A journey to the cross is a journey to repentance. It’s a journey to deep personal change. Will you take this journey with me?
In today’s reading, the rivalry and tension between the Governor Pontius Pilate, and Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest are on full display. The two leaders are waiting for the official arrival of Herod the tetrarch. Date: Mid afternoon on Thursday, April 6th, 30 A.D.
When all were in position, I called for the lowering of the heavy, grated iron gate. From now on, the Passover celebrants would be forced to use an alternate entrance or exit.
In short order the toga-clad governor, Pontius Pilate, arrived on his gold-ornamented chariot. The gate was raised. By the governor’s side stood Claudia Procula lavishly dressed in full-length scarlet. Her bejeweled opulence contrasted sharply with the poverty common to most women of this province. The chariot took a position allowing the ruling couple to look out to the Mount of Olives, in readiness for the approaching king.
The only missing player was Caiaphas. In due time his delegation arrived, and the enormous gate was hauled up once more on creaking chains, only to be lowered again when the priestly party had exited.
Pilate had been gazing down the road stretched out before him when Caiaphas arrived, and it was only the coarse rattle coming from the gate chains behind him that alerted him to the approach of the high priest and his delegation. He turned, stepped down from the chariot, and briskly strode over to the dumbfounded cleric. The expression on Caiaphas’s face said it all. He clearly did not expect to see Pilate here. He had intended this to be a discreet, private tour and consultation.
“You’re expecting someone?” Pilate brusquely inquired.
An uncomfortable pause followed. Caiaphas cast a hasty glance at those accompanying him, adjusted the folds in his robe, cleared his rusty throat, and replied, “Yes, King Herod requested a tour of the great temple.”
“Did he now?” There was a coldness in Pilate’s voice that betrayed the utter contempt he felt toward this Jewish leader. “Ahh!” He gestured grandly. “There is no king in these parts. I know of no king.” Then spotting me on horseback nearby, the governor turned and in mock sincerity called out, “Centurion. Is there a king around here?”
“We have no king here but Caesar,” I answered, joining in the sport.
“The centurion says there is no king but Caesar. Do you have some other king I’m unaware of? Perhaps I should meet this king.”
By now the high priest was well beyond flustered. He had stepped into a trap. Surrounded by Roman troops and cut off from the safety of the temple’s hallowed sanctum, he was now being hectored by his chief political rival. It seemed more than he could endure. He began to tremble uncontrollably, whether from fear or anger I could not tell.
“Your Excellency”—he swallowed hard—“I was referring to the . . . te-tetrarch of Galilee.”
“The te-tetrarch?” Pilate mimicked not only the high priest’s tremulous stammer, but also the rusty-gate scratch of his voice. “Is that so? Well, the tetrarch is no king. And he certainly isn’t your king.” Then with slow, icy deliberation, Pilate said, “There is no king here but Caesar. Did you hear that?”
This was no rhetorical question. “Yes, Your Excellency. I heard.”
“Do you, any of you”—he scanned the delegation—“have any other king?”
The cowering dogs dutifully answered, “No, we have no other king.”
Caiaphas, however, was silent. A fact well noted by the governor.
Then Pilate took a step closer to the trembling priest, pointed a bony finger in his face, and hissed, “Now don’t forget that, you old goat, or your blood will be running down the Kidron! Did you hear that?”
“I . . . I am your servant, Your Excellency,” Caiaphas rasped.
“Ha!” Pilate laughed an icy laugh in a show of disdain for that remark. Then he turned on his heels and marched back to his chariot, where once more he joined his wife.
For a full minute there was stunned silence from the religious delegation, and then suddenly they all began to speak at once in a huddle of hushed tones like schoolboys after a tongue-lashing from the headmaster.
But there was murder in the high priest’s eye. Nothing childish there. From my vantage point I could see that. He didn’t have the means, but he most certainly had the intent.
I am sure that if the gate had been open, the delegation would have returned to the safety of the sanctuary to plot their revenge, but that option was not open to them. They were trapped in this pocket, surrounded by hated foreign troops, subject to the whim and ridicule of their enemy, awaiting the arrival of their pretentious savior king.
Long, awkward moments passed. But they were saved from this interminable purgatory by Herod’s arrival.
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