The night of humiliation in the dark dungeon of the cellars of the High Priest s palace was past and gone, and the gray light of the dawn was streaking the east over Moab and Edom, but there was no light breaking upon the sad and desolate soul of our Blessed Saviour. When He was brought to the judgment hall, where last night He had been condemned, the sentence was quickly reaffirmed by the assembled Sanhedrin, who had unanimously determined to lead Him to the Governor so that at his command the sentence might be executed. The Parasceve of the Pasch had come, and haste was necessary that this man might be put to death and this disagreeable matter finished before the important day of the festivities.
They who had condemned our Lord had rested well during the night; their sleep had been all the more sound and refreshing, because "this malefactor," who had so long eluded their grasp, was at last safely locked within the dungeons of the High Priest's palace. Little time was lost in congratulating one another upon their success, and they set to work immediately to pass the final sentence, and led Him away quickly to the Governor's palace.
The Governor, Pontius Pilate, had come up from Caesarea Philippi to be present in the city during the Passover, not out of any reverence for the Jewish rites, but to be on hand to control the vast multitude, which at that time thronged to the festival, and to prevent, by force if necessary, anything in the nature of disorder or tumult. An uprising of the discontented Jews at this season would make short shrift of Pilate's influence in the Imperial City, and would undoubtedly lead to his removal from office.
The Governor with his wife was probably stopping at Herod's truly royal palace, a little northwest of the Fortress Atitonia, which itself was just north of the Temple. Early in the morning a messenger had brought the news to the Governor that the Priests and the Ancients of the people would bring a prisoner before him for judgment; possibly he had heard of the excitement, the capture of the Galilean prophet had caused during the night, and was somewhat prepared for the approach of the authorities with their victim.
Informed of the presence of the Priests and their Prisoner, the Governor invited them into the portals of the palace, so that he might hear the case and pass sentence. But no Jew, much less a Priest, would enter the portals of a Gentile home, especially on the eve of a great festival. "And they went not into the hall, that they might not be defiled, but that they might eat the Pasch." They had no scruple about taking the life of an innocent man; that to them, blinded by hatred and envy, was of little importance compared with the legal defilement incurred by entering the Gentile palace.
It was about seven o clock or earlier, when the Governor went out to hear the charges of the Priests against our Blessed Saviour. A strange scene indeed it was, upon which Pilate looked down as he faced the throng in the open square below. Anger and hatred toward their prisoner were stamped upon the countenances of the accusers. The mob increasing every moment, though not so determined apparently, was evidently swerving in sympathy toward the hatred of their Priests and leaders. But what must have impressed the haughty Roman most was the pitiable appearance of their victim. Our Lord's soul had been stirred by the tenderest emotions at the Last Supper, the evening before, and in the Garden He had struggled last night in His agony even to the sweating of blood, so that under the strain He would have died, had not the Father sent an angel to comfort and support Him. He had been rudely dragged from the Garden to Annas, and from Annas to Caiaphas.
The long dark hours of the night had been passed in the dungeons of the High Priest's palace, where He had been the plaything of the rough guards, who had amused themselves by heaping upon their inoffensive victim every indignity. At early dawn, without food or refreshment, He had been again dragged across the city to the Governor's Palace, where He now stood awaiting sentence. What an object of pity our Lord, with His garments torn, His hair dishevelled, His face soiled, His hands bound, must have presented to the eyes of the proud Roman as they fell upon this object of Jewish fear and hate!
Pilate, anxious to expedite the case, and get rid of the disagreeable business, for it was the eve of the festival day, and many duties claimed his attention, went at once to the heart of the difficulty. He asked them:
"What accusation bring you against this man?"
The question was unexpected, and took the Priests by surprise.
They were humiliated by this query, for they had probably sent word that the prisoner was already condemned, and now Pilate was opening up the whole question again; and so, in an irritated tone, they replied:
"If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him to thee."
But the Governor had no intention, at least at this stage of the proceedings, of becoming a public executioner, at the whim of an envious priesthood, so he said to them:
"Take Him you, and judge Him according to your law."
The Jews declined to accept this offer to judge Him before their own tribunal, as they had no power to pronounce a capital sentence. They were further put to it to trump up a charge to which was due the penalty of death. Saint Luke has explicitly given us this charge: "And they began to accuse Him, saying: 'We have found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying He is Christ, the King.'"
When the Governor heard this, he went into the Judgment Hall, and ordered our Lord to be brought to him. It was a strange scene indeed, the Governor appointed by the power of Imperial Rome, summoning to his presence, for judgment, the Eternal Son of God, who was one day to judge the living and the dead. Pilate, sat down in his gilded, marble chair of justice in all the robes of office, and our Lord, as far as Pilate knew, was a poor miserable outcast, hunted to death by His own people, because of His foolish pretension to royalty.
Our Blessed Saviour soon made it clear that that He ambitioned no earthly crown and desired to wield no royal sceptre; no purple garments of earthly kingship were to replace the seamless robe upon Him, which Mary so long ago had woven at Nazareth, with deft and loving fingers. The Kingdom He wished to establish was not one of this world, but of the next. His Kingdom was a spiritual one. Impressed by the patience and meekness of our Lord under suffering, and by His more than human bearing and demeanor, the Governor was satisfied that the charges of the Priests and Ancients of the people were false and that there was no question here of a political offense, or of a crime against the State or the authority of Rome. He went forth again and said to the Chief Priests and the multitude: "I find no cause in Him."
This answer aroused and stirred up anew the anger and fears of His enemies. And now backed by the multitude, whose support they had pleaded for during Pilate's absence in interrogating our Lord, they became bolder and more insistent in their demands. In the midst of the wild uproar of anger and hatred, our Lord remained quiet and silent; the storm raged wildly and furiously about Him, but He enjoyed unalterable peace, though His body was racked with pain, and His soul smarted with humiliation and shame. For the Gospel tells us: "When He was accused by the Chief Priests and Ancients He answered nothing." Pilate asked Him saying:
"Answerest Thou nothing? Dost Thou not hear how great testimonies they allege against Thee?"
"And He answered him never a word, so that the Governor wondered exceedingly."
How eloquent His silence, a thousand times more eloquent than any word of self-defense, as He looked out meekly and with pity upon that furious mob, thirsting for His blood, too blind to be influenced by any words of His. He held His peace and wept for them in spirit as His eyes had wept for them only last Sunday on Mount Olivet, when they greeted Him with glad Hosannas, so soon to be changed to curses. Why should He speak? They would not listen. And if they did, then His word would only have lent force to their wild cries for His blood.
Pilate was more touched and impressed by His silence than by any rebuttal of charges which he had already admitted to be false. There was nothing that our Lord could say to win their love that He had not said already. Had they thought, they could have remembered His words of tenderness and yearning for their souls. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest those that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children as a hen doth gather her chickens, and thou wouldst not!" Deep down in His soul, He was saying with Isaias, though His lips moved not, "And now, ye in habitants of Jerusalem, and ye men of Judea, judge between Me and My vineyard. What is there that I ought to do to My vineyard that I have not done?" There was one thing more: He could die; and He was now on His way to that supreme sacrifice of love.
How sadly we need the lesson of that eloquent silence taught by our suffering Saviour! How ready we are to defend ourselves! How quick to resent the slightest word that reflects upon our motives or our actions! How keenly sensitive to the smallest criticism, even when provoked and just! How far we are from the prayerful silence of our Lord, and the scene we have been contemplating! Excuses are readily found or are invented to justify our speaking, deluding ourselves that we cannot possibly be speaking for self-defense, but for the spiritual good of the offender or for the protection of others from similar pain. Such excuses are the sheerest delusions of self-love, and illusions of wounded pride and an indulgence of sentiments and feelings of resentment and vindictiveness. In most cases a moderate degree of self-conquest and an infinitesimal grain of mortification of which there is so little in our lives would induce us to keep at least a patient silence.
If in our daily lives we would, under the silent flickering of the sanctuary lamp, recall this scene where our Lord held His peace, when self-defense was so justifiable, as it was before Pilate; if sympathy for our silent suffering Lord would grow from day to day in our souls, we would not only be silent through a spirit of mortification, but because our souls are eager and our hearts are warm to be like Him who held His peace while the Priests, Ancients and people, in their hatred, uttered their falsehoods against Him.
- from , by Father John O'Rourke