Lenten Reflections

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John 19:1-16

March 28, 2024
John 19:1-16

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 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.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 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.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 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?” 11 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.”

12 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.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 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.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.


“Behold, the man!” Pilate does his utmost to mock and humiliate Jesus despite the fact that Pilate believes Jesus is innocent of the charges made against him. He has Jesus flogged. The soldiers twist together a crown of thorns to place upon his head, and they dress him in a purple robe, the color of royalty. Pilate then presents him before the crowd, “Behold, the man.” 

Nietzsche adopted this same phrase in Latin for the title of his book Ecce Homo. Nietzsche deliberately compared himself to Jesus of Nazareth and styled himself as a kind of messiah who would liberate people from the old ways - in this case from Christian morality. He presented himself as the true human being. But Nietzsche has far more in common with Pilate. The irony is that despite the mockery of Pilate and Nietzsche, Jesus is in fact God’s representative of true humanity, if only we have eyes to see.

Upon the presentation of Jesus to the crowd, the religious authorities demand that Jesus be crucified. When Pilate wavers, they insist that Jesus must be killed because he has claimed to be the Son of God. Pilate’s response is curious. He becomes even more afraid. What does he fear? At a minimum, Pilate has an inkling that he is dealing with an unusual case. He asks Jesus: Where are you from? This time Jesus makes no reply. 

Jesus has not come to Pilate to plead his case like so many others who have come before him, but rather Jesus stands ready to be condemned. It’s no wonder that Pilate could make neither heads nor tails of Jesus. In his stupefaction, Pilate asks Jesus if he does not realize that he has the power to save or destroy. But Jesus demonstrates that God is working out his holy providence even in that very moment. Pilate would have no authority whatsoever unless it was given from above.

From this moment forward, Pilate determines to release Jesus, but his resolve is weak. As soon as the religious authorities change tactics and cast doubt on how Pilate will be viewed by the higher-ups in Rome, he folds. Above all else, he wants to be Caesar’s friend. Perhaps the most tragic moment in this whole episode is when God’s own chosen and beloved people shout, “We have no king but Caesar.” Shocking, we say. But have we perhaps compromised our allegiance to Jesus in less dramatic ways?