The First Charge Before Pilate

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Governor's hall. And it was morning, and they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the Pasch. Pilate therefore went out to meet them, and said: "What accusation bring you against this man?" They answered and said to him: "If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up to thee." - John 18:28-30

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1. Here begins another of those dreadful processions, this time in broad daylight, right across the city, at an hour when the streets are busiest. A victim-priest of the revolution in Portugal once told me that of all the sufferings they had to undergo, and all were very terrible, none was so hard as the processions from time to time, to which they were submitted, through the streets of the city, with its hooting mob, made up of their own fellow citizens, for whom they had given all their labour. At the gate of the Roman Governor's palace the procession stopped. The leaders would not enter. The formalities of their religion forbade it, and formalities were with them much more important than the Ten Commandments. So is the tendency in the East. So long as one observes the rites one is a good, religious man; sin is at worst only an uncleanness, which a rite duly observed can remove, which a rite at times can even sanction. But is this tendency only Eastern? Do we of the West never sacrifice truth for convention, for rite?

2. Pilate had to humour these Eastern fanatics. No doubt that was the policy of the Western government then, as it is more or less today. He must listen to them; as far as possible he must let them have their own way; it is enough if in the end the iron hand of law prevails. So, like a judge in a modern Eastern court, he asks them; not that he may hear the charge, but that he may discover what lies underneath. He knows they will not tell the truth; he knows the real motive will be hidden at the first; they will begin with what they think will appeal to him as a Roman, as a judge, as a guardian of the peace; the rest will come later.

3. And he is not mistaken. "What accusation bring you against this man?" he asks Their answer is obviously no answer. They dare not yet say: "He declares Himself to be the Son of God." That would, as yet, mean nothing to Pilate. They dare not even accuse Him outright of being a malefactor; they know that an investigation, on strict Roman lines, would prove their charge untrue. So once more, as the cowardly world will always do, it formulates its charge as an assumption. "If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up to thee." Here, then, is the first charge; how unlike anything we have yet heard! "Which of you shall accuse Me of sin?" He had once asked them; and they could answer nothing. "Because of Thy good works we blame Thee not," they had confessed another time. "He hath done all things well," had cried the people on another occasion. If I have done evil, give testimony of the evil," He had said before Annas. And now, this! "If He were not a malefactor!"


1. Watch the dragging of Our Lord through the city. Watch the formalism of the priests before Pilate.

2. Watch the attitude of Pilate, heartless, contemptuous, politic.

3. The first charge: Our Lord is assumed to be a malefactor.

- from The Crown of Sorrow, by Archbishop Alban Goodier