The First Sentence of Pilate

Then Pilate, calling together the chief priests and the magistrates and the people, said to them: "You have brought this man to me as one that perverteth the people; and behold I, having examined Him before you, find no cause in this man touching those things wherein you accuse Him. No, nor yet Herod, for I sent you to him, and behold, nothing worthy of death is done to Him. I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him." - Luke 23:14-16

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1. This scene closes another chapter in the story of the Passion. We know the last step in serious temptation. We would have the gratification, but we would not have the responsibility which it entails. We protest we do not want the sin; we only want the satisfaction; and we try to persuade ourselves in consequence that we shall not be guilty. So here. The Jews have shirked the responsibility of murdering Our Lord; Herod has shirked it; now Pilate makes a last attempt to do the same before the final plunge. Later, it is true, he makes other attempts; but here he accepts the responsibility of the last word. Therefore, he makes it as formal as possible; as throughout the rest of the Passion, he seems to say, "If I am guilty, others shall be guilty with me"; and it is only at the end, when the Jews have agreed to share the full responsibility with himself, that he finally gives way. This, again, is another of the characteristics of grievous sin; it seems to find some covering for its malice in making and finding others as bad as itself.

2. But the worst of all is the sentence: "Therefore." Because the two chief courts in Jerusalem have found this man not guilty, therefore I will chastise Him. Because He is evidently something above us all, commanding us all even as He stands in bonds, therefore I will chastise Him. Because He has spoken to me of the truth, has roused in me deeper thoughts, deeper reverence, than any one has ever roused before, therefore I will chastise Him. Because, if I would allow Him, He would teach me things that would alter all my life, therefore I will chastise Him. Because these people envy Him in other words, acknowledge by their hate that He is something better than themselves therefore I will chastise Him. And then I will let Him go. I will still pose as His deliverer. He shall still have to say that He owes His life to me. To chastise Him is the less of two evils. How often has the same sentence been passed upon Him and His own? "He is not guilty; others envy Him; I will chastise Him therefore; I will reduce Him; and then I will let Him go."

3. The picture is pitiable; there are few sights more pitiable than a judge that is unjust through cowardice. Here judges play the weakling; the clamouring mob is at the mercy of its own contemptible passions; Herod, a disappointed and secretly embittered creature; the Victim alone the Master of them all. One feels through it all how Gethsemani is having its effect, and that He has indeed been strengthened. He is no longer, as before the prayer in the Garden, "sorrowful even unto death," a broken man, frightened and beside Himself with fear. Had He so willed it, He might have gone through the Passion in the same broken way; He might have gone on crying: "Take this chalice from Me." But no; His prayer has been heard, and the strength to endure never leaves Him.


1. The first sentence of Pilate is an attempt to distinguish between sin and its guilt.

2. The cruelty of the sentence is manifest; yet how often repeated!

3. In the whole scene, how mean do all the actors appear except One.

- from The Crown of Sorrow, by Archbishop Alban Goodier