Pilate’s Footprint

by Juan L. Mercado

Holy  Week 2012 finds impeachment of Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona still in recess.  The Supreme Court, too, will  shut down. This week’s rites  will  recall a  trial, two millennia ago,  presided by a judge  whose name “became a byword for ambivalence”. 
Pontius Pilate is mentioned whenever the Nicene Creed is prayed.  He served as Roman procurator of  Judea 26 to 36 AD. Scores were crucified then.  Victims included an itinerant preacher from Galilee and two thieves.

This  was a backwater incident then. “(Yet) it binds eternal realms to the stumbling, messy chronology of earthly time and place” former Archbishop of Canterbury Ronald Runcie wrote.

As late as 1960, archeologists dug up coins engraved with Pilate’s name in Ceasarea. From this city, he oversaw 6,000 Roman soldiers. Their swords ensured  that taxes were collected  for  the  Emperor.   They also quelled rebellions, specially during incendiary Passover feasts.  Pilgrims would  bloat Jerusalem’s population to over 2.5 million.
They crucified, when ordered.  Pilate demanded that the centurion, posted on Calvary, verify Christ’s death. Only then, did he allow Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to take the body down from the cross.
“It is possible to view Pilate as the archetypal politician,” former Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote. Pilate “was caught in the horns of a dilemma”: He either kept the peace or would be dismissed. 
Does this resemble the quandary confronting 23 senator-judges?  They mustrender judgement on the  chief justice after Easter. Are Arroyo appointees, in the Supreme Court,  in the same bind?  They’ve sealed  dollar deposits of their embattled  capo, from examination by irate citizens. Will they  rash the Senate trial as “unconstitutional”?

Rome appointed  Pilate and his main collaborator, Caiphas the High priest.  Their sinecures wobbled  when Christ expelled  money changers from the Temple.  “My house is a house of prayer,” he said, lashing with a whip of cords. “But you made it a den of thieves.”

“Trouble for Pilate was trouble for Caiaphas”. So, the high priest rigged a “trial” where he acted as judge and prosecutor. He fractured three guidelines,  British Broadcasting  Corporation notes.  (a) The rules stipulated daytime trials but he held this one at night;  (b)  Hearings were prohibited on a feast day; and (c) Venue was Caiaphas’s house, not a council chamber.
Witnesses couldn’t agree on what Jesus said.  Blasphemy was not a crime under Roman law. So, Caiaphas  sent Jesus to Pilate charging sedition.  Crucify him or you are not a friend of Ceasar. That  blindsided  Pilate.
But what was the procurator really  like?  Clearly he had a good Roman education. He does not call the prisoner follis. That’s Latin for the Pilipino “gago.”  Nor does he sneer as in “Wah” of the  impeachment trial.
Pilate’s questions are probing, notes Andrew Thomas Kania of Oxford University,  “Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ He tries to understand the prisoner  before him.”Where are you from?”
“Are you a king then?,” he enquires when Christ says: “My kingdom is not of this world…  Eveyone who is on the side of truth hears my voice.  Quid est veritas?  Pilate  asks no one in particular:  “What is the truth?”. Was that  the  tipping moment?   
Pilate vacillated.  BCC’s Bob Chauncy  adds:  Pilate knew  Jesus wasn’t leading a military  uprising. “He found no fault with the defendant (and)  drifts towards pardoning  him. ‘See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him,” he tells the crowd.
Then, Pilate drifts away again. He  has Christ scourged and without blinking enquires: “What charge do you bring against this man?”
Pilate faced a dilemma: If he released Jesus, riots could  erupt.  That’d not sit well with the Emperor. So, he  offered a swap  patterned  after earlier Passover amnesties: He offered to release either the  “King of the Jews” or Barrabas, a convicted murderer.  Choose, he said.
“Cruficy him”, the crowds roared. At the Gabattha or Stone Floor, he washed his hands in front of the crowd. He released  Barrabas and “delivered Jesus in accordance with their wishes.”
Late on Good Friday, a different Pilate emerges. He rejected a “technicality” offered by the high priests. Rewrite the placard affixed to the cross which read: “Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews”,  they badgered.   Say only  the impostor claimed  such a  title.
The Procurator curtly dismissed them, saying Quod scripsi, scripsi.  “What I have written, I have written.”  This firmness was overdue. However, it  surged  when the window-of-opportunity had slammed  shut. 
Too late. His image had, been indelibly etched for centuries to come. “Whatever the truth about the real Pontius Pilate, such dilemmas are what he has come to symbolize,” Chauncy adds.  
In the Corona impeachment, hundreds of technicalities have been lobbed by the defense. Will  they drown out the truth from  senator-judges.or Arroyo justices come decision time?. Ambitions and  perks can get in the way. They’d shirvel judges “into a clutch of shivers in search of a spine”
But the window-of-opportunity hasn’t slammed shut just yet.  On Holy Week, do they look back to Pilate? Quid est veritas?, Or will their decisions would bear Pilate’smark of ambivalence?.  “Since you are neither hot nor cold,” the Book of Revelation cautions,  “I will vomit you out of my mouth .” 
(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)


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