A Contemporary Lesson from the Story of the Death and Resurrection of Christ

The story of the trial and subsequent crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the predominant story of the West for almost two thousand years. Easter is rightfully at core of the Christian message — as I have heard ministers say a thousand times, if Christ’s tomb had not been empty after his death and burial, there would be no Gospel.

The person in this drama I find the most frightening and fascinating is not Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus so He could be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas was weak, and in the Gospel of John it is even stated that Satan entered Judas at the Last Supper.  Instead, the character in this drama that interests me most of all is that of Pontius Pilate, the Procurator of Judea (26 to 36 A.D.) who represented Rome in Jerusalem.

Pilate’s job was to decide whether Jesus should have been crucified for the charges brought against him by the people of Jerusalem, which Pilate ruled as part of the Roman Empire. There have been numerous books and films about Pilate, many of which appear to be contradictory, as some show him to be sympathetic to Jesus while others show him to be tough and cruel and sympathetic to no one. From my point of view, Pilate is the extraordinary example in Western history of the government official stuck in a mess he does not want, but a mess which he will end up resolving simply in order to save his own neck.

Pilate is in the kind of predicament that is despised by a government bureaucrat, in that he has actually been asked to make a decision. You must understand, bureaucrats do not want to make decisions; they just want to follow the rules that someone else has given them to follow. That way, the bureaucrat is never really at fault for anything. To use a common phrase, if someone is mad at him, that person is angry at the messenger.

“Don’t shoot the messenger!” the saying goes. The messenger is not responsible for the message.  In the story of Easter, Pontius Pilate was the messenger.

One of the most famous scenes between Jesus and Pilate in the Bible is the following conversation when Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate, from John 18:37-38 in the Oxford Annotated Bible:

Pilate said to him, “So you are a King?”

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a King. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

This is supposed to show that Pilate is a nihilist, a point of view that denies any objective or real ground of truth. I suppose if one worked long enough for the Roman empire, one could subscribe to a nihilistic point of view. Certainly Rome, like most governments, invented its own truth. A sadistic, insane emperor could become a god after he died. Anyone against the empire was evil. One tribe in Germany worshiped trees, another tribe in Judea worshiped Yahweh. And if Rome can invent its own truth, what is truth?

Pilate’s job was to keep order in an unruly place on behalf of Rome and, most importantly from his point of view, to do so without ending up dead.  In the end, Pilate knows he has to keep Rome happy. If he does not, he could end up being tortured and killed just as easily as Christ did. Rome could care less about the crucifixion of another troublemaker. The emperor had orgies to attend, after all, and an extra dead body here and there would not matter.

This, to me, is why Pilate was so frightening. He has the power of life and death over the inhabitants of Jerusalem and he could care less about them as human beings. First and foremost, his job was to preserve his own skin in the face of political messes. (There are those, of course, who object to this characterization, claiming that rulers like the English in the 19th century really cared about the people they ruled. I do not see this from Pilate in the Bible. He washes his hands of Christ’s fate in the Bible because he is playing the perfect bureaucratic game: “I’m not taking any responsibility.”)

Now, fast-forward a few millennia to the year 2014. You are in the hospital and, naturally, you want your doctor to make you well. But your doctor does not necessarily work on your behalf. His or her job is to follow the rules of medical procedure given to him or her by the government or the government-approved insurance company. The doctor has to answer to the American Rome, Washington, D.C.  And because the American Rome is broke, you are not a particularly important person in the eyes of the government–like, perhaps, Nancy Pelosi–so you have to take what Rome gives you. You and your procedure are a line item on a vast budget.

The doctor does not want trouble.  If you die, Rome may not particularly care, but if everything is done for you and you run up a two million dollar bill, Rome will certainly stand up and pay attention.

See, once someone becomes a bureaucrat, whether it be a doctor or a parking meter reader, their function is not to care about you but instead to follow the wishes of Rome. Everything, then, is completely reliant on the goodness of Rome. That goes completely against the individual fighting for his own good. The orthodox meaning of Christ’s crucifixion had always been that Christ voluntarily sacrificed himself for the salvation of humanity, knowing that his sacrifice was complete, but conditional. Every human being has the responsibility to accept that sacrifice, to face the judgment of God as an individual in full accordance with the free will he has been given.

If Pilate had followed this ethic, he would have let Christ go. He would not have cared what Rome thought, he would not have card what Jerusalem thought, he would have known he had to face God at some point, and that to kill a man without cause would place his soul in jeopardy. All of us must avoid finding ourselves in the predicament of Pilate, where we forego the individual responsibility of moral choices and shove them on some remote place where we claim the sole deciding voice on human conduct presides. Rome did not deserve that monopoly, and Washington D.C. has proven that it does not either.

Jesus, of course, rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.  The question remains: will America?

Have a happy Easter.

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Comments

  1. Lisa in TX says:

    So, Ronald, what is your recommendation for doctors to avoid becoming Pontius Pilate? And also, the comparison is a little off in that Pilate had a lot more power and discretion at his disposal. I understand your point, but the connection is a bit of a stretch. As for my surgeon husband, I can see him ripping his shingle down and going to the mission field before he will deny his patients the care they need.

    One doctor who was on Fox said that given the new pay for performance rules, she would not be able to fulfill the Hippocratic Oath and would therefore not be able to continue to practice medicine. I think you will see much more of that.

    My husband’s patient population is predominantly medicare. His reimbursements go down every year. And THIS is the problem…the government, LONG AGO with the passing of medicare and medicaid, roped everyone into an unsustainable vicious cycle….both patients and doctors alike.

    Another thing is that the concept of medicare is fundamentally flawed (in many senses): For one, my husband constantly sees medicare patients who come to him largely because of horribly unhealthy lifestyle choices…incredible obesity, smoking, etc. He begs them to take charge of their lifestyle choices. And you know what? Most of the time they don’t! Why? Because they know they can receive care from people like my husband, paid for by medicare. They would rather take the expensive drug or surgery, because it is a “quick fix”. There is NO incentive to take responsibility for their health.

    I have one thing to say: With “rights” come responsibility! And this will be even more the case with our almost-universal healthcare system. NO INCENTIVES to stay out of the doctor’s office in the first place, b/c they don’t have to pay for it and it’s easier to take the pill. Granted, they have “paid for it over the years”, but receive exponentially more than they actually paid to the system.

    THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE PILL OR THE SURGICAL DEVICE COSTS LOTS OF MONEY!!!

    America has become fat and lazy, and addicted to the quick fix in all areas of life…and we are going to pay dearly for this…there is truly no hope for our healthcare system as it stands now. Again, it’s unsustainable, and the implosion is coming soon.

    That is why I will learn all I can about natural and alternative approaches. I am not going to depend on the industry for my health!

    Happy Easter!

  2. nana says:

    Ron, I don’t think you intended to be critical of the doctors today but that you were speculating on how the medical profession may change in the future with the government involvement and oversight that is being proposed. As we all know and as Lisa as explained the majority of physicians are dedicated and honor their profession. She is so right in that medicare and medicaid receipients have become irresponsible in being proactive in taking care of themselves physically. We have created another monster and still some believe the government has the answer to everything. There should be incentives for people to live healthy lives and do the things that keep them out of the doctor’s office…I don’t go to the doctor very often but at times I have sat there and looked at people and wondered why they didn’t watch their weight or stop smoking or exercise so that they wouldn’t have to be there. We have so many opportunities in this country to live healthy but as Lisa said we have become fat and lazy and it is sad. I agree with Lisa, I am 64 and I take NO medications and I exercise and do everything I can to protect my health. I refuse to be part of perpetuating a system that thrives on irresponsibility. However, I can see the possibility of the mind set Ron described becoming a reality under this administration as they are in control of the student loans and influencing the thought processes of the young people entering the medical profession. The Hippocratic Oath may be substituted with a Hypocritic Oath and physicians like Lisa’s husband replaced by liberal, brain-washed zombies. God help us to see the TRUTH!

  3. Randy Wills says:

    I really like your point, Ron, about individuals taking responsibility for their actions/decisions based on a set of moral factors which transcend the tendencies of the fallen human nature to seek self-interest at all costs. We will all be held responsible for those choices.

    For those willing to forego this tendency and choose the “narrow path”, God has provided clear guidance in the form of the Ten Commandments and the life, words, and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

    To a certain extent, we have all become bureaucrats, and that will be the downfall of our system of government. How often have we heard the rationalization “I just don’t want to get involved”?

    And in regards to the comment by Lisa about the “quick fix”, we have long since learned to accept the death of another (the unborn) as the price of maintaining our own “freedom”. I believe that the turning point for America was with “Roe vs Wade”.

    A joyful Easter to all.

    Randy

  4. He is Risen says:

    Back then you sold your soul for pieces of silver, nowadays its for votes. Very sad.

  5. John Feeny says:

    Excellent article,Ron; very thought-provoking,in the sense that I see Obama more in the role of Pilate than anyone else. Something tells me that ‘Rome’ may actually be a concept more than it is a definable area, a concept that is now inhabited by people the likes of George Soros.

  6. Gail B. says:

    Would some “legal eagle” (like Jeff) please answer one question for me?

    If some bureaucrat, ACORN worker, etc., gets to decide what my health care treatment will be — by coming between me and my doctor, is that the same as practicing medicine without a license?

    Just wondering.
    No, it’s really bugging me!

  7. Gail B. says:

    And, Ron, thanks for a very well-written, thought-provoking piece. Nice writing!

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