Holy Wednesday, April 17
Jesus Is Sentenced To Death
“Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged now and release him.’
“Then they all shouted out together, ‘Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!’ (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’ A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’ But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”
Chants matter, and one that has especially inspired me is the vernacular chant that claims: “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, cause the power of the people don’t stop!” Throughout the ages, chants have helped unify groups for purposes as diverse as sacred spiritual rituals to raucous sporting events. Perhaps nowhere more than on the streets of Washington, D.C., chants are constantly used to encourage a common vision, overcome divisions, and even reinforce hope for transformation and justice.
Yet unfortunately, as Luke sadly demonstrates, a chant – and the type of power and unity among people it can produce – does not always result in a positive outcome. Uniquely among the four gospels, Luke takes care to emphasize that Pilate
didn’t only encounter resistances against Jesus from the chief priests and leaders. In Luke 23:13, we see Pilate also called together, and was provoked to respond to, the chants of “the people” when deciding what to do with Jesus. Matthew 27 had said it was the “chief priests and elders” who plotted against Jesus. Mark 15 designates it was “the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin” who concocted plans to turn Jesus over to Pilate. In John 18, it was soldiers and high officials who took Jesus to the high priest Caiaphas, and then led him to Pilate.
But in Luke, even though Pilate publicly proclaimed Jesus was innocent and said “nothing deserving death has been done by him” (v. 15), the “power of the people” that didn’t stop careened into criticism and condemnation that called for the release of a criminal while pushing Jesus towards crucifixion on a cross. To be sure, Jesus was not censured only by “the people” –since he was viewed as a threat and castigated by religious and political rulers, too. And to recognize the “power of the people” in sentencing Jesus in this passage should never lead us to anti-Semitism or to fixate blame on “which” people were responsible then.
Rather, Luke’s highlight on the role that “the people” played in the story invites us to imagine ourselves in the middle of the chanting crowd, too. We can ask: How do we (inadvertently or intentionally) push back against the presence of God before our eyes? How might we be allowing “the crowd” to rile us up against supporting the work and ways of Jesus’ love? How are our fears or need to control contributing toward the condemnation of Christ today? And instead of calling to “Crucify him!” – how might we gather our power as people to persevere without stopping in order to fulfill the purposes of his ministry as Jesus had announced them in the temple in Luke 4:18? Let’s chant and be unified in these commitments to keep Jesus alive: “Preach good news!” “Release the captives!” “Let the oppressed go free!”
Prayer: Holy God, during this Lenten season, remind us not to lose heart or turn our eyes off of you and your mission. May your determination to follow that mission to the cross be our determination as well, chanting ever as we go, “the power of the people don’t stop.” Amen.