In the Lectionary

April 10, Good Friday (Psalm 22; John 18:1–19:42)

Things Pilate cannot touch: creative life, confounding power

“What is truth?” Pilate asks. He is trying to reconcile this person he sees before him with the turmoil swirling in his city. He is trying to place Jesus in terms he can understand. Kingship. Power. Authority.

Who is this man who seems to have power, seems to have authority, and yet here he is—bound, bleeding, seemingly despised? Jesus seems to embody the paradox of the psalmist’s “why” and “yet.” (“Why have you forsaken me . . . Yet you are holy.”) Jesus is the one in chains, the one who has been betrayed, the one whose friends have left him, the one who needs Pilate to save him.

And yet Jesus is the one who speaks of bearing witness and truth. Jesus seems to possess all the certainty, while Pilate is the one who seems confused. Pilate plucks out a word, kingship, as a way of tethering himself as he looks from Jesus to the crowd to the Sanhedrin. But the question is resolved only in terms of who has power and who can keep it—more specifically, how Pilate can keep his.