When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.
- Matthew 27:24-31
In our recent readings, it is Holy Week, and Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has been betrayed by Judas, tried in a night court before the whole Council, and given over to Pilate. We read of the three-time denial of Peter, and Judas' suicide. On Saturday, we read that Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" Jesus said to him, "It is as you say." And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?" But He answered Him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, "Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him." But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" They said, "Barabbas!" Pilate said to them, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said to him, "Let Him be crucified!" Then the governor said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out the more, saying, "Let Him be crucified!"
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." And all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us and on our children." Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. My study bible points out that this verse in which the people say, "His blood be on us and on our children" has been used in the past by certain groups to try to justify persecuting Jews, which is a "grave and terrible sin." In fact, the traditional way the Church views this is that what was seen by many as a curse is in effect a blessing invoked unwittingly! It is Christ's blood that is the source of redemption in the sight of Christians. In addition, it says, these words are implicitly spoken by anyone who sins. St. Chrysostom teaches that, in effect, regardless of the state of mind that prevailed in the crowd at this time, rather than bringing a curse Christ instead received any who repented and "counted them worthy of good things beyond number." On the day of Pentecost thousands were converted (Acts 2:41); St. Chrysostom views this as abundant evidence of Christ's mercy.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. Again, although the intention is one thing, there is prophecy here in these actions. My study bible says that every king is proclaimed by his soldiers. It is prophetic that Jesus is crowned and hailed as King by soldiers of the governor (see also John 11:49-51, where Caiaphas, despite his intention, prophesies of Christ's redemptive work). Christ truly bears the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-9), despised and rejected and mocked in this scene. Jesus is clothed in a scarlet, representing both His royalty and also the sins of humanity He has taken on Himself (and which were placed upon Him by the sinful). However, in Orthodox iconography, red is also the color of life itself, of divinity. In Mark's Gospel, it's said this robe is purple. But in essence, it's the same; the shade of royal robes in the East was tyrian purple, an expensive dye which created a red-purple color.
On Saturday, we discussed the ironies of Christ's situation: Pilate sat in the judgment seat to pass judgment on the Judge of all. Barabbas means "son of the father" -- the crowd chose its true "son" of its true "father" over the Son of the Father. We remind ourselves that in another Gospel, Pilate asks the Truth, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). In today's reading, Jesus is mockingly hailed as King of the Jews. He's dressed in a royal red robe, symbolic of divinity, even as He's spat upon. Everything comes together in a mixed tale of good and evil, a bizarre mix of truth and lies, where one seems as true as the other. He is the Truth Himself in the midst of lies and deceit; the mocking and insults are lies, the charge is a lie, the witnesses lie. And yet, there is the truth that He is King, there is the truth that He is the Son of God, there is the truth that He will build His "temple" back up in three days after it is destroyed. In a symbolic sense, it reminds us of Jesus' parable of the Wheat and the Tares. The tares are weeds that resemble the wheat. The same is true of heresy, where something sounds good and convincing but in effect is a misleading lie. There is a lesson in how appearances are deceiving, and can be used to represent "truth" that is nothing but. Manipulation, being evil, takes the place of truth, of that which gives us what we really need. Manipulation leads us down a bad road; truth takes us where we really need to go for what's best for us. Within all of this disturbing confusion is the heart of why "proofs" of faith are never given by Christ, signs on demand are not where He will go. It is only in the heart of faith that true discernment can take us in this situation, and faith doesn't and can't work by "proofs." False witnesses can be drummed up, and juries can be rigged, people can be coerced. But it takes a different kind of seeing and knowing to be aware of what is happening here. Proofs are not what we rely on for faith; they're not good enough. What do we do in the midst of such confusion and lies and manipulation? We endure. We give thanks to God and stay in the place of prayer. We watch and pray, staying vigilant as He has taught. There are times in life, and times we can see in all of history, when similar effects repeat themselves: when black is white and white is black, when the good are evil and the evil are good. We may find ourselves caught up in a such a situation, as spectator or victim, or even willingly or unwillingly a perpetrator. We remember His words, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation." Christ becomes victim on whom is projected the whole world's sin. The One who emptied Himself to become human now condescends to the place of abject misery, "taking on our sins" in this sense that they're placed upon Him even as the soldiers spit. But in this strange time is the stranger solution of God. He will trample down death by death; He will offer salvation by His sacrifice, by going through what is happening and meeting it His way. The question is how will we understand that truth or receive it? How do we truly know the Truth who is a Person? He so truly knows us, loves us, forgives us. And we know Him through love.