TITLE: Squeezed! SCRIPTURE: Luke 22:14 -23:56
I doubt that it ever occurred to you to feel sorry for Pilate. It had never occurred to me until I read this Passion text again –– the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. It's natural to feel sorry for Jesus –– and maybe for the thieves who were crucified with him. But it isn't easy to feel sorry for Pilate.
And I'm hesitant to say anything nice about Pilate –– or to suggest that we ought to feel sorry for him –– because he was the man in charge –– the one who held the power of life and death in his hands –– the one who could have saved Jesus. Pilate was one of the villains –– not one of the victims.
But when I read the Passion story again this year, I was impressed with the fact that Pilate was trying to do the right thing. When the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate, Pilate conducted a brief interrogation and decided that Jesus had done nothing deserving of death –– and he told Jesus' accusers, "I find no basis for an accusation against this man." In common English, that means, "Jesus is innocent! He didn't do anything wrong!"
But Pilate, for all his power, was a politician –– and politicians often find themselves painted into a corner –– having to support people they don't like –– having to oppose old friends –– having to vote for projects that they don't like to support -- people whose money they need.
In this case, Pilate found himself painted into a corner. Squeezed!!! That's what they call it! Squeezed!!!
Have you ever been squeezed –– caught between a rock and a hard place? It happens all the time. Too little money and too much month–– that's squeezed!
Having to rob Peter to pay Paul –– that's squeezed!
Needing to meet with an important client and getting a call from the school nurse that your daughter broke her arm –– that's squeezed!
Being late for an important meeting and trying to decide whether to sneak through a red light –– that's squeezed!
We like to imagine that there are people out there who never feel squeezed –– rich people –– couples with no kids –– people who own their own businesses. We like to imagine that we would not feel squeezed if we could just get a diploma –– or a raise –– or a better job.
Some people seem to have it made. They have a secretary to make their appointments –– and an assistant –– and a driver. When they come to work in the morning, the secretary hands them their schedule. Their assistant gets them a cup of coffee. When it is time to go somewhere, their driver holds the car door for them and takes them where they are going. When they get there, someone opens the door and someone else shows them where to sit.
Wouldn't that be nice!
But those people are always busy. There's seldom a spare moment when they can sit back and relax. People line up to talk to them –– to push an agenda –– to get a decision. Everyone wants something from them.
That's what happened to Pilate. The Jews were having a festival and had crowded into Jerusalem by the thousands. Pilate had beefed up security, because he never knew when a crowd might turn ugly. He had taken all the usual precautions –– but he hadn't figured on this. He hadn't figured on the Jewish leaders pressing him to kill one of their own.
But it made sense if you understood how things worked. Rome reserved the right to impose the death penalty. If Jewish leaders wanted someone executed, they had to get the Romans to do it for them.
So they brought Jesus to Pilate. They accused him of treason against Rome. But when Pilate questioned Jesus, he quickly saw that something didn't add up –– didn't make sense. He wasn't sure why the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead, but he knew that he wanted no part of it.
So he declared Jesus innocent. Then, when he learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he had his soldiers take Jesus to Herod, because Herod ruled Galilee. That's one way to get rid of a problem –– send it to someone else. But Herod quickly sent Jesus back to Pilate.
So Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent a second time, but offered to have him beaten and released. Maybe that would satisfy the crowd. But they shouted, "Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas!"
So Pilate said once again that Jesus had done nothing wrong, but offered to have him flogged to satisfy the crowd. But they shouted, "Crucify him!"
So Luke, the writer of this Gospel, tells what happened next. He says:
"So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted.
He released the man they asked for,
the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder,
and he handed Jesus over as they wished." (23:24-25).
Pilate clearly didn't want to kill Jesus, but he also didn't want a riot on his hands. Jesus was expendable. If he had to die to keep the peace, that was regrettable, but so be it!
What Pilate couldn't know is that this was the most important moment of his life ––that he would be judged throughout the rest of history for giving in to this crowd –– that he would be forever cast as a villain because of this moment –– that his very soul was hanging in the balance.
What seemed like a not-very-important thing turned out to be the only really important thing that Pilate ever did. That gives me pause. It gives me pause because it makes me wonder about my own life. I do lots of things every day –– dozens of things –– some important and some less so. I also leave lots of things undone –– we all do.
In his busyness, Pilate missed seeing the significance of the most important moment of his life. That makes me wonder about what I'm missing. Am I also letting the really important things slip through my fingers as I live day by day? Are you also letting the really important things slip through your fingers as you live day by day?
The story is told of James Boswell, who was famous as the biographer of Samuel Johnson. Boswell didn't have a particularly happy childhood, but he did have fond memories of a day when his father took him fishing. He often told friends about that day –– about the things that he had learned from his father when his father took him fishing.
One of Boswell's friends knew that Boswell's father had kept a journal, so he wondered what the father had thought of that day. He managed to get his hands on the father's journal and looked to see what the father had written. He found this sentence: "Gone fishing today with my son; a day wasted."
But it wasn't wasted, of course. It was perhaps the most important day of his son's childhood.
Some of you will know the name, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Kubler-Ross made a name for herself working with people who were dying. She brought great comfort to thousands of people in their last days, but more importantly she taught thousands of others how to give comfort to the dying. We will all die, of course, and some of us will die a bit easier because of her work.
Kubler-Ross reflected on the things that she had learned from dying people, and she passed on this bit of wisdom. She said:
"Not one of them has ever told me how many houses she had
or how many handbags or sable coats.
What they tell me of are tiny, almost insignificant moments in their lives ––
where they went fishing with a child
or mountain climbing trips in Switzerland.
Some brief moments of privacy in an interpersonal relationship.
These are the things that keep people going at the end.
They remember little moments that they have long forgotten,
and they suddenly have a smile on their faces.
And they begin to reminisce about the little joys
that made their whole lives meaningful
and worth the living."
Pilate crucified Jesus because he missed the significance of the most important moment of his life. I would like to invite you today to open your eyes to see your life in a new light. I would like to invite you to be open to recognize the really important moments of your life.
Those really important moments –– the ones that will echo through the years –– are not likely to be moments in which you buy a new car or a new house –– are not likely to be moments when you reach a sales quota or roll out a new product. They are more likely to be a moment that you spend with your son or daughter –– or a moment when you give a hand to a new person at the office –– or a moment when you take time to help a neighbor.
Those are not only the moments that you are likely to remember most fondly as you grow old. They are also the moments that will make you most proud when you look back on them from heaven. And it is those moments for which Christ is most likely to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23, KJV).
Let us take care not to miss the significance of the truly important moments of our lives.