HAVING DETERMINED that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, the Sanhedrin was faced with the alternatives of executing the penalty (death by stoning) themselves, or of accusing Him before the Roman authority, letting on that the case was still open. They had little hope that the Roman procurator would sanction execution by the Sanhedrin, but if he could be led to carry out the execution himself, any reprisals by the people would be directed against Rome, the common enemy, and the members of the Sanhedrin would risk nothing.
They decided, therefore, to charge Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the procurator. Having bound Him, they led Him away to the praetorium, Pilate’s fortress, which was located just north of the Temple. Entering the house of a Gentile would have rendered them “unclean” and unfit to eat the passover meal (they had not partaken of the pasch at the usual time because of their preoccupation with the arrest of Jesus). They did not enter the praetorium, therefore, but had their servants take Jesus into the building, while they waited outside in the courtyard.
It was still early morning, but Pilate, like most Roman officials, rose early and sought to conclude the day’s business by noon. Soon after the Sanhedrin arrived, he came out and spoke to the Jews from his judgment seat in the courtyard.
“What accusation do you bring against this man?” the procurator asked.
Pilate wanted a more definite commitment than the vague charge that was passed on to him when the prisoner was delivered. But the Jews were dismayed by this tactic; they had not expected to be involved in this way, and they answered churlishly, “If He were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to thee.”
The procurator was growing impatient. For some reason, these pestering blue noses were averse to disciplining their unruly co-religionist. “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law,” he said.
At last they were forced to show their hand. “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” they admitted. It was a death sentence they were asking for, and to convince the procurator that this would also be in the interest of Rome, they droned out accusations of civil offenses. “We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding the payment of taxes to Caesar, and saying that He is Christ a king.”
The charges were made hastily, with the hope that one of them might stick, and that they might definitely prejudice Pilate against Jesus.
Pilate was indeed impressed, but he was not going to be stampeded. Returning to his apartment, he had Jesus brought to him and he asked Him, “Art Thou the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered:
“Thou sayest it.”
But He added, as a reminder of the source of the charge against Him:
“Dost thou say this of thyself, or have others told thee of Me?”
Pilate protested that he gave no heed to the religious bickering of the Jews. “Am I a Jew?” he said. “Thy own people and the chief priests have delivered Thee to me. What hast Thou done?” Jesus answered:
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My followers would have fought that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But, as it is, My kingdom is not from here.”
“A religious fanatic,” thought Pilate. But the Man did have a royal bearing. “Thou art then a king?” he asked, smiling indulgently. Jesus replied:
“Thou sayest it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
He spoke easily, sincerely, and with a tone of conviction that made the procurator a little uncomfortable. Thinking to baffle this visionary, he threw out to Him one of the quips current among the sophisticates at Rome. “What is truth?” he said, and without waiting for a reply, he left the room.
Returning before the Jews, he said, “I find no guilt in this man.”
Again they screamed out their accusations, and Pilate called out Jesus to answer them, expecting that a man who had been able to deal with Rome so authoritatively could readily cope with this Jewish rabble. “Dost Thou not hear how many things they prefer against Thee?” he asked. But Jesus made no answer, and Pilate wondered at His silence.
The Jews, meanwhile, continued their accusations, complaining that Jesus had stirred up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem. Hearing Galilee mentioned, Pilate asked if Jesus was a Galilean. Learning that He was in Herod’s jurisdiction, he had Jesus taken to the Jewish king, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover.
From the praetorium, Jesus was marched to Herod’s palace, a half mile to the south. The king was gratified by Pilate’s recognition and received Jesus with interest, for he had long been seeking to interview Him. He hoped to see a miracle, and put many questions to the mysterious wonder-worker, but Jesus did not answer. Cheated of his sport, Herod treated Jesus with contempt and sent Him back to Pilate arrayed in a mock royal robe.
Meditation: From a personal meeting with Jesus one would expect to gain something. But tor Herod Christ had nothing, not even a word. Herod, the notorious voluptuary, looked upon Christ’s visit merely as an interesting diversion. We often meet Christ today: in the sacraments, in the reading of the Scriptures, in the sermons from our pulpits. These encounters with Christ will be fruitless unless we open our hearts to Him. If hearing the Sunday Gospel is perfunctory and ineffectual in my life, perhaps the reason is that I do not approach its message with an open heart.
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 259-260. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.