John 19, 1-7
Something to read
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’
New Revised Standard Version
Something to think about
It was a brutal way to handle a person. The whip-wounds on his body oozed against the purple cloth. Sharp thorns jagged into his brow. Blows landed heavy on his cheeks: flesh broke; bones shook; teeth jolted. Spit and scorn sprayed him in the face.
A joke? Probably, for a few: a moment’s laughter to ease the tension and routine of the soldier’s life; a wretched man to make sport of. He would probably be dead before long.
I sometimes think that the passion of Jesus – the story of his suffering and death – puts a lot of our human nature into very sharp focus. Love and loyalty, fear and folly, muddle and mistake, compassion and cruelty – all are there.
In this reading, cruelty is centre stage. This is what human power and force sometimes do, with people who cannot defend themselves. Hatred can cause this; so can contempt, power, obeying orders, and thinking we can get away with it.
Look for war in the world, or for tyranny, rebellion, lawlessness or crime, and you will find hurting and damaged people. Christian Aid often has to work among them – refugees, victims, minorities, the fearful and the fleeing.
But there is a hint in these verses of another side to human nature, and of the one who shares it with us. ‘Behold the man’ (v.5), said Pilate. ‘Humanity is here.’ Jesus is the true measure of being human. His living, dying and rising invite us to discover the better side of what we were meant to be and what we might become.
Something to do
Can you find out if there are refugees in your community, and what they are fleeing from? Could your church be more aware, or more involved in working for their well-being?
Something to pray
Lord Jesus Christ, sufferer and judge,
help me to treat the weak with respect and compassion;
help me to handle power with humility and care;
help me to find my true self in knowing you.
The Revd John Proctor is general secretary of the United Reformed Church.