If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being accused of something I didn’t do. It rankles deeply. I want to jump to my own defense and clear my name and reputation. But if I’m honest with myself, I also recognize that some of that defensiveness comes from the need to cover up all the other unnoticed deeds for which I could be justly condemned.
Not so with Jesus. The chief priests and elders have found him guilty of blasphemy, the end which had been decided before the interrogation began. Having no authority to stone Jesus to death, they dragged Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, wanting to convince him that this Galilean peasant was a danger to the empire:
Jesus was brought before the governor. The governor said, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “That’s what you say.” But he didn’t answer when the chief priests and elders accused him. Then Pilate said, “Don’t you hear the testimony they bring against you?” But he didn’t answer, not even a single word. So the governor was greatly amazed. (Matt 27:11-14, CEB)
Pilate was no political naif. He could see through the sham; these Jewish leaders had their own selfish reasons why they wanted Jesus out of the way, and wanted him to do their dirty work. Still, he would have expected an innocent man to defend his innocence, to refute the charges brought against him, especially when a death sentence was on the line.
As discussed in the previous post, Jesus was under no compulsion to respond to questions that served no good purpose. Following that same line, I can only imagine that when Matthew tells us that Jesus didn’t answer a single word against his accusers, this was not because he was too distressed and anxious to speak. What amazed Pilate, what Pilate had never seen before, was that an innocent man could face such a harangue–and ultimately his death–with such composure, instead of pleading desperately for his life.
Pilate does not for a moment believe that Jesus is a king–at least any kind of king that would make sense to him. But he is the one who by imperial authority holds the power of life and death in his hands, and must make a decision. The chief priests think they have the power, by stealth and manipulation, to railroad Pilate into doing their will.
And in the midst of this chess match stands Jesus, whose calm demeanor radiates a different kind of power. Pilate can’t put his finger on it. But he notices it, and he is amazed.
In most ordinary situations, I don’t know that there would be anything particularly immoral about defending myself if wrongly accused. But I still might want to ask myself: what is it I fear? What power am I railing against? And in what power might I find the quiet confidence of Jesus instead?