Pilate and Herod

Pilate, unscrupulous as he was, could not, at this stage of the tragedy, be induced to condemn our Lord in spite of the clamors of the Jews. He knew full well that He was no criminal, no rebel, but a victim of jealousy and malice. Innocence and sinlessness, perceptible even to the spiritually blind eyes of the Roman Governor, were stamped upon that sacred countenance. No cries of envy, no clamors for blood, re-echoing in a perfect hail-storm of accusation through the Praetorium and in the ears of the Governor, could force his hand to this unjust deed of cruelty and death.

Pilate was tired of the wrangling, and weary of the evidently trumped-up unrighteous proceedings. He fain would have dismissed the charges, but he feared the Priests. They might arouse the fickle mob, and possibly could excite a tumult among the people. In that event, the tide of popularity would set against him in Imperial Rome, and the sun of his little day of glory in the East would move rapidly to a setting.

Suddenly among the wild, confused cries, which broke out like strong waves beating against a cliff, the Governor heard the word, "Galilee." His brow knitted in thought for a moment, and then the wrinkles smoothed out, and an expression of relief settled upon the troubled face, as he heard the Jews yelling in angry cries: "He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place." But Pilate, hearing of Galilee, asked if the man were a Galilean. "And when he understood that He was of Herod's jurisdiction, he sent Him away to Herod, who also was himself in Jerusalem in those days."

These words brought a calm to the disturbed soul of Pilate. They contained a solution to the problem he had all morning been vainly trying to solve; and the riddle, which so far had baffled his crafty, skillful ingenuity, was at last unravelled. He would send the prisoner to Herod. He could thus shirk the guilt of a judicial murder by placing the responsibility upon the shoulders of the Galilean ruler. It would sit lightly upon Herod's conscience already seared deep with what seemed, even to the pagan Governor, greater and more wicked crimes.

This weak course of action was the more acceptable to Pilate, as he would thus, by acknowledging the Tetrarch's jurisdiction, be able to patch up an old feud between them. Never was man more deceived than Pilate when he imagined that, by shirking his duty, he could succeed in warding off the condemnation of death of a man whom he knew and had declared to be innocent. Shirking duty, and shifting responsibility to others, cowardly shrinking from what ought to be done, never yet led to aught but failure, guilt and crime. The spiritual fibre of brave souls is made up of the courage to face difficulties and the determination to overcome obstacles and, cost what it may, to do what conscience dictates and duty commands.

A little over a mile north of the Praetorium was the palace of Herod. Here the wicked monarch was spending the days of the Passover, having come up from Galilee accompanied most likely by Herodias, his brother's wife and her daughter, Salome. This woman's hatred of the Baptist and her daughter's sensuous dance had, less than a year ago, brought the king to condemn to death our Lord's beloved Precursor.

"He sent Him away to Herod." Little did Pilate dream as he watched the procession melt away to the north that morning and with a sigh of relief turned to other duties, that in less than two hours he would be once more face to face with his Prisoner, and, on account of this journey, he would then be less equal to do his duty and less able to free from the death penalty an innocent man, whom the Priests and Pharisees were determined to crucify before the set of sun.

Probably the Governor had paid Herod the compliment of sending a messenger to announce the coming of our Blessed Saviour, one of the king's subjects accused of crime by the Priests and rulers of the nation. This courtesy of Pilate and the news of the approach of our Lord were grateful tidings to the wicked Tetrarch. Holy Writ tells us: "And Herod seeing Jesus was very glad; for he was desirous for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things of Him; and he hoped to see some signs wrought by Him." No doubt the king in his palace at Tiberias by the Lake had often heard of the wonders which our Lord had wrought in his dominions. Galilee had witnessed our Blessed Saviour's wonderful miracles, and the acts of tenderness and love, which for three years had drawn to Him the hearts of the simple people. Doubtless the lazy sensual monarch, lolling on the porches of his Galilean palace, overlooking the waters of Genesareth, had listened incredulously to the tales of the marvels wrought in the hills. Still these strange narratives had served to vary and relieve the dull monotony which must at times have weighed upon him. Naturally his coarse, vulgar curiosity had often been excited, and so he is pleased not only with the marked and flattering attentions of Pilate in sending the Prisoner, but also with the opportunity of testing by personal observation the skill of this magician at His tricks which had deceived so many of his credulous subjects.

The scene is not difficult to picture. The king, clothed in royal purple, was seated in state upon his throne; Herodias with her daughter was arrayed in garments of brilliant color and dye, woven from the richest cloth with eastern skill and fashioning. The court flatterers stood around gazing with admiring glances upon the sensual monarch, whose soul was dyed deeper by sin and guilt than his garments were by oriental pigments.

At length the doors were flung open and our Blessed Saviour, surrounded and followed by His enemies who crowded into the large hall, was led into the royal presence. Garbed in the blood-dyed robe which His Mother had woven for Him long ago in the silent prayerful home at Nazareth, He stood silently in the great hall. All eyes were riveted upon Him. His sacred hands are tied behind His back, His head covered with a wealth of disheveled hair is slightly bent, and His dark eyes, so like His Mother's, are fixed upon the ground, as if He were, as He was in fact, absorbed in prayer and union with His Father.

"Herod seeing Jesus was very glad." This foul, sensual creature, whose jaded appetite needed the stimulation of novelty, rejoices at seeing our Blessed Saviour. His palace in Galilee had often been the resort of jugglers, actors, dancers and the like, and he had often wished that he could entice the Wonder-worker of Galilee from the hills into his presence for his entertainment and pleasure. Now his wish had been unexpectedly granted and luck had come his way. It never occurred to the guilty murderer of the Baptist that our Blessed Saviour was the warm friend of John. He never dreamed that, when John had reddened with his blood the marble pavement of the dungeons of Machserus, his death was his last and most eloquent testimony to the Man who stood silent and mute before him.

We cannot conceive how painful it must have been to our Lord to have been ushered into the presence of those partners in guilt, whom the Baptist had rebuked at the cost of his life. The hands of that guilty pair were red with the blood of the friend of the Bridegroom, who had so gladly decreased that his Master might increase. Yet silently and for love of us, He endured the indignity and the humiliation of the curious scrutiny from the eyes of that degenerate couple.

"He questioned Him in many words." Herod tried, perhaps by flattery, to enter into conversation with our Lord. Possibly he told Him how pleased he was that a man so distinguished for remarkable deeds should belong to his jurisdiction. It was an honor to the province of Galilee that one so well known should claim it as His native country. He may have assured his Prisoner of his willingness to help Him in any way in his power. Then accentuating the fact that he had already heard much of His marvelous skill and His miracles, he insinuated that he was quite ready to witness any display of power our Lord desired to manifest. He promised Him his protection; and insisted that He need have nothing to fear from the enemies who stood about accusing Him. Herod then fell back upon the couch of soft cushions and awaited in silence some answer from his Prisoner and some display of His skill in magic.

"But He answered him nothing."

Once more the King tried to persuade our Lord to satisfy his vulgar curiosity. He may have asked Him if He was the one at whose birth the Kings had come from the distant East at the beckoning of a star; he remembered hearing of that event from his aged father, who was much troubled at the time. He probably reminded our Lord that He was his Prisoner and in his power, and that His life or death was in his keeping, so it would be well for Him to comply with his request. He asked Him to display some of that strange ability which He had so often manifested among the hills of Galilee and along the Lake. Surely He would not be unwilling to do for His king, what he had so often done for his subjects, the common people in the up-country. Again he flung himself upon his couch and calling for some rich oriental wine refreshed himself while awaiting a reply. "But Jesus answered him nothing."

"But the chief priests and the Scribes stood by earnestly accusing Him." While Herod plied our Lord with questions, His enemies were filled with fear lest He should find favor with the monarch. They listened in sullen silence, not daring to interrupt the king, but when they saw that the Prisoner would not answer and that the humiliated monarch was stung to anger by our Lord's failure to reply or even notice the proud, sensual ruler, then they were encouraged and "stood by accusing Him."

We may be sure that they left no stone unturned, no effort neglected, that could help toward their victim's undoing, and the success of their murderous design. They will emphasize our Lord's ambitions, which have already been laid before Pilate. This man is a friend of the Baptist, who has already justly paid the price of his crime by the sentence meted out to him by the royal mandate. Yet this man here had, while the Baptist was in prison, praised John before the whole people saying that the man whom his Majesty had condemned was greater than a prophet and that greater had not been born of woman.

"And Herod with his army set Him at naught: putting on Him a white garment, and sent Him back to Pilate." When interrogated by the High Priests our Lord answered concerning Himself and His doctrine; when questioned by Pilate, He responded that His Kingdom was not of this world; but from the moment he appeared before Herod, He had not opened His mouth and was dumb. Our Blessed Saviour would not cast pearls before swine, and Herod's soul was in no condition for the saving words of the Divine Master. The foul king's mind was too darkened by sin, his soul too degraded by corruption, his will too weak by brutish self-indulgence to derive the least profit from any lessons the words of our Lord would have taught. So to the questioning, prompted by vain, vulgar curiosity, "He answered him nothing."

When Herod realized that no word of response could be drawn from his Prisoner, he pretended to despise Him as a weak impotent creature, clearly deceiving the simple people by magic, yet not knowing enough to plead His own cause or to take advantage of the opportunity of escaping from the hands of His enemies. So amid the scoffing and ridicule of the guard, the Priests and Pharisees, he clothed Him in the white garment of a fool and sent Him back to Pilate. Once more, as an innocent, harmless idiot, He would return to the Roman Governor. The king of Galilee, while grateful to Pilate for acknowledging his jurisdiction, did not care to waste his time looking into the case of a foolish simpleton. He had more important matters to occupy his attention during the very busy week of the Passover in the Sacred City. The mutual compliments and the reciprocal courtesies of the Governor and King had patched up a friendship between them, "for before they were enemies, one to another."

Silently and prayerfully, surrounded by the hooting and mocking rabble, our Blessed Saviour made His way back to Pilate. The public streets were thronged with curious sight-seers and with vast throngs going to and from the Sacred Temple. From lip to lip the account went of the sport the people were having with the poor idiot who, like a play-thing, was sent from the Governor to the Galilean king and back again.

What a lesson for us amid the little rebuffs and trifling humiliations which we encounter and which we find so hard to put up with! How keenly we feel a slight and how bitterly it is resented and how long remembered! How it rankles in our soul, giving birth to unkind judgments, hard words, at times even to uncharitable deeds! How easy all would become, how sweet even, if we would keep this picture, upon which we have been meditating, before our minds, and often dwell upon it in our prayers and Holy Communions! If we could impress this scene of the humiliation and indignity meted out to our Lord upon our hearts, then earthly honors, earthly glory, would little by little grow distasteful to us and we would long to be clothed like the Master, who for our love was clothed with the white garment of a fool; to be clothed with His vesture of love, which to the world is folly, but to God, the highest wisdom.

- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke