The Death Sentence
(Matthew 27.15-26; Mark 15.6-15; John 18.39—19.16)
13Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people. 14He told them, “You brought Jesus to me and said he was a troublemaker. But I have questioned him here in front of you, and I have not found him guilty of anything that you say he has done. 15Herod didn't find him guilty either and sent him back. This man doesn't deserve to be put to death! 16-17I will just have him beaten with a whip and set free.”
18But the whole crowd shouted, “Kill Jesus! Give us Barabbas!” 19Now Barabbas was in jail because he had started a riot in the city and had murdered someone.
20Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, so he spoke again to the crowds. 21But they kept shouting, “Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross!”
22Pilate spoke to them a third time, “But what crime has he done? I have not found him guilty of anything for which he should be put to death. I will have him beaten with a whip and set free.”
23The people kept on shouting as loud as they could for Jesus to be put to death. 24Finally, Pilate gave in. 25He freed the man who was in jail for rioting and murder, because he was the one the crowd wanted to be set free. Then Pilate handed Jesus over for them to do what they wanted with him.
Could you be silent for as long as needed?
At the July 2015 Pan Am Games held in the Greater Toronto Area, I led silent stand-ins. These stand-ins were the culmination of two years of awareness-raising around the reality of human trafficking during large sporting events. We wore T-shirts with our campaign’s message (Buying Sex Is Not A Sport) and stood silently for 45 minutes outside venues where events were taking place.
We ran the gamut of responses from support to outright scorn, derision, complaints and indifference. Police didn’t know what to do with us. Apart from designated spokespersons, team members were to remain silent. This was the most difficult requirement for many. But silence was at the core of our strategy: We wanted to raise awareness simply by standing silently in an atmosphere of love and non-violence.
We hear the sound of silence running through our text. As the conversation between Pilate, the chief priest, the leaders and the people crescendo to that last “Nail him to a cross!” we hear it. Jesus is silent as Pilate presents his case for whipping him and setting him free. Silent as the crowd shouts for Barabbas’ freedom and his death. Silent in the face of Pilates’ stunning abdication of Roman authority and power. Silent as the Sanhedrin say nothing to stop the crowd. Silent as Pilate hands him over to the Council to do what they wanted with him.
Silent. Because he had already spoken: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed . . .” (Luke 4:18).
O Lord of all, help us to know when to keep our mouths shut and our hearts wide open. Silence is hard to practice when we want to rush in and fix this world’s brokenness. Help us to keep silent when you ask us to. In Jesus’ name. Amen.