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.

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