself from that dehumanizing image of royalty. The portrait that Philo of Alexandria does of Pilate is very hard ... He did not let himself be freed, he fled ... he could have asked Jesus or expect Jesus’ answer when he asked what is the truth. And Jesus would have explained it to him, he would have understood that being a great man does not have to be like Tiberius, but people who love, who put themselves to the service, not to be served by others.
And Jesus is unable to make Pilate understand. It is very complicated because Jesus was turning around all conceptions of greatness of this world. Jesus was not successful either with Peter, when Peter wanted Jesus to be great, when Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet. He wanted to be the first, but Jesus makes them understand that true greatness refers to the royalty that comes from above and it is the opposite of the royalty, of the greatness of this world. Pilate goes out again to the Jews who are waiting outside, in front of the door in the courtyard.
Let us listen together to the reading of the third scene - Pilate's meeting with the chief priests:
"After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.” (Jn 18,38-40).
Pilate, a little confused, talks to the chiefs of the Jews and says simply: I spoke with Jesus and I find no fault in him for what you are accusing him of. Trying to find a way out, he proposes to free Jesus for what was called the “paschal privilege”. There are not many details about what the evangelist says was the custom on the occasion of the Passover: to release a prisoner whom the people asked for.
It is unimaginable that the Roman procurator would release a delinquent on the occasion of the Passover What could have happened? Let us try to reconstruct the facts as they can be understood and then the rereading that the evangelist speaks of a certain 'Barabbas'. Who could this character be: Barabbas = Bar-Abba. It means 'son of his father'. This was the name given to no one's children.
We know that these people are present in all societies, those who live a little abandoned, who are then accused of all because they are the marginalized—this son of nobody-Barabbas. The Evangelist Mark mentions that there was a brawl in a city and in this revolt was a homicide. They looked for the perpetrators of this crime and who were taken out of the way? 'Barabbas'! It must have been him! He had been put in prison with others responsible for the quarrel.
On the occasion of the Passover, this man was released, probably because it was known that he was not guilty of the crime and of the revolt that had taken place in the city. This episode is narrated contemporaneously with the condemnation of Jesus ... and how the Roman procurator has pronounced the death sentence for the author of life and the people, instead of releasing the author of life, the beginning of a world of love, the new coming from heaven, the people have preferred this 'Barabbas', considered a criminal, therefore, one who represents death.
The evangelists have put these two characters to tell us to be attentive, that the choice that was made by the Jews is repeated continually because each one is placed in front of this option: by the author of life or by the father whose children choose 'no life'.
This is the theological reason why the evangelists have put these two figures. I have tried to explain what could have happened, actually not of much interest to us. We are more interested in the theological meaning that the evangelist wants to give. I want to clarify something very important.
The evangelist John does not speak of the 'people of Israel'. He mentions, with very precise terms, the Jews, and understands with this term those who refute the new world proposal introduced by Jesus.
Therefore, the Jews are not the people of Israel, they are all those who oppose with all their strength and they want to remove from the middle the one who presents a new world. Therefore, the 'Jews' are not the Hebrews at the time of Jesus. They are the usual Jews - it can be ourselves if we try to remove Jesus from the middle, to prevent the realization of that new world that He came to establish in this world. And now comes the fourth scene, the central, the most important, which is the parody of royalty according to the criteria of this world.
Let us listen to it.
"Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands” (Jn 19:1-3).
There are two events in this fourth scene—which is the central one: the scourging of Jesus and then the parody of the royalty that culminates with the coronation of thorns and then with the purple robe that they put on Jesus. The evangelist does not speak much about the flogging; he does not want to insist on this cruelty. It is not about this cruelty that the evangelists want to insist. They are presenting the passion of Jesus that is not to be understood as the passion that Jesus has suffered -which is true-but they want us to focus on the passion of love of Christ which reveals God's passion of love for humanity - that humanity that rejects him, but that God loves hopelessly.
This is what the evangelists want us to understand. Let's talk about this parody of royalty now. The evangelist uses a fine irony. He wants to show how the greatness of this world—the royalty which is derived from the criteria of this world is ridiculous. First the crown of thorns. The crown of gold that the kings wear to reign was the sign of their glory, of their success. It indicated the irradiation of the god sun. It is not this crown that they put on Jesus, but a crown of thorns. The reality of the royalty of this world was celebrated with the radiant crown of the sun; the royalty that comes from heaven is the one who loves even those who do evil, who respond with hatred to this love. What does the evangelist mean? That the kingdoms of this world are palliative, are theaters of this world, actors are masked.
This was what St. John Chrysostom said: the greatness of this world is like theatrical performances where everyone puts on a mask, but then at night, they remove this mask and the truth appears. When you remove these masks, what is left? John Chrysostom says that he who in the theater was a king, you find him in the square as a simple man; another who presented himself as a philosopher, because he had the beard of the philosophers, you find him on the street and is not even able to write his own name. Then comes the night, when these crowns, which shine in the eyes of the world like the sun, are then revealed in their emptiness. Jesus presents a completely different royalty. To the world is a mocking royalty, makes people laugh, because the world count the crowns like the ones that Tiberius can put on his head.
Let us reflect: many times what appears in this world is a farce. Let's look for some lessons about the characters in question. What's left? Let us try to remove the decorations, the honorific titles ... what kind of person remains? Especially if we remove money, power to certain people-what is left? Let's remove the trick to certain things, remove the reflectors to the theaters of this world ... What kind of man-what kind of woman is left? What are the values of these people? Authentic value, not appearances. Thus, in this scene the evangelist wants to make a parody of the royalty of this world.
The second sign of royalty is the mantle of purple that they put on Jesus. The color remembers the color of the blood that the royalty of this world must pour to be able to dominate. They do not keep it in the open, they hide it; if they should crush someone they do it.
In this fourth scene the parody of the royalty of this world is presented. The king of derision was prepared inside the praetorium of Pilate. According to the people it is a ridiculous royalty: He who dedicates his life to the service of others, who does not become great, rich, powerful ... does not count for anything.
This is what the evangelist means. Let us pay attention, because these royalties which are the greatness of this world—these are precisely the mocking ones. This is the irony that the Gospel of John wants to present. What appears large is insignificant. And, instead, what people consider ridiculous is truly great. The two royalties are confronted. And in fact, Pilate will go out with this king of mockery and present him to the people.
Let us listen together what will be the reaction of those who must make the choice between the royalty of this world and the new royalty that comes from heaven.
"Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews1 answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn 19:4- 7).
Up to this point Jesus has not spoken directly to the Jews. Pilate has always been the interlocutor. The dialogue between Jesus and Pilate took place in the interior in the palace. Now, after the scene of the parody of royalty, Pilate takes Jesus out and presents him before his people. He is dressed as a clown - a mocking king. And Pilate does not say: here you have your king, but "here is the man". Pilate does not know what the expression he has just used means: "Here is the man."
The evangelist wants to make us understand the real meaning of that word: 'man'. He is the real man. The authentic man according to God, the servant, who offers himself totally. And what is important is the reaction of the people to this man. When the chief priests and their servants see him—let us remember that they are before that door of the praetorium, in the agorá, that was in front of the praetorium— ... what do they scream? Crucify him, crucify him! As we know, crucifixion was the penalty of slaves. A Roman citizen, a real man could not be crucified. The chief priests and their servants are saying, “This is not a man.”
The true man is the one you saw dressed in purple, the big man, the man who is rich - this is a slave, crucify him! Here are the two proposals of man: the man who dominates and the man who serves. The powerful man according to the criterion of the chiefs of the priests and of the people is the one who is great, the one who dresses well. The real man ("Behold the Man!”), is the man whom God presents by the mouth of the ignorant Pilate. The Servant. This reaction was to be expected. They do not support this proposal of man that is the opposite of those who detect the power, both political and religious power because it is an earthquake of logic according to human criteria.
I want to make a point. It is not the people of Israel who reject this man. They are those who detect religious power and those of their entourage. In John, the Hebrew people no longer appear, but only the chiefs, who are the true culprits of this rejection of man according to God. They want to protect their own interests, to perpetuate their power and Jesus is sending an earthquake to this dehumanizing religious institution to which the high priests have bequeathed all their interest. Pilate answers: "Crucify him" and the condemnation follows... I find no fault in him – says Pilate. No fault can be found in him who puts his whole life for service.
But this image of man cannot be accepted by those who have another type of successful people in mind. And the chief priests answered him: We have a law, and he must die. Because he presents himself as Son of God. Son of God means the one who reproduces the face of the Father in heaven. And they have in mind another image of God—the dominating God, the righteous God ... and here we do not have this image of God in the face of Jesus. They are the religious leaders - beware of contradicting their catechesis.
They are prepared to commit murder, but not to review their own convictions. And at this point they reveal the true motive: Not that Jesus is an evildoer, a rebel, but one who questions their religious conceptions, their traditions. They do not accept the new man. And even Pilate begins to be afraid. Here, it is not only that Jesus calls into question the religious conceptions of the high priests, but Jesus also makes the political power crumble, the great man according to the powers of this world crumbles. And Pilate is afraid, because he knows that religious power has already put him in crisis from the beginning, when Pilate had the problem of the banners that he had introduced into the holy city of Jerusalem and the reaction of the religious power was very strong and Pilate had to retreat.
That is why Pilate is now afraid. In front of this man—it seems incredible—he is a slave, a mocking king ... the religious and political powers are in difficulty now. They intuit that their power is about to be overthrown. Pilate is worried, he knows that Jesus is innocent, but if he wants to protect his own position, he must be willing to act against the truth. In fact, he enters the praetorium to find a way out.
Let us just listen to his last dialogue with Jesus:
“When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (Jn 19,8-11).
Pilate has to face Jesus again. He is afraid. He did not want to be attracted to the new man, because he would give up all his positions as a powerful man. He does not know how to get out of the way. Then he asks Jesus a question: "Where are you from?" It does not mean where are you coming from ... He knows he's a Galilean. This question of Pilate means: "Who are you?". And Jesus does not respond. We would have expected that, immediately, Jesus gives an explanation, but Jesus is silent. Why is he silent? There has to be a reason.
A real dialogue presupposes moments in which one speaks and moments of silence. Before and after the word, silence is necessary, it is an indispensable moment in communication. There are words that interrupt communication and there are silences that create communication, because they are an invitation to reflection, to let a certain message penetrate, a message that perhaps produces questions, an inner restlessness and this is what Jesus wants to happen in Pilate.
Silence is necessary. Pilate is afraid of these silences and says to Jesus: "Don’t you want to talk to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?" Pilate is afraid of silence. He does not want his inner restlessness and his question to remain in the air, because his position is at stake, He wants to be the one who conducts the interrogation, the dialogue. And Jesus is silent on purpose. Because he wants Pilate to reconsider ... to see if he lets himself be involved by the new man.
And Jesus says to Pilate an enigmatic phrase: "You would not have power against me if heaven had not given it to you." Remember that you are guilty because you do not want to open your mind and your heart to my proposal of man, but there are people guiltierthan you. But the enigmatic phrase is that "power you would not have if heaven had not given it to you." Now Pilate does not understand anything... He does not want to understand.
The words of Jesus are clear to us today. He wanted to say: you have power on earth, you are powerful, but it is heaven the one who is driving my story. It is a crime what the powers of this world are doing, but God is leading this crime to produce a miracle of salvation, for the lamb that shall be slain shall bring into crisis, and cause the wolves that have killed him to reflect.
It was the only way to introduce a new world. You are not aware but God is leading this event from above. Pilate has before him the possibility of making a definitive choice in his life: to renounce the goods of this world, take a stand before the new world, the new man ... but he does not.
Let us listen to the last dialogue between Pilate and the priests and their followers:
"From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, in Aramaic “Gabbatha”. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified” (Jn 19:12-16).
Pilate wanted to free Jesus, but the high priests said to him: If you do this to him, you are not Caesar's friend. Let's look at what the power is willing to do. The religious leaders are ready even to proclaim as their king a pagan: Tiberius, a quasi-demented one who is in Capri, far from Rome. The one who rules in Rome is Sejanus.
Jews hated foreign domination, but now they solemnly recognize the authority of Caesar to obtain the death sentence of the true man. How much annoyance has this proposal of a new man provoked! And Pilate takes Jesus out and sits on the bench. Here is a different interpretation that the evangelist wants to give to this verb: 'ekátisen' that can mean: Pilate sat in court, but there may be another interpretation of this verb ... and it is what the evangelist means. It is clear that Pilate sat on the bench, but the evangelist uses this verb that can mean, and means in the intention of the evangelist: Pilate makes Jesus sit on the bench so that he can be seen by all.
In the place called "lithostrotos", in Hebrew 'gábbata'. It's a strange detail because 'gábbata' does not mean 'lithostrotos'. We know the meaning of 'lithostrotos' = the tiles placed on the pavement, or a paving typical of the time, and in fact, when the lithostrotos was found in the zone of the Antonia tower, it was thought that Jesus had been judged by Pilate in that place.
I have already mentioned before that this lithostrotos of the Antonia tower is not from the time of Jesus, it is 100 years later. Here 'lithostrotos' is not mentioned in reference to 'gábbata', but 'gábbata' means a high place, which is precisely the place where the praetorium of Pilate was.
The word 'lithostrotos' is found only twice in all Scripture. Here in the Gospel of John and if we look in the Old Testament we find this term mentioned once in Song of Songs and it is surely to this text that the evangelist wants to make reference. Imagine Jesus sitting on this throne, a royal throne that the evangelist wants us to contemplate right now. What does the Song of Songs say? It presents king Solomon seated in a seat of purple And to the center of this seat there is a lithostoton = a board of precious stones, symbol of the love the people had to this king that was on the throne. And the text of the Song of Songs continues: "Daughters of Jerusalem, go out and look upon King Solomon in the crown with which his mother has crowned him on the day of his marriage, on the day of the joy of his heart" (Sg 3:10-11).
Here it is a bit difficult, but we must understand what the evangelist wants to tell us, as far as he is concerned. We must remember that in the Gospel of John, from the beginning Jesus comes on the scene as the spouse who goes out to meet his wife.
In the Old Testament the wife is Israel, the people; for us it is the humanity towards which the spouse is directed for the nuptial encounter. This is the perspective from which we must read this Gospel of John. Remember that when Jesus comes on the scene, he is preceded by the Baptist, who says: I am not the bridegroom you wait for, that Israel expects. I hear the voice of the spouse, the voice of the one who is about to arrive.
And we remember, immediately after was the wedding of Cana and then, throughout the whole gospel, there is this golden thread of Jesus— the God who has come to meet the wife, humanity. It is precisely at this moment that the evangelist presents the Spouse and does so with the reference to this text of the Song of Songs. The invitation to Israel to contemplate the love of the Bridegroom, his God. And notice that he is presented with the crown "which his mother has crowned him".
The mother of Jesus is Israel, the people of Israel, from whom this Messiah was born. And it is not a glorious crown, a radiant crown of the sun god, but a crown of thorns. This husband appears as the one who loves his wife so much that he is able to donate all his life, to become a slave on the day of his wedding.
This is how the evangelist wants us to contemplate this last grandiose scene: It is the Spouse who is presented to the wife—wants to indicate how much he has loved her. And we have the indication of the hour that the evangelist gives us: it was the preparation of the Passover, towards noon. And Pilate said to the Jews, “Behold your king,” he who initiates a kingdom that transforms all, which disturbs the world because it is a royalty that is an earthquake for all other royalties. The king is the one who becomes a servant.
Notice the detail: the preparation for the Passover and the hour. It was noon. It was the time when in the temple the lambs that would later be eaten during the Passover meal began to be slaughtered. It is the presentation of the Lamb. The Lamb that shall be slain. The Lamb that will show the true man and it will put in crisis the beasts that have always dominated in the world. It is with him that the new world begins. The reaction of the high priests and their followers: "Out, out, crucify him!" They do not accept this royalty. Pilate did not want to go against the truth, did not want to commit this crime ... "Do you want to crucify your king?" And the response of the high priests: "We have no king but Caesar."
The high priests descend to this low level. They are willing to do everything, to go against all their conception, also religious beliefs, to eliminate the one who annoys them. "Then he handed him over to be crucified". The irony that John comes at this point! It is an irony that reaches its summit. Because we see where it has come—the high priests, the religious power and Pilate, the political power. Pilate did not want to condemn Jesus - does not want to commit a crime, but feels compelled to do so in the face of religious power which had assumed immense prestige after the construction of the temple by Herod.
Pilate is forced to do what he does not want. Even the Jews are forced to do what they do not want. They did not want to serve Caesar, they hated him, but they are forced to declare themselves faithful subjects and to proclaim him King, against the Jewish tradition that holds that there is only one king who is God, when the proposal of man is not accepted and the proposal of new royalty is forced to enter into contradiction with himself, with God, with the brothers and to commit crimes.
We too are today before this image of man and this principle of the new royalty. We must not commit the error that Pilate has done and the error that the high priests have made. Let us welcome the new man, the new world and the new royalty, that of those who are put at the service of the brothers and sisters, who do not want to be dominant, but those who are willing even to give their lives for love.
I wish you all a good preparation for the Easter Feast.