Today’s reading is John 19:1-27 (NIV):
Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified.
1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. 4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” 7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” 13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. 16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
The Crucifixion of Jesus.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. 24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Don’t get me wrong: I realize, as I hope you do, too, that of all the “one another” commands in the Bible, “blame one another” is not one of them. Yet, it is quite interesting to see how many times we see this nonexistent command being lived out in the Scriptures and, of course, in our lives.
The first time we see this in the Bible is with Adam and Eve, right after the Fall. When God approaches Adam about eating the forbidden fruit, Adam blames Eve, who then blames the serpent, each pushing responsibility onto the next person, each claiming to be blameless. Yet, God punishes them all. Why? Because despite the fact that the serpent did try to convince Eve and that Eve did give Adam the fruit, each had the freedom to choose whether or not to eat it. And that freedom made them responsible for their own actions.
In John 19, we see the same kind of finger-pointing going on. Pilate is convinced that Jesus is innocent and therefore does not want to kill him. He tries to get Jesus off his hands into the hands of the Jewish leaders, because he personally finds “no basis for a charge against him,” and it would be unlawful for him to sentence him if the charges against him cannot be justified (John 19:6). In the end, Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, but not without securing a way out of the consequences of punishing an innocent man: Pilate makes Jesus a criminal. In John 19:19, Pilate has “a notice prepared and fastened to the cross,” which reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” in three languages. He wants the world to read and know that he sentenced Jesus to death only because he was the king of the Jews, which would be against the law and against Caesar. There were no other charges for which Jesus could be held. Pilate refuses to listen to the Jewish leaders, who protest about the notice and request that it explains that Jesus “claimed to be the king of the Jews (John 19:21). Pilate knows that Jesus’ individual claim would not be sufficient for a death sentence since most of society regards Jesus not as a king but rather as a lunatic. Although Pilate is shaken for a moment by fear of God when he hears that Jesus claims to be the Son of God, it is ultimately out of fear of Caesar’s punishment that he protects himself by putting the blame on Jesus’ kingship.
Maybe it is unfair to offer Pilate as an example of blaming one another, because he was not a Christian. But there is no need to look much further for another, better example. Reflect on yourself. Have you ever uttered excuses along these lines? “But God, I was peer-pressured!” “I had no control over the circumstances!” “S/he was asking for it!” Okay, maybe the context in which the last one is frequently used may not be yours. But really? You have never lashed out in anger or annoyance at someone because they were “asking for it”? You have never done something because “everyone else was doing it” or because you were “left with no choice” even though you knew that doing that thing tickled your morality? If you have not, please do contact me, because I could probably use some help.
But rest assured. I do not intend to condemn these lines—or their speakers, myself included—forever. I do not believe that any of the actions we committed before coming to these blame-lines are ones that Jesus cannot forgive us for, once we have accepted him as our savior. But it will be problematic if we do not accept that it was actually us who made those final decisions to carry out those actions. It will be problematic if we do not acknowledge that we are responsible for our actions. It will be problematic if these blame-lines become our go-to excuses way too frequently. I am not claiming that we can totally rid ourselves of this almost instinctual run for cover. But we must be focused on sincerely trying not to use these blame-lines, not to run for cover, even though we will fail again and again in this sinful world.
Helen Kim ’18 is a Junior in Kirkland House studying Environmental Science and Public Policy.