Encounters With Jesus: Pontius Pilate

Scripture: Matthew 27:11-26

The views in this monologue are solely those of Pontius Pilate (as I imagine him)

(not a sympathetic character)

I want you to know that I didn’t want this, for things to go this way.

It was them that wanted him to die, the chief priests and the elders of his people. They were the ones who brought him to me, early in the morning, when it was clear they had tried him under the cover of night. They handed him over on trumped-up charges. King of the Jews, they said, but it was clear that this ragged-looking man was not someone who claimed to be a king. They put him in front of me and demanded that I have him put to death.

I tried to set him free. Passover is their festival of liberation, and it’s tradition for us to release a prisoner for them. A good political move, you know, throw them a bone, keep them happy, so no one gets any big ideas about revolution.  I offered the gathered crowds their so-called king. They demanded Barabbas instead. It was them who yelled at me to crucify him.

But I’m the governor, you say? Only I have the power to decide these things? Well, a governor can’t govern an unruly people. The people were going to riot. I have to choose my battles; I have to give them just enough power. It was them that made me do this. My hands were tied.

* * * *

Oh, but don’t act like he was such a righteous man. This man might not have been a king but it’s no secret that he was trying to start something. Riled people up. It’s the kind of thing that can get dangerous if you let it. You have to keep these sorts of people in line.

He should have answered my questions. If he was truly innocent what did he have to hide? I asked him if he was the King of the Jews and he told me that’s what I said.  I tried to find out more, I tried to do a thorough investigation, but he just stood there, refusing to answer. Infuriating. We have processes for these things, in the Roman Empire. This was obstruction of justice. He could have built a case for himself if he would have just talked. I didn’t have enough to convict him on but I didn’t have enough to let him go, either.

I know what they said about him. I know he liked to test authority. Caused disturbances in their Temple. Blasphemed against their god. Oh, that part’s no concern of mine. But you have to admit: he was no angel.

* * * *

I’d like to see what you would do if you had to make a decision like that. Everyone thinks they know what they would have done in a certain situation, until they’re in it. Even my wife, sending me messages, trying to tell me how to do my job. Something about a dream. Well, fine, if I’m making decisions based on dreams now.

No, I’m charged with maintaining law and order in this godforsaken territory. I promise you, you don’t want my job. The weight of the Empire is on your shoulders. People’s lives are in your hands. Governing well takes a delicate balance of a firm hand and just enough give so the people don’t revolt.

So you think I made the wrong decision? Well, fine. No one’s perfect. You say you would have done things differently, but you don’t know what it’s like to be in this position.

* * * *

I want you to know that this wasn’t about hate. It wasn’t personal. I had nothing against this man.  

This was purely and simply a professional decision. This was about keeping the peace, our famous Pax Romana. This is our Roman way of life: We bring prosperity and opportunity to places that have never known those things. Roads and beautiful buildings, art and literature, philosophy and law. And all that comes with a cost.

Maybe this man was innocent. Maybe he was nothing more than a peddler of snake oil and a low-level troublemaker. But the crowds were about to riot. The leaders made their demands clear. My job was to keep the peace. Sometimes, the end justifies the means.

So don’t tell me this is my fault. They were the ones who wanted this. Not me. They were the ones who brought him to me. They were the ones who shouted crucify. I gave them Barabbas. What more could I do?

* * * *

Excuses, you say? Well, who doesn’t have them?

* * * *

In any case, it’s over. They’ve taken him away. There’s no use dwelling on this any longer. What’s done is done, let’s move on. What’s he going to do, rise from the dead?

* * * *

I told you, I accept no responsibility in this.

(Washing motion) My hands are clean.

Encounters With Jesus: A Tax Collector and a Zealot

Scripture: Luke 5:27-28; 6:12-16

LEVI: My name is Levi, sometimes known as Matthew.

SIMON: My name is Simon.

LEVI: I was a tax collector.

SIMON: They call me a Zealot.

LEVI: I worked for the Roman Empire, collecting money from its subjects.

SIMON: I was a freedom fighter – part of the resistance.

LEVI: I was sitting at my customs booth one day when Jesus walked by. He stopped right in front of my booth and said “Follow me.” And I did. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t ask any questions. It was as if I’d been waiting my whole life for that invitation and I never even knew it. I just got up and went with him.

SIMON: I stopped to listen to him preach one day. I was in town making plans with some of my fellow Zealots, plotting revolution. Our aim was to free Palestine and God’s people from the evil and oppressive grip of the Romans. But something about his preaching captivated me, and when he got up and left, I followed him.

LEVI: He chose me as one of the Twelve.

SIMON: He chose me as one of the Twelve.

LEVI: Jesus’ inner circle of disciples was an eclectic group. A bunch of fishermen, some tradesmen, a few shady characters – and then there was him.

SIMON: And then there was him.

LEVI: I found Simon to be a violent and foolish man. He and his fellow revolutionaries put all of us in danger with their scheming. No one in Palestine loves Rome, not even me. But Rome is a fact of life, and you survive around here by yielding to their power. Violence is not the answer. And the way he looked at me – I never felt safe around him.

SIMON: Levi spent every day of his life opposing everything I worked for in mine. He was in bed with our oppressors. He stole money from our people and gave it to them. If it weren’t for people like Levi who allow themselves to be co-opted for the promise of money, Rome would have no power over us. And if he would work for Rome, who knows what else he might do. I never felt safe around him.

LEVI: I walked away from my tax booth when I left to follow Jesus. He taught me that there’s a higher power than Rome at work in this world.

SIMON: I put down my arms when I left to follow Jesus. He taught me there are other ways to resist.

LEVI: But has he really changed?

SIMON: He still has Roman sympathies. I don’t trust him.

LEVI: He still wants Rome to be overthrown. I don’t trust him.

SIMON: Jesus tells us to love one another the way he loves us.

LEVI: Jesus prays for his followers to be unified.

SIMON: Unity always comes with a cost. Is it possible for me to love Levi and also love the poor, marginalized people of Palestine, the people he exploited and sold out so that he could have a comfortable life?

LEVI: Love is never that simple. Can I love Simon and also love the poor, vulnerable people of Palestine, the people whose lives he endangered with his childish ideas of revolution? Can I love him and still love the Romans he wants to see dead, who Jesus also tells us are children of God?

SIMON: Or is to love him to turn my back on others?

LEVI: Or is to accept him to deny everything I know about right and wrong?

SIMON: I’ve wondered sometimes if it’s enough to love him from a distance. If I don’t actively wish harm on him –

LEVI: If I’d help him if he were really in need –

SIMON: And I don’t get too friendly –

LEVI: And I don’t give any sign of affirming him –

SIMON: Is that love?

LEVI: Or does love have to be more active than that?

SIMON: To love someone, do you have to be willing to live with them?

LEVI: To love someone, do you have to try to appreciate them?

SIMON: To see them the way God sees them?

LEVI: But how is that?

SIMON: Does God see his belovedness –

LEVI: Or his brokenness –

SIMON: Or both?

LEVI: Maybe I could love him if he would repent, if he would say once and for all that violence isn’t the answer and that he’s sorry for the ways he’s used it and supported it in the past.

SIMON: I think I could love him if he’d admit his own complicity in injustice and vow to resist evil and oppression like God calls us to from here on out.

LEVI: But I don’t think he’s going to do that.

SIMON: I don’t think he’s ready to do that.

LEVI: I don’t understand how Jesus called both of us.

SIMON: I don’t really know what to do with that.

LEVI: I don’t know how to reconcile him with who I know Jesus to be.

SIMON: I don’t know how to reconcile him with who Jesus calls us to be.

LEVI: Jesus must have called him for a reason, though.

SIMON: Jesus must have seen something good in him.

LEVI: And I guess I see good in him too. He has a strong sense of justice, and is always ready to stand up for the most vulnerable people among us. His idealism helps him envision what God’s Kingdom might look like. He really believes that the world can be different than it is, and he’s ready to work for it.

SIMON: Levi lives in the real world, and helps me to remember sometimes that I do too. He’ll always stop to help anyone he sees, whether Jew or Roman. He sees humanity in the Romans too, just like Jesus does.

LEVI: It doesn’t mean I agree with him.

SIMON: It doesn’t mean I think he’s right.

LEVI: Violence is still reprehensible.

SIMON: Oppression is still oppression.

LEVI: And yet Jesus tells us to love one another.

SIMON: Even tax collectors and Zealots.

LEVI: Sometimes I wonder if Jesus did this on purpose, choosing both of us, calling us both his disciples.

SIMON: Maybe Jesus meant for us to wrestle with these questions.

LEVI: Maybe he didn’t mean for there to be any easy answers.

SIMON: He said to love our neighbors.

LEVI: He said to love our enemies.

SIMON: It’s not always clear how to do both.

LEVI: Sometimes I wonder if you can really do both.

SIMON: I still want Rome to be overthrown. But Jesus taught me that sometimes resistance means doing little things that no one around you expects. Giving someone your coat when they demand your shirt. Eating with people labeled as sinners. Somehow he thinks that these are the things that will topple empires.

LEVI: I still think Rome is here to stay. But Jesus helped me see that the powers of this world aren’t the ultimate powers, and that I can be part of something new, even if Rome stays the same.

SIMON: So here I am.

LEVI: Here I am.

SIMON: Figuring it out.

LEVI: Doing my best.

SIMON: Not always getting it right.

LEVI: I was a tax collector.

SIMON: They call me a Zealot.

LEVI: I am a disciple of Jesus.

SIMON: I am a disciple of Jesus.

Encounters With Jesus: A Man Born Blind

Scripture: John 9:1-38

Reuben was born a boy with questions. He wondered what was in mud and how yeast made dough rise and why bugs chirped so loud on summer nights. He wondered how the world began and he wondered what God looked like and he wondered what it was like to be one of the prophets whose words he heard read from the scrolls in the synagogue each week. And, mostly, he wondered why he had been born blind. Had he done something, somehow, before he was even born, to merit divine punishment? Was it his parents, instead, who had done something, and if so, why was he the one on whom that punishment was meted out? Or did God not have any say in it at all, and it was nothing more than an accident of fate?

His parents told him to be careful with his questions.

And so, as Reuben grew, he learned to leave certain questions unasked.

Reuben’s world was not an accommodating one for a person who couldn’t see. And so, as his parents grew older, he found that his only choice was to beg. He sat by the side of the road with his hands outstretched in hopes of bringing home enough money to put dinner on the table that night, and as he sat, he wondered what it would be like to see, and why God would allow things to be this way, and why the world had put him in this position. But he never spoke those questions out loud.

It was as he sat by the side of the road one day that he heard a group of people approach, and he stretched out his hands a little farther and prepared to call out to them, and then he heard it, the question he dared not speak:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?”

Reuben closed his mouth and sat stone-faced, making sure not to flinch at this question that was asked about him rather than to him, as if they thought his blindness meant he couldn’t hear. He wondered who “Rabbi” was, and he wondered what he was going to hear next.

“Neither,” the man called Rabbi said. Reuben felt breath on face as the rabbi kneeled down. “He was born blind so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.” It was an answer that Reuben had never considered before – though he wondered what it meant, and what this actually said about God’s intentions. “I am the light of the world,” the rabbi said softly to him. Reuben realized with a start that he knew who this man was – the one they called Jesus, the traveling preacher who healed people and made bread multiply. He felt something cool on his eyes as the man touched his face. He hadn’t asked – Reuben guessed he didn’t get a say in whether God’s glory was going to be revealed in him – but when the man told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, Reuben went, and that’s when he realized he could see.

It was disorienting. The world was bright, and it took him a bit to get his bearings, and he wasn’t sure at first that he liked it. He found himself closing his eyes as he walked home, wanting the world to feel familiar again. But on the way he did start to wonder what possibilities life might hold for him now, in a world that could finally make room for him. So when he got home he opened his eyes, and just looked around for a long time, taking it all in.

The boy who was born with questions should have known that his neighbors would have some questions of their own.

“Is that Reuben?” they asked each other, still speaking to each other and not to him. “It is,” said some. “It couldn’t be,” said others.

“It’s me,” he said, and they seemed surprised to hear from him, though it wasn’t like he had never been able to talk.

“Who did this?” they asked.

“The man called Jesus,” he said.

“Where is he now?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” Reuben said.

“How is this possible?” they said. But Reuben didn’t know that either. He was beginning to sense, though, that God’s glory being revealed was not an uncontroversial thing.

They led him to the religious leaders in the synagogue, who continued the barrage.  “Is this your son?” they demanded of his parents. “Wasn’t he blind?” And to Reuben himself: “Don’t you know that this man is a sinner?”

“All I know is this,” said Reuben: “I was blind, and now I see.”

“How did it happen?” they said. “Tell us everything.”

Reuben felt anger bubbling up inside of him. “I’ve told you everything I know,” he said. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to be his disciples?” He knew as soon as he said it that it was a mistake, but his world had been turned upside down, and he didn’t care anymore.

“We’re Moses’s disciples,” one of them said frostily. “This man, we don’t even know where he comes from.

Reuben had questions too. Oh, did he have questions. But he had dug himself too far in to quit. For the first time in his life, he held their gaze, until they looked away. “Wow,” he said. “You don’t know. And yet here I am, looking at you.”

“Get out,” they snarled.

The next day, Reuben sat in his old place by the side of the road. He heard their questions echoing over and over in his head. Who is this man? How can this be? They sounded afraid. They sounded like they were building a wall, one question at a time, to defend against a reality they weren’t prepared for. They kept their eyes tightly shut against anything that threatened to crack what they knew of the world.

Reuben sat and he wondered. He wondered what the point of it all had been. He could see, and he hardly knew what to do next. His blindness was the thing that had always kept him on the margins, but now his sight put him on the margins too, for how it had come to be. He also wondered if this was all, if it was the end of the story, or if there was more to come.

He sat and he wondered, but he wasn’t afraid, and he wasn’t building a wall. Reuben had always simply sensed that there was more for him to know. Questions were a powerful thing – as his parents had taught him – but it all depended on how you asked. All Reuben had ever wanted was to open his eyes, so to speak, to the world around him.

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus had said.

He was clearly no ordinary rabbi. But who was he? A healer? A prophet? If this was God’s glory revealed in him, then what did that mean?

It was funny, he thought, as he sat there, he had always thought of miracles as instantaneous kinds of things. And it’s true that his life had changed in one unexpected moment, but here he was, still asking questions, still trying to figure out what it all meant.

He heard footsteps approaching and reflexively stretched out his hands.

“Reuben,” the man said, and Reuben recognized the voice. Maybe some of his questions were about to get answered.

Instead, Jesus asked him one himself; “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

Reuben wanted to say yes. He felt like his whole life hinged on saying yes. But there was still so much he didn’t understand. And yet, what was there to understand? He had been blind, and now he could see. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to answer definitively, not yet. So instead, he dared for the first time in a long time to speak one of his questions out loud. “Who is he, sir?” It was, perhaps, the most important question of his life.

“The one who is speaking to you,” Jesus said.

And Reuben whispered, “I believe.”

He still had so many questions. He wondered how it all worked, and he wondered what came next, and he wondered what his life meant now. But he could spend the rest of his life figuring all of that out. For now, it was enough to be able to see – the one that all his questions had always been pointing him to.  

Encounters With Jesus: Mary and Martha

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

MARTHA: Mary. We need to talk.

MARY: OK, Martha, what about?

MARTHA: About tonight.

MARY: Can you believe Jesus was right here in our house?

MARTHA: I can. I made him dinner. And his disciples too.

MARY: You were an amazing host as always.

MARTHA: Right. As always. And where were you the whole time?

MARY: I was listening to him teach.

MARTHA: You were listening to him teach. While I cleaned and cooked and ran back and forth filling people’s drinks. I barely even got to eat myself.

MARY: I’m sorry, Martha, I just….really wanted to hear what he had to say. He tells the most beautiful stories about the Kingdom of God.

MARTHA: Maybe *I* wanted to hear.

MARY: You could have sat down.

MARTHA: Someone had to host.

[PAUSE]

MARTHA: The worst part was that when I pointed out to him that you weren’t helping, he said YOU had chosen the better part. Ha. Fine. Next time I won’t cook or clean at all. I hope he likes raw fish. And ants.

MARY: He said that? That I chose the better part?

MARTHA: Yeah.

MARY: No one in my life has ever told me I was better than you. You’ve always been the one who does everything you’re supposed to do and does it perfectly.

MARTHA: You’ve always been off in your own world, doing whatever you want, while I held everything together.

MARY: I wasn’t off in my own world tonight, Martha. I was listening and learning, just like his other disciples. Why should only the men get to do that? Besides, I thought you liked doing that stuff, cooking and hosting and all of that. I thought it was kind of your thing.

MARTHA: Not when no one even appreciates it.

MARY: Your whole life, Martha, everyone has always appreciated you. Martha, the good girl. Martha, the perfect one. It’s exhausting.

MARTHA: See how far that’s gotten me.

[PAUSE]

MARY: What did he actually say to you tonight?

MARTHA: He called me worried and distracted.

MARY: Are you?

MARTHA: Obviously.

MARY: What are you worried and distracted by?

MARTHA: I don’t know. Everything? Life? Whether we’ll have enough when the tax collectors come knocking? The unstoppable advance of death? Whether our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is going to get a hot meal?

MARY: (nodding)

MARTHA: (quietly) And I guess mostly I’m worried that I’m just never going to be enough.

MARY: For what? Or who?

MARTHA: I don’t even know.

MARY: I’m worried about those things too. But the thing is that when I listen to him teach, I’m not. It’s like he puts it all in perspective for me, like there’s something bigger than just my life. You should hear him talk about the lilies of the field, Martha, and the birds, they don’t worry about what may or may not happen tomorrow or whether they’re good enough. They’re just birds, and flowers, the way God made them to be. Why can’t we live like that too?

MARTHA: Well, maybe I could have sat and listened –

MARY: I know, I know. You were making dinner.

MARTHA: I just don’t get it. I tried so hard to make everything perfect for him. I was so excited to have him over and make a wonderful meal. We don’t have a lot, Mary, you know that, but I really put everything I had into tonight. I just wanted it be perfect. And it was like he didn’t appreciate it at all.

MARY: Maybe it didn’t need to be so perfect.

MARTHA: This is how I show love.

MARY: By serving others to the point of resentment?

MARTHA: …Yes.

MARY: Is it about love, or about proving yourself?

MARTHA: I don’t know.

MARY: Do you think he would have loved you less if the fish had burned?

MARTHA: At this point I’m starting to think he would have loved me more.

MARY: So next time just sit.

MARTHA: I’m not going to be you, Mary.

MARY: Why, because I would have burned the fish?

MARTHA: I don’t want to just sit. That’s not who I am. I’m a doer. I do things. I just want to be appreciated for that.

MARY: Well, I’m not going to be you either.

MARTHA: Well, I guess we’ll both be ourselves and Jesus is going to have to be OK with that.

MARY: Maybe he didn’t really mean that I had chosen better than you. Maybe he didn’t mean that you had to be like me. Maybe he just wanted you to take a deep breath and know that you’re enough. You don’t have to be running all the time and trying to make everything perfect. And maybe I don’t have to do all the things that everyone expects of me. Maybe I can do my own thing, just leave it all behind and go with him. And you can do your own thing too, in your way. Just – because you want to, and not because you think you have to earn or prove something.  

MARTHA: Yeah. Maybe.

MARY: It’s like when he said that he came so that we could have life and have it abundantly.

MARTHA: No one’s ever cared whether MY life was abundant before.

MARY: Well, he does. And I do.

MARTHA: I don’t think I know how to live that way.

MARY: Me neither. But I’m learning. Or at least I’m trying to.

[PAUSE]

MARY: Come on, Martha, I’ll help you wash the dishes.

MARTHA: OK. And while we do that maybe you can tell me some of those stories about the Kingdom of God.

MARY: (smiling) The Kingdom of God is like a woman who prepared a feast for visitors.

MARTHA: (smiling) The Kingdom of God is like a woman who abandoned all her duties to sit at her teacher’s feet.

MARY: The Kingdom of God is like two women –

MARTHA: Who set down all their worries and distractions –

MARY: And picked up love.