Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Innocent is Punished, the Guilty Go Free

Today’s Gospel (St. Matthew 27:11-26) finds Pilate amazed because Jesus will not defend himself. Pilate knows Jesus is not guilty of the things they are charging against him. So clear is this that when he asks, “Why, what evil hath he done?” they have no answer, but merely want him crucified. And we are told that he know they delivered him “for envy.” So abundantly clear is his innocence that even Pilate’s wife—who has no part in these proceedings at all, but is entirely an outsider—suffers a nightmare because of the painfully obvious injustice of condemning Jesus. Everyone here knows he is innocent. So even Pilate, called “the governor,” washes his hands in front of all, in effect pronouncing the verdict of Not Guilty. And still, he hands him over to be crucified. Perhaps the only time in history that the accused is acquitted for innocence and nevertheless punished, and with capital punishment. Why? The answer is, ironically, on the lips of the accusers: “His blood be on us and on our children.” They meant this as a way of accepting the guilt for killing him, but the Evangelist places their words here to answer the question. Jesus is punished in order that his blood may be on us and on our children, meaning that it stands as atonement for our sins, and covers them. The theological meaning of the crucifixion is embedded in the answer of Jesus’ enemies. The sermon.

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