Question for a Value Judgement on Our Decisions and Actions (originally posted in ICON on April 14th 2017)
When he came to the court, he never imagined that such a case would appear before him. This man who was brought before him looked weak and tired with eyes that carried marks of a sleepless night. He already was interrogated by the clergy and it seemed, they had reached a decision. An unruly crowd followed the clerics. They were much impatient. They wanted to hear the verdict even without a trial. But the judge was not ready for that. He asked the clerics, “what is the charge levied over him”? The answer was not a straight forward one, rather they gave a counter question: “If there was no charge over him do you think we would have brought him before you”? The judge again asked what was the charge, they said, “he was instigating the people to rebel against Rome saying, ‘he was the king”. They thought this will certainly make the judge convinced and will sentence him to death as a political criminal. But the judge was in no mood to finish it like that. He told them “why don’t you judge him by your own law”? They replied, “we do not have the authority to give capital punishment to a person”. Well, yes and no, strictly speaking under the agreement with Romans, the Jews did not have authority to sentence one to death. But then the question would be, ‘under which law they killed deacon Stephen’? But since this happened much later in time the judge could not ask this question. The intention of the clerics was clear. They wanted the accused to be labelled as a political criminal and wanted to save them from the guilt of killing an innocent person. The judge asked the accused, “are you the king”. The reply was not very much promising. He said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. The judge certainly thought he had a crazy fellow before him like many others who were brought before him in the past. So, he decided to send him away as there was no real case against him. But that was not the mood of the clerics and the crowd. Their faces and murmur certainly gave him the impression that they were up to some thing much more than that. So the judge asked, “what do you want me to do with this fellow”? The clerics suddenly turned toward the crowd and showed a sign. The crowd got the message and started shouting saying “crucify him, crucify him”. But still the judge was not inclined. He said, “I don’t see any thing wrong this person done that I sentence him to be hanged to death”. The people continued to should “crucify him, crucify him” even more violently. The clerics tried to reason with the judge saying, “we do not want this man as our king, rather want only Caesar as the king. I am not sure whether the clerics remembered the event, centuries back, when the leaders of the people of the time went to Samuel and asked for a king (1 Sam. 8). That day God told Samuel, ‘they were asking a human king instead of the Him their Lord who liberated them from Egyptian bondage, who saved them from extinction at the hands of the neighbouring people and gave them the land of prosperity as their inheritance’. Well, they never cared to remember that. All that they remembered from history was how can they turn the prescriptions of the Lord to cater to the vested interests of some of them, the prominent and the powerful. That was why Jesus had to say a couple of years back, “you may have heard this, but I tell you…” (Matt. 5:21 ff.; 15:5). They remembered only what suited to their selfish interests. They preferred a human oppressive king to a saving, caring, loving divine Lord. Here we have a question, who rules over the lives of we the new Israel, those material benefits we seek in our lives or the spiritual nourishment the Lord gives? The old Israel was clear on that, they preferred the material one.
It was at that time the judge’s wife sent him a note asking not to do any harm to the accused as she saw him as a divine person. Now the judge was confused. There were the Jewish clerics and the crowd on the one hand asking him to sentence the accused to death. On the other hand, his wife was asking him to release the accused. He knew that the clerics had no valid point against the accused. But he didn’t want to displease them hence he said, “I will let him go after few lashes”. But the crowd was adamant on getting what they wanted. He wanting to escape from the fault of sentencing a person in whom he found no crime, sent him to Herod, the governor of Galilee which was the region of the accused. Herod also did not find anything wrong with him. One good thing that happened with that event was, both Herod and Pilate became friends. That was probably the first peace making that happened with the suffering of Jesus, the accused. So the matter was brought back to Pilate to decide. The judge made a final attempt by giving a chance for the accusers to select between Jesus and a criminal, Barabbas. The people obviously chose Barabbas. They always did and that was why Jesus in one of his addressed had to say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Pilate then asked the soldiers to give several lashes on Jesus and bring Him back. He thought seeing Jesus bleeding from his wounds the clerics and the crowd would leave satisfied. But he was wrong, they were far from being satisfied. They kept shouting, “crucify Him, crucify Him”. Pilate wanted to end the ordeal. He took some water and washed his hands saying, “I am guiltless of this innocent blood”. The crowd shouted, “let his blood be upon us and upon our future generations”. Here the original intention of the clerics became futile. They brought Jesus to Pilate thinking the guilt will be on the Romans. But now they themselves have accepted the blood guilt on them. They were caught in their own evil design.
Then came the verdict. Jesus was sentenced to death by hanging on the cross by Pilate. That was some judgement. It was not a democratic system that ruled the society of the time. Even if it was, Pilate did not take a vote of the whole population, rather he just acted on the shouting of a small section of the people. Pilate of course wanted to make a just decision. But more than that he wanted to safeguard his position. There was already a displeasure about his conduct as the governor in Judea with Rome. He did not want to have more of that on him. So he washed his hands and made the unjust decision.
Time and again questions for us to decide on matters would come before all of us in some form. What will be the basic principle with which we would make decisions on those questions? Many a time it would be our welfare, security and safeguarding of our interests. Of course there is nothing wrong in safeguarding our welfare, security and position. But when it conflicts with those of others and become a question of justice and love, what would be our response? There are leaders of countries who would justify any wrong decision they made saying, ‘it is for the best interest of the nation’. But they never care to say that it was a just decision. They would not care how many lives were adversely affected by their decision. There are people who would make decisions and say, with those decisions, the future of the family and kids would become secured. They would never care to see how many would unjustly suffer because of those decisions. Pilate never cared how his decision was going to affect Jesus’ mother, those hundreds of people who considered Jesus as their teacher and comforter, those twelve and seventy who became disciples and followed him. Of course God who created light out of darkness and fertile land out of chaotic water made that wrong decision of Pilate and it’s execution, a positive thing with resurrection of the unjustly killed Jesus. On our part, do we at any given time make a judgement on our own decisions and actions to see how they would affect other people? Of course, God may help those adversely affected ones and make some thing positive out of that for them. But what would be our justification for those wrong doings? Let us ponder over this question on this Friday of Hasa. I wish all ICON members an anticipatory Blessed Easter!
Metropolitan Mor Meletius Yuhanon