711) Peace and Justice and Pontius Pilate (a)

     Many Christians place a great emphasis on ‘Peace and Justice’ issues.  There are many churches in which you will hear more about peace and justice than about Jesus Christ.  To be concerned about these issues is certainly implied in the teachings of our Lord, who was called the ‘Prince of Peace,’ and who proclaimed the truth that all are people are equal in the eyes of God and deserving of justice.  But such concern about peace and justice has led many churches more and more into partisan politics, leaving less and less emphasis on the eternal salvation of souls.  A balance is needed.  But there is always the danger of that balance being lost, and the primary message of the church being ignored or distorted.

     Among those who demand for peace and justice, there are always those who forget the hard truth that sometimes in this wicked world you cannot have both.  For example, the American South in the pre-Civil War days was a peaceful place for wealthy plantation owners.  They lived a life of ease and comfort, and could build up incredible wealth without any labor on their part.  But there was no justice in the South in those days for the eight million Negroes by whose slave labor those plantation owners gained their wealth and their peace.  And there was no justice possible without a considerable disturbing of the peace for four long and bloody years.  Abraham Lincoln would have preferred to always maintain peace and justice, but in the very first days of his presidency, he was forced to make the choice to pursue one or the other.

     The Roman empire prided itself on the peace and justice it brought to its conquered nations. Of course, they had no qualms about making war in the first place to conquer the territory, and no qualms about using armies to enforce the peace. But when at its best, the Romans did try to rule with justice and, at the same time, keep the peace.

     That was what Pontius Pilate had hoped for in the ordeal of a Jewish wandering preacher that was brought before him one morning in the fourth year of his reign as governor in Palestine.  Peace and justice were always his goals, noble Roman that he was, and that would have been his agenda for dealing with Jesus.  He would ask him a few questions, determine his guilt or innocence, declare his verdict, and then either sentence him or set him free.  Pilate was not a soft-hearted man.  He did not care about these people.  But he was a proud Roman, and the Roman ideal was to be just and fair.

     However, Pilate that morning would be confronted with the same awful choice that Lincoln faced, that of having to choose one or the other, peace or justice.  It is not a simple world we live in.  It is easy to be for peace, and we are all in favor of justice and fairness for all.  But what do you do when you are forced to choose one or the other?

     Pilate at first seemed irritated with the chief priests for bothering him with this matter.  “Take him for yourselves and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.  “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they said.  So, reluctantly, Pilate began the cross-examination:  “Are you the king of the Jews?…  Do you refuse to speak to me?…  What is it you have done?…  Where did you come from?…  What is truth?”  Then, satisfied that Jesus was not a threat, Pilate said, “I find no basis for any charge against him.”  There is Roman justice at its best– a judgement in favor of the little guy.  Pilate has to deal with the religious authorities on a regular basis, and so he would have had a good reason to please them and just give in to their request.  But Pilate took a stand against them, and declared innocent a poor man who can do him no favors.

     But then came the threat to the peace.  First, the religious leaders put the pressure on.  “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar, because anyone who claims to be king opposes Caesar.”  Jesus had told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and Pilate was at first satisfied with that answer.  But the threat of trouble with Caesar was a frightening prospect, and so Pilate began to reconsider the verdict.  Then the crowd started shouting, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and there was the beginning of an uproar.  A riot would mean a bad report to Caesar, and that would not be good for Pilate.  That might be too much trouble to risk for the sake of some little religious fanatic.  So there’s the conflict between justice and peace.  Pilate knows what is just, and, he knows what it will take to keep the peace; and he decides to keep the peace.  But he does so with an uneasy conscience.  He has a wash-basin brought to him before the crowd and symbolically washes his hands of the whole thing, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”  Everybody wants peace and justice.  Pilate found out that you cannot always have both.  (continued…)


Luke 23:13-15  —  Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.  I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.”

Luke 23:23-24  —  But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

Matthew 27:24  —  When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It is your responsibility!”



Gracious God,
We pray for peace in our communities this day.
We commit to you all who work for peace and an end to tensions,
And those who work to uphold law and justice.
We pray for an end to fear,
For comfort and support to those who suffer.
For calm in our streets and cities,
That people may go about their lives in safety and peace.
In your mercy, hear our prayers, now and always. Amen.