Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, October 21, 2019
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Good Friday 2019 at Armagh UMC

Matthew 27:20-25

For all their faults, the members of the Sanhedrin are still the official leaders of the Jewish nation. They still have clout and influence. They are still able to sway public opinion about Jesus.

And maybe that wasn’t too difficult, at this point. It’s easy to imagine that some people were quiet disappointed with Jesus when he turned out not to be a revolutionary figure. He was not gathering an army or seeking power. Those who had a militant mindset about the Romans would see Barabbas as a more appealing figure than Jesus. Barabbas represented a very tangible expression of worldly power; he was willing to kill for his cause.

Perhaps some people thought Jesus looked powerful and victorious five days earlier when he rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of the crowd. Now he is beaten, bloodied, and alone. He doesn’t look powerful or victorious anymore. And if there’s one thing to be said about us people, we are quick to judge based on appearances.

Matthew doesn’t record this, but John’s Gospel tells us that the Jewish leaders also hinted to Pilate that they would send a bad report to Caesar if he didn’t crucify Jesus. We know from history that Pilate made some pretty big blunders in his dealings with the Jewish people. Not too long after this, he was recalled to Rome and disappeared from history. Perhaps he is choosing job security over what he knows to be right. He wouldn’t be the first person to make that choice.

So Pilate tries to shed his responsibility. He calls for a basin of water in which to “wash his hands of the whole affair.” Washing one’s hands in this way was not something that the Romans generally did. This is a Jewish practice. Ritual washing to remove guilt or “uncleanliness” was rooted in Jewish culture. Pilate, who professed to care nothing for Jewish religion, is using one of their customs.

It’s an ironic moment, not just for that reason. It’s ironic to think it is so easy to shed one’s responsibility. We can wash away dirt, but we can’t wash away responsibility.

But the real irony is this: Pilate says he is washing his hands of the blood, that is the death, of Jesus. What can wash away our guilt? What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus, as the hymn reminds us. Pilate couldn’t shed his responsibility. But in the blood of Jesus, and only there, can our sins be washed away.

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