What Pilate Said One Night


It suddenly closed in on me Gaius the impact of how trapped I was,  the proud arm of Rome with all its boast of justice was to be a dirty dagger in the pudgy hands of the priests.

I was waiting in the room for him, Gaius, in the room I used for court. Officially throned with cloak and garb, when they let him in. Well, Gaius, don’t smile at this, as you value your jaw. But I had no peace since the day that he walked into my judgment hall, it has been years, Gaius, but these scenes I read from the back of my eyelids every night.

You’ve seen Caesar, when he was young, inspect the legion. His arrogant manner was childlike compared to the manner of this Nazarene. He didn’t have to strut, you see, he walked towards my throne, arms bound with a strident mastery and control that by its very audacity silenced the room for an instant, and left me trembling and with an insane desire to stand up and salute. The clerk began reading the absurd list of charges, the priestly delegation punctuating these with the palm-rubbings, the beard-strokings, the eye rollings, and the pious gutturals I have learned to ignore.

But I more felt it, Gaius, than heard it; I questioned him mechanically. He answered very little, but what he said and the way he said it, it was as if his level gaze had pulled my naked soul right up to my eyes and was probing it there, and the voice kept saying into my ears “Why, you’re on trial here, Pilate,” and that the man wasn’t even listening to the charges. You’d have sworn he just came in out of friendly interest, just to see what was going to happen to me.

And the very pressure of his standing there had grown unbearable, Gaius, when a slave rushed in all atremble, interrupting court, bringing a message from my wife Claudia, that she had stabbed with her stylus in that childish way that she does when she ‘s distraught. “Don’t judge this amazing man, Pilate,” she wrote, “I was haunted in dreams by him this night.” Gaius, I tried to free him, from that moment on I tried, and I’ll always think he knew it. I declared him to be out of my jurisdiction, being a Galilean, but the native King Herod discovered he’d been born in Judea, and sent him right back to me.

I then appealed to the crowd that had gathered in the streets, hoping they were be his sympathizers, but Caiaphas had sent agitators to whip up the beasts that cried for blood. And you know how any citizen here loves just after breakfast to cry for another’s blood. I had him beaten, Gaius, a thorough barracks beating, I’m still really not sure why. To appease the crowd, I guess, but do we Romans really need a reason for beatings? That’s the code, isn’t it, for anything we don’t understand. Gaius, it didn’t work, the crowd roared like some slathering beast when I brought him back.

If you could only have watched him, Gaius, they had thrown some rags of mock purple over his pulped and bleeding shoulders. They had jammed a crown of thorns down on his forehead, and it fitted. Gaius, it all fitted. He stood there, watching them from my balcony, feigned from weakness, but royal, I tell you, not just pain but pity shining from his eyes, and I kept thinking “this is somehow all monstrous, upside down.” That purple Israel, that crown Israel, and somehow these animal noises the crowd was shrieking somehow should be praise.

Then Caiaphas played his master stroke on me: he announced there in public, that this Jesus claimed a crown and that this was treason to Caesar. And the guards began to glance at one another quickly, and that mob of spineless filth began to shout out “Hail Caesar! Hail Caesar!” and I knew right then that I was beaten, and that’s when I gave the order.

Gaius, I couldn’t look at him, then I did a childish thing. I called for water, and there on the balcony I washed my hands of that whole affair. As they led him away, I did look up, and as they led him away, he turned and looked at me: no smile, no pity, and he glanced at my hands, and I feel the weight of his eyes on them from now on.

But you’re yawning, Gaius, I’ve kept you up, and the fact of the matter is you’re in need of some rest and some holidays. Claudia will be asleep right now, rows of lighted lamps line her couch, she can’t sleep in the dark anymore, not since that afternoon. You see Gaius, the sun went down when my guards executed him; yes that’s right, that’s what I said. I don’t know how or what, I only know that I was there, and though it was the middle of the day, it turned as black as the tunnels of hell in that miserable city. When I tried to compose Claudia, and explain to her how I’d been trapped, and she railed at me with her dream. She’s had that dream ever since, and she sleeps in the dark, some form of it. But there was to be a new Caesar, but I’ve killed him.

We’ve been to Egypt to the seers and magicians, we’ve listened for hours to the oracles of the musty temples of Greece, chattering their inanities. We’ve called it an oriental curse that we’re under and we’ve tried to break it a thousand ways, but there’s no breaking it. But you know why I keep going, Gaius?  Deeper than the curse is the haunting, driving certainty that’s he’s still somewhere, that I’ve got unfinished business with him, that now and then as I walk by the lake, that he’s following me, and much as that strikes terror, I wonder if that isn’t the only hope.

You see, Gaius, if I could walk up to him and this time salute, and tell him that I know now, whoever he is, that he was the only man worth the name in all of Judea that day. Tell him how I know I wasn’t trapped, but that I trapped myself, tell him here’s one Roman who really wishes he were a Caesar, I believe that would do it, don’t you think so? I believe he’d know I’d listened and know that I meant it. And at last I’d see him smile.

Yes, its quiet tonight Gaius, isn’t it. But a breeze is stirring by the lake. Good night, you’d better run along.  No, no. I think will you waken the slave outside my door, and tell him to bring me my cloak, my heavy one please. I’ll walk by the lake, I know it’s dark out there, Gaius, but I know I won’t be alone, I guess I never really have been alone.  Yes, good night, Gaius.

From 20th Century Pulpit, – compilation of sermons, Fredrick Speakman.

As heard from message “Uniqueness of Christ in History (http://rzim.christianbook.com/the-uniqueness-of-christ-in-history/9781612561950/pd/1282BD?event=EBRN)

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