Behold the Man (Ecce Homo)
The words of Pilate to the crowd as he has Jesus led out to stand before them are as poignant today as they were then, they can also, though be taken as a reflection upon the Jewish crowds who just a few days earlier had lined Jesus route into Jerusalem. Both of these events are relived in our church year during the lifespan of this edition of The Pioneer. For us these events are a chance to remember, to remember the events of Jesus joyful entry into Jerusalem, which marks the start of Holy Week and leads us by prayer and contemplation to the foot of the Cross and then on to the Garden of Gethsemane at the Easter Vigil.
What did they go hoping to see, firstly as he rode into the city and secondly when they had turned on him? What is it that we really should be focusing on? Well the truth is that they went the first time for a great many reasons, some would have gone out of curiosity just to see what Jesus looked like; after all stories about him had been circulating and growing for the best part of three years. He had become something of a legend as a healer and preacher, so perhaps they hoped to see him perform a miracle; maybe some in the crowd hoped he would cure them. Some would have joined the throng just because their friends were going and they had nothing better to do than join in.
Others went because they believed he was the Messiah, not the Son of God, but the great leader who was about to raise an army and restore Israel to its people, free from the hated Roman oppressors. Still others went precisely because they did think he was the Son of God and offered the way to eternal salvation and yet more went because he frightened them and challenged their grip on power.
All these reasons and many more brought people out onto the streets to witness this son of a carpenter and his group of friends and followers enter into Jerusalem, he riding on a donkey (or ass)
that had never been ridden before and they walking along with him. None of them though knew the truth of what was about to unfold; only Jesus knew what the Father’s plan was to be. He had tried to tell them but they would not listen, he had tried to show them but they would not, could not see what had to be.
In our somewhat more ordered procession we miss out on the pushing and shoving that the crowd would have experienced, we miss out on the adrenalin rush that they would have felt and the rising excitement as he drew closer to wherever they were and then passed by; the crowd then closing in behind him and following along. To the Romans, as long as he did not start a riot, he was just another self-proclaimed Jewish prophet and they were two a penny in Jerusalem at that time, especially when a major feast such as the feast of the Passover drew near.
For Pontius Pilate, Jesus at that time was probably little more than a brief topic of conversation at the evening feast, someone to be aware of, and to keep an eye on but since he was not promoting attacks on Rome or its soldiers, Jesus was essentially a Jewish problem. Just another of the many that he would have expected the Temple authorities to deal with, as they had always done before, indeed as they always demanded the right to deal with as they saw fit according to their laws. Thus, from Pilate’s point of view Roman involvement in such a domestic matter was to be avoided if at all possible as it only stirred up unrest and further hatred against the relatively small group of soldiers he had at his immediate disposal.
The Scribe’s and Pharisee’s with the Temple elders however, already saw a threat to them and to their corrupt way of life; they were already plotting to get rid of Jesus, even before he got to Jerusalem. For them his presence in the city threatened not only their futures, but also the fragile peace they had with Rome. A peace that kept them in power with a very good source of income, no the last thing they wanted was more soldiers arriving to put down a rebellion.
That would be very bad for business and for their relations with the Roman Governor, in all probability it would see them forcibly removed from office so that more compliant (to Rome) leaders could be put in their place.
Jerusalem in the week leading to the feast of the Passover would have been packed to the very seams with people from all walks of life, all of them coming in obedience to the Mosaic law that required them to be at the Temple and many of whom would have needed only the very flimsiest of reasons to become violent. After all, they were coming to remember and give thanks to God for the way that he had delivered them from their Egyptian bondage and now before their eyes were the new oppressors.
The Jews wanted a figure head to lead a rebellion, they wanted someone to show them the power of their God by performing a great miracle that would once more free them from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. This was what they believed Jesus was going to do for them, when they first went to see him. When instead he challenged their corruption and threatened the rich and powerful they roused the people against him and so on that second occasion they went to see him punished as a fraud and an impostor. They felt betrayed and let down by their God and so it was not hard for the Temple authorities to stir up the crowd against him.
In many respects what unfolds, during that first Holy Week, mirrors the story of the Jews throughout the Old Testament, wherein they embrace and then reject God. However, whereas after a suitable time in the wilderness or captivity they are welcomed back with a fresh covenant, this time they are not for the new covenant is given not to them but to us. They are blinded by all those things that they have allowed to creep into their lives and observances and cannot therefore see the truth when it passes in front of them. Unlike the veil of the Temple, which is soon to be split in two they keep the veil in front of their faces as Moses did in his time.
It takes courage and faith to see the truth sometimes, especially when to do so will cause pain and suffering either to us or to those around
us. Just as those in the crowd who went to see Jesus, went with their own expectations or apprehensions so we too try to fit what we see into our own viewpoint, to make it fit our needs and not God’s plan. If we are honest with ourselves and reflect for a moment or two, how often have we thought if only ‘X’ would see it from my point of view or have we done what we wanted to do rather than seeing the bigger picture and doing what needs to be done.
If we then are to see the truth of what God was doing through Jesus we need to see beyond our present time, we need to see, in part the things that the crowd saw and understand why they saw what they did. We need to draw on our knowledge of the events, not just of that day but also of everything that had taken place before the crucifixion and indeed, what would follow it. From the first miracle at Cana in Galilee all the way to the Cross and beyond, to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is our knowledge of all of those events that affords us the opportunity to truly see what God is doing as he prepares a path for us by which we also may be saved if we place our trust in him.
However, as in all things, there is a problem and that problem is us. Sometimes the best way to see something is not with our eyes wide open, but closed and free from other distractions, so that we can reflect in our minds and see more clearly the path God has prepared for us. In times past I might have used the phrase ‘the minds eye’ and although such a notion is now proven false by medical advances it is still a good phrase to express what I hope you will take the opportunity to do this Holy Week.
From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday at services, or at home each day spend a little time just seeing in your mind the events that are unfolding and ask yourself how those events should, could and do affect your understanding of the Gospels and how they then influence you as a Christian in your dealings with those around you.
God Bless you and may you have a very holy Easter.