March 25, 2012: “Washing one’s hands of it all!”

Posted on : Mar 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Are you, like me, tired of people and politicians who always seek the most politically expedient “way out?”  In this age where Fox news, Tea Partiers and right-wing Talk Radio personalities talk endlessly about “personal responsibility,” how come it doesn’t apply to THEM?  Why does it always apply to “OTHERS?”  Why doesn’t it apply to those at the top of the social ladder, but always for those at the bottom of the ladder?  That is the question this Sunday’s gospel puts before us.

The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day wanted him “gone” – out of the picture – dead.  Jesus was a tremendous threat to their power and privilege.  Jesus insisted God is loving, healing, caring.  They insisted God is judging, condemning and vengeful.  Jesus insisted people didn’t need religious rules (made up by religious institutions) to follow God.  The religious authorities knew that would be the end of their power-over-the-people.  Jesus insisted God excluded no one.  The religious authorities knew that meant “game over” for them.  So, they labeled Jesus a “heretic” and made up charges against him.  But according to Jewish law, they couldn’t kill Jesus, so they conspired with Pilate, Governor of Rome, to do their dirty work.  Pilate didn’t care much about their cause until they convinced Pilate that Jesus had the ability, and in fact was organizing the people, to overthrow the government.  They charged Jesus with wanting to be “KING” of the Jewish people, and that was considered treason in the Roman Empire.  Anyone who sought to challenge Caesar, Emperor of the Roman Empire, found themselves hung on a cross.  So as we saw two weeks ago, the religious authorities conspired with Judas to betray Jesus.  The religious authorities then arrested Jesus and charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, i.e., the King of the Jewish people.  They then turned him over to the Roman authorities claiming Jesus was a first-century terrorist planning to overthrow the Roman government.

At first Pilate “bought” this argument until the witnesses were brought before him.  Pilate “sat” as judge and jury in such matters.  After hearing their witnesses Pilate knew these folks were lying through their teeth.  However, he had been co-opted into this mess and there seemed to be no way out of it.  As a last ditch effort to appease the angry crowds, Pilate offered them the choice of releasing (pardoning) Jesus or Barabbas.  Barabbas was a notorious, violent killer whom everyone feared.  The religious authorities managed to whip the crowd into such a vengeful fervor against Jesus that it appeared a riot was about to break out.  They so strongly wanted Jesus crucified that they were willing to let Barabbas be released.

It is at this point that Pilate calls for water and a basin to be brought to him.  He pours the water over his hands and publicly announces that he is washing his hands of this innocent man’s blood.  He then turns Jesus over to be crucified.

Can we ever “wash our hands of it all?”  Can we divest ourselves of personal responsibility, when in reality we are complicit in someone else’s condemnation or dehumanization?

The British politician and philosopher, Edmund Burke (c.1730-1797), proclaimed, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  Two centuries later, that quote took on new meaning as many nations tried to ignore Hitler’s extermination of the Jewish people.  By the time the denial ended, nearly six million persons of Jewish heritage, along with gay and lesbian people, “gypsies” and “political operatives” were put to death.  Here in Los Angeles, the Simon Wiesenthal “Museum of Tolerance” uses that quote as their primary educational theme.  So true, and so Biblical!

This Sunday we’ll delve into this story in more depth.  J. Barrie Shepherd in this book “Faces at the Cross” sums up the inner conflict we experience as we face our own complicity and fear when confronted with evil.  He says, “So we keep quiet, while we hate ourselves for doing so.”

Lenten Blessings,


~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Matthew 27: 11-25

“Pilate washes his hands of it all.”

Now Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who asked him, “Are you the King of the Jewish People?”  Jesus said to him, “You have said so.” But when Jesus was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer to them.

Then Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?”  But Jesus did not answer Pilate, not even to a single charge; so that left the governor wondering greatly.

Now on the occasion of the festival of the Passover, the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner, whomever the crowd would designate.  At the time they were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas.  So when the crowd gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you wish me to release for you?  Barabbas?  Or Jesus, the so-called Messiah?”  Pilate knew, of course, that it was out of jealousy that they had handed Jesus over.

While Pilate was still presiding on the bench, his wife sent him a message which said:  “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, Jesus.  I had a dream about him last night which has been troubling me all day long.”

But the chief priests and elders convinced the crowds that they should ask for Barabbas, and have Jesus put to death.  So when the governor asked them, “Which one do you wish me to release for you?” they all cried, “Barabbas!  Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “then what am I to do with Jesus, the so-called Messiah?” “Crucify him!” they all said.

“Why?  What crime has he committed?”  Pilate asked.

But they only shouted louder, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

Pilate finally realized that he was getting nowhere with this – in fact, a riot was breaking out.  Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd, declaring as he did, so, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.  The responsibility is yours.”  The whole crowd said in reply, “let his blood be on us and on our children.”


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