It was Friday, the 14th of Nissan. A dark sky covered the city of David, and the continuous and bothersome rain left everything drenched: the palace steeples, the watchtowers, the small white roofs of the houses of the poor, the Temple’s marble and the narrow streets through which a stream of dirty water haltingly trickled… Jerusalem was jolted from her sleep as the cocks announced the beginning of a new but gloomy day…
A Woman: Neighbor, neighbor!… Have you heard the news? They grabbed the prophet from Galilee!
Another Woman: Who, Jesus?
Woman: Yeah! They’re holding him prisoner.
Woman: But this can’t be… How is that possible?
Woman: Well, you heard it. I tell you, neighbor, in this country everything is backwards: the good ones are put in jail and the thieves stay in the palace. C’mon, dress up fast and let’s see what’s happening…!
The news spread through the entire neighborhood…
A Man: Barabbas and Dismas were taken prisoners in a raid they had staged. Gestas, too, was arrested. And now, they say it’s Jesus, the Nazarene, whom they grabbed last night in the Mount of Olives.
Another Man: Damn, what do the Romans want? Arrest everyone?
Man: Anyway, be ready, man. Pontius Pilate will torture them to make them sing. If they do, then you know… half of the city will be locked up in the Antonia Fortress!
We, too, were out in the street….
John: Don’t despair, Mary. They’ll let the Moreno go. They’ve got no evidence against him.
Mary: Oh, John, I don’t know, but I’m scared…
James: If they harm him, he will break loose, you will see.
John: Look, James, the members of the Sanhedrin are leaving…. Come, run…
The palace gates were opened and the magistrates of the Supreme Tribunal started to leave. They exuded a conceited air with their tiaras and elegant turbans. They had complied with their mission and were now heading for the street toward the high barrio. Behind them was the high priest, Joseph Caiphas, who was walking with all solemnity, in the company of four Sanhedrinites. He went directly to the Roman fortress… Jesus, with tied hands, was taken by the guards, who made their way through the people, shouting and hitting them with sticks….
The retinue crossed the city and entered through the gate on the western side of the Temple. The women and our group followed behind, amidst pushing and shoving. We could see before us the most detested tower within whose walls the governor, Pontius Pilate, was heavily protected. The black and yellow flags of Rome were drenched by last night’s rain….
Soldier: Halt! Who are you? What do you want?
A line of armoured and stiff-looking Roman soldiers, stopped the Sanhedrinites. The high priest, Caiphas went forward to reply….
Caiphas: We must see the governor at once. It is a matter of importance.
Soldier: This way please, your excellency. And the magistrates too. But not the crowd…. Out, out, all of you!
Caiphas: They are not with us. Anyway, neither of us can go inside. Our law forbids it. It’s the eve of the Great Sabbath of the Passover. Go tell the Governor to please come out here for a short while and attend to us.
In a short while, a window facing the esplanade of the gentiles was opened, and Pontius Pilate appeared, his arms crossed over a Roman toga, and his face unshaven. There was annoyance on his lips….
Pilate: What the hell is this?… It is barely morning and there seems to be some trouble.
Caiphas: Illustrious Governor, my apologies for the early intrusion, but believe me, this is a matter of urgency.
Pilate: What is it about?
Caiphas: This man.
The soldiers shoved Jesus to the front for Pilate to get a view of him through the window…
Pilate: What’s wrong with this man?
Caiphas: He is an offender.
Pilate: And who, in this country of bandits and hookers, has no offense? Then judge him. That’s what the magistrates are paid for by the Sanhedrin!
Caiphas: Governor, we have brought him before you because this is a political matter. This Galilean has rebelled against Rome. And Rome ought to pass judgment. We cannot sign the penalty of death, the punishment he deserves.
Pilate: You cannot sign it, but the way I see it, you have already done it. This man is badly beaten. By what authority have you maltreated a political prisoner of my jurisdiction?
Caiphas: Our apologies, Governor… The prisoner was captured at the outskirts of the city, in a place called Gethsemane. He showed resistance to our guards who, logically, had to defend themselves. He was also found to be in possession of arms.
All: That’s a lie, that’s a lie! This man is innocent. Let Jesus go!
Soldier: Silence, you dogs!!
The stentorian voice of the Roman centurion and the soldiers’ threatening lances silenced us. From his window, Pontius Pilate continued talking to Caiphas at the esplanade….
Pilate: And what was this man doing in Gethsemane?
Caiphas: He and a few Galileans are conspiring against you, Governor. They belong to a group that is well organized and dangerous…. He is the leader of this group. He started making trouble in the north and now is doing the same in Judea. He is also inciting the people not to pay taxes to Rome. He ridicules the Caesar. Saying he’ll be crowned as the King of Israel.
Pilate: Very good. Centurion, let the prisoner in. I shall interrogate him.
Pontius Pilate shut the window and descended the Tiling (the Lobby) where trials and hearings were conducted. It was a small inner patio, surrounded by gray columns, where the troops were also quartered. Since it was raining, the Tiling was deserted. Beneath a stone overhang, serving as a protecting roof, the Governor had a platform and a big chair with a high back and the figure of the Roman eagle above. Pilate crossed the patio and took his seat. His hands were fidgeting with a whip he used for horse-back riding. Then he called a scribe to his side, to take the declaration of the prisoner… Two escort guards brought Jesus in and closed the gates behind him. The crowd remained outside… With tied hands and torn clothes, Jesus remained standing, under the rain, between the two soldiers, before the Governor. He looked very tired…
Pilate: State your name, family and place of origin. Did you hear? I’m asking where you’re from and what your name is…. What’s the mat¬ter, my dear friend?… Are you too scared or you have lost your tongue? This is what you are, a bunch of cowardly and boastful Jews! You talk a lot, and then when the moment of truth comes, you all tremble like a rabbit…. Speak up, I say. Did you hear all the accu¬sations against you?… C’mon, answer me!… What have you done?
Jesus: Every one in Jerusalem knows what I have done. Why don’t you ask them?
Pilate: I am asking you! The leaders of your town have delivered you to me. I can condemn you, if I want to, and I can even set you free, if I wish.
Jesus: You’re not taking away my freedom and neither are you giving it to me. You have no authority over me.
Pilate: Really?… What gall you have, my friend. Don’t you know that I can sentence you to death right now?
Jesus: That would be an added crime to your already long list…
Pilate: Aren’t you afraid to die?
Jesus: It’s you who should be afraid. Your hands are stained by the blood of the innocent. Mine are not.
Pilate: Of course not, but your hands are tied! I am the only person who can untie them, do you understand? So, try to speak clearly and be truthful, if you value your head. Let’s see, now, tell me: do you want to be crowned as king of the Jews? Are you aspiring for the throne of Israel?
Jesus: Did this question occur to you or they wanted you to ask me…?
Pilate: Dammit! Who do you think you are anyway?! I don’t get orders from anyone! And I’m not accountable to anyone for my actions! Except to the Emperor.
Jesus: Neither am I. Except to God.
Pilate: Let’s see, my friend, tell me the truth. To what group do you belong?… You’re one of the zealots. Aren’t you?
Pilate: Or the group of the hired-assassins, perhaps?
Pilate: So, what’s your group? Better confess! For whom do you work?
Jesus: For the Kingdom of God.
Pilate: For what?… You don’t say?… And where is this “Kingdom of God?” In heaven? I like that better. You worry about God and the heavens, but leave the earth to us.
Jesus: The Kingdom of God is here on earth. It is in this world, but the leaders of this world cannot capture it.
Pilate: Oh, yeah? And where is it?
Jesus: It’s hidden.
Pilate: This clandestine work of yours makes me laugh.
Jesus: It’s hidden like the woodworm. You don’t see it, but it will eat up the wood from inside.
Pilate: What nonsense are you saying, imbecile? And what wood are you talking about?
Jesus: The wood of your throne. All your power will vanish, consumed by worms.
Pilate: In other words, are you telling me to my face that you’re conspiring against the authorities?
Jesus: Against those who abuse their power.
Pilate: Take note of it, scribe: conspiracy, rebellion, subversion. You’re the leader of the group, aren’t you? Do you admit having incited the people?
Jesus: The people have been agitating for a thousand years. It’s the hunger that incites us. Our hunger and your violence.
Pilate: It is your violence, rebel, that stirs the people. You want to change things that cannot be changed. You are the ones provoking war. All Rome wants is peace.
Jesus: Yes, peace…. the peace of the sepulchers.
After Jesus said this, the Governor raised his whip and cracked it on his face….
Pilate: That’s enough, dammit!
Jesus: The peace of the lashings…
Pilate: I said… enough!!
Jesus staggered with the second lashing, which left a purple welt on his neck. It was still drizzling. The white tiles glowed in the water… Drenched, with his clothes clinging to his body, his hair and beard dripping with water, Jesus looked straight into the governor’s face…
Pilate: Mad dog from Galilee, I’ll have this rabid tongue of yours pulled out. But first, you’ve got to tell me your plans. C’mon, speak up. What were you doing in the garden of Gethsemane?
Jesus: I was praying. Nothing bad about it.
Pilate: Really? Do you think I believe such stupidity?
Jesus: I was praying that you may not win. That your will not be done, but God’s will.
Pilate: You were praying and concealing weapons. C’mon, admit it: Where are you hiding your weapons…? Answer me, I command you!
Jesus: Here…. This is our only weapon, our tongue… It is as sharp as your iron lances. It is the sword of truth.
Pilate: The truth!… That’s a funny thing… the truth! If I cut off your tongue, then that’s the end of your truth!
Jesus: Then you’ll have to cut a thousand tongues, tongues waiting to shout your crimes to your face, Pontius Pilate.
Pilate: Shut up, insolent man! Now you will know what the truth is! Scribe, bring me the board! I shall sign the death sentence of this charlatan!
At that moment, one of the iron gates facing the Tilings was opened. A Roman lady, tall and elegantly dressed in blue, silken tunic, appeared at the door and signaled to the governor…. She was Claudia Procula, his wife….
Claudia: Pontius, please come for a minute! I’ve got something to tell you.
Pilate: Please don’t interrupt me, Claudia. I’m busy. Go away.
Claudia: It’s very important. I beg of you.
The Governor stood from his chair and hurriedly crossed the patio to avoid getting wet….
Pilate: What the devil do you want? Don’t you see I’m busy with this damned Jew?
Claudia: It’s precisely about him. Pontius, please, don’t sign anything against this man. He was sent by the gods.
Pilate: He’s a charlatan from hell. A rebel against Rome.
Claudia: They say he performs miracles and heaven protects him.
Claudia: Yesterday I dreamed about him. It was a horrible nightmare.
Pilate: I’m sorry, Claudia. It’s my duty to sentence him to death. He is guilty of conspiracy. It is a grievous crime against the Roman State.
Claudia: No, Pontius, don’t do it. Listen to me. Get yourself out of this mess.
Pilate: I can’t, Claudia. Don’t you understand?
Claudia: Yes, you can. Didn’t they say he is Galilean? Well, take him to Herod and let him do what he wants. But don’t stain your hands with the blood of this man. It will bring us bad luck, I’m sure.
Governor Pilate, who was also a superstitious man, did not sign the sentence and sent Jesus to the palace of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of the province of Galilee, who had come to Jerusalem for the holidays. It was about the third hour of the day….
The religious authorities of Israel were accomplices of the Roman political powers. The passion events show the extent of their submission to the foreign invaders of the land. Nevertheless, they pretend to be religious men, practicing the laws of God. That is why Caiphas speaks to Pilate from the outside, without entering the governor’s palace. During the days of the Passover, an Israelite entering the house of a pagan became impure and therefore, could not celebrate the feast. The priests were extra careful in this regard, but they have no qualms in taking the life of an innocent person. Their religious rites, therefore, are nothing but an empty shell.
The Tiling (“Litostrotos” in Greek, “Gabbata” in Hebrew) was a vast patio situated within the interior of the Antonia Fortress housing the quarters of the Roman garrison, whose main task was to maintain order in Jerusalem. Its name came from the huge tiles covering the area, calculated to be about 2,500 square meters. In the gospel, instead of mentioning the Antonia Fortress, reference was made to the Praetorium, Pilate’s residence when he was in Jerusalem. Some research points to this, not in the Antonia Tower, but in one of Herod’s palaces in the capital, lent to the governor during the holidays. However, for many centuries, tradition has situated the Tiling where the Antonia Tower was built. Some of the tiles of this type are still preserved in the basement of a Catholic convent situated in the so-called “via dolorosa” of Jerusalem. They are huge tiles, worn by time with Roman inscriptions engraved with a knife.
Pilate was a cruel and ambitious man. Historians have recorded his term as governor of Judea (year 26-36). Agrippa I describes him as “inflexible, arbitrary and ruthless.” Phylon accused him for his “vulgarity, thefts, outrage, threats, executions without due process, and savage cruelty.” He was also known for his deep contempt for the people of Israel. Sejanus, a favorite of Emperor Tiberius, supported Pilate from Rome. Sejanus himself was a blood-thirsty man who was a leader of the anti-Jewish movement in the Roman empire. On the basis of this, it is not historically accurate to consider Pontius Pilate as a cultured man, though weak, an intellectual coward who – pushed by the circumstances – had no choice but to sentence Jesus to death. No, he sentenced him to die on the cross because he wanted to keep his post, which was perceived as threatened by that man. Pilate’s removal from office in the year 36 was due to a massacre he ordered against the Samaritans, a barbaric act that cost him his job. Pilate was believed to have committed suicide.
Jesus was not afraid before Pilate. Similarly before the religious authorities, he proved to be a free man during the political trial. Up to the end, he was faithful to what was essential during the period of his activity: his denunciation of power. We must not interpret Jesus’ words before Pilate as an attempt to dialogue with him on an equal footing, or as a master’s conversation with a curious disciple or as an encounter of “politicians” exchanging opposing views. Jesus did not compromise with Pilate; he made it clear to him that only the Lord has authority.
Jesus’ words, according to the gospel of John – “My kingdom is not of this world” – have often been misunderstood. The phrase does not mean that the gospel has nothing to do with the economy, politics or society. “World” in the gospel of John, is a significant and typical word. The “world” is where injustice and violence reign. This “world” has two gods: money and power. It has its own ways: lying, exploitation, use of arms, accumulation of wealth, profits. “My kingdom is not of this world” therefore means: my plan, God’s plan has nothing to do with “the world.” It means sharing and not hoarding. It is serving, not imposing one’s self.
Only the gospel of Matthew speaks of the pressure of Pilate’s wife for him to free Jesus (Mt 27:19). This reflects the religious sentiment of the Roman people, very superstitious and given to “sacred” fears, to the interpretation of dreams, to oracles, etc. Jesus’ integrity, his continuous reference to God, seriously worried the wife who, later on, would influence Pontius Pilate himself, also a superstitious man (Jn 19:8). The fact that Pilate washed his hands after deciding the sentence is, aside from being a proof of his superstition, an indication of his irresponsibility and arbitrary character as a governor, who wanted to have nothing to do with the injustice of the sentence he himself had declared.
(Mt 27:1-2 and 11:14; Mk 15:1-5; Lk 23:1-5; Jn 18:28-38)