18 January 2015

Which side are we on?

We are at Jesus’ trial. Pilate, the Roman procurator, is faced with a crowd influenced by the chief priests.

Pilate tries to exonerate Jesus but he can’t find a way. So he takes some water, washes his hands and declares, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility!’ (Matt 27.24).

This moment gave birth to the expression: “I wash my hands of it.” The phrase has endured for two thousand years and we still employ it today to absolve ourselves from responsibility in a delicate situation. Pilate does in fact bear a responsibility for the death of Jesus because his conscience knew that he didn’t deserve death. He knew, too, that Roman law forbade the condemning to death of an innocent person, and in addition his wife, tormented by a dream, told him not to make a bad decision against Jesus, whom she called ‘righteous’. It was fear of a revolt among the Jews and of a complaint to the emperor that pushed him to make this bad choice.

All through our existence we will be placed in difficult situations where we will be tempted to “wash our hands” and declare that it’s none of our business. How many injustices have been committed because those who had the power to speak or to act washed their hands of it! Desmond Tutu, the celebrated Anglican Archbishop of South Africa, said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the camp of the aggressor.”

Which side are we on?


Robert Héris